THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS [This talk was given at the Manjushri Institute at Cumbria, U.K., in
THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
[This talk was given at the Manjushri Institute at Cumbria, U.K., in
Today I have been invited by the abbot to give you a teaching, so
I ask you all to sit quietly and compose your minds. Due to the
language barrier we must make use of a translator, so if you do not
pay proper attention you may not understand.
My stay here has been very pleasant. Both the Master and you, his
followers, have been very kind, all friendly and smiling, as befits
those who are practicing the true Dhamma. Your property, too, is
very inspiring, but so big! I admire your dedication in renovating
it to establish a place for practicing the Dhamma.
Having been a teacher for many years now, I've been through my
share of difficulties. At present there are altogether about forty
branch monasteries [*] of my monastery, Wat Nong Ba Pong, but even
these days I have followers who are hard to teach. Some know but
don't bother to practice, some don't know and don't try to find out.
I don't know what to do with them. Why do human beings have minds
like this? Being ignorant is not so good, but even when I tell them,
they still don't listen. I don't know what more I can do. People are
so full of doubts in their practice, they're always doubting. They
all want to go to //nibbana//, but they don't want to walk the path.
It's baffling. When I tell them to meditate they're afraid, or if
not afraid then just plain sleepy. Mostly they like to do the things
I don't teach. When I met the Venerable Abbot here I asked him what
his followers were like. He said they're the same. This is the pain
of being a teacher.
* [At the time of printing this book (1992), there are about one
hundred branch monasteries, big and small, of Wat Nong Ba Pong.]
The teaching I will present to you today is a way to solve
problems in the present moment, in this present life. Some people
say that they have so much work to do they have no time to practice
the Dhamma. "What can we do?" they ask. I ask them, "Don't you
breathe while you're working?" "Yes, of course we breathe!" "So how
come you have time to breathe when you're so busy?" They don't know
what to answer. "If you simply have //sati// while working you will
have plenty of time to practice."
Practicing meditation is just like breathing. While working we
breathe, while sleeping we breathe, while sitting down we breathe...
Why do we have time to breathe? Because we see the importance of the
breath, we can always find time to breathe. In the same way, if we
see the importance of meditation practice we will find the time to
Have any of you ever suffered? ... have you ever been happy?...
Right here is the truth, this is where you must practice the Dhamma.
Who is it who is happy? The mind is happy. who suffers? The mind
suffers. Wherever these things arise, that's where they cease. Have
you experienced happiness? ... Have you experienced suffering? ...
this is our problem. If we know suffering, [*] the cause of
suffering, the end of suffering and the way leading to the end of
suffering we can solve the problem.
* [Dukkha: "Suffering" is a most inadequate translation, but it is
the one most commonly found. "Dukkha" literally means "intolerable,"
"unsustainable," "difficult to endure", and can also mean
"imperfect," "unsatisfying," or "incapable of providing perfect
There are two kinds of suffering: ordinary suffering and the
extraordinary kind. Ordinary suffering is the suffering which is the
inherent nature of conditions: standing is suffering, sitting is
suffering, lying down is suffering. This is the suffering that is
inherent in all conditioned phenomena. Even the Buddha experienced
these things, he experienced comfort and pain, but he recognized
them as conditions in nature. He knew how to overcome these
ordinary, natural feelings of comfort and pain through understanding
their true nature. Because he understood this "natural suffering"
those feelings didn't upset him.
The important kind of suffering is the second kind, the suffering
that creeps in from the outside, the "extraordinary suffering". If
we are sick we may have to get an injection from the doctor. When
the needle pierces the skin there is some pain which is only
natural. When the needle is withdrawn that pain disappears. This is
like the ordinary kind of suffering, it's no problem, everybody
experiences it. The extraordinary suffering is the suffering that
arises from what we call //upadana//, grasping onto things. This is
like having an injection with a syringe filled with poison. This is
no longer an ordinary kind of pain, it is the pain which ends in
death. This is similar to the suffering which arises from grasping.
