The Four Noble Truths

February 13, 2013
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Emma Hoffman
The Four Noble Truths

The cold hard stones felt unyielding under his bare feet. Catching himself as he jogged lightly down the stone steps, he admonished himself, though the cold was biting, he could endure. He descended the winding steps down the mountainside as he did every evening, to fill his jug in the river flowing at the mouth of Kathmandu valley. As he took measured, careful steps down he noticed the beauty of the landscape surrounding him. It was dusk and the setting sun cast a glow as it continued its rotation. The biting winds cut through his dull ochre robes, though layered they were, and he reminded himself to be thankful for those who presented him with the additional clothing. He was new to the Pullihari Monastery in Nepal and did not posses every garment appropriate for the harsh climate he was unaccustomed to. Many things of this new place he was not used to.

His thick, messy black locks of hair were gone, replaced by a close shave to his head ," a renouncement of his worldly goods", he remembered his elder saying. Though silly it was, he missed his hair, hair that had been a focal point of the insane paparazzi and women that chased him in his previous life. Losing it was like losing a part of himself, but wasn't that the point? The reason he left the bright, hectic lights of Los Angeles was to find himself again, and to do that, he figured he would have to start over from scratch and discover his purpose in the world. As he gazed at the dimming sky and the landscape of Nepal, he thought of why he decided to join a monastery inside of doing a stint at a glamorous rehab center in New Mexico or something. He knew that to really heal himself, he needed to get far, and truly away. At the Pullihari Monastery, he sought to learn the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, the foundation and truths that explain how to overcome unhappiness.

Life is suffering. Life was imperfect, life was impermanent. This was the First Noble truth. His own life had been a rollercoaster of glorious moments of excitement, success, violent love and equally violent hate, a terrifying haze of pain and pleasure that seem to grow ever more confusing and uncertain as the years past. He was an imperfect being, capable of hope, hate, love, lust and greed. The world was as imperfect, a tumultuous place where pain, sickness, disease and death coexisted with the good things; life, family, happiness, and charity. One day each and everything on the Earth will die, and with that death comes life and the cycle continues. Reaching the river, he plunged the jug into the icy flowing river. He filled it until he couldn't bear any more weight and prepared himself for the ascent up the mountain-side.

The origin of suffering is attachment. This Second Noble Truth was taught to him as his Brother noticed his displeasure of cutting his hair upon joining the monastery. "Are you upset Brother? Do you miss your family?" He had answered with embarrassment that he was only displeased with his newly shaved head and not his lack of contact with his loved ones. The monk responded, "You shall soon learn that behind your displeasure is the realization that you are not yourself." Upon the confused face of his younger Brother, the monk elaborated. "Objects of attachment also include the idea of a "self" which is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call "self" is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe. Your ignorance is the lack of understanding of how your mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are fleeting, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow." This lesson still echoed in his head as head hauled water up the mountain, the sky growing ever darker and darker. Almost his entire life, he had struggled to achieve things; fame, fortune, a big house, fancy cars, expensive clothes. But why? Each of these things, though enjoyable, had serious downsides. With fame came hate and judgment. With fortune came greed, envy, and deceit. Though materialistically, at the monastery he was nothing, he didn't have an need or want of these things, which was the whole point. Without the worry and stress of having things, he felt as light and clear as the crisp air surrounding him, and felt as important and worthy as the nature around him, because he was one with nature, he was one yet he was nothing.
The cessation of suffering is attainable. He knew who Nirvana was, he didn't know what Nirvana to the Buddhists really was. Besides being a great band, Nirvana was the most mysterious of emotions that the monks strove for. Upon asking his elder Brother about Nirvana, he was told, "Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas. Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it. Worry not young brother, with wholehearted patience and discipline, you too can achieve Nirvana." As he became familiar with his brothers, he noticed a difference between those who had achieved Nirvana, and who had not. Typically younger monks of the brotherhood still displayed signs of interest and enthusiasm that was not seen with elders. The idea that being dispassionate was a goal of Buddhism was at first frightening, but as he discovered the reason behind it, he grew calmer and at peace with his brothers.

The Third Noble Truth expresses the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion. Nirodha, the process of which one eventually reaches Nirvana, extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment. This means that suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering. Attaining and perfecting dispassion is a process of many levels that ultimately results in the state of Nirvana. The task of achieving Nirvana seemed especially tedious to him, one who formerly had a zealous, hectic, stressful life. He knew he still had a long time before he could complete Nirodha, for he felt, even at that moment, hunger in his belly and pain in his feet. Nirvana seemed to him the permanent alternative to taking drugs like heroin or acid; it erased suffering, but without harming himself or anyone else, it was infinitely harder and therefore infinitely valuable.

The path to the cessation of suffering. This fourth Noble Truth is not the final lesson in Buddhism..not really. When first hearing about the Four Noble Truths, he assumed that as you accomplished the Fourth Noble Truth, he would be done, completed his journey. Of course, nothing is that final or finite, not in life, not in Buddhism. He found that the path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path. The idea of karma is not a popular belief in America, but he truly believes that his adoption of Buddhism, now, in this life will not only better himself now, but for future lifetimes.

As he reaches the top of the snow-covered mountain with his jug, he views the monastery. It's high, solitary red walls and traditional architecture, is a model of Buddhist temples, and is where he can temporarily call home. He knows he is ready to devote is life to this belief. Tomorrow, is his Ordination ceremony, he will be renamed Chakujitsuna Mokuteki, meaning "steady purpose".

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