Posted in book review

Book Review: The Four Noble Truths of Love

Full disclosure: I teach in Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project. So please take my opinion with a grain of salt. Back when I started teaching at the Open Heart Project in 2015 I had never heard of Susan Piver. Now after three years of following her I think she’s one of the best Dharma Teachers around. I’d be happy if there were physical OHP centers spread across this country. Some other Buddhist organizations are able to do that and I think that would be great. That being said, The Open Heart Project is a platform for practicing Buddhism over the internet and 20,000 people use it. That is amazing and something to be celebrated.


When I read Susan Piver’s new book The Four Noble Truths of Love, I immediately wanted to write a review.

 

This is a book about applying Buddhist teachings to relationships. We talk a lot in Buddhism about things like suffering, desire, worry, anger, etc. Susan has wisely applied these teachings to human relationships, an area where we could all use a little help.

 Not that I’m assuming everyone has bad relationships. Plenty of us have good relationships, but good can always be better. We can all learn how to listen instead of waiting for our turn to talk. We can all learn how to see our partner as a person instead of a being that exists to serve our needs. We can all do better, and that’s what Susan wrote about here.

There’s always room for improvement.

Her formulation of the Four Noble Truths of Love is as follows:


1. Relationships are uncomfortable

We think at some point our relationship is going to get comfortable, all fights will stop, we’ll just settle in and love each other. But…

2. Thinking they’re supposed to be comfortable is what makes them uncomfortable.

Like a lot of life, our problems come from expecting something different, expecting something that life doesn’t provide.

“Expectation is the root of all heartache” – fake Shakespeare quote.

3. It is absolutely possible to love and be loved unconditionally.

We can have human relationships without bringing our baggage and our clinging and neuroses into the forefront. We CAN just love each other.

4. There is a path that teaches you how and it really works.

This is about meditation. Practices dedicated to cultivating awareness, compassion, and concentration can help us in relationships.

Here’s a part that really resonated with me. Susan describes being aware and attentive toward your partner as good manners: just caring about the other person and wanting to show them that you care. She says good manners are: “A sign that you’re really paying attention to the other person and showing evidence of that in the way you act and speak…. if you are with someone who doesn’t care about you enough to notice you, who doesn’t think about you, it is hard to imagine how far you could go with that person.”

I’ve long thought that attention was very important in a relationship, so I like the way she described it here.

This book is all about how we can use Buddhist teachings in our everyday lives. Susan explores the six perfections, the four immeasurables, and the eightfold path in down to earth and relatable ways with insight developed from her years of study and practice. Sometimes Buddhism seems exotic and strange. But the truth is that it can be practical and useful. In my view Buddhist teachings should be practical and useful. If it’s not practical and useful…why are we doing it?

In this book Susan does a masterful job of bringing these teachings down to earth and making them relatable and easy to understand for anyone.

She closes the book with some guided meditations for individuals and also meditations that couples can do together.

I think even someone who has no experience with meditation or Buddhism could still get a lot out of this book. I recommend it.

The Four Noble Truths of Love

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7/28/18: 11:00AM-11:30AM

Meditation Mob: Kansas City

Nelson-Atkins Museum South Lawn

4525 Oak St, Kansas City, MO 64111

We are going to meet up on the south lawn of the Nelson Museum for some public meditation. I’ll give a very short talk and then a bit of guidance and we will sit together.

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Posted in buddhism

The Fourth Noble Truths: 8 FOLDS

So, what do we do?

The Buddha gave us an outline called “the eightfold path”. This path gives us a practice to overcome suffering. There are these eight things that are conducive to our awakening, to helping us overcome our suffering by seeing reality as it really is. I’m going to go over those eight now.

  1. Right View: This is cultivating an expansive view that isn’t so caught up in our narrow preconceptions, emotional baggage, and I-Me-Mine thinking all the time. This is a view that sees that things are always changing and that nothing is independent of anything else. We are parts of a whole.
  2. Right Intention: This means we are in this for the right reasons. We’re doing this to lessen our suffering. Therefore we take it seriously.
  3. Right Speech: We want to be honest and forthright. Avoid lying. Lies distract us. Also avoid harsh speech and gossip. Use your words to be kind. We can do so much harm with our words.
  4. Right Action: Do good deeds, but also act from a state that’s not so connected to outcomes. Don’t help someone in the hope that they will later help you. Help them just to help them.
  5. Right Livelihood: Earn a living in a way that promotes honesty and harmony.
  6. Right Effort: Cultivate a determination to be engaged in each moment and to abandon delusion. Be diligent.
  7. Right Mindfulness: Keep in mind the real problem, suffering, and also be here now. Observe the mind and become aware of how it works.
  8. Right Meditation: Training the mind to be focused and aware, not just on the meditation cushion, but all the time.

