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Thread: Is the Third Noble Truth pessimistic in its essence?

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    Is the Third Noble Truth pessimistic in its essence?

    Hi all

    First of all nice to meet you and thanks for welcoming me in the community.

    I've been practicing mindfullness meditation for a number of years but only recently I decided to deepen my knowledge of the Buddha's teachings and started reading Buddhist texts. There is a problem about the alleged 'pessimistic' Buddhist philosophy of life that I would like to discuss with you.

    I don't find difficult to understand that dukkha is not a completely negative term, and that the First Noble Thruth is not pessimistic at all (although it's not optimistic either), as with the term dukkha we can signify a number of concepts that go beyond 'sufffering'. I do get that dukkha has more to do with impermanence and the conditioned nature of life rather than with mere 'pain' o 'suffering'.

    What I find more difficult to consider non-pessimistic is the Third Noble Thruth and the idea of Nirvana as a way of stopping samsara to keep reproducing itself. From a pratical point of view I get it: following the eightfold path brings you to the cessation of 'thirst' and - in the end - to equanimy and peace. What concerns me is the philosophical aspect of this teaching, as I can't help but considering the theory of Nirvana as life-negating.

    In the end, the ultimate goal of the eightfold path is to put an end to samsara, and whoever reaches the stage of Nirvana stops the karma-formations and thus interrputs the cycle of life. If, hypotetically, the whole world was to enter the Nirvana, wouldn't that mean that no life would be created? And wouldn't this mean, quite litteraly, the extintion of life?

    Apologies if this sounds trivial to you, I'm just a beginner in the field!

  2. #2
    Hello Johnny

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnnyCarter
    What I find more difficult to consider non-pessimistic is the Third Noble Thruth and the idea of Nirvana as a way of stopping samsara to keep reproducing itself
    This is from Amaravati Monastery UK's "An Outline of Buddhism":


    The Third Noble Truth: 'Dukkha' can stop

    Once we've understood the Second Truth, the Third follows on, if we're capable of ‘letting go’ of our conscious and unconscious self-centred habits. When we are no longer defensive or aggressive, whenever we respond to life without prejudice or fixed views, the mind rests in an inner harmony. The habits and viewpoints that make life appear hostile or inadequate are checked.

    https://santacittarama.altervista.org/e_buddhism.htm
    and:

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnnyCarter
    If, hypotetically, the whole world was to enter the Nirvana, wouldn't that mean that no life would be created? And wouldn't this mean, quite litteraly, the extintion of life?
    I think you're getting confused, Nibbana/Nirvana isn't a place, it has been described as "the extinguishing of a fire". "freedom from attachments", "quenching," and "coolness" and"The basis for the enlightened vision of things as they are."(quoted from the glossary of a book by Ajahn Sumedho). Enlightenment has also been described as "the cessation of greed, hatred and delusion."

    Its highly unlikely that everyone in the whole world would become enlightened at the same time - so I think its rather pointless to be speculating about it, to be honest.

    In general, I recommend that you listen to this 20 minute talk from Ajahn Amaro about The Four Noble Truths.
    (You can also find some other resources pinned at the beginning of the topics in our "Discovering Buddha's Teachings" forum.)




    With metta,

    Aloka

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    Hello Aloka

    Thanks very much for your quick reply and the useful quotes. I will carefully listen to Ajahn Amaro as soon as I can and will definitely explore the "Discovering Buddha's Teachings"!

    Just to clarify my point, in case some other users are interested in the discussion, what I find problematic is the relationship between the doctrine of karma and Nirvana. I understand (mainly from Walpola Rahula's "What the Buddha Taught") that karma is behind the rebirth of beings, as the desire to live doesn't die with the body but remains and find new shapes to express itself.

    When you quote that Nirvana is the "the extinguishing of a fire" you probably mean (also) that it's the extinguishing of the "thirst" (I think that Rahula uses the word Taṇhā for this but I might be wrong). But isn't "thirst" exactly what lies behind karma and the rebirth of beings? If you enter Nirvana and extinguish this thirst, doesn't this mean that you will interrupt the karmic process and will not be reborn?

