The Four Truths
Personally, I have at times had trouble focusing on what was the core of the Buddha’s teachings, The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, because of the wording. I respectfully offer an unofficial translation that has helped me see the wisdom in the Four Noble Truths. (Any words I use to describe the Path are flawed. I do not propose to have the final answer. Many things I have thought and written in the past only hinted at what I know now. Listen to your Inner Truth as you hear any idea.) Here are the Four Truths according to me:
The First Truth: Our material existence is an Illusion.
Buddhism refers to this as Dukkha which means pain and suffering. The Buddha was dismayed by the suffering of mankind which, in part, motivated him to search for the Truth. Life (and by this word we are talking here about the external world of ‘physical life’) is suffering. Birth and death and aging and loss are suffering and that is where this life ultimately ends. True, but that doesn’t rest solidly on me. Perhaps it does for the authentic Buddhist. I’m not trying to say that ‘Life is suffering.” is not true. It most certainly is; however, life is also pleasure. I believe that the Buddha is pointing to suffering and saying ‘wake up!! Then, He is saying that the duality of life ultimately is the un-truth. Buddha consciousness is leading us inward to Truth. Truth is that our material life is impermanent. It changes like a mirage, reflecting the inner condition of our reactive and disconnected mind. Duhkha as impermanence and stuck in duality I resonate with. In his Teachings, the Buddha often describes this life as an illusion. Suffering is an illusion and so is pleasure. The entire outer world in which we appear to exist is not the real world.
Hinduism calls it Maya, the manifested illusion. Maya means being mislead by that which is not. The famous Hindu example is of a person in the dark mistaking a rope for a snake and feeling fear. The spiritual soul mistakenly thinks there is truth in matter and becomes entangled in the striving and love-hate dynamics of a temporal world.
Jesus demonstrated that the world was an illusion by his performing miracles and by his assertion to have faith in His Invisible Father. The entire world we see and experience has its origins in thought, in consciousness.
Our world is much pain and suffering. Even when a person, through focus and hard work, is able to create a life of moderate happiness and comfort often has that life eventually disrupted by loss, illness and death. Doesn’t it seem capricious? People coming and going, events happening out of the blue. We fool ourselves that by striving we can eliminate suffering, but that just keeps the happiness, like the carrot, out in front of our present moment. Are we content or just striving for contentment?
Truth is that material life seen through material vision is an illusion that draws us in like a very good movie. It is an entertainment and educational movie that if not seen as such inevitably leads nowhere. The Source of contentment is within our consciousness, not out in a projected dream. A movie may be really, really good, but if we fall in love with something in the movie we will not learn anything, and we will be disappointed. Pain and pleasure are mirages of our disconnect from the Divine. The material world seen through the eye of Spirit would be beautiful, but it would be seen for what it is: as a teaching device, as a good movie with lots of wisdom and inspiration in it. Spiritual consciousness would allow us to see the amazing complexity and impermanence of our projected thoughts and learn from them.
Do you believe that Jesus walked on water? Do you believe that Buddha walked through a mountain? There are many, many stories about Saints, Eastern and Western, who have levitated, not eaten for years, healed the sick, and raised the dead. Just one miracle violates the current laws of physics. Just one miracle is an anomaly that alerts us to what we know deep inside- that our physical world is malleable to God’s Laws. Miracles are a testimony to the illusory nature of our material existence. We can dismiss Jesus’ miracles because “well, he is God”, and we don’t spend much time thinking about the miracles of other saints. Further, we dismiss them as fable or that if they did occur that there would be scientific explanation. Miracles are considered unscientific; people are often hesitant to discuss them, even with friends, but they do often share them with their therapist! One part of us believes and another part lives in fear and doubt. Just one experience of a miracle can remind us that the Truth is out there!
