The Third Noble Truth: Insight 3 The Cessation of Suffering has been Directly Experienced

Dancing with Life Chapter 16

The Third Insight:  The Cessation of Suffering has been Directly Experienced

“Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: ‘This noble truth of the cessation of stress has been directly experienced.’”

Knowing that you know the cessation of suffering

How do you know that you know the Third Noble Truth?  Moffitt notes that you will experience a “felt shift in consciousness.”  The shift means that you have realized that you were seeing life through a distorted perception of permanence which caused reactivity.  Now you realize that everything is changing (impermanence); life is just this.  This is freedom from reactivity because you are allowing life to flow rather than react when you would rather life to be other than it is.  This realization must come from your own practice and experience.  No one can directly transmit this to you.

Neither Fixate On nor Forget Cessation

Moffitt offer two notes of caution.  This first is that results might not come right away.  Realizing full cessation is a lifelong intention and takes practice.  As D. Max Moerman notes, “Because the default mode of our sensory apparatus is craving, long and diligent practice is required to recognize the fires of infatuation, aversion and confusion and reform our habitual reactions to them.”

The second caution is that we can become fixated on achieving cessation.  We set it as a goal or outcome which causes suffering.  Having an intention not a goal is much more realistic and skillful.    We can’t predict the future.  Furthermore, as Suzuki Roshi, the great Zen master noted, once you start to experience cessation, you find that it is nothing special.

Cessation and Living Life

Cessation does not mean retreating from or abandoning life.  You are just developing a different relationship with life.  You are aware that life is defined by impermanence:  “All that arises is subject to ceasing.” Moffitt notes, “Life continues to be an ever-changing stream of moments but how you perceive and relate to the stream changes.”  (DWL p. 192)

Ajahn Sumedho notes  “…things are just what they are. When we are aware in this way, it doesn’t mean that we are indifferent to success or failure and that we don’t bother to do anything.  We can apply ourselves.  We know what we can do; we know what has to be done and we can do it in the right way.  Then everything becomes Dhamma, the way it is.  We do things because that is the right thing to be doing at this time and in their place rather than out of a sense of personal ambition or fear of failure.”  (p. 46).

A pictorial representation of the path to cessation (transcendence) is depicted in the 10 Ox Herding pictures.   The pictures first appeared in the 12th century and were drawn by a Chinese Zen Master. Along with the accompanying texts, they are believed to be based on the work of an earlier Taoist scholar.  The progression of finding life (the ox), developing a relationship with it, discovering cessation, and then fully participating in life (as shown in the last picture) is beautifully shown.  It is discovering freedom from attachment.

Ox Herding Handout


  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.  What is your relationship to life?  Can you realize that “things are just what they are”?  Can you see the role of impermanence in life and how this can lead to freedom?


  • Meditate as usual in your daily practice being mindful of what arises and falls away.  Notice any desires that arise and if clinging is present.

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