” Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress: Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.”
Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11)
The language of the Buddha is a little awkward and is a product of his time, even so, what he is saying makes sense. But it can come across a little archaic. In addtion, the word Dukkha which is being translated here as Stressful does not have a good comparative word in English. It is usually translated as Suffering, as life is suffering. It would be more accurate to translate it as, “there is suffering in the midst of life.” You could put many words into the place of suffering such as “disappointing, dis-ease, dissatisfying, etc. There a long essays just on this point alone. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could share it in everyday language.
As you know, there is plenty of links and websites that can tell you what the First Noble Truth is and that is helpful but at the same time, it is good to see what it means to everyday ordinary people and how it translates in our to daily lives.
Our Sangha focuses on what we call Everyday Buddhism, and this comes from the teachings of our root inspiration in Gyomay and Koyo Kubose Senseis of the Bright Dawn Way of Oneness that many of our members received their lay ministry training. So we want to give you the opportunity to see others engaged with the Four Noble Truths in their everyday lives
Below, you will find personalized explanations from different members of our Online Sangha of what the first noble truth of the Buddha means to them in their own words and how it informs their practice in everyday life.
by Miriam Barth
Life is painful. For me, that’s the First Noble Truth of Buddhism in a nutshell. Despite our best efforts to avoid it, suffering is part of the human condition and we’re not getting through life without experiencing it. Perhaps this seems dark or bleak, but I’ve found it to be liberating.
I’ve had a rough go with pain. Not only do I fiercely try to avoid suffering, but when immersed in it, I make the hurting exponentially worse with the belief that I shouldn’t feel it. I tell myself:
• If I were stronger or more enlightened, I’d see things differently and I wouldn’t hurt.
• If I weren’t such a fuckup, I’d find myself in a better place and I wouldn’t hurt.
• If I were more worthy, adequate, valuable, rich, sexy, popular…things would be as they should be, and I wouldn’t hurt.
So I push and push to be better but the suffering doesn’t stop. I compound my suffering by the shame and guilt that I’m not experiencing what I should be, or the fear that the suffering won’t stop, or the sorrow and desperation that life is passing me by… To live is to suffer. Through allowing this truth to pierce my core, I can let go of the violent conviction that I shouldn’t hurt. Because I do hurt and I’ll always hurt. But through accepting that I experience pain, I can stop hating myself for feeling it. And instead of fighting my pain, I’ve been able to sit with it, listen to it, learn from it and even laugh with it. The wisdom the First Noble Truth offers me Is to let go of what should and shouldn’t be, and simply experience what is, pain and all. And by doing so, I can exhale and find calmness.
Vaughn Marie Gouff
In our lives, we have struggles, experience anguish, and know pain at many levels and extremes. We live with it and we witness it in others. This makes life sound like a huge disappointment but the opposite is also true. We can lessen our suffering by accepting it as a part of our life experience. We can know joy and even bliss, also experienced at many levels and extremes, through our suffering. The Buddha is teaching us to look inward and to
be conscious of our feelings and emotions because they drive our outlook and our response to what we will do with our suffering.
As a young mother, I experienced a difficult divorce and lost my brother and father within a very short time. My life was not the happy picture that I imagined and I felt fear, shame, failure, immense grief, many painful emotions. This suffering was the catalyst for me to become a different person. I found myself making decisions that I had never experienced. More than decisions like, “What’s for dinner?” I defined what we did each day. I bought a house by myself. I bought a car by myself. I was the breadwinner and managed my budget without anyone’s input. My actions were my choice and not what others thought I should do. After getting past the fears and uncertainties, I realized that I would never have known what I could do or what strength I have without this experience. I can say I am grateful for that suffering because I would rather be the person I am now than to have lived the picture perfect life I thought I had.
My life experiences are my ingredients. If you were to remove or delete the times of suffering, then you would also remove my wisdom and lessons learned, my compassion for others, and the resilience I have developed. Through suffering, I know gratitude and love.
Not all suffering brings growth. In some suffering, there is nothing positive. There are no reasons, no answers, no justice. It just hurts and peace seems unattainable. In such times, we weather our storms. I love the quote of, “This too shall pass.” No matter what you are suffering today, how impossible and overwhelming things seem, it is not permanent. Aw yes… impermanence. Another beautiful teaching by the Buddha to explore.
When I saw a meme that said, “Suffering is not holding you, you are holding suffering” –Buddha, it hit me that this has been what I’ve been trying to work through, not just for this difficult divorce of a 30-year marriage but, really for a lifetime. Suffering like blessings and happiness are internal, aren’t they?
A dear friend recently offered a beautiful compliment. Maybe not quite as beautiful a compliment as the one that came from a contractor who saw my tools lying around on a job. He said, “You’ve got the best tools!” That made my day. But, my friend who I was referring to at the beginning of this article complimented, “You seem to have it all. You have your shit together in all areas.” It was difficult for me to hear and accept that compliment and realized what he was seeing was not necessarily that I have my shit together, no one really does, especially I. What he saw that compelled the compliment was merely that I acknowledge I have shit. That’s a tool worth a compliment. And, rather than run away from or deflect it and pretend it isn’t there or, pretend it will get worked out in some mystical time and place in “the next life,” I try and face it and work through to resolve it. I think I would call that seeking truth. And frankly, I think the god that supposedly rules that “next life” would appreciate this more than avoidance. It is not always easy and sometimes certain uglies take longer to process than others. It’s painful, sometimes most excruciating painful, to release suffering …until it’s released. Seems after it’s released I find myself realizing it was tough but not as tough as I thought it would be. The lamenting and belaboring that precedes the letting go, is a decillion times worse than actually letting go! I then ask, ‘Why hadn’t I done that years ago?’ The benefits far exceed the suffering! The payoff of a pool of joy, liberation, radiance, positive energy is now jubilantly available to give out to my deepest, dearest and ultimate joys, who are living, breathing, interactive, and sweetly connective.
…Those, I’ll forever keep close and never release.