Sunday, May 01, 2011

The 4 Noble Truths: basics of the path called Buddhism

golden Chinese Buddha by trudeau
golden Chinese Buddha, a photo by trudeau on Flickr.

The Four Noble Truths

1. Life is suffering;

2. Suffering is due to attachment;

3. Attachment can be overcome;
4. There is a path for accomplishing this.

1. Suffering is perhaps the most common translation for the Sanskrit word duhkha, which can also be translated as imperfect, stressful, or filled with anguish.

Contributing to the anguish is anitya -- the fact that all things are impermanent, including living things like ourselves.

Furthermore, there is the concept of anatman -- literally, "no soul". Anatman means that all things are interconnected and interdependent, so that no thing -- including ourselves -- has a separate existence.

2. Attachment is a common translation for the word trishna, which literally means thirst and is also translated as desire, clinging, greed, craving, or lust. Because we and the world are imperfect, impermanent, and not separate, we are forever "clinging" to things, each other, and ourselves, in a mistaken effort at permanence.

Besides trishna, there is dvesha, which means avoidance or hatred. Hatred is its own kind of clinging.

And finally there is avidya, ignorance or the refusal to see. Not fully understanding the impermanence of things is what leads us to cling in the first place.

3. Perhaps the most misunderstood term in Buddhism is the one which refers to the overcoming of attachment: nirvana. It literally means "blowing out," but is often thought to refer to either a Buddhist heaven or complete nothingness. Actually, it refers to the letting go of clinging, hatred, and ignorance, and the full acceptance of imperfection, impermanence, and interconnectedness.

4. And then there is the path, called dharma. Buddha called it the middle way, which is understood as meaning the middle way between such competing philosophies as materialism and idealism, or hedonism and asceticism. This path, this middle way, is elaborated as the eightfold path.

The Eightfold Path

1. Right view is the true understanding of the four noble truths.
2. Right aspiration is the true desire to free oneself from attachment, ignorance, and hatefulness.

These two are referred to as praj├▒a, or wisdom.

3. Right speech involves abstaining from lying, gossiping, or hurtful talk.

4. Right action involves abstaining from hurtful behaviors, such as killing, stealing, and careless sex.
5. Right livelihood means making your living in such a way as to avoid dishonesty and hurting others, including animals.

These three are referred to as shila, or morality.

6. Right effort is a matter of exerting oneself in regards to the content of one's mind: Bad qualities should be abandoned and prevented from arising again; Good qualities should be enacted and nurtured.

7. Right mindfulness is the focusing of one's attention on one's body, feelings, thoughts, and consciousness in such a way as to overcome craving, hatred, and ignorance.
8. Right concentration is meditating in such a way as to progressively realize a true understanding of imperfection, impermanence, and non-separateness.

The last three are known as samadhi, or meditation.