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WOTHERSPOON - DEAKIN - Buddhisms Four Noble Truths The twofold aim of this paper is first, to present a critical discussion on Buddhisms Four Noble Truths, examining perspectives different authors offer with regards to the Four

Noble Truths. Secondly, the discussion will focus on one objection that can be raised against the first noble truth, and one objection that can be raised against the second noble truth. The Four Noble Truths are the major keystone in the Buddhas philosophism, offering the ontological scaffolding Buddhists utilise as the understanding of their existence within the world, as will be demonstrated later in this paper. The importance of the Four Noble Truths is made evident through the fact that they are the final type of knowledge the Buddha claimed he acquired when he became enlightened, and that he himself referred to someone who has understood the Four Noble Truths as one of right view.1 An important interpretation of the Four Noble Truths to consider is that they can be viewed as a medical diagnosis that describes a disease, analyses its cause, describes how it may be overcome, and finally prescribes a treatment to cure it.2 The Four Noble Truths are summarised as follows:3 1. Everything involves dukkha. 2. Dukkha has an origin or cause and condition. 3. Dukkha can be overcome or cured. 4. There is an Eightfold Path for reorienting ones practices and life. Translating dukkha is the first problem that must be addressed in order to interpret the Four Noble Truths, and as Gowans highlights this is not a straight-forward term-to-term conversion from Pali to English.4 The direct English translation of dukkha that is commonly made is suffering, but as Gowans recognises this choice seems to have been made based upon the apparent breadth of meaning that can be attached to the term suffering.5 Although

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C Gowans, Philosophy of the Buddha, Routledge, London, 2003, p. 119. Ibid. 3 S Laumakis, An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008, p. 50. 4 Gowans, p. 120-121. 5 Ibid.

C. WOTHERSPOON - DEAKIN - Buddhisms Four Noble Truths he demonstrates that the use of the term suffering is still not broad enough, noting that

experiences reflected on using phrases such as lack of fulfilment, falling short of perfection, and the absence of ease may be incorporated into the interpretation of experienced dukkha also.6 Justification for these four truths is the next undertaking for consideration. The Buddha offered his audience of ascetics little more than rhetorical questions which served to reaffirm his conclusions, but as Gowans notes, without some recognition of dukkha and call for help, the practical teaching of the Buddha would appear irrelevant.7 Indeed, it may appear that, to understand the Buddhist perspective, one must will to masochism by brushing aside the idea that one is not experiencing dukkha, then, overcoming this newfound ambivalence (or ignorance in the Buddhas view), become enlightened to the Buddhas first noble truth, that there is dukkha in everything. Granted, from the perspective of the average western university student, this first noble truth may not have been such a hard sell to the ascetics who formed the Buddha's original audience. Yet, Buddhism has been in existence since the sixth century BCE, and continues to accumulate followers from all walks of life to this day, so from that it may be deduced, that the Buddhas message can appeal across generations and cultures.8 The Buddha informs us in the first noble truth that birth is dukkha, and Laumakis brings to our attention that, if like the Buddha, we think of birth as the precursor to life and life as the precursor to any sickness, it can thus be deduced that birth is the precursor of dukkha.9 However, dukkha is more complex still, the Buddha informs us not to get what one wants is dukkha, that is the desire not to be sick is itself dukkha, along with any other form of not getting what one wants.10 Using the example of sickness is an easy target as it is

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C Gowans, Philosophy of the Buddha, Routledge, London, 2003, p. 120-121. Ibid., p. 119. 8 P Fenner & N Saunders, Buddhism I: history, beliefs and practices, ASP202 Study Guide, Deakin University, Melbourne, 2013, p. 1. 9 S Laumakis, An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008, p. 52. 10 Gowans, p. 122.

C. WOTHERSPOON - DEAKIN - Buddhisms Four Noble Truths a salient form of suffering universal to humanity. However, there are further examples that must be reflected on to fully appreciate the complexity of dukkha.11 An important example for understanding the Buddhist metaphysical ontology offered by the Four Noble Truths

