I. Life Involves Suffering
The “Dissatisfactory” Nature of Existence
Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of duhkha. Birth
is duhkha, old age is duhkha, sickness is duhkha, and death is duhkha. Sorrow, lamentation, dejection, and despair are duhkha. Contact with unpleasant things is duhkha, and separation from what one wishes is duhkha. In short, the Five Aggregates onto which one grasps are duhkha. (BIBE, 48; cf. OBS, 47)
- Was the Buddha a
pessimist? Why not try to maximize pleasure and minimize pain?
II. The Cause of Suffering
this, monks, is the noble truth about the arising of suffering: It is
craving [tanha] that leads to rebirth, along with the delight and the lust
longingly now here, now there: namely, the craving for sensual
pleasure, the craving for rebirth, the craving for extinction. Such,
monks, is the noble truth about the arising of suffering. (OBS, 47; cf. BIBE, 49)
- Do you agree that desire is the cause of suffering? Why or why not?
Karma and Rebirth
In the center of some of the artistic renderings of the Wheel of Life are pictures of the various realms in which living beings can be reborn through karma. Karma, according to the Buddha, is the result of willful intention: “It is will [cetana], O monks, that I call karma; for having willed, one acts through body, speech or mind” (Anguttara-nikaya,
III, 415). In other words, the good or bad willful intentions that
motivate the doing of good or bad actions are what result in karmic
fruition. Accidental or unintended good or bad actions, like
nonmoral actions, do not result in karma. However, all intentional
moral or immoral acts condition or mold one’s consciousness in ways
that, in turn, condition one’s life in the future, and ultimately one’s
rebirth. Remember that it is consciousness that, like a flame in this
life, lights the flame of one’s next life. In this regard, good or bad
rebirths are not to be seen simply as rewards or punishments, but as
the resulting effect of one’s conscious character molded by lives of
good and bad actions that reflect how one ultimately chooses to live. (BIBE, 41-42)
III. The Cessation of Suffering
When Desires Cease, Suffering will Cease
Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of the cessation
of duhkha. It is the complete cessation of that very craving, giving it up, renouncing it, release from it, detachment from it. (BIBE, 51; cf. OBS, 48)
- Does the elimination of desire
inevitably lead to the extinction of suffering?
- If suffering can be eliminated, then why do we
fail to pursue this as a serious goal?
thing that is interesting about the Buddha’s statement of the Third
Noble Truth is the few words he uses in comparison to the number used
in stating the other three truths. Perhaps the reason is that the
Buddha never spoke very much about what Nirvana ultimately is. Up to
this point we have been looking at teachings of the Buddha that he
explicates at some length. Therefore, there is not a great deal of
disagreement among scholars about what those teachings entail. However,
this is not the case with Nirvana. In fact, volumes have been written
in which scholars have tried to answer the question, “What is Nirvana?”
Some claim that it is an absolute Truth. Others say it is a
transcendent metaphysical Reality. Still others argue that it is a
supermundane experience or a supreme and pure state of mind. (BIBE,
IV. The Eightfold Path
Working Towards the Cessation of Suffering
this, O monks, is the noble truth of the way that leads to the
cessation of duhkha.
This is this Noble Eightfold Path, namely, Right Understanding, Right
Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort,
Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration. (BIBE, 51; cf. OBS, 48)
The path can be divided into 3 groups:
1. Right Understanding
2. Right Thought
- Forming the
intention to pursue the Buddha’s path, including the resolution
to practice benevolence or “nonharmfulness” to sentient beings.
3. Right Speech
speech should always be in
accordance with the principle of “nonharmfulness.”
4. Right Action
actions should also be in accord
with the principle of “nonharmfulness.”
5. Right Livelihood
- In line with the
previous ethical principles, laypeople should pursue a line of work
that promotes the welfare of other sentient beings and minimizes
actions that might harm them.
The effort to
eliminate harmful karma at the mental level; this represents the
the self-examination process.
meditation employs aspects of the two main techniques of Buddhist meditation: samatha (calming)
and vipassana (insight). Samatha
for stabilizing the mind and preventing new karma,
but only “insight” leads to nirvana. Mindfulness meditation
combines these by first stabilizing the mind by focusing on the breath,
and then directing the mind to contemplate the nature of body, mind,
and their relationship to the totality of things.
builds on the practice of mindfulness by focusing on a particular
mental object until one reaches a state of “one-pointedness,” which in
turn leads to penetrating “insight” (vipassana) into the object of focus. There is a traditional list of forty objects for meditative concentration, ultimately leading to “formless meditations” (arupajhana) on mental objects such as “nothingness” (sunyata) and “neither perception nor non-perception” (nevasanyanasanyayatana), which are regarded as the highest states of consciousness that provide a glimpse into the nature of parinirvana — the final release from samsara that occurs at the death of one who has fully awakened.