Last week we began our exploration of the first noble truth, dukkha, or suffering. We have a good idea of what suffering is and that there is more to it than we may have initially thought. But one of the amazing things about Buddha’s teachings was that he didn’t stop there. Instead, he explored deeply into the processes that cause suffering to arise. This week we are going to dig into the second noble truth, the causes and conditions of suffering.
To get angry at another driver on the road, then blame that person for your anger is to bypass the cause of your suffering. You’ve only glimpsed the symptom with such a cursory look. Buddha seemed to understand well that we don’t live in a vacuum, and that beneath the obvious lies conditions and causes from which thoughts, feelings, emotions, and suffering arise. But Buddha’s answer to this cause was simple: craving and attachment.
We’ve explored craving previously, and now we are going to revisit craving with suffering in mind, and from the areas in which we create powerful attachments.
What Buddha Said . . .
“What is the Noble Truth of the arising of suffering? It is this craving which produces re-becoming (re-birth) accompanied by passionate greed, and finding delight now here now there, namely the craving for sense pleasures, craving for existence and craving for non-existence (self-annihilation). This is called the Noble Truth of the arising of suffering.” MN-141
In other words, what gets us into trouble and causes suffering are underlying craving and attachment to:
- Sense pleasures, such food, sex, music, art, sleep, etc.
- Becoming, meaning anything that gives us a sense of self, a sense of self importance, possessiveness, pride, recognition, etc. We give rise to suffering by clinging to any of the 5 aggregates, which are impermanent.
- Pushing away, aversion, such as to physical or emotional pain, situations or events we don’t care for, avoidance of people we dislike, etc.
- Non-existence, wishing away situations, or worse, our own life.
- Any of the above, wanting them to be permanent, ever-lasting, of longer duration.
Now, I can hear many of you protesting, possibly thinking, “But the above is to be human, to experience life!” Note the words craving and attachment. Could it be possible to enjoy food without craving, without attachment to the experience? Could it be possible to experience pain without attachment to aversion, the bemoaning of the situation and instead view it a simply a physical experience? Remember the practice on feeling tones? Is it possible to view yourself more neutrally, without grasping at or trying to cling to some ideal of yourself?
Question What the Buddha Said . . .
Don’t just accept the Buddha’s words, but explore in your own experience what lies beneath pleasure, pain, anger, sadness, etc.? See if there is craving and attachment. What happens if you think of losing the pleasure, or living with the pain? In resisting pain, do you give it more life? In trying to please people, do you see what drives the craving for wanting to be liked? Can you explore to see if craving and attachment do indeed give rise to various forms of suffering?
Continue meditation just as you have been all along, focusing on the breath, in and out, with every single breath, being mindful of whatever arises in your experience, and then returning to the breath. Doing this daily increases mindfulness and meditation so that it spills over into your daily life. Hopefully by now you are noticing some improvements overall from developing a daily habit of meditation.
Bringing Meditation Into Daily Life
You’re going to continue examining suffering in your life, as from last week, but this week examine more closely. Look under the cover so to speak. If someone makes you angry, resist following the thoughts that form stories and justifications, and look inward. Do you feel aversion? Do you feel a craving for something? Where is the emotion being felt in the body? Let some of the thoughts in, and see . . . are they trying form a strong sense of self and indignation? Do you have to agree with or follow those thoughts? What happens if you step back, look more objectively? Can you step back?
The next time you sit to eat a food you particularly enjoy, be mindful while eating. Yes, in Buddhism, eating meditation is very popular, and for good reason! If you find a food pleasurable, look inward. Is there craving for the next bite? Fear that you may not get a second helpfing? Can you enjoy one bite fully without thinking of the next? Is there craving arising even while you’re still eating? Or can you enjoy the meal without a sign of craving and attachment? Could someone take the plate from you without your feeling grasping or anger?
Think about your favorite thing to do. Then dig beneath the pleasure of it, look and see if you sense some craving or attachment. How do you feel at the idea of never being able to do that thing again? Or can you enjoy it, without worry or attachment that someone day you won’t be able to do it?
Hopefully you see some ways of exploring for craving and attachment here. You may even discover other ways of getting a glimpse beneath pleasure and suffering to see the attachments or craving at work. Share your experiences here, and any ways you discover where you can see the craving at work and how it gives rise to suffering. Also, explore the areas where you realize there isn’t craving or attachment? How does that feel with craving being absent?