Cattāri ariyasaccāni | The Four Noble Truths
"Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering association with the loathed is suffering, disassociation with the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering-in short, suffering is the five aggregates of clinging. " The Buddha—Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
The Buddha, having found the way out of suffering himself, wanted to help others to be able to reach the very same goal. After three months from his Enlightenment, he gave his first teaching to his 5 early followers. The Buddha wanted to transmit instructions to human beings as guidance towards their own freedom, not as dogmas to blindly follow.
“Ehipassiko” = come and see for yourself
The truth of suffering, dukkha-sacca
The truth of the origin of suffering, dukkha-samudaya-sacca, which is craving, taṇhā
The truth of the extinction of suffering, dukkha-nirodha-sacca
The truth of the path leading to the extinction of suffering, magga-sacca, which is the eightfold path, aṭṭhaṅgika-magga
The four noble truths are a series of causes and effects. The second truth is the cause for the arising of the first: craving causes suffering. All our suffering arises out of a craving for sensual pleasures, craving results from actions, and craving no result from actions. When there is no craving, there is no suffering. Similarly, the fourth truth is the cause for the arising of the third: the path ends suffering. This path is the eightfold path. When the eightfold path is followed, true knowledge arises, ignorance is destroyed, and suffering ends.
The four noble truths are truths, saccāni, because it is impossible to say suffering does not exist in the world, impossible to say craving does not cause suffering, impossible to say suffering cannot be extinguished, and impossible to say following the eightfold path will not end suffering. Tathā, avitathāni, anaññathāni. This Pāḷi expression spoken by the Buddha means true, not untrue, and not otherwise - this is as it really is. The four noble truths are true, not untrue, and not otherwise. Not one person can change the truth of these four statements. The four noble truths are true.
The four noble truths are also noble, ariya. Noble is the way people who attain path and fruit see existence. They have a higher understanding of the nature of phenomena - see anicca, dukkha, and anattā - and have realised a stage of liberation from suffering. People are noble upon stream-entry. They cease to be worldly. All arahats, pacceka-buddhas, and buddhas are noble.
The four noble truths are not conventional truths. Worldly men and women see the four noble truths from a worldly, mundane level; They have not attained path and fruit, have not in fact penetrated these truths, and thus only understand them as conventional and not as noble truths. The four noble truths are hearsay for worldly people. Noble people, on the other hand, do understand the four noble truths as noble truths. Because they have attained path and fruit, they see the four noble truths as ultimate truths, paramattha-sacca.
The Buddha taught both conventional and ultimate truths. He taught conventional truths to worldly people who wanted to reduce the suffering in their worldly lives and attain a fortunate birth in the human or in a heavenly world. Because these people had no interest in attaining nibbāna, he explained the nature of impermanence and only indirectly explained the nature of insubstantiality, of non-self.
"Reduce your defilements," the Buddha told them. "Stop performing unwholesome actions, performs wholesome actions, and purify. This is what needs to be done."
1. Dukkha sacca | Suffering
The first truth is suffering, dukkha-sacca.
Suffering exists. No one can deny the existence of suffering. Not one person can change the fact that suffering exists. This is solid, which is why the existence of suffering is called a truth. Suffering is the first truth.
It has four characteristics:
Heat and fire (santāpa)
Anything that has these four characteristics is called suffering.
When our minds are pure, the true nature of existence is clearly seen and we come to know our frustrations, pressures, and burdens. This is suffering's main characteristic: oppression. Arising out of causes, oppression is conditioned. Not just appearing out of nowhere, the suffering we experience arises because of cause, and will not arise when there is no cause. There has to be a cause for suffering to arise. Suffering is the effect: we feel the oppression and the heat. Suffering burns. When we stand next to a fire, we feel heat. We can't say that we do not feel any heat when we stand near a fire. We definitely do feel heat near a fire. And finally, our suffering is at times extreme and at times fairly tolerable. It changes. All conditioned phenomena break up, which is suffering's characteristic of change. These four characteristics of suffering - oppression, conditioned, heat, and change - are true,not untrue, and not otherwise. Tatha, avitathāni, anaññathāni.
