Buddha statue quiet lake
Four Noble Truths of the Buddha
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Four Noble Truths of the Buddha (36 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
October 27, 2013 - Dallas, Texas

Thank you for your practice tonight. I hope that you allowed yourself to be receptive to the energy of support that is available for you here in this kind of community and practice. And at the same time, I hope that you allowed yourself to be a channel of blessing to others around you in this room as you practiced and also a channel of blessing to all in your life and in the world. That is because we practice in solidarity always. So, when we practice, others' energies support us, and we also support others. That is just the way it is. That is the way of the universe.

So the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha: the nature of suffering, the causes of suffering, the transformation of suffering, and the path of transformation. So the Buddha liked to make lists 2,600 years ago primarily to help people to remember the teachings. Most of the people in India at that time— [cell phone rings] Xylophones. It kind of makes me think of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. All right.

So many people did not know how to read or write back then. So making lists and chanting the teachings helped people memorize stuff. Have you ever tried to memorize a poem versus tried to memorize a song? It is so much easier to memorize a song because you can sing along with its tune, and it's just easier to remember, versus just a long form that might be hard to memorize. Well, the same thing when you chant the teachings. It is a little easier to remember them. And also if you put them in a list, all of the teachings into a list, it is also helpful to remember them. four of this, five of that, six of that, eight of that.

So, the Buddha did the same thing to help people remember the teachings. Also, the Buddha used a medical model to help people understand that spirituality is not really about superstition. It is not about faith. There is a scientific approach to spirituality that is possible. And so, looking at the medical model, most of the doctors would look at what is this disease that you have? What is causing this disease? Is it possible to cure it? If yes, then what can we do to cure it? So it is a very logical, scientific way of looking at religion and spirituality.

A lot of spirituality before the Buddha had a lot to do with begging God or gods. It had a lot to do with having to just accept your fate or a lot of superstitious ideas about religion and spirituality. The Buddha was one of the first major spiritual teachers in the entire world who gave a much more scientific approach to religion and spirituality.

So, you know, when we think about other spiritual teachers, like Jesus for example, I admire Jesus because when you look at him in the context of his day, he was very radical. He was so accepting not only of the elite, but also the oppressed, the outcast. And, if you think about it, today of course we have a lot of equality, more equality between men and women, but back then, it was much worse—the inequality. And yet, Jesus accepted female disciples to sit in the same room with the men, to listen to the teachings.

Well, the reason why I like that about Jesus is because, well, 600 years before Jesus, there was another spiritual teacher who did the same radical thing, the Buddha. Very rarely did other spiritual teachers before him and during his time do such radical things like the Buddha did. The Buddha—basically in India, there are different people of different castes, and basically if you were born into a particular caste of society, such as you were born into a merchant family, well, you had to kind of be in that merchant caste for the rest of your life. Or if you were unfortunately born in the lower caste, the worker class, or even lower one, who did the really, really tough work, then you had to stay in that caste, and you were not allowed to participate in certain religious rituals of the highest castes and get educated in certain ways.

But the Buddha, when he accepted disciples into the monastic community, it did not matter what caste you came from. The moment you became a monk in the community, all of your caste was abolished. And so you had people in his community of all different kinds of castes, from royalty to poor people, and they were equal the moment they entered into his monastic community. And later on, the Buddha also accepted women into the community to create monastic nunneries. So, this was very controversial at that time, but the Buddha accepted women because he used logic.

Well, can women not practice just as much as men? Yes. Can women not become enlightened? Yes. Well, then what is the barrier to women being in the community, in this very deep monastic way, as well as in lay communities? So women were allowed in. Of course, there were lots of different problems here and there because, as with any communities, in a culture, there are always going to be different arguments about different things. But, anyway, the main point is that the Buddha would accept everyone inclusively, whatever your caste, whatever your gender, etc.

So, looking at this precious teaching from such an amazing teacher, we want to pay attention to this fundamental teaching. First is the nature of suffering. If we are going to transform our suffering and be happier and awaken to our true nature, we need to face our suffering. We need to accept our suffering. We need to understand our suffering.

So, down through the centuries, one way of looking at this first Noble Truth is to see the difference between pain and suffering and also to see suffering even in things that we do not consider suffering. For example, some good things that we enjoy are also—there is a little bit of suffering in them, too—a little bit of suffering. It might not be the kind of suffering that is like awful suffering, but there is a little element of suffering in it.

