In the past, I had meditated for relaxation and stress reduction when I was suffering from health issues, but I had not really pursued a spiritual practice and had no idea what spirit really meant. I had studied Buddhism a little. It appeared to offer tools for calming the mind down, like meditation. I did remember, similar to Christianity, it talked about suffering, but it seemed like the philosophy had applicable practices for the here and now to get rid of suffering. Less like a religion and more a technique of working with the mind. Maybe the Buddha could help me?
Any type of formal study of Buddhism will usually begin with the four noble truths which is the main part of the Buddha’s first sermon after he achieved enlightenment, and also the foundation of the practice.
The first noble truth is often translated as “Life is suffering.” I read this and wanted to throw my book across the room. Ok! Yes I get it. I am suffering right now. Please tell me something I don’t know, but I was desperate enough that I stopped myself from continuing this automatic reaction. I thought about the fact that this is a really old philosophy and a lot of people I respect have said that Buddhism has changed their lives.
The Pali word dukkha which is translated as suffering in English, also refers to anything that is temporary or conditional. Even something precious and enjoyable is dukkha, because it will end. This is the nature of life and also the nature of death. Now I was even more depressed. There was no hope nor a way out of this labyrinth of suffering?
The Buddha taught that this suffering in life has to do with our perception of who we think we are rather than who we really are. Before we can understand life and death we must understand the self. I realized right away because of my own study of psychology in college that the psychology of Buddhism has a different view from the west. In the west we conceive of a self as essential, important, real, and fixed. Yet Buddhism is proposing a self that is a fiction, a delusion. What the hell does this mean I wonder?