Overview of the Four Noble Truths
Bucharest, Romania, June 2009
This evening I’ve been asked to start our series of lectures by speaking about the Four Noble Truths. This is an appropriate way to begin since that’s the way that Buddha began when he started to teach. There are many systems of teachings, spiritual teachings, whether we call them religions or philosophies, there are many systems, and Buddha was of course aware of the many systems that existed at his time and we have many more systems today. And so when we approach Buddhism, I think it’s quite important to try to identify what is distinctive about the Buddhist approach. Buddhism, of course, includes many teachings that are shared in common with other systems: so be a kind, nice, loving person, don’t hurt anybody. This we find in almost every religion, don’t we, every philosophy. So of course Buddhism teaches that as well. But we don’t need to turn to Buddhist teachings to learn about that, although Buddhism is quite rich in having many methods for being able to develop kindness and love and compassion and we can benefit from those methods whether or not we accept anything else in the Buddhist teachings.
But, if we ask, “What is specific to Buddhism?” then we need to look at the Four Noble Truths. And even within the discussion of the Four Noble Truths, we’ll find many things that are shared in common with other systems.
Now, when we have this expression “Noble Truth,” that’s a rather strange translation, I must say, because actually what the expression means is that there are four facts which are seen as true by those who have seen reality non-conceptually. So this means that although these are true facts, most people don’t really understand them. They’re not even aware of them. So this word “Noble” there is, as I say, not the nicest way of translating because it sounds like some medieval aristocracy, but it’s referring to those who are highly realized.
So the first true fact is usually called “suffering.” Buddha said that our lives are filled with suffering and even what we might consider our ordinary happiness, that also has a lot of problems associated with it. If we look at the word – you know I’m a translator so I like to look at words – if you look at the word that’s translated as “suffering,” in Sanskrit we have the word “duhkha.” Kha is a space and duh is a prefix. We have sukha which is happiness and duhkha, unhappiness; and so duh as a prefix means unsatisfactory, not nice, not pleasant. I don’t want to use the judgmental word “bad,” but going in that direction. So, it implies that there’s something wrong with this space, and the space is referring to our whole mental space, the space of our lives. It’s an unpleasant situation.
So, what’s unpleasant about it? Well, first of all, we experience gross suffering: so pain, unhappiness, sadness. And this is something that we can all understand and everybody wants to avoid that, even animals. So there’s nothing distinctive about Buddhism saying that pain and unhappiness is an unsatisfactory situation, we’d be best to get out of it. The second type of suffering is called the suffering of change and that’s talking about our ordinary usual everyday happiness. So, what’s the problem with that? The problem is that it doesn’t last. It changes. If what we consider ordinary happiness were true happiness, then the more we have, the happier we would be. So, if we experience happiness from eating chocolate, then the more chocolate we ate for hours and hours on end, the happier we should be; and obviously that’s not the case. And having our loved one caress our hand, if they do that for hours and hours, our hand will soon start to hurt very much. So it changes. And of course, our ordinary happiness, we never have enough of it, we never have enough; we’re never satisfied. We always want more chocolate, maybe not immediately, but after a little while.
You know it’s very interesting if you think, “How much of your favorite food do you have to eat in order to enjoy it?” One bite, one tiny little taste should be enough, shouldn’t it? But we want more and more and more. Now to want to overcome this type of problem, our ordinary, usual worldly happiness, that’s not an exclusively Buddhist aim either. It’s not only Buddhists’ aim to overcome this ordinary usual happiness that we have and find some transcendent everlasting happiness. There are many, many religions that teach, “Go beyond worldly pleasures; go to some paradise with eternal bliss.” So that’s not specifically Buddhist, is it?
So, we have a third type of suffering and this is specifically Buddhist and this is called the “all-pervasive suffering” or the “all-pervasive problem.” It pervades everything that we experience; and this is referring to our uncontrollably recurring rebirth which is the basis for the up and down of our everyday life. In other words, being reborn over and over again with the type of life that we have, with the type of minds and bodies and so on that we have, is the basis for the first two problems. So that, of course, gets into the topic of rebirth, which we’ll be discussing tomorrow, so I won’t go into much detail about that.
