The Four Noble Truths III:
The Truth of the cessation of Suffering

by Venerable Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche

June 10, 1999

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The Four Noble Truths was the first teaching given by Buddha Shakyamuni after he attained Enlightenment—Buddhahood. It was taught impartially to all sentient beings out of great compassion, and great wisdom. All sentient beings including us human beings are functioning and wandering in the cyclic existence, the samsara due to delusion. Because of that, we face without choice different types of suffering which we do not desire. We work so hard day and night, sacrificing so much, like comfort and so on to free us from suffering. We expect to be free from suffering, but, as you see, there is not even one day, after working so hard when we can say that now we are totally free from suffering. You may then wonder, "Is there an end to suffering? How can we achieve that?" There come different types of questions. To obtain answers, depending on the individual’s mental capacity and interest, we approach various paths and use different skills. We investigate. For instance, all the modern technologies are basically discovered and invented in order to free us from suffering – whether it is for individual interest or for the interest of the whole humanity. This is very obvious. Computers together with Internet are becoming so powerful that they connect and rule the whole world. We can accomplish so much using computers and be very successful. Successful means that lots of things can be done within a very short time. So supposedly we should have a better life and easier life. However, just the opposite is true. We have to work harder and there are more deadlines to meet. If you do not do this by today then the next day you are out of it. So it is contradictory. In the old times, when these modern technologies had not been invented, even though life was more primitive, people had more time. There were not many choices of food or clothing and they did not have beautiful houses to stay in, but they had a lot of time with their families. Even though they had to work hard physically in the field but mentally more peaceful. Now in our modern days, physically seems luxurious – lots of various choices of food, clothing and beautiful places to stay, but mentally so stressful, so much pressure. It is very obvious. In the modern world, in order to have control and power, lots of machines and tools are created. Nowadays, things can be done in such a high speed, but yet we have less and less time. We are getting busier and busier. Indeed, we are so far from the real peace and happiness. It is getting worse and worse. In this modern culture, everywhere east or west is influenced by this phenomenon. We are living with samsara existence without choice.

The goal, the basic idea of humanity, within our societies is to be free from suffering and to have peace and happiness. In Buddhism, what Buddha taught, the idea is the same but the method is different. Method is different because modern technologies are created for the outer material development. We expect our peace, happiness and pleasure to be experienced from the outside. If I get this, I will be happier. If I do this, I will have more time. If I have a beautiful house, I will be more relax and more secure. My life will be more insured and I will be in a better position. I can then relaxed, go to the beach in the summer and go skiing in the mountains in the winter and so on. The approach in Buddhism is different. Of course for the time being, we do have to depend on the outside materials too. Because without eating, without wearing clothes, without a place to stay, we cannot live. However, the core of Buddhism emphasizes on the inner mental development. It is very important because how everything appears and is experienced in our lives depend on our mental attitudes, mental states. For us, beginners, it may appear that the outer conditions make a difference. They make a difference only on some relative levels, but when you go down to the root, it depends completely on our mental attitude, mental state. When our mind is peaceful and calm, even under chaotic situations, it is quite all right. "Oh, it is fine. It is okay. No problem. We can fix it. Don’t worry about that!" So, there is a way to achieve some calmness and peacefulness independent of the outer conditions. Another example, if you wear a piece of jewel on your ears, it brings joy and happiness but if you view that same jewel as a piece of rock then that piece of rock brings burden, shamefulness and suffering. So if we view suffering as suffering, suffering becomes a real obstacle. Instead we can view suffering as an opportunity to wake us up, to investigate into the causes of suffering and to how to purify them. So mental attitude is very important. Our mental state, mental attitude affects our physical body directly. When the mind is calm and peaceful, the physiological state reflects a certain state and when our emotion is strong and powerful, our physiological state changes. When our mental state is chaotic and destructive, no matter how beautiful the outer environment is, at that moment, there is no peace and you feel like you are in the hell realm. When our mind, mental state is calm, peaceful and clear, everything works out nicely. Therefore, cultivating the inner mental qualities is very important. The inner qualities lie within every individual and they do not depend on the outer conditions. However, unless we are highly developed, we do need others’ guidance and help to show how to achieve that peaceful mental state. In one way, mind is very, very simple. It is nothing. It is nowhere. However, when different emotions or thoughts arise, we can be so agitated that our whole being is occupied by that. But as soon those emotions or thoughts disappear, it disappears nowhere, no trace left. It is similar to generating water bubbles in a pool. As soon as it stops, the bubbles go nowhere. Mind cannot be seen in a form through our eyes nor can it be seen or measured by machines, no matter how powerful the machine is. The reason is because mind is insubstantial, so it cannot be measured by any substantial machine. It can only be seen through our wisdom eye. Therefore, in order to achieve peace and happiness, we need inner mental training.

