Introductory thoughts

What the Buddha never said: “I teach only dukkha and the end of dukkha.”  What he did say, in a particular context, was: “In the past, monks, and also now, I teach suffering and the cessation of suffering.” (MN 22)

The Buddha’s teachings and all later forms of Buddhist thought are based on the Four Ennobling Truths: dukkha, the origin of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, and the path leading to the cessation of dukkha.

The most important conclusion we can draw from the centrality of the Four Truths to the Buddha’s teaching is that the teachings are about human experience – not philosophy, not metaphysics, not beliefs – but about reality as we can experience it directly. This is why the Pali canon doesn’t contain the concept of non-dualism; it’s a mental construct rather than something any person might experience. The task of the Buddha was to describe and explain the nature of human existence in order to reveal what is hidden and to teach us how to wear away our obstructive modes of clinging so we can move towards an end of dukkha.

The Eightfold Path of the Buddha is a complete set of instructions – it both is the 4th truth and encompasses the Four Truths. We’ll learn a lot about how to become more free by examining the path factors and considering how they apply to our lives, but we can always fall back to the question: what’s the problem here? What is happening that we’re having trouble accepting as a present reality? Once we identify the specific instance of dukkha, we can look into its source – what grasping or pushing away is causing the discomfort? Once we see clearly how we are creating dukkha by attaching to views and opinions (often not an easy step), we instinctively loosen our grip and can feel the problem slide away. The Eightfold Path gives us a reference framework for how we cling and how we might let go.

When we begin to meditate, often there is a gap between sitting practice and the rest of our lives. This can lead us to conclude either that we can’t do the practice or that meditation “doesn’t work” in general. But the mistake there is the separation of meditation practice from the rest of our thoughts and actions, the habits we are cultivating and strengthening in our other waking hours. The Buddha’s Eightfold Path is a remedy for this separation; it helps us to see that there are not two realities, but one continuous stream of experience in which each event is conditioned by previous events and by current circumstances.

For those interested in taking a step back and learning some background to early Buddhist teachings, Bhikkhu Bodhi taught a six session “Short Introduction to Buddhism Course” in 2018. The first lecture is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qP7zWzDtuY

Also, a trustworthy source for Pali canon teachings is a free daily sutta subscription. Information and subscription options are here: https://daily.readingfaithfully.org

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Causes and results, Compassion, Dukkha, Mindfulness, The 8-fold path and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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