The Updating of the Four Noble Truths
By Gabriel Ponti – Princeton University
Master Gautama Buddha taught 4 Noble Truths that have been preserved by the Theravada tradition for 2600 years, making an extraordinary diagnosis of existence. In the First Noble Truth, Gautama Buddha taught that life is unsatisfaction (dukkha), often misunderstood as suffering. In the Second Noble Truth, Gautama Buddha taught that the cause of this dissatisfaction is attachment (tanha), often misunderstood as desire. Therefore, in the Third Noble Truth, Gautama Buddha prescribes Detachment in order to achieve Evanescence (Nirvana) from unsatisfaction (dukkha).
Thus, in the Fourth Noble Truth, Gautama Buddha shows how is the correct means to achieve Detachment, which is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path composed of the right understanding, the right thought, the right word, the right conduct, the right work, the right effort, the right attention and the right concentration.
This is the classical model of Theravada Buddhist teaching. However, Master Gautama Buddha continued to perfect this model throughout his 50 years of dharmic teaching which are the basis of the Mahayana. In the Sutras there are records that Gautama Buddha taught a variation to his First Noble Truth, showing that there is no single mark but rather that existence has 3 characteristics (tri laksana): unsatisfaction (dukkha), impermanence (anitya) and insubstantiality (anatman).
In the Sutras also Gautama Buddha taught that the mind has not only attachment, but also aversion and unconsciousness, considering that these forces constitute the three poisons. At the same time, within Theravada itself there is a variant for the Fourth Noble Truth, which is the Tenth Noble Path, in which adequate liberation and adequate knowledge are added. And finally, Master Gautama Buddha also taught that there is a mission superior to Enlightenment, which would be the state of the Bodhisattva as that human being who seeks Enlightenment for all sentient beings and not just for himself, which is a teaching essential within the Mahayana.
On the other hand, in September 2020, Maitriyana Buddhism has held a Council in which leaders of the Theravada and Mahayana approved a model composed of the Five Noble Truths and the Noble Twentieth Path of Buddhist Evolution. The First Noble Truth of Maitriyana is that “everything in the Universe is inherently unsatisfactory, impermanent, insubstantial and interdependent”. The Second Noble Truth of Maitriyana is that “the ordinary human being lives with attachment to suffering, repetition (karma) in the face of change, unconsciousness of Emptiness, and aversion to others”. The Third Noble Truth of Maitriyana is that “the Evolution of the human being is through Detachment, Serenity, Awakening and Mutual Support”. The Fourth Noble Truth of Maitriyana is that “Detachment, Serenity, Awakening and Mutual Support must be practiced through the Noble Twentyfold Path comprised of adequate attention, adequate peace, adequate health, adequate liberation, adequate concentration, adequate thought, adequate knowledge, adequate comprehension, adequate truthfulness, adequate harmony, adequate speech, adequate work, adequate conduct, adequate justice, adequate effort, adequate responsibility, adequate love, adequate intuition, adequate unity and adequate salvation”. And the Fifth Noble Truth teaches that “Individual Evolution is not the ultimate goal, but is only the righteous means for the True Purpose (Dharma) which is the Cosmic Evolution of all sentient beings in the Multiverse”.
In conclusion, the original Buddhist Diagnosis is not perfect, but has been historically updated by the great Buddhas. This is because the Buddhist Dharma continually evolves for the good of the Universe. However, it is essential that the apprentices who follow the Buddhist Path do not adhere to any type of ideology or closed vision, because the enlightened life is change and learning. In short, Emptiness is nothing more than having an open mind to this Sense of existence.
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