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The Four Noble Truths

What is truth, how is it noble, and why are there four?

In the Three marks or laws of Buddhism we discussed the domain assumptions underlying the conclusions of the Shakyamuni Buddha paradigm of human existence namely Annica, Dukkha, and Anata, or impermanence, uneasiness, and no- abiding self.

The relationship between the impact of Annica and the uncertainty of Anata, a form of interrelated (pin-ball like interplay) moments that are altering our sensations, perceptions, and formations of who we are, and  what is going to become of us and thus produces periods desiring to stay as we are (no change), become something else (craving), and/or becoming without, no-sense (oblivion). This along with pain of birth, sickness, old age, and death, may be referred to as Human Nature. If you are human you have predilection. To be unaware of how this is so, is called ignorance. There can be a parting of the clouds of ignorance, the unshackling of hindrance…”far beyond one’s inverted views one realizes nirvana.” Hence the nature of being awake: Buddha Nature.

Shakyamuni Buddha’s first talk, discourse or sutra (turning the Dharma Wheel) was about his experience of awakening which shed light on being in the human realm of existence (Samsara) and how it is possible for one to reach a sense of nirvana in a single lifetime--the end of ignorance. Nirvana being the ongoing state of being clearly open-awake to each moment. Being awake shines clarity or Buddha nature into space and time (this may be thought of as insight). This lucidness is seeing the absolute or Dharma (Samadhi) as a light into our true-self. Our ability to be thus (Inmo) is awakening to and enlightening, or our Buddha Nature. How do we get from there (Dukkha) to here (Nirvana)?  

We must be clear about cause and effect. That is, all action is interconnected, switching on and off through what in Buddha Nature is called Dharma, the pulse of the cosmos, the oozing of existence or dependent co-arising. This is engaging the human ability of cognition:       

So we bracket the humanness of Dukkha, the predilection of uneasiness. So how is this noble:

The Four Noble Truths, one of the fundamental doctrines of Buddhism, said to have been set forth by the Buddha, the founder of the religion, in his first sermon, which he gave after his enlightenment. Although the term Four Noble Truths is well known in English, it is a misleading translation of the Pali term Chattari-ariya-saccani (Sanskrit: Chatvari-arya-satyani), because noble (Pali: ariya; Sanskrit: arya) refers not to the truths themselves but to those who understand them. A more accurate rendering, therefore, might be “four truths for the [spiritually] noble”; they are four facts that are known to be true by those with insight into the nature of reality but that are not known to be true by ordinary beings. The Buddha stated in his first sermon that when he gained absolute and intuitive knowledge of the four truths, he achieved complete enlightenment and freedom from future rebirth.

The first truth, suffering (Pali: dukkha; Sanskrit: duhkha), is characteristic of existence in the realm of rebirth, called samsara (literally “wandering”). In his final sermon, the Buddha identified as forms of suffering birth, aging, sickness, death, encountering the unpleasant, separation from the pleasant, not gaining what one desires, and the five “aggregates” (skandhas) that constitute the mind and body (matter, sensations, perceptions, mental formations, and awareness).

The second truth is the origin (Pali and Sanskrit: samudaya) or cause of suffering, which the Buddha associated with craving or attachment in his first sermon. In other Buddhist texts the causes of suffering are understood as stemming from negative actions (e.g., killing, stealing, and lying) and the negative mental states that motivate negative actions (e.g., desire, hatred, and ignorance). In those texts, the mental state of ignorance refers to an active misconception of the nature of things: seeing pleasure where there is pain, beauty where there is ugliness, permanence where there is impermanence, and self where there is no self.

The third truth is the cessation of suffering (Pali and Sanskrit: nirodha), commonly called nibbana (Sanskrit: nirvana).

The fourth and final truth is the path (Pali: magga; Sanskrit: marga) to the cessation of suffering, which was described by the Buddha in his first sermon.

As to why four truths I believe it is a simple postulate of What-Cause (existing)-Result (change wanted)-How (steps to get there. It is also integral in the steps of the scientific method used today:

For me this addresses a comment made by Shakyamuni Buddha: try what he offers to see if it works for you 

Further it is seen today the basis of Buddhist psychology addressing mindfulness and insight:

The Four Noble Truths make the case for the practical importance of The Three Marks or Laws of Buddhism. If these are laws, the logic of how they operate and what has to be done to enable the benefits to be accrued are stated in the Four Noble truths. The acquiring of these benefits then come through the steps of living in the Noble Eight actions or the middle way. Our volitional actions (Karma) can unfold the opportunity within us to be "budh" (awake).

In our next exploration we will look more deeply into this Noble Eightfold Path at our Tuesday night service on March 26, 2024

Palms Together,


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