Posts Tagged ‘Four Noble Truths’

scales fell

November 7th, 2018    -    5 Comments

At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. — Acts 9:18

A few mornings ago I looked out the window to the garden and saw something really weird scattered over the patio. At first, it looked a little like confetti. Up close, it seemed more like press-on fingernails. I picked up a piece and it was as hard as plastic. It took me a few minutes before I knew, with resignation and sadness, what I was looking at.

In my last blog post I told you that the practice of Buddhism started when Shakyamuni realized that he would get old, get sick and die. It went sort of like this: “Here’s the baseline. You’re not going to like this. It’s going to be hard. Life’s a bitch.” That’s what we call the First Noble Truth: life is suffering.

The practice of Buddhism is to look into that suffering and see what’s there. Are we just a collection of bones, or as my teacher likes to say, a bag of shit, pus and blood?  Because if that’s all that’s sitting here, go on home and spend the rest of your life streaming Netflix. But Shakyamuni has his doubts. He wants to see for himself.

When he looks into his own nature, he arrives at the Second Noble Truth, which is that the source of suffering can be known. You can see that you suffer because things don’t go the way you want them to. Out of nowhere we get sick, and try as we might, we can’t undo the causal factors. No one can even tell you for sure what the causal factors are. We have an accident, and we can’t unwind it. Trouble comes, and we can’t get around it. Happiness shows up, then disappears. As long as we go through life saying, “This doesn’t work for me, I can’t handle this, I don’t want it, I don’t like it, and I’m not ready,” we’re in continuous discomfort, or dukkha.

And where is all of that happening? In the mind that picks and chooses, trying to plan, prevent, organize and prepare, as if you could avoid all the bad stuff and hold onto the good.

So by now you know that you suffer, and you can also see why. The next step is to stop doing that. The Third Noble Truth tells you that you don’t have to be a prisoner to your thoughts. You don’t have to live inside your head, spun about by “me, my, I” and all your likes and dislikes, desires, fears, how-comes, why-fors and the really big question: the what-comes-after.

Buddha laid out a path for liberating yourself from delusion. It’s called the Eightfold Path and the fact that it exists is called the Fourth Noble Truth. The path looks a lot like this: be where you are, as you are, take care of what appears in front of you, and don’t judge it. After all, you can’t avoid or escape it, and it will change.

As for what comes after, we have to say we don’t know. Explore that space of not knowing. Live in that house, the house where there are no walls. No before and after; no beginning and no end. Where everything happens whether you’re ready or not, and face it with the courage of your ancestors who ascended the throne of enlightenment. That’s the truth of Buddhadharma, which is the truth of your life.

***

(It was what the owner of a particular koi pond, which is visited nightly by raccoons, might see as the end.)

Excerpted from a Dharma Talk, “The Truth of Your Life” which you can listen to via this link.

 

 

getting along fine without me

May 17th, 2015    -    14 Comments

381069_10150447692416247_262842176246_8779182_1129924044_nBuddhists don’t try to cause trouble, but one thing that troubles people about Buddhism is the concept of non-attachment. That’s because we think attachment means love, and we think love means I can’t live without you. We are always hung up on our own self-serving notions—what I need, what I want, what I like, what I think, what is best, what is right—and that’s the cause of suffering. We attach to those ideas as though they were life itself. The truth is never the phony thing we attach to in our heads. The truth is as it is.

Buddha taught what he called the Four Noble Truths. He taught truth as it is, complete and universal. He called it noble because there’s nothing more true than what is. You don’t have to believe this is true because you experience it every time things don’t go your way.

1. Life is suffering. Things change.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment. It hurts when things change.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable. Accept that things change.
4. There is a way out of suffering. By changing yourself.

When we try to imagine what it means to overcome our attachments, we picture cruel and unfeeling indifference. But that is never the outcome of overcoming attachments. That is never the outcome of accepting what happens. That is never the outcome of allowing people and things to be as they are. The outcome of non-attachment is love.

I don’t have to preach this. You know it yourself by waking up to life as it is. Your children grow up and grow distant. They might upset, alarm and even despise you, but your eyes still flicker at the sight of them. Your parents grow old, enfeebled and afraid, dependent and encumbering, but you care for them. Sickness comes, disaster strikes, and seasons change. Everything falls apart no matter how hard you’ve tried: all that forethought, planning and prevention! This life of ours is strewn with faded blooms. You didn’t sign up for the hard part, but this is the way it is. How will you love what you don’t even like? There’s only one way: selflessly.

When you act with compassion, all your doing is undoing—undoing ignorance, suffering, fear, anger, exploitation, alienation, injury, blame, you name it—simply by undoing the stingy hold you keep on yourself. Thinking poor me impoverishes your entire world.

When she was about six years old, someone asked my daughter what it was like to have a mom who was a Zen priest.

“She screams a lot,” she said. It wasn’t the answer they were expecting. There were polite chuckles all around.

