What are the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism and how does A Course in Miracles release us from the idea of suffering?
As a practicing Buddhist for over 30 years, I am quite familiar with these “truths” and the practice of the EightFold Path of: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right insight. All of this “Right” thinking is meant to address the cause and effect of suffering. The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha are:
- Suffering exists
- Suffering arises from attachment to desires
- Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
- Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path
A Course in Miracles teaches us a simpler way, it’s a kind of a shortcut that resolves all appearances of suffering, almost instantly:
Forgiveness paints a picture of a world where suffering is over, loss becomes impossible and anger makes no sense. ….The world becomes a place of joy, abundance, charity and endless giving. It is now so like to Heaven that it quickly is transformed into the light that it reflects. And so the journey which the Son of God began has ended in the light from which he came. (A Course in Miracles – Lesson 249)
This forgiveness is founded on two basic premises; (1) This world is an illusion; we walk in a dream, and (2) Nothing God made can be changed, altered, made sinful or guilty. It is impossible to undo God’s Creation – we simply do not have the power to destroy what God created.
So what is this dream world we think we live in? It is a fabricated script, a story, that came about through a basic curiosity in the mind of the Son of God. Because God knows I cannot be changed, no matter what I think or do, He gave me the ability to make a world, where I imagined love could not exist. I have spent lifetimes trying to find love in this hopeless place, just to prove that I can.
What I have discovered in this fruitless search is that all pleasure in this world is based on something else’s pain. If you don’t believe it, think about anything that you truly enjoy and look at the process that brought it to you. Look at something simple, like ice cream.
If you eat real cow’s milk ice cream, you are eating milk that was produced from cows who are enslaved to produce the milk. The milk is available because the cow has birthed a calf, her child was taken from her by force and she was now left, bereft and childless to become a milk and cream machine. I could tell you similar stories about the production of the sugar, the eggs, the flavorings….. everything is made by and from the suffering of something that appears to be outside of myself.
When I think I see suffering, the ego mind does four things:
- I imagine the suffering is intolerable to the person or the animal, and I want to save them
- Because I am powerless to save them, I devise strategies to separate myself in my mind from the “victims”, usually by justifying it in some way by seeing the victim as somehow less “sensitive” than me, or by seeing them as somehow deserving of their plight
- Having justified my position on my ability to “innocently” eat the ice cream. I ‘forget’ my objections and serve up two scoops. My mind tells me that the animal has no real feelings, or the animal is “serving its purpose” by giving me ice cream, or that the animal is being elevated through its service to a human, or whatever other crap I would rather believe.
- The guilt I had experienced has been safely buried in my unconscious mind until later that night when I wake up with a tummy ache and I blame lactose intolerance. My problem is really “guilt intolerance”, but I don’t see it that way at all. I blame the ice cream, blame the cow and continue to justify my failure to save the cow, because I am suffering now too.
As absurd as this might sound, this is the way the cycle of guilt operates. It is always my choice and my belief that I am responsible for the life and well being of everything and everyone that brings me suffering. Whether I am worried about violence in the streets, or starving children in Africa or whales being hunted to extinction or global warming or homeless people on the corner begging for money or anything else in my experience that points out my helplessness to really fix the world, I feel guilty because I can’t do it. I satisfy my guilt by putting a dollar in the homeless guy’s cup and I smile and thank the trash collector, post videos about social justice or kindness to animals on my Facebook page and I “adopt” a hungry child for $30 a month. And still I am not happy.
I imagine the joy that would be if my mother, my sister, my grandmother were here to see my children, and I imagine the day when my children will wish I was still here to share their joy. Even when I get a new puppy, I imagine the day that sweet, innocent, fluffy little bundle of love will get old and sick and die, and I mourn. And when I do, I want to blame God for a world that is sad and unjust and filled with pain.
It has always been the misfortune of my thought process that I cannot fool myself for very long about the source of “joyful” moments in the illusory world. There is joy in togetherness, but for me it is tempered by my vision of those who are not in my happy circle. It is never far from my thoughts that billions of people in this world are suffering. When I see a baby, a kitten, a field of flowers; when I hear music, see a gorgeous sunrise, smell a rose…. anything… I see that the joy it brings me is temporary. Things suffer, things die, love is lost and found, dancers starve themselves and suffer great pain to bring us beauty, composers live tragic lives, artists suffer, look at Beethoven, Van Gogh, Michelangelo … can you see or hear their work without thinking of the blind and painful lives they lived?
When I look at the suffering of my brothers, do I see them as poor and unfortunate? Weak and defenseless? Different from me? Do I see them as less loved by God?
That is an attack!
God Loves all with the same pure Love. He sees us as perfect, sinless, innocent. He sees us as we are, all the same, whole and perfect. He does not see the sins we relate to the body: flesh and blood, fallible and imperfect, subject to pain and sickness and death. My dilemma is not that there is no reason for improvement in the world – improvement in the illusion is impossible.
There is no difference in anyone’s state of being based on what I perceive as their circumstance.
I may get cancer, lose my job, lose the love of my life, get leprosy, have a horrible accident, anything might happen. Circumstances in the illusion will change, but those are all just storylines in a script. None are better or worse, more or less interesting, or actually even interesting at all. When I noticed that they were all stories and none could be my real experiences, I saw that they were all the same. No more real than the dreams I dream at night, I awoke to see the truth.
God’s Son is perfect, or he cannot be God’s Son. Nor will you know him, if you think he does not merit the escape from guilt in all its consequences and its forms. There is no way to think of him but this, if you would know the truth about yourself.
I thank You, Father, for Your perfect Son, and in his glory will I see my own. Here is the joyful statement that there are no forms of evil that can overcome the Will of God; the glad acknowledgment that guilt has not succeeded by your wish to make illusions real. 6 And what is this except a simple statement of the truth? – A Course in Miracles Text Chapter 30.VI.9.
God is good. Nothing in this world is true. The pain I perceive can be vanquished by forgiveness. If I didn’t see the suffering, I would never pray to know the truth. I would never know that I can change it all by changing my mind. I choose to see this differently. I don’t know what any of these thoughts mean. I choose to let the Holy Spirit change my mind. I can let them go now, and they will be changed to my real thoughts where none of this suffering exists. God is innocent, and so are we. Amen