2. Dukkha samudaya sacca | Origin of Suffering
"And what, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering? It is that craving which gives rise to birth, bound up with pleasure and passion, finding fresh delight now here, now there: that is to say craving for sensual pleasures, craving results from actions, and craving no results from actions. And where does this craving arise and establish itself? Wherever in the world there is anything agreeable and pleasurable, there craving arises and establishes itself“ The Buddha - Mahā satipaṭṭhāna sutta
The second truth is the origin of suffering, dukkha-samudaya-sacca.
Why do we suffer? Why is there unsatisfactoriness in our lives? What is the origin of our suffering?
The origin of suffering also has four characteristics:
Accumulates kamma, (āyūana)
Creates the binding causal links of saṃsāra, (nidāna)
Bondage to suffering, (saṃyoga)
Obstacle to freedom from suffering, (palibodha)
Something with these four characteristics originates all kinds of suffering. As craving, tan$hā, has these four, it is the origin of suffering. Again, this statement is true, not untrue, and not otherwise.
1. Accumulates kamma, (āyūhana), is the first characteristic of craving.
The word accumulates is used in the sense of constructing and putting together. For example, by putting together bricks, concrete, rafters, and roof tiles in a specific manner, the workers here at our centre construct meditation huts. In the same way, by clinging, we construct our lives. Saṃsāra is generally seen in terms of whole lives, going through one life after the other. Endlessly, the cycle of birth, aging and decay, death, and then again birth is repeated over and over again.
Though accepting the cycle of whole lives, wise people know life is a series of moments. When they perform an action in this moment, they know the good or bad result of their action is in the very next moment, while still in this life. Wise people know nothing from an action goes on to some indefinite future life. Each moment of their lives is a totally new and unique moment of mentality and materiality.
The composite nature of self, our minds and bodies, is summed up in the five aggregates of clinging, the pañc'upādānakkhandha: feelings, perceptions, volitional formations, consciousness, and materiality. By putting together the causes for the arising of the five aggregates of clinging in one moment, the five aggregates are experienced as a self in the next moment. We are continually putting together the causes for the arising of the five aggregates. From the time we get up in the morning until the time we go to bed at night, we crave pleasant sights, sounds, smells, tastes, physical contacts and thoughts. We rarely restrain ourselves from pleasant contact with sense objects. Quite the opposite. We try to find new delight in them.
Because an arahat stops putting together the causes for the arising of the five aggregates of clinging, he or she never takes birth again. Reproductive kamma, janaka-kamma, is strong and it continues to produce the five aggregates for the duration of an arahat's life span. Only clinging to the five aggregates has stopped. No more clinging for an arahat. That's all. Without clinging, an arahat has no sense of self - just bides his or her time, fully mindful, craving neither life nor death. Because anāgāmīs stop putting together the causes for the arising of the aggregates of the sense-sphere realm, they never again take birth in the sense-sphere realm, the kāma-loka. Sotāpannas stop putting together the causes for the arising of the aggregates of the lower planes of existence, the apāyas, which means they never take birth in the apāyas. They only take birth in the higher planes of existence.
2. The next characteristic of the origin of suffering, of craving, is it’s creating the binding causal links, the nidāna, of saṃsāra. There are twelve chief causes and effects that perpetuate our existence in saṃsāra:
decay and death.
With craving being the link between these mental and material causes and effects, it is craving that is constantly supplying the source for our suffering. When we crave pleasant contact with objects, we also create the link to suffering. We are inclined to crave the pleasant. By constantly following our inclinations and expanding our craving, we are also constantly creating the very strong causal links that bind us in saṃsāra. Our craving feeds our suffering. We supply the source for our own suffering.
3. The third characteristic of craving is its association with suffering.
Craving is our bondage, saṃyoga, to suffering. During our lifetimes, we have all performed many wholesome and also many unwholesome actions. Many of our actions perpetuated our suffering and hindered our progress towards the attainment of nibbāna.
When you are attached to the performance of wholesome actions, you prevent the complete extinction of suffering and the attainment of nibbāna. Attachment obstructs your liberation. If you perform many wholesome actions, you can be born as a deva, a brahma, or again as a human being. If you perform many weak and unwholesome actions, you might be born as a snake or some other form of animal.
Sotāpannas have a different quality of bondage from worldly people: they have reduced their bondage and eliminated the possibility of taking birth in a lower realm. When sotāpannas attain to the sakadāgāmī stage, their bondage is further changed and reduced. There are even more changes and reductions for anāgāmīs. Arahats have extinguished all bondage. Because we are craving contact with pleasant objects and are attached to the performance of wholesome actions, we are still in bondage. Misunderstanding wholesome and unwholesome actions, we associate with suffering and fail to attain nibbāna.
