I was recently asked whether my views of the Four Truths, the first announcement of the Buddha’s teaching, setting in motion of the Wheel of Dharma, whether my views on the subject have changed since, many years ago, I wrote the book The Feeling Buddha.
The simple answer to the question is: No, they haven’t changed. They have perhaps developed a little here and there, but the framework of ideas put forward in that book remains my view of what is probably the correct interpretation of what the Buddha intended.
These truths, often called the Four Noble Truths, but better interpreted as Four Truths for Noble Ones, start off by announcing dukkha as a truth for everybody, but especially for Noble Ones. The common idea is that Noble Ones, that is to say enlightened beings, don’t have dukkha and that the point of Buddhism is to get rid of it, but I think this is a mistake. This is a misunderstanding.
The First Truth, dukkha, is a truth for Noble Ones as much as for ordinary people, and actually more so for Noble Ones, because they are willing to see it clearly and they are not all the time trying to get away from it, trying to eliminate it, trying not to see it.
The ordinary person tends to oscillate between a kind of false optimism and depression.
The noble person sees the situation clearly and goes forward.
With dukkha comes samudaya, dukkha-samudaya. Energy comes up, and again, especially so for Noble Ones. The noble person, the enlightened person, is galvanized by the difficult situation, their energy comes up, and, in particularly, their energy is not siphoned off into defending the ego, destructive behaviours, addictions, obsessions and so on.
The energy that comes up – what will become of it? This, obviously, is the key question. This is the vital point. If the energy that comes up, is well used, then there is a noble life.
If the energy that comes up is used in other ways, then there may be a corrupt or a wasted or a destructive life.
So, in a way, the Third Noble Truth is the crucial one, nirodha. Nirodha is to do with the grasping and directing of the energy that comes up in response to life in this world of impermanence and suffering. How is that energy to be grasped? How is it going to be directed?
The essence of nirodha is obviously - I would say obviously - to have a wholesome faith, to have one’s life centered upon something good, worthwhile, wholesome, something ennobling. To have a noble life, one’s life must be centered on something ennobling; and this means, to have faith in the Buddha, to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, because these are the good, wise, ennobling factors. If we put these at the center of our life, then our energy is held in that field of goodness. And the natural result of this is a noble life.
And what is that noble life? It is the Eightfold Path, marga. So, the Eightfold Path is not really a means to some end or other; it’s the outcome of harnessing one’s energy in the service of the good, in the service of the Buddhas, in the service of wisdom and compassion; and this is the result of having deep and enduring faith. When one has that faith, naturally the energy is concentrated and directed towards the Pure Land.
So, dukkha, then samudaya, then nirodha leads to the Eightfold Path.
Thank you very much
Namo Amida Bu
Amida Shu Podcast 87: 26th September 2020: Four Truths Revisited
This podcast refers to the book The Feeling Buddha
I have also written about this topic in the early part of the book Not Everything is Impermanent
The Four Truths for Nobel Ones are
Dukkha - affliction
Dukkha-samudaya - the energy that comes up with dukkha that, if misdirected, leads to more dukkha
Nirodha - the containing and right directing of the energy by true faith
Marga - the Eightfold Path that results.