I first learned about the Four Noble Truths in my sophomore year of High School. I know this as a fact because I distinctly remember being yelled at by a fellow classmate when I raised my hand to recite the first truth.
I remember the moment clearly because he reacted to my answer with such anger and force that he not only revealed that he had not completed his homework assignment but also made it seem as if I were the one who had first discovered and shared the understanding with our group.
I assume now, reflecting back at his response, that may be the knowledge of this great understanding was a bit too much for his teenage mind to grasp, since he had just barely started his life’s journey and may have had some hope that things would only get better and better from where he stood, or, maybe, he was simply in denial like most people tend to be.
Having already witnessed the state of the world in the 14 or so years that I had already lived at that time, and being thoroughly “unamused” by it all, however, the words rang true to me so clearly that I found myself responding back to him with prompt words that immediately quieted his reaction.
Whether we accept it or not (and we are best served with less denial than more), our first noble truth teaches us that life will undoubtedly be filled with inevitable and ongoing suffering, whether this is in the form of physical suffering, emotional turmoil, social torture, unbearable losses, or even mild boredom. No one escapes from this life experience without being subjected to the stresses and discomforts that inevitably accrue with living over time. If one’s suffering does not primarily come from his/her own experiences at any given moment, then most certainly their suffering will come from the experience of watching others suffer if she/he is not a psychopath.
What our second truth then reminds us of as we continue to explore the facts of this understanding, is that there is always a cause to all of our sufferings, whether it is our own or other people’s karma (actions), a natural disaster, a random accident, the facts of genetics, or even a changing mood. There is always a beginning/source to all of the pain that we experience in our life and lifetime.
And, because everything that begins in our Universe has an end (since everything in existence is anicca or impermanent) there is always an end to our suffering as well. This inevitable end is our third noble truth, and can sometimes come too far in the future from the second for some people’s comfort.
The arrival of pain is always impermanent, however, even if it simply comes in the form of our death, which should ultimately give us a hint of comfort.
Truth four, however, is what should ultimately give us hope since it goes even one step further than comfort to remind us that we do not have to wait until death to be liberated from this cycle of pain and suffering, but can free ourselves from it all together through self-development and by following the Eightfold Path (which my classmate clearly did not read about).
With this knowledge in mind, it is easy to see how all painful experiences in life, even the seemly catastrophic experiences, can not only be recovered from (since they, and all of the suffering that accompanies them, will always ultimately end), but when put into the proper context, can also teach us valuable lessons that support us to transcend all potential future suffering as well.
Just think about how long most pain usually lasts for, from the pain of stubbing one’s toe, to the pain of a broken heart caused by a betrayal or the death of a loved one…and further think about how pain can also provide useful information for avoiding danger as in the heat of a hot stove, or even signify growth and transformation as in the pain that comes with exercising one’s muscles.
If looked at in the right context, all pain teaches us a valuable lesson. I would not go as far as to say that all pain is good for you, but I feel that pain always provides useful information that we can use toward our positive movement forward.
There is something in trauma research called posttraumatic growth, where individuals who have experienced trauma or adversity of some sort are able to recover and live healthy thriving lives after moving past their hurts. Those who have experienced the worst of the worst in their lifetime are able to develop into truly spectacular human beings, who because they have endured their suffering well and moved beyond it, are able to become not only resilient, kind, and truly skilled at living life, but are also able to find and create great love and other beautiful things in the world as well (from art to music, to great stories, and shining humanitarian efforts).
With that in mind, here is:
WHAT Gautama Siddhartha‘s (The Buddha’s) FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS REMIND US ABOUT SUFFERING, TRAUMA, ADVERSITY, AND HEALING
1) Life has ongoing and inevitable suffering (dukkha): Those who have suffered greatly do not need any confirmation of this other than living their lives.
2) There is a cause to our suffering (samudaya): Whether it is from intergenerational trauma that has been passed down through influence and DNA, an unfortunate accident, a weather pattern that started somewhere due to some geological condition, the state of our ego or endless desiring, a war that began with an event or political choice, so on and so forth; there is always a source to all of our sufferings.
3) There is an end to our suffering-since everything in the universe is impermanent/anicca/comes and goes– (nirhodha): Suffering will end. Whether this occurs with death or with personal choice and right action, but nothing lasts forever. This brings hope for recovery from any ills (as well as a reality check that even happiness ends as this cycle continues indefinitely). Acceptance and equanimity help us to cope with, and move through, the reality of the cycle of truths 1-3.
4) There is a path that will free us from all suffering, which in Yoga, is called the Eight Fold Path (magga): We can all liberate ourselves from any traumas and suffering that may have been inflicted upon, or created by, us by transmuting these sufferings within ourselves and striving to be more integrated, healthy, and well-developed individuals. This not only helps us to heal ourselves and to move forward with our own lives but also serves as a shining example of transformation in action that can help others out of their suffering as well.
Always remember that the Buddha came to enlightenment only after experiencing and studying pain.
Our suffering, no matter how seemingly unbearable, always has the potential to serve as our catalyst for positive change in our lives and in the world.
Whether your recovery and self-realization look “ugly” or “graceful,” takes 1 year or 10, it is important to know that there is a reason that the lotus flower is a powerful metaphor for enlightenment.
Remember that out of the muck and filth of past and current experiences, the seed of love and divinity that is planted within you can always find the right nutrients to thrive, flourish, bloom, and realize its full beautiful expression in this distorted world.
Even while being firmly planted in the mud, your seed of divinity can take what is needed and leave behind what is not, in order to blossom and emit its fragrance boldly in its time of existence. The lotus serves as an example of what we can all become when we allow ourselves to use the context of our suffering to make ourselves the truly beautiful expressions of the divine spark of life that we all are in this world.