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Excerpted from The Way to Freedom by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Copyright © 1994 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Through understanding suffering and its origins we can perceive the possibility of eliminating ignorance, which is the root cause of suffering."

Dalai Lama, 
The Way to Freedom
, Part 1

The Buddha arose from meditation 2,500 years ago after attaining enlightenment. The subject of his first teaching was the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth was the truth of suffering, the fact that our happiness is constantly passing away. Everything we have is subject to impermanence. Nothing within what we commonly think of as real is permanent. Ignorance, attachment, and anger are the causes of our relentless suffering. Thus the Second Noble Truth is to understand this cause of suffering. When you eliminate the root of suffering (the delusions), you achieve a state of the cessation of suffering -- the Third Noble Truth, or nirvana. The Fourth Noble Truth is that there exists a path leading to the cessation of suffering. In order to achieve that state within your own mind, you must follow a path.

It is not until we understand the law of karma, or cause and effect, that we are inspired to embark on the path to end suffering. Negative thoughts and actions produce negative results and conditions, just as positive thoughts and actions produce positive results and conditions. When we develop deep conviction in the law of cause and effect, we will be able to perceive the causes and conditions of our own sufferings. Our present happiness or unhappiness is nothing more or less than the result of previous actions. The sufferings themselves are so obvious that our experience testifies to their existence. We will therefore develop the realization that if we do not desire suffering, then we should work to uproot its causes now. Through understanding suffering and its origins we can perceive the possibility of eliminating ignorance, which is the root cause of suffering, and we can conceive of a state of cessation, a total cessation of this ignorance and the delusions induced by it. 

When our understanding of cessation is perfect, we will develop a strong and spontaneous desire to reach such a state. Our understanding should be so profound that it shakes our whole being and induces in us a spontaneous wish to gain it. Once we develop this spontaneous wish to achieve cessation, an immense appreciation for the beings who have realized this cessation within their own minds develops. The recognition of the Buddha's accomplishments becomes powerful. The benefits and beauty of his teachings become clear.

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