4. The fourth characteristic of craving is its obstruction to freedom from suffering, palibodha.
Craving is an obstacle to nibbāna. Throughout our lives, we crave the five aggregates. We cling to them. This hoarding of mentality and materiality results in our deaths. Because these aggregates belong to us, we have to die and then be born again. We are working for our deaths.
The Buddha saw the world completely opposite to the way we normally see the world. He worked for the deathless. The Buddha did not work for death. It is not a problem of living; it is a problem of dying. That is the problem. When nothing remains in our stores, there is no need for us to die and take birth. The Buddha gained freedom from birth precisely because nothing remained in his stores. By completely extinguishing his craving, he escaped dying. When there is no craving, there is no dying. We are always working for our deaths and fail to, as the Buddha did, work for the deathless. We dislike working for the deathless because that is the path of purification - meditative development. But by meditating properly, we gain freedom from death.
When we look at the space directly in front of where we are sitting, we cannot see anything. But because we know air is materially present in that space, we do not say the space is empty. Similarly, we do not see the craving in our minds. It is only when we contact a particularly pleasant or unpleasant object with our senses that we become aware of our habitual, though latent, craving for that pleasant or unpleasant object. Only when the object actually enters our minds do we become aware of how craving is continually born. Ignorance of our craving and its consequences is a huge obstacle.
To overcome this obstacle, meditators investigate the nature and drawbacks of craving. Upon investigation, they find that craving is the origin of suffering. Craving causes suffering. Wanting to end suffering, wanting to attain nibbāna, meditators are mindful of craving. They break their attachment to the process.
3. Dukkha nirodha sacca | Extinction of Suffering
The third truth is extinction of suffering, dukkha-nirodha-sacca.
Nirodha means extinction. It is the opposite of origination, samudaya. Extinction is the end. It is the complete destruction of causes. No results or effects originate from extinction. Anything that becomes extinct is completely destroyed, never to arise or exist again. It is not extinction when you lose something because you can find what you lost.
Loss and complete destruction are two different events. If we die, we will be born again. If we do not die, attain extinction of suffering, there is nothing to be born again. Some people believe in a soul that lives on after the physical death of the body. They believe the extinction of suffering must be a heaven where the soul lives in peace for all eternity. This is not what is meant by the extinction of suffering. All forms of conditioned phenomena are subject to decay and death, and thus they originate suffering. A soul living in peaceful heaven, even as some type of invisible entity, is still a form of conditioned phenomenon. Hence, life in heaven must still originate suffering. Nirodha means the complete extinction of suffering. Nirodha means decay, death, and birth will never come again. Tathā, avitathāni, anaññathāni.
The extinction of suffering has four characteristics, being:
An escape from suffering, nissaraṇa
Free from disturbance, viveka
Only nibbāna has all four of these characteristics.
1. The first characteristic of extinction is its being an escape from suffering, nissaraṇa.
Escape means our minds are pure, free of defilements. What are defilements? Defiling a mind requires the existence of a being, a satta. A being exists because of attachment and ceases to exist if there is no attachment. Thus, when there is no being there are no defilements. The mind is pure when there is no being. You see my teacup. Who craves it? Who is attached to it? Is the person who owns the teacup attached to the teacup or is someone else attached to it?
The person who owns it.
The process that leads to the defilements arising begins as soon as the teacup enters the picture. Once the teacup is offered to me, I can crave and be attached to it. All of us can become attached to things when we know they belong to us, and then they can make us unhappy. Picture the time when this teacup did not exist. The teacup has yet to be made and no one has given it to me. What is in my mind at that time? If I have not been offered the teacup, would I be craving for it? Would I be attached to it? No.
Before the teacup exists, there is no attachment to it. I neither crave the teacup nor am I attached to it before the idea of the teacup enters my mind. There is no craving and no clinging whatsoever. With regard to this particular teacup, nothing arises in my mind. This is what the characteristic of the escape from suffering, nissaraṇa, and the characteristic of the extinction state of mind, nirodha, are like. What will you tell someone who asks you to explain escaping from suffering and nirodha?
I will tell them about their car. I'd ask if they remember the time when they were children and didn't have a car. At that time, they weren't attached to it and didn't have any car problems.
If no one ever makes a car, where is the craving? Where is the attachment?
