The Four Noble Truths IV:
The Truth of the Path to the Cessation of Suffering

by Venerable Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche

June 10, 1999

Ratnashri Meditation Center, Sweden   HOME  Dharma talks


The Fourth Noble Truth is called the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering. There are two kinds of cessation, savaka system of cessation (Nirodha or Arhat state) and the Bodhisattva system of cessation (Buddhahood). Savaka system of cessation, Nirodha is temporary compared with Buddhahood. Those who follow the Savaka path are not interested in helping every sentient being as the Bodhisattvas do. Bodhisattvas are committed to help every sentient being regardless of who it is. They are reborn life after life until all sentient beings are liberated. This is the Bodhisattva way of life. Even though they achieve Buddhahood, their activities continue. Savaka system is sometimes called Hinayana. Practitioners have, of course, compassion but they lack bodhicitta (the mind of Enlightenment) and are therefore not committed to help all sentient beings. So in their lives, they help and benefit many sentient beings as much as they can while trying to free themselves from samsara to attain the nirvana state. They perform many different types of activities. They go through their lives practicing and attaining the four fruits or the four different types of realizations. The first is called entering into the stream because they enter into the Arhat path. The second is called returning once. Before they attain the final realization, they have some more purification to do and thus, they are reborn once more. The third is called non-returning state. They are guaranteed to achieve the full Arhat State within the present lifetime so there is no need to return to samsara. The fourth is called Arhatship or the four destroyers because all the afflictive emotions are destroyed. Arhatship is a state with the complete realization. To achieve this state, practitioners have to purify the self-grasping obscuration, i.e. person self and the phenomena self. Person self is I or me. We are so attached to that. Even though there is no independent self and self is just a label to the collection of the five aggregates, we are so attached to the label. So practitioners have to purify that totally. When that is completely purified and uprooted, the gross obscurations related to the mind are purified and the joyful and peaceful Arhat State is attained. The Savaka and hearer school achieve that state. Bodhisattvas achieving Buddhahood is called non-abiding. Non-abiding means neither abide in the samsara nor abide in Nirvana (the Arhat state). So Buddha goes beyond those two extremes. Buddhahood is the state of total peace. Through great compassion, they do not give up the possibility of benefiting sentient beings and at the same time through great wisdom, they are not abiding in the samsara (the confusion state) like us.


Now to attain complete Enlightenment, Buddhahood, there is a path to follow. It is commonly known as the Five Paths. Before entering into the path, first, we study the nature of samsara, the cyclic existence, the cycle of confusion. It is cyclic because it goes round and round in a circle. For example, days – we get up in the morning scheduling the activities for the whole day from morning to evening and then go to sleep. The next day, we wake up and start the daily routine again. So, in this way, days go round and round. Weeks go in a cycle too, Monday through Sunday and then again Monday through Sunday. Similarly, months – after 30 or 31 days, the next month starts again from day 1 to the end of the month. A year has 12 months. After 12 months, it starts the next year again from the first month. So in this way, there is no farther to go and we just go round and round. We are born, getting old and then die and then are born again, getting old and die and so on in a cycle. This kind of existence is called the cyclic existence. We exist in that state sometimes feeling good and sometimes feeling bad, sometimes sad and sometimes happy. We investigate, try to understand that nature and find out how we can free ourselves from that. Relating to the cycle of days, there is a story. Once, there was a king and a very smart minister. The king asked the minister to come to him. The king was very interested in all types of horses and he mentioned all the different types of horses with various colors, shapes, and sizes to the minister. Then the king said to the minister, "Now, you have to find me a special horse – a horse type that I have not mentioned, within a week. If you do not find it after one week has passed, I will execute you." So, the minister went home and he was very upset because there was no way to find such a horse. Whatever existed in this world, the king had already mentioned it. So, he was thinking what he should do. If he did not have anything to tell the king, he would be killed within a week. Then he got a good idea. He asked an attendant of the king to come and told him, "Please tell the king that I have already found such a horse that he wished for. Please come and get the horse on such a day which does not lie within a week." In other words, the king had to come on such a day which does not exist. The king got the message and promoted the minister to a higher rank because of his intelligence. So in the samsara, things just go round and round in a cycle. To free from that cycle, we have to find out what the cause of the cycle is. In the previous talk, we investigated in great detail the root cause of suffering. It is our ignorance – the delusion and obscurations of the mind that tie us to samsara. In order to break the cycle, we have to purify the obscurations by studying and practicing the Dharma step by step. The mental development of wisdom and compassion in which one purifies the different levels of obscurations is fully cultivated through the five paths: the path of accumulation, the path of application, the path of insight, the path of meditation and the path of complete perfection.


