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Thread: Baffled by the Four Noble Truths

  1. #1
    Senior Member Juki's Avatar
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    Baffled by the Four Noble Truths

    The new issue of Tricycle Magazine is out, and I am working my way through it now. There is an article on pages 20 and 21 entitled "10 Misconceptions About Buddhism" that has left me baffled, at least in part. The article is written by Robert E. Buswell and Donald S. Lopez, both of whom appear to be rather esteemed Buddhist academics (I do not know anything about their practice status, however). What baffles me is "misconception" number 8. I shall provide both the alleged misconception and the responses of the authors:

    8. The four noble truths are noble.

    "The famous phrase "four noble truths" is a mistranslation. The term "noble" in Sanskrit is aryan, a perfectly good word meaning "noble" or "superior" that was ruined by the Nazis. Aryan is a technical term in Buddhism, referring to someone who has had direct experience of the truth and will never again be reborn as an animal, ghost or hell-being. The four truths of suffering, origin, cessation and path are true for such enlightened beings. They are not true for us; we don't understand that life is suffering. So the term means the four truths for the [spiritually] noble."


    Note: I have added the underlining and boldface type to the last two sentences, because this is the portion of the response i find baffling.

    I understand that in Zen we do not really talk much about reincarnation, ghosts or hell-beings. I also understand that Dogen said that sitting zazen in and of itself is enlightenment.

    My question is, is the sitting zazen/enlightenment of Dogen something that makes a Zen practitioner "spiritually noble?" Or, does this issue even matter to us in Zen practice? In "Genjo Koan, Dogen says that those who have great realization of delusion are Buddhas. Could this be what the authors mean when the talk about us not truly understanding that life is suffering. (i.e., until we have realization of our delusions, we are not spiritually noble).

    Humbly.

    Gassho,
    Juki
    Last edited by Juki; 05-19-2014 at 07:06 PM.
    "First you have to give up." Tyler Durden

  2. #2
    Senior Member Myosha's Avatar
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    Hello,

    From the article:

    " The term "noble" in Sanskrit is aryan, a perfectly good word meaning "noble". . . ."

    Soooo. . .

    as long as the TRUTHS are noble this beginner can dance life as it is.

    Academics are fun,


    Gassho,
    Myosha
    Practice with humility, respect all beings, avoid attachments, give rise to prajña from your own awareness, put an end to delusions - Hui-neng

  3. #3
    Senior Member Nameless's Avatar
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    Think that in Pali, the Four Noble Truths are, "Cattāri Ariyasaccāni." Some say that this may more closely resemble something like, "Four Preeminent Realities." Aryan comes from the Pali word Arya which did mean noble, but usually referred to those who worshiped Vedic gods and the Vedic culture in general. In Buddhism, arya came to mean something along the lines of a noble warrior, someone of virtue, or it is associated with anyone who practices Buddhism.

    As for the quote, I think most people can grok that life is suffering, but many may not consider that it is clinging, craving and ignorance that condition this suffering. I would personally just glance over the word "spiritually" lol. And perhaps even, "noble." Nobility can be subjective. Truth is usually relative too, but in the case of the cattāri ariyasaccāni, I'd say these Truths are evident and universal. Got all this Pali stuff from the net btw, I'm not a translator or anything, so take it with a grain of salt. What a weird saying that is lol.

    Gassho, Foolish John

  4. #4
    Hi Guys,

    Yes, I would not fall into matters of semantics and splitting hairs, which is what Buswell and Lopez seem to be doing here a bit. They are two Buddhist scholars whose writings I usually appreciate deeply, but this seems to be a distinction of little import. So, even if the "Noble Truths" is better rendered as "Truths of the Noble Ones" as they read it (other scholars don't read the words so, by the way), the Buddha still intended us all to realize and live by these Truths ... walk the walk as we can like the Nobles walk ... he meant for us to try to be as Noble as we can. It would be way off base to say that the Buddha ... all the Buddhist Teachers ... did not mean that these Truths are for all of us. We can all understand Dukkha (Buddhist "Suffering"), its causes and cures. (Here is my take in our "Buddha^Basics" series: http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...y-Dooby-Dukkha ), and Practice the Practices which are the cure.

    Even though some of us may be better at realizing and living these Truths than others, the Truths are for the beginner and the person well down the path. Dogen offered his perspective of Practice-Enlightenment, whereby the raw Beginner of 1 day is already Buddha ... and the old hand of many years is still Buddha ... but the latter is probably better at realizing such Truth than the fellow practicing one day! A moment of seated Zazen is all the Noble Truths Realized, nothing more to attain, all suffering dropped away ... yet, when we rise from the cushion, how we live and how we choose to act (whether with greed, anger and delusion or not) matters too!

    The question of whether some Buddhists (perhaps most Traditional Buddhists in Asia even today) believe in literal rebirth in a heaven or hell or as a dog or hungry ghost is really a different topic. Some, like me, might be skeptical or agnostic on such literal perspectives, yet see how our actions in this life cause us to live as animals or greedy "hungry ghosts" in this life ... or build heavens and hells in this life right here ... through our words, thoughts and acts, the question of later lives aside. I touch on such topic here too: http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/forum...-BIG-Questions

    So, do as you can to realize (get in one's bones) and realize (make real in this life) these Truths like the Nobles do!

    Does that help?

    Gassho, J

    PS - Some of the other misconceptions in the articles (I just read it online) are a bit wack too. The next misconception "9" that Zen monks expect to spend years in Practice before seeing any "real progress" probably represents Robert Buswell speaking from his background in the Korean Rinzai monastic tradition. I recently read his autobiography of his monk years, and the Practice there does seem to be very goal oriented and long term. However, Japanese Soto folks would tend to say that there is "real progress" in each moment ... "real progress" after a day or 50 years ... and no place to progress even as we progress, always Buddha. This is a surprisingly sparse and poorly written article by these two usually excellent scholars.
    Last edited by Jundo; 05-20-2014 at 04:09 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  5. #5
    Senior Member Nameless's Avatar
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    We all write duds every now and then I suppose Perhaps Rinzai students were their target audience for this article?

    Gassho, Literary John

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Juki View Post
    They are not true for us; we don't understand that life is suffering. So the term means the four truths for the [spiritually] noble.
    The Four Noble Truths as taught by Forest Sangha teachers (at least Sumedho's line) is moment to moment... only waking up now and now. It is no different for an old monk or a confused kid. The innate stainlessness of Mind is acknowledged as no different in everyone. It is probably different for other South Asian traditions..such as the Sri Lankan or Burmese schools.


    Gassho Daizan
    大山

  7. #7
    Senior Member Juki's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post

    Even though some of us may be better at realizing and living these Truths than others, the Truths are for the beginner and the person well down the path. Dogen offered his perspective of Practice-Enlightenment, whereby the raw Beginner of 1 day is already Buddha ... and the old hand of many years is still Buddha ... but the latter is probably better at realizing such Truth than the fellow practicing one day! A moment of seated Zazen is all the Noble Truths Realized, nothing more to attain, all suffering dropped away ... yet, when we rise from the cushion, how we live and how we choose to act (whether with greed, anger and delusion or not) matters too!


    So, do as you can to realize (get in one's bones) and realize (make real in this life) these Truths like the Nobles do!

    Does that help?

    Gassho, J
    .
    yes, thank you. In my heart, I suspected that this was a practice/realization matter. But I have yet to attain great realization of delusion and, apparently, I need the occasional reminder.

    Gassho,
    Juki
    "First you have to give up." Tyler Durden

  8. #8
    As a journalist, I can't help but wonder if some terrible subediting has wreaked havoc on this article.

    Gassho,
    Brad

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