Now, there are many other Indian systems of philosophy that teach about rebirth, so that’s nothing new that Buddha taught. But he described it and understood it and understood the mechanism of it much more deeply and in a different way than the other philosophies and religions at his time explained it. And he gave a very full explanation of the mechanism of how rebirth works, how it is that our minds and our bodies experience these up and downs of pain, unhappiness, and our ordinary happiness.
So that takes us to the second truth, the second Noble Truth that, as I said, I won’t go into the full explanation of the mechanism of rebirth, but what is the cause? If we look at the true cause, we’ll be able to start to understand what Buddha was talking about. So let’s not necessarily bring in rebirth this evening, and try to understand what Buddha was explaining just in a simple logical way. We talk about suffering and ordinary happiness – these come from a cause, and Buddha was speaking about “true causes.” We might think that they come to us as reward and punishment or all sorts of things like that, but Buddha spoke about what is the true cause, and he spoke about destructive behavior and constructive behavior.
Now what do we mean by destructive behavior? Is it just causing harm? Well, actually, when we talk about causing harm, we can speak about causing harm to others or causing harm to ourselves. So it’s very difficult to say from our behavior whether or not it will actually cause harm to somebody else. We could give somebody a huge amount of money and, as a result, they are murdered by somebody else in order to steal that money from them. We don’t really know what the result of what we do for others will actually be. We want it to help them, that’s our aim, but there’s no guarantee. But what is certain is that certain type of behavior will be harmful for ourselves. Now, this is what Buddha meant by destructive behavior. It’s self-destructive.
And what that’s referring to is acting, or speaking or thinking under the influence of disturbing emotions. Disturbing emotions – they disturb. So they cause us to lose peace of mind and to lose self-control. Well, that’s referring to anger, greed and attachment, jealousy, arrogance, naivety, indecisiveness (you can’t decide what to do). There’s a whole long list of them and when our thinking is completely caught up with all of this and we speak under the influence of it or act under the influence of it, it’s going to produce unhappiness for us ourselves. Maybe not immediately, but in the long term, because it builds up a tendency to continue to be like that. And, on the other hand, what is constructive behavior is behavior that is not under the influence of these disturbing emotions and, in fact, they may even be motivated by more positive emotions like love and compassion or patience.
But, well first of all, when we act constructively, that produces happiness. All right? Our mind is more at ease, more calm. We’re able to be little bit more under self-control, so we don’t say things that are stupid or act in [a stupid way]. And it might not be immediately, but in the long term, the type of happiness that this type of constructive behavior brings about for ourselves is something which has underlying it basically naivety about how we exist, about how others exist, about reality in general.
Now our ordinary happiness and unhappiness, they’re not a reward or a punishment by some judge, you know some external figure. They just follow almost like a law of physics. And what is the basis of it? The basis is our confusion. We have confusion, for instance, about me; that I should always have my way. All right? We think, “I’m the most important person; I should always have my way and I should get ahead in the line at the supermarket; I should be the first,” etc. And so we get angry with the people ahead of us; we push. We’re greedy to, you know, be the first. All right? We’re impatient that somebody is taking so long and our minds are filled with all sorts of really very unhappy unpleasant thoughts about that person, aren’t they? And even if we act in a constructive way, there’s also a lot of confusion about “me” underneath that. We often will help others because we want them to like us. We want them to love us or at least thank us; or we might help them because it makes me feel needed. A lot of parents are like that with their children and, although helping somebody like that, you know, can make us feel happy, there’s something not so comfortable underneath that. And so the happiness that we might experience – maybe not immediately, but in the long term – that type of happiness never lasts. It changes to something unsatisfactory. This goes on and on and on throughout our lives and the Buddhist point of view, future lives as well.
And if we look a little bit more deeply, we have confusion about everything. All right? We are so in love with somebody, we completely exaggerate their good qualities. Or we dislike somebody so much, we completely exaggerate their negative qualities. We don’t see anything good in them. And the more we investigate, the more confusion we find underlying all the time, all our experience. And now, going further, more deeply, the basis for this is that there are limitations. We have a lot of limitations having this type of mind and this type of body. If you think about it, when we close our eyes, it seems as though the rest of the world doesn’t exist and there’s only me; and there’s this voice going on in our heads and it seems as though it’s “me,” inside what? Inside my head? Inside me? Me inside me – that’s really weird. And we identify it because that’s the one that’s always complaining: “I have to get ahead; I have to do this.” That’s the one that’s always worrying. And somehow it seems as though that “me,” that voice inside our head, I’m special and I somehow exist independently of everybody else, because when I shut my eyes, I mean, there’s nothing. There’s just “me.”
