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    Modern version of the Eternal Knot by Charles Huttner
A View on Buddhism
Teksty w jezyku polskim     Deutsche Seiten


1. This is suffering
2. The causes of suffering
3. Suffering can end, nirvana is peace
4. The true path or eight-fold noble path

"I teach about suffering and the way to end it"
Shakyamuni Buddha


The teachings on the four noble truths are among the very first of many teachings that Shakyamuni Buddha gave in Sarnath (near Benares or Varanasi in North-East India), seven weeks after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya. These teachings are known to contain the essence of the Buddhist path, regardless of the tradition one follows.


According to the Buddha, whatever life we lead, it has the nature of some aspect of suffering. Even if we consider ourselves happy for a while, this happiness is transitory by nature. This mean that at best, we can only find temporary happiness and pleasure in life.

Suffering (or unsatisfactoriness) can be distinguished in three types:
1. Suffering of suffering: this refers to the most obvious aspects like pain, fear and mental distress.
2. Suffering of change: refers to the problems that change brings, like joy disappears, nothing stays, decay and death.
3. All-pervasive suffering: this is the most difficult to understand aspect, it refers to the fact that we always have the potential to suffer or can get into problematic situations. Even death is not a solution in Buddhist philosophy, as we will simply find ourselves being reborn in a different body, which will also experience problems.

To illustrate this with the words of the 7th Dalai Lama (from 'Songs of spiritual change' translated by Glenn Mullin:

"Hundreds of stupid flies gather
On a piece of rotten meat,
Enjoying, they think, a delicious feast.
This image fits with the song
Of the myriads of foolish living beings
Who seek happiness in superficial pleasures;
In countless ways they try,
Yet I have never seen them satisfied."

Note that "suffering" is an inadequate translation of the word "Dukkha", but it is the one most commonly found, lacking a better word in English. "Dukkha" means "intolerable", "unsustainable", "difficult to endure", and can also mean "imperfect", "unsatisfying", or "incapable of providing perfect happiness". Interestingly enough, some people actually translate it as "stress".

"Suffering is a big word in Buddhist thought. It is a key term and it should be thoroughly understood. The Pali word is dukkha, and it does not just mean the agony of the body. It means that deep subtle sense of unsatisfactoriness which is a part of every mind moment and which results directly from the mental treadmill. The essence of life is suffering, said the Buddha. At first glance this seems exceedingly morbid and pessimistic. It even seems untrue. After all, there are plenty of times when we are happy. Aren't there. No, there are not. It just seems that way. Take any moment when you feel really fulfilled and examine it closely. Down under the joy, you will find that subtle, all-pervasive undercurrent of tension, that no matter how great this moment is, it is going to end. No matter how much you just gained, you are either going to lose some of it or spend the rest of your days guarding what you have got and scheming how to get more. And in the end, you are going to die. In the end, you lose everything. It is all transitory."
Henepola Gunaratana, from 'Mindfulness in Plain English'.


The reason that we experience suffering comes ultimately from our mind. According to Buddhism, our main mental problems or root delusions are: attachment, anger and ignorance. Because of these delusions, we engage in actions that cause problems to ourselves and others. With every negative action (karma) we do, we create a potential for negative experiences. (See also the page on karma.)

How can attachment bring us suffering?
We just have to think of chocolate and there is the temptation of eating more than is good for us. Or as example, my favourite story: the way people used to catch monkeys in South India:

One takes a coconut and makes a hole in it, just large enough that a monkey can squeeze its hand in. Next, tie the coconut down, and put a sweet inside. What happens next is pure attachment. The monkey smells the sweet, puts his hand into the coconut, grabs the sweet and ... the hole is too small to let a fist out of the coconut. The last thing a monkey would consider is to let go of the sweet, so it is literally tied down by its own attachment. Often they only let go when they fall asleep or become unconscious because of exhaustion.

Ultimately, the Buddha explains that our attachment to life keeps us in cyclic existence or samsara, which does not bring us continuous happiness.

How can anger bring us suffering?
As will be explained in the page on karma, all of our actions have consequences. Doing harm to others will return to us as being harmed. Anger is one of the main reasons we create harm to others, so logically it is often the cause of suffering to ourselves.

How can ignorance bring us suffering?
This is explained in two ways:

- The conventional explanation is that because we are not omniscient, we regularly get ourselves into trouble. We do not realise all the consequences of our actions, we do not understand other beings and we do not understand why the world is exactly the way it is. So we often end up in situations where we do not take the best actions. Just reflect for a moment how often we think: "If only I had known this earlier..."

- The more complicated explanation refers to the most profound aspect of Buddhist philosophy: ultimate truth or emptiness. This is a vast subject, and also after reading the page on wisdom it is still unlikely that it will be completely clear; it takes years of study and meditation to realise the insight into the wisdom of emptiness. To put it very simple: reality is not what it seems to us. As reality is different from our opinions about it, we get ourselves into trouble. As long as we fail to realise the ultimate truth, we will be stuck in cyclic existence. While being in cyclic existence, we will always experience some aspect of suffering (which is at least having the potential for future suffering).

