Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Four Noble Truths



The essence of Buddhism lies within the first insights of Śākyamuni Buddha as he sat under the bodhi tree and saw the first morning star glimmering on the horizon. Following his enlightenment the Buddha was quoted as saying the following:

“It is through not understanding and not realizing four fundamental truths that I, disciples, as well as you, have had to wander for so long through an endless round of births, deaths and rebirths. These four truths are the noble truth of suffering, the noble truth of the origin of suffering, the noble truth of the extinction of suffering, and the noble truth of the path that leads to the extinction of suffering.

This world is driven by pleasure, delighted with pleasure, and enchanted with pleasure. Consequently, all individuals who follow such a path based in the pursuit of pleasure will have great difficulty understanding the law of conditionality, and will not understand the dependent origination of all things in the visible and the invisible realms. It is incomprehensible to them how to end all formations of thought, and through this find the abandonment of every endless cycle of rebirth, the fading away of desire, detachment, and extinction ending in the discovery of nirvana; however, there are beings whose eyes are only a little cloudy and they may understand the truth.

The first noble truth is the truth of suffering. Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow, regret, pain, grief, and despair, are also suffering; not to get what you want, is also suffering; in short—these five groups of existence are of themselves suffering.

But what is birth? It is the birth of beings belonging to all order of beings, their being born, their conception and springing into existence, the manifestation of all groups of existence, the arising of sense activity—this is called birth.

And what is growing old? It is the aging of beings belonging to all order of beings; their becoming aged, frail, gray, and wrinkled; the failing of their vital forces, the wearing out of their senses—this is called growing old.

And what is death? It is the parting and vanishing of beings out of all order of beings, their destruction, disappearance, and death; the completion of their life period, the dissolution of all groups of existence, and the discarding of the body—this is called death.

And what is sorrow? It is the sorrow arising through loss or misfortune which you encounter the worrying about yourself, the state of being alarmed, inward sorrow, and inward woe—this is called sorrow.

And what is regret? It is through all loss or misfortune which may occur, wailing and lamenting, the state of sadness and worrying—this is called regret.

And what is pain? It is the bodily pain and unpleasantness, the painful and unpleasant feeling produced by bodily contact—this is called pain.

And what is grief? It is the mental pain and unpleasantness, the painful and unpleasant feeling produced by mental contact—this is called grief.

And what is despair? It is the distress and despair arising through all loss or misfortune which one encounters, distressfulness, and desperation—this is called despair.

And what is the suffering of not getting what you desire? To you who is subject to birth there comes the desire: ‘O that I was not subject to birth! O that no new birth was before me!’ Subject to old age, disease, death, sorrow, regret, pain, grief, and despair, the desire comes: ‘O that I was not subject to these things! O that these things were not before me!’ But this cannot be attained through desires; and not to get what you desire, is suffering.

The five skandhas[i] (groups of existence) are suffering. What are the five skandhas? They are form, feeling, perception, impulses, and consciousness.

All mental formations, whether internal or external, coarse or fine, high or low, far or near, belongs to the skandha of form: any feelings belong to the skandha of feeling; any perceptions belong to the skandha of perception; any impulses belong to the skandha of impulses; and all consciousness belongs to the skandha of consciousness.

Although your vision may be normal, if no external forms fall within your field of vision, and no corresponding juxtaposition takes place, then there is no formation of the corresponding aspect of consciousness. Even if your vision is normal and all external forms should fall within your field of vision, yet no corresponding juxtaposition takes place, there also occurs no formation of the corresponding aspect of consciousness. If however, your vision is normal, and the external forms fall within the fields of vision, and the corresponding juxtaposition takes place, in this case there arises the corresponding aspect of consciousness.

Therefore, the arising of consciousness is dependent upon conditions; and without these conditions, no consciousness arises. Furthermore, upon whatever conditions the arising of consciousness is dependent, after these they are called: consciousness, whose arising depends on sight and forms, is called ‘eye–consciousness.’ Consciousness, whose arising depends on hearing and sound, is called ‘ear–consciousness.’ Consciousness, whose arising depends on smell and odors, is called ‘nose–consciousness.’ Consciousness, whose arising depends on taste, is called ‘tongue–consciousness.’ Consciousness, whose arising depends on touch and bodily contacts, is called ‘body–consciousness.’ Consciousness, whose arising depends on thinking and ideas, is called ‘mind–consciousness.’

It is not impossible to explain the passing out of one existence, or the entering into a new existence, nor of the growth, the increase, and the development of consciousness, which are independent of all forms, feelings, perceptions, and impulses.

All formations are transient; all formations are subject to suffering; and all things are without an ego–entity. Form is transient, feeling is transient, perception is transient, impulses are transient, and consciousness is transient. And that which is transient, is subject to suffering and change, so it is functionally impossible to say: ‘This belongs to me; or this I am; or this is my self.’
Therefore, whatever there is that is form, feeling, perception, impulses, or consciousness, whether they are internal or external, whether coarse or fine, high or low, far or near, understand, that according to reality, and true wisdom: ‘This does not belong to me; this is not me; and this is not my substance.’

