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Sunday, April 25, 2004

The Second Noble Truth: Samudaya

The Buddha has often been called "The Great Physician." He used the ancient Ayurvedic diagnostic model to present his central teachings. As we have seen, his First Noble Truth is the diagnosis of the presence of "ill-being," "dis-ease," which he called duhkha. Once the diagnosis has been made, the physician must look into the causes of the illness, the etiology.

Here we can see one aspect of the nature of interbeing in that, as mentioned in speaking about duhkha, while we tend to think of ill-being as the opposite of well-being, and therefore something "bad," the Buddha called it the Noble Truth because it is only by looking into the nature of your ill-being, and not by running away from it, that you find your way out of it! It is only in looking deeply (the practice of vipashyana) that we see the roots or causes of duhkha. Otherwise, we may fall into a fatalistic mind-state that feels it is all pre-determined and that nothing we do can change the situation. This is, indeed, how many viewed the existence of duhkha at the time of the Buddha, and even today. Others have seen it, and continue today to see it, as "punishment," or "divine retribution."

The Buddha is telling us that the suffering and the causes of suffering are not really two separate things. When we see the true nature of the suffering, we see the causes, and thus (to get ahead of our "story" so to speak) we see that by dropping the causes we drop the suffering! The prognosis (The Third Noble Truth) is excellent!

But let's not rush to the Third before looking a bit more deeply together into what causes our duhkha. Most texts waste no time in pointing to "desire" or "craving," (tanha, literally "thirst") as the prime cause of duhkha. But this is a bit simplistic. In the teachings of the Buddha, he often provided a list of afflictions (kleshas or kilesas in Pali) that include anger, depression, arrogance etc. Craving was often placed at the top of the list, and thus came to "stand-in" for the whole list. The Second Noble Truth encourages us to be as clear as possible about the causes of duhkha not merely abstractly, but as experienced in our lived experience.

For instance, if we suffer from anger or depression, it did not simply arise out of nothing. Nothing is born in isolation. Our anger and depression must come from somewhere. We may have been feeding our anger or depression for a long time before it manifested in its full and ripe form today. In looking into the causes of our duhkha, we begin to see how we have nourished it with the four kinds of nutriments.

The first kind is edible food. Different foods may contain a variety of toxins that cause ill-being in our bodymind. We need to look into the foods we choose to eat and ask if they are compatible with our bodymind. Some Ayurvedic understanding of our constitution may be helpful here, and it is no small thing that traditionally all the great yogis and yoginis were also Ayurvedic masters.

In the various Buddhist traditions there is some form of mindful eating practice. We look into the food and remind ourselves of the various labors and conditions that brought the food to our table. We remind ourselves that to be worthy of the food, we should be mindful of it. (Remember, this body is the "Food Body."). While eating, we remind ourselves to be free of our "negative" mental fomations, especially our greed, and eat in moderation. We remember, as Ayurveda teaches us, that food is a kind of medicine if appropriate to us and that the ultimate reason we take food is so that we may realize the path of love and understanding (compassion and wisdom).

The second kind of nutriment are the various sense impressions that we "consume" through our eyes, ears, nose and body. I forget the figure, but the average child is deluged by hundreds of hours of commercials by the time she is five years old, and by the time she is an adolescent has seen thousands of murders eneacted on television. Even the news (certainly the way the news is presented) feeds our fear, anxiety, distress, anger and despair. The Buddha, speaking poetically, said our eyes and ears are like deep oceans, with hidden waves and sea monsters. If you are unmindful, you can be drowned in the ocean of forms, or completely swept away in a tidal wave of emotion. Sometimes it may be necessay to "close the sense doors." This is no more than the practice of pratyahara also taught by Patanjali. But the Buddha also said that we need to cultivate strong mindfulness so that eventually we can keep our eyes open without drowning. Our mindfulness becomes the ship that carries us safely over the ocean of form.

The third kind of nutriment is volition -- our deep desire. This kind of energy pushes us to do things in our daily lives. We need to look deeply to see what our true motivations are -- even for practice. If we are unclear about our motivation -- about the energy that motivates us to act -- we may act blindly and in ways that sabotage our happiness. The Buddha offered the image of a man who desperately wants to be happy and not suffer, but who is carried off by two strong men and thrown into a fire. The men represent a hidden volition that pushes us in the direction of suffering. As yogis and yoginis, we must practice looking deeply to identify the source of the energy that is pushing us, as well as into the direction we are going. The Buddhist yogi cultivates the great vow of bodhicitta (the energy and motivation to awaken for the sake of the world and all beings) in order not to fall into self-centeredness.

The final kind of nutriment is consciousness, the base for the manifestation of our body, mental states and living conditions (environment). Consciousness represents the sum total of all thoughts, speech and bodily acts that have been done. The maturation of consciousness brings forth our present bodymind. "Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an unwholesome thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Happiness follows a wholesome thought like a shadow that never leaves." (Dhammapada Bk.I vs: 1 & 2). If consciousness gets the wholesome nutriments of Right View, Right Thinking, Right Action, Right Speech, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, then consciousness will undergo transformation and become true mind which will serve us as the base for a healthy bodymind, with happiness and freedom, and a sane and beautiful environment.

So, ultimately, the question becomes, why do we choose nutriment that causes us distress?

I look forward to your ideas and comments.

frank jude

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 9:03 PM

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