Buddha statue quiet lake
The Buddha's Basic Teachings
Listen to this talk:
The Buddha's Basic Teachings (29 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
September 21, 2014 - Dallas, Texas

Thank you so much for your practice today. Sometimes we have silent meditation, sometimes guided, sometimes very, very guided. There are people who like different things and different types, so just keep coming back to the practice over and over again.

So, the basic teachings of the Buddha on suffering and happiness are called the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. And the reason why they are called noble is mainly because when our mind, through meditation and through insight and through purification, is very, very highly conscious, you call that a noble mind. So these truths are not necessarily noble in themselves, but rather when your mind is purified to its noble state, these are the truths you see. The truth of the universe becomes very clear when your mind is very noble.

Now what is interesting is that the word noble in Sanskrit is arya. It is kind of like the Aryan race. Unfortunately, some people took that word and perverted it. But it originally meant noble, noble people and noble truths. But one interesting thing about the Buddha is that, very similar to Jesus, he did not advocate this idea of having nobility by birth only. For example, the Buddha said you are not truly an arya just because of your race, and you are not truly a Brahmin, a higher caste, just because you are born to that. But the way of your character and your actions and your mind, that determines a true Brahmin, a true spiritual person, a true noble person.

I mean, in the Christian tradition, they say the same thing. The apostle Paul said you're not just a true Jew in God's sight just because you're born into that heritage, but if you have a truly purified heart, and you love God and all of that, that is the true Jew. You know, not by birth, but by heart and spirit. I think it is the same concept.

But anyway, Eightfold Path is part of the Four Noble Truths because the Fourth Noble Truth is the Eightfold Path. And what is interesting is the first of the Eightfold Path is the Four Noble Truths. So, you can't escape either one. You can just teach on the Four Noble Truths, but you are going to have to teach the Eightfold Path along with that. Or if you just want to teach the noble Eightfold Path, you're going to end up teaching about the Four Noble Truths, too.

So, I want to focus more on the Second Noble Truth today. The First Noble Truth is that there is suffering in life. Whether we like it or not, it is part of our human experience. And this is hours and hours of teaching, so I am only going to give you a little bit. You can do more in-depth study from some free books online that I can suggest to you, or you can just look it up for yourself on Google.

But anyway, what I want to teach along with this is I want you to notice that there is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain—in other words unpleasantness—whether physical or whatever in life is part of our reality, and to deny that or to act as if there is something wrong with that actually causes friction mentally. It causes us more suffering. So if I were to stub my toe, you know, bam, ouch, pain, and it really, really hurts. And I say to myself, "Gosh. I don't know. I think I might've broken it. But I don't have time to go to the hospital today. Maybe I will wait till tomorrow. By then, it may have spread some sort of gangrene infection or something, and they will have to operate, and then the doctor may have to actually cut off my entire leg, so I will be a one-footed leg hopper for the rest of my life. Nobody will want me, and I will die alone on my deathbed probably."

Okay. So the stubbing of the toe was pain, but all the mental story I created was suffering. Does that make sense? So the practice the Buddha is teaching us is we don't need to create more suffering on top of the normal pain of life. In fact, the normal pain of life needs to be accepted. It is because we don't accept the normal pain of life that we start creating these mental resistances, and that actually creates suffering, mental suffering. But if we can just flow with, okay, accept that here are the conditions of life. Can I live with it? Can I flow with it? Can I work with it? You are more likely to stay happy and to create more happiness through even the little pains of life.

But the main thing is you do not need to—sometimes pain is inevitable, and we don't need to create suffering on top of it. We don't need to cram more suffering on top of the normal pain of life. Does that make sense?

Okay. So then the Second Noble Truth is that there are causes of suffering or pain. And primarily for the causes, we are talking about the suffering that we add that we do not need to add, and they are usually listed as craving and aversion. I'm going to do a little different teaching than I normally do on this just because I'm trying to integrate two different kinds of teachings on this. I'm going to create four causes even though it is usually only three. Or you could even think of five, but anyway. All the orthodox Buddhists are rolling around because of me.

So sometimes when we have a list of things, we only mention the first one on the list to mean the whole list. Have you ever heard the phrase, I am going to go to the foot of the mountain? Well, you're really going to the whole mountain, but you are at the foot of it, and so sometimes a part of something is made to denote the whole. Otherwise you have to go through the whole list.

So many times traditionally that craving, desire, grasping, obsessive-compulsive craving is the main cause of our suffering because we want something and we can't have it, or we want things to be different from what they are, or etcetera. So, its twin opposite is aversion, which is to push away. So there is something that we don't want, we push it away and we hate it or we judge it. We dislike it. And then we can also act just completely indifferent, like we don't care one way or the other. We ignore. So maybe there is someone that is in your life, but you just don't really care about them, and you just don't even think about them and ignore them. You just act indifferent.

