The First Noble Truth
Today we’ll start the regular mail of the Daily Buddhism. We may as well start from the beginning. The very foundation of Buddhism is the Four Noble Truths. I can’t think of a better place to start than these ideas. We’ll cover them in order over the next four days. Many stories and concepts have been credited to the Buddha over the millenia since his death; some probably came from him, while others were probably apocryphal. No one doubts that Buddha himself came up with the Four Noble Truths. This is really the heart of Buddhism.
The first Noble Truth is the idea that All of life is suffering.
This just seems obviously wrong on first consideration. I was happy today, I was happy yesterday. Sure, there is occasional suffering for most people, and for some people there may actually be constant suffering, but to say all of life is suffering sounds not only depressing, but just plain wrong. Many people, hearing this most basic rule of Buddhism, immediately come to the conclusion that Buddhism is a negative thing; a depressing thing; a real downer. This is not the case.
On further reflection, there is a lot to be said for this idea. Bear with me a minute. There are various types of suffering with which we all must deal:
First, there is physical suffering. This is what most of us think of when we first hear about suffering; physical pain, mental distress and strong emotional disturbances. Things that make you… suffer. That’s pretty obvious.
But Buddha expanded on the idea of suffering by taking into consideration that all happiness is temporary. Everything is in fact temporary. This idea is what Buddhists call ‚Äúimpermanence.‚Äù No matter what you have, who you love, or what you do, eventually you will lose it. You will grow old and suffer; your friends and family will die. The great works you have done in your life will fade from memory. You will eventually die. You can build a stone monument that lasts three thousand years, but it too will eventually turn to dust. Yes, it’s depressing, but you have to admit that it’s true.
Buddha, coming from a background as a Hindu, took that second idea of suffering and expended it infinitely. If all of life is suffering, then what does reincarnation add to the mix? The answer is eternal suffering. Once you die an dget a little relief in this life, the cycle starts over again.
Also keep in mind that when I say ‚Äúsuffering,‚Äù I am poorly translating the word ‚ÄúDukkha‚Äù which does mean suffering, but also means ‚Äúimperfect‚Äù and ‚Äúunsatisfying‚Äù as well as ‚Äúgrasping.‚Äù Here is one translation of Buddhas own explanation:
“Now this … is the noble truth of suffering:birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.”
This idea of suffering is hard to accept, because we have been raised to think of life and the world as basically a good thing. And this is true to a certain extent; we can be happy for a while, but don’t you know in the back of your mind that sooner or later the happiness will end? This really is some depressing and sad stuff. Fortunately, Buddha found the reason for this suffering and figured out a way to defeat it.