Decisions, choice, and the 4 Noble Truths

Just go straight to happiness


The 4 Noble Truths were introduced by the Buddha at what is considered to be the first sermon he ever gave after his enlightenment. What made the 4 Noble Truths so fundamentally important that he would discuss them at his first sermon?

I will explain this importance now, by relating the 4 Noble Truths to our experiences as human beings, and the everyday occurrences of our lives.

Put aside your current notions for a moment and try on a new perspective.

Imagine that at our core, we all desire to be happy, and conversely, we all desire to avoid suffering.  Sounds good, right?  It sounds good, because you can feel that this is true.

We can take this idea a small step further.  We could state that every decision we make in life is done so to gain more happiness, and to avoid suffering.

Let me state that again:
“Every decision we make is made to bring us closer to what we BELIEVE will make us happier.”

The important point to note here, however, is that most of us in the group of humanity do not know what will bring us happiness.  We believe we know, and we base our decisions on this belief, which, as will be discussed, is fundamentally flawed.  It is at this point that we make decisions that bring us unhappiness.Our fundamentally flawed awareness affects our decision-making.

And this brings us to the 4 Noble truths.  I will state the more modern composition here, as a basis of discussion.

1.    There is suffering.
2.    There is a cause to the suffering.
3.    There is an end to the suffering.
4.    There is a path that leads out of the suffering.

Simple really.  If you look at it in their most basic forms, these are nothing but two distinct cause and effect scenarios, one bringing about suffering, and one bringing about happiness.

In the first scenario:
1.    There is suffering.
2.     This is a cause to the suffering.

This first cause and effect scenario could be envisioned in a circular fashion.  A vicious circle, so to speak. The causes of suffering lead to suffering, and this suffering leads to more causes, which lead to more suffering, and on and on and on.

In the second scenario:
1.    There is an end to the suffering.
2.    There is a cause to end the suffering, and that is the path that leads out of the suffering.

This second cause and effect scenario could be envisioned as an ever-growing spiral.  By recognizing that there can be an end to suffering, and moving in a path that moves away from suffering, the circle of suffering breaks, and new possibilities open up to us, moving us ever outwards with a positive, generative force.

In ancient India, the concept of the 4 Noble Truths was aligned nicely to the four stages of curing an illness. This analogy still applies today:
1.    There is a sickness
2.    There is a cause to the sickness.
3.    There is a cure to the sickness available.
4.    The sickness is relieved by taking the cure.

We could also align the 4 Noble Truths with any myriad of day-to-day sufferings.
In my mind, I have aligned it with a problem I was having with my surf technique.

No matter what I did, I could not reliably take the drop on larger waves. I could not figure it out.  It was not my positioning in the lineup, or on the board.  I was paddling hard, and giving it all I could.  But no matter what, I was only getting about 25% of the drops, and the rest of the time I would eat it sideways off of the board.  This was frustrating me so much, and as soon as I started feeling the frustration, it seemed that even that 25% success rate dropped to an all time low of… no waves whatsoever.  I just circled around and around in this space of catching little to no waves.

One day, I showed my friend D. what I was doing, and to my relief, she saw it immediately.  ”Your hands are too far apart on the board.  You need to place them closer to the centre of your chest.  And then breathe.”  I didn’t believe that it could be so simple.  Hands, just a couple inches closer, and taking a breath before the drop?


I lined up for the wave, and paddled as I usually do.  As I felt the board get lifted ahead, I very consciously breathed deep, and pushed down as she had recommended, to my intense, over joyous sense of relief as I dropped down and caught a right for a seemingly endless time.  I spent the rest of the day, and the day after, catching way more waves than I ever had in any single session of the past, and recognized the importance of mindful learning.

In summary, the 4 Noble Truths occurred to me as this:
1.    The was bad technique.
2.    There was a cause to the bad technique, which was poor hand placement.
3.    There was a way to better technique, which consisted of placing my hands closer together, and breathing before popping up.
4.    I applied the recommendations, and my technique immediately improved, along with it, my surfing skills.

Learn to see what really causes your strife, maybe with the help of friends, family, or even a professional teacher!  Then search out your true salvation with vigilance. There definitely is a cure for what ails you, out there, or inside yourself, as the case may be.

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