The Second Noble Truth

The Origin of Suffering

I thought, maybe, that I should continue on with a follow-up for yesterday’s post—so here goes.

In Buddhism, the Second Noble Truth is known as Samudaya—The Origin of Suffering. Much like the First Truth-Dukkha—this one is deceptively simple to understand. Applying it is always the tricky part.

The Buddha observed that one person, and one person only, can generate desire. You.

Only you can desire something. No one else can force you to desire whatever it is that you want and it doesn’t matter what that want is. An acceptance letter from a publisher, a contract for three books, to be the starting center fielder for the Boston Red Sox. Each desire stems from within.

The Buddha went on to observe that the very idea of desiring something is a means of protecting the self. If you think about that for a moment, if you break it all the way down, it makes sense.

If you have an image of yourself as a great golfer, each bad score you write down is an affront to your self-image.

If you fancy yourself a great writer, each rejection is an attack on the image you hold of yourself.

If you see yourself as a great parent, a bad report card or cold shoulder from your kids can seem like a massive slight to your self-image.

In short, when you desire something, the only way to maintain your sense of self is to accomplish that thing. You set yourself up for situations where any other outcome could induce suffering and misery.

How does this work then? Am I saying not to have goals? Absolutely not. If anything, the absence of goals would probably make things worse. Have goals. Set reasonable, achievable ones. Just don’t make the attainment of your goals the ultimate yardstick against which you measure your sense of self, worth, or happiness.

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