The perennial ups and downs of life, our suffering and triumphs, are temporary. These ups and downs and our striving to avoid them keep us distracted from truth and keep us fixed on the illusion. It appears so real. Saints and sages of all faiths have described the temporary nature of the material world. Life is a dream. Of course, within the structure of the dream, our three-dimensional world, laws are justified with three-dimensional physics. We are using tools of the three-dimensional world to disprove anything outside of the illusion. The infamous response of the physicist to the theologian’s assertion of the illusory quality of the world: The physicist strikes his toe against a table, saying, “I disprove it thus!” Most of us at one time or another have considered the possibility of living within a dream but dismiss it as illogical. Our internal dialogue, our parent’s words or the quizzical reaction of a friend is, “That’s silly. Very interesting, but silly.” We believe what our society teaches, as a rule.
How can this complex, amazing world be a dream? Think about the rich complexity of our sleep dreams. Everything feels just as real in that realm of consciousness. Color, pain, emotions, touch and the vastness of space are all just as vibrant. Often, upon waking, we have a moment of realizing we are dreaming and struggle to disentangle ourselves from the dream. I would suggest that is just what many of us are doing right now, wiggling in our life to find answers. We know something is just not quite right, struggling to find Truth. Who am I? Where do we come from? Is there a purpose?
Far from complete, findings from quantum physics challenge current ideas of Newtonian physics. It seems quite obvious that physics does not have all the answers. But we want to have faith in science. We are not even close to understanding infinity and eternity. That is why Jesus talked in parables and Eastern teachers use Koans: We cannot understand the dream from within the dream. Part of the healing is faith, part of this is triangulating on facts that can lead us to truths.
If you can find a miracle story in your own life or in another’s and get it firmly in your mind you can then use clarity to ‘hear’ what the spiritual teachers are saying. My favorite, naturally, is from The Master: “Do not worry!”. Another amazing saying, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was, I am”, can open up one’s mind.
The Second Truth: This grand illusion is sustained by our beliefs, thoughts, and desires.
Striving, physical cravings and externalized happiness maintain the illusion. Because of false beliefs and the amazing complexity of our created delusion, it can be quite difficult to see that the world is an illusion. It seems so darn real!!
In Buddhism the second truth is that Dukkha is sustained by our Craving. That is a harsh word to me. Your cravings, Paul, cause all your suffering. Ouch!! On a human level, not even including all my yoga training, I have been exercising choice in not being a gluttonous person. That’s a rough word, too. I don’t think telling a patient they are greedy is the correct way to gain an alliance, so for me some of the terms in The Noble Truths were a bit off-putting. The essential truth is there though. We are searching in an externalized world for happiness. I don’t crave but I do strive; I can’t brush that off.
My reading of some of Buddha’s sutras suggest that He was confrontative of attachments and desires that cause us to reach falsely into the material world thinking there is something that will satisfy us. Even more, He points to our judgmental mind and how we label everything, stirring up the mind to get attached and react to sensory experience.
Now, let’s examine the enormity of the illusion!! The amazingness of the universe is partly why we can not believe it is an illusion. If it is an illusion, and I assure you it is, grasp the significance of how huge and diverse and fantastic it is! To me, it is a moment of reverence. In an astonishing, incomprehensible fashion we are co-creating this entire universe within the Mind of God. Really!? We are not victims. We are not alone. This dream of life, and nature and discovery and intellect and beauty, birth and death are all occurring within our collective Mind. Really!! And it is only a tiny portion of what we are capable. If we can create this in our separated state of mind, imagine what we are creating in our True Mind. For me, this idea causes a sense of awe and a huge impetus to move on to the Third Truth.
The ego is our personal sense of self. We think we exist separate from God, in a personal self–the ego. We are fearful—a perceptual trick of our personal self- of merging our will with God’s Will because we think we will cease to exist. Seen correctly, it is more like a merging. We are becoming our real Self. There is an emptying, for sure; however, it’s more like emptying a cup filled with old coffee so that one can fill it with orange juice! Our Soul exists now. Our soul doesn’t form in Heaven; it already exists in Heaven now. By letting go of personal self attributes and embracing God quality attributes, we become that which we really are, NOW! (Actually, it’s more likely that the Self that we are becoming is our Spirit Body Self rather than the soul, which is as near to Oneness with God as I can imagine.)
