The Buddha would have made a great CEO. He was all bottom line, and the bottom line was freedom, or enlightenment. If something didn't contribute to this directly, then he didn't teach it.

One day he was in a forest with his monks, and he said to them, "Which is more, monks, the few leaves that I have in my hand, or those on the trees in the wood? One of the monks answered that of course, there were more leaves in the woods. The Buddha then said, So too, monks, the things that I have known by direct knowledge are more; the things that I have told you are only a few. Why have I not told them? Because they bring no benefit, no advancement in the Holy Life, and because they do not lead to dispassion, to fading, to ceasing, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana. That is why I have not told them. And what have I told you? This is suffering; this is the origin of suffering; this is the cessation of suffering; this is the way leading to the cessation of suffering. That is what I have told you. Why have I told it? Because it brings benefit, and advancement in the Holy Life, and because it leads to dispassion, to fading, to ceasing, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana. So monks, let your task be this: This is suffering; this is the origin of suffering; this is the cessation of suffering; this is the way leading to the cessation of suffering."

The Buddha's Four Noble Truths are not really absolute truths; but are observances to reflect upon. In them, the Buddha points out: our basic human problem, what causes it, that we can end it, and how to end it.

First Noble Truth: (This is suffering)

"And what monks, is the Noble Truth of Suffering? Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrows, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; association with the disliked is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering: in brief, the *five aggregates of clinging are suffering."

*The five aggregates of clinging are material form (body and mind), consciousness, feeling, perceptions, and mental formations (thoughts and memories). These in themselves are not the cause of suffering; it is when we inject the idea of "I", me or mine into them that we suffer.

Human Suffering is the bond between all of us with which we can easily relate, and the Buddha said that we should become aware of and acknowledge our own suffering. We seem to think that life is fun, but if we look closely, life is conflict, suffering. Suffering is a shared experience. Who has not suffered? Seeing our common troubles brings about a feeling of compassion. Conversely, however, our strong opinions about religion and politics bring about hatred and wars.

Wanting what we do not have is suffering (craving). Finally getting what we want is suffering because then we become fearful of losing it, so we cling and attach to our possessions, and in a way become their prisoners because we depend so heavily on them for our happiness. Or, we may become tired of them and not want them anymore. Then we either must get rid of them or put up with them.

Restlessness, anxiety, depression, boredom, worrying about our security, illness, old age, and loneliness -- these are all suffering, too. Trying to keep very busy so that none of this will bother us is also suffering, as we desperately move from one thing to another; consumer goods, relationships, town to town, political movements, spiritual groups, books, movies, TV, etc., as we attempt to escape the big gorilla. The big gorilla is the underlying knowledge that this body and mind will sooner or later end.

This underlying fear is the unsettling niggle that is always there, regardless of how good things are. Even when we accept the inevitability of death, we will search for a religion or a belief that promises continuation beyond physical existence, hoping that we will continue in some way, in some kind of beyond. This search can become suffering, too, because we are never completely certain, subconsciously, whether what we believe will actually occur after death, or never certain which religion is true, if any.

Or we might and not believe that there is anything beyond this physical existence. This a form of belief as well, as we depend solely on our own admittedly limited sense organs for truth, and secretly hope for some kind of rescue. Or, we might become completely hedonistic and only live for constant pleasure, which always leads to cynicism, negativity, and sometime insanity. All of this involves suffering. Happiness itself leads to suffering because we know that it won't last, and wait for the other shoe to drop. It takes great reflection to relate to The First Noble Truth; time and meditation are excellent teachers.

Second Noble Truth: (The origin of suffering)

"It is craving which gives rise to further rebirth and, bound up with pleasure and lust, finds ever fresh delight, now here, now there - to wit, the sensual craving, the craving for existence, and the craving for non-existence.

"And where, monks, does this craving, when arising, arise and, when settling, settle? Whatever in the world is a delightful thing, a pleasurable thing, therein this craving, when arising, arises and, when settling, settles."

Craving can involve material things, people, new experiences, good things to eat, nice music, comfort, entertainments, security, knowledge, power, praise, fame, health . . . and the list goes on! We can crave for eternal existence physically or spiritually, or for this life to end in annihilation, with nothing continuing.

Craving or wanting is accompanied by restlessness, boredom, agitation, ambition, constantly chasing after things, people, or ideals; never being satisfied, being driven by wants and desires, not being able to remain at ease or live peacefully and naturally. Craving and wanting is by nature lustful, ravenous, grasping, and one feels the overpowering need to acquire things, companions, knowledge, and experiences, attempting to fill the empty spot within them that is not fillable, and gets emptier as the years go by.

Interestingly enough, it's not the actual desire for things that cause our problems; it's the idea that there is a "self" behind the desires. We create in our minds untold scenarios of this self, making its way through time and the world. When we see food, it's not a simple thing of saying, "Oh, I'm hungry!" It's more of a fear that we may not get enough, or that we are eating the wrong things - that we will become unhealthy because of the food, or that we are eating too much, and on and on. Instead of eating out of need and stopping when we are full, we eat psychologically because this self that we have created in our minds has become an obsession. Our entire existence has become one of protecting not only the body, but the mind as well, and this involves detailed psychological maneuvering to keep our egos afloat.

At the root of the Noble Truths is the primary desire, which is the continuation of our self now and after death. Our "I" thought, which is a construction of thought by our minds, dominates everything. There is not just simple craving, it is "I" who craves, and that puts a different spin on everything. It all becomes so desperately personal.

