autotelic, autistic, assonance-hole©.

4NT1: Life is suffering.

The Four Noble Truths are:

1) All life is suffering
2) All suffering is caused by clinging
3) All clinging may be released
4) There is a method by which released may be accomplished

It is a hugely daunting task to even think to try and talk about these four, primarily because, as foundational tenets, so many of so much greater ability than this pitiful one have written and spoken at length about them, including Buddha himself. It is possible to convey the sheer, quivering sense of incompetence to remind myself of this even as I slowly, mindfully peck out a few more characters?

I relieve myself by reminding myself that I am not writing this to attempt to provide new information. I could not manage such arrogance. Thankfully. Rather, I am writing to set these four in a context of my own experience and document their truth via my lessons and living.

The only purpose of this being to have something to remind myself with later, and, maybe, to serve in some humble way helpful to anyone who may ever stumble across this place.

So. Admitted all, I proceed to contemplation of the truth that all life is suffering.

The immediate first thought here is a rather mulish snort along the lines of ‘no shit, sherlock… tell me something I don’t know.’ I blush, because that is hardly a mindful thing to say when considering this… but it is as well an accurate reaction, and I record it for the manner in which it demonstrates that this is not a truth that is difficult to embrace. Indeed, it is considered here as ‘a given’ — something so obviously, patently true that to even attempt to deny it would be like denying that humans breathe air.

But I take a moment to consider how and why I know it is true. How and why it is ‘a given’. In this, perhaps something more mindful.

The first thought is simply that I know it is true because I have known suffering. This is an understatement. but, at the same time, an admission – suffering is relative to each of us. This seems to support its truth in that it gives confirmation to the many types of suffering that are endured by humans.

Suffering is, of course, the English translation. The original word is ‘duhkha’, which is Sanskrit. An imperfect translation would be a string of concepts that, taken together, create the sense of the meaning of this word. The concepts themselves include things like imperfection, stressful, anguished, anxious, depressed being.

Here, another moment of simple embrace of this truth. I cannot imagine anyone so deluded to read that and say, ‘oh, I’ve never felt any of those things.’ The entirety of life and living is a tapestry in which these threads are repeated, often in close proximity to one another, so as to render the final weaving a dense pattern of suffering in which moments of delight are shot through like contrast threads.

From the moment we arrive in this world, from the instant that we are capable of thought as ‘self’, there is suffering. The totality and consistency of it are enough to be like cement blocks upon the feet, such a constant and steady presence as to render one incapable of movement. And so it would be, were it not for the three following in which hope and a possibility of relief were available, and of course, that life is also filled with incredible beauty, moments of joy and delight, and we have a mind capable of balancing these things against one another.

I often read blurbs written by others in which Buddhism is painted as some somber, morose, depressing system in which this presence of suffering and the embrace of it as an inescapable truth of life is rendered as derogatory or in a fashion ignorant of anything other than suffering — some willful embrace of negativity or denial of anything but such.

My first encounter with The Four Noble Truths left me with a similar sense of things. I stumbled over this first one and never really made it to the rest… the notion that I had to accept that all life was suffering was like a sledgehammer to the temple and I froze in fear of the weight that would descend were I to even as much as consider touching that concept, even superficially, let alone embracing it fully.

Here, a moment of irony… for have I not already admitted with a snort that I know it as truth? Observe the manner in which I both accept and reject it. Fancy footwork, for all it was ultimately pointless.

I contemplated ending the dance of denial, and found the very idea was at once a system shock and, somewhere deep, deep inside, a delight. It was a strange feeling. In it, I discovered something far more interesting… I had known it all along and been trying to deny it all along. It was the ‘deep dark secret’ that I could not allow anything to allude to… it was the trick I played upon myself, the cruelest joke of my life, the active lie I pretended to in order to avoid ever having to deal with a simple truth that had chimed softly in the deeps of me for as long as I could remember.

A very human thing, really. Humans tend to deny things in hopes that will make them less true, or at least less visibly so, because facing them is sometimes hurtful… it is suffering.

Staring at it upon a page, set in line with the remainder of these Four Noble Truths, the choice was simple — either accept it and read on, or reject it and hope never again to find myself eyeball to eyeball with it.

At some point in life, I think everyone faces this choice. Actually, I think we live in a constant state of that choosing. There are very few moments that I can recall being able to fully ignore this first of The Four Noble Truths, and the idea of having to continue to work to deny this first had finally become so overwhelming that to embrace it was actually a relief.

In the embrace and acceptance of the fear that arrived in the doing, it was very, very simple and easy to turn to the next of these Four Noble Truths… and the next, and the next… eager at last to take refuge and comfort in them, and to seek with all enthusiasm the means by which to dissolve fear and release clinging and perhaps, if I am diligent, find the way to a deeper, more lasting peace and joy in life for what it is.

Yes, life is suffering. But it does not have to be. THAT is the lesson, and in it, there is joy.