Saturday, July 23, 2011

One Noble Question

One Noble Question
by Scott Bradley


The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism might be summarized thus: We suffer, existence is the cause of our suffering, escape from the cycle of rebirth is the cure for our suffering, and the renunciation of the thirst for the attainment of or loss of being is the medicine effecting that cure. This last introduces the Eightfold Path.

That to be human is to suffer, and that that suffering is a consequence of our contingent existence seems self-evident to me. Our existence is, at best, tenuous and it is only by being Being, which is to say God, that we could cease to suffer and still exist. "Man," as Ernest Becker so elegantly put it, "is the god that shits." And this, the Buddha, like the rest of us, found intolerable.

The Fourth Noble Truth is the renunciation of this thirst to be God, or nothing-at-all — to Be or Not-to-be. It matters not which object of desire we choose, the end is the same — the endless perpetuation of suffering. The solution is the cessation of all desire.

My understanding of Buddhism is cursory, to be sure, but I must nonetheless make some assessment of it if I wish to know what way to greater peace it might offer. And this assessment first stumbles at the Third Noble Truth, namely that there is a cycle of rebirth from which I must escape. Thus I pose this One Noble Question: Why should I believe in any such thing?

Among the Sayings of Chen Jen is found one entitled "Death Cures All Ills". And though this rests on no firmer ground than belief in a wheel of rebirth, it does seem to me a more likely scenario, if for no other reason than that it would better endure Occam's Razor (the simplest answer being best).

But there are other reasons. What is it precisely that must be saved, and how is it that it survives the grave? How is it that anything has been lost that it must be saved? Is the nature of Reality truly so divided and skewed? Or is it not rather that all is Well and we can entrust ourselves thankfully and without fear into the Wonderful Mystery?

It is not without reason that Buddhism, too, has invented its hells. If there are some who are saved, there are also the lost.

Liu Xianxin (1896-1932) wrote, “The main principle of Buddhism is Emptiness; nothing is wanted; all is to be abandoned. The main principle of Daoism is Vastness; everything is wanted; all is to be included. The two are fundamentally different; how could they be forced into agreement?” The one takes as its way renunciation, the other affirmation. I will not venture to say that one is Truer than the other, only that one seems more intuitively natural.

And so, for my part, I will rest in the Simple Way of Zhouzi: All things are truly, in their every expression, Reality manifest, and there are no conditions to meet to make it so — it is so. And thus, all is Well. All is affirmed.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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