That’s it. The four noble truths is really the first teaching that the Buddha gave and many would argue that it’s the most important.

 


 

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The Third Noble Truth: All Things Must Pass

When I think of the Third Noble Truth, I think of that wonderful George Harrison song, “All Things Must Pass”.

That’s really the message of this truth. All things come and go. And this includes our suffering. Our suffering is impermanent. And if we have a rational understanding of our suffering, then we know this. It’s like that trite self help line “This too shall pass”.

Everything we perceive is always coming and going. Enlightenment is really just seeing this nature of things intuitively, seeing our situation as it is. We think of ourselves as individual beings who came into existence and will some day die. The Buddha described human beings as a stream. We came into being, but so many aspects of ourselves are just a continuation of other things. The whole universe is this way. When did you really begin? With your birth? With your conception? With your parents birth?

So, what do we do?

We manage our craving by not feeding it, letting go of our neurotic patterns so we don’t make all our problems worse and make enemies out of everything all the time. Waking up to our true nature of interdependence yields freedom.

 


 

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The Second Noble Truth: Three Forms of Craving

Suffering arises out of craving, wanting, trying to get things or get away from things all the time. Craving often appears in 3 forms:

  1. Desire: This applies to both physical and mental desires. All the things and stimulation that we want.
  2. Existence: This is the our wish to avoid the fact that we will get old and die.
  3. Release from Pain: This is the idea that we want our pain and discomfort to go away.

Almost all of our struggles in life come from these three things. We’re often unaware that these factors are even at play. Because we’re unaware of what’s going on, we are consistently trying to satisfy ourselves by consuming. We tend to think some combination of money, love, and respect will create contentment for us. And even if we’re unaware of it, this problem keeps coming up because we are so confused.

Our purpose here is to become more and more aware of our desires and how they arise and cause us harm.

 


 

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The First Noble Truth: Three Kinds of Suffering

As long as we’re living in delusion, our lives are full of suffering. If we examine our suffering deeply, we can see that in usually comes in three forms. The are usually called: Pain, Change, and Being.

1) Pain: Pain is an inevitable part of life. This isn’t just physical pain, but emotional pain as well. We might reduce or avoid our pain for a while, but we can’t escape it altogether. Mental suffering is what occurs when we don’t get what we want or we’re forced into something that we don’t want. We can’t turn away from pain, really. We can only deal with it by facing it.

2) Change: Every aspects of our lives is subject to change constantly, especially our thoughts. We wish we could stop the changes we don’t like. We sometimes try hard to make things stay the same. When we’re happy we still know that change is inevitable. We are desperate to deny the reality of change and for this reason we suffer. We try to control everything or make enemies out of everything because we’re so worried about change. Just becoming aware of our relationship to the suffering caused by change, we work on it.

3) Being: This is harder to understand. As long as we see ourselves as individuals we see ourselves as coming to an end, while the world goes on without us. We have big things that we don’t understand about the world and our place in it. This is the root of the suffering of being. We essentially suffer from confusion, not really understanding the world and our place in it.

 


 

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About a Buddha

Sometimes we just come to the Buddha’s story over and over, telling it in different ways.

Gautama was the son of a wealthy king and he lived a sheltered life. It’s said that he didn’t even know about suffering and sickness and death, but that’s almost certainly not true. The story is that his father did everything he possibly could to prevent his son from knowing that life is hard. We should all be so lucky. I think even people today that are born into incredible wealth still do know something about suffering. We all get older, we all get sick, we all die.

So, it’s said that one day Gautama discovered that life is full of suffering. A servant explained the whole thing to him and he just couldn’t stop thinking about it. He dwelled on this information in the same way that we can’t stop thinking about how stressful our jobs or ex-wives are sometimes. And he just had to ask himself, “Is life is full of suffering and (in the scheme of things) short, what’s the point?” This question really bothered him and he couldn’t even enjoy his privileged life anymore.

So he just left.

