The 4 Noble Truths Made Simple – Part 2
The 2nd Noble Truth
The Origin of Suffering – How suffering arises
Suffering arises from ignorant craving that leads to:
- Existence again and again (becoming)
- Accompanied by delight and attachment
- Seeking pleasure now here and now there.
The 3 Types of Craving/Desire (Tanha)
- Craving for sense pleasure (kama tanha)
- Craving to exist (bhava tanha) – The desire to get what we like, to cling and attach to it and not let it go.
- Craving to annihilate (vibhava tanha) – The desire to get rid of what we don’t like. Craving to no longer exist anymore.
So how suffering occurs is craving leads to attachment of that thing that you craved for. But when that thing that you craved for changes and becomes otherwise, when it changes or decays – and if you’ve become very attached to it – you get worried and upset that you’re going to lose it because it’s no longer perfect – and so you suffer. So it’s not the craving that is suffering but that the craving can lead to suffering when you’ve attached to it.
The Process of How Suffering Arises
Let’s have a look at this in a bit more detail. So there’s this ignorant discontent – so we crave for something outside of our selves to please us:
- So we crave for pleasure through our senses, e.g., craving to look at beautiful things, craving for pleasurable sensations, craving for nice smells, craving for your favourite music, craving for nice food.
- We crave for existence through things outside of ourselves (through our senses) to satisfy us but they only last a short time before they decay and die out. And when the pleasure dies out, we do it again to get the thrill of it. So this is what is meant by craving that leads to re-existence – we want to exist through those pleasures again and again. Sometimes, we also hold on to something hurtful just because it gives us that intensity of feeling – the feeling that we are alive and exist – this is another example of bhava tanha – wanting to exist through pain.
- We crave to annihilate – When we hate something we want to get rid of it, destroy it, kill it, annihilate it. When people hate themselves, they want to hurt themselves and inflict harm upon themselves – this is an example of vibhava tanha. When people don’t like pests, they want to get rid of them and exterminate them. When people don’t like what others say – they want to destroy them verbally or physically. This type of craving – the craving to annihilate by its very nature is already unpleasant.
So here, we’re looking for something outside of us into and through the world of our senses to satisfy us – craving to exist through the senses by seeking pleasure through them and craving to annihilate what we don’t like in the world of the senses. That’s how suffering arises.
The Problem with Trying to Get things from Outside to Satisfy us
Problem is, whatever we seek through our senses is impermanent – so they decay and die. If we grasp and try to hold on to them, never letting go and hoping that they last forever – it means that we’re attached to them. Attachment feels great at the start during the arising phase and when the pleasure and fun reaches its peak.
Whatever you get, one day you will also un-get it. Whatever you seek to possess – you will also someday un-possess it. This means that whatever you get doesn’t last forever. It decays, starts falling apart and dies. Or it may get destroyed somehow. Or you may lose it.
If we cling on dearly to whatever we love that was in our possession, wanting it to last forever, never wanting to be otherwise – when we it decays and dies, when you lose it, when you no longer have it – because we’re still attached to it – that’s when you really suffer. That is how suffering comes about.
I like but I do not want
I remember the story of Ajahn Sumedho, when he was with his teacher, Ajahn Chah and some gorgeous Thai women came along to listen to his teachings. Ajahn Chah wanted to see at what level of spiritual development Ajahn Sumedho was at. So after the Thai women left, he asked, “Hey, Sumedho! What did you think of those women? They were really beautiful weren’t they?” And Ajahn Sumedho replied, “I like but I do not want”. So impressed was Ajahn Chah with this answer that he started to re-tell this story for others to hear.
So here, we are not rejecting the beauty of life. You are still appreciating all of the beauty that life has to offer – you are not rejecting the good, the beautiful, the nice things in life. But you don’t get attached to it – so you can let it go.
Some people say that they’re not attached. How can you tell when you’ve attached to something without realizing it? When you still crave for it when it’s no longer around, when you still have a longing for it, when you still have a yearning for it – that tells you that you’re still attached to it and it’s going to make you suffer.
So if you’re holding on to something that’s causing you to suffer – let go of it! Why still hold on to it? Why still cling to it if it’s making you miserable? This is perhaps the most important lesson in the 4 Noble Truths – how to let things go.
So what does it mean to let go? It is the attitude of abandoning, relinquishing, leaving things be, setting things aside, laying them down, leaving things as they are. So you are no longer interfering with them, no longer picking things up, no longer holding on to them, no longer adding any energy to them, no longer providing it with any fuel to make it worse. You are just leaving things as they are and walking away from it, turning your mind away from it and letting the rest be.
It’s like unloading a huge burden off your back – that’s what letting go feels like. And once you learn how to do this, you feel a tremendous sense of relief.
So in ALL your Buddhist practices, this 1 lesson should be first and foremost in your mind – approach your practices with the attitude of not gaining anything but with the attitude of letting go of things.
Skilful Letting Go – The Art of Non-attachment
So letting go means you no longer attach to things – non-attachment. But non-attachment does NOT mean rejection. This is where a lot of beginners make a mistake – they think that they’re non-attached, so they go the opposite way of attaching and start rejecting everything, but that’s not it.
For example, if you say that you are not attached to your shoes – so you throw them away to show off that you are not attached to your shoes. “I’m not attached to my shoes, I can walk bare feet!” you say. But that is NOT non-attachment – that is attaching to the opposite of attachment – attaching to rejection. So this is not a skilful way of letting go.
So what is the proper way of letting go in this instance? It is using the shoes when you need to and then setting them aside when you no longer need them – that is skilful non-attachment, that is skilful letting go.
So as you can see, in letting go, you are not totally neglecting your responsibilities saying, “I’m going to let go from now on, don’t bother me, I’m letting go!”. Letting go does NOT mean neglecting your responsibilities. You are still taking care of your responsibilities to the best of your ability. But when you’ve done your job, when you’ve finished what you needed to do, then you just set it aside and leave it be – so that it no longer burdens your mind anymore. So that’s the function of letting go – skilfully unburdening your mind.
Letting go does NOT mean that you shouldn’t have any goals or aspirations either. You still need goals and intentions and aspirations. It just means that you don’t get attached so much to those goals and aspirations that it causes stress and makes you suffer.
The 3 Reflections of the 2nd Noble Truth
- The Origin of Suffering is ignorant craving
- Ignorant craving should be let go of
- Ignorant craving has been let go of
So that is how you reflect on the Second Noble Truth.
Bottomline – you’ve got to learn how to let go in order to reduce your own suffering.