Shakyamuni's Teachings

“Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with the assuagement of pain. One has to keep this in mind if one wishes to understand spiritual movements and their development.”
      — Albert Einstein

Ending Suffering

Is it possible to disengage from reactivity? The third noble truth is Shakyamuni’s powerful answer, yes. He saw that the sense of self, of “I,” is the basis of emotional reaction, and that “I” as a real entity doesn’t exist. In other words, when the conditioning that underlies the sense of separation, the false duality of subject and object, is dismantled, suffering ceases.

“It doesn’t exist: even buddhas do not see it.
It doesn’t not exist: it is the source of all experience.
This isn’t a contradiction: this is the middle way!
May I know the pure being of mind, free from any definition.”

      — Rangjung Dorje

We cannot and do not end pain, but we can and do end suffering. We end suffering by ceasing to identify with what we are not: a pattern that interprets experience as separate and other and then strives to justify its own imagined existence.

In the account of Buddha’s awakening, Mara, the demon of obsession, and his army represent patterns and conditioning. Buddha Shakyamuni rested in attention, undistracted and undisturbed by the ploys and attacks of Mara. His attention penetrated Mara and his army, so that he saw them and experienced them for what they are: movements in mind. They fell apart and ceased to function. The fetters of conditioning fell away. All that remained was original mind, pristine awareness. When Mara, the sense of “I,” demanded an external authority for pristine awareness and direct experience, Buddha knew none was necessary, so he simply touched the earth, saying, in effect, “Here’s your authority. That’s it.”

Buddha Shakyamuni could say unequivocally that there is an end to suffering because he developed such a high level of attention, diamond-like attention, that he could rest in the mystery of being, the experience of not existing as a separate entity, with no fear and in complete clarity. At that level of attention, the experience of not existing as a separate entity is known for what it is and ceases to be a basis for fear and emotional reactivity. The key effort in the third noble truth is to come to this understanding ourselves. Suffering ends when we have sufficient ability in attention to be present in all experience — even the experience of not being a separate entity.

The Path

In the fourth noble truth, we are introduced to the path, the way of life, that leads to freedom from suffering and the reactive patterns that generate it.

Reactive patterns have been in place for a long time. Much of life is the product of their operation. To dismantle these patterns we must take apart our lives. Attention works to dismantle patterns the way the energy of the sun melts ice. The directed energy of attention dissolves the structure of patterns, releasing the energy locked in them. We experience the freed energy as awareness and presence.

To cultivate and apply attention, we travel the eightfold path: right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right attention, right view, and right cognition.

In the context of the eightfold path, “right” does not mean right as opposed to wrong. The path is not a prescription for behavior that is deemed “right” by any authority. An action is right, in terms of the eightfold path, when the action comes from attention and presence rather than from reaction.

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