Buddha taught what suffering is and the causes of suffering. Suffering does not manifest without a cause or with the wrong cause. It manifests through causes and conditions. Now you may ask if there is an end to suffering. Yes. The Third Noble Truth is called the truth of the cessation of suffering. There is an end to suffering. If you work properly and progress successively, some day, you can achieve a state, which is called cessation. Cessation is a state where suffering and the causes of suffering do not exist. When there is no suffering, no mental emotions or negative thoughts, there is peace. We do not have to work on how to achieve peace. We just have to work on how to purify all our destructive thoughts. We make effort to uproot our delusion and confusion. When that is done, that state is called peace. Peace is always there within us. Like space, we do not have to make the space empty. We simply get rid of the clouds. When the clouds disappear, the nature of space is spacious, empty and limitless. The state of cessation, Nirodha is the state of total freedom and peace. In this state, the ultimate nature of all phenomena is fully revealed and is characterized by peacefulness, fullness, abundance and perfection. This is the state of emptiness. It is not merely empty. I am sure you have heard of Buddhists believing in emptiness, no self. Sometimes we may be scared because without self, it is like nihilism. This is a misconception. Just the opposite, the state of emptiness is full of all supreme qualities of wisdom and compassion. All the perfection of knowledge is there. It embraces the interdependence nature of all phenomena. That is why Buddha taught so much on the subject emptiness. If it is just merely empty, how could Buddha teach all that? It is full of joy since there is no suffering. There is no cause of suffering because all those obscurations and illusions are dispelled. They simply do not exist. When there is no cloud, the nature of the Sun and Moon reflects and shines on the Earth. Likewise, the very nature of our mind is fully revealed when the obscurations, which obscure us temporarily, are completely removed. For example, there was a poor man who owned nothing but a piece of very poor land. He could not attain anything from the ground. He felt that he was so poor. "I have nothing. No food to eat, no clothes to wear. What should I do? What should I eat tomorrow?" Somehow, one day, someone who had some special knowledge about mining came and told him that underneath the ground, there were lots of treasure. He tried very hard to dig the ground. He dug and dug and after before long all the treasures were revealed. So he became very rich. Even though he was rich already from the very beginning—sitting on a piece of land, which was full of treasure but since he did not recognize it, he felt that he was so poor. As soon as he realized that, he became rich. In the same way, treasure lies within us all the time, but because of the obscurations that obscure our mind, just like the earth, which obscure the treasure, we do not recognize them. When the obscurations are fully purified, the original nature of the mind is fully revealed. That state is called the cessation of suffering. Now you may ask if it is possible to achieve it or not. Yes, it is possible. First of all, when our mind is calm, in a peaceful state, we have a glimpse of some of those qualities within our mind even though we may not recognize it. Sometimes when some peace and tranquility come from nowhere, we feel so joyful so pleasant and that is a reflection or a glimpse of our inner qualities. Now, to fully reveal the inner qualities, what we should do is to depend on the path that Buddha showed us.

The Fourth Noble Truth is called the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering. There are two kinds of cessation, savaka system of cessation, Nirodha and the Bodhisattva system of cessation, Buddhahood. Savaka system of cessation, Nirodha or the Arhat state is temporary compared with Buddhahood. Those who follow the Savaka path are not interested in helping every sentient being as the Bodhisattvas do. Bodhisattvas are committed to help every sentient being regardless of who that sentient being is. They are reborn life after life until all sentient beings are liberated. This is the Bodhisattva way of life. Even though they achieve Buddhahood, their activities continue. Savaka system is sometimes called Hinayana. Practitioners of course have compassion but they do not have bodhicitta (the mind of Enlightenment) and are not committed to help all sentient beings. So in their lives, they help and benefit many sentient beings as much as they can while trying to free themselves from samsara to attain the nirvana state. They perform many different types of activities. They go through their lives practicing and attaining the four fruits or the four different types of realizations. The first is called entering into the stream because they enter into the Arhat path. The second is called returning once. Before they attain the final realization, they have some more purification to do and thus are reborn once more. The third is called non-returning state. They are guaranteed to achieve the full Arhat State within the lifetime so there is no need to return to the samsara. The fourth is called Arhatship or the four destroyers because all the afflictive emotions are destroyed. Arhatship is a state with the complete realization. To achieve that what practitioners have to practice is to purify the self-grasping obscuration, i.e. person self and the phenomena self. Person self is I or me. We are so attached to that. Even though there is no independent self and self is just a label to the collection of the five aggregates, we are so attached to the label. So practitioners have to purify that totally. When that is completely purified and uprooted, the gross obscurations related to the mind are purified and the joyful and peaceful Arhat State is attained. The Savaka and hearer school achieve that state. Bodhisattvas achieving Buddhahood is called non-abiding. Non-abiding means neither abide to the samsara nor abide to Nirvana (the Arhat state). So Buddha goes beyond those two extremes. Buddhahood is in the state of total peace. Through great compassion, they do not give up the possibility of benefiting sentient beings and at the same time through great wisdom, they are not abiding in the samsara (the confusion state) like us.

 

 


Dedication
May all sentient beings have the opportunity to see Buddhas, planting roots of goodness,
accomplishing the great vehicle, not clinging to anything, replete with virtue,
establishing innumberable practices, entering all the boundless realms of reality,
developing the spiritual faculties of the Buddhas, and attaining the omniscient knowledge of the enlightened ones.

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Last updated on 2000-12-23.