Beach Guide to 4 Noble Truths

Posted: 01/04/2012 in Insight
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Has been significantly revised here.

Introduction

I was going through in my mind how I would recommend someone at the beach to live – just as one does. Now the Four Agreements (Appendix D) is excellent on how one responds to what people and society throw at you, but in many ways the 4 Agreements does not guide us on how we deal with ourselves. What stops us from doing good and behaving well is an internal matter, and the good practice of the 4 Agreements requires an internal personal change, but it does not expressly say how to do it. The 4 Noble Truths does so I am writing this – a beach guide to the 4 Noble Truths, to be read in combination with the Four Agreements.

Now before you can do anything on this stuff you need to meditate – this is part of magga (Appendix B) – there might be some people around whose minds are naturally in harmony with Nature but for the rest of us …. To describe what to do in meditation is easy, to do it and learn from it is hard. Here is the description the hard part is up to you:-

1) Meditate twice a day – when you get up and before you eat after you get in from the day – work. Make this a daily routine.
2) Always try to increase the time you meditate. When you begin it might be very hard – but even two minutes at the beginning is good. Sit, allot your time, and stick to it. When 2 minutes is easy, increase to 3, 5, 10, 15 etc. But whatever time you set stick to it – an alarm helps for this.
3) Posture – don’t get hung up about posture but some are better than others. It is definitely important to keep your back straight whether sitting in lotus or sitting on a table chair. Back straight.
4) Breath – All you have to do in meditation is follow your breath. When you breathe in – from the tip of your nose – wherever, down deep into your stomach and then up and out again; just follow your breath. That’s the technique of meditation – that’s all it is.
5) Distractions – ha ha, here’s the problem. It sounds easy and it is not – it is very hard. Sitting for 2 minutes at the beginning and trying to follow your breath can be difficult. What happens – your mind wanders. It starts thinking about something else. If you see that happening, gently stop the mind wandering and bring it back to following the breath. Noise on the street, gently stop wandering and bring it back to the breath.
6) Excuses – I could have included this in 5) because excuses are just more rational forms of distractions. There are no excuses. Meditate and ignore those excuses. They will always be there no matter how long you have meditated, they just become more subtle. The mind tricks you, distracts you and makes up excuses, all to stop you from meditating. You must train the mind, that is what meditation does.

And if you meditate, follow the 4 Noble Truths and carry out the 4 Agreements, you are happy. That’s it. Simple!! No it isn’t, but it is simple to describe.

Getting on with it

Are you meditating? No. Then you are wasting your time reading this, and even though Don Miguel Ruiz doesn’t say this, I would also suggest you are wasting your time with 4 Agreements; you need to be training and controlling your mind. I don’t know whether I will be a reinforcing pedagogue and keep returning to this point but if I don’t, it is a proviso throughout your life – are you meditating?

Now to the 4 Noble Truths. Great people have written about them, I have listed HHDL’s book [B1] and Ajahn Sumedho’s book [B2] in the bibliography to this post. Both good books. But this is a beach guide, and by a beach guide I want one thing for sure – no dogma. In the appendices you can find dogma, and you can follow the dogma to find references along with the books which can all be very helpful. But dogma sucks without understanding, and beach people don’t want to sit and talk about dogma. But if you are a serious truth-seeking beach person then you actually want to do something – OK most beach people are not serious. But do you want dogma? No. Is dogma necessary? Mostly no. Dogma can help on the way to understanding but far too often people get hung up on dogma and don’t make it to the understanding – and this includes some who wear robes. Dogma is an institutional problem and serious beach people have rejected institutions for sand sea and Nature.

OK, desire. The 4NT is about desire, life is about desire. And we don’t deal with it. Men think with their dicks, this is desire. The 1% screw the world and destroy our planet, they are addicted to desire. On a personal level it is all about desire. And what do we do about it? We say, if I want it I must go out and get it. This desire gets hidden in all kinds of nice words like career, ambition, supporting the family, and many mental subterfuges but basically we want something and that leads us – thinking with our dicks. Life would be so much more pleasant if we had few desires, could fulfil them and we were happy with doing that. For me this is the 4NT. And the key to understanding this is that we are happy doing it, not pretending to be happy but actually being happy. And what do beach people desire? To be happy.