It isn't there.
If anything exists, there is suffering. If nothing exists, then extinction: No suffering. If the five aggregates exist, there is attachment to the five aggregates and thus there is suffering. If nothing exists, there is no suffering. There is only the extinction, nirodha.
2. The second characteristic of extinction is its being free from disturbance, viveka.
Generally, when people in Sri Lanka refer to viveka, being free from disturbance, they mean rest, taking a break from work and doing very little. Children, for example, say their father is in viveka when he is on holiday The father relaxes, reads a newspaper, smokes a cigarette, and thinks about this and that. Taking a holiday from work is what we generally refer to as viveka. But when Buddha referred to viveka, he meant something else.
Viveka" said the Buddha "is an emptiness of defilements." Actually, the father is not particularly free from disturbance while on holiday because he continues to disturb his mind: he generates defilements and carries a load. Being free from disturbance isn't even found in jhāna because there is still some weight, some disturbance, in the jhāna state. In the sense-sphere realm, kāma-loka, the average person weighs their mind down with thoughts of sensual pleasures: food, a car, house, child, husband or wife, or some form of property. But the jhāna, the mental absorption, also has its form of weight. The person who attains to the first jhāna, for example, may try to possess the jhāna factors of applied and sustained thought, rapture, happiness, and one-pointedness. He or she may crave and be attached to these mental factors. They are different disturbances and loads from those found in the sense-sphere realm, but they are still disturbances and loads. The person who attains jhāna can take birth in the immaterial realm or even become a mahā-brahmā, but there is still some disturbance and load. Siddhartha strove to gain complete freedom from all disturbances and loads.
Little by little, we also try to unload the defilements that disturb and burden our minds. Slowly, we gain more freedom from disturbance, more viveka. Little by little, we gain more freedom, more detachment, more unloading, more freedom from disturbance, and so on and so forth. The sotāpanna unloads many of his or her burdens. If we become arahats, we unload all of our burdens. We gain freedom from disturbance, are really in viveka, when we completely unload all of our defilements. We then say we are resting. That is real relaxation. Anyone who lives without defilements is resting and is free from disturbance. This is true, not untrue, and not otherwise. Nobody can change it. This is the truth.
3. The next characteristic of extinction, dukkha-nirodha, is the unconditioned, asaṅkhata.
Dukkha has the characteristic of being conditioned, saṅkhata, whereas extinction has the characteristic of being unconditioned, asan$khata. In the conditioned, there are causes and effects, hetu-phala. In the unconditioned, there is no cause and thus no effect. In this world, we can find only two things that are unconditioned: space and nibbāna.
We generally refer to the gap between two objects as space. But the gap between two objects is not the space I am now referring to. The space I am referring to is called ākāsa in Pāḷi. Ākāsa is different because, unlike the air type of space between our thumbs and forefingers, ākāsa never changes, decays, or dies. Ākāsa never arises and no one can ever steal it though we cannot say it is empty. These are also the qualities we can find in nibbāna.
There are no obstructions in space. In the space of the sky, we see how the birds are flying. In the space of the unconditioned, in nibbāna, the arahats are flying and not the birds. That's the only change we have to make. So it is with asaṅkhata. Tell me, why do we call this world beautiful?
The world arouses pleasant feelings. I like it.
Because we are deluded, we see sensual pleasures as beautiful.
I think space is what makes the world beautiful. When there is enough space, a dancer performs beautifully. And when there is enough space, we build a new home. It is not the home that is beautiful. No. Space is what enables the home to be beautiful. In the space of the unconditioned, there are no causes and no effects - no hetu-phala - and therefore no trouble or suffering. We only find trouble where we find causes and effects, in the conditioned.
Before the time of the Buddha, many teachers of meditation worked to discover a level of consciousness that was beyond causes and effects, and therefore beyond suffering. Instead, they found levels of consciousness with causes and effects, and thus with suffering. The Buddha discovered nirodha. Beyond all causes and effects, nirodha is beyond suffering. Nirodha is the unconditioned, nibbāna.
4. The fourth characteristic of the extinction of suffering is deathlessness amata.
Mata means death. All conditioned things eventually break up and disappear. If there is a cause and an effect, there must be death. Amata means no death, the deathless. In extinction, there is no cause and no effect, which means there is nothing to die. As before, this is true, not untrue, and not otherwise, is unalterable, as it really is.
