The Second Noble Truth provides an answer to arguably one of the most pressing questions that may arise on a serious spiritual path. What is the cause of suffering? If people could discover the answer to this question it could dramatically improve their lives. If we recall, the Buddha’s goal was to provide a sure and clear path to enlightenment. So, he taught what he believed to be the most basic yet profound principles and truths.
The Second Noble Truth is: the truth of the causes of suffering. According to the Buddha, the origin of the causes of all suffering is greed, anger and ignorance. These three are collectively known as the Three Poisons in Buddhism. They are not only toxic to the self but to everything and every person they touch or influence. Let’s consider each of these poisons individually. A brief exploration should suffice to deepen our understanding.
Greed is perhaps more prevalent within ourselves than we care to acknowledge or admit. We often erroneously replace the word greed with more egoic generous terms and language. We will say that I am ambitious. I am goal oriented. I am “hungry.” More often than not, the ambitions, goals and hungriness are aimed toward material acquisition or some sort of social status. Today, we have individuals (or couples) who occupy a living space that could comfortably accommodate a family of four or five people.
Many might argue that there is nothing wrong with having or wanting nice things. I agree with that. However, I will call it greed when a nice 2 bedroom space will suffice but one aims to secure a space with three, four or more rooms. When one nice car will meet a person’s necessities for travel, why purchase or desire several? It’s not about denying one’s self nice material possessions. Rather, the poison of greed arises when we falsely conflate needs with desires. We err when we make needs and desires synonymous. It is simply leads to suffering and therefore I call it greed.
Anger is also prevalent in society. In America, people have shot at other motorists for driving too close to them. Cursing and screaming in public (out of anger) has become so common that it barely turns anyone’s head anymore. Random reports of bullying and shootings seem to daily fill the news airwaves. Politics has turned into one ball of mean spirited hatred fueled by anger. Anger is a unique poison. It manifests itself not only in the soul but also the body. Anger can cause one to sweat, shake, shout or get a headache. Anger completely annihilates all reason. Long after the initial cause of our anger we often hold it in our minds. I believe this fact leads to many ailments and illnesses…physical and psychological.
To me, ignorance is a very subtle poison. When we speak or act based on ignorance, we have no sense of how off the mark we really are. We can demonize an entire segment of humanity based purely on ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Ignorance has a unique ability to secretly multiply itself. It attracts others suffering from the same type of ignorance and then deposits its toxins into that person and eventually into society. Ignorance needs agreement to stay alive. It finds that agreement in the hearts and minds of human hosts.
I have spent some quality time thinking about the Second Noble Truth. I was stuck by how all of the causes I could think of that lead suffering could easily be reduced to the Three poisons. The Second Noble Truth (the truth of the causes of suffering) has taken on a profoundly different level of significance to me…