Thursday, May 01, 2008

Four Noble Truths

Church member Steve Moldt writes his second installment explaining faith from a Buddhist perspective:

To follow up on my last blog regarding my current understanding and questions about suffering, I would like to discuss the four noble truths of the Buddhist tradition as I understand them. I should say that I have had no formal training and this is my understanding of these principles at this stage of my own journey.

The first of the Four Noble Truths states that life means suffering, or life is suffering. We are born into suffering, have hungers, thirsts and anxieties. We suffer through fear, illness, desire, pain, insecurities, etc. There are as many ways to suffer as there are beings to experience it.The second Truth states that the origin of suffering is attachment. We suffer because we become attached to transient things, not only objects, wealth and power but ideas, desires, passions, even our notion of our “self” as a separate entity, instead of a part of the on-going ceaseless becoming of the universe. Craving and clinging keep us from our greater realization of our connection to all things.

The third Truth is that cessation of suffering is attainable. This is can be done by remove the source of suffering, by ending the craving and the clinging to transient things using techniques meant to achieve a dispassionate state know as Nirvana. Nirvana is the freedom from desires, complexes, insecurities and ideas. It means openness to all levels of experience without judgment and without limiting knowledge. It is the experience of the unity of all things.

The fourth Truth describes the way to the cessation of suffering by way of the Eightfold Path which, briefly, consists of Right View and Right Intention which are manifestations of Wisdom; Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood which are manifestations of Ethical Conduct and Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration which are manifestations of Mental Development.

When I first came upon the Four Noble Truths, I was astonished by the simple logic. In our ‘modern’ world there are literally billions of dollars that are spent on ways to alleviate suffering. The range of drugs alone used to treat depression, phobias, anxieties fuel an entire industry.

The Buddhist way does not deny suffering. It recognizes it as an unavoidable, even essential part of life in this existence. By recognizing suffering as integral to the process of life, it is not such an overwhelming force and can be addressed by pursuing the eightfold path. This is not to say that the way is easy, but the difference in perspective from the way we commonly address suffering in our material society makes sense to me. What do you think?

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