I can comfort myself with the fact that children only remember when their parents scream, not when their parents don’t scream. Silence, after all, is a non-event. No matter what I was hollering about, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to let it go. I wish I’d dropped my rage, fear, frustration, resentment, or despair: whatever illusory part of me I was cherishing at the time. I wish love could be my legacy instead, the way a camellia launches its blossoms into the oblivion of time without causing a quiver of pain. No one ever notices when a flower has fulfilled its purpose in life, just as no one ever regrets a moment lost to love.

***

Excerpted from  Paradise in Plain Sight ©2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com

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when all else fails*

April 29th, 2015    -    15 Comments

Prayer_flags_Hogle

This week we had the horrific earthquake in Nepal and the riots in Baltimore and so all at once I heard from people I haven’t heard from in a while. Something was in the air. I love hearing from people, just not quite as much as I love meeting face-to-face with those same people. What brings us together is always the same thing.

Terror, sheer terror.

People contact someone like me because they are afraid. To one degree or another, we are all afraid. We are afraid because we thought life would be different. We thought that we would be happy, for instance, or at least be able to handle things. That our work would satisfy, the money would be enough and the marriage would last. That our kids would be okay. And that their kids would be okay. That we would be one of the lucky ones, safe and in control. We wouldn’t get old. We wouldn’t get sick. And no one would die.

Spring is sweet and summer is easy, but one day you’ll find yourself in the middle of a hard winter.

I try to keep things sunny around here but then I remember what line of business I’m in. I’m in the getting old, getting sick, and dying business.

Life is suffering. Everything falls apart. It’s overwhelming and irreversible. There’s no place to hide. What the hell are you supposed to do now?

A couple of weeks ago I sat a beginner’s retreat on the East Coast and this time nearly everyone who came was a beginner. Oops. In the dining hall before the retreat started I looked around at the mostly middle-aged and older group of total strangers and was afraid. They would never be able to handle the sitting, I told myself. I’d oversold the whole Zen thing again. Whatever they thought they were in for, none of them was ready to face the reality of Zen, even so-called beginning Zen, which is no different from advanced Zen, which is no different from life as it is. They were probably as terrified as I was. I made silly jokes and hardly ate a thing.

But then we began sitting, and sitting some more, and every time the bell rang to sit again everyone showed up in their little spot, day in and day out, in silence, sleepy and sore, emptied of bright ideas and escape routes. It seemed like forever but a minute later the last bell rang on the last day. They had survived.

Before the end, everyone spoke for the first time. An old fellow said his wife had died last year and he was restarting his life. This was his first step.

One woman had returned after the first night without a wig to cover her head, and she was bald from chemo. She didn’t say one word about it and neither did anyone else.

Another woman said she’d woken up a year ago and realized that although her job was to heal children and families, “I was the one who was sick.”

The woman next to her said she had three children and she loved them but sometimes she had to get far, far away from them.

A man said he had bought one of my books for his wife but she wasn’t much of a reader so he read it and then he went on my website and now they were both here together. He smiled a lot, and she did too.

“It was a hard winter,” the next man said before tears overcame him and he thanked everyone just for sitting with him all weekend. “It made a difference.”

Nearly everyone cried. And everyone laughed. Hearts were light and minds, clear.

They’d done the only thing you can do when all else fails: sit down for a while, and then get up and go on back home.

*and it will.

 

a little problem with suffering

January 24th, 2011    -    22 Comments

Sometimes I get a little pushback on the topic of Buddhism, particularly the subject of suffering. People say something like, “Gosh, all that talk about suffering! Aren’t you guys a bit over the top with all the suffering? That’s so negative.”

Yes, it’s true, the foundation of Buddha’s teaching is the Four Noble Truths, which usually are stated like this:

Life contains suffering
The origin of suffering is attachment
The cessation of suffering is attainable
There’s an Eightfold Path to freedom

Let me be clear. Buddhism doesn’t elevate, emphasize or worship suffering. Buddhism says, “Let’s just face the facts, people.” Despite our earnest attempts to conjure optimism, hope, abundance, luck, gratitude, aptitude, cleverness, perfect SATs, and triumphant superiority, there is nothing more universally human than having a problem.

To prove it, let’s take the word “suffering.” You might have a problem with it. Suffering sounds so big – Haitian earthquake, Tucson rampage, global warming big – when the kind of suffering most of us encounter every day is so embarrassingly trivial we might not even recognize it as suffering. More like WHO ATE THE REST OF MY MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP.

There’s all the other kinds of suffering too – like old age, sickness, death, Jersey Shore, and taxes – but we can’t really do much about those, can we? So the kind of suffering we start with is the kind that actually causes us and everyone around us the most problems AS FOR INSTANCE WHEN SOMEONE WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS (YOU) ATE THE REST OF MY MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP.