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This is the most positive message of Buddhism: although suffering is always present in cyclic existence, we can end this cycle of problems and pain, and enter Nirvana, which is a state beyond all suffering.
The reasoning behind this Third Noble Truth is the fact that suffering and the causes of suffering are dependent on the state of our own mind, so if we can change our own mind, we can also eliminate suffering. The reasons we do actions that cause ourselves and others harm come from our delusions. When we possess the proper wisdom (conventional and ultimate), we can rid ourselves of delusions, and thus of all our problems and suffering. When this process is complete, we can leave cyclic existence and enjoy the state of Nirvana, free of problems.

The reasoning so far is simple enough, when we are ill, we go to a doctor. He knows (hopefully) what is wrong and prescribes medicines and gives us advice, which we need to take and folow up to get well again. Likewise, when a spiritual teacher prescribes us a practice and the development of wisdom to end our suffering, we still need to follow the instructions, otherwise there will be no effect. That leads us to the last Noble Truth of the Path of the 'medicine'.


If we can control our body and mind in a way that we help others instead of doing them harm, and generating wisdom in our own mind, we can end our suffering and problems.

The Buddha summarised the correct attitude and actions in the Eight-fold Noble Path:

(The first 3 are avoiding the 10 non-virtues of mind, speech and body:)

  1. Correct thought: avoiding covetousness, the wish to harm others and wrong views (like thinking: actions have no consequences, I never have any problems, there are no ways to end suffering etc.)
  2. Correct speech: avoid lying, divisive and harsh speech and idle gossip.
  3. Correct actions: avoid killing, stealing and sexual misconduct
  4. Correct livelihood: try to make a living with the above attitude of thought, speech and actions.
  5. Correct understanding: developing genuine wisdom.
    (The last three aspects refer mainly to the practice of meditation:)
  6. Correct effort: after the first real step we need joyful perseverance to continue.
  7. Correct mindfulness: try to be aware of the "here and now", instead of dreaming in the "there and then".
  8. Correct concentration: to keep a steady, calm and attentive state of mind.

The Buddha explained that we can use the Four Yardsticks to assess if we are practicing the correct way:
we should feel happiness, compassion, love and joyous effort when practicing. If none of these are present, something is definitely wrong with our practice.

"One way to prevent mental suffering is to observe ourselves and figure out what triggers our problem. If we can identify what makes our blood pressure rise and causes us to feel upset, then we have taken a big step toward seeing the larger picture. With this wider perspective, there is less chance that we will jump back into an old habitual pattern that only makes us feel bad.

It is not that we have to stop going to all family holidays, but that we figure out ways to enjoy the parts that are enjoyable, like the delicious food and the chance to connect with people, and to feel more neutral and detached about the annoying or hurtful moments. We often place too many expectations and requirements on ourselves and those around us. We could give the situation a little space and see what develops. The kindest thing we can do in these situations is to remain calm and refrain from causing more difficulty."
From: Your Mind Is Your Teacher: Self-Awakening through Contemplative Meditation by Khenpo Gawang

"Products are specially designed to catch the eye and captivate the mind. Because we focus on what else there is to acquire, rather than what we already have, we fall into the endless upgrade game. “The functions you need are coming in the next version! The new design is so much more attractive! And it comes in your favorite color!” These products may be mass-produced, but they are custom-made to suit our greed and grasping. They are exactly tailored to deceive us with their appearances.

As I see it, however, the bigger problem is the gullibility of our mind. This is what really leaves us vulnerable to the deceptive allure of things. In other words, we ourselves are the bigger problem. Sometimes we are like small children; when it comes to assessing our own needs, we often show no sign of maturity. Just think about it: When a little child cries, the easy way to stop him is to give him a toy. We dangle it in front of him and wave it around to catch his attention until he reaches out to grab it. When we finally hand over the toy, he quiets down. Our goal was just to stop his crying. We did not try to address the child’s underlying needs. We gave him something else to desire, and tricked him into falling silent for the time being."
From: The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out by H.H. the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

So after recognising the existence and causes of our problems and suffering, the third Noble Truth explains that we do not need to suffer endlessly, and the fourth Noble Truth describes what we can do to end all suffering; treading on the actual spiritual path.


For meditations on suffering and other subjects, see the List of Sample Meditations.
Looking for an entire online book on Buddhism? Click here to continue to the web page of  Peter Della Santina.

Just for fun:

About the time we can make ends meet, somebody moves the ends.
Herbert Hoover, U.S. President

If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons?

We are born naked, wet, and hungry, and get slapped on our ass ...
Then things get worse.

Trouble defies the law of gravity. It's easier to pick up than to drop.
Johathan Raban

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Last updated: December 29, 2016