This sentence deals with the Void as the ground of the Four Noble Truths. What are they? They are Suffering, the Cause of Suffering, the Cessation of Suffering and the Path. This teaching transcends the mundane and provides access to sainthood. A saint from the Theravada tradition attains the Path and the Fruit on the basis of his or her practice of The Four Noble Truths. The Mahayana attainment is in the realm of the supramundane. The suffering spoken of is the suffering in this world. Its causes are, likewise, of this world; the Path is operative in this world; and Nirvana, or the cessation of suffering, is our exit from this world. The Path provides the right causes for the Tao, and the practice is aimed toward Enlightenment.
The first of the Noble Truths is presented in three aspects: 1) As ordinary suffering, which includes all forms of physical and mental pain and ache; 2) As the outcome of the impermanent nature of life, wherein all the fleeting pleasures are illusory, temporary, and subject to change; 3) As the five aggregates, or conditioned states, wherein form, feeling, conception, volition and consciousness, the last being based on the first four, are constantly changing and, hence, impermanent; and what is impermanent is, inevitably, the cause of suffering.
The six realms of existence comprise three good, or happy ones and three evil, or unhappy ones. The first three are the realm of heavenly beings, the realm of human beings and the realm of asuras (titans). The last three consist of the realm of hell, the realm of hungry ghosts, and the realm of animals. The form sphere and the formless sphere both provide much longer life continuity than this world does, and more happiness as well; but they are still subject to birth, death and the suffering of the consequences of action. The sphere of desire in the human realm provides equal parts of happiness and suffering; but the asuras, though enjoying blessings, are without morality, and their good fortune will eventually end.
The inhabitants of the three happy realms have created good causes in their former lives, and, depending on how they benefit others, they will receive rewards accordingly in this world. There is no need to explain at length the three unhappy realms. All we need to say is that there is a great deal of suffering there. The suffering of those inhabiting unhappy realms is the present effect of causes from their previous lives. All suffering is produced by the mind. One reaps as one sows!
What is the cause of suffering? The second of the Noble Truths posits the cause, or origin, of suffering as craving, or thirst, which produces continuous re-existence and re-becoming accompanied by passionate clinging. Numerous causes come together, and we know that our present suffering is the effect of those previous causes. Likewise, our present behavior is the foundation for future effects.
What effect has the supramundane on the cessation of suffering?
The third of the Noble Truths follows logically from the first two. If craving is removed or transcended, there will be no more suffering. Cessation means calmness and extinction, or Nirvana: It is inviting, attractive and comprehensible to the wise. The one who understands the source of suffering thoroughly knows that it is generated by oneís own self, so, yearning for Nirvana, such a person resolves to practice and attain the Path and the Fruitónamely, Nirvana.
What is the cause of the Noble Truth of the Path? Having analyzed the meaning of life, the Buddha demonstrated to his disciples how to deal effectively with suffering. The fourth Noble Truth makes the teaching a complete whole. Those who focus their desire on attaining the supramundane Nirvana can break off the causes of suffering and practice toward Enlightenment.
The practitioner of the Way of the Four Noble Truths should reach an understanding of the cause of suffering and direct his or her efforts toward the dissolution of the cause of suffering, resolve to attain Nirvana, and from then on practice wholeheartedly. Following his Enlightenment, the Buddha taught the Avatamsaka Sutra, but some hearers had difficulty understanding it; therefore, he applied expedient means to accommodate them. His teaching of the Four Noble Truths was threefold: 1) by contemplation of the manifestations of suffering; 2) by exhortation; 3) by using his own attainment as an example and as encouragement.
Now, let us consider these expedients in more detail:
1) By contemplation of the manifestations of suffering
There are several kinds of suffering people are forced to endure in order to survive and to get the basic necessities of life. The ordinary form of suffering includes birth, old age, sickness, death, parting from what we love, meeting what we hate, unattained aims, and all the other ills of the five skandhas. Where does this suffering come from? It is generated by nothing other than oneís own self.
The cause of suffering is a cluster of six root-defilements: Greed, hatred, ignorance, pride, doubt and heterodox views. The lesser defilements are diversified varieties of the six root-defilements. The twenty secondary afflictions are belligerence, resentment, spite, concealment, deceit, dissimulation, haughtiness, harmfulness, jealousy, miserliness, non-shame, non-embarrassment, non-faith, laziness, non-conscientiousness, lethargy, excitement, forgetfulness, non-introspection, and distraction. The six root-defilements and the twenty secondary afflictions together cause all the suffering in the world.
Cessation of suffering can be attained; it is possible to end the cycle (allotment) of birth-and-death, put aside the four conditions of mortality and attain appealing, joyful Nirvana. To follow the Theravada practice means, however, not to halt the mortal changes of the round of births and still to have some obstruction regarding Emptiness.
Those who have resolved to practice and attain because of their ardent wish to reach Nirvana should observe the thirty-seven conditions leading to Bodhi. The three studies, or three pillars, of practiceódiscipline, meditation and wisdomórepresent the thirty-seven conditions in condensed form. The practice of discipline removes the obstacle of greed, meditation reduces delusion, and the two combined foster wisdom. The Tao is reachable for the Buddhaís followers only with diligent practice.
2) By exhortation
Using the expressions and the tone of a concerned teacher or a parent, the Buddha would, at times, urge his followers, saying, ìYou should understand how people are forced to endure their predicamentî or ìThe cessation of suffering can be attained, so you ought to make the effort; you should practiceî and so on.
3) By using his own attainment as an example and as encouragement
Using this expedient, the Buddha would often urge his followers, saying, ìThe problem of suffering can be resolved; look, I did it and so can youî or ìThe causes of suffering are cumulative. The sooner you eliminate or transcend them, the quicker you will be free once and for all; I freed myself and now I donít have to worry any moreî and the like.
In his time, the Buddha set the wheel in motion by teaching the Four Noble Truths, and the hearers (sravakas) attained Arhatship. After years of teaching, the Buddha taught the Dharma of Emptiness (Sunyata) to promote the understanding of the supramundane Void of True Existence. We have already seen the emptiness of the five skandhas, and now we perceive the Dharma of the Four Noble Truths to be void as well. In this light, we can clearly understand that there is no suffering, no cause of suffering, no cessation of suffering or no Path. There is only the reflection in the mirror; and without the reflection there is no ability to reflect. The reflection then, is not separate from that which reflects it; the reflective surface and the reflection are one. To understand this means to be close to Enlightenment.