As with all of this to describe how to do it is easy – few desires, fulfilling them and being happy doing it. But the practice is far from easy, it is a lifelong struggle. But the thing in that struggle is that if you don’t get hung up about it it is fun. If you don’t force it, it is fun. One problem with some of the beach people is that they get drunk on the beach, and then they tell me I am bored because I don’t get drunk, don’t chase women and the usual stuff. When they start that it my cue to leave, but last week I met a better one of these beach drunks who had got blotto for two days at a leaving party, and then spent the next two days sitting on the beach feeling sorry for himself. For two days he wasn’t there lost in drink, and for two days he was too ill to enjoy being there in Nature’s beauty; I apologised to him when I laughed a bit. For me these were just a normal 4 days of happiness trying to do the best I can (4th Agreement).

If you can accept this – few desires, fulfilling them and being happy doing it, then the real question is how do you do it? Again there is a simple answer – the 4th NT Magga. But I don’t want to go there, because this magga tends to get wrapped up in dogma. Now magga means Path so Path is clearly an answer to “how do you do it?” But what is this Path? In the intro I talked about the most important part of the Path – meditation. Moving on from there I want to consider desire.

All around us there are stimuli that bring up desire. Luckily for me at my beach there are few bikinis. Assuming that a bikini arouses a sexual desire in you, do you immediately go up to the woman and ask for sex? Some of the drunks do!! No, such a request would be gross. But a woman in bikini can still cause arousal in men even if they don’t act on it. The better drunks don’t go up and ask but they do notice and their arousal leads to frustration especially if they talk about it. So the desire causes a problem – unhappiness. The drunks became attached to their desire and this led to frustration and unhappiness.

Now I have no complete answer to the bikini problem. I enjoy the beach, the swimming, the rays, being in Nature, the books I read – whatever, so I am not continually distracted by the bikini. But it is a distraction, it is a desire and if I am not comfortable with it it can cause unhappiness. But basically my suffering ceases when I am not attached to the desire – 3rd Noble Truth. And what is the cause of that suffering? The desire in the first place – 2nd Noble Truth.

Much of the male problems associated with the bikini comes from fantasy – not all but most. I am not sure what the particular fantasies are but they are unreal. Let me go with one such fantasy. You see the bikini, go up and talk to her. After a while you find that she is your cosmic other, you go for a swim, find somewhere secluded, and make passionate love. This love will last for two or three days, and you will both say to each other that this love has been totally wonderful but it is time to move on gracefully. And part happily.

Get real, this is a movie. The bikini is just that – an object, you are not thinking about the fact that it is another person, a woman who has her own needs and desires. It is a fantasy, and when you cannot live life according to that fantasy you become frustrated and dissatisfied – you are not happy. So forget the fantasy, forget the illusion, when the desire naturally happens, notice it, and forget it. Nothing can happen, and let it go. What we attach to the image of a woman in a bikini the attachment is just that – attachment to desire, and creates nothing but unhappiness. I smile, this is now a literal beach guide – how to follow the 4NT on the beach.

There is another fantasy here in Thailand that is laughable if it didn’t have so many sad consequences. Thailand’s government has written laws that make prostitution apparently less perilous for the johns, and as a result many tourists are attracted to the beautiful women in the bars and some beaches of Thailand – luckily not the beach I go to. Older men turn up at these tourist traps, fall for the charms of these prostitutes, and travel round Thailand supposedly as a couple. However the desires of these men turn from the financial transaction of paying for sex into a relationship that they then fantasise as meaning far more. Thailand has a very good property anti-speculation law. Buying land and building a house is comparatively cheaper in Thailand so the government legislates that only Thai people can own land – there are small exceptions. So what do these fantasising men do? They buy the land and build a house putting the deeds in the name of the prostitute. And what happens then? The prostitute leaves with the deeds, and the man ends up on the beach drowning his sorrows blaming Thai women and not his own stupidity. Thai society in general is very conservative, and the activities of those involved around the prostitution are generally frowned upon by majority Thai society – but there is sufficient profits being made from the tourists that the laws are not changed. Now I don’t excuse prostitution but surely attaching to this sort of fantasy is foolish, how can it not lead to unhappiness?

