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Deep understanding and the four noble truths


Deep understanding at experiential level of right practice is only possible through the mental cultivation known as Meditation; Vipasana Meditation.

By Sanjoo Thangjam


What did the Buddha teach? It is a very common question that generally asked by newcomers into Buddhism. It is indeed a fundamental question that everyone should learn to ask in every aspect of life.

Regarding Buddhism, there are different ways to respond depending on the questioner’s intention and perspective. Any response however can only be a guideline or a road map. It would not be possible to find the actual answer until one gets into the car and drives the road.

Buddhism basically is based on the mainstays called the Triple Gem;

1) The Buddha – one who was awakened,

2) The Dhamma – truth /teachings of the awakened one and

3) Sangha – community of the fully awakened one.

The Triple Gem is the cornerstone of the Buddhist’s beliefs and is the most valuable possession in the spiritual armoury. A formal ceremonial commitment is made to all three whenever one decides to follow the path of the Buddha, that is, to avoid doing any evil and unwholesome actions that harms oneself and others, basically including taking things that is not given, sexual misconduct, speaking unskillfully and taking things that delude the mind and consciousness, but to cultivate good wholesome deeds, being kind, compassionate , generous ,respecting human rights and equalities, skilful speaking that generates love and compassion and to purify the deluded mind through mindful living.

However, the core foundation of the Buddhist teachings is generally understood to be the Four Noble Truths. That is:

1) The fact that unhappiness exists,

2) There is a cause for unhappiness,

3) There is the end for unhappiness and

4) There is a way to find happiness.

These Four Noble Truths are the foundation of all the teachings of the Buddha. It is the master plan or road map that leads one to find a peaceful and tranquil mind that is free from suffering and that leads one to liberation. The way to end the suffering that leads to the illumination of ultimate wisdom according to the Buddha’s instruction is to follow the Middle Way avoiding the two extremes of life.

“There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth, says the Buddha. Which two?

That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects; base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable and that which is devoted to self-affliction ; painful, ignoble, unprofitable.

Avoiding both these extremes, the middle way realized by the Buddha – producing vision, producing knowledge leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening , to unbinding.”

The middle path, therefore, is a fundamental teaching of the Buddha, sometimes understood as the way of life consisting of eight steps, the Eightfold noble Path:

1) Right understanding,

2) Right thinking,

3) Right speech,

4) Right conduct,

5) Right vocation,

6) Right effort,

7) Right alertness and

8) Right concentration.

The Buddha furthermore taught something unique in his second sermon that impermanence is a natural fact. It is the universal truth. There is a famous Thai statement about changing nature of all phenomena says “the only unchangeable fact is change itself’. Inability to understand the changing phenomenon causes dissatisfaction generally known as suffering, unhappiness or misery.

Suffering, in terms of the Buddha’s teaching refers to both physical and mental suffering but a deeper level, it only refers to the mental suffering. The Buddha suggests a possible solution. Suffering or unhappiness can be reduced, according to the Buddha, only through development of selflessness/ egoless-ness (non-soul identity), which the Buddha term amatta. Objects that are subjects to change cannot be permanent (atta) entity. Hence it is selflessness, no atta.

The core Buddhist teaching is also summarized concisely in the verse spoken by one his first five disciples, Ven. Assajit when he was asked by Venerable Sariputta, the Buddha’s right hand assistant to be. It goes like this:

“Of things that proceed from a cause,

Their cause the Buddha has told and

Also their cessation:

Thus teaches the Great Ascetic.”

The birth is suffering, the Buddha further explains the general nature of impermanence, aging is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress and despair are suffering, associating with things disliked and separation from things liked or loved ones is suffering, not getting things that are desired is suffering, in short the Buddha said, the clinging to five arrogates; from feeling, perception, mental formation and consciousness are suffering.

For 45 years The Buddha frequently instructed his listeners that these aggregates are subject to change and impermanence. One should not be attached to them, or cling to them. These five aggregates should not be accepted or grasped as me and mine but should not be accepted as non-self because it is subject to change. It is impermanent. Learning to avoid clinging to the five aggregates is the path that leads to ultimate happiness.

Detachment from materialism is hard enough for today’s consumer world, so it is certain that detachment is not a simple endeavour because of human desire and attachment to things. As a result, Buddhism emphasizes the gradual development of letting go from a very basic level of learning to giving away like generosity and then learning to give greatly as foundation for spiritual development. Learning to give things is a start of learning to give away things that belongs to us. Learning to give things away is path to letting go even unwanted feelings, anxieties, emotions and sensations, discarding and completely disconnecting with it which everyone can develop through right understanding and proper practice.

The Buddha explained The Noble Truth of suffering, its cause that is craving for pleasure, craving for individual existence or release from our present situation, such craving can be transcended and the mind liberated from the demands of the insatiable ego, and we can find a way of life which leads to the end of sufferings. The way leading to the end of the suffering is the middle path or the Noble Eightfold Path. These are the foundation stones on which the entire Dhamma is based.

In the study of Buddhism, therefore, a mere superficial glance or even just learning the philosophical aspects of it and repetition of words is futile unless it leads to deep understanding and right practice, therefore are fundamental tools that lead to ultimate reality. Deep understanding at experiential level of right practice is only possible through the mental cultivation known as Meditation; Vipasana Meditation.

(The writer is a Social Activist of People Who Use Drugs (PUDs) and a Columnist based in Imphal)

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