By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei
There is an interesting dimension to Buddhist teaching which is both inspiring and fascinating, but which is not always apparent to either the beginning student or even the more experienced ones. That is, how often do we hear specific Buddhist lessons presented that often mysteriously reflect other aspects of Buddhist thought other than the one presented. Specifically I am thinking about the Four Noble Truths. I have awakened to how the whole Buddhist path is a macrocosm that can be expressed and understood through each element of teaching within it, starting with the Noble Truths. Consider for a moment the lessons inherent in the Jewel Net Of Indra. Where each jewel reflects all the other jewels in the net of co-dependence, and that this net is a metaphor for the nature of our Universe. This is somewhat a revelation for some when they come to realize how Buddhist lessons can be studied and are often capable of showing how our practice reflects the essence of the entire Buddhist dharma. This is also an example of the transformation of ideas that reflect how we must encounter and understand the lessons from different traditions in order to give us a chance for a clearer meaning to our understanding of the dharma in our contemporary lives. Even if we do not adapt them to our own platform and practice. The Dalai Lama expressed it this way, “Buddhism is more than an Asian religion. As the teachings of the Buddha (dharma) become better know and practiced in Western countries, it is vital to understand their place in Western history and culture.”
The challenge of this realization comes when we consider that each Buddhist tradition has developed over time their own interpretations, selected and adopted suttas, and external concepts and practices outside the Buddhist Cannon. But at the same time these external concepts become a part of the Cannon within their tradition, and are reflected along with the standard teachings that are common to all the other traditions. For example, some traditions are more comfortable relying on mystical and metaphysical interpretations and beliefs and finding ways to integrate them into their common teaching, than are other traditions. Yet, the underlying message is basically the same. The Buddhist practitioner must decide which tradition best reflects their own worldview and practices, and then commit to follow the path according. But we must always work to find the lesson that reflects Universal reality, or Dharma. We must also remember that this is a mutual-causal Universe and we must leave room open for change as our own experiences, and expert research by others, points to a clearer understanding of the Dharma as time evolves.
I would like to explore the Four Noble Truths in terms of how they can be understood through other aspects of Buddhist teaching. Although it is said there are eighty-four thousand discourses that the Buddha used to teach his disciples over forty years, all of them are an expansion of details on this core teaching. I choose this as they are fundamental to all Buddhist traditions. Let me call your attention to the Sammaditthi Sutta from the Majjhima Nikaya. This Sutra #9 is by Venerable Sariputta on Right View and speaks at length on the teachings of the Four Noble Truths.