"In the first watch of the night, ignorance was banished and true knowledge arose, darkness was banished and light arose, as happens in one who abides diligent, ardent, and resolute."
The Buddha—Bhayabhērava Sutta
4. Magga sacca | Path Leading to the Extinction of Suffering
The fourth truth is the path that leads to the extinction of suffering, magga-sacca.
This path is the eightfold path, aṭṭhaṅgika-magga: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. This is the path of meditative development. It leads to nibbāna. Tathā, avitathāni, anaññathāni.
The eightfold path has four characteristics:
Leads to release and deliverance, niyyāna
Is a cause, hetu for the attainment of arahatship,
Seeing the four noble truths, dassana
Overcomes craving and attains mastery over oneself, adhipati
1. The first characteristic of the eightfold path is its assistance in delivering us from suffering.
Leading to our release, niyyāna, the eightfold path is a raft we use to cross the river of saṃsāra. If we attain to sotāpanna, we are free from wrong understanding, no longer cling to rituals, and have no doubt about the spiritual practice.
Some people are confused about the practice. They know sīla is important. They know their mental development requires abstinence, virati, from inappropriate conduct, and they also know that sometimes they must make great effort to abstain from inappropriate conduct.
Āyati saṃvara sīla helps people train inappropriate conduct and helps them refrain from indulging in inappropriate conduct. Sīla is the foundation for meditative development, but sometimes people take it to the extreme. I know a bhikkhu who ignored a large sore on his shoulder. Instead of attending to it, he let it fester, bore the pain, and hurt his body because he felt he should punish his body. His behaviour did not in any way help him to progress. This is not sīla. He is holding onto wrong views and indulging in some form of self-mortification. He is simply practising the eightfold path improperly. Appropriate conduct, sīla, is the middle way. It has no connection with self-mortification. Sīla means we restrain our words and actions.
Because of previous unwholesome actions, we do sometimes experience unwholesome results, vipāka we can even take birth in a hell, an animal realm, or a peta-loka. But if we enter the stream, all of our unwholesome kamma that is destined to take effect in future births becomes ineffective, has no opportunity to yield results. When we attain to sotāpanna, the first stage of liberation, we cross halfway to the other shore. We will never be born again in a lower world and the number of future births is already limited. And the sotāpanna only takes birth in happy courses of existence, such as the human or heavenly worlds. He or she is no longer aimlessly drifting in saṃsāra. Attaining to sotāpanna leads to release, niyyāna.
Is the number of future births limited to seven?
There are suttas stating that sotāpannas are limited to seven future births. The number of births, however, is unlimited for the average worldly person. We cannot say there are just a few more births, as there is no limit to this process. We know not where these births originated and know not where they are going to end. Saṃsāra is endless suffering.
One of the characteristics of the origin of suffering, of craving, is its obstruction to freedom. Craving is an obstacle, a palibodha, to attaining extinction from suffering. Due to craving, we defile our minds with greed, aversion, and delusion. These three unwholesome roots - greed, aversion, and delusion - include everything that obstructs our freedom. Compare the rich man to the poor beggar:
"I," the rich man says, "have many problems in my life, but a beggar's life is free. He has no problems. He only has to beg whenever he is hungry, only needs a tree to sleep under, and sleeps whenever he likes. I cannot live in that way. I have to work very hard. The beggar definitely has far fewer problems than I do." The beggar says exactly the same thing. "I have many problems in my life, but a rich man has no problems in his. The rich man does not have to beg because he has enough money to buy food and he does not have to sleep under a tree because he has a comfortable bed in his luxurious home. The rich man has no problems whatsoever."
Both the rich man and the beggar say exactly the same thing. They both say they have many problems, but the other man has no problems. The truth is both the rich man and the beggar have problems, as everyone in the world has problems. To solve their problems, many people come to see us bhikkhus. Some have minor problems at work, some have problems at home, and some are ill and dying. People come to see us because they think we can help them. Many ask us to tie a string around their wrists, perform a pūjā, bless some oil, or make an offering to the Bodhi Tree. They believe rituals will help ease their suffering, but most often rituals fail to do so. And when rituals fail, they pass judgement on the Buddha's teachings: "Buddhism is useless. We get nothing from it."