Wrong view, not knowing the impermanent nature of all conditioned
things, is another kind of problem. Conditioned things are the realm
of //samsara//. [*] Not wanting things to change -- if we think like
this we must suffer. When we think that the body is ourselves or
belonging to us, we are afraid when we see it change. Consider the
breath: once it comes in it must go out, having gone out it must
come in again. This is its nature, this is how we manage to live.
Things don't function in that way. This is how conditions are but we
don't realize it.
*[ //Samsara//: The world of delusion.]
Suppose we lost something. if we thought that object was really
ours, we would brood over it. If we couldn't see it as a conditioned
thing faring according to the laws of nature we would experience
suffering. But if you breathe in, can you live? Conditioned things
must naturally change in this way. To see this is to see the Dhamma,
to see //aniccam//, change. We live dependent on this change. When
we know how things are then we can let go of them.
The practice of Dhamma is to develop an understanding of the way
of things so that suffering doesn't arise. If we think wrongly we
are at odds with the world, at odds with the Dhamma and with the
truth. Suppose you were sick and had to go into hospital. Most
people think, "Please don't let me die, I want to get better." This
is wrong thinking, it will lead to suffering. You have to think to
yourself, "If I recover I recover, if I die I die." this is right
thinking, because you can't ultimately control conditions. If you
think like this, whether you die or recover, you can't go wrong, you
don't have to worry. Wanting to get better at all costs and afraid
of the thought of dying...this is the mind which doesn't understand
conditions. You should think, "If I get better that's fine, if I
don't get better that's fine." This way we can't go wrong, we don't
have to be afraid or cry, because we have tuned ourselves in to the
way things are.
The Buddha saw clearly. His teaching is always relevant, never
out-dated. It never changes. In the present day it's still the way
they are, they haven't changed. By taking this teaching to heart we
can gain the reward of peace and well-being.
In the teachings there is the reflection of "not-self": "this is
to listen to this kind of teaching because they are attached to the
idea of self. This is the cause of suffering. You should take note
Today a woman asked about how to deal with anger. I told her that
the next time she gets angry, to wind up her alarm clock and put it
in front of her. Then to give herself two hours for the anger to go
away. If it was really her anger she could probably tell it to go
away like this: "In two hours be gone!" But it isn't really ours to
command. Sometimes in two hours it's still not gone, at other times
in one hour it's gone already. Holding onto anger as a personal
possession will cause suffering. If it really belonged to us it
would have to obey us. If it doesn't obey us that means it's only a
deception. Don't fall for it. Whether the mind is happy or sad,
don't fall for it. Whether the mind loves or hates, don't fall for
it, it's all a deception.
Have any of you ever been angry? When you are angry does it feel
good or bad? If it feels bad then why don't you throw that feeling
away, why bother to keep it? How can you say that you are wise and
intelligent when you hold on to such things? Since the day you were
born, how many times has the mind tricked you into anger? Some days
the mind can even cause a whole family to quarrel, or cause you to
cry all night. And yet we still continue to get angry, we still hold
onto things and suffer. If you don't see suffering you will have to
keep suffering indefinitely, with no chance for respite. The world
of //samsara// is like this. If we know the way it is we can solve
The Buddha's teaching states that there is no better means to
overcome suffering than to see that "this is not my self", "this is
not mine". This is the greatest method. But we don't usually pay
attention to this. When suffering arises we simply cry over it
without learning from it. Why is that so? We must take a good hard
look at these things, to develop the Buddho, the one who knows.
Take note, some of you may not be aware that this is Dhamma
teaching. I'm going to give you some Dhamma that's outside the
scriptures. Most people read the scriptures but don't see the
Dhamma. Today I am going to give you a teaching that's outside the
scriptures. Some people may miss the point or not understand it.
