Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Four Noble Truths

Rev September 21, 2005

1.  The Four Noble Truths

A. Dukkhā – to live is to experience dis-satisfactoriness.   Life is not all rosy.  This dis-satisfactoriness is due in some measure – greater or lesser – to our nature as humans; to our psychological functioning.

B.  Samudaya – the fact that dukkhā is caused means we can find a way to end it.  Dukkhā is caused by the interaction of taṇhā – “the emotionally driven desire for gratification” and avijjā – a lack of wisdom.  The term “taṇhā” literally means “thirst” and is usually thought of as “desire” or “craving.”  Having a desire is not problematic.  When one’s body experiences “thirst,” it is reasonable to desire water.  And it is reasonable – not to mention prudent – to quench one’s thirst.  Cravings are a different matter.  A craving is a “want” with a strong emotional component.  The old English “crafian” from which craving is derived actually meant “demand, claim as a right.”  Cravings demand satisfactions. 

Avijjā is often translated as “ignorance,” but more accurately it is “non-wisdom.”  Ignorance is the simple lack of knowledge or information.  Wisdom, on the other hand, is the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment.  Wisdom is soundly applying one’s experience, knowledge and good judgment.  Too often Buddhists forget this part of the equation.  They focus on taṇhā as the problem, and forget that it is taṇhā compounded by avijjā that results in dukkhā. 

With sufficient wisdom we can see that it is not reasonable to demand that every craving be satisfied; that every wish be fulfilled. 

C. Nirodha – the extinction or blowing out of the flames of desire.  This is understood as the act of breaking the emotional bonds of attachment to our wants.  Nirodha is not the cessation of all desire, as too many Buddhists believe, but rather the cessation of the un-wise, emotional attachment to gratification of our desires.

D. Magga – the “path” or “way” to ending avijjā and taṇhā.  This is the program, the discipline, the practice regime to follow to reduce, minimize and extinguish a good deal of ignorance and craving, and therefore dukkhā. 

2.  The Noble Eightfold Path

A.  Ariya Magga Nikāya advocates the practice of ALL EIGHT of the factors in order to develop and practice wisdom, in order to develop and practice non-attachment, and to develop and practice a moral lifestyle.

B.  Ariya Magga Nikāya views the complex “isms” of the many Buddhisms as complicating factors in practicing the way of the Buddha.  The Buddhamagga -  the “Way” of the Buddha – is simple.  The many Buddhisms are complex, and therefore are often hindrances to practice of the Way.

C.  While Buddhamagga is simple, it is not easy.  It is a disciplined practice requiring effort (note Right Effort). 

3.  Doctrine

A.  Approach:  the approach to “Truth statements” in doctrine is that advocated by the author of the Kalama Sutta.  The doctrine of non-belief and that “Truth statements” must pass the “reasonableness” test.    “Reasonable” in this instance means that one examines the claim in light of valid and reliable knowledge.  Knowledge as free from bias as humanly possible.  That is knowledge that is objective, and free of emotional attachment, free of subjective bias. 

Think about it:  the “problem” (i.e., dukkhā) derives from unwise thinking and action (avijjā) and emotional desire (taṇhā) for the world to conform to “my” wants.

B.  Reincarnation:  Ariya Magga Nikāya recognizes that Buddhist texts and Buddhist teachers and Buddhist traditions have advocated belief in re-incarnation.  This doctrine is usually couched in terms of “re-birth” to circumvent the doctrine of “anattā” or “no-soul.”  If there is no soul incarnated in the body, then what is there to re-incarnate?  The doctrine of re-birth has been a huge obstacle for the Buddhisms, and thousands of pages have been written to explain how the “nothing” which remains when one dies is born again. 

Ariya Magga doctrine disposes of this notion as being a) culturally bound, and b) unreasonable in light of modern knowledge. 

C.  Kamma: this doctrine asserts that present behavior is shaped by, at least in part, past behavior, and they future behavior is shaped, at least in part, by present behavior.  Too often Buddhists get “absolutistic” and “fatalistic” about kamma, thinking that everything that happens to them is because of some past action on their part.  That present circumstances are the result of past actions. I have heard folks arguing fervently for “community karma,” averring that whole towns reap the results of the citizens’ collective karma.  Since the connection between past acts and present conditions is not always readily apparent, they assert that things happening in this life are determined by things we did in past lives.  Thus we have a linking of rebirth and kamma. 

Ariya Magga Nikāya doctrine asserts that our behavior does influence our course in life.  But our individual behavior is not the sole determinant of what happens to us, or of what we choose to do at any given moment.  We look to modern knowledge to explain the relationship between present, past and future behaviors; how interactions among our social and physical environments with our perceptions, expectations and circumstances influence events.  What I learn, what I do, where I am, all play a part in what is happening around me and to me.  We have a good deal of control over our lives, but it is not the case that everything is strictly determined by our acts.

D.  The Three Marks of Existence.

1. Anicca
2. Anattā
3. Dukkhā

1. Anicca

Anicca: the principle that all things arise and all things cease.   Perfectly reasonable in light of modern knowledge.  A notion that some things, or one thing, is permanent and unchanging is incongruent with what we know today.

2. Anattā: the principle that there is no “atman,” that is no permanent, unchanging, perturbation of Brahman (the permanent unchanging absolute cosmic “is-ness) at the core of individual human existence.  Considering there is no evidence for “atman,” anattā stands.  Atman is usually translated as “soul,” or “Self” or “Ego.”  None of these does justice to the meaning understand at the time of the Buddha. 

3. Dukkhā

Please see previous posts on dukkhā.

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