- The Four Noble Truths
- Cover Page
- Title Page
- Editor’s Preface
- Introduction: Working with the Mind
- 1. The Truth of Suffering
- 2. The Truth of the Cause of Suffering
- 3. The Truth of Cessation
- 4. The Truth of the Path
- 5: Living in Awareness of the Four Noble Truths
- About the Author
1 : THE TRUTH OF SUFFERING
The noble truth of suffering (dukkha) is this: birth is suffering; aging is suffering; sickness is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; association with the unpleasant is suffering; disassociation from the pleasant is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering. In brief, the five aggregates of attachment are suffering.
— DHAMMACAKKAPPAVATTANA SUTTA
WHY THE BUDDHA TAUGHT SUFFERING FIRST
WHY DO WE travel to the east, to the west, or anywhere? Why do we busy ourselves with activity? If we check our minds, we discover that behind all our actions is our quest for happiness. Deep inside we are bubbling with dissatisfaction. No matter what reasons we give for our busyness, such as wanting to learn and experience new things, the primary reason is that we yearn for happiness and wish to avoid suffering.
Because of this we might decide to change our lifestyle, thinking, “I will be happier doing that or living in a different place.” For instance, when we feel exhausted from life as an office worker, we might think, “Perhaps there is more pleasure living life in a circus.” Then we join a circus. However, we soon discover that circus life also is suffering.
I have heard that life can be rather difficult for television comedians if audiences do not laugh at their jokes. The fear of not being successful is a suffering that weighs heavily on many people.
Some of us have changed our lifestyles many times in the hope of attaining happiness. However, if we take an honest look back at those 16lifestyles, we see how the nature of each of them was suffering. Before we engaged in those lifestyles they looked very attractive. But after we immersed ourselves in them, anticipated delight soon gave way to discontent.
Whenever we first meet someone — either a high-status person like a king or an ordinary person — we will exchange pleasantries and all may appear well. However, as the conversation progresses the new person gradually begins to talk about his or her difficulties. If the conversation continues for an hour, much more suffering is revealed. Discontent keeps surfacing. This is the nature of life as we presently know it.
Repeatedly experiencing dissatisfaction by circling in suffering is called cyclic existence, or samsara. Many people have the idea that samsara is a place, so they are in samsara when in a crowded city or a noisy market, but not in samsara if they are in the mountains or at a monastery. This is a big mistake.
Wherever you are, including on your death bed, you are still in samsara. Even when the mind is no longer in your body but is in the intermediate stage after death, the mind is still in samsara. There is no break time from samsara! Over beginningless lives there has not been one moment of release from samsara. Until we totally uproot ignorance we are stuck in samsara.
Your hair is also in samsara. Some people think it is easy, that they can shave off samsara! You cannot shave off samsara with a machine. Samsara is the continuity of the aggregates, which are caused by the delusions of ignorance, attachment, and aversion. To escape from samsara you have to stop continuously grasping the aggregates, which are caused by delusion and karma.
This is why the Buddha taught suffering first, followed by the cause of suffering. Without understanding suffering and the nature of samsara in all its forms, there would be no reason to be rid of it, let alone find the causes for it and pursue the method to eliminate those causes. There would then be no wish to follow the method to happiness — to realize great peace, the cessation of suffering — and consequently no liberation.
When a person feeling unwell visits a doctor and the doctor explains 17what sickness the patient has, the patient identifies the sickness as the cause of his suffering and develops an aversion to it. The patient learns about the cause of that sickness, follows the treatment that removes the cause of the sickness, and is healed.
In the same way, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha revealed the truth of suffering before explaining the cause of suffering. He did this because unless we recognize how suffering affects everyone we will have no incentive to investigate the cause of suffering, the second noble truth, and no possibility of ending suffering, the third noble truth. If we don’t envision the cessation of suffering, also known as nirvana, we will remain chained to suffering in samsara.
On the other hand, if we understand that suffering is not eternal and that freedom and everlasting happiness is attainable once the cause of suffering is halted, we will aspire to achieve freedom. That aspiration inspires us to seek the method to achieve it. This method is the fourth noble truth of the path.
The four noble truths are Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s psychological method for us to break free from suffering and to attain everlasting happiness.
THE SIX GENERAL SUFFERINGS
The six general sufferings refer to the hardships faced by all living beings in samsara.