So this is very confused because obviously we don’t exist independently of everybody else; and really there’s nothing special about anybody. We’re all people. You know, I have this vision of a hundred thousand penguins in Antarctica all sort of standing there in the snow. Well, what makes one more special than the other? They’re all the same. So are we. Probably to the penguins, all humans look alike. Okay, so, on the basis of thinking, “Oh I’m so special and I’m independent of everybody,” then I have to have my way and I get angry if I don’t.
And so basically the hardware of our mind, the body etc. is conducive to having this confusion. I’m looking – okay, this is a weird way of saying it, as if there’s a “me” inside – but I’m looking out of these holes in the front of this head. I can’t see what’s behind. I can only see what’s now. I can’t see what came before. I can’t see what comes later; very limited. All right? I’m getting older. I don’t hear so well, so you say something, I don’t hear it correctly. I think you said something else and then I get angry because of that. This is ridiculous, isn’t it?
And so this all-pervasive problem is that we’re constantly taking rebirth over and over again with this type of body, this type of mind that just is going perpetuate this confusion. And on the basis of that confusion, we’re going to act destructively or in our ordinary constructive ways, and that’s going to produce unhappiness and suffering and the ordinary happiness of change.
And actually, if we look more deeply – but it’s complicated, so I won’t go into it – it’s that confusion itself which drives this uncontrollably recurring rebirth. All right? It’s because we want more and more and more. That’s the true cause then, of the true problems and the true suffering. It’s this confusion; confusion is… I’m just using this as a general word. The more specific word is “unawareness.” Unawareness, that’s usually translated as “ignorance.” I don’t like the word “ignorance” because it implies that we’re stupid. That’s not the problem, that we’re stupid. That’s not really the connotation, but “unawareness” means we either don’t know how we exist or how things exist, so we’re unaware in that sense. “I just don’t know” or “I know it in the wrong way, in an inverted way”; like for instance, I think that I’m the only one in the world, I’m the most important and that’s the exact opposite of what is reality. Reality is we’re all here together. We interact with each other; and it’s not that I’m stupid, but because of this body and mind it feels like that. I close my eyes and there’s this voice in my head, so it’s – what should we say – it’s normal that we are unaware, that we’re confused.
And this is why we say that this is so-called “Noble Truths.” You know, those who see reality see it differently from the way that everybody else sees it, because we all think that our confusion and these projections refer to reality. We believe it to be true. We never really thought about it, but it feels like that. “Hey, you know, I’m the most important. I should have my way. Everybody should love me,” or the inverse, “Everybody should hate me, because I’m no good.” I mean it’s the same thing, just the other side of the coin. Okay, that’s the True Cause.
Now, the Third Noble Truth is… I call it a “true stopping.” It’s usually translated as “true cessation,” but that’s a big word and it’s not necessary; it just means stopping. And what this means is that it’s possible to get rid of this confusion, to stop it, so that it never recurs again. And if we got rid of the confusion, the true cause, then we would get rid of the true problems: the up and down and this uncontrollably recurring rebirth that is its basis. So, we would gain what’s called “liberation.” So, if you’re familiar with Sanskrit words, uncontrollably recurring rebirth, that’s samsara in Sanskrit, and liberation that’s nirvana. Okay.
Now, other Indian systems at the time of Buddha as well spoke about liberation from samsara. It was a common theme in India. But what Buddha saw was that these other systems didn’t go deeply enough in identifying the true cause. And so although you might get a break from these uncontrollably recurring problems – you might be born in some sort of deep realm that, you know for eons, in which basically your mind is blank – nevertheless that’s going to come to an end. So you didn’t really gain liberation with these other systems.
So, true stopping. Now that’s very important to understand and be confident that it is actually possible to get rid of this confusion so that it never recurs again. Otherwise why are you trying to get rid of it? Otherwise, you might as well shut up and accept this difficult situation and make the best of it, which a lot of therapies might have that as their final goal. “Learn to live with it; or take a pill.”