So, what is the difference between pain and suffering? Well, pain would be—and I always use this example. I know it. I haven't come up with another one yet, but ow! [Audience laughs]

That's pain, and if I start to think, oh my gosh, I probably just broke my toe. I should not have done that, and tomorrow I am so busy. I don't know if I have time to go to the hospital, so I will have to go on Tuesday. By the time I get to the hospital, it will probably be infected and have gangrene. They will have to operate and cut off my leg. I will be a one-legged person for the rest of my life. No one is going to want to be my partner at all, and I will be 90 years old dying all alone on my deathbed. That is suffering, right? Pain is the sensation of unpleasantness. Suffering is all the story around it, all of the drama, the mental addition, the unnecessary addition that we add on top of our pain.

So, if we can understand the nature of suffering and the difference between pain and suffering, it will help us a lot. So what are the causes of suffering? And that is what I would like to mostly focus on tonight. Because I think that is very, very important. So, the causes of suffering—the 3 primary causes—and of course there are probably many causes and many subcauses—but 3 primary causes are delusion, craving, and aversion. And actually, you know, you could say indifference is an aspect as well.

But, I really fundamentally like to teach on delusion as a very primary cause of suffering. But all of them are causes. When we crave things, sometimes we are craving things that are not good for us, and that causes suffering. But sometimes we crave for things that are good for us, but it is not so much the thing that is causing our suffering as it is our craving for it. You see what I am saying? Our obsessive compulsive desire for something, even if it is a good thing, it is that compulsiveness that is actually the cause of suffering. It doesn't have anything to do with the object of our desire. Does that make sense?

But at the same time, craving is the sister or brother of aversion, because it can swing. Sometimes you like someone, and then suddenly you really don't like them. It can swing back and forth, but aversion also, many times we are aversive to things that may actually be good to us, like exercise. It doesn't always feel good, and yet it is good for us. In the same way also as craving, sometimes you may be aversive to things that aren't good for you, and it is good you're staying away, but it is not so much the suffering as it is the habit energy of pushing away. It is like you are so aversive, it is like you are reactive rather than just mindfully distancing yourself from things that are not good for you. You are angrily pushing it away, and it is that kind of aversive energy that is causing suffering.

But primarily, I want to talk about delusion. We are deluded on three or four things. Some Buddhists talk about three of these four things in different—all right. So Theravada Buddhists talk about suffering, nonself, impermanence. But Zen Buddhists talk about nonself, impermanence, and nirvana. And then Tibetan Buddhists are like, well, let's just have them all four. So instead of three, we have four, and I like that. I like that approach.

So we were talking about suffering. Now let us talk about impermanence and nonself. Impermanence—everything changes. Everything is impermanent, but there is a part of us that is deluded into thinking some things should not change, even though they do, and there is a part of us that resists the nature of the universe, which is impermanence and change. So even though you may logically know in your mind of course everything changes. Everything decays. Everything deteriorates. Everything dies eventually. Nothing stays the same. You may logically know that, but emotionally, you may cling to permanence when there is no such thing. You may be clinging to a story about the way things should be rather than just being with things as they are, and that can cause us suffering.

So if you have this story in your mind that everything should always be okay, you know, your happiness—you should always have that house, that picket fence, that dog. Your children should be the perfect little dolls forever. You will suffer your whole life with that story. But also for those of us who have grown-up, we also have this idea of our parents. They are always going to be there. They're always going to be providing for us, nurturing, but then when they grow old or they get ill, or maybe they get Alzheimer's and they forget a lot of things, or when they pass away, that is just so major. And of course, sadness and loss and grief are a normal human thing, and of course we should feel our feelings. There's nothing wrong with sadness. However, just like pain versus suffering, there is sadness, but then when we keep clinging and we cannot let go and we allow the pain to keep going with the story and the grief, then what we are doing is prolonging that sadness and letting it go into depression or other things for months and years when it only has to last for a few weeks maybe.

But we prolong our grief when we add the suffering aspect, not just the pain aspect. Okay? There's normal pain. There is normal loss. There is normal grief. But we do not need to prolong it. But we prolong it when we cling to permanence, when there is no permanence. So we need to meditate in such a way that we can look deeply into these inner unconscious beliefs and clinging so that we can loosen them up, so that we can realize that everything is changing, including our loved ones, and that will help us to be more present with them now, to appreciate them now, because we do not know what it is going to be like tomorrow or the next day. We do not know how long we will have the opportunity to have this kind of relationship with them. So we just want to like really be present, and then when the time comes for that relationship to change or shift, or if there is a death, they pass away, we can be more ready for it because we're not clinging to that false idea of permanence. We can be ready and continue to flow and move on.