Suppose two people are walking together and see a duck and a
chicken. One of them says, "Why isn't that chicken like the duck,
why isn't the duck like the chicken?" He wants the chicken to be a
duck and the duck to be a chicken. It's impossible. If it's
impossible, then even if that person were to wish for the duck to be
a chicken and the chicken to be a duck for the rest of his life it
would not come to pass, because the chicken is a chicken and the
duck is a duck. As long as that person thought like that he would
suffer. The other person might see that the chicken is a chicken and
the duck is a duck, and that's all there is to it. There is no
problem. He sees rightly. If you want the duck to be a chicken and
the chicken to be a duck you are really going to suffer.
In the same way, the law of //aniccam// states that all things
are impermanent. If you want things to be permanent you're going to
suffer. Whenever impermanence shows itself you're going to be
disappointed. One who sees that things are naturally impermanent
will be at ease, there will be no conflict. The one who wants things
to be permanent is going to have conflict, maybe even losing sleep
over it. This is to be ignorant of //aniccam//, impermanence, the
teaching if the Buddha.
If you want to know the Dhamma where should you look? You must
look within the body and the mind. You won't find it in the shelves
of a bookcase. To really see the Dhamma you have to look within your
own body and mind. There are only these two things. The mind is not
visible to the physical eye, it must be seen with the "mind's eye".
Before the Dhamma can be realized you must know where to look. The
Dhamma that is in the body must be seen in the body. And with what
do we look at the body? We look at the body with the mind. You won't
find the Dhamma looking anywhere else, because both happiness and
suffering arise right here. Or have you seen happiness arising in
the trees? Or from the rivers, or the weather? Happiness and
suffering are feelings which arise in our own bodies and minds.
Therefore the Buddha tells us to know the Dhamma right here. The
Dhamma is right here, we must look right here. The Master may tell
you to look at the Dhamma in the books, but if you think that this
is where the Dhamma really is, you'll never see it. Having looked at
the books you must reflect on those teachings inwardly. Then you can
understand the Dhamma. Where does the real Dhamma exist? It exists
right here in this body and mind of ours. This is the essence of
When we do this, wisdom will arise in our minds. When there is
wisdom in our minds, then no matter where we look there is Dhamma,
we will see //aniccam//, //dukkham//, and //anatta// at all times.
//Aniccam// means transient. //Dukkham// -- if we cling to the
things that are transient we must suffer, because they are not us or
ours (//anatta//). But we don't see this, we always see them as
being our self and belonging to us.
This means that you don't see the truth of convention. You should
understand conventions. For example, all of us sitting here have
names. Are our names born with us or are they assigned to us
afterwards? Do you understand? This is convention. Is convention
useful? Of course it's useful. For example, suppose there are four
men, A, B, C, and D. They all must have their individual names for
convenience in communicating and working together. If we wanted to
speak to Mr. A we could call Mr. A and he would come, not the
others. This is the convenience of convention. But when we look
deeply into the matter we will see that really there isn't anybody
there. We will see transcendence. There is only earth, water, wind
and fire, the four elements. This is all there is to this body of
But we don't see it in this way because of the clinging power of
//Attavadupadana//. [*] If we were to look clearly we would see that
there isn't really much to what we call a person. The solid part is
the earth element, the fluid part is the water element, the part
which provides heat is called the fire element. When we break things
down we see that there is only earth, water, wind and fire. Where is
the person to be found? There isn't one.
* [One of the Four Bases of Clinging: //Kamupadana//, clinging to
sense objects; //silabbatupadana//: clinging to rites and rituals;
//ditthupadana//: clinging to views, and //attavadupadana//,
clinging to the idea of self.]
That's why the Buddha taught that there is no higher practice
than to see that "this is not my self and does not belong to me"
They are simply conventions. If we understand everything clearly in
this way we will be at peace. If we realize in the present moment
the truth of impermanence, that things are not our self or belonging
to us, then when they disintegrate we are at peace with them,
because they don't belong to anybody anyway. They are merely the
elements of earth, water, wind and fire.
