I just realized a new rapprochement with Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path. That might seem surprising, since this philosophy of living—this way of living—has a spiritual core of faith that leads to the realization of the indwelling presence of the spirit of God, friendship with God, and prayer and worship. Here’s how it goes.
The first noble truth has to do with dukkha, usually translated as “pain” or “suffering,” though it is understood that any kind of discomfort qualifies. The way I would express this truth is that dukkha is pervasive. In creation there is disharmony, and no creature can be 100 percent stable, complete, whole, and happy while other parts of creation are unstable, incomplete, and broken, and unhappy.
The alternative to dukkha is nirvana. The later, Mahayana, phase of Buddhism came to realize that nirvana is also pervasive. The familiar statues of the Buddha with eyes half closed symbolize the spiritual achievement of holding half of the attention in nirvana and the other half in samsara, the realm of impermanence, insubstantiality, and suffering.
When we bring those two sides of the teaching together, it seems to me that Buddhism’s first truth transplants easily into the garden of the new philosophy of living.
The second Noble Truth identifies the cause of suffering as tanha, sometimes translated as “desire” (which implies that there is no such thing as a normal, healthy desire). But some interpreters embrace an alternative, which I express by the phrase I use, rendering tanha by “anxious craving”—distorted desire.
In the Buddhist writings with which I am familiar, no one is so simplistic as not to acknowledge multiple sources of suffering. So if we can take tanha as a distortion of desire, and as the leading cause of suffering in addition to other causes, or the root cause at work in the other causes, or as the general category under which other causes may be classified, then the territory of dialogue opens up further.
In the philosophy of living that I have been working on, faith plays the key role in healing the deepest problems of human living. So if I am to transplant the idea of anxious craving into my garden, I will interpret anxious craving as being precisely the character of desire (and motivation in general) when faith is absent.
The third Noble Truth is that in order to heal duhhka, we must remove its cause, tanha. The fourth Noble Truth is that the way to do this is the Eightfold Path:
- right views (philosophy—the Four Noble Truths
- right purpose
- right (truthful) speech
- right conduct (do not kill, steal, lie, drink intoxicants, or be unchaste)
- right livelihood (don’t earn a living by working in a factory that manufactures weapons, a liquor store, a slaughterhouse . . . )
- right effort
- right mindfulness (self-awareness, e.g., of the mental origins of our thoughts)
- right concentration (samadhi, absorption, the ultimate goal of meditation, variously conceived, experienced, and expressed)
These two lists address thinking, feeling, doing, and spiritual realization that goes beyond thinking.
The lives of the greatest Buddhist teachers express truth, beauty, and goodness more than most people who would readily align with my way of interpreting these concepts.
Of course it takes interminable dialogue to answer the title question of this blogpost. What do you think?
“Kamakura-buddha-1” by Thyes – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kamakura-buddha-1.jpg#/media/File:Kamakura-buddha-1.jpg