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Thread: 4 Noble Truths on the Leaf

  1. #1

    4 Noble Truths on the Leaf

    Hi Folks,

    I am happy that Jundo is focusing on the 4 Noble Truths on the Leaf. I particularly like how he's distilling them down to help make them applicable to everyday life.

    His "version" (for lack of a better word) seems very different from Nishijima Roshi's "take" on the 4 Noble Truths. No problem there, of course. Nishijima sees them as 4 different ways of looking at reality, which he calls "Four Philosophies and One Reality." If you’re not familiar with it, here is a link to one of his articles:

    http://www.buddhistinformation.com/thre ... _reali.htm

    At first, when I read Nishijima books, I was really enthralled with this teaching, however I am less so now. Not meaning to be too critical, I now think that perhaps Nishijima over thinks it all. I still think it's an interesting way of looking at the 4 Noble Truths, but I simply appreciate Jundo's effort in making it so down-to-earth and practical.

    Mis dos centavos.

    Gassho,
    Keith

  2. #2
    Hi Keith,

    Thanks for the link.

    What came to my mind when I watched the zazen webcasts on Oct 23rd and 24th was an episode from a high school physics class. Probably everyone's heard a variation of this joke - the laws of thermodynamics explained as:

    You have to play the game.
    You can't win.
    You can't break even.
    You can't leave the game.

  3. #3
    Hey Paige,

    Quote Originally Posted by paige

    You have to play the game.
    You can't win.
    You can't break even.
    You can't leave the game.
    And you can't lose! In fact, you can just play to play, which is a nice prize right there! I think.

    Hey Keith,

    You hit on a rather important topic ... Nishijima Roshi's rather creative take on the Four Noble Truths.

    I think that Nishijima Roshi came up with a very important way to express Buddhist philosophy (Three Philosophies and One Reality ... I will explain that in a second). He, like all teachers, is trying to convey, in imperfect words, perspectives on life that do not yield so well to words. In fact, I think that Nishijima is absolutely correct in his description of the Four Noble Truths (as I will describe in a second). However, I am not crazy about how he expresses his observation, even though he is correct. Maybe, he tries to jam and force that correct idea into a one on one match of the "Three Philosophies and One Reality" to each step of the "Four Noble Truths". In other words, I think he is right in his description, but I do not care for how he expresses it.

    Let me show you what I mean:

    1- So, what is his genius idea? First, that mankind is naturally 'idealistic.' Here, 'idealistic' means that we always have high standards and goals that are the way things "should be". There is a gap, however, between our dreams, goals, ideals and wishes and the way life actually turns out. (Releationship to Four Noble Truths: This is the central idea of the Four Noble Truths, namely that we wish for X, but life does Y, and the gap is the source of Dukkha dissatisfaction).

    2- Second, we can then fall back on the (equally mistaken) idea that, since the universe is just "what is", and works in ways that have little to do with human dreams and ideals, the universe is cold, dead, dreary and meaningless. Human beings are just clumps of cells, the universe is a meandering mess empty (not Buddhist 'empty' ... just barren 'empty') of any significance. (Releationship to Four Noble Truths: There is another aspect of the Four Noble Truths and Dukkha here: We are tempted to say that, because life contains sickness, old age and death, the world stinks, is pointless and depressing, and life is bleak. The Buddha said that, no, that judgment based on Dukkha is also wrong. Just because things like sickness, old age and death exist does not mean that "life is suffering", pointless, a dead end hell with no exit, etc.).

    3- Third, Buddhist Philosophy transcends either of the above by proposing a way to view life and the universe as "just what it is" (i.e., not always the way that human beings dream and wish it), while yet not being thereby cold, dead, dreary and meaningless (see my comment to Paige, above, about "we can't lose! and playing the game is good fun too!"). Buddhism teaches us to be right at home in a world just as it is, embracing it with nothing to add or take away (Releationship to Four Noble Truths: This is also the central point of the Four Noble Truths. When we close the gap between X [how we wish the world to be in our desires] and Y [how the world actually is despite our desires], the result is peace and liberation ... not death and barreness)

    4- Fourth, according to Nishijima, while the third perspective is true, you cannot just talk about it. You have to actually realize and experience this through Practice, which is primarily Zazen. You cannot just philosophize about the sweetness of vanilla ice cream, you have to taste it for yourself (Releationship to Four Noble Truths: As we will soon discuss on the leaf blog, this is the central point of the Eightfold Path which, from a Zen view, has its underlying foundation in Zazen. The medicine for Dukkha is Practice.).