Imagine that a man with normal sight were to notice the many bubbles on the Ganges River as he is traveling along its banks; as he watches these bubbles, they will appear to him empty, unreal, and insubstantial. In exactly the same way, does the dharma practitioner behold all formations, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and states of consciousness—whether they are of the past, the present, or the future—whether they are far or near. As he watches them, and examines them, they appear empty, void, and without substance.



Those who take delight in forms, feelings, perceptions, impulses, or consciousness, also, take delight in suffering; and those who delight in suffering, will not be freed from their suffering.
Have you ever seen a man, or a woman, of eighty, ninety, or a hundred years old, who is frail and crooked as a gable roof, bent down, and resting on crutches, with tottering steps, infirm, youth long since fled, with broken teeth, gray and scanty hair, or bald–headed, wrinkled, with blotched limbs? And did the thought not arise that you are also subject to this same old age, and that you cannot escape it?

Have you ever seen a man, or a woman, who is sick, afflicted, or grievously ill, wallowing in their own filth, who was lifted up and put to bed by others? And did the thought arise that you are also subject to this same old age, and you cannot escape it?

Have you ever seen a corpse, one, two, or three days after death, swollen up, blue–black in color, and full of decay? And did the thought never come to you that also you are subject to death, that also you cannot escape it?

The second noble truth, the truth of the origin of suffering arises from desire, and leads to rebirth, which brings delight and passion, and seeks pleasure here and there, and seeks out every fresh delight—the desire for sensual pleasure, the desire for continued life, and the desire for power.

There is sensual desire, desire for eternal existence, and desire for self—annihilation. However, where does this desire arise and take root? Everywhere in the world there are delightful and pleasurable things, it is there that this desire arises and takes root. Consciousness, sense perception, feelings born of sense perception, will, desire, thinking, and reflecting, all of these are delightful and pleasurable and this is where that desire arises and takes root.

When recognizing a sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, or perception, if the object is pleasant, one is attracted; and if unpleasant, one is repelled.

So, whatever kind of feeling is experienced—pleasant, unpleasant, or indifferent—if one approves of and cherishes the feeling and clings to it, lust will often arise. However, this lust for feelings, results in grasping; and grasping depends on the process of becoming; and the process of becoming (Karma–process) results in future birth. Furthermore, dependent upon birth, are again growing old and death, sorrow, regret, pain, grief, and despair. This whole mass of suffering arises once again. Feeling, desire, grasping, becoming, birth, sickness and death, these are all called the noble truth of the origin of suffering.

Due to attachment to sensuous desire, and conditioned through attachment to sensuous desire, and impelled by attachment to sensuous desire, and entirely motivated by sensuous desire: rulers fight with rulers, generals with generals, priests with priests, citizens with citizens; a mother quarrels with her son, a son with his mother, a father with his son, a son with his father; brother quarrels with brother, brother with sister, sister with brother, and friend fights with friend. Thus, given to dissension, quarreling and fighting, they fall upon one another with fists, sticks, or weapons. And thereby they suffer pain or death.

Furthermore, through attachment to sensuous desire, and conditioned by attachment to sensuous desire, impelled through attachment to sensuous desire and entirely motivated by attachment to sensuous desire, people break into houses, rob, plunder, pillage whole houses, commit highway robbery, and seduce the wives of others. Officials may have such people caught, and inflict upon them various forms of punishment, including but not limited to pain, or death. This is the misery of sensuous desire, the accumulation of suffering in this present life, due to sensuous desire, conditioned through sensuous desire, caused by sensuous desire, and entirely dependent on sensuous desire.

Some may choose the evil path in their deeds, the evil path in their words, and the evil path in their thoughts; so by taking the evil path in deeds, words, and thoughts, at the dissolution of their body, after death, they tumble into a downward state of existence, a state of suffering, into perdition, and the abyss of hell. Consequently, this is the misery of sensuous desire, the accumulation of suffering in the future life, due to sensuous desire, conditioned through sensuous desire, caused by sensuous desire, and entirely dependent on sensuous desire.

For the owner of karma[ii] are the beings who are heirs of those actions; and these actions are the birth place from which karma springs forth. With each deed they are bound up and their actions become a refuge, for whatever actions are performed either—good or evil—of this karma they will be the heirs.

This law of causality implies that wherever beings come into existence, this is where their actions will ripen; and wherever their actions ripen, there they will earn the fruits of those actions, whether in this or any other future life.

There will come a time, when the mighty oceans will dry up, vanish, and be no more. There will come a time, when the powerful earth will be devoured by fire, perish, and be no more. Yet there will be no end to the suffering of beings, which, obstructed by ignorance, and ensnared by desire, are hurrying and rushing through this round of rebirths.