The first path is called the Path of Accumulation. First one have to study, contemplate and train well on the Four Foundations: the rarity and preciousness of leisure and endowment of human life; the impermanence of all compound phenomena, including precious human life; the all-pervading sufferings in samsara; and the universal law of causes and effects. Then one gets a clear understanding of the need to renounce samsara and yearns to be free from samsara to attain Enlightenment. On the basis of this awareness, one seeks refuge in the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) as a way to directly connect to and cultivate one’s mind to attain the limitless qualities of the enlightened beings. Then one takes the precepts and vows, and go through the three types of training: Shila (moral ethics); samadhi (meditation); and Prajna (insight wisdom awareness) in order to step by step tame the mind, uproot the habitualized non-virtuous habits, and purify both gross and subtle obscurations such as afflictive emotions. The three types of training can be divided into the six paramitas, that is, the training of generosity, moral ethics, patience, perseverance, meditative concentration and wisdom awareness. One’s effort is focused and organized into the spiritual path. With the guidance of spiritual masters, one starts gathering the different instructions and methods that will establish the mind in clarity and one-pointedness. One studies, contemplates and gathers great wisdom and great mental power to directly understand and stabilize the understanding of those teachings by actual experiences. That is, bringing the Dharma teachings and practices into the mind, and mixing with the mind rather than just intellectually understanding them. On this foundation, great loving-kindness, compassion and bodhicitta are developed. One cultivates the mind of aspiration and action bodhicitta through these practices and makes effort in virtues until one attains the heat of wisdom. Progress is classified in four stages: realization, aspiration, greater aspiration and achievement. During the path of accumulation, twelve of the thirty-seven branches of Enlightenment are practiced. They are four types of mindfulness, four types of perfect abandonment, and four feet of miracle powers. Each of the four types corresponds to each of the Four Noble Truths. The four types of mindfulness are sustaining mindfulness of the body, feelings, the mind and phenomena. Through that, uncontrived bodhicitta is developed. There is an instinctive understanding of which acts are unskillful and one firmly establishes those that are skillful. When there is mindfulness, there is meditation; and when there is no mindfulness, there is no meditation. Mindfulness is the freeway to Enlightenment. Sustaining mindfulness of the body focuses specifically on its impermanent and composite nature – the aggregation of many factors. Thus, there is nothing to be attached to. This meditation leads to a clear understanding of the First Noble Truth – the truth of suffering – and one develops a strong wish for liberation. Sustaining mindfulness of the feelings focuses specifically on the temporary nature of the good or bad feelings. This contemplation leads to the understanding of the Second Noble Truth – the truth of the cause of suffering – which causes one to abandon desire and aversion. Sustaining mindfulness of the mind focuses specifically on its momentary nature. This contemplation leads to insight into the Third Noble Truth – the truth of the cessation of suffering – and one realizes that there is no permanent and independent self. Sustaining mindfulness of the phenomena focuses specifically on them lacking self-existence. This contemplation leads to insight into the Fourth Noble Truth – the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering. The four types of perfect abandonment are: abandoning non-virtues which have been created, not allowing new non-virtues to be produced, applying the antidotes and bringing forth virtues which have not arisen, and allowing those virtues which have arisen to increase. Through these four states of complete abandonment, selfishly motivated thoughts are no longer present. One follows every moment the course of causes and effects, and by being constantly aware of this, all one’s actions become skillful. The four feet of miracle powers are the four absorption (samadhi): the absorption of strong aspiration to attain perfect absorption, the absorption of perseverance, the absorption of the mind, that is, the realization of the inherent potential of the mind; and absorption of investigation, that is, the examination of the teachings and one’s level of attainment. These four states of absorption are the main methods that support complete attainment of one-pointed concentration. One has the ability to remain in absorption at all times. Whenever one wishes to examine anything, the full power of concentration is available for use. Moreover, one never forgets any of the teachings and can see the spiritual teachers in their enlightened form.