He left behind this life of luxury to go look for answers, to really try to figure out the meaning of life. At this time, in this part of the world, it wasn’t that rare. There were lots of guys wandering around trying to get spiritual insights in those days. Still, he had so much that he decided to give up and that is hard for us to really think about.

He just wandered around in the woods for years. He learned from various spiritual teachers. He learned a lot from them, but he really didn’t see any of the teachings he was getting as helpful. Nothing could make him stop wondering if life was worth living, what the purpose of life is with all this suffering and transient joy.

And one day, while sitting under a tree, he experienced Enlightenment. He had a great insight that revealed to him the origin, cause, and way out of suffering.

We call this the four noble truths and it’s really the foundation of all of Buddhism.

But this is just about the man. More about the teachings another time.

After that day he was called The Buddha. This means the one who is awake. He taught for over forty years. He taught this path to everyone; rich and poor, men and women, virtuous people and also criminals. His teaching about the cause and liberation from human suffering was and remains something that can be of benefit to anyone. It is open and helpful to anyone who tries it for themselves.

After the Buddha became a spiritual teacher, people asked many questions. One day a man approached him and had this exchange:

“Are you a god?”
“No.”

“Are you a wizard?”

“No.”

“Are you an angel or spirit?”

“No.”
“What are you?”

“I am awake.”

 

I can’t even imagine walking up to someone, no matter how special they appear to be, and saying, “Are you an angel or spirit?” That seems very strange. But this is how the story is told.

The Buddha never called himself anything other than an ordinary human  being, like us. He didn’t claim to be a god or inspired by a god. He didn’t claim to have super powers. He said that everything he achieved was due to normal human capabilities and efforts.

The Buddha isn’t something we pray to or worship. He was just a person who became awake. That is all.

 


 

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Posted in buddhism

Something is Wrong Here

We can sense a lack in our lives. We can sense it intuitively. Something is wrong. We often don’t know what’s going on, but we tend to feel like something is missing. We suffer, we experience pain and loss. Everything we need to handle what’s going on is right here, we just often fail to realize it. This state of things is the first noble truth. The pain we cause ourselves and others comes from within, form our own delusion and neuroses. And if we can’t see the problems, we often tend to just make it worse. The Buddha saw what was going on. He saw that the cause of our suffering and the way out are within us. This isn’t really about expecting our lives to be perfect as much as just paying attention to our problems and seeing where they come from. If we can do that, then we can see how we are able to relate to the world around us in a different way.

We often tend to think we have to deal with our problems by making them  disappear. But the truth is our problems will always, in some form or another, exist. We want to make ourselves happy by rearranging our circumstances, by turning reality into something other than what it is.

This is the nature of human life. We struggle, we suffer, we grow old, we die. The nature of our lives involves being unsatisfied. This is the first noble truth, the nature of human life.

Buddhism is about being honest about ourselves and the world we live in, so we are dedicated to facing the world as it really is, instead of developing elaborate fantasies to try to hide from the truth. We have to recognize that our suffering is rooted in ourselves, it comes from within. It comes out of our delusion, our failure to see things as they really are. We, instead, see reality as something we can manipulate and control. But we can’t control everything all the time. Our incessant wish for things to be different than they are, our longing, needing, craving, is what causes us to be unhappy.

There’s a fake Shakespeare (Fakespeare?) quote: “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” I think that applies.

The first noble truth is that life is full of suffering, it’s inherently unsatisfying.

The second noble truth is that this suffering comes from within us. It’s caused by our own clinging and craving.

The third noble truth is that we have the ability to understanding the origin our suffering and also to overcome it.

The fourth noble truth is the path, the tools that we are using to overcome our suffering.

This is the basis of Buddhism.

 


 

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Posted in emptiness, Uncategorized

Emptiness

The story is that the Buddha gave the first turning of the Wheel of the Dharma, the first set of teachings, just after his Enlightenment. This teaching consisted of the Four Noble Truths.

And later there was a second turning. In the second turning the Buddha taught the Perfection of Wisdom teachings. This was a collection of numerous sutras designed to teach us about the true nature of reality, that all things are empty of inherent existent, that nothing exists apart from everything else, including us.

And later there was a third turning. The third turning was that Emptiness, far from being a nihilistic concept, can actually be explained as Buddha Nature, that we and all things are intimately and fundamentally connected.

It’s important to keep the Four Noble Truths in mind when we think about Emptiness. To truly understand Emptiness is to overcome our suffering. We can use analogies to help us think about Emptiness, but the only way we can really understand it is to experience it directly through meditation practice.