The self will generally crave three important things. One is pleasure that can be experienced through the senses such as the taste of luscious foods, our favorite music, wonderful, awe-inspiring sights, delicious smells, exquisite touches and embraces, and endless thoughts, memories and daydreams. Another is to become something, such as; more famous, richer, happier, more spiritual, eternal. And the self finally wants to get rid of whatever it deems troublesome; such as disease, worry, stress, a spouse, the neighbor's dog, a bad job, bad luck, etc.

When we desire something, let's say a Porsche, it begins with seeing it and innocently thinking, "Wow, that is a cool car." Which changes into, "Why can't I have one of those, I deserve it, and it will make me feel good!" Following that, we grasp at the idea of owning one and it becomes compulsive. This could lead to mortgaging the house, getting a second and third job, maybe even stealing one! All kinds of difficulties arise, just to satisfy a desire. Then, if we are fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to obtain one, we can't park it anywhere for fear it will be stolen! So we become its prisoner in many ways, all because "I" deserve a porsche.

Third Noble Truth: (This is the cessation of suffering)

"And what monk, is the Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering?" It is the total extinction by removing of, forsaking of, discarding of, freedom from, and non-attachment to that same craving.

"And where, monks, is this craving, when being abandoned, abandoned, and when does this craving, when ceasing, cease? Whatever in the world is a delightful thing, a pleasurable thing, therein this craving when being abandoned, is abandoned, and, when ceasing, ceases."

Simply put, when we stop wanting, we stop suffering, but to stop wanting is not easy because the resulting empty spot hurts. To stop craving requires a change in the way we understand things. We must really look closely, in detail, about what it is that we desire and how long it will last. Cutting things out of our lives violently doesn't work; we must figure out why they never keep us satisfied for long. The desire must burn away on its own.

We fool ourselves by thinking, "If only I can get what I want, then I'll be satisfied." But it never works out for long. Whatever we achieve is never enough, and our unrelenting pursuit of success marches on. Since we are never satisfied, we repeat this error time and again, never catching on, because we are too caught up in chasing the things that won't make us happy, except perhaps for a short-lived instant.
This all has to do with our minds remaining discontented internally, regardless of our outward achievements, and satisfying this mind is the answer to our suffering. When we try to solve our dissatisfaction and conflicts by controlling life so that life satisfies us, we only saddle ourselves with an unworkable task.

It's a matter of either accepting life as a never-ending struggle where we mechanically seek pleasure by attempting to satisfy our sense desires constantly, or discovering exactly where that struggle begins. If we look deeply into where the struggle originates, we can see that it has everything to do with our "selves," and our selves doing something. When we stop doing and begin reflecting and being aware, we stop struggling. It's uncomplicated.

When we don't have an answer to why we suffer, we commonly seek security. We might submit to a belief system or look to some authority to tell us what to do - maybe count on our bank account or our ideals, and then we become lost. We become lost when we stop inquiring into our human situation, and turn our inquiry over to a proxy, believing that we have successfully transferred all of our problems to someone or something else. But we haven't.

When we turn our backs on this deep inquiry into our very souls, we in essence give up. We don't have the courage or the wisdom to understand that this spiritual quest involves our own daring and sweat, and that there are no shortcuts. To face humankind's suffering gallantly requires understanding, courage, and not hiding from the facts, which means facing our suffering until it turns into acceptance and compassion. Then, life can transcend suffering, and we can experience another dimension.

Fourth Noble Truth: (This is the path leading to the cessation of suffering)

"And what, monks, is the Noble Truth of the Path leading to the cessation of suffering? It is simply the Noble Eightfold Path, namely, Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration,"

Whether one is human or animal, when one is consumed by wants, which manifest as boredom or dissatisfaction, one will openly, or in secret, take up the chase, and in one way or another achieve one's objective only to again become dissatisfied after a period of time and repeat the process. Repeating this process time and again, on the surface, appears to be exciting, but when looked at closely, the process involves frustration, anger, envy, aggression, and other forms of action and emotion that does not foster relaxation or permit the body and mind to remain at ease or at peace.

Greed, hatred, and the illusion of excitement are all part and parcel of this chase. If enough individuals in a society are caught up in this process, society as a whole will reflect the direction of the individuals. All those who fall under this domineering pursuit must be exposed to suffering and torment, as compulsive craving, lustful ambition, and not being satisfied - always wanting more - forces the heart to struggle constantly in pursuit of various objects. As the heart becomes exhausted and the head takes control, the contact may be lost with the intuitive centers, and finally with reality.

Until one recognizes one's own suffering, there will be no apparent need to ease it. Until the suffering becomes so great that it is directly in front of you with no way to escape, one may continue to perpetuate illusions until perhaps a life-threatening illness or the loss of a loved one or some other similar traumatic event kindly turns one toward reality very quickly. At this point, questions may arise that seemed irrelevant when things were going good - questions such as; why are we born only to suffer? How can a loving God allow these things to happen? What is the purpose of life? What is the point of it all? Why all this, why not nothing?

It's this point, this point of passion, that one may find themselves ready to begin a path that will satisfy all questions and relieve all doubt. This path begins with thinking about things that may never have been thought about before -things of truth, not frivolous things, and therefore the contemplations required to find truth require tremendous courage because one is attempting to find the root of all suffering at any cost - and the cost is very great from the perspective of "self." Truth remains hidden from all except those who are unswerving.

Once this inquiry begins in earnest, our lives begin to change. Every aspect of our lives, in their many details, begins to change, and suddenly, we find ourselves walking the eightfold path without even knowing it.

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit