Buddha's Teachings: the Four Noble Truths - The path that leads to the end of suffering
by Maarten van Huijstee
It’s a strange time, isn’t it? Looking around our world, there seems to be so much unrest and suffering. The Coronavirus is only adding to this, bringing huge waves of fear and uncertainty. The quest for answers to the ‘whys’, ‘hows’ and especially ‘how will it end’ is growing stronger. We anxiously follow the news, let the stream of numbers and facts rush in, and wait for others to answer our pressing questions (read: soothe our fears). This takes us to the central question of this month's theme, and the last but certainly not the least part of this series: How do you walk the path that leads to the end of fear and suffering?
In this time, it feels more applicable than ever to draw upon one of the great Wisdom traditions (pañña). “All beings are Buddhas, but obscured by incidental stains. When those have been removed, there is Buddhahood.” In order to remove those incidental stains and come back to our true nature, the Buddha laid out a four-step path, better known as the Four Noble Truths.
The First Noble Truth: There is suffering (Dukkha). This is not pessimism or doom, nor optimism, just realism. Life involves suffering and can seem a pretty rotten deal for some. But life is not a fixed phenomenon. On the contrary, it’s moving all the time. Everything is continually changing, and it only asks us to be open to that change.
The Second Noble Truth: There is a cause of suffering (Samudāya). And it is much more deeply rooted than our immediate worries. The Buddha taught that attachment is the main engine of suffering. Attachment, constant change… that’s where friction begins. Once we know that, the path to freedom becomes clear.
The Third Noble Truth: There is an end to suffering. Thank goodness, we can also trust in the impermanence of everything—even suffering. Lasting happiness and contentment is possible and within reach for everyone. But happiness asks for a shift in awareness, a courageous mindset and - yes - the work.
And that brings us here:
The Fourth Noble Truth & The Noble Eightfold Path.
'Wait, there’s a path to walk? I thought this would be the promising end', I hear you thinking. But actually, there is no beginning and no end, you see. We already are and always have been on this path, but we seem to have lost our way. Forgotten where we came from. As described in the book The Bhagavad Gita: ‘We’re ignorant of our true nature. So we run after things to make us happy and to find peace. Behind all our efforts, our basic motive is to find happiness and thus to find peace. All our actions are for that good.’ But peace and happiness is not something to be ‘found’, it’s the true ground of our hearts. Our being. Only by losing the connection to our hearts and living from the mind, do we start suffering and become blinded by the stains. Can you see it? Suffering is a message that tells you to reassess where you are at in your trajectory and get back on your path of self-discovery and realisation.
And that’s what’s meant by ‘doing the work’, or walking The Noble Eightfold Path. It may sound daunting or highly spiritual, but when translated into modern-day language, this can be very practical. Wake up early, do your practice, get quiet, be still, be mindful, open your palms and listen. Close your eyes in order to see. As one of our Delight teachers, Tory Hyndman says: ‘What’s happening in the living room of your mind?’ Can you stay present and observe? Can you hold space between the feeling and doing? Can you see the anger or frustration without labelling it as ‘bad’ or wanting it to go away?
Practising this means you’re already walking the path. Doing the work. Reconnecting again and again. It rarely happens that someone gets to see the light all of a sudden. Most of us need to do the work and will progress along the way, rather than spontaneously becoming enlightened. By frequently observing our own inner living rooms, we can slowly dust off the corners and accept the stains for what they are. So we can get comfortable in our seats and react less from judgment and more from love. And perhaps even invite others to come to sit with us as well. Because the thing is: the Coronavirus might be contagious, but even more so are love and inner peace.
May we take the Buddha’s teachings as guidelines and inspiration for this life practice, especially in challenging times like these. I will leave you with the question: are you willing to do the work, without judgment or expectations? Trusting that your inner breeding ground is love and peace, but you just forgot to water it, to nurture this space. The path is here for your growth, your enlightenment. Because In times of suffering, the best thing you can offer is your Buddhahood to yourself and others. And remember: not all heroes wear capes, just as not all enlightened beings wear an orange kāṣāya robe. Chances are it’s just jeans and a t-shirt.
Take care, love,
Maarten van Huijstee
Co-founder Delight Yoga
Maarten is first and foremost a human being and proud father to Philip and Alexander and dedicated husband to Anna. Despite his diverse career in marketing and advertising, founding a few companies, and an extensive list of chairs on numerous boards and committees, there has always been one thing Maarten’s heart has consistently been trying to tell him..