comes in the Buddhas idea that what is impermanent is dukkha. The deduction made from the experience of sickness highlighted above nevertheless serves the purpose of justifying a simplified interpretation of the second noble truth that dukkha has an origin, a cause and condition (who could deny? the Buddha might ask). The Buddha then informs us through the third noble truth that, dukkha can indeed be overcome by ceasing its cause, that is, by putting a stop to the craving (for wellness) in the sickness example, and in the second example ceasing the desire (for permanence). The third noble truth is justified by the fourth, which informs that the cause of dukkha can be overcome by reorienting ones practices and life in-line with the Eightfold Path.12 The Eightfold Path is the Buddhas prescribed method of ceasing dukkha, which includes right view, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration.13 Together with the Four Noble Truths the Eightfold Path forms the twelvefold formula.14 The twelvefold formula itself operates as a response to the twelvefold chain of interdependent arising, which returns us to the second noble truth and the importance of the second example of dukkha above, the belief in permanence.15 Laumakis tells us that what the Buddha meant by the five aggregates of attachment is that a dogmatic conception of a fixed unchanging self is mistaken, and what we are in fact, is a collection of five individual processes in constant flux.16 This is where the Four Noble Truths offer the Buddhists their metaphysical ontology, that is, a collection of five interdependent processes

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A Sumedho, The Four Noble Truths, Buddha Education Foundation, Taiwan, ND, p.18-21. S Laumakis, An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008, p. 58. 13 Ibid. 14 C Gowans, Philosophy of the Buddha, Routledge, London, 2003, p. 131. 15 Laumakis, p. 55. 16 Ibid.

C. WOTHERSPOON - DEAKIN - Buddhisms Four Noble Truths that have the potential to cause dukkha if they are believed to be in any way permanent or

unchanging. The five processes are divided up as; material form, feeling/sensation, cognition (mental interpretation), dispositional attitudes (ones character), and consciousness (awareness).17 Gowans highlights a number of issues with the twelvefold formula, the character of which, are apparent contradictions to the idea of impermanence.18 He notes that an Ignorance of the first noble truth seems to be implied as a static first-cause within a static linear conception, when the Buddha himself did not believe in first causes.19 However, it appears he does concede that this may be an incomplete interpretation grounded in a kind of linearism with too great a focus on individual objects formed within the five aggregates. Gowans recognises that in the Buddhas view such objects (in this case the one labelled ignorance) may exist as a result of their interdependent arising conditioned by the five aggregates, and they cannot harbour a static, physical ontology as is suggested by pointing out such an issue.20 Gowans also offers two objections to the second noble truth, and the second of those will be addressed here.21 Presenting people as being consumed by craving or desire may be an inaccurate generalisation Gowans claims, as it may be that many people are in fact content in their lives.22 After all, the Buddha cannot deny that there are differences among people.23 The Buddhas response to this would be that it is mistaken, as without his enlightenment, we are all essentially creatures of craving (as a result of our ontology) regardless of how content or complacent we might be in response to what the world brings us.24 Gowans concedes, such contentment is always partial and provisional.25
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S Laumakis, An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008, p. 55. C Gowans, Philosophy of the Buddha, Routledge, London, 2003, p. 131. 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid. 21 Gowans, p. 133. 22 Ibid. 23 Ibid. 24 Gowans, p. 134. 25 Ibid.

C. WOTHERSPOON - DEAKIN - Buddhisms Four Noble Truths In Conclusion, Buddhisms ontological framework of a persons existence presented in the Buddhas Four Noble Truths is the result of a perceived dynamic system, which appeals to people across myriad social boundaries. Such a system does not agree with static

or linear interpretations of it, which are grounded in traditional western logic, thus, arguments from these perspectives will inevitably fall short due to their inability to appropriately conceptualise the issues they raise. Additionally, a false dichotomy or inappropriate attachment to the distinction between a concept of positive and negative may lead one to perceive the first and second noble truths as pessimistic. However, as evidenced by the Buddhas tautological questioning, not only is one accepting the premise of the first noble truth through making that interpretation, but it follows that one must also accept the Buddhas third and fourth noble truths as a possible method of ceasing such dukkha.

C. WOTHERSPOON - DEAKIN - Buddhisms Four Noble Truths Bibliography Fenner, P & Saunders, N, Buddhism I: history, beliefs and practices, ASP202 Study Guide, Deakin University, Melbourne, 2013. Gowans, C, Philosophy of the Buddha, Routledge, London, 2003. Laumakis, S, An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008.

Priest, G, Logic and Buddhist metaphysics, Oxford University Press Blog, 2013, retrieved 14 December 2013, < http://blog.oup.com/2013/12/logic-and-buddhist-metaphysics>. Sumedho, A, The Four Noble Truths, Buddha Education Foundation, Taiwan, ND.