It's difficult for people to see this, but even so it's not
beyond our ability. If we can see this we will find contentment, we
will not have so much anger, greed or delusion. There will always be
Dhamma in our hearts. There will be no need for jealousy and spite,
because everybody is simply earth, water, wind and fire. There's
nothing more to them than this. When we accept this truth we will
see the truth of the Buddha's teaching.
If we could see the truth of the Buddha's teaching we wouldn't
have to use up so many teachers! It wouldn't be necessary to listen
to teachings everyday. When we understand then we simply do what's
required of us. But what makes people so difficult to teach is that
they don't accept the teaching and argue with the teachers and the
teaching. In front of the teacher they behave a little better, but
behind his back they become thieves! People are really difficult to
teach. The people in Thailand are like this, that's why they have to
have so many teachers.
Be careful, if you're not careful you won't see the Dhamma. You
must be circumspect, taking the teaching and considering it well. Is
this flower pretty?...Do you see the ugliness within this
flower?...For how many days will it be pretty?...What will it be
like from now on?...Why does it change so?...In three or four days
you have to take it and throw it away, right? It loses all its
beauty. People are attached to beauty, attached to goodness. If
anything is good they just fall for it completely. The Buddha tells
us to look at pretty things as just pretty, we shouldn't become
attached to them. If there is a pleasant feeling we shouldn't fall
for it. Goodness is not a sure thing, beauty is not a sure thing.
Nothing is certain. There is nothing in this world that is a
certainty. This is the truth. The things that aren't true are the
things that change, such as beauty. The only truth it has is in its
constant changing. If we believe that things are beautiful, when
their beauty fades our mind loses its beauty too. When things are no
longer good our mind loses its goodness too. When they are destroyed
or damaged we suffer because we have clung to them as being our own.
The Buddha tells us to see that these things are simply constructs
of nature. Beauty appears and in not many days it fades. To see this
is to have wisdom.
Therefore we should see impermanence. If we think something is
pretty we should tell ourselves it isn't, if we think something is
ugly we should tell ourselves it isn't. Try to see things in this
way, constantly reflect in this way. We will see the truth within
untrue things, see the certainty within the things that are
Today I have been explaining the way to understand suffering,
what causes suffering, the cessation of suffering and the way
leading to the cessation of suffering. When you know suffering you
should throw it out. Knowing the cause of suffering you should throw
it out. Practice to see the cessation of suffering. See //aniccam,
dukkham and anatta// and suffering will cease.
When suffering ceases where do we go? What are we practicing for?
We are practicing to relinquish, not in order to gain anything.
There was a woman this afternoon who told me that she is suffering.
I asked her what she wants to be, and she said she wants to be
enlightened. I said, "As long as you want to be enlightened you will
never become enlightened. Don't want anything."
When we know the truth of suffering we throw out suffering. When
we know the cause of suffering then we don't create those causes,
but instead practice to bring suffering to its cessation. The
practice leading to the cessation of suffering is to see that "this
is not a self", "this is not me or them". Seeing in this way enables
suffering to cease. It's like reaching our destination and stopping.
That's cessation. That's getting close to //nibbana//. To put it
another way, going forward is suffering, retreating is suffering and
stopping is suffering. Not going forward, not retreating and not
stopping...is anything left? Body and mind cease here. This is the
cessation of suffering. Hard to understand, isn't it? If we
diligently and consistently study this teaching we will transcend
things and reach understanding, there will be cessation. This is the
ultimate teaching of the Buddha, it's the finishing point. The
Buddha's teaching finishes at the point of total relinquishment.
