Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you remember that it is not only the day to give joy and support to others but also to be open to it for yourselves!
We all love a recipe. Tell me what to do and tell me that will fix what ails me and… I’ll rebel. Let’s be honest. As much as we want to know exactly how to get out of the mess we got ourselves into, we really don’t want to be told how to do it. Not in detail anyway. Give me the broad brush strokes and let me fill in the details. I’m the pick-and-choose type. I like this way out of suffering and not that. This type of meditation and not that. Oh and retreats? LOVE the ones with good food; the austere stuff, nah – gotta wash my hair that week. From what I’ve read and studied, the Fourth Noble Truth is often presented as a promising recipe and maybe that’s why I push back. But is it?
The First Noble Truth pointed out what we would like to deny: we are unskillful in the way we relate to ourselves and the world. The Second Noble Truth peeled away the veil of denial that we are responsible for our mishaps and mis-steps. The Third Noble Truth gave us a choice: transform those icky perceptions and actions or continue to dance to the same deathly soundtrack. Fourth Noble Truth states that there is a way to approach our perceptions and actions that lead to ill-being so we can be more skillful.
The Fourth Noble Truth can be a challenge to the prevaricating, preferential, finicky mind. At its essence it is uncompromising. This is the Path. Not that, that, or
that. At its heart it is a manual of moral views and ethical behaviour. The problem is that sometimes, it comes across in a teaching as a recipe for quick fixes. In reality, when we feel it in action, it is a complex network of outward-reaching branches. In fact, the Four Noble Truths don’t really work in lock step as they might appear. They are a network of interacting processes that both feed and draw nutrients from each other. (Thich Nhat Hanh in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings presents the Four Noble Truths and Eight Fold Path as concentric and inter-linking circles.)
I think we run the risk of misunderstanding the Fourth Noble Truth when we take it as a hierarchical system for practice. When we approach it as an Ecology of Being along with the First, Second, and Third, it becomes a better approximation of life as we live it. I think I just articulated the first turning of the Fourth Noble Truth: Recognition of what it is. I hope.
Over the next few days and even weeks, I’d like to play in this net and hopefully not get too entangled!
Thank you for practising,