The third Noble Truth is the truth of cessation. Not only do we let go of suffering and desire, we know when those things are not there. And this is a most important part of meditation practice, to really know when there is no suffering. Suffering ceases, and you are still alive, still aware, still breathing. It doesn’t mean that the world has ended, that everything has become blank; it means that the suffering has ceased. The suffering ends, and there is knowledge of the end of suffering.
If we don’t notice, we never know when there is no suffering. We only know when there is suffering — ‘I’m suffering.’ We react to it. Our memories tend to be about the extremely pleasant experiences, great successes, and so on, or great misery. We remember when we were very happy, successful, ecstatic, and when we were really down, and life was really painful. But we don’t remember when life wasn’t up or down; we don’t remember when there wasn’t any extreme. So memory itself tends to be the perceptions we form about extreme experiences. As we let go more and more of the heedless reactions, the grasping, then we find the mind that isn’t extreme. When we allow the world to be as it is — the sense world and so forth — we feel a sense of ease and peace. Even if things are not very nice, we can be at ease, and we can respond in an intelligent, gentle, kindly way, an appropriate way.
This is an example of the life of Gotama the Buddha. His response to the world after his enlightenment was — what? Compassion — tremendous compassion for other beings. He dedicated the remainder of his life, over forty years, solely to the welfare of other beings.
Cessation, then, is to be fully realized. In meditation, more and more one really sees what suffering is, its arousal, and the cessation of it. There is the knowing of it, what we call insight-knowledge. It’s not theoretical knowledge; it’s not symbolic knowledge; it’s a real insight — knowing from experience, from a clear understanding of the real thing.
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First published in the February 1990 Buddhism Now.
Photograph from the British Library #endangeredarchives project.
Thanks to @bl_eap
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