"A young prince was deeply affected by the suffering he saw all around him. He saw that men and women, children and old people, all suffer not just from occasional calamities such as war and plague, but also from anxiety, frustration, and discontent, all of which seem to be an inseparable part of the human condition. People pursue wealth and power, acquire knowledge and possessions, beget sons and daughters, and build houses and palaces. Yet no matter what they achieve, they are never content. Those who live in poverty dream of riches. Those who have a million want two million. Those who have two million want ten. Even the rich and famous are rarely satisfied. They too are haunted by ceaseless cares and worries, until sickness, old age, and death put a bitter end to them. Everything that one has accumulated vanishes like smoke. Life is a pointless rat race. But how?
He visited ashrams feet of gurus but nothing liberated him entirely—some dissatisfaction always remained. He did not despair. He resolved to investigate suffering on his own until he found a method for complete liberation. He spent six years meditating on the essence, causes, and cures for human anguish. In the end he came to the realization that suffering is not caused by ill fortune, by social injustice, or by divine whims. Rather, suffering is caused by the behavior patterns of one’s own mind.
No matter what the mind experiences, it usually reacts with craving, and craving always involves dissatisfaction. When the mind experiences something distasteful it craves to be rid of the irritation. When the mind experiences something pleasant, it craves that the pleasure will remain and will intensify. Therefore, the mind is always dissatisfied and restless. This is very clear when we experience unpleasant things, such as pain. As long as the pain continues, we are dissatisfied and do all we can to avoid it. Yet even when we experience pleasant things we are never content. We either fear that the pleasure might disappear, or we hope that it will intensify. People dream for years about finding love but are rarely satisfied when they find it. Some become anxious that their partner will leave; others feel that they have settled cheaply, and could have found someone better. And we all know people who manage to do both.
Great gods can send us rain, social institutions can provide justice and good healthcare, and lucky coincidences can turn us into millionaires, but none of them can change our basic mental patterns. Hence even the greatest kings are doomed to live in angst, constantly fleeing grief and anguish, forever chasing after greater pleasures.
If, when the mind experiences something pleasant or unpleasant, it simply understands things as they are, then there is no suffering. If you experience sadness without craving that the sadness go away, you continue to feel sadness but you do not suffer from it. There can actually be richness in the sadness. If you experience joy without craving that the joy linger and intensify, you continue to feel joy without losing your peace of mind.
But how do you get the mind to accept things as they are, without craving? To accept sadness as sadness, joy as joy, pain as pain? “What am I experiencing now?” rather than on “What would I rather be experiencing?” It is difficult to achieve this state of mind, but not impossible.
Avoid killing, promiscuous sex, and theft, since such acts necessarily stoke the fire of craving (for power, for sensual pleasure, or for wealth). When the flames are completely extinguished, craving is replaced by a state of perfect contentment and serenity, known as nirvana (the literal meaning of which is “extinguishing the fire”). Those who have attained nirvana are fully liberated from all suffering. They experience reality with the utmost clarity, free of fantasies and delusions. While they will most likely still encounter unpleasantness and pain, such experiences cause them no misery. A person who does not crave cannot suffer."