Updated: Oct 18, 2019
The Buddha said, "Now as in the past, I teach one thing: suffering and the end of suffering." As we travel the dharma path, it is important to keep this in mind. I know sometimes I expect practice to yield answers to metaphysical questions such as the meaning of life, or why are we here. Yet, that isn't the real purpose of practice, it is simply (or not so simple, really) to bring an end to suffering.
How do we do this? By practicing with the Four Noble Truths. Or as Stephen Batchelor refers to them, The Four Facts of Life. Each of the truths is a statement and includes a task to be performed.
The First Nobel Truth is that there is suffering or stress in life; and it goes on to describe some of the kinds of suffering we may encounter - birth, sickness, old age, death, loss of loved ones, being around things and people that we don't like, and simply having a body and mind that we cling to as our self. The task is to understand or comprehend when suffering is actually occurring and see into the underlying cause.
The Second Noble Truth is about the underlying cause of suffering - the craving that leads to further becoming; such as, craving for sense pleasure, craving for being or becoming, and the craving for not being. The task here is to abandon or let go of the craving.
The Third Noble Truth is that suffering has an end or cessation. This follows naturally on the abandonment of craving. When craving is abandoned, one realizes the end of suffering. The task here is to realize or make real, the end of suffering. Another way of putting it is that when we stop becoming, suffering ceases. This is what is meant by nibbana (nirvana).
The Fourth Noble Truth is the path leading to the end of suffering, the Noble Eightfold Path: right understanding or right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. The task here is to develop the path.
There are three stages for each of these tasks: pariyatti, patipatti, and pativedha. These can be translated as study or learning, that is, hearing or reading the teachings; practice, i.e., putting the teaching into practice; and realization, gaining a deep, direct understanding of the noble truth.
One might think that this all happens in a sequential fashion; however, in my own practice I have found that it is more like doing it all at once. I keep going back to where I am experiencing suffering and going through the whole process again. Perhaps as long as we are alive, there are only moments of freedom from suffering and then some new suffering arises. After all, life is constantly in flux, there are always new experiences and with them new possibilities of suffering or stress. Yet, I have also found that with continued practice, there is an underlying equanimity that allows all things to come and go without reacting to them as strongly as in the past.
I wish all of you freedom from suffering in this lifetime.