Text Section 119
The first of the four concepts [’du shes bzhi] teaches that you should consider yourself as a person afflicted with sickness of afflictions. Among the four noble truths, the truth of cessation and the truth of the path are the dharma. The truth of suffering and the truth of origination are what must be overcome and rejected [spang bya].
Concerning the Four Noble Truths it is said:
You must understand the truth of suffering,
Overcome the truth of origination,
Aim for the truth of cessation,
And apply the path to your mind.
sdug bsngal shes par bya
kun ’byung spong bar bya
‘gog pa sngon du bzhag dgos
lam rgyud la brten dgos
Many people do not know how to identify suffering. At first, one must understand that one is afflicted by the illnesses represented by the truth of suffering [sdug bsngal bden pa].
There are three fundamental types of suffering [rtsa ba’i sdug bsngal gsum]: suffering of change [’gyur ba’i sdug bsngal], suffering upon suffering [sdug bsngal gyi sdug bsngal], and omnipresent suffering in the making [khyab pa ’du byed kyi sdug bsngal].
What is referred to as the ‘suffering of change’ is the suffering we experience when a state of happiness suddenly changes into suffering. One moment we are happy and the next moment we are overcome by sickness, we lose our house and property, or are otherwise plunged into suffering.
We experience ‘suffering upon suffering’ when, before one suffering has passed, we are subjected to another. We get leprosy, and then we break out in boils. Our father dies and then our mother dies soon afterwards. We are pursued by enemies and, on top of that, a loved one dies. In this way, one misery is heaped upon another.
The ‘omnipresent suffering in the making’ [khyab pa ’du byed kyi sdug bsngal] refers to the suffering omnipresent throughout all the three realms of saṃsāra. Although we might not experience this suffering right now, nonetheless, we are constantly preoccupied with preparing, fabricating, and attracting the causes for inevitable future suffering. Our very food and clothing, our homes, celebrations, life-style and the adornments, all of which give us pleasure, are actually all the result of harmful actions. Whatever we do for ourselves is at the expense of other beings. As everything we do is nothing more than a concoction of negative actions, it can lead only to suffering.
We also undergo three further kinds of suffering: at the moment of death we have the suffering of being cut off from life [’chi kha gnad gcod kyi sdug bsngal]. Next, we will experience the suffering of the intermediate state [shi nas bar do’i sdug bsngal]. Later, we will be forced to take rebirth and experience the suffering of the three lower realms [phyi ma ngan song gi sdug bsngal].
Furthermore, there is the suffering of birth [skye ba], old age [rga ba], sickness [na ba], and death [’chi ba]. There is the suffering of losing loved ones [byams pa dang bral gyi dogs pa’i sdug pa], the suffering of meeting enemies [dgra sdang ba dang ’phrad kyis dogs pa’i sdug bsngal], the suffering of not getting what one wants [’dod pa thog tu mi khel ba’i sdug bsngal], and the suffering of encountering what one does not wish to [mi ’dod pa thog tu ’babs pa’i sdug bsngal].
In addition to these there is also the particular suffering experienced by the beings of the six realms [rigs drug so so’i sdug bsngal]: beings in hell are tormented by the suffering of heat and cold [tsha grang gi sdug bsgnal]; pretas suffer from hunger and thirst [bkres skom gyi sdug bsngal]; animals are afflicted with stupidity and ignorance; human beings must endure birth, aging, disease, and death [skye rga na ’chi’i sdug bsngal]; demi-gods struggle with quarreling and fighting [’thab rtsod gyi sdug bsngal]; and even the gods experience the suffering of death and transition [’chi ’pho ba’i sdug bsngal].
The causes of all these types of suffering [sdug bsngal gyi rgyu] are karma and afflictions [las dang nyon mongs pa]. The cause of karma is afflictions. The root of afflictions is ego-clinging [bdag ’dzin]. To identify the causes of suffering is the intent of the truth of origination [kun ’byung gi bden pa]. The method [thabs] of overcoming the origination of suffering is known as the truth of the path, while the result of having overcome the origination of suffering brings one to the truth of cessation.
If one takes refuge in the dharma, one is taking refuge in the truth of cessation and the truth of the path, and not in the truth of suffering and the truth of origination. The truths of suffering and its origination are part of the dharma, but they are what must be overcome [spang bya] or transcended and, therefore, are not themselves objects of refuge. Suffering and the origination of suffering by themselves are not the dharma. They become the dharma only when overcome.
At first, it is imperative to consider your mind to be ill since it bears the causes of suffering. Once your mind is free from ego-clinging and afflictions, no cause for suffering remains in your mind, and you no longer need to regard yourself as a sick person.
The second of the ‘four concepts’ means that one must consider the dharma as medicine. A simple definition of the dharma can be that the dharma is a ’positive mindset’, a ‘noble motivation’ [chos zer ba ’di bsam pa bzang po]. Dharma is positive motivation and positive thinking. A negative mindset, negative motivation, and negative thinking are not the way of the dharma.
Many so-called Buddhist practitioners focus too much on external activities like hanging prayer flags, reciting the scriptures, and performing rituals, without understanding that these activities all depend on positive motivation, on positive thinking. Consider the dharma as the cure for the causes of suffering. The method that frees the practitioner from suffering and the causes of suffering is included in the truth of the path [lam gyi bden pa].
Therefore it is said,
“Apply the truth of the path to your mind [lam bden rgyud la brten par bya’o].”
The third among the ‘four concepts’ speaks of developing the attitude that intensive practice is the best cure for the illness of your being. Just knowing the dharma is not sufficient. You need to apply the teachings to your being day and night. Only if you dedicate yourself entirely to the path of enlightenment will there be a chance for you to actually make some progress in this very lifetime. Do not waste this precious opportunity of having found the genuine dharma, a genuine teacher, and the ideal conditions to practice the dharma.
Finally, the fourth concept is that you regard your spiritual master as a learned physician. The spiritual friend [dge ba’i bshes gnyen] should be considered to be similar to the Buddha [sangs rgyas lta bu’i ’du shes]. It is most important to place one’s trust in one’s spiritual guide. If you do not trust in the physician, you will not trust in his medicine, and there will be no chance to cure your illnesses.