The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths  are early teachings of the Buddha and were intended as a summation of his understanding and practice which led to his liberation. In the Zen world we rarely address these because as a result of the way they are translated and listed they easily fall into doctrinaire statements with the last Truth becoming a sort of code of conduct. In truth, however, they are an understanding of reality which leads to a practice path, which, in turn, leads to the goal of liberation. Zen begins and operates from the point of view that we are already liberated and our practice is to open ourselves to this reality. In other words, we come at the same thing but from different starting points.

From our practice we learn the reality of the Four Noble Truths: Life is suffering, Suffering is caused by grasping, suffering can end, the way to end it is eightfold: the practice of complete understanding, complete thought, complete speech, complete action, complete livelihood, complete effort, complete mindfulness, and complete meditation. Complete is often translated as “Right” but I find most of us in the West understand “right” in ways not intended by what the Buddha meant. According to John Allen of BuddhaNet, “Right” is a translation of the word “Samma” which “means 'proper', 'whole', 'thorough', 'integral', 'complete', and 'perfect' - related to English 'summit' - It does not necessarily mean 'right', as opposed to 'wrong'.” He goes on to say, “Use of the word 'right' may make for a neat or consistent list of qualities in translations. The downside is that it can give the impression that the Path is a narrow and moralistic approach to the spiritual life.”

As we take our seat and bring ourselves into the upright posture; mind, body, and environment unify. In this unification, ego has no place. Self falls away. Our original face emerges. It is complete as it is. So, from our point of view, this practice done while sitting, walking, or lying down is realization itself, the realization of our own true liberation, our actual true nature. The eightfold path is a portrayal of the facets of how this samma nature is expressed.

Be well
Posted by Harvey Daiho Hilbert