Nothing is definite
Until we are liberated from samsara we have to continuously experience the six types of suffering. I once met the mother of a rich Indian family who said to me, “Please pray for my daughter to get married.” The mother was anxious for the marriage to happen and couldn’t wait. I advised her that it was better to wait and be careful, but the mother continued to worry about her daughter’s single status. People never think there might be problems. They only think about short-term results, in this case marriage.18
There are two occasions in Nepal when one hears loud music playing: during weddings when musicians blow horns and play drums while transporting the bride and groom, and after people die when funeral processions transport bodies to cemeteries, again accompanied by the sounds of horns and drums.
Nothing in samsara gives satisfaction
The Rolling Stones described this perfectly when they sang “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Alcoholics are plagued by dissatisfaction, so they drink in search of relief, yearning to derive some level of satiation, but are instead overwhelmed by discontent. It destroys them, their work, and their families.
A common experience is that we are never satisfied no matter how much we have. If we make $100 in profit, we try to make $1,000. When we’re able to get $1,000, we’re not content until we make $10,000. If we are able to make $10,000, we feel driven to make $100,000. It goes on and on like that.
There was a wealthy person in London who was in the car business. He bought a mansion with many rooms and he would sleep in a different room each night. I heard he ate poorly but drank something like sixty bottles of liquor in a short time. He was rich but found little satisfaction, so he became unhappy, depressed, and drank excessively.
The man thought the root of his suffering was his car business. So he asked his bodyguard to buy lots of toy cars, place all those toy cars in the fountain in his garden, pour kerosene on them, and burn them. He thought that symbolic act would remove his unhappiness. Never once did he think that his mind and its delusions caused his misery. His problem was attachment, not practicing contentment, always wanting more and more.
A completely opposite response came from Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche, the great Tibetan master from whom I received many teachings and initiations, when his doctor diagnosed him with cancer. When the doctor asked Rinpoche what he thought, Rinpoche answered, “I am very happy to have cancer because this gives me the opportunity to practice 19bodhicitta, taking on all sentient beings’ suffering and its causes.” This response demonstrates complete renunciation of clinging to life for one’s own benefit.
We have to leave this body again and again
Until we attain liberation from samsara, we are forced to be reborn again and again in samsara. We have taken the body of a butterfly countless times. We have taken a cat’s body numberless times. We have been born as dogs from Tibet or dogs from England — dogs with flat noses, long noses, short tails, long tails — numberless times in beginningless rebirths. There would be no empty space left if all our bodies were collected. This is the same with all the human bodies we have taken.
There is not one type of samsaric body we haven’t taken or experienced. Whatever animal we’ve been attracted to, such as horses, birds, spiders, or rats, we have taken such bodies numberless times. Those insects we are so scared of, which we think are so menacing and horrible, we have been born as those insects numberless times. We have taken birth as tigers and poisonous snakes numberless times. This is the horror of samsara.
We have to take rebirth again and again
This body of ours is from the sperm of our father and the egg of our mother, which in turn came from their fathers and mothers, so there is a continuation from long before. All this mixing of sperm and eggs from long ago becomes like a septic tank, like feces and urine and all the smells collected together. Our bodies are like that. In this way, we should think of our bodies like very old junk, so there is no reason to be attached to our bodies. If we are able to detach from grasping at our bodies, the mind can be free from the attachment that causes us to be reborn continuously in samsara and to suffer in samsara.
This continuity of taking birth is like the continuous sound of a puja trumpet, how the notes join one to the next. The shortcomings of taking birth again and again, the aggregates taking birth due to karma and delusion, 20continuously circling from here to the next life and the life after that, ought to make us weary of samsara.
We move from higher to lower in samsara
As we are reborn, we continuously move from higher to lower states. Unless we know how to remedy mistaken action and engage in virtue, we are unable to remain in the higher states, such as the human realm.
After death the state of existence changes and we take rebirth according to karma, possibly as a hell being, a hungry ghost, an animal, or a god. We constantly shift and change our realms of existence. In a previous life we might have been a king, but in this life we become a servant or a beggar. Even in just one life we can become beggars after a life of luxury. It happens.
We are born alone and we die alone
We are born alone with just consciousness coming from the prior life to this life. Whatever body we had for the prior life didn’t continue. Only the consciousness came into this life.
When we die we die alone, leaving behind the body so that only consciousness, that mental energy, leaves to go to the next life. All the negative karma we have collected due to actions toward ourselves and others that are embedded in our consciousness will follow.
If those negative imprints are heavy, we will find ourselves reborn in the lower realms, where only we experience the terrifying results. Nobody comes to share it. No family member or friend joins us there, saying, “Oh, I will help share your suffering. You have too much suffering, so I will share the burden and I will take over some of your suffering.” Nobody comes and we have to experience it alone. It’s like that.