The third noble truth, the truth of the extinction of suffering is the complete cessation of desire, so that no obsession remains, leaving it, being emancipated from it, being released from it, and giving no place to it. The noble truth of the extinction of suffering is the complete fading away and extinction of desire; it’s forsaking and giving up, the liberation and detachment from it.
However how does this desire vanish, and how might it be extinguished? Wherever in the world there are delightful and pleasurable things, there this desire can vanish, and there it may be extinguished. Whether in the past, present, or future, whoever perceives delightful and pleasurable things in the world as impermanent, miserable, and without substance, overcomes desire. Consequently, being released from sensual desire, and released from the desire for existence, there is no return, and this person does not enter again into existence.

Through the extinction of desire, grasping is extinguished; through the extinction of grasping, the process of becoming is extinguished; through the extinction of the process of becoming, rebirth is extinguished; and through the extinction of rebirth, old age, death, sorrow, regret, pain, grief, and despair are extinguished. Thus comes about the extinction of this whole mass of suffering. Hence, the annihilation, cessation, and overcoming of feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness, this is the extinction of suffering, the end of disease, the overcoming of old age and death.”

Nirvana[iii], truly is peace, and is the highest state attainable through the ending of all formations, the forsaking of every substratum of rebirth, and the fading away of desire. Detachment and extinction, lead directly to Nirvana.
When enraptured with lust, or enraged with anger, or blinded by delusion, one aims at his own ruin, at another’s ruin, or at the ruin of both. However, if lust, anger, and delusion are let go, one aspires to neither his own ruin, nor another’s ruin, nor the ruin of both, this person experiences no mental pain and grief. This is Nirvana; immediate, and visible in this life, inviting, attractive, and comprehensible to the wise. The extinction of greed, the extinction of anger, the extinction of delusion: this, indeed, is called Nirvana.

For a disciple thus freed, in whose heart dwells peace, there is nothing to be added to what has been done, and nothing more remains for him to do. Just as the rock of one solid mass remains unshaken by the wind; even so, neither perception, sound, smell, taste, nor touch of any kind, neither desired, nor undesired, can cause such a person to waver. Steadfast is his mind, and gained is his deliverance.

He who has considered all the contrasts on this earth, and is no longer disturbed by anything whatsoever in this world, is regarded as the Peaceful One and is freed from rage, sorrow, and longing, and has passed beyond birth and old age.

There is a realm that is neither solid nor fluid, neither hot nor cold, neither stillness nor motion, neither in this world, nor any other world, neither sun nor moon. This is the realm of neither arising, nor passing away, neither standing still nor being born, nor dying. There is neither foothold, nor development, nor any basis. This is the end of suffering. This is unborn, un-originated, uncreated, and unformed. If there were no unborn, un-originated, uncreated, and unformed state of existence, escape from the world of the born, originated, created, and formed would not be possible. But since there is an unborn, un-originated, uncreated, and unformed state of existence, escape is possible from this world of the born, originated, created, and formed.
The fourth noble truth is the truth of the path that leads to the extinction of suffering. The two extremes and the middle path are to give up indulgence in sensual pleasure of common, vulgar, unholy, and unprofitable actions. Furthermore, it is important to not engage in self–mortification through painful, unholy, or unprofitable actions. Both of these two extremes, the Perfect One has avoided, and has discovered the middle way. The extinction of suffering allows one to both see and know the path that leads to peace, discernment, enlightenment, and the resulting Nirvana.”

[i] The five skandhas (Sanskrit) or skandhas (Pāli) are the five "aggregates" which categorize or constitute all individual experience according to Buddhist phenomenology. An important corollary in Buddhism is that a "person" is made up of these five aggregates, beyond which there is no "self". In the Theravada tradition, suffering arises when one identifies with or otherwise clings to an aggregate; hence, suffering is extinguished by relinquishing attachments to aggregates. The Mahayana tradition further puts forth that ultimate freedom is realized by deeply penetrating the intrinsically empty nature of all aggregates.

[ii] Karma (Sanskrit: kárma), kárman- "act, action, performance; literally cause and effect"; Pāli: kamma) is the concept of "action" or "deed" in Dharmic religions understood as denoting the entire cycle of cause and effect described in Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist philosophies.

[iii] Nirvāna ( Sanskrit: निर्वाण; is a Sanskrit word that literally means "to cease blowing" (as when a candle flame ceases to flicker) and/or extinguishing (that is, of the passions). It is a mode of being that is free from mind-contaminants (kilesa) such as lust, anger or craving; a state of pure consciousness and bliss unobstructed by psychological conditioning (sankhara). All passions and emotions are transformed and pacified such that one is no longer subject to human suffering or dukkha. The Buddha in the Dhammapada says of Nirvāna that it is "the highest happiness". This is not the sense-based happiness of everyday life, nor the concept of happiness as interpreted by Western culture, but rather an enduring, transcendental happiness integral to the calmness attained through enlightenment or bodhi. The knowledge accompanying nirvana is expressed through the word bodhi.

2 comments:

Barry said...

I'm glad to read this, Paul. I'd appreciate a reference for this text in the Pali Canon, if you have one.

zensquared said...

Agreed -- I would love to have a reference for this text. It's really wonderful. Thank you for posting it.