Understanding, abandoning, experiencing and bringing into being

Tradition tells us that soon after his awakening the Buddha summed up what had happened as he sat beneath the tree of awakening in terms of the arising in him of a particular vision, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, clarity concerning four things, namely suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation; moreover that vision, knowledge, wisdom, understanding and clarity had three dimensions to it in each case:

he was clear as to the nature of suffering;
he was clear that suffering must be fully understood;
he was clear that he had fully understood suffering;

he was clear as to the nature of the cause of suffering;
he was clear that the cause must be abandoned;
he was clear that he had abandoned the cause;

he was clear as to the nature of the cessation of suffering;
he was clear that that cessation must be directly experienced;
he was clear that he had directly experienced that cessation;

he was clear as to the nature of the way leading to the cessation of suffering;
he was clear that way must be brought into being;
he was clear that he had brought that way into being.

In so far as he had not been clear about these four things he had counted himself unawakened; in so far as he was now clear about those same four things he was now awakened. Tradition also suggests that to be clear about any one of these four things is to be clear about all four.

In order to get to know something or someone we must spend time with them, familiarize ourselves with their ways, be patient, avoid hasty judgements and not jump to conclusions. And yet, although our lives may bring numerous chances for getting better acquainted with what we regard as unpleasant and what we find painful, we would rather not; when we see them coming, we try to look the other way, we cross the street to avoid a meeting, we panic and turn and run; unfortunately they can usually run faster; they overtake us or jump out on us when we come round the corner. Of course, sometimes when they get hold of us it is no laughing matter; they can frighten us to the very core of our being and leave us feeling desperate and broken. Those are the times it is hardest to look them in the eye. But perhaps if we could do so at precisely those times they would not be able to return our gaze …

It is hard not to turn and flee in the face of pain, disappointment and suffering. Indeed it is natural. Indeed this is why we begin to look for some refuge, for safety, for escape. In seeking a refuge we acknowledge the reality of pain, dissatisfaction, unease, suffering; and in that acknowledgement there is a quiet faith that something can be done: there is suffering but we do not need to always run from it; in fact this fear is its food, what gives it its power. There is a point of stillness that is brought into being here; a point of stillness that can be nurtured.

In the very act of turning towards our dissatisfaction, to what disturbs us, to what troubles us, to what scares us — whether it is some deep pain or just the discomfort in our legs or the dullness of our minds as we sit — in the very act of turning towards that, we for a moment see that it is just an aspect of the way in which things come and go, the way in which things rise and fall, one thing always leading to the next — nothing special. The in-breath and the out-breath. And yet in that moment if we watch carefully in the stillness we might notice that what troubles us is gone, has ceased. The cessation of suffering is not something we can manufacture, contrive, or bring about it is simply something there before our senses to be experienced: to be seen and heard; something which we can only silently witness. As if when all sounds subside we suddenly hear the silence; as if when all that there is to be seen has vanished we finally see the light.

Witnessing this strengthens something, changes us, brings something into being; we are no longer the same. We have glimpsed the way.