The Buddha’s Second Noble Truth pins the responsibility for our suffering squarely on our own shoulders: “Our suffering is caused by our cravings.” – The Buddha.
We all have desires, and that’s perfectly natural and healthy. But there are certain desires we cling to with a white-knuckle grip. These are the ones we just won’t let go of. And it’s our relentless attachment to these cravings that causes the suffering we all experience.
I remember well the first time life taught me this truth, when I was twelve years old.
My parents had taken me shopping, and we were outside a sporting goods store when I spotted a bicycle in the window that looked so fantastic it took my breath away. My stepfather saw my reaction, and remarked, "Your old rust-heap used to looked that good!"
But that wasn't true -- nothing I had ever seen had ever looked that good! The bike was sleek and racy, unlike my old rusted heap, and a beautiful rainbow-coloured sticker bore the name of an Olympic champion who was my hero. I wanted that bicycle more than I had ever wanted anything! I was consumed by it, and could think of nothing else. I refused to even contemplate the possibility of living without it.
So I got a part time job after school, instead of going surfing every day. However, I kept this a secret from my parents, as I bicycled off to work every afternoon with my surfboard tucked under my arm.
I worked hard, and saved everything I earned. Each day on the way home I would stop by the sporting goods store and gaze at the object of my desire. That bicycle provided me with many glorious fantasies. Soon I had designed my whole future around it.
Finally, one day when I had saved almost enough money, I went for my usual visit . . . but the bicycle was gone! The shopkeeper said a man had come in that morning and bought it for his son. The shop keeper couldn’t order another one, because that model had been discontinued. I couldn’t believe it! My world was shattered. My future was ruined.
Grief overwhelmed me. I suffered every waking hour, day after agonising day, week after endless week. I suffered, and kept suffering -- right up until I awoke on Christmas morning, and saw the bicycle under the Christmas tree! Suddenly all my suffering was gone!
Ecstatic beyond words, I took the bike for a spin. However, all too quickly I realized this bike didn’t ride nearly as well as my old rusty one. Maybe that’s why this model was discontinued. Something was wrong with the design. Despair overcame me. I felt betrayed, crushed and defeated. And I wondered, bitterly, if there really was a loving God watching over us, as I had always been taught.
But it didn’t end there.
As soon as I got home, my despair escalated into horror, as my stepfather announced a new regime: "Now that you don't need that secret job any more, you can put all that spare time into some chores around here. And I want that bike kept polished – I don’t want to see a spec of rust!" From that moment on, a new kind of suffering came down on me every Sunday morning: while my friends were heading off to the beach, I would have to spend an excruciating eternity waxing and polishing that new bike, even though the old bike was the one I rode to school every day. Plus I now had a whole list of new chores to get through before getting to the beach.
These tedious sessions gave me time to reflect. I eventually realized that if I had not wanted that new bike quite so much, life would now be much more to my liking – especially on Sundays! In all, I endured two years of this Sunday drudge before I felt I could unload the bike without causing any offence to my step-father. I ended up getting rid of the thing without even trying to sell it – I just gave it to my cousin, who didn’t have a bike.
My stepfather understood, and was not offended. In fact, had been quite amused by watching me put myself through all that misery...