    So, you see, Nishijima is again trying to express the old idea (in this case, of the 'Four Noble Truths') in fresh language ...and I think he is making valid points. However, I am just not sure that the 1,2,3 and 4 of his idea corresponds, exactly 1 to 1, to the 1,2,3 and 4 of the 4 Noble Truths in that order. Nishijima leaves that impression. For some reason, Nishijima tries to put his own idea at the forefront over the traditional interpretation, which I do not think is right to do. I think the traditional interpretation of the Four Noble Truths is excellent and, moreover, harmonious with the points Nishijima is trying to make.

    Gassho, Jundo:

    PS - Are you surprised that I might say, of my own teacher, that I do not agree with him on every single thing?? You know, the "Heart to Heart" understanding between a teacher and student means that we see life and the universe through the same eyes ... yet, gosh darn it, we can still express what we see differently through silly words and ideas. Heck, even Keith in the morning and Keith in the evening might describe things differently, even though the same Keith!

  4. #4
    Jundo,
    Thank you for breaking down Nishijima Roshi's view on the four Noble truths as you have. I had been working on that for a while.

    Gassho,
    Jordan

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Jordan
    Jundo,
    Thank you for breaking down Nishijima Roshi's view on the four Noble truths as you have. I had been working on that for a while.

    Gassho,
    Jordan
    I second the thanks, Jundo. I was puzzling over Nishijima's ideas as well, not disagreeing, but simply not being able to crack his code. Your explanation helped.

    Bill

    Jundo wrote:
    PS - Are you surprised that I might say, of my own teacher, that I do not agree with him on every single thing?? You know, the "Heart to Heart" understanding between a teacher and student means that we see life and the universe through the same eyes ... yet, gosh darn it, we can still express what we see differently through silly words and ideas. Heck, even Keith in the morning and Keith in the evening might describe things differently, even though the same Keith!
    Reb Anderson Roshi writes: "Suzuki Roshi was a teacher who taught that sometimes we have to disagree and argue with our teacher and that sometimes we have to surrender to our teacher."
    Just happened across this today and thought it might be relevant.

  6. #6
    Again, my point is --not- that so-called 'Western' logic is without great defects of its own.

    Gassho, J
    Interesting . . . I know nothing of the Japanese language and Japanese literature, everything I have ever read has been a translation into English. I have been told by some of my students that learning Japanese is extremely challenging because it does not have a 'common ancestor' language with English.

    I do know that one of the metanarratives (to use pomo speak) of Western culture is the acceptance of logic as a way to the truth. Some postmodernists will argue that logic sometimes leads us away from the truth and that other symbolic or holistic thought processes are better for some questions. Said another way, there are certain questions for which a logical process will provide an answer, but other questions may require something else. I think Zen requires something non-logical (as opposed to illogical) of us. Maybe these Japanese writers are somewhat obtuse as a part of a cultural appreciation for non-linear thinking. I struggle sometimes because I come from a family of teachers, lawyers, and scientists, so from an early age I was taught to bow to the altar of logic. It didn't even occur to me until later in life that I might need to develop other mental faculties if I wanted answers to certain questions.

    Once again, I have turned a small point into a lengthy digression. Wait is that snoring I hear? Zzzzzzz . . . . .zzzzzzzzz . . . . . zzzzzzzz

  7. #7
    Jundo,

    I just wanted to echo the gratitude of the others here: thank you for your clarity. I've posted the last two Sit-Alongs on Facebook as well, and I engaged a few friends in discussions as a result!

    Gassho.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Hey Paige,

    Quote Originally Posted by paige

    You have to play the game.
    You can't win.
    You can't break even.
    You can't leave the game.
    And you can't lose! In fact, you can just play to play, which is a nice prize right there! I think.
    Oh, yes! Dogen thermodynamics...

    Firewood becomes ash, and it does not become firewood again. Yet, do not suppose that the ash is future and the firewood past. You should understand that firewood abides in the phenomenal expression of firewood, which fully includes past and future and is independent of past and future. Ash abides in the phenomenal expression of ash, which fully includes future and past.


  9. #9
    Hi Guys,

    After some reflection, I pulled and deleted my two comments on common Japanese essay/lecture style, as I thought I could have phrased them better and that they might be misunderstood. I'll speak about it again sometime, but in a way that might not be taken as a cultural criticism.

    For now, let me just say that my teacher, Nishijima Roshi, could be a better presenter of his wonderful ideas due to linguistic and certain other speaking differences. It makes it hard to figure out his 'code' sometimes.

    (I did not think it was 'Right Speach', a subject for the Leaf blog in a few days) ...

    Gassho, Jundo

  10. #10
    Hey Everybody,

    Thank you for posting your thoughts on this topic.

