- that life is suffering, suffering being our clinging to the the five things that form our perception of life: the appearance of form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness-ego.
- that the cause, the origin, of suffering is our craving and emotions. (In typical Buddhist style, there is repetition in the truths.)
- that the end of suffering is the freeing ourselves from our cravings and emotions, relinquishing them, not relying on them.
- that the way leading to the end of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path.
In a word, we can’t end our suffering while continuing to act as we’ve been acting all our lives. Ultimately we are causing our suffering, not the world around us.
Acknowledging and accepting that our suffering is caused by our cravings is the absolutely essential beginning to our walking the Buddhist path to end our suffering. That is why it is the first step in my post, “12 Steps on the Buddhist Path.” Our cravings are so strong, are so deeply rooted in our ego, that if we don’t recognize and admit their roll in our suffering, there will be no motivation strong enough to free ourselves from them.
Generally, the fourth truth is taken literally, that the way to end suffering is to practice Right view, Right intention, and the other aspects of the Eightfold Path. This composes the central teaching of many Buddhist teachers, we end suffering by practicing the elements of the path.
However, the problem, as I first stated in my book, The Self in No Self: Buddhist Heresies and Other Lessons of a Buddhist Life, is that one cannot practice Right view or Right anything while one is in the control of one’s ego-mind. The ego-mind simply will not countenance it, resulting in much frustration and feelings of failure. (See my posts, "The Missing Noble Truth" and “The Noble Eightfold Path”)
The question thus shifts back to the third truth … how do we free ourselves from our cravings and emotions. Since our emotions and cravings are a product of our ego-mind, we achieve that freedom by freeing ourselves from the control of our ego-mind. This is the teaching I received from two Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monks and which I relate in my books and a post as “The Fourfold Path to Freedom.” For the key to implementing turning your will and your life over to the care of your true Buddha self, see my post, “The Heart’s Embrace.”
This is not contrary to the Buddha’s teaching. The Buddha said that to free oneself from the conceit, “I am,” is the ultimate freedom. This is also consistent with the Heart Sutra, a core teaching of Mahayana Buddhism. (See my translation and commentary on the Heart Sutra on this website.)
And so, when you have relinquished your emotions and cravings, when you have freed yourself from the control of your ego-mind (or to the extent that you have), then you will be able to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, relating to yourself and the world around you in that way. That will lead to ending your suffering and instead experiencing peace and happiness. Following the Noble Eightfold Path is indeed of critical importance, for if you did not replace your old ways with new positive ones, the old ways would just rush back in to the vacuum you have created.
But first one has to begin the third step of freeing ourselves from our cravings and emotions. Freeing ourselves from the control of our ego-mind by turning our will and our mind over to the care of our true Buddha self. As I have often stated, this is beyond challenging; it requires great discipline and the passage of time. But the path is clear.
For more on this process, see my post, “12 Steps on the Buddhist Path.”