It is important to really let yourself meditate on these four fundamental realities that we are deluded about. These are four very powerful samadhi or concentration meditations that the Buddha taught, and it can be a very, very powerful, very insightful. So, when we really, really know impermanence in our heart, and when we look in the mirror and we see gray hairs and new wrinkles, instead of crying about it or being upset about it, we can just accept it. Because guess what? Billions of people throughout human history have grown old and gotten gray hairs, wrinkles, whatever, right? It is not like you're the only one, right? And guess what also? For centuries and centuries of time, people who have been born, have eventually died. So you are not the only one that has lost loved ones, and one day you too will pass away physically. It is inevitable for all of us. So when we can really know that and accept that, it takes away the sting. It takes away the extra added story or fear that is unnecessary.

Now we are also deluded about nonself, and this teaching is a little bit more layered. There are many different ways to understand nonself depending on your level of awareness, but there are higher levels of understanding this teaching, and there are deeper levels of understanding this teaching. But what I will offer to you is an easy way to understand nonself, maybe three ways that you can understand nonself.

One is that nonself means that we are not a separate, solid entity unrelated to everything else. What we consider ourselves is composed of many, many, many other things in reality. So, for example, Bobbie here, we understand Bobbie in this particular room in this particular time, not only physically, but also mentally, we understand her mind. But if we were to take away the existence of either her mother or father, would she be here in this room? No. She couldn't. Her existence is completely dependent on the existence of her mother and father. If we took away the existence of all oxygen on the planet, would Bobbie be sitting here in this room? None of us would probably.

Female: We wouldn't know if she was or not.

ChiSing: Right. If we took away the existence of the sun, would Bobbie be existing in this form right now, in this way? No. We would be frozen without the sun. If we took away the existence of her entire experiences of life for all of the life that she has lived so far in this present life, if we took away all of her education experiences, her cultural experiences, and linguistic education, learning English, if she had grown up in a different environment, would Bobbie be the same Bobbie that we know? Maybe she would be in the same body, but a very different mind, very different experiences, very different language. Or not. Maybe not. [Audience laughs]

So, her mind and body are dependent on many other things that are not considered Bobbie and yet are completely part of Bobbie. So the same way you as a self only are self in relation to a lot of other things, your existence as you are is dependent on all the other things, yet you do not call all these other things yourself. And yet, ultimately, it is also part of your self. So really, the earth is your self, and the sun is your self, and the vegetation on the planet is your self, and all the humans in your life are part of your self. Really, your true self then—and this points us—so, one way of understanding nonself is that we are interbeings. We are not just human beings. We are interbeings. We interare, everything in the kosmos.

And that points to another understanding of true self, which is our true self that really is the whole universe and even beyond what we understand as the universe, the whole of reality, the source of reality is who we really are. We are one with that reality come and not separate from it. So, you are not really, fundamentally Julie or Bobbie or Basden or Cornell or Michael or ChiSing. Who you really are is fundamentally—I will call it the kosmos, okay? With a K. K-O-S-M-O-S. It is sort of a new philosophical term to refer to all of reality, not just the physical universe, but all mental, emotional, physical—all of it. Divine. All of it. The kosmos. The cosmic reality.

Who you really are is the kosmos experiencing itself through particular reference point right now. So these body-minds that you have labeled Bobbie or ChiSing or Julie or Basden or Cornell or Michael, that is not really who you are. Who you really are is the kosmos experiencing itself through this body-mind reference point. So really there's only one self in the universe experiencing itself through many lenses, many reference points. So it is really the one true self looking through these eyes, through your eyes. So who you really are is that one true self.

And this is important because when we can meditate on that kind of experience of that, it is so much easier to let go of discrimination, let go of prejudice, let go of our ideas of separation. It also helps us to more easily let go of great anger. Of course, normal anger is just part of the human condition, but we do not need to let that fester into rage and hatred, right? So it is a lot easier. And also sadness is a lot easier to deal with, and so-called lost, because really who we really are is not lost. Maybe our body mind loses things, but who we really are is vast, eternal, infinite.

Thich Nhat Hanh gave a story once about trying to hammer a nail in the wall, and he accidentally hit his thumb with a hammer. And he thought about this after he took care of the finger. He thought, if my two hands were in a delusion thinking they were separate, it might happen that the left-hand would get very angry at the right hand and grab a hammer and take revenge, but that would be so foolish, wouldn't it? But that kind of action is what we are doing a lot in the world already with our discriminations, our wars, our violence, because we do not understand. We are deluded when we do not realize our oneness—not yet anyway. But eventually I believe all of us will re-remember through our spiritual practice.

