- The central tenets of Buddhist philosophy a re captured in what have been called the Four Noble Truths. Probably the best way to explain these truths is to take a look a t how they came about. Around 500 BCE, Siddhartha Gautama, the young man who would eventually become the Buddha, grew up in a small town in the Himalayan foothills of what is now India. His family was wealthy and provided him with the pampered and protected existence of a prince. His life was more or less insulated from the pains and troubles of daily existence-maybe a bit too insulated.
- At the time of Buddha's youth, life in the region was rife with political and social unrest. Religious sects were springing up in the area and, as the Buddhist scriptures tell it, young Siddhartha's father greatly feared that his son would run off to join one of them. For that reason he kept the young prince sequestered within the walls of the family compound. As the prince grew to be a young man, of course, keeping the world from his eyes became impossible. Not surprisingly, his father's plan backfired. When the innocent and privileged Siddhartha finally set eyes on the world, he was immediately taken by the profound suffering of those around him. He soon realized that nobody was immune to such suffering; that all people, rich and poor alike, eventually grow old and weak; and that in due course everyone must come to terms with death. Siddhartha also realized that even though he led a comparatively comfortable and trouble-free life, he would face his own death one day. This was the First Noble Truth: Life is suffering.
- Like the TMT theorists, Buddha eventually came to believe that the human dread of death and vulnerability was the fundamental motivator for much of human behavior and culture. Just as the TMT theorists describe the anxiety-buffering function of world views, Buddha came to realize that humans try to mollify their dread of death and vulnerability by clinging to illusions of immortality. Here we have the Second Noble
- Truth, that suffering is caused by our clinging to and grasping at the illusion of permanence.
- It seems to us that our own existence must be permanent. Most of us simply cannot let go of the idea that whoever or whatever we are will live on, even as our bodies decay. We seek pleasure, but pleasures never last. We strive for wealth and power, but whatever wealth and power we acquire is never enough. We always want more. We carve our bodies and dye our hair so as to forestall the appearance of aging. As the TMT research so thoroughly demonstrates, we invest in cultural symbols and shared beliefs in the hope of belonging to some thing larger than ourselves.
- When he saw the ubiquity o f human suffering, the young Siddhartha left his cloistered sanctuary and spent years wandering the countryside in search of a solution. He explored and mastered a number of different spiritual methods but finally came to realize that the ability to transcend existential anxieties about the impermanence of life was deceptively simple. Rather than overcoming the human condition through sheer will or denial of bodily needs, as many ascetics of the day were preaching, the Buddha realized, one had only to understand, to become aware of, the link between impermanence and suffering. In other words, the Buddha came to believe, paradoxically, that by accepting the reality of our impermanence, we can eventually find our way to happiness. This realization became the Third Noble Truth: Genuine acceptance of the im permanence of life is the only way to find true happiness.
- Buddhist writers often compare this insight to waking from a dream. The experiences we have while dreaming feel absolutely real-until we awaken, when it becomes apparent that the experiences were only an illusion . In a famous anecdote in the Buddhist literature, a stranger by chance encounters the Buddha not long after he has achieved enlightenment. The stranger is immediately struck by the radiance and serenity that the Buddha exudes and stops him to ask, "My friend, what are you?
- Are you a celestial being or a God?" The Buddha simply says no. "Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?" The Buddha again simply answers no. "Well, my friend, what, then, are you?" to which the Buddha replies, " I am awake."
- To their credit , Buddhists accept that their philosophy is at odds with the way most of us view life. One of the classic Buddhist texts points out, for example, that al though happiness can come about only through the "ceasing of identity," surely this realization "runs counter to the entire world." For this reason Buddhist teachers commonly advise those new to the philosophy to remain critical or even to doubt the core doctrine. Rather than simply accept the teachings, they suggest,
- the neophyte should test the validity of Buddhist ideas directly through contemplation and meditation.
- However, the kind of contemplative practice Buddhists aspire to requires years, if not a lifetime, of devotion, and the Fourth Noble Truth spells out how a practicing Buddhist can live his or her life so as to bet ter ingrain these habits and i nsights.
a guest May 20th, 2014 204 Never
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