Putting the Four Noble Truths Into Action

Luang Por Pasanno • April 2013

As we bring the practice into our daily lives, it’s immensely beneficial to use the Four Noble Truths when viewing experience—in our formal meditation, interactions with others, and engagements with various duties. This is not something to save for later—after studying the suttas, developing all the states of concentration and the psychic powers, we finally contemplate the Noble Truths and become enlightened—it’s not like that. The Four Noble Truths are to be put into practice right now.

To do this, we need to establish a habit of reflecting and investigating in a particular way. First, by examining phenomena carefully—the quality of experience, and the results that come from interacting with experience in the usual way—we find there’s always some kind of dukkha, some kind of suffering, stress, or discontent. Then we reflect on that, investigating its cause and how to bring about its cessation. When applying these steps, we’re not viewing the world through the lens of self, of me and my problems, me and my accomplishments, me and my preferences, me and my views and opinions. We’re looking instead from the perspective of dukkha, its cause, its cessation, and the path leading to its cessation. When we view experience like that, life becomes very simple and straightforward.

So we lift up that perspective in the mind and practice with it. We’re not waiting patiently for some intuitive insight to arise spontaneously. We need to deliberately train the mind by frequently redirecting our attention and reflecting on experience in that way.

The Buddha gives us the practice method of using the Four Noble Truths as a lens to depersonalize experience. And when we use the right method, he says beneficial results are bound to follow. If we use the wrong method, however, our efforts will be futile. To illustrate these points, the Buddha offers some humorous similes. For example, he says that when we’re wrongly seeking the fruits of practice, we’re like a man seeking milk: knowing that milk comes from cows, he approaches a nursing cow, twists her horn, and then wonders why he doesn’t get any milk. The reason, of course, is that he’s using the wrong method. But if he were to use the right method by pulling on the cow’s udder, then the milk would surely flow. In the same way, even if we understand the Four Noble Truths in principle, nothing significant will result if we keep those teachings in our heads as mere abstractions. That would be using the wrong method, because the most essential bit is missing: bringing the Noble Truths into our practice. On the other hand, when we do put them into practice and apply them skillfully—that is, when we use the right method—then we are bound to realize beneficial results.

Paying attention to the method and its application, putting it into practice, bringing the Four Noble Truths into our experience, reflecting upon and applying these truths—this is how we can reap the fruits of practice.