Today I offer this teaching to you all and to the Venerable
Master also. If there is anything wrong in it I ask your
forgiveness. But don't be in a hurry to judge whether it is right or
wrong, just listen to it first. If I were to give you all a fruit
and tell you it's delicious, you should take note of my words, but
don't believe me offhand, because you haven't tasted it yet. The
teaching I give you today is the same. If you want to know whether
the "fruit" is sweet or sour you have to slice a piece off and taste
it. Then you will know its sweetness or sourness. Then you could
believe me, because then you'd have seen for yourself. So please
don't throw this "fruit" away, keep it and taste it, know its taste
The Buddha didn't have a teacher, you know. An ascetic once asked
him who his teacher was, and the Buddha answered that he didn't have
one. [*] The ascetic just walked off shaking his head. The Buddha
was being too honest. He was speaking to one who couldn't know or
accept the truth. That's why I tell you not to believe me. The
Buddha said that to simply believe others is foolish, because there
is no clear knowing within. That's why the Buddha said "I have no
teacher." This is the truth. But you should look at this is the
right way. If you misunderstand it you won't respect your teacher.
Don't go saying "I have no teacher". You must rely on your teacher
to tell you what is right and wrong, and then you must practice
* [Soon after his enlightenment, the Buddha was walking on his way
to Benares and was approached by a wandering ascetic, who said,
"Your features are clear, friend, your bearing serene ... who is
your teacher?" The Buddha answered that there was no-one in this
world who could claim to be his teacher, because he was completely
self-enlightened. The Brahmin could not understand his answer, and
walked off, muttering, "Well, good for you, friend, good for you."]
Today is a fortunate day for all of us. I have had a chance to
meet with all of you and the venerable teacher. You wouldn't think
that we could meet like this because we live so far apart. I think
there must be some special reason that we have been able to meet in
this way. The Buddha taught that everything that arises must have a
cause. Don't forget this. There must be some cause. Perhaps in a
previous existence we were brothers and sisters in the same family.
It's possible. Another teacher didn't come, but I did. Why is that?
Perhaps we are creating the causes in the present moment itself.
This is also possible.
I leave you all with this teaching. May you be diligent and
arduous in the practice. There is nothing better than the practice
of Dhamma, Dhamma is the supporter of the whole world. People are
confused these days because they do not know the Dhamma. If we have
the Dhamma with us we will be content. I am happy to have had this
opportunity to help you and the venerable teacher in developing the
practice of Dhamma. I leave you with my heartfelt good wishes.
Tomorrow I will be leaving, I'm not sure where for. This is only
natural. When there is coming there must be going, when there is
going there must be coming. This is how the world is. We shouldn't
be overjoyed or upset by the changes in the world. There is
happiness and then there is suffering; there is suffering and then
there is happiness; there is gain and then there is loss; there is
loss and then there is gain. This is the way things are.
In the Buddha's time there were disciples of the Buddha who
didn't like him, because the Buddha exhorted them to be diligent, to
be heedful. those who were lazy were afraid of the Buddha and
resented him. When he died, one group of disciples cried and were
distressed that they would no longer have the Buddha to guide them.
These ones were still not clever. Another group of disciples were
pleased and relieved that they would no longer have the Buddha on
their backs telling them what to do. A third group of disciples were
equanimous. They reflected that what arises passes away as a natural
consequence. There were these three groups. Which group do you
identify with? Do you want to be one of the pleased ones or what?
The group of disciples who cried when the Buddha passed away had not
yet realized the Dhamma. The second group were those who resented
the Buddha. He was always forbidding them from doing the things they
wanted to do. They lived in fear of the Buddha's scorn and
reprimands, so when he passed away they were relieved.
These days things aren't much different. It's possible that the
teacher here has some followers who are resentful towards him. They
might not show it outwardly but it's there in the mind. It's normal
for people who still have defilements to feel this way. Even the
Buddha had people hating him. I myself have followers who resent me
also. I tell them to give up evil actions but they cherish their
evil actions. So they hate me. There are plenty like this. May all
of you who are intelligent make yourselves firm in the practice of
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E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank