Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Knowable Truths, Part 4

The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering

Okay, so now that you know when suffering arises, and that the origins of suffering have something to do with clinging to something, we are ready to look briefly at the Third Knowable Truth: The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering.

Actually, the Buddha realized that stopping suffering itself would probably be too difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, he taught that the the way to stop suffering is to "abandon the origins of suffering." Since we now know that the origin of suffering is clinging, then we now also know that clinging is the thing that needs to be abandoned.

It is as simple as imagining your hand actually clinging tightly to something, and then imagining that you are letting go of that thing. While you do this, you say to yourself, "There is suffering, and the knowing of it. There is clinging, and the knowing of it. There is the release of clinging, and the knowing of it." When you open your imaginary fist and release attachment to this object of desire (or aversion) that has led to your suffering, the suffering itself will cease, at least for a moment. This cessation of suffering is called "nibbana" in the Pali language (as spoken by the Buddha), and "nirvana" in Sansrkit.

There used to be a television advertisement for Craftmatic Adjustable Beds, whose slogan was: "A lifetime of temporary relief from low back pain." Obviously this was dreamed up by some corporate attorney who was limiting their liability exposure, but it seems true enough about the experience of nibbana. You may have to release your grip to something many times before the hand stops habitually closing around it again. Chances are, you will be revisiting the same object of desire and clinging in the future, as well.

Remember that releasing attachment to an object of desire does not mean that we are trying to get rid of the desire. We can still desire something, we just don't cling so tightly to it. When this happens, the object has more space in which to move and it doesn't hold onto us as tightly, either. For a moment at least, there is some freedom from suffering.

My first conscious experience of nibbana took place during a retreat in Joshua Tree, California. I awoke very early, perhaps two o'clock, with a strong desire to go to the meditation hall and sit. Early morning sits like this are particularly sweet for me. The hall is usually deserted (or maybe there are one or two other yogis there), and the world is at its most quiet and peaceful. Strange and wonderful psychic creatures come out at that time of night, as well, so I get to experience something quite apart from daytime meditations. So as you can see, I was really coveting this experience, and I was setting myself up to suffer.

The meditation hall at this particular retreat center was located about a quarter of a mile from where we were housed, so getting there meant trekking across the desert, in the dark (there were no lights out there), with only the moon to guide me. And it was cold. Bone-chilling, no matter how many layers I wore. So I got up, dressed quietly so as not to awaken my roommates, and took off toward my desired experience.

When I got to the hall, the door was locked! Suffering began. I want to get inside to meditate, I was saying to myself. I was really looking forward to this. After searching in vain for the key, and trying every other door I could find to no avail, I finally trudged back disconsolately back to my room. Lying in bed, I suddenly realized I was suffering, and that I knew it. I also knew that I was suffering because I was clinging to my desire to be in the meditation hall. Then I tried releasing the clinging fist, and knowing that experience.

Almost immediately I was at peace. I still wanted to be meditating, but it was a more spacious and easy feeling, not the desperate, struggling experience of a few moments before. Very soon, I had drifted into a deep and peaceful sleep.

So now we have learned how to utilize the first three Knowable Truths as practice, both during meditation, and in daily life. It will take much repetition for this to become your habit, and you will probably forget to employ these strategies much more often than you will remember. Any time you can use this practice of knowing suffering, the origin of it, and the release of the clinging, you will decrease your suffering. Enjoy.


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