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Saturday, June 26, 2004

Nirodha: The Cessation of Duhkha

Before proceeding with the Third Noble Truth, let me reiterate that the Four Noble Truths are not meant to serve us as dogma or doctrine, but are a model of Yoga Practice we are asked to engage with and realize in our very lives. Thus, the First Noble Truth, the Buddha's diagnosis of the human condition, doesn't ask us to believe in the existence of duhkha (or suffering) but to see for ourselves how we suffer and in what ways we suffer. The Second Noble Truth is the investigation of the causes of suffering (samudaya) which the Buddha said (as did Patanjali, and most other great Yoga traditions) are the kleshas, foremost of all being avidya or ignorance.

The Second Noble Truth's challenge for us as practitioners is to see that our duhkha is not really different from the nutriments that cause the duhkha. The burn is not separate from the fire. If it hurts, take your hand out of the fire! We must see for ourselves that freedom is available if only we would stop ingesting the nutriments that cause duhkha. In seeing duhkha clearly (and this is why we should not be too quick to turn away from our suffering), and in truly understanding the way out from it, we cultivate the strong intention to let go of its causes. When we can see that a particular thought pattern, behavior or food causes us duhkha as clearly as we can see that grasping a hot iron rod causes pain, we immediately will let go of that thought pattern, behavior or food quickly -- and with as little regret or conflict as we'd let go of the burning iron rod searing our flesh.

When we get to the Buddha's prognosis for the human condition in his Third Noble Truth we see how far his teaching is from pessimism or fatalism, because he offers nirodha -- the transcending or cessation of duhkha -- as a very real possibility for all of us! Again, it does us absolutely no good to merely accept this on faith (or as our faith). We are challenged to realize cessation for ourselves.

When we work with the Third Noble Truth, our first step is to develop the understanding that the cessation or containment of duhkha -- well-being (sukha) -- is available if we know how to see it when it is present, and to enjoy the precious gifts we already have. The Third Noble Truth, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, tells us that suffering is not enough. We must look deeply at our present situation and see the conditions for happiness that are already there, and then nourish those conditions.

Even though the Buddha taught the truth of duhkha as the First Noble Truth, his central teaching is the truth of "dwelling happily in things as they are" (drishta dharma suhkh viharin) found in the Third Noble Truth. Happiness is possible. In touching the things that bring joy and peace, we see that just to walk, to sit, to wash the dishes, and simply to breathe is a miracle worth celebrating. To simply SEE the morning star is enough -- it is enlightenment!

This is not to say that we run away from that which is unpleasant in order to embrace that which is pleasant. We are Buddhas, not Pollyannas! We model our practice after the Buddha's and face our duhkha directly. In facing our duhkha we do not discriminate against it. If we try to push it away, the resistance alone intensifies it. Facing and embracing our duhkha, we come to the realization that suffering and happiness are not two. Our joy becomes real joy, and not simply the conditioned reaction to everchanging circumstances.

Dwelling happily in things as they are includes dwelling with no resistance while opening to our fears, our sadness, and our judgements, without adding the heavy burden of anguishing over them. We embrace the lived experience of every moment without self-aggression, because resisting any aspect of any moment is ultimately an act of aggression against ourselves. This becomes a practice of unconditional acceptance and nonrejection. Every student who comes to me is bound in struggling against themselves and their life. And yet...

Perhaps those of you following these notes would like to comment on the Good News that suffering is optional! How do you see it?

frank jude

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 5:49 PM

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