So these are different responses that we have to phenomena, but they're all based on delusion and ignorance. Sometimes ignorance and delusion are sort of lumped together as the same thing. Sometimes they are separate. Again, none of these things—like I told someone recently, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, the teachings of enlightenment, the teachings of the Buddha, the teachings of truth are not really like a mathematical formula. I mean, we present them in numbers to help memorize things. Like the Ten Commandments, okay, that is easy to remember. Or whatever.

But really truth is not a mathematical equation. It is more like an organic garden rather than a mathematical equation. So, truth is much more organic and multilayered, rather than sequential and linear. Just keep that in mind. But for the purposes of learning, we turned the teachings into a list of things just to help us learn it. You know, eventually you have to live it, and then when you live it, you realize there are a lot of different nuances that no one could possibly teach you from a book. Right? Don't you have a lot of things you learned just from living life, rather than just from reading about it? Yeah. Life itself is our greatest teacher.

So anyway, we have craving, aversion, or indifference, and many times we crave for things that are not good for us. We push away things that might actually bring some wisdom into our lives if we would stop resisting so much, and then we are just completely indifferent and ignoring most of everything else. You know, we only keep conscious about things that we either want or don't want, and then everything else doesn't even exist to us.

So that actually disturbs our understanding of reality, and it also makes it very difficult for us to really be present here and now, because we're just walking through life only half there. Right? Because the rest of reality is completely oblivious to us. It is based on our ignorance of reality. And so based on our ignorance of how we are reacting to reality, you know, if we could at least know this is what we are doing, we have a chance at undoing it. And of course, we have deluded ideas about reality as well, and that is actually what I wanted to mainly talk about today, I think, really quickly.

But the Third Noble Truth is that basically true happiness is possible. We do not have to create more and more suffering. We don't have to allow pain to overwhelm us and be our only reality. There is true peace and happiness possible and liberation and enlightenment possible. And of course the Eightfold Path is a way of cultivating our consciousness, our life. It is a way that makes us happiness-prone, and it makes it possible to realize how to not be overly ignorant and deluded and ignorantly just only have reactivity. Because craving and aversion, the difference is reactivity. We don't want reactivity. We want response. We want to be responsive. In the moment when something happens, are we reacting or are we responding from a deeper place?

Through the Eightfold Path, we can respond from a deeper place. So, the Eightfold Path consists of three categories. By the way, I'm noticing I am really, really just touching on the surface of these qualities. So the first category is wisdom. So that is the right view and right thinking. So right view basically means to have a basic, correct understanding of the Four Noble Truths. You have at least a basic idea about the difference between suffering and pain. You have a basic understanding of how we cause ourselves unnecessary suffering through our reactivity of craving, aversion, and indifference, which is based on delusion or ignorance.

We know that there is true happiness available and possible, even in this moment. If we don't believe that, then basically, it totally takes away our motivation for practice. But if we believe that yes, happiness is possible for us—if we believe that we do not need to just create more suffering—and that is the message of the Third Noble Truth. There's something more about that, but we don't have time to go into it. So anyway, I will say this. One insight I have had on the Third Noble Truth is you don't need to wait until you're fully enlightened to be happy because happiness is inherent in your existence.

So even though part of your existence is the human part that is still growing and suffering and trying to figure things out, there is a deeper part of you that also is existing. It is always there. It is the part of you that is your Buddha nature, your true self, that which is fundamentally wisdom and compassion. So you actually get little glimpses of enlightenment every day, those moments of completely being present and being at peace with what is. You know.

The reason why when you practice and once in a while you may have a really major experience of samadhi or maybe even a glimpse of enlightenment, you don't realize, oh, that is not any different from what I already knew. You already know. You already know that because you have little moments of it all the time. It is just that when you have those big kinds of enlightenment moments, they are more intensive and longer. But you know what it is like. It is a part of who you are. So that is why I tell everyone, "You already know how to meditate. You do it all the time. You see? You just don't know that you're meditating, but you are all the time, every day in some form or another." But through formal meditation practice, you help cultivate those moments to be more deep and longer.

So, okay. So the Eightfold Path is right view and right thinking. Right view is basically getting a basic understanding of the truth, the Four Noble Truths, and the second, right thinking, is more like right motivation. I suppose that is another way of translating it. You basically try to harmonize your goals and thoughts and motivations toward lovingkindness and wisdom and all of these wonderful qualities rather than despair and misery and selfishness and things like that. So you are realigning your mind to think a certain way.

