Sitting With a Sutta - Getting to Know the Four Noble Truths

Getting to Know the Four Noble Truths 

By Marc Forest (excerpt from a talk given at Yoga North September 24, 2017)

“… the Buddha took up a few leaves in his hand and addressed the Sangha thus: “What do you think, Sangha which is more numerous: these few leaves that I have taken up in my hand or those in this grove of trees?”

“Venerable sir, the leaves that the Buddha has taken up in his hand are few, but those in the grove of trees are numerous.”

“So too, Sangha, the things I have directly known but have not taught you are more numerous, while the things I have taught you are few.  And why, have I not taught those many things?

Because they are unbeneficial, irrelevant to the fundamentals of the inner life...and do not lead to peace....” Samyutta Nikaya 56.31

The Buddha as always, was trying to keep it simple, which is what I really like to do in my own practice. I was lost and confused on my spiritual journey until I started to weed out what really didn’t matter to my awakening.

So, what in my opinion are the fundamentals of a spiritual life that are beneficial and lead to our awakening?  

My recommendation for that solid foundation is to know, learn, understand and live the teachings of  The Four Noble Truths.  The Four Noble Truths are the common thread between all Buddhists lineages.  

For me, a point of clarity came when I cleared out all the noise around  the 'other' metaphysical dharma and focused my practice around the Buddha's very first discourse on the Four Noble Truths.

My own experience of wandering around and dabbling in a buffet of spiritual practices for many, many years did not bring satisfaction to my spiritual life. My theme song back then was “I Can’t get No Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones.  

After years of wandering in confusion I had what I have termed a “calling” or aspiration.  Let’s just say that this aspiration was to know, understand and live the Four Noble Truths.   The Four items became and still are the focal point of my life.  I just knew this was what needed to be done.

There is another discourse called “The Greater Discourse on the Simile of the Elephant’s Footprint”. This discourse illustrates that whatever the Buddha taught can be found in these Four Noble Truths. 

“Friends, just as the footprint of any living being that walks can be placed within an elephant’s footprint, and so the elephant’s footprint is declared the chief of them because of its great size; so too, all wholesome states can be included in the Four Noble Truths. In what four? In the noble truth of suffering, in the noble truth of the origin of suffering, in the noble truth of the cessation of suffering, and in the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering.”  Majjhima Nikaya 28.2

We have all heard of the Four Noble Truths but do we really know and live them as our guide to awakening. We hear about them so much we think we know what they are. I have come across some that dismiss the richness and significance of these Four Noble Truths as “Kindergarten Buddhism”.  It’s not, it’s all of Dharma as the discourse suggests.

The teaching of the Four Noble Truths is found in Buddha’s very first discourse after his awakening under the Bodhi tree in ancient India. The discourse is appropriately called “Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma”.

We have come to know that what the Buddha taught in this first discourse as the Four Noble Truths - I have since come to appreciate and understand them as four tasks. 

1.     To understand Dukkha

2.     To let go of the Cause of Dukkha

3.     To realize the Cessation of Dukkha

4.     To cultivate the Path to the Cessation of Dukkha

These four tasks are a pragmatic approach to living our lives in peace.  We will realize soon enough, that life has more purpose and meaning through working with these tasks every day.

We need to make use of these teachings as a way to awakening. The four tasks need to be put into action; by doing so this life is lived to its fullest potential. As the Buddha has said about all his teachings – “don’t take my word for it, come see for your selves”

WIMG is starting a series of talks on each of the Four Truths, including all elements of the 8-Fold Path at St. Peter’s beginning September 27 and going until December 6.

Please plan to attend if you can.

May you all be well.