For those of us who’ve experienced heartbreak, rejection, and disappointment, parted with loved ones, lost our health and possessions, come short of fulfilling our dreams, or realized that there is little we can do about aging and death, it’s fairly easy to accept the first of the four noble truths: life is hard.
These four truths aren’t ‘noble’ only because they were expressed with wisdom, eloquence, and deep compassion. They are noble because they matter.
We may act unconcerned, but we want to be happy. We all do. At one point, maybe we thought we knew just how to do it. If only we could get this job, or this car, or this house, or this partner —or have looks, wealth, fame, and influence. But we know how it all ends. The beautiful, the wealthy, the powerful, the famous, the old and the young, the smart and the dumb, the good and the bad, we all suffer.
The second noble truth tells us that suffering is not random: there is a cause of suffering. There is no effect without a cause, and no cause without an effect. When we pay attention, we begin to notice that all our problems boil down to two: we make wrong decisions on the basis of faulty information and disturbing emotions. We lack clarity and peace.
Is there any aspect of our lives that wouldn’t improve with a bit more clarity and a little more peace? Would we make better decisions if we had the presence of mind and the insight to see things as they are, rather than as we wish them to be —or, more often, as we fear that they may be? Would we stand a better chance at happiness if we were less driven by ignorance and craving?
The last two noble truths assure us that we can put a stop to suffering, and that there is a way to the cessation of suffering. We can clear away the fog; we can see clearly. But we must understand what it is that we’ve been doing that has not made us happy, and we need to find a practical strategy to reduce and eventually eliminate suffering.
We can speculate about ‘ultimate’ truths all we want, but unless we can solve the problem of suffering, what good will it do us? We can convince ourselves that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is ours. But until we remove the causes of suffering and put in place the causes of happiness, it will all be in vain.
We need to avoid harming ourselves and others. We need to contribute to our own and others’ wellbeing. And we need to train the mind, so that it will not continue to lead us into suffering. Once we make this determination, the path starts to open up in front of us. There are no secrets. We need only step forward.