Lesson 4

The Four Noble Truths (4NT)

Formulated in a very compact way, the 4NT are the following.

1. There is suffering.
2. This suffering has a cause: craving.
3. This cause can be eliminated: cessation craving.
4. There is the eight-fold path to do this.

Providing some more detail the 4NT state the following.

1. There is suffering. Not just avoidable suffering, but existential
suffering based on ignorance. This suffering seems unavoidable,
but it is not, and moreover creates via greed and hatred a
massive amount of avoidable suffering.
2. This existential suffering has a cause: craving based on
(the) wrong view (that our ego is the boss, has ultimate control).
3. This cause can be eliminated, by obtaining the right view.
4. There is a systematic way to perform this elimination:
the eightfold path. It consists of the
right conduct, the right meditation, and the right wisdom,
in short: discipline---concentration---insight,
already encountered before.

Now we give even more detail.

1. There is suffering. Sometimes this is even rendered as
"All life is suffering". When meditators are consequently shocked
by this 'ultimate negative view', the teacher may give the
first translation (in bold). But one also can give a
slightly different meaning to the word 'suffering',
namely as 'conditioned'. Moreover, this conditioning
is felt as suffering, since we want to be in control
(the second truth). Then the third truth does not come as
'we can get control', but as 'we can do with less control',
which will come as a huge relief.

The following prayer, often attributed to San Franciscus,
but written by Thomas More (when waiting for his execution 
ordered by king Henry the VIII): 

"O Lord, give me the force to change what can be changed, 
the patience to endure what cannot be changed, 
and the wisdom to know the difference between these two."

For the first part of the prayer it is best to resort to
science and technology, and to develop these further. But
it is good to remember that there are things that are not cheap, not
legal, not ethical, not ecological, and finally simply not possible.
We would have liked to be all powerful, and able to change
everything. The first four items of this list (not cheap, legal,
ethical, ecological) make that if we nevertheless do make a change,
others will suffer. But because of the last item (not possible) we
have to learn to be patient. A dictator comes far: he just prints
money, changes laws to his comfort, does not have a conscience, and
does not care about the environment. Still, a dictator will fail
to be the ultimate boss: the laws of nature cannot be changed.
[For examples of a dictator one may think of several ones from past
or present, but also of society as a whole.]
It is meditation that can fulfil the second and third part of the
above prayer. That is highly needed for individuals and society.

2, 3. This suffering has a cause, which can be eliminated.
Is it possible to overcome even the ultimate existential suffering
caused by death and other causes? It is: by obtaining a radically
different view of ourselves. Not considering the ego as a
fixed centre of control, but as a process that unfolds, develops,
and is basically transpersonal. But for good evolutionary reasons
we take ego too seriously. Ego is not a thing, not an entity, but
a process. Homo sapiens is very good at reifying processes, making
them into a thing. In this way we can hunt: seeing a wave of moving
leaves in a forest means: "There is a prey, let us catch it".
In the same way we reify the stream of input, feelings, perceptions,
mind-states, and actions. We conclude: there is a permanent
somebody, 'me', and are conditioned to defend this view.
But this view is only useful in so far it is possible to do defend
ourselves. In many cases we cannot, not only at the moment of death,
but also not at the zillions of moments during the day that we are
conditioned, that our physical and mental homeostasis is being

4. The way to the end of suffering. We better let go of this
wrong view of ego as a permanent entity in control of matters. But
that is easier said than understood, and again easier understood
than done. We need the eightfold path, consisting of three layers.

Ia. Right speech.
Ib. Right action.
Ic. Right profession.
IIa. Right concentration.
IIb. Right effort.
IIc. Right mindfulness.
IIIa. Right intention.
IIIb. Right view.

Layer I is about discipline, ethical conduct. If we meditate well,
but have as profession to be a killer, then we will not get
deconditioned. The same holds for lying and harming ourselves or
others. Lying requires to have two models of the world, the actual
one and the decieving one. This just takes too much energy.
Moreover, it is counterproductive: harming others will have a
negative effect on us. Often in the form of aggression or negativity
by the ones that we harmed, or by the police. But the ultimate
reason is that if we harm out of greed or hatred, we act with the
illusion to be in control. This action reinforces our addiction to
the wrong view that hold us conditioned.

Layer II is about the meditation, that can be called 'concentrated,
active mindfulness'. It is covered in our first three lessons.

Layer III is about the insight. Both at the start and as a result.
We already encountered this: if we use mindfulness to get more
pleasure, then this is biased mindfulness, and it does not work.
We need the right view on the ultimate goal. To see our thoughts,
emotions and ego as an impersonal streaming energy.

Finally there is yet another more detailed level of the 4NT: your practice!