Updated: Sep 2, 2019
Not far from Varanasi, the holy place I described in a recent post, is the small city of Sarnath. This is another incredibly important place on this planet; especially in India. Why is it so significant? Because in this small town, in 500 B.C., the prince Siddhartha Gautama, who had recently become a Buddha, came here to deliver his first teaching to his 5 disciples. It is 300km away from Bodhgaya (a place I will share with you in a post next week), where the future Buddha sat for six weeks under a tree watching his own mind, the site of his incredible breakthrough that allowed him to see the Truth and deliver this first teaching in Sarnath.
In this first teaching he revealed the four Noble Truths. These truths can offer extraordinary support in your life regardless of your spirituality or if you even care about Buddhism. The first time I heard them, I was inquisitive and wanted to know even more, so I want to share the Truths with you (not as a scholar but just how I understood them) as we go through the photos of the historical site of Sarnath.
The first Noble Truth is that all of life is suffering. If it seems a bit intense and pessimistic at first, then that’s exactly what I thought. Basically, we all understand that however rich we are, however hard we work, however smart we get, we are going to get old, face pain and die. Everyone will. And also all the people we love around us. We can’t escape pain with whatever golden jail we try to build around us. But the Buddha here is talking about suffering, not pain. Suffering is in our mind, constructed mentally, and we can annihilate it.
I talked in my post “In times of Darkness” about how we easily get trapped by our anxiety, depression or our angry, reactive mind. We have all we need to be happy in life, but something hidden in our mind makes us unhappy. Ultimately, this is the suffering we are discussing here – but we have the power to control it or let it run/ruin our life.
The second Noble Truth is that there is suffering because we have cravings. Whatever we have we always want more or better or different. We cling on the thing we own or know as we are brainwashed since little kid that it is the way to be happy. A bigger car, a second house, this new jacket, a hotter girlfriend/boyfriend, a better job, another career, etc. And if we don’t get what we want, we suffer. And even when we get what we want, the satisfaction is temporary and we soon want more.
Our society, with the power of marketing and advertising, has been extraordinarily efficient at convincing us that our happiness depends on external elements. It’s an endless cycle – we all entered it and some soon realize that their needs are never satisfied for more than a brief moment. Today already some counter-movements like minimalism (check this awesome blog) and the sharing economy (check this great org. if you live in NYC) have really started to show there is another way towards happiness than the ownership of physical things.
The third Noble Truth is that there is a way out of suffering. Yeah!
There is, however, and sorry for the "bad news", no shortcut to get there. Basically, we need to understand the true nature of things before we can "undo them". This would take me many pages to explain but let me give you an idea of what it means:
First, everything is impermanent. The weather, your car, your relationships, your job, your thoughts, even the stone and the earth are changing and won’t be here forever. What we think we have or don’t have is impermanent. We will lose things, people will go, and new things will enter our life. If we attach our happiness to external elements, then we will suffer – it’s in the nature of things to change. This DOES NOT mean that we cannot / should not have material "things". It's our relationship to them that is important, if we cling on them or not.
The second thing to know is that we need to be able to see beyond the physical realm to realize that everything and everyone is connected. This is very profound and while Buddhists or scientists could describe it in length, it has to be experienced to fully understand it. By the way both scientists and Buddha/Buddhist finally agree: it took 2,500 years for scientific researcher to discover with physique quantic what Buddha saw & described... Fascinating to me by the way! This is where practicing inquiry on our mind, our thoughts, and the true nature of things, will come in handy.
The fourth Noble Truth is the path towards the cessation of suffering, which allows self-awakening. This path is called the Noble Eightfold Path, and it is considered to be the essence of Buddhist practice.
So what’s in the Noble Eightfold Path?
1 – Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā): Right View, Right Intention
2 – Ethical Conduct (Sanskrit: śīla): Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood
3 – Concentration (Sanskrit: samādhi): Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration
Understanding the Right View is the most important aspect to start on the Path.
Once Right View is understood, it will inspire and encourage the arising of Right Intention within you. Right Intention will lead to the arising of Right Speech. Right Speech will lead to the arising of Right Action. Right Action will lead to the arising of Right Livelihood. Right Livelihood will lead to the arising of Right Effort. Right Effort will lead to the arising of Right Mindfulness. (If you want to go deeper and explore more, email me, I have some great and easy books to recommend.)
So you can understand the depth of the speech that was given by the Buddha to his five disciples here in Sarnath: Life is suffering, we suffer because of our cravings / clinging to things, there is a way out of suffering, and here is the path to liberation from suffering.
What made the Prince Siddhartha Gautama come to such a realization and become the Buddha? This is for another post when I visit Bodh Gaya (where he was a few months before Sarnath).
Whether or not we are interested in Buddhism, I feel that these Truths, and this path, are extremely relevant to today’s modern life. If you study them, you will discover how powerful they can be. We are never taught this in schools, but it would definitely help us to live in a lighter way, reducing the suffering we witness everyday around us, or inside us!
“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.” - Buddha
Be adventurous, be curious, explore this…
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Until next, be well, and remember to travel with your Heart,
PS : I have a full album photo on SARNATH, HERE.