So I like to state the Four Noble Truths this way:

Life is full of problems.
It always seems like my problem starts with you but it really starts with me.
It always seems like you should fix my problem but in the end it’s up to me.
I’m going to the store, want anything?

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A rose colored carpet

January 21st, 2010    -    No Comments

Flowers fall with our longing, and weeds spring up with our aversion – Dogen

I read a book this week that was really a good book, a memoir about how much a daughter loves her father, warts and all, and about how that love transcends age, sickness and time. In the story, the author recalls meeting up with a Buddhist family in Nepal during a bit of youthful wandering, and although she can’t reconcile herself to faith, she dismisses Buddhism in a single gust over that one prickly word we hold so dear: attachment. read more

Rules for waiting, and a giveaway

March 15th, 2009    -    32 Comments


Spoiler alert: Blame it on the early stages of a woozy flu, hormone depletion, sleep deprivation, or the dark bluster of the Ides. This post is somewhat post.

The other day I was talking to my friend Amy Tiemann on the phone. On the phone, that’s right. How very 1.0. And she and I were in mutual agreement that life in these times can be summarized as follows: “How can people live in this world without going insane?”

Ain’t that the truth? But it’s not a new thing. More like an awakening to the way sentient beings have always been. These days the race to the next next next next new thing seems like a 75 rpm refrain. Rpm? How vintage! Everything is in an accelerated state of obsolescence. We cannot get to the next thing fast enough. As though it leads somewhere else, somewhere other than here.

Newspapers? History. Banks? Yesterday. Jobs? Obsolete. Conversation? Over. Time? Out.

These days you read a lot in these parts about Is the Blog Dead? I’m old enough to remember when that question was leveled with far more gravitas as Is God Dead? It’s spelled differently but it’s the very same question. It’s a kind of intellectual diversion from the real question; the only question there is which is Am I Going to Be Dead?

Or as I ask myself, Am I Going to Be Dead before I Twitter?

This is the kind of chatter, or should I say tweeting, that just exhausts me. I’ve been present at far too many revolutions already. They last a blink, a nano, before they crest into the oblivion beyond. Oh ye of unrelenting enthusiasms, aren’t you tired yet?

***

I’ve been reading far too much about Jane Fonda. I can’t quit. Ever since I read this profile in the Times about her brave return to Broadway at 71, and picked up on the fact that she was chronicling every inch of the ascent on her daily blog and Twitter. I’m obsessed with her, and it looks like she shares the obsession. Fonda is the icon of obsession for my generation, but she always seemed to hold herself at a remove. She always seemed to immerse herself in the great matter and the real questions. You can now read that in her dotage, for instance, she dotes on a dinky fluff-dog. You can read about her self-doubt and insecurities and think for a minute she’s just like us. Then you see pictures of her A-list BFFs: Redford, Tomlin, Hanks. “Oooooh I am so happy. I’ll twitter during my breaks.” She never stops, even though of course one day, and relatively soon, she’ll stop. In the meantime, she’s miniaturized herself, at least in my view, into 140 characters. To say that she is connecting with other people in this self-directed way is to say that these people from another story in Sunday’s paper are “making love.” Nothing could be farther. (Made ya look!)

***

Last week I had a disturbing and provocative dream. My husband, daughter and I were groping our way, on white-knuckles and knees, up a Sisyphean incline. It seemed we were going somewhere. Inching forward, sliding back, defying gravity. Ah yes, to the beach! At the peak of this grueling pitch, you could see the endless sky and ocean filling the horizon beyond. The massive swells and darkened depths. My husband and daughter hurried ahead, carefree. I had reservations. Gripping a paper shopping bag, I was anxiously collecting things you might think you need for a day on the sands of life: snack crackers, juice boxes, water bottles, seedless grapes, string cheese. I was desperate to fill my bag. Not yet, not yet! As I clutched after snack wrappers, my family disappeared into the downward slope. Just then the sea rose up to a perfect, towering vertical tsunami like the height of the stock market in October 2007. Everyone, everything would be swallowed by it. Everything would go.

This was no day at the beach. This was the answer to the unspeakable question.

Also last week I got an unexpected delivery in the mail. A special book, Rules for Old Men Waiting, a debut novel 23 years in the making, sent from a bygone friend. This friend is an elegant and erudite fellow from the old school. Someone who has illumined my life with intelligence and manners. I haven’t heard from him in awhile. The note with it said, “I just finished this book and thought of you throughout. I found it be richly told, wonderfully crafted and lovingly profound. That’s you.” Maximized in 140 characters.

I’m reading it now. And when I finish it, I’m going to return the favor to someone who has made it this far, on white-knuckles and knees, to the precipice of this post. I’m going to share the wisdom I’ve been given, the gift of true friendship, a living connection, with one of you. Because that alone is what keeps the world sane.

Leave a comment and take your prize. It is bittersweet fulfillment to know this chance won’t come again, and to let it go.

Update: The book has gone to Kelly, who has a short time left in a long wait.

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