Guilt, the essence of our belief in Original Sin, keeps us fixated on our errors and the past. We believe we are essentially unworthy, so we do not allow ourselves to be content or creative in the present. If that is not enough, the present potential is sabotaged by our fear of the future. I certainly was taught to feel bad about the past and worry about the future!!
We exist in a sea of energy, inside the mind of God. Co-mingled with that energy is our thoughts. We are co-creators with Divine Mind. This is the ‘holodeck’ of that Divine Mind. We give that energy a sense of value and meaning-creating the pictures we see-due to our beliefs, our thoughts and our desires. That which we focus on and give power to expands!
The material world about us does not exist separate from our thoughts. That is a mouthful, isn’t it? I would say that quantum science is very close to accepting that as a theory to seriously be explored. We understand projection on a psychological level. Issues that we carry within us we see in the people and world about us.
The next step, then, is to understand the roots of that projection as literally having our mind and the physical world connected. This is portrayed to a degree in the Law of Attraction. Many people accept that notion. If we ask for something and then hold ourselves in a state of gratitude and acceptance, that which we want will be drawn to us. This is a borderland step between thinking that our outer success is an effect of our own efforts and realizing that our desires and thoughts resonate directly with the divine. We ask and through inspired action and miracles our world changes. This is a huge step in the path to realizing that we are One with everything. Our separated mind sees everything as discrete objects and actions, but that is based on perception. If you accept the Law of Attraction at all then you have a toe hold into the idea that God is not separate from our hearts and the world does not exist separate from our thoughts.
This can be a bit daunting at first. Wow, all this crap in my life is my fault?! Well, yeah, but doesn’t that idea then give us a bunch of power. If I can create this mess, then I can learn how to create something better.
We cannot ever get true satisfaction from the world. It is impossible. Why? because it does not ultimately exist. It is a mirage of our spiritually sleeping mind. There is no essential fullness or love in the material world. All goodness in the world is a reflection of the Divine. The world is a projection onto the ‘holodeck’ within Divine Mind. The spiritual path shows us that we need to find love and calm within and then gently allow our good to come to us. Happy experience reinforces the love within; negative experience reminds us of our conflicted thoughts.
Why would we spend so much time focusing on dream desires in the first place? What if you discovered a culture who pretty much ignored their material circumstances but slept as much as possible and viewed success as what occurred in their dreams? Like in Plato’s cave. You’d have a serious chat with them!
Why do we even care about trying to create a better world if it is an illusion? Clearly, in the context of the Second Truth, the illusory world can teach us. We can learn to love. It’s a playground, in a sense, designed to show us the fruits of our thoughts, emotions and actions. It’s a feedback system. We are not our body. We are not our emotions. We are not our thoughts. We can use our body to express unconditional love and givingness. We can see how our reactionary emotions create conflict and we can learn to channel our thoughts.
What we are trying to do here is plant the seed that the world about us is the dream and we have forgotten our real Self in Spirit. And the piece of logic that ultimately leads to more power is that there is no satisfaction in the world. The goodness we want is within us. The Path suggests that we get content within our Self, then get in alignment with our Spirit directed purpose in the world. With poise, love and nonattachment we can learn more and more that excess reactionary desire causes chaos. Then we can use our creative mind to further our inner Path and our purpose of sharing love within the world of form.
The Third Truth: The End to Illusion is Possible Through the Process and State of Meditation.
Learn a meditation technique and stick with it through every storm and clear sky that your mind and life produce. Remember that a person cannot meditate properly. There is no such thing. Struggling to be a ‘good’ meditator only furthers our strivings. Do not become egoistic in the process. Not only is the end to our separated existence possible it is actually inevitable. It’s only a matter of time. Get it?! Time and space are an aspect of the world that keeps us prisoner. Time will eventually disappear as we all wake up!
Meditation is a discipline and a state of mind; a verb and a noun. Meditation as a discipline is to be taken lightly but seriously. We are not identifying with being a good meditator, but we are determined to let this discipline lead us to peace. That peace is the state of meditation. It is the moment to moment quietness between our thoughts, where striving, fear and reactivity disappear. It only takes one second of peace to allow the Divine to heal our human mind. That is the state of meditation. Stillness.
