Tuesday, March 26, 2019

In Buddhism what is the "Truth"?

Ven. Nyanatiloka (palikanon.com) edited by Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Wisdom Quarterly

What is the Truth? First of all, there are two truths, the conventional truth and the ultimate Truth (sacca).

The ultimate is explained in a portion of the Buddha's Teachings known as the Abhidharma, the Dharma spoken of in ultimate terms, the "Higher Doctrine" as distinguished from the sutras, the discourses taught in conventional terms.
There are Four Noble (ennobling, enlightening) Truths -- the truths leading to liberation from all pain and suffering.

The Four Noble Truths are the briefest statement of the entire Buddhist Teaching. Why? They contain all of the manifold doctrines of the threefold canon. They, without exception, contain in their root forms. [Buddhism spells out 37 Requisites of Enlightenment implicit in the Buddha's Teaching.]

What are the Four Noble Truths? They are:
  1. PROBLEM: all things disappoint (are unsatisfactory),
  2. CAUSE: the origin of disappointment,
  3. CESSATION: the extinction of disappointment,
  4. CURE: the Noble (ennobling) Eightfold Path leads to the extinction of disappointment.
  1. The first truth, stated briefly, teaches that all states of existence are unsatisfactory and constantly subject to disappointment (dukkha).
  2. The second truth teaches that all disappointment and all rebirth is produced by craving [and clinging rooted in ignorance].
  3. The third truth teaches that the removal of craving necessarily results in the extinction (nirodha) of all further rebirth and suffering; that is to say, it results in nirvana.
  4. The fourth truth of the Noble Eightfold Path points out the means by which this extinction is attained.
What is the Noble Eightfold Path?
The usual text found in the sutra collection runs as follows:
  1. "What, O meditators, is the [first] noble truth of suffering [disappointment]? Birth is suffering, decay is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; in short, the Five Aggregates Clung to as Self are suffering.
  2. ''What, O meditators, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering? It is craving that gives rise to fresh rebirth and, bound up with lust and greed, now here, now there, seeks ever fresh delight. This craving is threefold: sensual-craving (kāma-tanhā), the craving for eternal-existence (bhava-tanhā), the craving for self-annihilation (vibhava-tanhā).
  3. "What, O meditators, is the noble truth of the extinction of suffering? It is the complete fading away and extinction of this [threefold] craving, its abandoning and giving up, liberation and letting go of it.
  4. "What, O meditators, is the noble truth of the PATH leading to the extinction of all suffering? It is this Noble Eightfold Path that leads to the extinction of all suffering, namely:
The Noble Eightfold Path to Enlightenment
1. Right view
2. Right thought
III. Wisdom (paññā)
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood

I. Virtue (sīla)
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

II. Concentration (samādhi)

1. "What now, O meditators, is right understanding (right view)? It is the understanding of suffering, of the origin of suffering, of the extinction of suffering, and of the path leading to the extinction of suffering.
2. "What now, O medtiators, is right thought (intention)? It is a mind free of sensual lust, ill-will, and cruelty.
3. "What now, O medtiators, is right speech? Abstaining from lying (perjury), tale-bearing, harsh words, and foolish babble (cf. animal talk).
4. "What now, O medtiators, is right action? Abstaining from harming living beings, from stealing, and from sexual misconduct.
5. "What now, O meditators, is right livelihood? If the noble disciple rejects a wrong means of earning a living and gains one in a right way [it is right livelihood; see Path, 5).
6. "What now, O meditators, is right effort? If a disciple rouses the will to avoid the arising of unwholesome/demeritorious things that have not yet arisen... if one rouses the will to overcome the unwholesome/demeritorious things that have already arisen... if one rouses the will to produce wholesome/meritorious things that have not yet arisen... if one rouses the will to maintain the wholesome/meritorious things that have already arisen and not to let them disappear but instead bring them to growth, maturity, and full perfection of development. One thus makes effort, stirs up energy, exerts mind, and strives. (See padhāna).
7. "What now, O meditators, is right mindfulness? If a disciple dwells in contemplation of [corporeal] form... feeling... mind... mind-objects, ardent, clearly conscious, and mindful after setting aside worldly greed and grief. (See satipatthāna).

8. "What now, O meditators, is right concentration? If a disciple lets go of sensual objects, lets go of unwholesome things, and enters into the first absorption... the second absorption... the third absorption... the fourth absorption." (Absorption = jhāna).

In the Buddha's first discourse (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutra) he said that:
  • the first truth (suffering) is to be fully understood;
  • the second truth (craving) is to be abandoned;
  • the third truth (nirvana) is to be realized;
  • the fourth truth (the path) is to be cultivated.
"The truth of suffering can be compared with a DISEASE, the truth of the ORIGIN of suffering with the CAUSE of the disease, the truth of the EXTINCTION of suffering with the CURE of the disease, the truth of the PATH with the MEDICINE" (The Path of Purification, Vis.M. XVI).

In the ultimate sense, all of the Four Noble Truths are to be considered as empty of a self because there is no feeling agent, no doer, no one who follows the path, no liberated one. Therefore, it is said:
"Mere suffering exists; no sufferer is found.
The deed is, but no doer of the deed is there.
Nirvana is but not the person who enters it.
The Path is, but no traveler on it is seen.
"The first and second truths are empty
Devoid of permanence, joy, self, and beauty;
The Deathless [nirvana] is free of ego.
The Path is free of permanence and self."

(Path of Purification, Vis.M. XVI)
It must be pointed out that the first noble truth of suffering does not refer merely to actual suffering, that is, suffering as feeling. But in consequence of the universal law of impermanence, all phenomena related to existence, even the sublimest states of existence, are subject to change and dissolution.

Hence, they are disappointing, liable to suffering, unsatisfactory, and miserable. Thus, without exception, they all contain in themselves the germ of disappointment/suffering. Cf. Guide through the Abhidhamma Pitaka by Ven. Nyanatiloka (3rd ed., 1971, BPS.lk), pp. 101 f. Regarding the true nature of the Path, see magga. 

  • Dhammacakkappavattana Sutra (Wheel 17 and Bodhi Leaves)
  • MN 141; Sacca Samyutta
  • (S. LVI); Sacca Vibhanga
  • The Word of the Buddha by Ven. Nyanatiloka (BPS.lk); Vis.M. XVI:
  • The Four Noble Truths by Francis Story (Wheel #34/35)
  • The Significance of the Four Noble Truths by V. F. Gunaratna (Wheel 123)

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