There’s a story with which many of you are probably familiar, that begins with the Buddha walking in the woods with some of his disciples. At one point the Buddha bends down and picks up a handful of leaves from the forest floor. He holds out the leaves to his disciples and says, ‘Tell me, are there more leaves on the trees and on the ground or more leaves in my hand?’ His disciples say, ‘There are only a very few leaves in your hand, but there are countless leaves on all the trees in the forest and on the ground.’ The Buddha replies, ‘Yes, that’s true. The leaves on the trees and on the ground represent all the things a Perfect One can know, and the leaves in my hand represent what I teach: the things you need to know and contemplate in order to free the heart from suffering.’
Some of you may enjoy speculating about where the universe began and where it’s going to end, and all kinds of other questions to which there really isn’t much of an answer. However, the Buddha encouraged us not to be concerned about such matters, but instead to attend to just four things. He referred to these four things as the Four Noble Truths. The first of these he called the Noble Truth of Suffering. This refers to the fact that nothing in the conditioned world can ever provide lasting peace or well-being. The effect of this is that human existence is inherently stressful.
Secondly, there is the Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering – that there’s a reason why we suffer, and we can discover it through our own observation. When we look carefully, we can notice the desire that creates a sense of unease, the wanting of things to be other than the way they are. When we attach to that desire, when we invest in it, that attachment brings a sense of stress, a sense of conflict.
The Third Noble Truth is the Truth of the Cessation of Suffering, the ending of stress or conflict. This comes about when we let go of that desire for things to be otherwise. The desire itself may still be there, but we relinquish or let go of our investment in it. We make peace with things just as they are.
The Fourth Noble Truth is the Noble Truth of the Way Leading to the Ending of Suffering: the guidelines the Buddha gave us as to how we can live our lives, guidelines that can help us gradually to suffer less and less.
This reflection from Ajahn Candasiri is from the book, Simple Kindness, pp. 15-16.