Siddhartha had all the finest things when he was a prince growing up, and then decided to become an ascetic for 5-6 years. He almost died from the extreme deprivation. When he gave up asceticism, he realized that there must be a middle way. This is why Buddhism is often described as the middle path.
In its essence, he found out that if you are compassionately aware and perfectly honest with yourself, you can begin to relieve suffering. The first teaching by the Buddha after his enlightenment was the Four Noble Truths:
· Life is difficult.
· Life is difficult because we seek to satisfy ourselves in ways that are inherently unsatisfying.
· The possibility of liberation from difficulties exists for everyone.
· The way to free ourselves is to practice the Eightfold path that results in enlightened living.
The first Truth is that life is difficult. The word in Pali was dukkha. In his book, Insight Meditation, The Practice of Freedom, Joseph Goldstein translates dukkha in three ways, suffering, insecurity or being unsatisfied. The Buddha realized that most of us live with some sense that things or we are just not quite right. We might even get close, achieve a goal, feel successful, then we often go right back to feeling that there is something more to be done. It seems our culture encourages doing–doing can be confused as the thing that gives us value as a person.
There is also deep suffering in life–We get old, we get sick, we die. Those that we love get old, get sick, and die. This is the reality of living, and we often suffer because of it. The First Noble Truth is about facing this reality honestly.
Many times, it might seem like detaching from our thoughts and feelings would relieve the suffering. Many of us have tried to not get involved in order to avoid being hurt. Many of us have found that this method does not work very well either. We then suffer from a feeling of isolation and loneliness. The word non-attachment is often used in Buddhist texts, and it is sometimes misunderstood that the teachings are encouraging us to deny our thoughts, our emotions, deny anything that causes us suffering. However, the truth of the teachings is the exact opposite. We are encouraged to get to know our selves in a deeply honest and compassionate way, to get to know our thoughts, our emotions, our relationships, very very well. Non-attachment is to realize that these thoughts and emotions are NOT who we truly are, but FIRST we have to SEE them in order to transform our response to them. Compassionate awareness and honesty are the key ingredients to the Buddhist path. Adrienne Howley goes so far to say that, “Buddhism can be of no real value to an individual unless one learns to be perfectly honest with oneself.”