We have now arrived at The Third Noble Truth. I find this one to be the most miraculous. I say so not in the sense of seeming impossible but rather because it is so beautiful. It’s particularly amazing to me because the ability to realize it is always available and actually attainable. Fundamentally, it is what I imagine every human being on the earth desires. However, we often sabotage ourselves and preclude ourselves from experiencing its bliss. The Third Noble Truth is: the truth of the cessation of suffering.
The truth of the cessation of suffering is unlike what is referred to in other traditions as heaven. Too often, I read and hear people (mostly westerners who “dabble” in Buddhism”) telling other westerners that what is meant by the Third Noble Truth is equivalent or substantially similar to heaven. This is inaccurate. I believe it’s characterized as such for several reasons. One, maybe this person has not taken the time to fully understand the concept of nirvana. Secondly, perhaps one wants to find some common ground with another person of faith and thinks this is a good way to do so. Well intended but nonetheless erroneous. Or perhaps a combination of the two.
I mentioned the word nirvana. Nirvana is a difficult word to describe. It’s one of those concepts that lends itself more to intuitive apprehension or experiential understanding in the case of a Buddha. (i.e. one who has become enlightened) But, the word originally meant “quieted” or “extinguished” or “tamed.” This is not meant to refer to an “other worldly” existence or place but a state of being. This state of being is not a somewhere but a status. This status can be achieved at any moment by the sentient being seeking to cultivate the way. Nirvana is the absolute extinction of individual existence and liberates one from the cycle of birth and death.
If you recall, we spoke about the Three Poisons here: Noble Truth #2. Nirvana is a state beyond these poisons. There is no more self and other, right and wrong or even death and birth. Nirvana collapses the illusion of infinite duality. It is the state beyond all suffering. The Buddha taught that this state is available to everyone. Furthermore, it was not “earned” or could not be bestowed upon one by another. The notion of grace as expressed in some other traditions does not exist in Buddhism. Likewise, karma and grace are not analogous. The distinction between the two is worthy of an entirely separate post. The important point here is that the Third Noble Truth (i.e. the truth of the cessation of suffering) is nirvana. Nirvana is accessible to anyone if the proper causes and conditions exist to produce this result. In Buddhism, it all starts with understanding these Four Noble Truths we’ve been exploring.
On a personal level, after many years of spiritual “work,” trials and triumphs I feel I am heading down this path. I say that because through the discipline and trust in this practice (and my entire spiritual journey/development) I have relieved a great deal of my own suffering. In Buddhism, we believe that the body is absolutely real and a real part of you. If you don’t get proper rest or sufficient nutrition you will eventually “suffer.” But, the suffering referred to in Buddhism, and these Four Noble Truths, does not apply to biological neglect, denial or decay. The suffering it addresses is the one I would call the major suffering. The ones caused by The Three Poisons. A substantial amount of my suffering, such that I experience it, has been subdued into more of a feeling of very minor irritation or inconvenience. What once use to take hours, days, months or even years to subside now disappears in a matter of seconds or minutes.
I mention my current personal state not as a means of boasting or out of any sense of pride. I mention as an inspiration to you. I am a regular human being. I have been trying to cultivate the way. My practice and expression has taken several different forms but always with an “upward” trajectory. I made some decisions in my life to simplify it. It was very painful and was by no means initially palpable and perhaps still is not so for many around me. But, I stuck with those decisions, and will continue to do so, because I’ve truly tasted the very fringes of the truth of the cessation of suffering. This little drop is like an ocean and satiates me in a way inexplicable. I am serious about this because I do believe that people can become Buddhas. (i.e. enlightened beings…free from suffering) For me, no amount of money, fame or recognition could ever be more valuable than achieving this. Therefore my life has and will continue to look different and perhaps even absurd to most observers. I remain perfectly at peace with this…
Peace & Light,