The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism-from a Platonist: Can you spot the similarities?

buddhism four noble truths platonism metaphysics

Buddhism has had a long history that scholars have tried to understand for some time.  Looking at the history of Buddhism one sees many different and diverse branches or developments within the tradition.  The two major traditions are Hinayana (the lesser vehicle) and Mahayana (the greater vehicle).  They are very different; however, the different traditions have many similarities, and share many ideas and teachings in common.

From the Burma Chronicles comparing mahayana and hinayana buddhism

……………………………….FROM THE BURMA CHRONICLES…………………………….


One of the most important teachings they have in common is The Four Noble Truths.  The first of these truths is concerning the origin of suffering-DUKKHA.  It states though experiential recognition that temporal existence is marked by suffering, since it continually arises, dwells, and passes away. The nature of this existence as suffering is based on impermanence or anitya, because the phenomenon that comprises life—arising, dwelling, and passing away—are inherently painful for all sentient beings:

Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress: Birth is Dukkha, aging is Dukkha, death is Dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are Dukkha; association with the unbeloved is Dukkha, separation from the loved is Dukkha, not getting what is wanted is Dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are Dukkha. (SN 56.11,PTS: S v 420,CDB ii 1843Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion, Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

Now, one might want to pursue pleasure as a relief to that pain. However, this is a mistake since pleasure and pain are co-dependent terms on the level of physical experience.  That is to say, one does not exist without the other: where ever there is pain, there is pleasure lingering, and where ever there is pleasure, there is pain not far behind.  This is to say, they both constantly lead to one another and so they are always accompanying one another.

This is represented in Pratītyasamutpāda or Codependent origination which states that all dharmas (things) arise in dependence upon other dharmas: if this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist.

Its teaching is applied to the 12 links of dependent origination doctrine in Buddhism, which describes the chain of causes which result in rebirth and dukkha. By breaking the chain, liberation from this endless cycle of rebirth and dukkha can be attained.

Consider a physical example such as an itch; it is a pain to the person and they apply more pain in the form of scratching to the surface which brings a pleasure. Or consider a dentist who inflicts more pain, under the guidance of his knowledge, that we will be benefited with more pain, to reach that pleasure that we seek, namely relief of tooth pain. 

Those who know the Socratic/Platonic wisdom tradition will recognize this idea clearly:

Socrates while sitting upright on the bed , bent his leg and rubbed it with his hand , and at the same time that he was rubbing said: “What an odd thing, O men, this thing seems to be, which mankind call pleasant; how curiously it is disposed by nature towards that believed to be its opposite, the painful, since on the one hand, they will not come to be together, at the same time, in the human self. But if, on the other hand, anyone pursues and catches the one, they are almost sure to necessarily catch the other also, just as if two were United-together from One Summit. (Juan Balboa, Phaedo, 60B)

Further, consider Love: we go from pain to pleasure to pain again. Consider the person longing for love who finds their mate. They live a happy life and after many years the mate passes. It will bring nothing but pain, after the pleasure of the relationship is over. If the Self does not understand the four noble truths, and hangs on to mere phantoms and images of realities, then the Self will not see the necessity to drop both pleasure and pain. However, the Self still needs to develop through the third and fourth noble truth to realize the full potential of what it has touched with Contemplation.

The second truth states that the origin (Samudaya) of continuous suffering is due to the craving or desire (Trishna) for the impermanent: namely that which has a beginning, middle, and end.  This craving is the cause of suffering and the attachment of sentient beings to the cycle of birth and death.  The desire also implants the delusion of a separate self or ego entity.

ego second noble truth dukkha trishna anatman

……………………………………………..BE HERE NOW NETWORK…………………………………………………..

When one calms this trishna and drops the ego, they see that there is no ego self: this is called anatman. We all enjoy pleasurable dharmas, but when we want more and more of the things, and try to prolong the pleasant experiences, we are never satisfied. Therefore, when the Self, through Right Contemplation, sees the necessary causal link between pleasure and pain, then both can be dropped, achieving Nirvana, and getting off the cycle of birth and death. 

The third truth states that the cessation (Nirodha) and dissolution of the suffering is possible through elimination of that desire and craving for the sensual.  One would accomplish this by calming and controlling the ego mind and its mental activities. The controlled mind should not be confused with suppressed thoughts. The thoughts and emotions still arise and fall, but with deep meditation, the mind becomes still, one-pointed, and no longer clings to false images of the Self. This mastery of cessation of mental activities which breeds the deep stillness is called Nirodha.

The great sage Patanjali used this term in his legendary definition of yoga in the second sutra of the Yoga Sutras and although his system is not technically Buddhism–as it is an example of RajaYoga in the lineage of Adviata-Vedanta in the Bhagavadgitawe can still gain insights through comparative spirituality:

योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः ॥२॥


 Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Chitta) from taking various forms (Vrttis)

(Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Swami Vivekananda,p9)

Here we can see that Nirodha as state of mind is not only in the definition of yoga: this state of mind is also the goal of yoga. A Nirodha mind is fully controlled and restrained, which can be attained through meditation and contemplation practices. In Raja Yoga, it is a mastered mind with full control, and if a yogi can sustain it for a long period, they can realize the true Self and reach the state of final liberation, or moksha.

But more specifically, what about Buddhism? By what method and technique is one to accomplish such a noble goal of Nirvana? What method does the Buddha prescribe after there is the recognition that the cessation and control of worldly attachments and sensual cravings of mind stuff is possible?  Well for this, we turn to the fourth noble truth.

The fourth noble truth states that the sensation, and elimination of the desire, that binds us to this cycle of birth and death, is possible through the Eight Fold Path: 1.Perfect View, 2.Perfect Resolve, 3.Perfect Speech, 4.Perfect Conduct, 5.Perfect Livelihood, 6.Perfect Effort, 7.Perfect Mindfulness, and 8.Perfect Concentration.

Rounding out the fourth noble truth we take a look again at Ram Dass’ famous book Be Here Now. If you have not been paying attention recently the Ram Dass Network has grown and offers a plethora of amazing tools and podcasts and have launched their new Be Here Now Network –so check it out!

……………………………………….BE HERE NOW NETWORK…………………………………………….


Finally, it is important to note the path is not a linear path, but rather it shows aspects of one path. Although, not linear, the paths are classified into the morality, meditation, and realization stages. For example, the end state of Wisdom is 1-2; the Morality aspects are 3-5, and then the Meditation paths are 6-8. In practice, the first paths realized are not necessarily in order but the ultimate end point is always Wisdom and Nirvana.

Now with this being said, sit back and enjoy Buddha and Socrates in a direct comparison, from a Master Platonist, my Divine Guru, Pierre Grimes:

Enjoy the reflections and insights. Aum Namaste Shivaya Aum and Let the OneBeingSelf lighten up your Noble Mind like the Light of a Lantern. ~WL

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