But this beach guide doesn’t end on the beach. What about the desires we create around ourselves in our daily lives? Ambition and career, for example. Is it any different? Yes. Money. How many people would do the job they do if they weren’t paid? Very few. We work for money. Why? For most men and women the answer is to feed the family. We answer this question in a way that describes the work ethic as honourable, and there are not many more honourable things than taking good care of the family. But how honest are we in answering that question? And that honesty is at the very core of our personal and social problems.

Let’s examine the personal issue first. This can be considered in terms of the words – needs and desires. What do families need? And what do families desire? There are many desires that come into play, desires that are not requirements – not needs. House and contents – are these minimal? Should they be minimal? Is our house a measure of status, image, desire? What do we provide our children? Is it what we think they need or is it governed by the latest fashion in which trends become needs? Do we provide for our children sufficiently in terms of love and nurture, or do we give them the latest trend gadget because it keeps them off our backs when we are tired? And when work comes into the home like this, are we teaching our children the best morals when tiredness governs the quality of a child’s life? Do we teach children manipulation to wait for your tiredness? On a personal level our work enters our home affecting the way we live, the way we bring up the children, and yet our rationale for working is “feed the family”.

Our desires interact with our work, as we let our desires associated with the home and family create a greater dependence on money, and the greater our need to earn money develops ambition and careerism that brings with it its own negativity. Instead of controlling our desires it becomes easier to perceive our desires as the need to earn more money, a need which is in general considered socially acceptable.

So what happens to this desire to earn more money in the workplace? It becomes used as a tool for wage slavery. Whey, hold on there. That’s a bit strong – wage slavery. So I ask the question again, would you do the job you are doing if you were not paid? Now I take that question further. Do you do things in your job that you don’t agree with? How many compromises do you make every day? Do you choose these compromises? So when we go to work we might accept that we have to do a job as wage slavery, but then we start to think about it more and we are paid to compromise. Our desires force us into a compromise.

Now where do these compromises take us? Ask whistleblowers. The consciences of these brave people have forced them to stand up and decry the compromises they have had to make. And for each whistleblower denouncing the compromise, how many more people accept these compromises as part of their wage slavery? Because this number is way more than a simple majority we all console each other that the compromises that come with wage slavery are just “business as usual” whereas in reality our desires take us into compromise – and are we sure that we need that compromise? What are these whistleblowers blowing on about? Government breaking their own rules to give huge private contracts in Iraq – Thomas Drake, Annie Machon British Defence policy, Bradley Manning (allegedly) leaking footage of US atrocities, Pharma whistleblowers talking about the drugs industry damaging our health etc. These compromises in wage slavery are what are damaging our planet and the quality of our life. The 1% don’t tell us to get up and shoot Iraqis, sell harmful drugs, give vested big business huge contracts, they create the conditions where the compromises made in wage slavery lead to these actions. The 1% control us through compromise, and why do we compromise? Because we want more money, and why do we want more money? To satisfy increased personal desires. And are those desires necessary to feed the family? We delude ourselves that they are.

Attachment to our desires force us to compromise, and this compromise is a major cause of suffering. What would happen if we did not attach to those unnecessary desires? We go to work to do our job knowing that we haven’t got to earn that extra money. This means that when the inevitable compromise is forced on us we can decline – not always but mostly. And if there are innumerable compromises then we can choose to leave that work. And if we cannot find suitable work we can work for ourselves, produce our own items for sale to feed our family. And when the children come home with their fashionable demands we have the time to say no and explain why. And our children grow up with a better morality.

