“I will try, like them to be my own silence: and this is difficult. The whole world is secretly on fire. The stones burn, even the stones they burn me. How can a man be still or listen to all things burning? How can he dare to sit with them when all their silence is on fire?” from In Silence, by Thomas Merton "Any attempt to change a situation either politically or otherwise should be based on the transformation of our own consciousness." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh "We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Four Noble Truths
That both I and you have had to travel and trudge through this long round is owing to our not discovering, not penetrating the four truths. What four? They are the noble truth of dukkha; the noble truth of the origin of dukkha; the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha; and the noble truth of the way to the cessation of dukkha. ~DN 16 (with dukkha left untranslated)
I’ve been thinking about the Four Noble Truths and how they manifest in my life. What I find is the more I understand my suffering, the more I can see how I create the conditions that lead me to heaven or to hell. When I engage in compassionate awareness of my thoughts and beliefs, I take the first step towards creating a life that meets me with kindness.
The first Noble Truth the Buddha asks us to understand and keep alive in our lives is “The Noble Truth of dukkha,” often translated as the Noble Truth of suffering (Digha Nikaya, Sutta 16). The word Dukkha is nuanced and relates to the pain of being in a body that gets sick and old. Dukkha encompasses the irritation and discomfort of constant maintenance since all things fall apart. The distressing recognition that what is truly lovely and good doesn’t last since it is made of moving parts and cannot be sustained independently is also how we encounter dukkha. We can’t imprison our happiness, our love, our good mood, and health. It all changes and we come smack up against what we don’t want, the angry person, the conflict, the sickness, shame, fear, someone getting what we want, frustration, painful bodies, getting what we don’t want, and the shared pain of those we love who are caught in their own sticky web of dukkha. Sometimes it seems as if the whole world is either caught in or fleeing from this wide net of suffering.
This can lead to the common misunderstanding that many folks have, that life is suffering. We know that life includes suffering, but it also includes the end of suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that when the Buddha said suffering (dukkha) exists, with that statement he also acknowledged the opposite of suffering, the sukha, the sweetness that exists as well. With the insight of “interbeing” the understanding that nothing exists independently, no thought, no person, or thing. The day does not exist without night, fullness without emptiness, the inbreath cannot exist without the exhale to make room for it, all things need an opposite to bring them into existence. Just the way we would not comprehend hot, if we did not know cold; when we acknowledge the challenges of dukkha, of what is unsatisfactory and unwanted, we can understand that there is also the sweetness of the end of dukkha.
We’ve all had those moments when we realized something painful ends and there’s a break in the clouds. Our internal sun comes out and we feel it in our bodies, they are more spacious and light, there is more air in our cells, our muscles lengthen, constriction and tension in the body and mind eases. The protection and fear around our heart softens and we can let the heart space be radiant and unafraid. We change from a fearful protected being to one that is integrated and part of this world. We rest in the awareness that while there are difficulties and challenges, there is a place of open awareness and understanding, a place to find that stillness in the midst of busyness where our busy minds and weary bodies find refuge and stillness simply by remembering choice and our powerful “no.”
The Second Noble Truth is the noble truth of the origin of dukkha, meaning that what we do, think, and say, are all ingredients for creating happiness of suffering. We have more choice and more power than we believe. Indeed, the world we live in trains us to feel lack and does not willingly give us an understanding of our own authority over our lives. What would happen if we decided we didn’t want to torture ourselves with wanting to look like that person in the magazine, to be that size, that successful? What would it do to our GNP if we decided we don’t want the promotion that means we will be glued to our computer for 11 hours a day? How would we step away from suffering if we say no to the fear and shame that keeps us quiet when white friends tell a hand-me-down joke that ends with white people laughing at an old fiction about Black people? How would we stop suffering if we say no to harsh speech that harms and divides when we long to illuminate and raise us all up?
The Third Noble Truth the Buddha shared is the cessation of dukkha or the way to happiness since the ending of suffering is happiness. How does your “no” lead you to happiness? Saying no when we bump up against words and actions that do not support our deepest values of kindness and consideration leads us directly to the Fourth Noble Truth, the path of mindful living. We can let our “no” to exploitation and lies, align us with Right Speech and Right Livelihood. We can practice letting our “no” keep our lives simple and free from overscheduling, over-commitment, and overwork. “No” means we can stop doing and learn to sit still long enough to find that quiet place and that peace we all have inside of us leading directly to Right View.
In interbeing, no does not exist without a yes. When we say “no,” what are we saying “yes” to, “yes” to kindness, to inclusiveness, to honesty, and to the most beautiful gift we can give ourselves, time to just be. Our “no” creates our “yes” which gives rise to these qualities that make our lives more wonderful and make our world a place we want to inhabit. We all have to work for our own salvation. There is no one-size-fits-all training or belief that will give it to us. The world we live in likes us better when we comply and say yes without questioning, “how is this for my heart, for my soul?” It is hard-won and sometimes heartbreakingly painful to look at what we have said yes to and to chose again to give ourselves the gifts that we didn’t believe we deserved, to give ourselves time, consideration, gentleness, and the recognition that we belong here, we matter, and we are more powerful than we have been taught.
May we all trust our light,