According to the Buddha, the first noble truth is Dukkha or suffering, un-satisfactoriness. Often mis-construed as Life is Suffering, but from what I understand, the Buddha didn't say that, instead he simply said: there is dukkha in life. And who can disagree really? There's the dukkha of birth, and of sickness, and ageing and dying. There's the dukkha of not getting what we want. And then there's the dukkha of getting what we want, and realising that wasn't it.
The path of Buddhism is all about reducing dukkha. Sounds good, right? Who wouldn't want to suffer less? So in order to get rid of it, we need to figure out what causes it. Luckily for us, the Buddha already figured that out for us. The cause of Dukkha is craving. Desire. clinging. Wanting. What is wrong with desire, you might ask? Well, have you noticed that there's no end to it? As soon as we satisfy one desire, whether for a new pair of shoes, or for a piece of cake, or a cigarette or a holiday, a new desire pops up.
Desire also causes greed. It causes us to want to take more than we need. And this has led us to nearly destroy the only planet we have. That has led to huge inequalities in the world. It has led to the average American household (surely the average European household isn't far behind) owning 300,000 items. Isn't that insane?
Another huge problem with desire is that when we're always wanting something, we are always fighting reality. We are always struggling with what is. Desire means tension. Tension is the opposite of ease.
We crave to feel good. And when we feel good we want to feel better. But this quest for comfort, for always wanting to feel good, actually leads to a multiplication of our dukkha.
A few examples.
When I was a teenager I discovered that alcohol made me feel good. I had one beer and that made me feel so good that I wanted another one and another one. But then suddenly, I felt bad. Real bad. I was saying and doing stupid things. And I was puking. The next day I would wake up with a monster-dukkha-headache and a body that felt poisoned.
Later in life I discovered pills and powders. And then the goodness of alcohol wasn't enough. I wanted to combine them with pills or powders or both to feel even better.
Luckily for me, I didn't develop an addiction to any of these substances, but I know many who did. Big time dukkha.
Another example. Once upon a time, humans sat on the floor, cross-legged. Then the chair was invented. Because it was more comfortable. But the comfort of the chair wasn't enough. So then came the armchair. The sofa with a footrest. The super-plush, heated recliner with a velvet-soft footrest. And what has happened? Back pain is a pandemic. And a multiplication of dukkha.
Because of desire we always think that peace and happiness is around the corner. If only we could get that car. Or that coat. Or a relationship. Or a baby. Or a better relationship. A ring on our finger. More followers on social media. A bigger paycheck. More friends. More success. A bigger apartment.
But you know just as well as I do, that it doesn't work that way. We've all gotten what we wanted and realized we are still not happy.
So how do we get rid of craving and desire then? Well, it starts with recognising it. And then recognising that it's impermanent. Just like everything else. So when we are overcome by wanting. Wanting a cigarette, a cookie, or a drink. A social media dopamine hit. An item of clothing. We don't have to act on the desire. It will go away by itself whether we fullfill it or not. And another one will come regardless. We can train our minds to find peace. By connecting to the still space into which the cravings appear and disappear.