So by not attaching to desires we introduce greater happiness in our lives by having fewer desires – the needs of our family, devoting ourselves to genuine concern for the family, and bringing our children up in a happier environment. If we control our own earning maybe we can live near a beach where the children can go every day and love Nature. Watching the children playing at the beach is one way of not attaching to desire.

It is not the desire itself that is the issue. Once we become attached there are all kinds of issues that follow on, our desires lead to compromise in the workplace, and that compromise is the basis of 1% control. So sit back, examine your desires and see how necessary they really are, and if they are not don’t attach to them and watch the happiness develop. And here’s a nice little pep-up. Once you see these desires for what they are and say no, life starts to clear up. There are not huge complicated scenarios requiring compromise and manipulation, there are simple decisions to attach to desire or not. And how does that affect our relationships? Here we can consider the 4 Agreements. Through meditation and detachment from desire we can focus on the 4 Agreements, we always do the best we can because we are not always striving for compromises that our desires have brought about.

As a teacher I always tried to do the best I could. At times I felt angry because I could never be Head, I could never earn more money. Towards the end of my career I was always happy in the classroom, but outside made me more and more angry. By the end of my career I had decided that teaching in the classroom was enough, and I was so lucky to be able to teach because when you focus on that the children enjoy your relationship and many more make an effort to learn. But when you get out of the classroom you enter the world of politics, both personal and the 1%. On a personal level there are many teachers who are not satisfied with teaching in the classroom. For some this is because their desires force them to be ambitious to earn more money, and for others they quite simply enjoy the power that can come from being in charge. Either way these desires damage the education quality of the institution.

But much more drastic is the impact of the 1%. Now the 1% screw up society from all angles but here I will just address the issue of education. Now fundamentally the 1% require a continuation of the status quo – wage slavery and acceptance of the existing structure. They achieve this by preventing teachers from genuinely educating. Once the teachers exhibit desire they control their ambition and keep them compliant. Teachers want to educate but they are forced into an exam system that creates failures desperate for a job and successes who tow the 1% line. The 1% system is more powerful than the individual desires to educate. For me this system always caused suffering as I always wanted to do more to educate. In truth I didn’t always cope with this well. I desired to confront and change the system, and this particular desire did not bring me happiness. There is a tightrope balance that I never walked although I recognised it sometimes. Teach, doing that was enjoyable – not always but often enough. Beyond the teaching in the classroom there was the suffering that the 1% created. They required this system of failure, they required compromises from teachers with their own desires, and their system with the compromises created suffering. When I chose not to attach to my desires there was some happiness in teaching.

For me this is what is meant by the first NT. There is suffering around in the system. Now the 1% weren’t around at the time of the Buddha, and he spoke of birth, ageing and death and the suffering inherent in this. But when there is suffering created by the political system you are in, it is still suffering. And the 4NT still apply. When you minimise your desires that system has less control of you. It cannot compromise you. You choose, you have your control, and your happiness. And in the final analysis it is the addiction of the 1% to their money and power which creates the system we are in, it is their desires that are their problem, and their power makes it ours.

So this is the beach guide to three of the 4NT. It is all about desire and how much we give into it. I hope that you can see that minimising these desires yet fulfilling the needs brings happiness. But this doesn’t work if we are into self-flagellation, or what in the Buddha’s time was called asceticism. Even if beach people said they were not going to be hedonistic, very quickly that would change. The drinker remorseful in pain after two days heavy-drinking was back drinking again a couple of weeks later. He didn’t want to change. At the time when I was ribbing up he envied my happiness, but he starts again. He is not in control of his mind and so he cannot use his mind to control his desires. The key to happiness is not attaching to the desires in the first place, and that means discerning between desires as needs and desires as mental constructions that we don’t need. Once we recognise what we need, and fulfil those needs, and we don’t want the other desires we are on the Path to Happiness.