To say something is empty of inherent existence, we aren’t saying that it’s not real. We are only saying that things don’t exist independently and separately from other things. Everything is interconnected and dependent on everything else. In this way the entire universe is connected. The Buddha once described all things with the Indra’s Net analogy. This teaching is part of the foundation of the Huayan School of Buddhism, one of the precursors to Zen. He described all things as reflective gems reflecting each other in a giant net that encompasses the entire universe. In this way, all of the gems bare the reflection of all of the other gems.

Indra’s Net reminds me of a Mirror Maze I went to in Branson earlier this year. I was surrounded by mirrors. I could see myself in the mirror in from of me. But, because of the way the mirror walls and corridors were set up, I could also see myself in all of the other mirrors. My reflection was boundless and infinite.

The hope is that if we can see everything as empty of inherent existence then we can see ourselves in that way too. When we cling to this notion of a separate self, then we think of the things and people around us as “others”. It’s in this division that our suffering arises. It’s our continual conflict of self versus other. If we can drop this sense of duality and see that all things are connected, then we can overcome these negative emotions. To see yourself as one with everything is to love everything.

According to the doctrine of Emptiness any belief in a permanent reality is based on an assumption that makes no sense.

This whole teaching leads us to an understanding of another deep Buddhist teaching, Dependent Origination. That’s just the concept that things don’t exist on their own. We are all woven together in Indra’s Net and any separation that we perceive is a delusion. Our existence is connected to the existence of all other things. Looking at ourselves as separate beings who are alone is a mistake that leads to wrong views. Understanding that we are one with our environment is helpful to us.

Emptiness, in some ways, represents our potential. How many of our limitations are a result of how we perceive ourselves? If we are vast and interconnected, if we are boundless like the sky, then we aren’t held back by the ways we define ourselves. We are the universe.

 

 

Posted in buddhism, Uncategorized

This Precious Human Life

This is something we talk about in Buddhism sometimes. “This Precious Human Life.” We dwell in a vast ocean of suffering. The fires of greed, hatred, and delusion assail us throughout our lives. But when teachers talk about This Precious Human Life they’re saying that we are lucky to be here, that our presence in this world of suffering and delusion is a good thing, that we should be thankful.

It seems counterintuitive at first. One of the first things I ever wrote for the internet was an article about the Four Noble Truths. In that article I went on and on and on about the First Noble Truth, that Life is Suffering. I had evidence, examples, quotes, and charts. I really proved that Life is Suffering. But then when it came time to explain the way out of suffering I was spent. I had very little to say. I had difficulty putting any sense of positivity and hope in the Buddhist path and as a result my article was rejected and I was sort of insulted. I almost gave up writing.

(I did a rewrite and got it published almost a year later. I don’t have a copy of the rejected version, but here’s the one that got published: The Revolutionary Nature of the Four Noble Truths)

I had trouble because I wasn’t thinking in terms of This Precious Human Life. Yes, our lives are full of suffering and pain. But this human life is precious. We are lucky to be here because we have the Dharma. We are all fortunate to have been born into a time and place in which we can study and practice. People who are into teachings on rebirth will tell you that a human birth is very rare and it’s only in the human realm that enlightenment is possible. I’ll say something simpler than that and just say that we are lucky to be born in a time and place where Buddhist teachings are available and easy to find. Thousands of teachings are available to us now and for most of history they were not quite so accessible. We are lucky to live in this time. We are lucky that the path out of suffering is available.

Sometimes I wake up and I’m sad. My life hasn’t really gone the way I wanted it to and it’s not really going the way I want it to now. I suffer a lot and I think we all suffer. I can just be sad, sometimes that is what I do. I can also reflect on This Precious Human Life. That helps, knowing I’m lucky to be here now.

You should try it too.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Maezen’s Four Noble Truths.

I read Karen Maezen Miller’s newest book “Paradise in Plain Sight” this week. I really appreciated her short and direct description of the Four Noble Truths.

“1) Life is suffering. Things change.

2) The origin of suffering is attachment. It hurts when things change.

3)The cessation of suffering is attainable. Accept that things change.

4) There is a way out of suffering. By changing yourself.”

 

In such short descriptions, she has elucidated the Four Noble Truths in an amazing way. 

Many writers struggle to describe the Four Noble Truths. She has done it in just a few words. I am moved and inspired. Thank you Maezen.