All sense objects, including one’s life, people, and possessions, are all causative phenomena. This means that they come about from causes and conditions. 21They are in the nature of impermanence. They all get older, degenerate, and perish. They are simply unable to remain the same, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour. Whether at a gross or subtle level, sense objects do not last.
When we do not realize how things are in the nature of impermanence, we hold on to the hallucination that these things are going to be with us forever. This is not the case. It is a mistaken view. Your body and life, other people’s bodies and lives, this beautiful flower, that skyscraper, that highway, they are all changing and decaying every moment, but we often fail to notice this. Only when the change is at a gross level do we notice it, but in fact the change is continuous.
By forgetting to apply this understanding of impermanence to our daily lives, we tend to think that our possessions will always be useful and that the people we know will always be the same. There appears to be something concrete and permanent about these appearances. But in reality they are all changing, degenerating, getting old, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. What exists during the first minute no longer exists in the same manner in the next minute. It is gone. This is the nature of suffering.
One time, I think at the Milan, Italy, airport shop, I noticed a figure standing there and thought it was a mannequin, but it turned out to be an actual person! That shop had many well-dressed mannequins, so I thought this person was also a mannequin.
One thinks something is one thing, but it turns out not to be so. Large concrete buildings seem permanent, making us think they will always be there. But suddenly an earthquake happens and the building totally changes into a collapsed heap. Or the building could be hit by a bomb or a tornado, and what seems to be permanent can get completely destroyed. Suddenly it is gone.
Even this planet will one day be gone and nothing will remain, only space. Such is the nature of impermanence. Causative phenomena, the things that come about due to causes and conditions, are like dew. They can drop or evaporate at any time, cease at any time. Our own life can end at any time.22
During a lightning strike at night we briefly see varied phenomena like trees and houses. There is a vivid appearance of things during that moment, but in a flash it is gone. It happened, then it is gone. In the same way, this life, family, friends, enemies, strangers, possessions, reputation, and sense objects all appear but will end. Gone. It is no different when you die. Life happened and it is gone. Understanding impermanence and recollecting it frequently helps us gain the right view.
Remembering impermanence helps us cut off clinging to this life and turns us toward renouncing samsara. This renunciation is a cause of happiness now and in future lives, and a cause of liberation. Recollecting impermanence helps us see the futility of the self-cherishing thought. It persuades us to practice great compassion toward all.
The advantage of reflecting on impermanence is that we become a guide to ourselves. It steers us away from wasting our lives through blindly following delusions and having to face their troublesome results. Merely thinking about how death can come at any time is extremely powerful in weakening delusions like attachment, anger, and pride. We become less petty and able to appreciate what we have.
If you want to destroy pride right away, use the impermanence of status and possessions as the most potent tool to destroy it. If you want to be relaxed and contented, simply remember impermanence.
When meditating on how death is inevitable, fear may arise. We can intelligently use this fear as an antidote to the toxic thought of worldly concerns. More than that, this meditation is like an atomic bomb that can break the chains of cyclic existence. In a single moment it quickly and utterly destroys the empire of delusions and unhappiness. Such is the efficacy of meditating on impermanence and death.
Once we have a strong experience of impermanence through deep reflection on the shortness of life and certainty of death, we will naturally become less attached to the shallow happinesses of this life. Instead we become more focused on making this life meaningful, on doing the virtue that easily brings joy. Our minds will gravitate toward a better path, especially at the time of death.
Think for a moment: If a man is moving the next day from his 23hometown to New York, his mind will be thinking only of packing up his things. He will no longer be concerned about his present accommodations, how to fix his oven, or how to make the place he is leaving more comfortable. His mind will be busy packing up the old things, preparing for life in a new place, and planning his new life. His mind will be occupied with preparations for the impending move.
In the same way, a person who realizes impermanence and the inevitability of death will no longer be fixated on this life and will instead put effort into preparing for the future and future lives.
Intuitively most people view death as a great suffering. Many people are afraid of death and do not want to hear the word, even though death is around us all the time and will definitely happen to us.
Although death is part of natural evolution, many people reject knowing more about it. Even where there is Buddhadharma in a country and people have access to it to practice and to solve their life problems, they do not want to discuss death. They shy away from all reflections on death, and if someone talks to them about death, they shun the subject and may even get angry.
Yet when a sudden and terrible sickness strikes or they simply get older, they are filled with anxiety. As they approach the moment of death they feel desperate and fearful.