And then you have right speech, right action, and right livelihood. So these three are the part of virtue. So not only do we want to cultivate wisdom through a right understanding of the basic way things are, and also to align our thinking with that, we also want to practice that in our behavior, in our speech, action, and livelihood. This is virtue.

And also, we need to also not forget right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration, which are aspects of meditation. Many times in most people's lives, they may have grown up in a spiritual tradition that has some virtue and maybe a little bit of wisdom—or not—but almost very little at all, if any, of meditation. But for a spiritual path to be complete, it needs to have all three aspects.

You don't have to be Buddhist to practice these, but whatever your main tradition is, just try to see if anything is missing. Is there meditation in your tradition that you're practicing? Is there virtue? Is there wisdom? These all exist in every tradition, so you don't have to be Buddhist to practice the path of enlightenment. But look at the ingredients and see where you need to re-emphasize something that may have been neglected.

So, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. I'm not going to go into detail about them right now tonight, but just know that wisdom, virtue, and meditation are three aspects of this path. Now usually once you get a little basic wisdom now, then we need to really, really try to cultivate our behavior toward enlightened behavior. And then we also practice meditation to train our mind, but as we do that, guess what? It goes right back to wisdom, a deeper understanding, and a more intensive aligning of our thinking mind toward enlightenment. See?

So where we start is just a very basic almost superficial understanding of right view and right thinking, but as we keep practicing, it goes to a deeper understanding, a deeper understanding of the right view and the right thinking and so forth. And then of course a deeper understanding informs your behavior, deepens your meditation, and just is a cycle over and over and over again. And not necessarily in that order, but it just keeps going. You are always growing.

Well, I don't know if I'm going to get to the delusion, but I will say this real quick. Maybe I will give you the outline, and I apologize it is just the outline. We are deluded about three things, but I am going to make it four because different schools have different listings. So I just put them all together to make it four. If you haven't already noticed in the last few months, for those who have known me, I am not necessarily very orthodox. I am much more flexible in my way of teaching Buddhism.

So anyway, there is our delusion about the nature of suffering. There is delusion about the nature of impermanence, and there is delusion about the nature of our self or non-self. And there is also delusion about the nature of nirvana, true nirvana. So, in a way, we have already talked about suffering when we talked about the First Noble Truth, and we also talked about nirvana when I addressed the Third Noble Truth of happiness. So I'm not going to go into more detail. I mean, there's a lot more teaching on those.

The main things I'm going to focus on in closing is our impermanence and non-self. So because we are deluded about the nature of reality, it causes us suffering when we act in friction with the way things are. So in our mind, really, we may want things to be more permanent. But to want something that goes against reality causes suffering. So we may want to live for 1,000 years or whatever, but that is not the reality with that. We don't even know when we are going to die, and it is usually less than 100 years of earth life and sometimes much less. You never know.

You may want certain things to be more permanent like your house, your car, your marriage, your good relationship to your children or parents or whatever, but it changes. It does not stay the same. I mean, sometimes things change for the better, but then they start changing for the worse, and things just change. Always change, change, change. But change is the way of the physical universe, and the sooner we learn how to accept that and emotionally be in harmony with that, the sooner we can learn how to not cause so much suffering around that.

So impermanence, we need to really, really practice with that, and you know impermanence is not necessarily a bad thing because, like Thich Nhat Hanh says, because of impermanence, your little baby can grow up. Because of impermanence, your depression can change to something better. So there is a positive side to impermanence because impermanence actually makes everything possible. Everything in existence is possible because of impermanence and change and evolution.

So then, the truth of non-self, that's a little bit deeper truth, and there are many, many levels of understanding this. I think that only when you have a deep experience of a glimpse of enlightenment or a little glimpse into your true nature will you start understanding the deeper level what non-self means. But luckily for us, there are simpler understandings of non-self, too. Not just the deepest kinds, but the simpler kinds.

So one simple way of understanding non-self is to think of it as interbeing, that we are all selves made of other things, that we are all interconnected, interrelated. So the self is not just this entity all in and of and by itself, but rather, we are made of the air we breathe and the sunshine and the earth and the water and the food that we eat and everything that we drink. We are made of our education and our upbringing and our parents' influence and our friends and our culture and religion.

All these separate things make up what we call our self, but we don't ever have one solid separate self that is separate from all these things. What we call a self is made of all these other things, so there is not this very solid distinction and wall. It is more permeable. Our self is much more permeable and ever-flowing and ever-changing, ever-evolving because everything is part of who we are. So that is one very basic simple understanding of non-self, and there are deeper understandings. But that is one simple one that most people can understand.

Ok, so… Thank you.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

▲ Return to Top