So how do beach people minimise or control desire? Clearly the mind has to be more in control to start controlling desires, and meditation is the key to this. As I said at the beginning, if you’re not willing to meditate don’t read this, you are wasting your time. So once you are learning to control your mind through meditation, the next step is to control your lifestyle. OK beach people, so you go to the beach and on the beach is a nymphomaniac convention of girls in bikinis. OK that is a chauvinist fantasy joke, but don’t put yourself in the way of desire unnecessarily. However that is not enough. Do we still have desires if we are in a monastery? Yes and no. Yes there is still the desire but it becomes less and less because there is not the temptation. No, because you are still a human being with human needs. If we live an immoral life then our lifestyles are immoral and we do immoral acts. And even better, as we live a life in which we are not always chasing after desires then those desires start to disappear – not altogether they effectively and gradually minimise. So we have the 4th NT – magga. By considering these 8 attributes of the Path and what they individually mean for ourselves we effectively change our minds so that mind becomes more amenable to a life in which we are less controlled by desire. The attributes of Right Honesty, Right Speech and Right Livelihood are often grouped together into what is called sila – moral integrity. As you follow the Path this sila becomes stronger, maybe in a similar way that some religions call soul. To be perfectly frank, beach people, if you do not accept sila as a lifestyle then this stuff is pretty much a waste of time for you as well. Morality and desire often complement each other, or at the very least it is desire that sharpens the steel of sila. Giving in to desire often produces an immoral act, but if that doesn’t matter to you then you have lost one of your major benchmarks of control. If you look at the bikini on the beach and see her with a 6 foot 6 bouncer, then Nature has provided a means of control of your desire. If you do not see that sleeping with your neighbour – a married woman with children – while she is wearing that bikini, then controlling your desire is that much harder.

As I said earlier on I don’t want to focus too much on Magga – the 8-fold path, because it can become wrapped up in dogma, so I want to turn to the 4 Agreements. I like these because they describe a non-dogmatic Path (Appendix D). The book by Don Miguel Ruiz opens with a consideration of the meaning of Agreement, and I want to consider that here briefly – he has more detail and does it far better. Basically as soon as we come out of the womb we come under pressure to conform. Through instinctual love we learn to conduct ourselves the way our parents conduct themselves, we agree to follow them. Through school and into adult life we accept what society and our peers tell us to accept, we agree to do what they do. What the 4 Agreements do is to undermine that dogmatic acceptance. By following these 4 we question how we relate so that it is not through pressure but through understanding and genuine internal agreement that we act. From our meditation we learn to control our desires and through our practice on a Path such as the 8-Fold Path or the 4 Agreements, we develop minds that are constantly questioning and are not being pulled one way or the other by desire. Here lies happiness.

Appendix A:-

The three tenets of Zandtao are:-

Improving the mind

Harmonising our energy

Taking care of our bodies

For a more complete understanding of the Zandtao approach to life you can read the Treatise.

Appendix B:-

4 Noble Truths – a translation-

There is suffering – Dukkha
All suffering is caused by desire – Samudaya
We can cease our suffering by releasing our attachment to desire – Nirodha
Magga – 8-Fold Path is a way of life that can end suffering:-
Right View
Right Intention
Right Honesty
Right Speech
Right Livelihood
Right Determination
Right Mindfulness
Right Insight

Appendix C

Here is a Buddhist reference with links:-

The core of the Buddhist teaching is the Four Noble Truths: There is suffering. There is a cause to suffering. There is an end to suffering. The is a path out of suffering (the Noble 8-fold path).

1. The Reality of Suffering–dukkha
2. The Cause of Suffering–samudaya
3. The Cessation of Suffering–nirodha
4. The Path to the Cessation of Suffering–magga

Appendix D – 4 Agreements

Be impeccable with your word.
Don’t take anything personally.
Don’t make assumptions.
Always do the best you can.

Bibliography:-

[B1] The Four Noble Truths HH Dalai Lama
Harper Collins 1997 ISBN 81-72230551-8

[B2] The Four Noble Truths Venerable Ajah Sumedho
Free distribution from Amaravati Publications,
Amaravati Buddhist Monastery,
Great Gaddesden
Hemel Hampstead
Hertfordshire HP1 3BZ
England

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  1. […] Beach Guide to 4 Noble Truths […]

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