On the other hand, some seek to understand death just as they seek to understand life. They study and analyze samsara and meditate on its nature. Such people find the energy to practice Dharma, create merit, undertake purification, and realize the ultimate nature of reality. Through these pursuits they develop the mind that renounces samsara, generates compassion, and cultivates bodhicitta and wisdom.
People like this, when faced with the critical moment of death, experience very little stress in their minds. Instead of feeling afraid their minds are relaxed, peaceful, and confident. When highly realized lamas pass away, death for them is like a stroll in a beautiful park or like going for a picnic. 24Their death is pure ease and happiness. They experience death with their mind in a blissful state.
Even an ordinary person without high realizations can be comfortable, peaceful, and free from fear at the time of death. But to achieve this, such a person must have prepared himself by meditating on subjects that include impermanence, death, and samsaric sufferings, while living life ethically, engaging in virtue, and purifying negativities.
The cause of all anxiety at the time of death is the negative mind, which comes from living life with a self-grasping attitude of self-cherishing, heavily afflicted by ignorance, attachment, anger, and other delusions. In contrast, a person who lives life cultivating good-heartedness, generosity, and compassion will end life calmly and happily. At the time of death that person’s body will end but the mind will be peaceful and joyful.
If death strikes us right now due to sudden illness or extreme conditions, do we have a method to cope with that? Do we know what happens after death?
Visualize yourself at the moment of death right now. Your dead body is lying still and cold on your bed. People are preparing to take your body out. Family and relatives are upset about how your dead body looks. Your body is then brought to the funeral home. You are alone. Visualize all these events as clearly as you can. Immerse yourself fully in this situation. This is what will definitely happen in the future.
If you are scared to visualize this right now, how will you handle your mind at your moment of death? Avoiding thinking about death will not help. Dharma understanding and meditation is intended to fortify you in death as well as in life, to stop the dangers of the negative mind from arising. Otherwise what would be the purpose of meditating on death? What purpose would any religion or spiritual system serve, if it does not help us know what to do at the time of death? If religion fails us at the time of death, then better to have no religion.
We can prepare to face death without fear by meditating on these three points in relation to death: death is definite, the time of death is indefinite, and only Dharma helps at the time of death.25
Death is definite
Every human being experiences death. Death is certain, and for most of us it will happen while we’re controlled by delusions and karma. Death will occur without us choosing it or wanting it.
If we throw a stone into the air, it will fall back without stopping in midair for even a second before it hits the ground. Just like this our lives rush along without stopping for even one moment. Just like this our lives finish.
Every second sees our life diminishing, bringing us closer to death. This is not being macabre. It is a fact. Ever since we were conceived in our mother’s womb, we have been moving closer and closer to death. If we are young adults, we may think we have another fifty years to live. We see fifty years as a kind of concrete certainty. Yet in fact with each split second — the snap of a finger — our lives get that much shorter. Fifty years stretches shorter and shorter and then finishes, just like that.
As it is for an animal tied to a rope and led from the family farm to the butcher, death comes closer with each step. The animal, which also seeks happiness, has no idea it is being taken to be slaughtered. The animal’s life is shortening, yet the animal remains unaware. In exactly the same way we are approaching death. Fifty years or a hundred years is nothing. Each is made up of a definite number of seconds and each second is passing.
Perhaps we think, “I will have a long life. I will live another eighty years because a palm reader told me so.” This we cannot trust. No one can be sure. There are no guarantees. And what will happen after death? Presently our minds are completely dark on this question because we do not understand what will happen when the body ceases and consciousness leaves. This is the poor level of our knowledge.
For most of us it is certain that we will struggle at death instead of having a happy passing. Dying with a negative, deluded mind will lead to a difficult lower-realm rebirth. It has come to this because we have allowed delusions to dominate our minds and cause us to continuously engage in negative karma while we march toward death. We cannot waste any more time before doing something about this.26
We may have met the Dharma, so let us focus on overcoming delusions and not waste our lives. If we check carefully, very little of our lives have actually become Dharma. Each day we are engulfed by self-cherishing thought. That is how we have squandered away so much of our lives.
The time of death is indefinite
Many people go to work, but some die on their way home. When a person goes to sleep he or she may never wake up. Some people start their meals but die without finishing their plates of food. Some go on trekking vacations but never come back. Others drive away in their cars and die before they return. Some are young and never become adults or see middle age because death occurs. Many die in their mother’s wombs. Others go out for a game of football, but their lives end before they get home for dinner. Some people order new clothes but die before wearing them. Others start to read books but never finish them because death interjects.
