In the Four Noble Truths, Buddha began by saying “Life is suffering”.
Before becoming the Buddha, he was a young prince in India named Siddhartha. Just like many of us, Siddhartha felt something was missing in his life. Despite all the riches his father gave him, the young prince still felt a sense that life was incomplete.
One day, Siddhartha left the palace in search of an answer. He began a period of training as an ascetic, but after six years of determined meditation, he still hadn’t found an answer. Then he let go of his strong meditation and practiced “just be”. In the end, in a place called Bodhgaya, he sat under a bodhi tree and meditated. That night, he finally found the answer.
After he became fully enlightened, he said to himself: “I have found a nectar-like dharma that is profound, peaceful, luminous and beyond concepts. But if I tell this to others, no one will understand.”
Like Siddhartha, many of us are searching for the meaning of life. But actually, whatever answer we are looking for is right here with us - the meaning of our life, the nature of ourselves, is perfect, peaceful and profound.
But the problem is, we don’t know it.
We look for the answer through our concepts and dualistic mind. That is the reason we cannot find the answer. That is why we cannot discover that we are already enlightened.
In the West, there is a saying, “Life sucks and then you die.” But actually, knowing that life is suffering is very important - knowing the bad news is the doorway to getting the good news.
Normally, when we are not happy, we will try to ignore, suppress or control the feeling. For example, when we have panic, we will try to suppress or even deny it. However, trying to suppress it is not a smart way to be free from suffering. In fact, it makes it worse - if you try to keep it underground, eventually it will explode.
No matter what kind of suffering, if you begin to bring awareness to the problem and try to face it, this is the beginning of freedom and liberation. It may seem like you are confused, but actually, you already have the solution with you. Why? This is because of the power of knowing, which can lead us to liberation.
Suffering is the translation of the Sanskrit word, dukkha, which more accurately means dissatisfaction. It is a sense of being incomplete, of loneliness, insecurity, and always wanting more.
Often, we see suffering as something bad. Actually, this is grasping. Grasping comes from craving and aversion. Reality is always changing, and whenever reality doesn’t match with our expectations, it will lead to craving and aversion.
When you see suffering, often you are not happy and don’t want to face it. You are looking at it through the lens of aversion, with fear and resistance. Just like a fly caught in a spider’s web, when our mind grasps onto a problem, we try to suppress or manipulate it, then the problem becomes bigger and bigger. In the end, it becomes so big that it fills up our whole world.
Therefore, to know and recognize suffering is the first step to liberation.
(Excerpt from Mingyur Rinpoche’s teachings on 2018-10-13 during the first session of the public talk on Four Noble Truths of the Hong Kong Teaching Tour 2018)