    I don't have Rahula's text with me at the moment but just to quote Wikipedia (that quotes Peter Harvey, "An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices", Cambridge University Pres):

    Nirvana is the state that marks the end of this consciousness continuum and the associated karmic cycle of suffering through rebirths and redeaths.
    So isn't it true that this part of Buddhism can be seen as life-negating, as it's ultimate goal is to interrupt the cycle of death and life?

    Many thanks again!

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by JohnnyCarter
    I understand (mainly from Walpola Rahula's "What the Buddha Taught") that karma is behind the rebirth of beings, as the desire to live doesn't die with the body but remains and find new shapes to express itself.
    Personally, I became agnostic about rebirth across different lifetimes - and I only fully accept moment to moment rebirth these days. Perhaps someone else who believes in the literal version will be able to discuss it with you.

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnnyCarter View Post
    When you quote that Nirvana is the "the extinguishing of a fire" you probably mean (also) that it's the extinguishing of the "thirst"
    The Buddha used the word "fire" in the suttas, for example in AN3.66 when he is speaking to a young man called Salha he speaks about "fires of greed hatred and delusion" being extinguished - and the "thirst" of craving/clinging is also mentioned :


    Formerly there was hate, which was bad, and now there is none, which is good. Formerly there was delusion, which was bad, and now there is none, which is good.' So here and now in this very life he is parched no more [by the fever of craving's thirst], his fires of greed, hate and delusion are extinguished and cooled out; experiencing bliss, he abides [for the remainder of his last life-span] divinely pure in himself."

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipi....066.nymo.html

  5. #5
    Hi JC,

    Returning again to the question "Is the Third Noble Truth pessimistic in its essence?" Here are some comments for your consideration from page 5 of Ajahn Amaro's PDF "Theravada Buddhism in a Nutshell".


    The Third Truth is that of dukkha-nirodha. Nirodha means ”cessation.” This means that this experience of dukkha, of incompleteness, can fade away, can be transcended. It can end.

    In other words dukkha is not an absolute reality. It’s just a temporary experience that the heart can be liberated from.

    The Fourth Noble Truth is that of the Path, how we get from the Second Truth to the Third, from the experience of dukkha to ending it. The cure is the Eightfold Path which is, in essence, virtue, concentration and wisdom.

    https://www.abhayagiri.org/books/469...-in-a-nutshell


    Hope that helps.

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    Thanks for all the useful resources Aloka.

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    Hi Johnny,
    I struggled with the concept of dukkha for a long time; not so much from seeing it as pessimistic, but from the simple statement, "There is suffering". I don't think that I've ever come to a satisfactory explanation of it, from the scholarly point of view, but I did come to terms with it as a obvious statement of reality. If you look around you, you'll see that we live in a hostile world. We live off other beings and other beings live off us. Most of the animal kingdom is in a constant fight for survivial, we are somewhat shielded from it by society. It is a dangerous environment and very often pain is the order of the day. So, yes, there is suffering. I know this is a simplistic answer, but it's all I have.
    ..... john

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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnnyCarter
    What I find more difficult to consider non-pessimistic is the Third Noble Thruth and the idea of Nirvana as a way of stopping samsara to keep reproducing itself. From a pratical point of view I get it: following the eightfold path brings you to the cessation of 'thirst' and - in the end - to equanimy and peace. What concerns me is the philosophical aspect of this teaching, as I can't help but considering the theory of Nirvana as life-negating.

    In the end, the ultimate goal of the eightfold path is to put an end to samsara, ..."
    Hi, Johnny. Thank you for sharing your contemplations with us regarding The Third Noble Truth:

    I would like to begin my response with a restatement :
    "And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving."

    — SN 56.11
    And then a definition of dukkha:
    "Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & 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
    Buddha then explains what he means by the solution, or antidote to dukkha: The "Noble" Eight Fold Path, which is the only process he recommends as the antidote, or the only effective countermeasure to dukkha., what he also called, "The Middle Way". https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/.../waytoend.html

    "And this, monks, is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of dukkha: precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration."

