Speculation about future lives does not assuage the uncertainty.Sherab Dorje wrote:Queequeg wrote:Fair enough. But we are limited to seeing results in this lifetime only right? Could be that the conditions for the ripening of the karma just did not exist yet.Do I personally believe that wholesome motivations bring about "positive" results? I like to believe so, but I've also seen that "the road to ruin is paved with good intentions." It has led me to have questions about the correlation between intent and material results.
So here is the problem I have with the First Noble Truth -it must be taken as an irreducible claim, along with a number of further assumptions, none of which I'm not entirely convinced about. "birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering"You don't know if samsaric existence is suffering and that suffering arises from ignorance? I mean, okay, I can understand that you may not be 100% sure of the path to end suffering, and that Nirvana is the end of suffering (I'm not 100% on those yet either), but the first two?
For one, suffering here is a qualitative, subjective characterization, which while a compelling one to an extent, is not necessarily true for everyone. There are many people who, though not enlightened by Buddhist standards, have reflected on their life, settled in equanimity, and come to a conclusion about all this - "Its life." Neither good, nor bad. It just is what it is. With that conclusion, they go on living in many different ways, taking the joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies, in stride. With the First Noble Truth undermined, the rest of it falls apart.
We can add a footnote and say that suffering is a technical description of the unpleasant experience of perpetually changing circumstances, but that's still undermined by, "Its life." This is not even to mention people who have come to understand their own consciousness through the discoveries of neuroscience which is presenting a pretty compelling case that consciousness and everything that we think we are is a meta phenomena of brain circuitry.In this kind of context, "Life is Suffering", seems like an arbitrary assertion.
The Four Noble Truths is an effort to define a problem specific to a particular world view that prevailed at the time of the Buddha - namely the assumption that this conception of a cyclic samsaric existence, with its rebirth and moral cause and effect, is real. The teaching then posits that one should strive to become inert, not creating any further karma, and finally attain an unbinding that ends the cycle for good. If you don't start with this bundle of assumptions, the Four Noble Truths don't carry the same meaning. Some thinkers have posited that you can't have Buddhism without belief in this model of samsaric existence. I don't agree. Notwithstanding, a teaching that falls apart when certain unprovable assumptions are set aside is at a severe disadvantage in a claim to Truth. I don't think all Buddhist schools of thought are susceptible to this problem.
Just to add a further contrast for illustration purposes, we have the Old Testament and its teaching that suffering is due not to ignorance, but to knowledge. I don't buy that teaching as Truth, but its got its merits, too.
Moving on, those are not all the problems I have with it.
I previously referred to Nagarjuna and how he opened questions about the Four Noble Truths. He does a delicate dance in the Madhyamikakarika concerning people who use sunyata to undermine the Four Noble Truths. Maybe some people better versed in Madhyamika thought can correct me, but his response is appeal to the middle which is a dialectic tension settling on what amounts to the four noble truths as an expedient means (upaya). Are upaya Truths with a capital T? There's a whole body of discourse on this, and as best I can tell, there is no categorical answer Yes or no. Its "Yes, but..." or "No, but..."
And then without even going deep into all the vertiginous logic of Madhyamika, we have pithy doctrines like "Samsara and Nirvana are coextensive." or "There are not two worlds, pure and impure." What does that mean for the Four Noble Truths?
There are also explanations that the Four Noble Truths are understood differently by different people. What does that then say about it being True?
Some schools of Buddhism have accounted for these sorts of questions and offered up resolutions. Whether they are convincing and compelling - well, they seem to be unique doctrines which define these various schools.
So, no, not convinced of the first truth, let alone the other three. I accept them as a tentative premise as I proceed with living my life, but I'm not settled, "This is the Truth, everything else is false." How can I? I don't know that its the truth to the exclusion of all else. It seems to work in many situations as a rule of thumb.