Second, the path of preparation or path of application, which begins after the perfection of the path of accumulation. Sometimes, it is also called the linking path because this path links between samsara and beyond samsara. We are now preparing to free from samsara and one gets more glimpses of the understanding of emptiness – emptiness of the self and emptiness of the independent existence. There is a lot of appreciation and joy, the feeling of warmth when one hears the meaning of emptiness because the reality of the nature of emptiness is coming closer. One gets very excited when one gets a glimpse of emptiness and one becomes determined to fully actualize it. One has such confidence and devotion that one makes great effort to stabilize and organize the mind in the right place and purify all the obscurations in the mind. One makes effort to directly realize the truth – direct understanding of the profound meaning of the Dharma. One develops further by training the mind well and strengthening the power of wisdom in order to counter the afflictive emotions. By studying and familiarizing oneself through practice, with the idea that everything is interdependent and illusory, one will gain the ability to transform and subjugate all the powers of the afflictive emotions. It has four stages corresponding to the realization of the Four Noble Truths: heat, maximum heat, patience and realization of the highest worldly dharma. First, heat, when one starts meditation practice, the "heat" of experience arises, and becomes hotter and hotter as the practice develops. At this stage, kleshas are weakened. Next, maximum heat – at this stage, extremes of nihilism and permanence are abandoned. Next, patience – at this stage, lower rebirth is assured not to happen, the fear of losing self-identity is lost and there is great capacity to take on suffering. Finally, the realization of the highest worldly dharma – at this stage, there is an understanding of samsara. During the stages of heat and maximum heat, five powers are practiced: the power of faith, armor-like perseverance, mindfulness on the Four Noble Truths, absorption of combined samatha and vipashyana, and wisdom awareness which enable one to examine the emptiness of the Four Noble Truths. These make up another five of the thirty-seven branches of Enlightenment. During the stages of patience and highest worldly dharma, five strengths are practiced – the strength of faith, perseverance, mindfulness, absorption and wisdom awareness. These make up yet another five of the thirty-seven branches of Enlightenment.


The third path is called the path of insight. On the basis of one-pointed meditative concentration and with the support of special insight, one penetrates into the nature of the mind itself and is completely victorious in the battle with delusion and afflictive obscurations. The process of direct realization and direct experience of the all-pervading emptiness in the meditative state is called the path of insight or path of critical seeing. At this stage, one becomes an Arya and the first bhumi, which is called great joy, is attained (bhumi refers to the progression levels of a bodhisatva´s training). There is great joy because before one had to make effort to realize emptiness and now one can realize it directly. Now, one is above samsara and closer to Enlightenment, and one achieves greater qualities to benefit sentient beings. Earlier even though one had great compassion to help others but one was so limited in many ways, while now one achieves greater wisdom and acquires skillful means. Now one is free from the bond of delusion and confusion. The distinctive practice for Bodhisattvas who abide at this bhumi is on the perfection of generosity. The path of insight begins after the highest worldly dharma, and calm abiding is the basis for special insight. This path focuses on the Four Noble Truths. Four insights, i.e. patient acceptance, continuous patience, actual awareness, and continuous discriminating awareness, all of which correspond to each of the Four Noble Truths making a total of sixteen stages. For example, the patient acceptance of the truth of suffering, the continuous patience to the truth of suffering, the actual awareness of the truth of suffering and the continuous discriminating awareness of the truth of suffering and so forth. It is called the path of insight because there one realizes the Four Noble Truths, which was not possible before. At this stage, there are seven branches of Enlightenment. They are the perfect mindfulness branch – one never forgets virtuous conduct or the goal of Enlightenment, the perfect discrimination branch – one possesses the perfect discriminating wisdom to the direct understanding of non-self existence, the perfect perseverance branch, the perfect joy branch – non-samsaric happiness, and joy without self-grasping, the perfect relaxation branch – bliss, the perfect absorption branch and the perfect equanimity branch – one no longer experiences physical suffering and is free from the five fears, i.e. fear of not enough food or clothing, stagefright, death, birth in the lower realms and teaching more learned people.


