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The Fourth Truth: There is a path that leads us away from suffering

I used to be confused about why the third truth came before the fourth. And I realize now that if I could not accept or believe that there was an end to suffering, I would not have trudged the path. After all, I would not have known what would be at the end of the path—or if there would even be an end. If somebody had described to me the path that would lead me away from suffering before telling me that there is an end in sight for suffering, I would have most probably had an attack of horrified anxiety. And convinced myself that the life I was living was much more manageable than stepping on to the path that would supposedly lead me away from suffering!

The path that continues to lead me away from suffering is the threefold path of ethics, meditation and wisdom.

Threefold Path Eightfold path
Ethics/Virtue Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Mind Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration
Wisdom Right View
Right Intention

Ethics/Virtue

I cannot say how contented I have become, how much simplicity there is in my life, and how much stillness, too, since I have become more ethical. The five Buddhist precepts opened a door in my heart. They gave me tools to begin living my life differently. I remember becoming a mitra (a friend of the spiritual community) in my tradition. During my ceremony, I took on the five spiritual precepts. I knew as I recited them that they had given me a way to purify my heart. I took them on seriously, and recited the positive and negative forms daily for almost 5 years. Since my ordination in 2005 I have recited ten precepts daily. They have been the principals that have trained me to live my life with mindfulness. They are some of the tenets of right speech, right action and right livelihood: These are the five training principals that are universal to all lay Buddhist traditions. Many monastic communities can have as much as a 100 or more.

  1. I undertake to abstain from harming life. With deeds of loving kindness I purify my body.
  2. I undertake to abstain from taking the not given. With open handed generosity I purify my body.
  3. I undertake to abstain from sexual misconduct. With stillness, simplicity and contentment I purify my body.
  4. I undertake to abstain from false speech. With truthful communication I purify my speech.
  5. I undertake to abstain from taking intoxicants. With mindfulness clear and radiant I purify my mind.

(The positive and negative precepts appear as cited by Urgyen Sangharakshita.)

Mind

After a week of learning to meditate, I walked out onto the street and thought the whole world was changing. I had “beginner’s mind.” I paused and chuckled to myself as I realized it was I who was changing and that there was no going back. I had a glimpse of seeing things as they actually were. Meditation caused a revolution in my physical, spiritual and emotional self. I began to walk, think and pray differently. The practice of metta, cultivating loving kindness for (a) myself, (b) a friend, (c) someone I do not know, and (d) an enemy, continues to revolutionize my life. People I thought I would never speak to have come back into my life, because this meditation allowed me to forgive my enemies in the fourth stage (d). The fourth stage cultivated compassion in my heart for my enemies. As the hatred melted away, my self-hatred also melted away, and I am a much happier person. However, after my beginner’s mind began to fizzle, the real work began. I had to apply right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration to develop my meditation practice. I committed myself to the path of transformation. I began TO study, took up a daily meditation practice and went on retreats. In 2005 I effectively went for refuge, hence placing the three jewels at the centre of my life. The ideal of enlightenment (buddha), the teachings of the buddha (dharma) and spiritual community at the centre of my life (sangha.) I had a lay person ordination into the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. I was named Vimalasara (she who’;s essence is stainless and pure), took on the Bhodisattva vow, the ten precepts, and a visualization practice. My mind had most definitely changed; no longer were my decisions based solely on my sexuality, skin colour or gender. My decisions more and more are based on my going for refuge to the three jewels.

Wisdom

This part of the path, right view and right intention, brings me back to the fourth truth. I continue to develop my understanding of these truths. The Buddha says everything we experience has three characteristics, which are known as the three marks of conditioned existence. He says all life is (a) unsatisfactory, (b) impermanent, (c) unsubstantial, and nothing is fixed at all. These three marks have impacted my identity. I am not so attached to my female self, black self, or queer self. I used to experience everything through these filters. Hence I was often not open to others who were not female, black or queer. I was often judgmental and reactive. Although they had been part of my raft to help me along my recovery, if I was to continue to grow I had to let go of my fixed identities. They were at the centre of my life, and one could say I went to refuge them to them.

Letting go of identities meant I had to forgive those people who discriminated against me. Let go of those people who tried to label me with black stereotypes such as ‘intimidating, loud, aggressive, chip on my shoulder, athletic etc.’ I continue to learn to have compassion for those people who continue to discriminate against me. Without forgiveness, there is no room for wisdom. We must let go of fixed identities, thoughts and grudges. Integrate self and let go of self. Wisdom stops me from settling for the life I live now, which is much better than what it was 15 years ago. Despite how far I have come, I am committed to further understanding the truth. Training my mind, opening up to the possibility of real insight, letting go of self, practicing forgiveness and cultivating transformation, for me is a life time service.

Since stepping onto the path, the three jewels have become what is at the centre of my life. The majority of my decisions are based on going for refuge to the Buddha, the dharma, the sangha.

The Path

So I am on a path that leads me away from suffering. But sometimes I fall off, I stumble, and sometimes I choose not to walk it. But I always get back on. Fear can eat away at my faith and keep me off the path. But my faith can also eat away at my fear, and keep me on the path. There is no vacation from the spiritual life—I must strive on. If I reflect on the day I first walked into a Buddhist centre 23 years ago I know there is no alternative to the path. The Buddha made it simple with the eightfold path: live by these principals and we will gain insight and, perhaps even enlightenment.

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About Vimalasara

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Dr Valerie Mason-John is a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order. She is currently co-writing Eight Step Recovery - Using the Buddha's Teachings to Overcome Addiction. She teaches a weekly meditation class - Meditation for Addiction. She is the author of seven books, including, Detox Your Heart, a book on working with anger, fear and hatred. She is available for talks, seminars, workshops and retreats. Read more articles by .

Comments

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Comment from Cindie
Time: July 2, 2012, 11:43 am

Thank you for sharing your wisdom.Your words helped me today.

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Comment from Cheri
Time: July 2, 2012, 11:49 am

I would like to attend the meditation for Addicts. How can I find one close to me in south Florida? I have looked for so long and tried on my own but I need a teacher. One who will be patient to help me with this transition.

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Comment from Cheri
Time: July 2, 2012, 11:50 am

I need a teacher like you! How can I find a class? I have been looking for a refuge and teacher for over 2 years now but nothing has clicked yet.

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Comment from Thor
Time: July 3, 2012, 10:34 am

Than you for sharing this series on the Four Noble Truths. Wonderfully written.

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Comment from Vimalasara
Time: July 3, 2012, 3:16 pm

Hi Cheri – you could perhaps contact your local buddhist group and see if they would do a meditation group for people in recovery. You may be surprised – there may be a buddhist practitioner who is in recovery – and just needs that prompt. Meanwhile – I am co-writing a book with Dr Paramabandhu Groves – exploring recovery from addiction – eight steps to reovery – a buddhist approach to recovery –
be well.
vimalasara
certified life coach/buddhist practitioner

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Comment from Gary
Time: July 6, 2012, 8:38 am

Thank you for sharing your very personal experiences with how dharma has transformed your life. You have given me many useful gems to help me on my path. At the moment I am especially appreciating your very last line. That following the principals leads to insight and perhaps enlightenment. Very encouraging. To folllow the path for insight alone is worth the effort. Sometimes for me enlightenment seems a daunting task, and now when it does I can gain confidence to continue on by remembering all the insight I have gained through my practice.

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Comment from Viradhamma
Time: July 19, 2012, 11:43 pm

Thank you for sharing this thoughtful piece.

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