Know that in life there is suffering.
There is cause to this suffering.
There is a cessation to this suffering.
There is path that leads to this cessation.
One can be sure of only these,
sickness is inevitable,
old age is inevitable,
death is inevitable
Sickness is suffering.
Old age is suffering.
Facing death is suffering.
I want to keep this simple. We know this , we have read this countless times. And we nod our heads every time we hear it. And then what? I know I can sense that my approach to knowing and truly understanding this has been perfidious to some degree. But its ok, cause this verse is meant to cause exactly those reactions within us. and so we need to explore this a little more, and understand what's really going on in our minds when we nod our heads to this very important verse.
Recently I attended a talk “The State of the Nation - Inflation of Food prices, Corruption and our Civilizational Fabric” by Rajeev Srinivasan ,an Indian columnist. Rajeev raised a point about poverty in India which i would like to share. He says that though the poverty in India is not as graphic as say in Ethiopia, the Indian poor aren't better off. In fact,the statistics make the Ethiopian poor look better off than the Indian poor. But the poverty of India is more subtle and isn’t easily visible. Its systemic and harder to trace, and its everywhere and intertwined into the national fabric. Its far more difficult to deal with it since it doesn't have a image. That's why it doesn't stare and intimidate you like the poverty in Ethiopia.
( i know this probably isn't the best way to make a parallel to dharma). But coming to think of it, the case for suffering is also the same, it can be both stark and vivid, but it can also be subtle.
Surprisingly the mind(veiled by ignorance) makes us believe that even the inevitable sufferings of life(sickness, old age & death) are somehow (though profoundly true) are not applicable to us! In the catuhsatakasastrakarikanama by Acharya Aryadeva. (The Treatise of the Four Hundred Stanzas on the Yogic Deeds of Bodhisattvas), the very first chapter very cleverly deals with the ignorant views the mind can form about the inevitable sufferings of life.
Since death is common to others to,
You have no fear of it.
Sickness can be cured and aging treated,
Therefore you do not fear them.
Yet there is no cure for the last ordeal;
Thus obviously you fear it.
If because the time is uncertain
You think you are eternal.
That which cuts craving for reward and honor,
The best spur to practice with effort in seclusion,
The excellent secret of all the scriptures,
Is initially to REMEMBER DEATH.
Now having gained some insights into how wrong views can be formed about inevitable hardships of life, let us look into the far more difficult the more subtle form of suffering.
When the Buddha spoke about suffering, he wasn't referring simply to the superficial and visible problems like illness, but to the fact that the dissatisfied nature of the mind is itself suffering. Because all it takes is some tiny external thing changing, often something insignificant going the wrong way and before you know it you are upset. And it is such subtle sadness and dukkha that can slip into your inner space , like water seeping through rocks, and unleash a new level of restlessness within, through the back door.