Are you meditating daily? If not, perhaps you might want to revisit the first Truth; Life is an illusion. The material highs and lows of life are not part of Truth. They are a dream occurring in our amazing consciousness. It’s pretty simple, really. The gargantuan Power of God inside our own mind, intermingled with Divine Mind, is creating the world we see out of our fears and desires, just like our sleep dreams. Waking dreams. Yes, God is in us and we are in God. From any angle, the universe is amazing and beyond our comprehension. We are fearful of accepting the power of our being. Jesus walked on water to show us the illusory nature of our consciousness. We see it in our sleep dreams. Fear causes us to not trust the journey, so like ‘Huff’, the mouse in “Who Moved My cheese?”, we hang out a prisoner in our own dream. If you’re not meditating daily, ask for help! Ask it from a spiritual friend, from God Himself: “Lord, I desperately want to awaken. I want to know. Help me find the wisdom to sit quietly every day. Help me find the Path to stillness behind which lies the Truth.” Be grateful for what meditating you have done. Think about meditating. Ask. Read a book about it. Sign up for a class. Or check out my video… That which you think about expands!
The Fourth Truth: While meditating daily, live properly, in a compassionate fashion
Be nonattached to what appears as good or bad in your life. As your mind is purified (not through your own effort, remember!), the illusion will show you unresolved issues in your mind and life. Watch them with loving detachment. Allow the Divine Therapist, as Thomas Keating describes her, to heal your unconscious conflicts. When not meditating, be mindful. Read the Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Khat Hanh. Read my article on nonattachment. As much as possible, live your life in the moment, discharging your duties with grace and dignity. Hurt nothing. React to nothing. Realize that every object and person around you is you. Treat them as the Deity incarnate, which they are. God is everywhere present. Living can be a sacred act; do everything as if you were washing the baby Jesus. Buddha’s Four Noble Truths are something extremely wise that we can learn from. I believe it is the essence of the words of The Master, “The Truth Shall set you Free.” All religions have their rules of proper living. Live the tenants of your faith and act out of right intention and treat all creatures with compassion. Feel the proper emotion, be forgiving, generous of spirit and compassionate. Attributed to the Buddha, “If you want to be happy, practice compassion. If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.”
Love. Love today more that you did yesterday. Let go of anger. Anything that comes into your environment is designed to teach you love. Remember the lessons from The Second Truth, that which you focus on expands. It’s our reactivity that creates more inharmony. If you react with anger, you are only allowing angry thoughts to reside in your beautiful mind. Notice the games you play with your wonderful spouse; he says something that ‘bothers’ you and you react. She makes a mistake and you choose anger rather than a loving expression of your hurt. Most fights are not remembered two days later! It is the old attack and defend cycle. See the illusion of it on every level of society and learn to stay in a space of peace. We can choose peace instead of conflict. I truly belief that the essence of all this is to live a life of love. God doesn’t just love us if we are good or once in a while when He’s not busy with some other project. He is Love. He is inside of us pumping as much love into us and around us as we can accept. That is a clue as to how we might be: Love yourself, love your neighbor as yourself and be in a constant state of loving (not fearful!) devotion to the Father within.
I do like the flow of these Four Truths. The 4th truth is a guide to spiritual living designed to spring from learning to find the Kingdom of God in the stillness beyond words, judgment and concepts-the Third Truth of Meditation. This is based on the idea that our spiritually immature self is reacting, clinging and desiring things in the external world thinking that the ‘thing’ itself will bring us happiness. How can a thing in a world of illusion make us happy? Seek the real world of God’s Kingdom within and then your outer dream will become harmonious. Sleep dreams are chaotic when we carry stressed and fearful thoughts. Just so our waking dream world; the peace from your deeper mind passes into the outer manifestation. The world of illusion becomes more and more harmonious as we realize the truth.
Further, This guide to Living, the Fourth Truth, expands into the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, the path of Right Living. This is the path of living in the flow.