The Third Noble Truth: Cessation
The Third Noble Truth is the truth of the cessation of suffering. This truth explains that the causes of karma and the defilements can be removed. We have control over suffering because karma and the defilements take place within us; we create them, we experience them. For that reason, we don't need to depend on anyone else to remove the cause of suffering.
There are two main aspects of karma: one related to experience and one related to conditioning:
The experience of karma has already been discussed in relation to the truth of causality. Through non-virtuous physical actions, one will experience problems and unhappiness. Likewise, through non-virtuous speech, such as lying, one experiences unhappiness and sorrow. Through a non-virtuous state of mind, one experiences unhappiness. This was demonstrated by the example of an aggressive attitude. All of this is related to the understanding that any non-virtuous activity produces unpleasantness or unhappiness.
The second aspect of karma relates to conditioning. By acting non-virtuously with one’s body, speech, or mind one habituates oneself to a certain style of behavior. Non-virtuous physical or verbal behaviours add to the habit of doing things. For example, each time we kill, we are conditioned to kill again. If we lie, that increases the habit of lying. An aggressive mind conditions our state of mind so we become more aggressive. In later lives, then, that conditioning will emerge so that we will be reborn with a great tendency to kill, to lie, to engage in sexual misconduct, and so on.
These are two aspects to karma. One is the direct consequence of an act and the other is the conditioning that creates a tendency to engage in behaviour of that kind. Through these two aspects karma produces all happiness and suffering in life.
Even though we may recognize that non-virtuous karma gives rise to suffering and virtuous karma gives rise to happiness, it is hard for us to give up non-virtuous actions and practice virtuous actions because the defilements exercise a powerful influence on us. We realize that suffering is caused by non-virtuous karma, but we cannot give up the karma itself. We need to give up the defilements because they are the root of non-virtuous actions.
To give up the defilements means to give up non-virtuous actions of body (such as killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct), the non-virtuous actions of speech (such as lying, slander and harmful and useless speech), and the non-virtuous aspects of mind (such as aggressive, covetous, or ignorant mind). Just wanting to give up the defilements does not remove them. However, the Buddha in his great kindness and wisdom has given us a very skilful way to eliminate the very root of all the defilements through the examination of the belief in the existence of ego or self.
We cannot just understand this belief in a self easily because it is very deep-rooted. First of all, we have to search for this self that we believe in and through this search we can discover that the self does not exist. Then we will be able to gradually to eliminate the belief in a self. When this is done, the defilements are also eliminated because with the elimination of a belief in self non-virtuous karma is also eliminated.
This belief in a self is a mistaken perception, it’s an illusion. For example, if one has a flower and were to interrogate one hundred people about it, they would all come to the same conclusion that it is indeed a flower. So, one could be pretty sure that it is a flower. But, if one asked a person "Is this me?" he would say, "No, it’s you." A second person would say, "It’s you." One would end up with one hundred persons who say this is "you" and only oneself would consider it as "me." So statistically one’s self is on very wobbly ground.
We also tend to think of "me" as one thing, as a unity. When we examine what we think of as ourselves, we find it is made up of many different components: the various parts of the body, the different organs, and the different elements. There are so many of them, yet we have this feeling of a one thing which is "me." When we examine any of those components and try to find something that is the essence of self, the self cannot be found in any of these bits and pieces.
By contemplating this and working through it very thoroughly, we begin to see how this "I" is really an incorrect perception. Once we have eliminated this wrong way of thinking, the idea of an "I" becomes easy to get rid of. So, all of the desire rooted in thinking, "I must be made happy" can be eliminated as well as all the aversion rooted in the idea of "this difficulty must be eliminated." Through the elimination of the idea of "I" we can annihilate the defilements.
Once the defilements are gone, then non-virtuous karma, which is rooted in the defilements, can go. Once the non-virtuous karma is gone, suffering will no longer take place. This is why Buddha says that the root of suffering needs to be abandoned”. The first two noble truths may be summed up with two statements: One should be aware of and know what suffering is. One should give up the universal origination of suffering.
To summarize, once one recognizes what suffering really is, then one begins by removing its causes. One stops doing non-virtuous actions which create suffering. To stop these non-virtuous activities, one digs out their root which is the defilements and the various unhealthy attitudes. To eradicate the defilements, one needs to remove their heart, which is this belief in a self. If one does that, then one will eventually come to realize the wisdom of non-self. Through understanding the absence of a self, one no longer creates the defilements and bad actions and brings an end to that whole process. This is highly possible to reach; therefore, there is the third noble truth of cessation.
The very essence and nature of cessation is peace. Sometimes people think of Buddhahood in terms of brilliant insights or something very fantastic. In fact, the peace one obtains from the cessation of everything unhealthy is the deepest happiness, bliss, and well-being. Its very nature is lasting in contrast to worldly happiness, which is exciting for a time, but then changes. In contrast, this ultimate liberation and omniscience is a definitive release from the defilements which are the cause of suffering. Their cessation is the most deeply moving peace. Within that peace all the powers of liberation and wisdom are developed.
It is a very definitive release from both suffering and its result and the four main qualities of this truth of cessation. First, it is the cessation of suffering. Second, it is peace. Third, it is the deepest liberation and wisdom. Fourth, it is a very definitive release.
Cessation is a product of practicing the path shown to us by the Most Perfect One, the Lord Buddha. The actual nature of that path is the topic of the fourth noble truth, which is called the Truth of the Path because it describes the path that leads to liberation.