The purpose of the teachings and practice is freedom, the “sure heart’s release.” It is the cooling and extinguishing of the fires of greed, hatred and delusion that rage in the heart. Knowing the genuine possibility of freedom for every being, the Buddha taught that the heart can be free and loving in every circumstance. And he assured us that if it were not possible, he would not ask us to realize and embody it. This is the Third Noble Truth—suffering can cease and that sure heart’s release must be, and has been, realized: freedom, right here, in the midst of the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows known in every human life.
Seeing the inevitability of pleasure and pain, light and dark, gain and loss, praise and blame, all appearing for a time and changing from their own karmic momentum, we understand everything as process—thoughts constantly appearing and disappearing, feelings changing, bodies aging, transforming, shifting and moving. This is how it is—no solid self, nothing permanent or irretrievably, unchangeably me or mine—like bubbles in a stream. This understanding mandates letting go, not clinging inwardly or outwardly.
It is important that the notion of liberation not be made a thing or place that one gets or gets to at some point. It’s not in Burma, Tibet or elsewhere. And if you think you’ve got “it,” there’s “it,” you, and the reassertion of clinging, disconnection.
Inexorable and inevitable freedom is thus the essence of the Third Noble Truth. In the words of Martin Luther King, “Let freedom ring.”
The Second Noble Truth is that the clinging mind—grasping, hatred and ignorance—protecting what we think is “ours” from loss—are the cause of suffering, individual and worldwide, internally and externally.
The ground of the clinging mind is ignorance—taking what is unsatisfactory, impermanent and insubstantial to be satisfactory, permanent and substantial, despite mountains of life evidence to the contrary. It is the delusion that what we keep, guard, possess and cling to will win the mythical race to happiness. Out of grasping, possessiveness and aggression come wars, racism, tribalism, “us and them,” and much of the misery in the world. There is enough medicine and food. We just don’t think it’s our responsibility to see it gets to the “other.” Ignorant of our interconnectedness, we believe there really is “us and them,” and ignore that how we treat each other may be a more effective measure of global happiness or suffering than how much we have accumulated.
We grasp at “how it should be,” ignoring how things lawfully unfold, and that everything is dependent on causes and conditions. Our own response to experience makes the difference between suffering and contentment. Instead of attending to our thoughts, words and actions, we place blame externally, trying to fix circumstances without attention to the quality of our relationship to them.
Considering this, I invite you, when you’re suffering, to intimately understand attachment, aggression and ignorance—see whether the more we cling, the more we suffer. Is there an opportunity to unclench—even a little?