Four Noble Truths of Buddhism: and Christianity and…

img_0545All good Buddhists know the Four Noble Truths: the prevalence of suffering, the cause of suffering—grasping and craving; the way to avoid suffering—quit grasping and craving; and the details of that path—the Middle Way, or eight-fold path, similar to Christianity’s Ten Commandments. But what if the other great religions were to have four truths of their own? What would they be?

First let’s generalize. To be consistent with the Buddhist example, four such ‘truths’ should: 1) articulate the prevailing reality; 2) articulate the cause of that reality; 3) articulate a path forward, given that reality, and 4) articulate the details of that path. Okay, so for Christianity, I figure the First Noble truth would be: 1) the prevalence of pleasure, i.e. life is for enjoyment, 2) the cause of that pleasure—acquisition of ‘goods’, experiences, or services; 3) the path forward would be to acquire more goods, experiences, and services; and 4)…

…the way to do that is by—drum roll here, please—owning it all! Extreme dedication to it! Going wild and crazy for the objects of your desire! So never give up on your dreams! Follow your passion! Never change! Follow it to the ends of the Earth! Suffer for your art! Does that sound about right? Yeah yeah, I know, the details aren’t perfect, but it’s probably close enough. Anyway, the point I want to make is that not only do we have two opposing paradigms here, point taken, but that the very same thing that is required for the Western-Christian-Capitalist-Democratic paradigm is prohibited for the Buddhist one…

Wow! This blew my mind the first time I realized it, and I’ve been wrestling with it ever since, for the implications are simply manifold and astounding. But first let me indulge a bit in the wowness of it all: how could the world’s two largest cultures have such opposing ideas about such simple facts of life: passion and possession, Western cultures traditionally exulting in it, Eastern cultures traditionally shunning it, officially, at least?

The unofficial take is not quite so neat and concise, of course. In fact the entire world is under the illusions and seductions of Western materialistic culture right now, bar none. Hey, if you can’t beat them, join them, right? And Western culture was not always so materialistic, either. If fact, money was once considered so dirty that good Christians were encouraged to have as little as possible to do with it, hence the rise of the great Jewish banking interests that persist to this day…

If not so neat, the implications of the two opposing East/West traditional world paradigms are manifold—and manifest: instead of Western-style aggression and conquest, China simply absorbed those who would pretend to rule her—Manchus the latest and best example of this. So instead of offense, life is a game of defense, in this paradigm. Traditional martial arts are the proof of that. The East plays the board game ‘Go’, starting with an empty field and an unlimited supply of equally-equipped foot soldiers, while the West plays chess, with a limited field in hierarchical array, all in battle gear and prepared to fight to the death…

But the real implications are for each of us personally. While both traditional paradigms warn against wayward worldliness and mundane materialism, the reality is quite different. We westerners work ourselves to death, with an ever-increasing list of ‘necessities’ required to keep up with the Joneses (junkie slang for addiction), but has our happiness increased in the same exponential proportions?

Many traditional peoples are technically in poverty, but in fact have richer lives in remote countrysides. And many stressed-out not-so-blissed-out Westerners are finding that an hour of meditation per day is much more fulfilling than the best cocaine that money can buy, simple emptiness more fulfilling than sex or R & R or anything off the pharmaceutical shelf. How did we get it so wrong? Simple growing pains…

And if Islam were to have Four Noble Truths, I’d say that they’re: 1) Surrender, the meaning of the world ‘Islam’; 2) Human weakness is the cause and necessity for such surrender, 3) Disciple and strength are the path forward, and 4) Struggle is the nature of the path, a struggle of the heart, mind and soul. For me, as previously stated, this three-religion paradigm corresponds to the three phases of a typical life-span: youth, adulthood, and maturity, corresponding to Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, respectively, and I think that paradigm holds up to scrutiny…

I‘ve been attracted to Buddhism since at least my late teens, but—ordain as a monk and forego the coming-of-age and prime-of-life excitements of ages twenty-ish to fifty-ish? Yeah, right. You do that and tell me about it. But after sixty life takes on new meaning. And so it is for the world. It’s time for a mature sustainable approach…

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