There are many misconceptions of the four noble truths and Dhamma. Wealth, for example, does not guarantee happiness nor does poverty guarantee misery. Even a poor beggar can attain extinction. And secondly, people will fail to escape suffering by just having a string tied around their wrists or by having someone bless some oil. These are low-level aspects of Buddhism and have little to do with what the Buddha taught. The Buddha explained the nature of reality.
'To ease your suffering," said the Buddha, "you must understand the nature of your problems, the nature of your suffering, and the nature of your mind."
Anyone who fully understands, through personal experience, their obstacles to gaining freedom from suffering can destroy their obstacles and gain freedom. People who never try to understand their own minds will never have any success in destroying obstacles or in escaping suffering.
2. The second characteristic of the eightfold path is its being a cause, a hetu, for the extinction of suffering.
Initially, we all have many obstacles, palibodha, to properly practising the eightfold path. When we begin the practice, it is difficult to maintain proper sīla because we have many obstacles in our daily lives to maintaining sīla. At the beginning, we also have many obstacles to attaining proper samādhi and many obstacles to developing paññā. Initially, there are always many, many obstacles to properly practising the eightfold path. But by gradually reducing these obstacles, we also gradually develop our ability to properly practise the eightfold path. This is an ongoing process and it takes some effort.
Many people, however, are reluctant to make anything more than a modest effort in practising dhamma because they feel any greater effort will disrupt their family life. They are mistaken. Visākhā was a woman who lived at the time of the Buddha. She made the effort to practise the Dhamma properly, destroyed her obstacles to freedom, and attained stream-entry position when she was just seven years old. She married at sixteen and subsequently gave birth to twenty children. She was also very wealthy. Her wedding dress alone cost a small fortune. How can people say that practising the Dhamma disrupts family life if someone like Visākhā was able to raise twenty children - ten boys and ten girls - while she practised the Dhamma?
The person who makes the right effort destroys many obstacles and attains to sotāpanna. In subsequent happy courses of existence, the sotāpanna becomes stronger and stronger. He or she gradually increases the quality of their sīla as well as gradually increasing their powers of samādhi and paññā. The sotāpanna steadily increases the power of the eightfold path and the power of the four foundations of mindfulness. Sotāpannas increase their striving effort, roads-to-power, spiritual faculties, and the seven factors of enlightenment. Sotāpannas gradually develop and increase all of these powers. The development of these powers is the root cause, the hetu, for attaining arahatship. This is what we have to develop.
3. The next characteristic of the eightfold path is seeing the four noble truths, dassana.
We clearly see our defilements. There is nothing else to clearly see, but our defilements. If defilements are clearly seen, we will gain freedom from them. When we gain insight into the true nature of defilements, we eradicate them. We destroy our defilements through seeing, through dassana. Because we turned the lights on, the room we are in is quite bright. How long did it take for the light to overcome the darkness?
Almost no time at all. It's instantaneous.
Where did the darkness go? I don't know.
It is difficult to know where darkness goes. Imagine yourself in a dense jungle It is raining heavily, it is midnight, and it is a new moon day, which means no light shines from the moon. You are in the depths of this pitch- black darkness when suddenly - a flash of lightening! The bright flash immediately allows you to see something. You see snakes, elephants, and many other wild animals, and it is clear the jungle is dangerous and is no place to live. Wanting to escape, you immediately take a step forward. Taking that one step forward means you are halfway out of the dark and dangerous jungle. You are halfway to eradicating your defilements: you have become a sotāpanna.
Because the defilements that arose in our past are dead, we cannot do anything about them. We also cannot do anything about defilements that will arise in our future because they do not as yet exist. We can only do something about defilements that are arising here and now. The practice of vipassanā means being in the present. Vipassanā means we do not think nor worry about what has happened in the past, it means we do not think nor worry about the future, and it also means we do not cling in this very moment to anything at all. This was the advice the Buddha gave to Commander Santati. Do you know the story? No.
Commander Santati won a battle for King Kosala. To honour Santati, the King gave a celebration with many dancers, music, food, and drink. Santati greatly enjoyed himself at this celebration and was particularly fond of one dancer. He really enjoyed her. The dancer, however, collapsed from exhaustion during one of her performances and died right in front of Santati. Her death came without warning and was a great shock for Santati. He immediately left the celebration and went to the Buddha for guidance.
"Drop the present," the Buddha told Santati. "Drop thinking about the past, drop thinking about the future, and do not cling to anything in this very moment."