The fourth path is called the path of meditation. In order to enhance and purify all the habitual tendencies, and to dispel obstacles from the path to Enlightenment, one needs constant reminding and mindfulness. Recalling the impermanence of all phenomena dispels attachment to this life. Recalling the suffering nature of samsara dispels attachment to the pleasures of samsara. Recalling loving-kindness and compassion dispels the obstacles to one’s own peace and liberation. Enhancing the practice of bodhicitta dispels ignorance about how to attain Enlightenment. To practice understanding everything as selfless and of illusory nature is the method to dispel one’s grasping of phenomena as real. This manner of training is included in the path of meditation. The path of meditation begins after the realization of special insight. Through that one attains the post-meditation direct understanding of truth. It is called the path of meditation because there, one becomes familiar with the realizations that one achieved in the path of insight. There are two types of meditation, i.e. analytical meditation and stabilizing equipoise meditation. First, in the beginning, analytical meditation is important in order to achieve the stabilizing meditation. We analyze, investigate and contemplate on the impermanence, the cause of suffering, precious human life and the interdependent nature of all phenomena. After one attains this wisdom to some extent through analytical meditation, in order to achieve complete realization, one has to stabilize the stabilizing equipoise meditation. Through the equipoise meditative state, one can achieve all knowledge not just intellectually or analytically. When one can develop such a one-pointed virtuous mind in the equipoise state, one’s mind is completely organized and stays in the right place. It is so powerful and in such a clear and profound state that it can eliminate and purify all obscurations and manifest mentally infinite wisdom and compassion. One weighs virtue and non-virtue of everything and sees the value of performing virtue. The very one-pointed nature in the virtuous state during the powerful equipoise meditation allows one to realize the path of special insight and actualize the intuitive actualization of the meaning of the practices during the path of meditation. The second to tenth bhumis occur during the path of meditation. The second bhumi is described as stainless because one is free from the stains of immorality. The distinctive practice is on the perfection of moral ethics. The third bhumi is described as radiant because the appearances and absorption of Dharma are clear and the light of the Dharma radiates for others. The distinctive practice is on the perfection of patience. The fourth bhumi is described as luminous because two veils are burned away by the luminous light of primordial wisdom of all the branches of Enlightenment. The distinctive practice is on the perfection of perseverance. The fifth bhumi is described as very difficult to train because Bodhisattvas strive to mature sentient beings and they do not become emotionally involved when sentient beings respond negatively, both of which are difficult to do. The distinctive practice is on the perfection of meditative concentration. The sixth bhumi is described as obviously transcendent because supported by the perfection of wisdom awareness, Bodhisattvas do not abide in either samsara or nivana, so they are obviously transcendent and beyond samsara and nirvana. The distinctive practice is on the perfection of wisdom awareness. The seventh bhumi is described as gone afar because it is related to the one-way path to the perfection of action. The distinctive practice is on the perfection of skillful means. The eighth bhumi is described as immovable because it cannot be moved by the perception of effort with signs or by the perception of effort without signs. The distinctive practice is on the perfection of aspiration. The ninth bhumi is described as good discriminating wisdom because those who attain it have perfect discriminating awareness. The distinctive practice is on the perfection of strength. The tenth bhumi is described as cloud of Dharma because one who abides in it showers the rain of Dharma like a cloud and purifies the dust of afflictive emotions of sentient beings. That is, the doors of dharani (mantra) and absorption in the Dharma pervade everything like a cloud covering the sky. The distinctive practice is on the perfection of primordial wisdom. A tenth-level Bodhisattva has such great power to effortlessly manifest activities that benefit countless sentient beings. That bodhisatta’s mind is completely dominated by unconditional, non-objectified compassion and great wisdom. Such a one is free from all fear and doubt, and has the indomitable courage and skill to benefit beings until the end of samsara. The last eight of the thirty-seven branches of Enlightenment is covered in this stage and they are known as the eightfold path or the eight righteousness path. They are perfect view (view on emptiness that cuts the root of ignorance), perfect thought (with intention to express the understanding to others), perfect speech (giving precise teachings which are free of contradiction), perfect action (to refrain completely from non-virtue), perfect livelihood (free from the five wrong ways to acquire things: putting on an act to impress others to gain something, giving something in the hope of receiving more in return, flattery for gain, hinting for gain, making up excuses to exploit others), perfect effort (effort to abandon all inborn kleshas), perfect mindfulness (highly developed memory) and perfect absorption (use of samadhi to attain the clairvoyance of Buddha). Through perfect speech, action and livelihood, one brings others to a strong conviction to Dharma. Perfect effort, mindfulness and absorption are the opponents to kleshas.


