First Noble Truth – A Simple Explanation of One Aspect

1. One does not need to be a Buddhist or even heard about the Buddha to know what conventional “suffering” is. Anyone knows that getting sick, getting old, and dying is cause for suffering.

  • But then the Buddha said, “these four Noble Truths are not known to the world until a Buddha describes them”.
  • Thus the Buddha was talking about a kind of suffering that ANYONE in this world is destined to have either now or in the future. He was mainly concerned with the LONG TERM suffering, in the future rebirths and how to STOP that from taking place.

2. However, there are some sufferings in this very life that arise due to our current way of life, or what we do or think right now. In this post I want to address such “SHORT TERM” sufferings that also can be AVOIDED.

  • A significant part of our suffering comes from the mind. Whether one lives in a grand mansion or in a hut, this part of suffering is common to us all.
  • And even some famous and rich people that we know could not bear this mental pain to such an extent that they committed suicide. From Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe to Whitney Houston and Robin Williams, there are many well-known cases; see, for a long list that extends to the past.

3. Obviously, one can have mostly everything that any one of us can only wish for (health, wealth, beauty, fame, etc), but still suffer. One could get a glimpse of what the Buddha meant by suffering if one could contemplate on this issue, and that revelation itself could lead to the avoidance of that kind of suffering.

  • We can get rid of a big part of suffering in the near future by controlling hate or displeasure towards other people. Even though the other party may have done something wrong to us, most of the suffering is inflicted by ourselves. This needs some contemplation to clarify.

4. Suppose I come to know that someone said a bad (and untrue) thing about me to others. The moment I hear this my mind gets agitated. And I could be spending the next hour or two or even the next day or two saying to myself and friends, “I cannot believe that so and so said this about me. Why would he do that?”, and may be even be thinking about how to retaliate. All this time spent on such activity was a burden to the mind. I caused more suffering to myself by just dwelling on it, and by generating more hateful thoughts.

  • I could have handled the situation better as following: If I know from past experience that he would not have said it without a reason, I need to talk to him and clarify the situation. If that failed or if I knew that he was “just that type of a person” I just need to stay away from him. We cannot control the behavior of other people. The best thing is to stay away from such people.
  • Staying away from “bad company” is critical especially for children. It is imperative for the parents to make sure that their children stay away from bad friends.

5. Another thing that is related is not to try to spend too much of your time and energy to convince other people to see “things your way”. For valid or invalid reasons, each person has a set of beliefs and convictions. I have realized that it causes unnecessary mental suffering to myself and others if I try hard to convince the other party of my own views. I have no right to say my views are better than the views of the others; I just explain things the way I see them.

  • Even the Buddha did not try to even advice certain people, because they could have caused long-term harm for themselves by generating hateful thoughts of the Buddha.
  • One has to realize that getting rid of ditthi or wrong views is the first step in getting some “cooling down”. It is true that palpable “cooling down” can be attained by getting rid of the worst wrong views; see, “Wrong Views (Micca Ditthi) – A Simpler Analysis“.

6. Then there is extreme greed, that could also lead to unnecessary suffering. Here one needs to make a distinction between two extremes: It is really necessary to avoid physical discomfort on one extreme. But trying to “acquire fancy things” for the sake of pride  is the other extreme.

  • We do need food, clothes, shelter, and medicine to avoid living a miserable life. Therefore, we need to make a decent living to provide such necessities for ourselves and our families.
  • However, if we try to acquire, for example a “bigger and fancy house”, that could cause anxiety and even suffering especially one is stretching one’s resources to achieve that “extra bit of happiness”. That “extra bit of happiness” could become a nightmare in some cases, for example if one loses employment or encounters an unexpected expense.

7. One does not need to feel bad about the wealth one has acquired legitimately and to use that wealth for one’s comfort. One has already paid for that in the past (a good kamma vipaka). In the same way, if one is poor, one needs to understand two things per Buddha Dhamma: First, one is in that situation because of a past cause (bad kamma vipaka). Second, and more importantly, one can work oneself out of that situation, because kamma vipaka are not deterministic; see, “What is Kamma? – Is Everything Determined by Kamma?”.

8. The key is to live within one’s means, and strive for a better living condition if one actually does not have enough for a comfortable living. There is so much of “peace of mind” in a simple life, even if one has a lot of wealth. Most people ruin their lives by trying to seek sense pleasures using money. That only gets one on a track that leads to seeking more and more such pleasures and eventually running out options.

  • The sad thing is that they do not know there is so much “peace of mind” to be had just by living a simple life with less greed and less hate.

9. It is hard to fathom, but it is true that craving for valuable material things makes one’s mind temporarily happy at times but perpetually burdened. This statement needs a lot of thought for clarification.

  • The perceived happiness comes from the perceived “value” of the item by one’s mind, and if that item is lost or damaged that can lead to much more suffering. Here is a hypothetical situation: A mother dies and her two daughters inherit a supposedly highly valued necklace. Each daughter wants it, and they get into arguments and both come to much mental suffering. Eventually, a wise elder suggests to sell the item and share the money. When they try to sell it, they find that it is of low quality and is really worthless. They had each inflicted so much suffering because of a “perceived value” for that necklace.

10. The real happiness is not having anything to worry about. That does not mean one needs to give away everything one has.

  • Using things that are available to oneself and having a greedy mindset are two different things.
  • One could be living in a mansion with a peace of mind knowing that all his/her wealth is not forever, and another could be living with a burdened mind in a hut with so much attachment to whatever little he/she has or with jealousy/hatred for what others have.
  • On the other hand, one could be living in a mansion with a burdened mind and could even commit suicide, while a poor person who has learned Dhamma could be living in a hut with a peace of mind content with what he/she has and knowing that any hardship is just for a short time (in this life).
  • The bottom line is that things happen due to causes, and by controlling our minds we have the power to initiate good causes (moral deeds) and to suppress bad causes (immoral deeds). Some will be effective for the short term and all will be effective for the long term.

Also see, “First Noble Truth is Suffering? Myths about Suffering“.

Next, “Difference between a Wish and a Determination (Paramita)“, ………

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