#29: After Teaching the Ancient Chinese Masters, the American English Teacher Considers Buddhism Through an Exploration of the Four Noble Truths

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After Teaching the Ancient Chinese Masters, the American English Teacher Considers Buddhism Through an Exploration of The Four Noble Truths

Life is suffering.
Not the physical pain of suffering,
a burnt hand, a broken limb, an illness,
but an uneasiness, a dissatisfaction,
a desire that comes not from a dream or a goal
but from an overwhelming sense of scarcity.

Suffering has causes.
And they are all right between my ears.
Whatever makes me feel disgusted with life
comes from some stupid thing I think I need
in order to be happy, and if I understand
those unfulfilled desires and the thinking
that enables them to haunt my waking hours,
I am half way there.

It is possible to end suffering.
Really? I don’t have to go on
wallowing in self pity or jealousy or envy
or desire for whatever it is I don’t have;
I can jettison regret, guilt, embarrassment
about the past and wild grasping and hand wringing
about the future?  Sign me up.

Suffering ceases through the practice
of the Eightfold Path: right view, right intention,
right speech, right action, right livelihood,
right effort, right mindfulness, and finally,
right concentration.

In my adulthood I have learned
to reject most everything about religion,
but here, after teaching the poems of Li Po
and Wang Wei to high school students,
and finding it necessary for contextual purposes
to introduce them to the Four Nobel Truths,
I find myself without argument or criticism,
humbled and awestruck by this little bit,
by these touchstones of Buddhist practice.

Such an elegant prescription,
I’m tempted to say simple, even,
but I know that is not remotely true,
or at least, not easy. Simple in its
straightforwardness, in the absence
of dogma, in its pure, undeniable wisdom,
but a difficult and complex practice.
I’m not sure I have the stamina,
the discipline, the honesty, the selflessness
to ever become a true practitioner, or,
what might be considered a good Buddhist.

But just having them there
on the page and in my mind,
these Four Noble Truths,
as clear as any prescription by the greatest
psychologists the world has ever known,
gives me a great deal of comfort and, perhaps,
the only and best kind of compass I’ve yet
encountered since abandoning the faith
of my youth, my family, and my culture.
I know I’ll wander off here and there,
meandering, getting stuck in the thickets,
but it’s a path I can follow, imperfectly,
the Middle Way leading me home.

3 Comments

Filed under Poetry

3 responses to “#29: After Teaching the Ancient Chinese Masters, the American English Teacher Considers Buddhism Through an Exploration of the Four Noble Truths

  1. Nance

    It is poem 29 morning, sun rising here where morning streams through the windows, shining through filtered spring greenery as though it is day one, and again tomorrow, day one again. Michael, I have so loved these daily musings, each one a faceted gem to turn about, to re-view, to read again. My gratitude to you – Nance

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