In “Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma,” said to be the first sutra given upon the Buddha’s awakening, we learn about the middle way, the four noble truths, and the eightfold noble path. It is the second noble truth that leaped out at me as I was re-reading this sutra yesterday.
Recall that the first noble truth is that there is suffering. The second noble truth states that there is an origin of suffering, which is craving.
At first, this etiology might strike you as unpersuasive: how could craving be at the very bottom of my suffering? Yet closer self-observation and years of meditation shall dissolve this doubt. In your experience, you’ll confirm that the Buddha was right.
You have to very skilled in your observation to be able to see, in your own experience, that resistance toward what is arising and movement, often in the form of desire, toward something else are deeply habitual patterns of reaction. Think of a mere itch on the nose. Who wouldn’t immediately go to scratch it? Think of a fly landing on your arm. Who wouldn’t swat it away?
Now come, really, to anything discomfiting, to anything physically painful, to any emotionally unsettling experience, or to anything, really, that appears unbearable. Do you see that the first reaction is to go away from it and to search for some kind of solution “out there” in the form of attention?
What the Buddha is essentially showing us is that we are almost never, at a very granular level, at peace and that our search for what will relieve us of this burden is fruitless. In effect, we’re going the wrong way!
The cessation of suffering–the third noble truth–occurs when there is “the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving.” By patiently, lovingly, deeply, and observantly sitting with any craving, I discover (but now the “I” is fading away…) the rest we hitherto sought by lunging in the wrong direction. We stop lunging, and the perfume of Reality is smelled without a smeller.