So this actually… to understand, we need to look at the Fourth Noble Truth. So, the Fourth Noble truth helps us to understand the Third. The Fourth Noble Truth is a, well it’s usually translated as “true path,” but path is not… we’re not talking about something that you walk on. It doesn’t mean that. What it’s referring to is a state of mind which, if we develop it, becomes a path leading to liberation. So I call it “pathway mind,” but that’s very difficult to translate into most other languages. The point is it’s not talking about a road; it’s talking about a state of mind. Okay.
Now, we project what is absolute garbage. So, there’s all sorts of levels of projection. We project all sorts of garbage; so an extreme would be projections of paranoia: everybody’s against me, or schizophrenia. It could be less extreme: “This is the most wonderful piece of chocolate cake I’ve ever seen. If I eat it, it will really make me happy. That’s really what I want.” All right? I experienced that on the flight coming here. I had a layover in Vienna; Vienna – apple strudel, it should be the best in the world. I ordered a piece of apple strudel. It wasn’t the best in the world. So, projection, garbage; it’s not referring to reality. The apple strudel exists alright? The strudel wasn’t a projection of my mind, but the way that it exists was projected from my mind as being the most wonderful thing and I’m really going to be so happy eating this.
So similarly, I exist, you exist. Buddhism isn’t saying that we don’t exist. But what we project is a way of existing that is not referring to reality at all. All right? That things exist independently all by themselves – that is an impossible way of existing. All right? Things arise from causes and conditions. They change all the time, but we don’t see that; we only see what’s in front of our eyes. So, “My friend was supposed to come; my friend didn’t come,” so how does it appear to me? “You’re a terrible person, you’re always letting me down; you don’t love me any more.” We get angry. We think that their life exists independently of there might have been traffic, there might have been extra work at the office, there might have been… who knows what it was? But this arose from causes and conditions and so it’s impossible that just from their own side, independently of everything, they’re a terrible person. But our mind projects that. We hang onto it and we don’t let go. That makes anger, disturbing emotion, and then as soon as we see them the next time, destructive behavior. We yell at them, we don’t even give them a chance to explain. We yell, “Ohhh,” and throughout all of that, we’re really quite miserable and unhappy, aren’t we?
So, it’s like that in all examples. I exist, but somehow it seems to me that the way that I exist, independently of everybody else and special and so on – that’s a complete projection. It’s garbage. It’s not referring to anything real. That absence of something real that it refers to, that absence is what we call voidness in Buddhism. The Sanskrit word is the same word as zero; it doesn’t mean that there’s a box and it’s empty, that’s a silly word. It means “nothing”: it doesn’t refer to anything real. There is nothing real, zero, nothing real that it’s referring to. You know we can project that this person, my partner, is the prince or princess on the white horse and is absolutely the perfect, perfect person out of like a fairy tale. That’s impossible. There’s nobody who exists like that, but we’re always looking. All right? We’re always looking for the prince or princess and we project it onto somebody and then they don’t live up to that and then we get disappointed and then we look for another one. All right? So that’s an impossible way of existing. What does it refer to? Zero, nothing; that’s voidness, absent.
So, the true path of mind, true understanding is the understanding that this is garbage. There’s nothing real that this refers to. Now if you look at the true cause, the true cause of suffering is to believe that it does refer to something real. True path is that it doesn’t refer to anything real. They’re mutually exclusive. I’ll repeat that. The confusion is to think that this does refer to something real. The correct understanding is there’s no such thing. It doesn’t refer to anything at all. So, to put it in a simple structure, there is or there is not, or even more strongly, there is, and there’s no such thing. These two are mutually exclusive. It’s either yes or no; you can’t have both of them at the same time.
