The Four Noble Truths (Cattāri Ariyasaccāni)
The Four Noble Truths altogether represent a comprehensive psychological establishment pattern, a framework for approaching, engaging with, and addressing suffering in an empowering way that allows us to meet the nature, truth and realities of suffering and begin a process of working at transforming suffering into states of healing. As a complete understanding, this framework is a Path or remedy of self-applied and self-liberating suffering—not reliant on external sources or another to save us. Through the Pathway of the Four Noble Truths, we discover new ways of engaging with our experiences and the universal aspects of the human condition, encompassing shared emotions, feelings, challenges and truths of life, reality and dhammas, including birth, illness, death, aspirations, and the struggle for health, love, joy, meaning, contentment, connection and belonging. The Four Noble Truths act as an aid and guide for developing a healing spirit for life, new psychological patterns and behavioural habits in response to life that can support healthy, healing states—a true wellness of being.
1. The First Noble Truth – The Truth and Nature of Suffering (Dukkha Ariyasaccam)
Suffering exists; know it is undeniably true and real, a genuine and honest aspect of life. You may see, feel, and experience it directly, or you may not as it remains unconscious, obscured from view, but it certainly is there. The continual inflow of a vast and diverse array of information, stimuli, and impressions from the phenomenological and noumenal world can bewilder, perplex, overwhelm, confuse, distract and disrupt the faculties of the human mind and the sanity of our hearts.
Difficulty and struggle exist; it is natural and accurate; life is inherently challenging. To see for oneself the human conditions of birth, aging, sickness, and death; the broad spectrum of pain, illness, disease, physical ailments and deterioration; the fluctuations of worry, anxiety, conflicting emotions and changing outlooks on life; the complexities of blame, shame, guilt, regret, happiness, love, sadness, loss, complex and challenging mental states, divergences, illnesses of the mind; physical, emotional, mental, social, environmental, and circumstantial limitations; the diverse abilities and faculties of our lives; the fluctuations between comfort and discomfort; the learned conditioning and beliefs that shape us; the continuous ebb and flow of change, stagnancy, perpetuality, impermanence; all our aspirations, desire for fulfilment, and their elusiveness and un-attainability; the co-existence of peace and harm within the dual nature and plurality of life; it can be no other way. Suffering in all its forms is foundational to life and our living experience. However, lay no blame on life. Harbour no hatred, anger, resentment or disrespect, for all life is subject to the natural laws governing the phenomenological world. Accepting and appreciating this truth entails a willingness to stop and stand still long enough in the globe of fire, in the intensity of experience, and to acknowledge, again and again, rather than avoid experiencing the inherent, evident, subtle and pervasive nature and truth of suffering within the bounds of our capacity to do so.
In my early contemplations of the first noble truth, I grappled with the thought that if everything is suffering, and that’s how life is, what’s the point in practising and dwelling on these teachings? I am being told that suffering is an inherent part of life, and I must get used to that. Wouldn’t I be happier if I spent my days oblivious, in blissful ignorance? Though, also in my mind, there were thoughts and memories of how much I love and adore nature, from the plants and animals to the landscapes, waterways and oceans, intricate ecosystems, the blue skies and night skies filled with stars, the entire planet and the miraculous truth that we are all here on this bluey, green, brown marble, flying through space accompanied by other celestial bodies. Thoughts of the deep affection I have for my loved ones, my life companion, children, family and friends, as well as for the people I’ve met in the journey of receiving and sharing the dhamma and other teachings. As I have explored the teachings and engaged in student-teacher dialogues, I am reminded that the idea of enlightenment is a potent aspiration that can drive one’s life towards becoming increasingly compassionately engaged, committed to caring for the world and all that we hold dear, all we love and care for.
I also recall my personal experiences of being overwhelmed by suffering, the pain and confusion of harm, violence, abuse, and neglect, in the moments defined by nihilistic thoughts, apathy, despair and the intensive misdirected energy and activities stemming from these sufferings and personal and circumstantial limitations, all of which tend towards a self-centric rather than a broader view, a life-centered outlook. I find Refuge in the prayers of acknowledgement and respect, which resonates deeply within me, informing a healthier sense of esteem, value, belonging and worth. As do the formal (Genyen [Tib.] / Upasaka [Pali] vows and the Bodhisattva vows I have made that hold a treasured place in my heart, an ongoing commitment to work for peace, health and the Refuge of all beings in this life; powerful reminders, potent sources of Refuge.
I recall all of these and turn my mind-heart towards the truth that I am not alone in this life. That others are grappling with their suffering too and that it is in togetherness, solidarity, a diverse unity that experiences of suffering can be supported and the healing we all need personally and collectively happens. I have come to understand that to spend time alive to suffering is a precious moment to know nature and the body of life itself. The more I mindfully examine the nature and truth of suffering, the more I recognise the profound significance of this and every moment. Insight and understanding unfold, dawning into awareness, sometimes like a bolt of lightning, others continuing to grow and mature across the lifespan (a continuous process when supported by practice), allowing for a deeper understanding of the intricacies of others’ sufferings and my own. Through these experiences, and the more I meet, familiarise and acclimatise to suffering, the deeper and more able I come to love and care for myself, others, this world, and life itself.
Contemplation on the first noble truth implores us to acknowledge the truth of suffering, to come to accept its truth, and take a sincere interest in its many intricate appearances and manifestations. With right understanding and a sound capacity for compassionate engagement, response and Refuge, we can come to appreciate the truth and discover the wisdom inherent in the nature of suffering and how to bring about healing harm personally and collectively.
Genyen – Ian Hackett