The End of Suffering

In his new book, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening, Joseph Goldstein discusses the ultimate freedom our practice is meant to bring about.

Joseph Goldstein

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Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha: the remainderless fading and cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, and letting go of that very craving.

—Samyutta Nikaya 56:11

This statement from the Buddha is a very clear and unambiguous declaration of what frees the mind. Can we even imagine a mind free of craving? We might resonate more easily with St. Augustine’s famous prayer: “Dear Lord, please make me chaste, but not yet.”

Some years ago, in reflecting on this third noble truth, I began to understand the Buddha’s words in a new and more immediate way. Rather than understanding the end of craving only as some far-off goal, as the end of the path in the distant future, or as some special meditative state to try to sustain, I understood it as being a practice to experience right now, in each moment.

When we explore directly, in our experience, the meaning of the Buddha’s declaration, we can see for ourselves how craving obscures the natural ease and openness of mind, and how in moments free of desire, wanting, and clinging, we can recognize the taste of happiness and peace. As a simple experiment, the next time you have some wanting or desire in the mind, investigate what the wanting feels like and then notice how it feels when the wanting passes away. Given the great law of impermanence, it always will.

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, one of the great Tibetan Dzogchen masters of the last century, spoke frequently of recognizing the nature of mind—its empty, aware nature, free of any clinging to anything—for short moments many times. This can become a framework for understanding our own practice of letting go of craving: short moments, many times. As we do this, we learn to recognize and increasingly trust this place of ease.

Although there are different methods, vocabularies, and even metaphysical descriptions for the nature of ultimate freedom among the various Buddhist traditions, there is one common understanding of what frees the mind: liberation through non-clinging. This phrase is found throughout the Pali discourses and also in many of the teachings of the great Tibetan lamas and Chinese and Japanese Zen masters.

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