Okay, so now, we see, now you analyze. Which one is stronger, the “yes” or the “no”? Well, if I examine by logic, obviously “no.” “Yes” doesn’t stand up to logic. Does everybody stop existing when I close my eyes? No, of course not. Is it right that I should always have my way, that I’m the most important one in the world? No, this is ridiculous. So, the more that we investigate, including scientifically, is there a little “me” inside my head that’s talking? Where? If you start to analyze the brain, where is the decision-making process? What’s going on? There’s nothing solid findable in there that’s “me.” Of course, I function, I do things, I talk. We’re not denying that, but what we’re denying is something which is a complete fantasy like out of a cartoon, that there’s some little thing sitting in my head, that “me” “me” “me” and “I have to have my way.” So, the side of there’s no such thing is supported by logic, it’s supported by reason, by investigation; whereas the side that says, you know, this confusion is referring to something real is not supported by anything.
Moreover, what’s the result of thinking that I do exist in this impossible way? I make myself miserable, unhappy. What is the result of thinking in the other way, there’s no such thing? I free myself from all these problems. On top of that, when I’m focused on “no such thing, this is garbage,” I can’t at the same time think this refers to something real. So, this correct understanding can replace the incorrect understanding. So if we could stay focused on the correct understanding all the time, then that confusion, that misunderstanding, would never arise again.
So then Buddha made use of the teachings that are not exclusive to Buddhism. You find it in other Indian systems of how to get perfect concentration, these sorts of things, and through methods, through what’s called “meditation,” to familiarize ourselves with this correct understanding. Then we can achieve a true stopping of the true cause of suffering, and therefore a true stopping of the suffering.
And what will give our minds the strength to be able to stay with all of this and to cut through these destructive habits is the motivation. The motivation gives us the strength of mind to do all the hard work that’s required. So that’s where love, compassion, and these things come in. Because we’re all interconnected, then of course, you know, just as I want to be happy, so does everybody else. And we’re all equal and we’re all interconnected. And if I really want to be able to help others, then I have to get rid of this confusion. So, this is a basic presentation of the Four Noble Truths. And if we really want to understand a little bit more deeply what we’ve been speaking about, then we need to learn a little bit more about karma and rebirth and that will be tomorrow.
So, what questions might you have? Yes.
Alex: Let me repeat. If I understand correctly what you’re asking is, “Since we can’t know for sure the results of our actions on others, is it irresponsible to act because we don’t know what’s going to happen?” She’s saying if we speak in terms of responsibility, that means that we know beforehand what’s going to happen and so I take responsibility for that; or the other way around, which is we don’t know, therefore it’s irresponsible, as in sell a gun to anybody who has the money to buy a gun, so we don’t know what the person might do with the gun and so isn’t it irresponsible to sell a gun to anybody who has the money to buy one? Well, I think that we need to use common sense here.
I can give a counter example of selling a gun to somebody. What about paying for somebody’s education? So for example, I mean in many countries, I don’t know about here in Romania, but in many countries it’s very expensive to go to university, so let’s say that I sponsor somebody, give them the money to go to university. I don’t know what they’re going to do at the university in education. They may use it to go out and cheat everybody and do something very destructive or they may do something very constructive. I don’t know. So, I think we use common sense that you know that helping somebody get a education probably will be helpful for them.
I don’t know, selling somebody a gun … well maybe they will use it to defend themselves if there’s an attack from the barbarians or something, but chances are that’s far more dangerous. So, you use some common sense here and have a good intention. But, in terms of responsibility, I think that what we really have to avoid is this whole syndrome of guilt and pride. I am responsible for my motivation and was there some disturbing emotion there: was it good motivation, was it negative motivation. This I’m responsible for and will experience the consequences from, but I’m not in control. That’s impossible; that’s an impossible way of existing that I can control what happens. You could help somebody and they fail miserably. I’m not guilty for that. I had a good motivation; I helped them. They failed for all sorts of reasons from their side, from other circumstances and so on; and if they succeed that also is due to so many other factors, not just me. So, we participated in the causal mechanism here. We gave a condition and so on, but this is what is impossible: it’s that one thing, one cause, produces an effect. That’s impossible. Effects arise from a huge amount of causes and conditions, not just one cause. All right? And just think in terms of success or failure. Of course it’s related to the economy; it’s related to the society; it’s related to a million things, not just that I helped this person go to college. So, this is an example I think of how this Buddhist way of thinking and analyzing would help us to get out of this problem and avoid the problem of guilt which is a very, very unhappy state of mind.
Alex: So let me repeat for the recording. He says that if we understand that this way of thinking that I’m special, I exist independently of everyone etc. doesn’t refer to anything real, won’t that diminish my ability to function basically as an individual and do the things that I need to do? Well, the other side of thinking “I exist independently” – we get rid of that by understanding that no one exists independently – so the other side of “I don’t exist independently” is “I exist dependently.” And so, this understanding that we speak about in Buddhism doesn’t negate that there’s a “me.” Of course there’s “me” and there’s “you,” but we have a more realistic understanding.
So, what’s reality? My welfare is totally interconnected with everybody’s welfare. Think in terms of global warming, pollution; it’s not just my problem or your problem, it’s everybody’s problem. So, of course on a day to day level we need to take care of having enough food, feeding our family, etc., but to do that we need to depend on everybody else. Who grows the food? Who makes the roads? Who makes the stores? Everything comes from the work of other people. So the understanding makes us more realistic and actually better able to function because we’re more considerate of everybody, not just selfish.
Participant: There’s this theory that we are interconnected through a cord or something… [inaudible]
Alex: Okay, so there’s one theory that acknowledges that we’re interconnected with everybody, but connected by some sort of cord that we can’t see. So the question is: “How do I understand how we’re interconnected?”
Okay, so, one could certainly look at the universe in terms of a continuous field of energy. We talk just science, physics, there are no holes… well black holes but let’s not get into that. Well, first of all, Buddhism doesn’t say that we’re all one, that we’re all part of this grand universal soup. All right? Because then it makes it very difficult to have any responsibility for your individual actions. All right? “We’re all one so I can do whatever I want to you, because we’re all one.”
So the fact that we all share the same sort of energy field, we participate in that, that’s one level of looking at it on a physical level. But Buddhism looks more in terms of causal relationships, causes and conditions. I’ll use the example of global warming; you know, so what people from all over the world have done with adding these carbon dioxide and all these things into the air, that affects me, of course; and what I do in terms of that will affect others. But, we don’t necessarily have to limit our understanding of that causal relationship just on a physical basis. I mean this gets into a very sophisticated analysis of cause and effect and how cause and effect are related and connected to each other. Is it like a stick between two balls and you know one ball is the cause and one ball is the effect? In Buddhism, we say “no.” So our interconnection with everybody is, what should we say, not just understood on the physical level or energy level, but also on a causal level, because after all what we experience now is the effect of what everybody in the past has done, going all the way back to the beginning of life on this planet.
Alex: Okay, let me repeat. There seems to be two parts of what you’re saying. One is that you read this book, Awakening the Buddha Within; it seemed to indicate that Buddhist meditation was a great deal of introspection, looking within us, not so much outside.
Ah, certainly a great deal of Buddhist practice is to analyze the confusion within ourselves, to analyze our disturbing emotions, where they’re coming from, where does the confusion lie. That of course is there; but once we understand our self and we understand how I’m creating my own problems from my confusion, then we can understand how other people are creating their problems also from confusion. So if they’re acting in a harmful way, if they get angry with me or whatever, this allows us to overcome the tendency to think, “Oh, this is a bad person.” We understand they’re a confused person and therefore an object of compassion.
And, I haven’t read that book, but “the Buddha within” is usually referring to what we call “Buddha-nature.” And Buddha-nature is referring to the fact that we all have the factors within us, as part of the nature of the mind, that will allow us to become a Buddha. Well it’s not just the potential; the potential to become a Buddha is part of it. It’s part of it, we do have the potential. Well, I mean, the heart has the ability to love everybody equally. We have that potential, but also more deeply, it’s referring to facts. The fact is that the mind is not inherently stained by confusion.
Now in terms of … your second question is about God… okay, there are many things that could be said. There are all sorts of gods, the Greek gods, the Hindu gods, the Western God, etc. Does Buddhism believe that there are such beings? Yes. Okay, but Buddhism believes that there are many different life forms, not just what we can see. Okay, but that’s I’m sure not your question. Now, if we think in terms of God as conceived of in what’s called the “Abrahamic religions,” so Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, then what Buddhism refutes is a creator. Now all the other qualities of God, Buddhism will accept in one form or another. Is there order in the universe? Yes. Is there love in the universe? Yes. Are their higher beings that are compassionately concerned with the welfare of the universe? Yes; might not call them “God,” but yes. Is this beyond words, beyond concepts, beyond names? Yes. But to take that, all of these qualities, and now add also that this is a creator that exists independently of its creations? That doesn’t make any sense logically.