Many people start projects without concluding them because they die. Many people go to war, and fight and die, without seeing their families again. Many start jobs but die before receiving their salaries. Many people even die before completing what they were saying. Many breathe in but die before breathing out. These are examples of how the time of death is indefinite.
Only Dharma helps at the time of death
When death occurs our body is no longer any help. Family, friends, and possessions cannot stop the passage of death. Even if we have shoes that can last one hundred years, at the time of death we have to go barefoot. Even if the country’s best doctors surround our corpse, they can do nothing.
Nothing worldly can help. We have taken such great care of our body, more than we have cared for others. We have been willing to harm others for the sake of our body, but at the time of death we must leave our body behind. We cannot carry to a future life even the tiniest strand of body hair nor its smallest atom.27
Good karma or positive deeds are the only things that are beneficial at the time of death and that can be carried to a future life. If you have practiced Dharma, if you have worked on overcoming the delusions, practicing the good heart, purifying negative actions, then the resultant positive imprints and good karma are the only profit that can be carried to the future life and enjoyed. Nothing else can be carried forward. No worldly profit can be carried to the future, only good karma and positive deeds.
Ordinary people pass through the moment of death with much fear and worry. Thus they die with negative minds, causing them to be reborn in the suffering realms. Instead we should journey through death without fear and die with a happy and calm mind. Only the Dharma can support our minds to be fearless in the face of death.
For highly realized lamas death is blissful, like returning home. As for middle-level meditators’ minds, they are peaceful and happy at the moment of death. Even lowest-level Dharma practitioners experience little panic or distress at the time of death if they have tried to understand the Dharma and lived ethically. Experiencing death in any of these favorable ways depends on how we live and how sincerely we practice the Dharma.
As a person’s death approaches and at the moment of death itself, the greatest hindrance is attachment. If the dying person’s last thought is one of attachment, whether to family or to possessions, that person is less likely to experience a peaceful death and could be reborn in the suffering lower realms.
An analogy will help to explain this: To make bread dough we mix flour, water, and yeast. The yeast is activated by moisture when mixed with water and flour. The moisture, in contact with yeast, causes the dough to rise.
In the same way, when attachment is activated unease grows and a kind of tightness in the mind arises. This tightness is a great hindrance that arises painfully in one’s mind. If this happens at the time of a person’s death, even if that person had been creating some good karma in his or her life, this negative mind of attachment will activate whatever negative karmic imprints the person had accumulated and propel that 28consciousness into the suffering realms. Thus the nature of rebirth is closely linked to the final thought at the moment of death. The final thought acts like a catalyst that triggers the corresponding accumulated karmic imprints and steers the consciousness into its next realm of rebirth, be that higher or lower.
To prevent rebirth in the suffering lower realms we need to have lived virtuously, to have purified our negative deeds, and to have made our last thought a virtuous one. We might think, “Oh, I can do that. I know how to think of virtue at the moment of death.”
But actually it is very difficult to do this. When an earthquake strikes or when a crisis unexpectedly happens, we are often unable to handle our minds. We cannot think virtuous thoughts at such times because our minds are completely seized by distress and fear. Therefore there is almost no chance of making our minds virtuous during the even-more challenging time of death unless we have been accustomed to living a virtuous life. Can we say we have lived our entire lives virtuously?
So you see, when death occurs it will be very, very difficult to say, “Oh, I can think virtuously.” To make the mind capable of virtuous thought at death requires prior mind training. Mind training includes living daily life ethically, generating merit, and purifying negativities. In particular, it is helpful to meditate on the shortcomings of samsara, on impermanence and death, and on delusions and their antidotes, all of which help eliminate attachments. These are the most powerful daily meditations we can do to train our minds, to control our minds. At the time of death, at least remember Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, an object of virtue.
Which is longer, our present lives or all our future lives? The suffering we experience in this life is nothing compared to the suffering we will experience in our future lives. Therefore it is more important to take steps to stop future suffering rather than trying to alleviate only present suffering or suffering over the next five or ten years.
It makes little sense to focus on preventing a short period of present suffering rather than stopping all future suffering. Even if we wish to stop our present suffering, the most efficient way is through engaging in Dharma. 29It is highly worthwhile to focus first on future happiness because the end of this life and the start of the next are uncertain, while it is certain the future will be long. Death can happen at any time — maybe this year, this month, this week, tonight, after this hour is over, we don’t know. For this reason, it would be sensible not to delay preparing for the ultimate happiness of future lives.