    Hey Jundo,

    I actually knew it was "Three Philosophies and One Reality." For some reason I wrote "Four." Anyway, thank you for making this teaching a lot clearer to me.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    For some reason, Nishijima tries to put his own idea at the forefront over the traditional interpretation, which I do not think is right to do.!
    I now see that this was my issue with his interpreetaion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I think the traditional interpretation of the Four Noble Truths is excellent and, moreover, harmonious with the points Nishijima is trying to make.
    Okay. So I can keep my Nishijima books! :wink:

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    PS - Are you surprised that I might say, of my own teacher, that I do not agree with him on every single thing?? You know, the "Heart to Heart" understanding between a teacher and student means that we see life and the universe through the same eyes ... yet, gosh darn it, we can still express what we see differently through silly words and ideas. Heck, even Keith in the morning and Keith in the evening might describe things differently, even though the same Keith!
    Great! I don't HAVE to agree with everything you say! :wink: Actually, I'm not surprised that you do not agree with everything that your teacher has said. Neither do I, and I think that's both productive and healthy.

    Gassho,
    Keith

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Keith
    Great! I don't HAVE to agree with everything you say!
    Yes, you DO! :-)

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Quote Originally Posted by Keith
    Great! I don't HAVE to agree with everything you say!
    Yes, you DO! :-)

    :lol:

    Gassho,
    Keith

  13. #13
    Thanks I've been reading Roshi's blog and books and was having been working at getting my head around his theory of the four noble truth's --- I agree it aligns pretty well with the original interpretation.

    I think that we have this tendency to write off the four noble truths as beginner stuff, or something that is just very basic . . but in reality they are very profound teachings, worth a lifetime of contemplation and effort.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Gregor
    I think that we have this tendency to write off the four noble truths as beginner stuff, or something that is just very basic . . but in reality they are very profound teachings, worth a lifetime of contemplation and effort.
    I agree whole heartedly Gregor. The Four Noble Truths are basic, they are "beginner" stuff, but they are also the core of Buddhist thought and practice.

    Whenever I get lost or start overthinking things, I go back to the basics.

    R

  15. #15
    Whenever I get lost or start overthinking things, I go back to the basics.
    Me too.


  16. #16

  17. #17
    :lol:

    Man, I love this forum.

    G,W

  18. #18
    Good day to all…

    Wow! This one thread is rich and lovely! Juicy stuff on many levels. I pulled some quotes from several replies as follows:

    QUOTE: “ (Relationship to Four Noble Truths: There is another aspect of the Four Noble Truths and Dukkha here: We are tempted to say that, because life contains sickness, old age and death, the world stinks, is pointless and depressing, and life is bleak. The Buddha said that, no, that judgment based on Dukkha is also wrong. Just because things like sickness, old age and death exist does not mean that "life is suffering", pointless, a dead end hell with no exit, etc.)”

    This is so beautifully put. And how refreshing to see the phrase “life is suffering” in quotes. Many are the conversations I have been involved in whereby you hear this phrase given as the actual meaning of the First Noble Truth.

    Here is a translation offered by Bikkhu Bodhi: (from: “In The Buddha’s Words”)

    “Now this, monks, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.”

    It doesn’t seem to me that the Buddha is saying that life is suffering. More like, life is life, the vessel provided for our aggregates to play within. Isn’t life more than discreet events which only serve as ornamentations of time? I think we suffer when we measure and judge these events according to John Lennon’s assessment of “all through the day: I, me, mine; I, me, mine; I, me, mine.”

    QUOTE: I think that we have this tendency to write off the four noble truths as beginner stuff, or something that is just very basic. . but in reality they are very profound teachings, worth a lifetime of contemplation and effort.

    My biggest errors in judgment in my practice have always resulted the moment “I” have stepped off the path of Beginner’s Mind and thought “I” knew “something” about “anything.” :roll: When I have done so I have always, inevitably, caused some harm to myself, and sometimes to others as well.

    During my monastic training my teacher was always using the verbal kyosaku of “you could be wrong” to help wake me up, get the blood flowing, clear the cobwebs out of my hamster brain. I’m getting better only in that I am now occasionally able to remind myself of this *before I open my mouth.

    QUOTE: PS - Are you surprised that I might say, of my own teacher, that I do not agree with him on every single thing??

    If you did I’d be running like hell in the direction you are not. I believe the Buddha was big on scrutiny of one’s teachers rather than idol (idle?) worship. Stone Buddhas and all that. :wink:

    Whoa! That joe must’ve kicked in!! :lol:

    In Gassho~

    *Lynn

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