Buddhism goes more in the direction of beginninglessness, no beginning. All right? The big bang, that was just, you know, one universe, this one where we happen to live in, but there are many other big bangs and there’s no absolute beginning. All right? In other words, if everything functions according to cause and effect, how can you have something before that? Now how would it start from nothing? It couldn’t start from nothing. I mean if you’re involved in a cause and effect relation, you’re not independent of it. And, intelligent design, in other words, there’s order in the universe so somebody must have planned it, why? There’s no logical necessity, just because there’s order in the universe that somebody thought it up. There’s order in the universe because everything functions, everything works. If it didn’t function and work, there wouldn’t be order in the universe. So, why do you need something external to have planned it and decided what it would be? So Buddhism is basically saying that specific characteristic, creation, doesn’t exist. Now whether you want to use the word “God,” whether you want it for all the other qualities, doesn’t matter.
Alex: So, let me summarize what you said for the recording. You said you’re experiencing a crisis, a lot of worry; the people around you are worried. You take on the worries yourself and the way that you are dealing with that is to just basically quiet down in meditation, and when it quiets down, then you go back and your energies are recharged. “What do I think of that?”
There are many, many methods that are used in Buddhism. What you seem to describe is like a temporary way of handling it; provisional, it helps calm down and then you have more energy to go back, but it’s not eliminating the problem. So there are Buddhist practices in which you imagine taking on the suffering and problems of others and giving back love. You usually hear that called by the Tibetan name tonglen. That’s a very, very advanced practice. Now you can play that you’re doing it, but to really mean it is something else; to really mean that I take on and will experience your suffering.
Now, if other people’s problem is that they are stupid and I take on everybody’s stupidity onto myself, does that mean that I sit there like a complete idiot? Now I’m stupid? No; what we’re doing is… you know, because you can’t actually just take people’s problems from them. I mean if you could do that, Buddha would have done that and nobody would have problems anymore or suffering. What we’re developing is the courage to deal with everybody’s problems as if they were my own. So we take on the problem; use the example of “any problem is really a universal problem.” Nobody has a special problem that’s all their own; I mean circumstance, the kind of… it would be this, that they have a problem with a relationship; everybody has problems in relationships. They have problems with their children. They have problems with their work; everybody has this. The specifics don’t matter here; economic problems – everybody’s in the same boat. Okay, so we take on the problem. That means that I am now going to deal with this problem.
Okay, so you say the example is the economic crisis that the world is experiencing now. Well, even if you had all the money of, you know, every government in the world, you can’t just solve it on a physical level like that. So, try to solve the problem in terms of several things. You have the mental level, the emotional level; so one level is how to deal with the emotional pain of losing your job and facing economic difficulty. That’s one level; dealing with “I lost my job and how am I going to feed my children”; and the other level is “What is the mentality that created this problem in the first place, like greed and so on?”
So, you take on the problem. You let it, in a sense, dissolve, dissolve in the sense that you know it’s not this horrible monster solid thing. All right? So deconstruct. And, on the one hand, you see how it arose, why it arose, and, you know, think in terms of lack of greed and so on and imagine that this goes out to everybody. In a simplistic way, greed caused this problem; so you deconstruct the solid problem: “Oh, it’s so horrible” and it just eats away at you and you can’t deal with it. So then you can see that it arose from greed, it arose from this, so the solution to prevent such things in the future is that people are considerate of the environment, don’t buy beyond their means, not greedy to have more, more, more, to make more money.
In our imaginations, we make this problem into a solid thing; this horrible problem. Then you just get depressed. Nothing exists that way. It arose from causes and conditions; so if we change the conditions, it changes. And then we deal with, you know, people’s expectations, lower standard of living etc. How would you actually deal with this? People pool their resources together. So, I mean, you think in terms of what would be the best emotional way for people to deal with it. Like that.
Anyway, it is getting late, so let’s end here and the way that we end is with what’s called the “dedication.” We think whatever understanding, whatever positive energy has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause to reach… may we all reach the state of a Buddha so that we can be of best help to everyone.
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