The Four Noble Truths — Center for Action and Contemplation

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The Four Noble Truths

Taoism and Buddhism

The Four Noble Truths
Tuesday, August 21, 2018

After his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, the Buddha sat for some days in his inner liberation, which he called a state of nirvana. As Thich Nhat Hanh explains, “Nirvana means extinction—first of all, the extinction of all concepts and notions. Our concepts about things prevent us from really touching them.” [1] For the Buddha, the ability to see reality as it really is, free of all concepts that distort it, was also the extinction of suffering.

Here’s how James Finley describes the Four Noble Truths that the Buddha taught and embodied for the rest of his life:

The First Truth is the truth of suffering. By suffering, the Buddha means a pervasive discontent—that the ability to abide in inner peace and fulfillment is elusive. There is an inescapable sense of precariousness. This suffering is the presenting problem. The illness that the Buddha seeks to cure is the propensity for suffering. [Note that the Buddhist approach to healing self-inflicted suffering is very different from the common Christian notion of heroic self-sacrifice.]

The Second Noble Truth is that there is a way of life that perpetuates suffering. There are certain habits of the mind and heart that prolong the very suffering from which we seek to be freed. This way of life has its basis in wanting life to be other than the way it is. This is the diagnosis.

The Third Noble Truth is that it is possible to be healed from these symptoms by learning to live as one with the way life is. [This is similar to Taoism.] This is the truth of nirvana—a way of abiding peace and equanimity in the rise and fall of daily circumstances just as they are. So, this is the hope for the cure: that it is possible to rest in abiding inner peace and fulfillment. [Christians might call this “surrender to the will of God.”]

The Fourth Noble Truth is the Noble Eightfold Path which is the way of life in which one is liberated from the tyranny of suffering so that one might come to this nirvanic inner peace, the peace that passes understanding in the midst of life as it is. What good would it do if the Buddha just pointed out the problem and did not give us a way to be delivered from the problem? That way is the Noble Eightfold Path. [2]

The Noble Eightfold Path includes eight “right practices”: right view, right thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right diligence, right mindfulness, and right concentration. It is a way out of suffering, a way of healing. As I often say, if we do not transform our pain we will most certainly transmit it. Meditation or contemplation helps us stay on this path and allow ourselves to be changed at the deepest levels.

[1] Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Broadway Books: 1998), 129.

[2] James Finley, Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening, disc 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), CDDVDMP3 download.

Image Credit: Woman Sitting in Front of Monk
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Buddhism can help Christians to be mystical Christians . . . to realize and enter into the non-dualistic, or unitive, heart of Christian experience—a way to be one with the Father, to live Christ’s life, to be not just a container of the Spirit but an embodiment and expression of the Spirit, to live by and with and in the Spirit, to live and move and have our being in God. —Paul Knitter
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