The last path is called the path of complete perfection. At the final state, the Bodhisattva does such powerful meditation that none of the negative thoughts can penetrate to create obstacles. When one completely purifies and uproot all the subtle obscurations through the vajra-like absorption, the all-pervading primordial wisdom blossoms. When one realizes this level, there is nothing more to dispel and nothing to add. It transcends all the conceptions of duality and actualizes the primordial mind as such. The total wisdom is fully awakened. At this state, one attains the bhumi of Buddhahood. This is called the path of perfection or the path of no-more-learning. Buddha possesses two types of primordial wisdom – the primordial wisdom of actualizing and penetrating into the nature of all phenomena, and the wisdom of knowing all types of knowledge. The state of omniscience is attained.


The above discussion lays out the complete path on how to totally purify and uproot the causes of suffering and to attain Enlightenment. Of particular importance is the study and practice of Bodhicitta (the mind of Enlightenment). This mind embraces the universal loving-kindness, wisdom and compassion to all sentient beings and no one is neglected. We do not have any enemy. This gives us every comfort, inspiration, courage and mental power to go through whatever difficulties we face in order to purify all our obscurations and to reveal the true nature of all phenomena. Everybody admires and appreciates those who possess that mind no matter who they are. Everybody would like to stay close to them, even animals feel calm and peace. So, it becomes the source to harmony and peace. Buddhist or non-buddhist has to practice Bodhicitta in order to achieve peace and harmony in their mind because it is universal. We are grown up out of the kindness of father, mother, brothers and sisters. If we are not grown up under such kind of conditions, our mind is damaged. It is therefore very important for us to make effort, plant and let grow those qualities in our own mind. This is the wealth that we can accumulate life after life. Ordinary wealth that we have in this life we cannot carry with us. When we die, we have to go with empty hands. So cultivating the Bodhicitta mind is the best investment and the best way of making effort in this life. It is such a best friend, the best friend that we can find in our lives who give us comfort and strength. So, we have to make effort no matter what it takes. We practice joyfully, feeling fortunate to have the opportunity and with contentment. Contentment means that we work hard, make effort as much as we can without expectation, then whatever result or achievement we have, we accept, rejoice and appreciate. We always explore opportunities to improve. Simply resenting the result or doing things with expectation would only bring obstacles and suffering. We make effort anyway, so why not make effort to create the causes of peace and joy for ourselves and for others in this life and the lives after. At this moment, we may not have the ability to help others but at least we generate this altruistic thought. First, we generate and practice that thought in our own mind. Then step by step when we have achieved some good qualities, we share with others as much as we can both for the welfare of others and for our own progress. The journey on the path may be long, but when we gradually see that our negative thoughts, and negative, afflictive emotions are becoming less and less powerful and the mind is becoming clearer and we are more sincere to ourselves and others, then we are progressing on the path. Step by step without expectation, practice with patience, confidence, devotion and perseverance, sooner or later, all our obscurations and the causes of suffering will be exhausted. It is just a matter of time. Thank you.


May all mother sentient beings, boundless as the sky,
have happiness and the causes of happiness;
May they be liberated from suffering and the causes of suffering;
May they never be separated from the happiness which is free from sorrow;
May they rest in equnimity free from attachment and aversion.


Last updated on 2001-01-15.