So really, the two hands are not separate. They're part of the same body, so really all of these body minds of the world, they are all body minds of our true self, our one true self. And there may be even deeper understandings of the teachings of nonself, but I don't think I can teach on that because I think that would be the perspective of the Buddha. So I am not there right now. But this is my understanding of it so far.

And then last, but not least, nirvana, the nature of peace, the nature of happiness, the nature of bliss. To understand nirvana, there are many ways to understand this as well. But basically, it is important to understand what is not nirvana, right? So many times we crave and seek things to give us pleasure, but pleasure is not nirvana. And so many times we try to do things that make us happier, but true happiness is not in accumulating more things or whatever ways we try to feel happy. We may be going about happiness the wrong way because it may be that true happiness is not pleasure, but peace, inner peace, contentment. So maybe happiness is not about wild fun. And of course there's nothing wrong with having wild fun from time to time. It is part of the human experience, but do not cling to that as the source of your happiness. So, the source of happiness is not external. It is internal, and it is based on acceptance, letting go, and being at peace with reality as it truly is.

And another way of looking at the teaching of nirvana is that in the center of the core of our being already is nirvana, already is enlightenment, already is divinity, spirit, whatever you want to call it. It is the core of who we are, so it never has left us. It never can leave us. It is always there at the center of who we really are, and in our human experiences, going through tragedy, loss, suffering, crises, even in the midst of a difficult situation, there is always some jewel in it, always some wisdom there to learn, always something to be gained in benefit through experience. So I like to think of nirvana as being that jewel, that light. There is always some light even in the darkest darkness. Look for it. Find it, and let it shine. That is our job.

See, other people who are not in spiritual practice, when they are in the darkness, they create more darkness and more suffering, and they do not know how to look for that light because they are not even looking for that light necessarily. They do not know to look, but we know better, so it is our job to look for that jewel in the suffering and bring it out. So, these are just some ways of looking at this teaching. I'm not saying it is everything, but these are some ways.

And last but not least, the path is very, very important—the path that leads to the transformation of suffering. And there is an Eightfold Path. Here's another list. And this may have to be saved for another teaching because—but I will at least tell you that it is right view or understanding—and basically, what is right view or understanding? It is to at least have some grasp of the Four Noble Truths. See, I love that. The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path are completely linked. Why? Because the fourth Noble truth is the Eightfold Path, and the first of the Eightfold Path is the Four Noble Truths. So they are linked. Do you see that?

So, right view our understanding is to at least get an initial understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Now of course that is just your initial understanding. As you keep practicing the Eightfold Path, you'll have a deeper understanding of the Four Noble Truths, but this is wisdom. And then there is right intention or thinking, thought, or aspiration. Right speech, right action—and part of right action is the Five Mindfulness Trainings, which also includes the third part. The third and fourth together include the Five Mindfulness Trainings, our ethical, moral virtue, and other things as well. Right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, and right mindfulness.

Now this word, "right," is our translation of a Pali and Sanskrit word. It does not mean right versus wrong. It means right in the sense of it works. You know? So it is not like a judgment of, oh, you're doing it the wrong way. It is more like keep doing it that way, that doesn't really work for you. Is that really working for you here? You know, doing it this way, is that really working for you? No. Well, then you can change it. So there is no judgmental like right versus wrong. It is more like, this is what will work in harmony with reality, right? Rather than going against reality, this path works with reality, and it works.

So the first two, right view and right intention—and I can go into detail another time, but these two comprise wisdom, the wisdom aspect of the path, and then the next three—so right intention is wisdom, and right speech, action, and livelihood is virtue. We have got wisdom. We have got virtue, and then right effort, concentration, and mindfulness is about meditation, mind training. I won't go into detail tonight about each one, but you need all three aspects in your spiritual practice: wisdom, virtue, and meditation or mind training. Sometimes you can do mind training in other ways besides meditation, but I obviously have a personal bias for meditation as a great way of mind training. The meditation is not the only way to practice the mind training, but it is highly recommended. Otherwise I would not have started the Dallas Meditation Center.

So anyway, wisdom, virtue, and mind training—very, very important. So this is what the Buddha offered, and so many millions of practitioners throughout the centuries have practiced this and have found that it is right. It does work. So, I encourage you to really give yourself the gift of practicing the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.


Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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