What happens after death?
What happens when we die? Does the mind get extinguished like a candle? It is not like this. Mind or consciousness, imprinted by delusions and karma, continues on. The mental continuum does not cease. Where the mind will be reborn is according to our karmic imprints. Gaining a happy rebirth depends on having created good karma in our preceding life, practicing Dharma, and having virtuous thought at the time of death.
However, if we have created negative karma and die with a negative mind of attachment or anger, we are headed for rebirth in the suffering lower realms. Forcing the mind to think virtuously at the moment of death is not possible. We need the training of a life habituated in virtue.
THE THREE CATEGORIES OF THE SUFFERING OF SAMSARA
If happiness is what we seek, we have to eliminate suffering. In teaching the first noble truth of suffering, the Buddha was instructing us to examine our experiences closely to understand the nature of our present existence. The nature of the suffering of samsara can be understood under three broad categories: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and pervasive compounding suffering, which is the fundamental suffering of samsara.
The suffering of suffering
The suffering of suffering is easy to recognize, as it arises from life’s hardships. The problems of everyday life include pain, extreme heat and cold, 30unhappy feelings, sickness, worries, and meeting with undesirable objects, difficult circumstances, enemies, and harmful things. We are disturbed when we encounter even the smallest bug, fearing it will deny us a comfortable night’s sleep. We worry about not having wealth, favorable surroundings, friends, status, and other objects of desire.
After we have acquired these things, after working incredibly hard for them, we soon worry and fret about holding on to them. We may feel mounting dissatisfaction with the objects we have acquired. We feel anxiety about acquiring more things and better ones, and about not losing the ones we have. This is the suffering of suffering.
The suffering of change
The category of “suffering of change” often takes the form of sense pleasures, which is why it’s so hard to recognize them as a form of suffering. The nature of the suffering of change arises from the temporariness of sense pleasures, the inevitable change from pleasure to dissatisfaction. All forms of samsaric worldly enjoyments fall into this category, for instance the pleasure of eating delicious food and enjoying the sun at the beach. How is this so?
When we like a certain type of food we tend to eat more of it, seeking more pleasure. But soon enough we get tired of that food or even develop an aversion to it. Likewise when we feel cold and go out to sit in the sun for warmth, it feels good at first. But when the heat begins to burn we feel discomfort and need to move away from the sun. What was an enjoyment has become a source of discomfort.
If enjoyments were a true source of happiness, the more and longer we engaged in them the happier we would be. If delicious food were the cause of true happiness, then continuous eating from morning to midnight would bring unbelievable bliss and comfort. If we continued such continuous eating without break for a further month or one year, amazing, inconceivable pleasure would arise. We know this is not so. Since pleasure does not arise from continuous eating, it proves something is wrong in our belief that food is the source of true happiness. This test can be applied to any worldly enjoyment. 31If the nature of these enjoyments were not ultimately suffering, the pleasure derived from them would increase with repetition. But in fact the pleasure from repetition decreases, which requires us to reevaluate them as the true causes of happiness.
In reality what is happening is that a sensation we have mentally labeled as “pleasure” lasts only until the feeling of discomfort becomes noticeable. Only then do we label it “discomfort” or “suffering.” So our labeling an experience “pleasure” or “suffering” does not depend on the object or circumstance; it depends on our minds and how the mind interprets things and sensations. When an experience like basking in the sun at the beach becomes uncomfortable at a gross and noticeable level, we label it “suffering”; when the discomfort is not yet at a gross level, we call it pleasure.
Apply this to the earlier example of continuous eating. When we began to eat it brought relief from the suffering of hunger and we labeled it “pleasure,” but as the discomfort of continuous eating became gross and observable, we changed the label and called it “suffering.” What was pleasurable had become plain suffering. This is the suffering of change. All that happened was that when one suffering stopped, another suffering began. This is the nature of samsara.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama once said, “Nowadays many people first aim to buy a TV and later a car and then an apartment. After some time those become insufficient. They get tired of these possessions, start to find fault with them, and begin to search for more and better things.” You can see how the first possession one acquired with the expectation of contentment actually brought about the result of more dissatisfaction. It has no end.
Because death comes without choice, there is an end to this life, but the grasping at more and better things has no end. The dissatisfied mind knows no end. The initial pleasure of getting the desired object turns to boredom; the pleasure changes into dissatisfaction and unhappiness. This is how the suffering of change works. These samsaric, temporal pleasures not only fail to last b
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