The first sermon Buddha delivered after enlightenment was on the Four Noble Truths.
- The truth of suffering
- The truth of the origin of suffering
- The truth of the goal
- The truth of the path to the goal
Quite often it is felt that Buddha was pessimistic and was against the good things in life when he uttered the first noble truth that ‘Life is Suffering’ (Dukkha). It is not so. The term suffering can be interpreted in terms of day-to-day anxieties, irritations, etc. When we are all by ourselves, the thought of something missing, that we are not our ideal self, the current problems, start troubling us. The truth is: we do not think, the thoughts happen to us by default; without our choice. These random thoughts include the pain of earning a living, keeping the near and dear ones (and also the professional colleagues) happy, job uncertainties, etc. For those going through an existential dilemma, the pain of being me, the purpose of my life, Who Am I maybe also a part of constant irritation. The constant chattering of the mind from past to future is THE first noble truth, the truth of suffering!
How do we address this perennial irritation? We feel by working hard in our existing jobs or business, we may be able to address the uncertain future. Some people feel that the latest mobile or car may make them happy. Those with an intellectual/spiritual disposition of mind may resort to reading self-help books or attend spiritual retreat/personality development programs. People work on these different options hoping to calm their chattering minds. But beyond a superficial feeling of well-being, the pain resurfaces!
Do self-help books really help? In the US alone, self-help is around a $50 Billion industry. Despite being the pioneers in self-help along with the latest objects of desire, the country has an alarming crime and divorce rate, with a pervasive feeling of loneliness. Bhutan, a country without a commercial self-help industry is considered as one of the happiest countries. Incidentally research shows that people who are dependent on self-help books invariably tend to buy another book within the next 18 months! Paradoxically it is only the (fake) Gurus who make money, leaving their subjects poor, and the latter looking out for new techniques all the time! Our constant endeavour to drive away the pain either by acquiring new objects or self-improvement techniques is the root cause of suffering; the second Noble Truth.
After running on this hedonistic/spiritual treadmill for long; somehow the mind gets exhausted. You say to yourself: enough is enough, and stop trying! You accept the way you are; you accept your chattering mind. And lo behold, magic happens! There is a gap between consecutive thoughts. Your thought process slows down. Now you start seeing gaps, the emptiness between two thoughts, and you start arriving at peace with yourself. Your mind shifts from the past/future treadmill to the present moment! This is the third noble truth, the truth of the goal.
But these gaps are intermittent, ephemeral. If you start craving for the gaps, you go back to the first noble truth. The truth of suffering!
The media has conditioned us in making us believe that multitasking is good and that one should try to compress as many activities in the shortest possible time, which can make us productive and in turn lead to happiness. Nothing can be farther from the truth than this view. While watching TV, if a commercial appears, immediately we turn to the remote. We drink coffee while watching TV, we read a newspaper while having breakfast, and we WhatsApp messages during meals. We are trying to keep our minds busy to avoid the pain of the chattering mind. Most of these activities we do are in an auto-pilot mode: fingers on the mobile, with eyes on the TV screen, while sipping tea; but with the mind chattering at the speed of light about an important client meeting!
Let us understand the fourth noble truth, the truth of the path to the goal. Imagine you are making a cup of tea. Pour the water into the kettle, feel the sensation. Watch the water boiling and feel the steam and the warmth. Pour the tea powder into the kettle, smell the aroma of tea leaves in the boiling water. Allow the tea to percolate, watch your mind while pouring the tea slowly in the cup. Sit comfortably in your chair, and start drinking it with mindfulness. Observe the sensations at your lips, the tongue, and the way it travels down your food pipe. While doing this, you are in the present moment all the time and appreciating the tea with all the five senses: the aroma, the taste, the colour, the warmth of the cup as well as sensation while tea is going down the gullet. When you perform every action in a similar mindful way, you are disconnecting the chattering mind and that is the fourth noble truth: the truth of the path to the goal! Practise even ordinary activities with total awareness and complete attention. Let it be choiceless.
All actions are intrinsically noble: sending a mail to a client or a WhatsApp message to a friend is in no way superior to cleaning the sink or washing the clothes! You do not have to outsource the latter activities to servants thinking them (both the activity as well as the servant) to be inferior! Every activity whether small or big, if done mindfully leads to salvation! And that is the truth of the path to the goal.
When we are multitasking with a chattering mind hovering in the past or the future, we are nowhere; acting like a zombie, no different than a robot – but perennially suffering. A robot in a way is still better, at least it does not suffer!
When we are doing one task at a time with complete awareness, we are in the present moment. That is the journey from nowhere to now and here, a paradigm shift from confusion to enlightenment! Be Happy!
Rajan Parulekar – Director, Hospitality Paradigm