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Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths

Abstract: Buddha's fundamental understanding of life is summarized.

I.  At the end of his six-year quest and the so-called 49 days of enlightenment, Buddha gave his first insights:

    "Be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye a refuge to yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth as a lamp. Hold fast as a refuge to the Truth. Work out your own salvation with diligence."

    The subject of this first sermon in the forest was the declaration of his key insights in propositional form.

    A. The Four Noble Truths: his deepest and most considered reflections about life.

      1. First Noble Truth: Life is dukkha--usually translated as "suffering" although it is much more than this.

        a. We continuously distract ourselves with ephemeral pursuits--to be so distracted is to forget in the depths what we are and can be.

        b. A better translation of dukkha is dislocation or hindrance (literally, "out of joint, not together").

        c. Buddha specifies six occasions when life's dislocation is evident to anyone, rich or poor:

          (1) the trauma of birth
          (2) the pathology of sickness
          (3) the morbidity of decrepitude
          (4) the phobia of death
          (5) to be tied to what one hates
          (6) to be separated from what one loves

        d. Hence, the basis and foundation of living is hindrance, suffering, and pain.

      2. Second Noble Truth: The cause of life's dislocation is tanha: the desire to private fulfillment.

        a. Buddha did not advocate the extinction of all desire (e.g., the desire for liberation or the desire for the welfare of other human beings).

        b. Tanha is excessive concern with self.

          In a group photograph, we look for our own picture first.
          Where is the person who would scrifice his loved ones for the sake of ending world hunger?

      3. Third Noble Truth: If the cause of life's dislocation is selfish craving, then its cure lies in the overcoming of selfish craving.

      4. Fourth Noble Truth: The program offering specific steps to overcome tanha are given as the Eightfold Path.

    B. The Eightfold Path is a rigorous method whereby one can obtain happiness.

II. Basically, there are two different courses in life: 
(1) "Wandering about":  the almost random unreflective way in which we are pushed and pulled by circumstances (like a twig caught in a drain), and 
(2) "The Path":  if you seek happiness, you can have it (with practice).

Check your understanding with a Quiz on The Four Noble Truths.


Access to Insight, "The Four Noble Truths."


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