An alternate understanding of The Four Noble Truths


The Four Noble Truths     
The first noble truth is commonly described as the truth of suffering. The actual Pali or Sanskrit word that was originally used is Dukkha. Although Dukkha can be translated into our modern English as “suffering”, it is probably better described as “uneasiness”, or “unsatisfactory experience”. The first noble truth translated as suffering leads us to a very nihilistic view of life; from this many people believe that what the Buddha was trying to say is that life is suffering. But the Buddha never said, as best as I can tell, only that there is dukkha or an uneasiness. Perhaps he meant only to point out that this uneasiness is a major facet of our experience as humans.


Brad Warner in Hardcore Zen, points out that it is his understanding that the first noble truth represents the idealistic viewpoint, and when you look at things from that perspective “everything sucks”, because reality can ever possibly live up to our expectations and our ideas about how things ought to be. Instead of experiencing whatever is, from an idealistic point of view we compare our experience to our ideas about our experience and this is our first mistake. In other words, by comparing our ideas about what is happening to our experience of what is happening, we create our own suffering.

The second noble truth moves on to point out the origination of that suffering, that our real experience can never quite live up to our ideas about our experience. Our common understanding of the second noble truth is that craving or desire is the cause of all our suffering, yet in the real world we can’t get rid of our desires. It isn’t possible. And there is nothing wrong with that. Desire is fundamental in our experience as human and there is no reason it shouldn’t be acceptable to us. Like other negative concepts ie. evil, sin, badness etc., it cannot be isolated and destroyed and attempting to do so often only serves to make it stronger. The Buddha had already tried to be an ascetic( a person who refuses to satisfy any desire with the aim of awakening), and found it to be too extreme and ineffective, so why would he recommend a path that he himself rejected, in his own core teachings? So perhaps the Buddha really meant that the desire to want things to be other than they are in our experience of the moment, leads to suffering.

So in this alternate understanding of the four noble truths, the first and second noble truths simply point out that from an idealistic viewpoint, we are setting our selves up for suffering, because our ideas about how things should be never quite match up to the way they actually are.

The third noble truth is commonly understood as saying that the cessation of, or freedom from suffering is accomplished by giving up our desires. It seems that we can easily think about stopping all our desires, but in reality there doesn’t seem to be anyone who actually has done it. This leads me to believe that this common understanding is not what the Buddha intended. So if he did not intend to say that stopping all desire is what leads to the end of suffering, perhaps he meant that if we can accept the way things are we will suffer less. In other words, do what you can with what you have and accept the situation of the moment as truth, or at least as your temporary truth. Again, it is impossible to abolish all our desires, as our experience can easily show us if we try, but it is quite possible to not want our situation to be different from what it is.

Of course that makes it sound like if we are in a bad situation, we should just accept it, and not try to make changes to lead us in a better direction. I don’t think the buddha was saying this at all. Of course we should take action to better our situation. But to the extent that we can drop our idealism, and our desire for the moment to be different from what it is, we can experience less “uneasiness”.

The fourth noble truth is the path leading to the cessation of uneasiness. This path described is called the eightfold path. The eightfold path is: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. The path, as you can see, is fairly vague and open to interpretation. The common understanding is that if we do these eight things right, we won’t suffer anymore. Another impossible task. Even if we knew what the Buddha meant by “right”, it would just be another form of idealism, trying to make our experience match up with our ideas.

If instead, we consider that instead of “right” the buddha actually meant “real” or “actual”, it may lead us to a better understanding. Besides, the Pali or Sanscrit words actually used was samma and samyanc , and can also be interpreted as completion or coherence, respectively. So maybe if we have a more thorough “completion with” or “coherence with” our “real” or “actual” view, intention, speech, etc. we can lessen our experience of unsatisfactoriness.

So to sum it all up, our alternative understanding of the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha goes like this:

1. That there is a facet of our experience that can be described as unsatisfactoriness.

2. That this unsatisfactoriness comes about because of our idealistic viewpoint.

3. That the amount of unsatisfactoriness that we experience is directly proportional to how much we compare our ideas about how our situation should be to how it really is.

4. That the practical way to focus on reducing our unsatisfactoriness is to follow the eightfold path being: to see directly and not turn away from the reality of our view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, concentration and in general our experience as it occurs in the moment.


About lifeofatattooer

Tattooer of 12 years, owner of Karma Tattoo Studio (4428 Peach St., Erie, Pa 16508), machine builder, traditional spit-shade tattoo flash painter, packrat, and general jack-of-all-trades master of none DIYer! Also deeply interested and practitioner of eastern esoteric philoshophy: Taoism, Zen and Buddhism, acu-pressure.
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One Response to An alternate understanding of The Four Noble Truths

  1. Pingback: Once Outside Myself | nobilitynotraein

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