A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 9 January 2014


Buddha (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are these: (1) Suffering ('dukkha') exists. (2) Suffering arises from attachment to desire. (3) Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases. (4) Self-awakening and freedom from suffering ('nirvana') are possible by practising the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path.

It's abundantly clear that there's no end to the stress, anxiety and suffering we all experience from birth till death. Yes, life can be full of joy, pleasure and delight, but it can also be racked with hurt, illness and disappointment. Life is constantly changing; it's worryingly impermanent, random, often without any apparent stability and order; there seems to be no inner substance to things, no resolution to the painful difficulties which perpetually confront us. Buddhism looks dispassionately at this truth about suffering, accepts it, but is not pessimistic about it. Buddhism offers a practical answer.

The answer revolves around our understanding and analysis of our desires and cravings. Some cravings are necessary, natural, basic to our very existence, such as our cravings for food, drink and warmth. Without food, drink and some degree of warmth engendered by clothing and shelter we would soon die. I'll also include the sex drive in these basic cravings — without sex we would not individually die, but we would eventually die out as a species.

However, these basic life-or-death cravings and many other secondary cravings (e.g. for power, prestige, fame, influence, possessions, material goods, spiritual fulfilment, love, companionship, money, happiness, a new job — the list is endless) can easily get out of control and become a tyranny. For instance, an excessive craving for food (and it's very easy to become addicted to wanting more and more sugar, salt or fat) can lead to ill-health and obesity; an excessive craving for drink can lead to alcoholism; an excessive craving for warmth and comfort can lead to over-indulgent, over-protected, over-upholstered, artificial and unfulfilled lives (all those cars and over-heated, ill-ventilated homes in which we insulate ourselves from the real world, all those meaningless toys and gadgets!); and an excessive craving for sex can lead to sex addiction. My own experience is that over-indulgence in any sort of craving leads to unhappiness and an unpleasant feeling of lack of control.

Buddhism teaches us to recognise that our desires and cravings are the cause of our unhappiness. When we understand this (the recognition may come in a sudden flash like many Buddhist moments of realisation), and are aware that we can exert some influence over them, we feel free, liberated, relieved, more confident, more in control. We take charge of ourselves, rather than it being our desires and cravings which always have the upper hand.    


Rubye Jack said...

I know this. But, it seems I too often forget, to the point that I'm more forgetful than mindful. Ah well, thank you for the reminder. It was very much needed this morning.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, I often forget too, Rubye. Whenever I'm reminded, I feel good. This blog was intended as a reminder. It often reinforces when you write it down.

George said...

For at least three reasons, Buddhism has helped me personally more than any other spiritual tradition. First, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path are straightforward and easy to understand, unlike the parables through which Jesus conducted his teaching. Second, the Four Noble Truths and the eightfold pathway always strike me as undeniably true — hitting the mark at a very visceral, intuitive level. Finally, rather than emphasizing some kind of belief system, Buddhism focuses on practice and the control of one's mind. What we do and think is more important that any kind of structured belief system. It's also noteworthy that Buddhism is not exclusionary in nature, in contrast with some sects of our western religions.

A very nice post, Robert, one that helps us all regain our grounding as we take these initial steps into the new year.

Ruth said...

Yes. Sometimes "desires" and "cravings" can be disguised as expectations, a belief that certain things are a matter of course. I have suffered too often from not getting what I expected.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, I agree with these points about Buddhism, George, and feel much the same way. There's also a recognition of the sacred without the need for some exterior god and the paraphernalia of religion although, of course, Buddhism (like Christianity) did take up more and more the physical and ritualised accoutrements of religion. For me it's more a philosophy of life than a religion, and I like its practical nature, and the way it does not abandon reason for faith.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, expectations can be hollow, can't they, Ruth? We can't always get what we want or expect. Life has a way of foiling and subverting our expectations. It's best not to expect too much, then anything that does turn out satisfactorily is a bonus! Otherwise it's disappointment and suffering all the way. We expect the sun to rise tomorrow as a matter of course. But one day it won't.

Friko said...

Letting go - how hard this is in everyday life.

Indulgence is the hardest to kick; life is such misery, how can I treat myself even more harshly.

I know that this is an excuse, a lazy person’s way of disengaging. It’s also a self-perpetuating misery, while the letting go would mean an end to it.

Perhaps 2014 (arbitrary numbers) would see me on your path?

The Solitary Walker said...

I don't think it's simply a matter of 'letting go', Friko — it's more of an intelligent hyper-awareness of our desires and cravings, and of the physical and psychological processes which cause them, which should lead to a balancing of them, and a reduction of their worst excesses. I think — indulgence, yes, but only up to a point. The satisfaction, relief and liberation that comes from a little self-mastery should more than compensate for any 'misery'. (I sound as if I'm good at this. Not so!)

newleafsite said...

First time reader! Just followed a thread to your blog and signed up for email following. Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.

The Solitary Walker said...

Welcome, Newleafsite, and thanks for reading!