Thursday, April 1, 2010

Exploring Natural Buddhism - Part Five: The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths. Where do I begin? The more I learn about the Buddha, the more I see that the Four Noble Truths were at the center of what he taught. There was a cyclical nature to his message--the Four Noble Truths could be seen as the philosophy, or perhaps viewpoint, of Buddhism, which leads into the Noble Eightfold Path, which you could call the practice of Buddhism, which in turn leads back into the Four Noble Truths. (This is contrary to what a lot of modern Buddhist religions teach, which is that the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path lead one into enlightenment. According to the Buddha, being enlightened meant realizing the Four Noble Truths and the necessity of the Eightfold Path)

The Four Noble Truths are, as I said, kind of the "philosophy" of Buddhism, so much of this post may sound like repetition of things I've already written. Indeed, observant readers will notice a similarity between this post and the last one. The story of the Buddha was crafted intentionally to illustrate the Four Noble Truths.

First, we have young Siddartha cloistered away from reality. His father, the rajah, had constructed a carefully crafted illusion around Siddartha to keep him deceived. This is the state of all unawakened beings, lost in what Buddhism calls "Mara."

Siddartha's awakening began when he witnessed aging, sickness, and death. Reality struck him hard in his face and knocked the rose-tinted glasses from his eyes. This is when he realized that all life suffers, all life knows hardship and pain. From the discomfort he felt at having his illusion pulled away, to the agonizing mourning of the widow accompanying the funeral, all life has known suffering, is suffering and will know suffering. This is the First Noble Truth.

Next, Siddartha tries to escape suffering. He knows that his banquets and parties will eventually disappoint, so he abandons them. He knows that his friends and family will die, so he abandons them. He realizes, in his heart, that all the sources of suffering come from attachment to states of mind and from clinging to the status quo. This is the Second Noble Truth.

So, he tries to escape them by asceticism, but that doesn't work too well. By fleeing his attachments in an attempt to escape suffering, he actually dove into attachment's equally dangerous opposite: aversion. Aversion is a type of clinging, too, but it's clinging to what one doesn't have but wants. So, this did not work. He instead regained his health, and went to sit under a bodhi tree. While there, he experienced a state of equanimity so profound, he realized that there was a Middle Way. Suffering could be overcome. And that was the Third Noble Truth.

Finally, he arose and walked the awakened path. His awakening led him to see the world in a new way, to see himself in a new way, to see others in a new way. It led him into what he (or his followers) would call the Eightfold Path, and it led him out of suffering. And that was the Fourth Noble Truth.

1) All life experiences unhappiness, unsatisfactoriness, and suffering
2) Such suffering is caused by the type of attachment that leads to clinging or aversion
3) The cycle of suffering can be overcome
4) The path of overcoming is the Eightfold Path: right (or wise, or skillful) view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration

These are the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism--as close to a catechism as this practice has. By meditating on these truths, one naturally begins to see the world and one's actions in a way that is awakened, no longer deceived by the Mara of the paradigms and prejudices our society has carefully built up around us, nor by the Mara of our animal instincts so deeply ingrained.

I hope that this series of blog posts exploring Natural Buddhism has been useful to you, and that, in some small way, they might play a part in your own awakening.