Santati was a wise person. He immediately understood the Buddha's teaching, gained insight – dassana - and attained enlightenment. He needed only a few words from the Buddha to see the true nature of his condition. "Commander Santati," said the Buddha that very morning, "is a wise person. He will be an arahat by this evening,"
From the time of the Buddha, there are many similar stories. One day, the Buddha visited a skilled acrobat named Uggasena who was performing feats on top of a bamboo pole. When the Buddha had Uggasena's attention, he told him the same thing he had told Santati: "Drop the present. Drop thinking about the past, drop thinking about the future, and do not cling to anything in this very moment" While still on the pole, Uggasena immediately gained insight and attained enlightenment Uggasena was another wise person who lived at the time of the Buddha.
There are wise people in our society.
You are correct. There are wise people in today's society, but the Buddha's message is not getting through to them. Thus, many people practise sitting and walking meditation for years, for decades, and for whole lifetimes without making any real gains. But Santati and Uggasena got the message. They listened carefully to the Buddha's advice and as a result gained dassana, attained enlightenment in just a few seconds. Teachers direct us. They let us know that if we look into the night sky in this and that direction, we will see stars and planets. When we look in the direction the teacher suggests, we do see stars and planets. If we have the wisdom to look in the right direction, we clearly see with our own eyes and gain liberation. A sotāpanna looked in the right direction. He or she penetrated the nature of reality, destroyed their doubt, and attained realisation into the truth of the four noble truths. Sotāpannas experience dassana.
4. The fourth characteristic of the eightfold path is the overcoming of craving and the attaining of mastery over oneself, adhipati. Adhipati translates as dominance and predominance. It is master.
There are many types of masters. There are masters in workplaces, nature, and on the path leading to the extinction of suffering. Strong administrators are masters of their employees. Even though some employees have their own opinions on how a job should be performed, they comply with the strong administrator's way. The sea is a master in nature. Streams and rivers begin in various countries and flow in many directions, but eventually they all flow to the sea. And despite such a large volume of fresh water flowing from the rivers into the sea, the saltiness of the sea is never altered. An enormous body of salty water, the sea remains very salty, forever. The sea is master of streams and rivers. All streams and rivers flow to the sea. Path knowledge, magga-ñāṇa, is master in our lives. On the path leading to the extinction of suffering, it is master.
There can be only one master; only one person can be master of one workplace at any one time. If two people both think they are master of the same workplace, conflicts and problems arise. A workplace only runs peacefully when one administrator, one master, is completely in charge. When employees follow their administrator's way and let go of their own way, everything flows smoothly. Still, some human masters definitely do cause problems for people and society.
But there are masters that never cause any problems for anything or anyone. The sea is one of these masters. All the streams and rivers in the world flow smoothly towards it. The sea is their master, entirely. The master we work for is path knowledge. Making the eightfold path predominant in our lives, path knowledge never causes us any problems either. Restraining our sense doors, practising sīla, practising generosity, living in the present moment, practising vipassanā - everything we do is done to attain mastery over ourselves and attain path knowledge. Just like streams that flow to the sea without problem, the eightfold path is the stream we follow to reduce our problems, live peacefully, and reach the sea of path knowledge.
The next time you go down to the sea take a few moments to reflect on its nature. The sea only gradually gets deeper and deeper: quite shallow near the shoreline, small birds walk; a little farther out to sea, children wade up to their waists; and way out to sea, the sharks and whales are swimming and playing. Sharks and whales are found way out to sea because, in the watery depths where the sea extends far below the surface, they have enough room to perform any activity. The sea starts shallow, but it gets deeper and deeper. The sea is deep.
To end our suffering, we need to answer four questions:
What is suffering?
What is the origin of suffering?
What is the extinction of suffering?
What is the path leading to the extinction of suffering?
When through our own experience we answer these four questions satisfactorily, we reduce our obstacles to freedom, reduce our troubles, and reduce our suffering.
2,500 years ago Siddhattha set out to answer these questions. He set out to discover what is wholesome and what is truth. He finally rediscovered these four truths of existence, fully realised these truths, and then, as the Buddha, proclaimed these truths to the world. This is very important. People who have the correct understanding, sammā-diṭṭhi, of the Buddha's teachings will always have fewer problems and less suffering than those who don't. We can only just begin to appreciate the Buddha. He was a person who applied himself, made these discoveries independently, and attained complete liberation from suffering.