All this suffering! Is there any end to it? The Good News it is that through insight, through seeing how we make ourselves suffer, we also begin to expand into seeing the optional nature of this self-inflicted suffering. The Third Noble Truth is simply that there is an end to suffering, according to the Buddha. It’s the good news. The oppressive tangle of our suffering can be seen for what it is, and it can, through insight and compassion, be made more spacious so that we can find joy in simply being with whatever arises.
Yes, we are still confronted with tar-babies, and maybe we still get entangled in the sticky tar from time to time; but through the regular practice of meditation, we are learning to notice when this is happening.
When we notice, we remember to stop struggling and simply be with our experience, as uncomfortable as it may be. Through the practice of meditation and the development of spacious awareness we find our center, our inner access to a sense of equilibrium and ease.
When we were reviewing the First Noble Truth in class a while back, I read from Wes Nisker’s article in Inquiring Mind magazine about what he called ‘Firsters’ and ‘Thirdsters.’ He claims to be a Firster. For him, having The First Noble Truth’s reminder that there is suffering in life is not just a first step to awakening, but a gift that keeps on giving, sufficient for a lifetime’s practice. He doesn’t have much patience for those ‘Thirdsters’ as he calls those who want to be remade into enlightened beings.
Because of the interpretation so many of us put on the Third Noble Truth, it can become a tarbaby in itself. We are attracted to its promise, and may feel compelled to see it as some distant goal of happiness and enlightenment. We get caught up in it and it just becomes another way for us to suffer. We want it. We want it so badly. And we want it now. The wanting is an ache we cannot satisfy. Succumbing to the dazzling promise of the Third Noble Truth can actually keep us from ever experiencing it.
The Third Noble Truth is not about some future version of us, someone who will be so much more calm, peaceful, kind, compassionate and enlightened. The Third Noble Truth is about the promise held within each moment.
Each moment holds the gift of sight. Okay, most moments we may ignore it. But the gift lives fully in each moment, whether noticed or not. This moment for example, as you sit here listening or reading this talk, you have the capacity to be fully present, to sense in to your body, to notice what is true in your experience right now – pain, beauty, emotion, thought – and in that noticing is spaciousness.
The Third Noble Truth is not a destination; it is an ongoing ever-present totally accessible present. When we make it a destination, one more vacation we have to save up for, make time for, one more thing on our to do list or our bucket list, then we have lost touch with its true nature. It becomes a fairy tale, a Shangri La, a Wonderland or an Enchanted Isle.
It is none of these.
The Third Noble Truth is about what is inherent in each of us: our Buddha Nature. This naturally arising way of being in the world is not in some cave on a mountain top in the Himalayas that is beyond our reach. It is always present.
We expend a lot of energy ignoring it, discounting it, pooh-poohing it, but it is there. Here. Now. Always. It is a light that shines within us, one that we may keep carefully shuttered, but from time to time we are able to see things more clearly by the light through the cracks of our shutters. We get a glimpse of insight, an intuitive hit or a moment of clarity. Learning to trust what is revealed by the little light we allow, we begin to notice the light more. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna’ let it shine.” Such a great song! It’s impossible to sing it without the heart feeling full. When we sing it, we are setting an intention that resonates deep within us. When we act out of that intention to allow what is naturally arising within us to express itself by showing compassion to ourselves and others, by trusting what the light reveals to be true and stepping out of the shadows, then the shutters begin to open even more.
The light shows us the lay of the land, reveals the tar-babies for what they are before we get suckered into entangling with them.
We can remind ourselves that the Third Noble Truth is not a distant promise but a constant presence shining its light within us, patiently waiting for us to open the shutters of our hearts and minds.
Here is a chant from the Heart Sutra:
It translates loosely as:
gone beyond the beyond,
into awakened mind. Aha!
Chant this for a while, staying fully present in your body with all your senses or just the rising and falling of your breath. Be present with whatever arises, without expectation.
This present is not an intellectual maze you must master, but a simple, even subtle, shift of attention from the belief that we are the thoughts we think, the labels we’ve accepted, or the emotions we feel. This is a shift into expansive ease and open awareness of the spacious nature of being.
We access the present moment through the portal of sensation. Simply sensation. Simply being.
During meditation over the past months, we have been allowing for this subtle shift from thinking in labels, compartmentalizing ourselves and the world around us, to accessing an infinite spaciousness as we experience pure sensation without tagging any particular sensation with the label ‘itchy foot’ or ‘achy back’, for example. Instead, we sense in to the energy field of being, the being that isn’t demarcated by the ‘edge’ of skin.
The Third Noble Truth is not a promise of some heavenly pain-free existence, but an invitation to discover the unlimited nature of our being, the compassionate ease of feeling one with nature, one with all beings; knowing it, not as knowledge we learn from books — although science now supports it — but knowing it deeply, from personal experience.
The last time we were studying the Four Noble Truths, my post on the Third Noble Truth was a sharing of something I wrote many years ago, an exercise called The Dance of the Seven Veils. The Third Noble Truth invites us to discover who we are under all the veils we wear.