Excerpts from Chapter 5 – Four Noble Truths, conclusion
Fourth: There is the Eightfold Noble Path for realizing Awakening
This awakening or nirvana is realized by practicing the four truth. This roadmap is called the Eightfold Noble Path. What are the eight? They are:
- Right View
- Right Intention
- Right Speech
- Right Conduct
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
We shall and subsequent chapters explore each of these four they deserve to be discussed in great depth. For now, the list gives us a sense of what is required in order to attain awakening.
So, between the four and third truths there also exists a cause and effect relationship. By practicing the Eightfold Noble Path (fourth truth) one can achieve nirvana or Awakening (the third truth), when suffering ends or is overcome.
For those who have a hard time remembering all eight parts of the Eightfold Noble Path, I’d like to share a tip that one of my teachers taught us for remembering them. He said to think of a German name, Mr. V. I. SCLEMM (pronounced “Shlem”); for example, “V” stands for “View” and “I” stands for “Intention” and so on! It certainly helped me to remember the eight. I hope that it can help you as well.
Summarizing the Four Noble Truths
So, the Four Noble Truths are comprised of two sets of cause and effect relationships. The second truth is the cause of the first truth, and the fourth truth is the cause of the third truth. And, most importantly, when the third truth (Awakening) is attained, the first truth (suffering) ceases.
When we evaluate the Four Noble Truths, they are quite scientific in nature. They do not require us to believe in something that we cannot experience in our lives. They tell us that we experience suffering, and then proceed to tell us what the causes are.
And then they show us how we can think, speak, and act in the right way; this is Karma. Karma means “our action in how we act, speak and think” (Three Actions). His original meaning was not “fate,” although it has come to be understood that way today. So if our Karma or action is in keeping with the Four Noble Truths, we are able to reduce our suffering as well as that of others.
Now, let’s see if we can summarize the Four Noble Truths by taking a final look at the grieving dog. Well, some of you may be saying to yourselves, “What a stupid, greedy dog!” But are we so different? Don’t we sometimes find ourselves in the same situation? Aren’t we swept away by our greed for more and more things?
As a result, we see some of our parents being over burden with huge debts and overtime work that put undue pressure on them and on their relationships with other people, including you. So, they end up not having enough time to spend with you and the other family members, with their friends, and with each other. Not having enough time for each other, some couples go distant and the relationships end up in divorce. Or the successful life can take a toll on the mind and body, leading to psychological and physical problems.
We could blame our greed on how our consumer-oriented society that forces us to spend-and-spend and buy-and-buy. Certainly, we have one of the richest societies in the history of humankind, where some middle-class people are able to live in four-bedroom homes with three-car garages. In many of these houses are located miles away from places of work, school, and shopping, requiring multiple cars and a lot of gasoline. Our life style leads us to spend and consume enormously. And if we are not careful, it can bury us under the weight of our greed. One such series outcome is the devastating effects of climate change.
But to travel the Buddhist path means to be self-directed, not simply to blame others or the economic system, and not to feel victimized. We can choose our own lifestyle as well as help to change the system to encourage the lifestyle of less consumption. We can do that in the spirit of engaged Buddhism, in which we are inspired to take the teachings from the personal level and apply them to the societal level.
And, of course, we can and we should on a personal level work to control our G. A. S. We could let our greed, anger/hatred and stupidity get out of control, like a greedy dog and suffer. The greedy dog should not have acted out on his greed to take a bone away from the puppy.
Or we can apply the Four Noble Truths to our lives, to see the various temptations in our lives, and take appropriate measures, as found in the Eightfold Noble Path. This is why the dust stressed the Four Noble Truths, as the following scriptural passage indicates:
“All those who are seeking Awakening must understand the Four Noble Truths. Without understanding these, they will wander about interminably in the bewildering maze of life’s illusions. Those who understand these Four Noble Truths are called “the people who have acquired the eyes of Awakening.”
Whether we suffer or not is up to each of us. This idea is expressed in a somewhat humorous line, “Suffering is optional,” which has become quite a popular phrase found in books and on television.
Actually, I first came across these words among the graffiti on the wall, of all places, a public restroom! I could not help blurt out laughing when I found such a statement of truth on the restroom wall. It read:
“Suffering is optional!”
Now, I have since added “Difficulties are mandatory,” so as to read, “Difficulties are mandatory, but suffering is optional!” We all know that difficulties are inevitable in life, but by practicing the Four Noble Truths they do not necessarily have to become my suffering. Thus, “suffering is optional.” So, suffering is up to you.
A lesson to be learned from the Four Noble Truths
We wish to conclude with a very important lesson we can learn from the Four Noble Truths, and that is this: by learning to let go or reduce our G. A. S., we can reduce our suffering for ourselves and for others. This is an optimistic message even though we, as persons leading ordinary lives in the modern world, would not be able to completely let go or eliminate G. A. S. as did the Buddha.
Nevertheless, by putting the Four Noble Truths into practice, there will be a real difference in our lives. This difference will become clear the more we put them into action in our daily lives.
In this regard, we should not misunderstand the aim of the Four Noble Truths. Just because the first truth has to do with suffering, it does not mean that it’s the most important or is the conclusion. Instead, the Four Noble Truths conclude with Awakening (the third truth) or Nirvana, which is none other than “ultimate happiness, bliss, freedom and/or liberation.”
This misunderstanding often becomes the basis for many people, especially those of other religions, who see Buddhism to be overly negative and pessimistic. However, if the critics were correct, Buddha would not have inspired and brought happiness to millions of people for 26 centuries. Such true happiness is also reflected in the peaceful smiles and faces on the artistic images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas!
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