    — SN 56.11
    Source: Access to Insight.com

    So, I fail to see the pessimism in all of this. I look at it like I would an automobile accident. None of us entered this samsaric universe in which we live with full knowledge of what our lives would be all about. Neither did Buddha. He took the time to observe and concluded that our lives, each of us, were subject to birth, aging, disease, and death. He discovered for himself the cause, and the solution. He was loving and kind enough to share what he found for the sake of all of humanity so that we could benefit from his discovery.

    So,again I ask, " Where is the pessimism?" Going back to the automobile accident analogy, I think of Buddha as a first responder to an accident scene, an accident which none of us asked to have, and entered into as a result of our ignorance, leading to a state, which begs for rescue, emergency help and assistance required, which he freely provides in The Four Noble Truths.

    ...Johnny continues: "...and whoever reaches the stage of Nirvana stops the karma-formations and thus interrputs the cycle of life. If, hypotetically, the whole world was to enter the Nirvana, wouldn't that mean that no life would be created? And wouldn't this mean, quite litteraly, the extintion of life?"
    My understanding of Nirvana is not the same as yours. The concept of nirvana I understand as Buddha described it as recorded in the suttas is not a a place you enter, nor is it a title of achievement such as a gold medal we might win at the Olympics, but a state of being which arises as a result of "dukkha" being removed as a result of our eventual understanding from study and experience as a result of living our lives in accordance with the process Buddha taught us called The Noble Eight Fold Path.

    Hope this helps,

    _/\_Ron
    Last edited by Olderon; 14 Feb 19 at 22:54.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnnyCarter View Post
    Just to clarify my point, in case some other users are interested in the discussion, what I find problematic is the relationship between the doctrine of karma and Nirvana. I understand (mainly from Walpola Rahula's "What the Buddha Taught") that karma is behind the rebirth of beings, as the desire to live doesn't die with the body but remains and find new shapes to express itself.

    But isn't "thirst" exactly what lies behind karma and the rebirth of beings? If you enter Nirvana and extinguish this thirst, doesn't this mean that you will interrupt the karmic process and will not be reborn?

    So isn't it true that this part of Buddhism can be seen as life-negating, as it's ultimate goal is to interrupt the cycle of death and life?
    Hi. I'm interested in as far as I don't think either Karma or Nirvana have much relevance to my kind of Buddhism. Karma doesn't exist as a force behind anything, and there is no such thing as rebirth in the sense of a 'desire to live' finding new forms.

    Anything can be twisted to appear negative, so feel free to think that way about Buddhism. I think that it is a misinterpretation to see interrupting the cycle of birth and death as a goal of Buddhism. The cycle for me is describes the nature of mental suffering during, and points to how it can be broken before you die, so you can live without this sort of suffering afterwards.

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    It is indeed pessimistic if you view the history of humanity in a linear, progressively improving situation, or even a Nietzschean eternally-returning opportunity to use your abilities to increase power and liquidate obstacles.

    The Buddhist worldview is cyclical. The Udaya Sutta, quoted below captures this reoccurring leitmotiff.

    There is nothing new under the sun; folly is repeated generation after generation in much the same fashion as before.

    The breaking of the cycle is considered the ultimate act of heroism, the "Lion's Roar."

    Over and over, the seeds all get planted; Over and over, the rain-god sprinkles rain. Over and over, the farmer farms the field; Over and over, the food grows in the realm. Over and over, beggars do their begging; Over and over, the givers give out gifts. Over and over, the giver who has given; Over and over, goes to a better place. Over and over, he tires and he struggles; Over and over, the fool goes to the womb. Over and over, he's born and he dies; Over and over, they bear him to his grave. But one who's wisdom is wide as the earth Is not born over and over, For he's gained the path Of not becoming over again.
    https://accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka....012.olen.html
    Last edited by manoPG; 15 Feb 19 at 16:00.

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