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Slang Formulation of the 4 Noble Truths

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Slang Formulation of the 4 Noble Truths
Answer
9/14/09 11:52 AM
1. Life sucks.

2. Life sucks because of our insatiable longing (for wholeness) and the misguided ways in which we try to fulfill it. This longing leads inevitably to getting hung up on situations and outcomes instead of accepting them, directly causing in turn more suckiness.

3. There is a way to fulfill or end the insatiable longing and the suckiness it causes.

4. The method of ending this longing consists 8 parts divided broadly into three disciples and is known as the Eightfold Path.

I wrote this when I was reflecting that the slang word "sucks" captured the concept of dukkha better than any other word in our language.

Thoughts anyone?

RE: Slang Formulation of the 4 Noble Truths
Answer
9/14/09 1:34 PM as a reply to David Charles Greeson.
Hi David,

I like the slang translation of dukkha, but I think "life" doesn't quite capture the traditional list of "birth; aging; death; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress and despair; association with what is not loved; separation from what is loved; not getting what is wanted. In short, the five clinging-aggregates".

The specific list is not that important; what is important is the difference between "there is suckiness" and "life sucks".

It's difference between a blanket judgment and the invitation to look for the common denominator of all the experiences in the list; the difference between a dogma and a technique.

Cheers,
Florian

RE: Slang Formulation of the 4 Noble Truths
Answer
9/16/09 10:39 PM as a reply to David Charles Greeson.
David Charles Greeson:

I wrote this when I was reflecting that the slang word "sucks" captured the concept of dukkha better than any other word in our language.

Thoughts anyone?

Personally, I prefer words like "dissatisfaction" or "unsatisfactoriness" which seem, to me at least, to capture a wider range than the traditionally over-used word "suffering," even though suffering is often a satisfactory term. Unsatisfactoriness covers just about anything, such as fear, worry, sorrow, pain, despair, discord, frustration, agitation, irritation, displeasure, "not getting what one wants," "the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering," and anxiety. What is important is that the listener "gets" the depth of meaning that is captured by the Pali word "dukkha" and its implied frustration with the condition of physical existence.

On a side note, I find it curious as to why people feel the need to make attempts to update what does not need to be updated, such as the rewording, and therefore the possible dilution of ideas present in the original, of concepts like the Four Noble Truths. I find that somewhat troublesome if the rewording does not carry the same level of power and substance as the original and perhaps loses something in the transition. Although in the present instant, the example was composed in a moment of wistful reflection and perhaps whimsy.

Actually, in number four, it is known as the Noble Eightfold Path. A small but important difference.

RE: Slang Formulation of the 4 Noble Truths
Answer
9/17/09 10:32 PM as a reply to Ian And.
First, to monkeymind: That list of sucky things is fairly comprehensive - it seems like a lot of those events will eventually happen in life. Also when you consider the three characteristics, pretty much everything is dukkha to some degree or another, by definition. Therefore I don't think it's inaccurate to summarize by saying "Life is dukkha."

Ian And:


On a side note, I find it curious as to why people feel the need to make attempts to update what does not need to be updated, such as the rewording, and therefore the possible dilution of ideas present in the original, of concepts like the Four Noble Truths. I find that somewhat troublesome if the rewording does not carry the same level of power and substance as the original and perhaps loses something in the transition. Although in the present instant, the example was composed in a moment of wistful reflection and perhaps whimsy.

Actually, in number four, it is known as the Noble Eightfold Path. A small but important difference.


While I appreciate purism as a general stance, and while it is far from my intent to dilute the original ideas, it is clear that something has already been lost in translation and in cultural context since the time in which they were formulated. That's impermanence at work for you... I believe the specific formulation of the ideas is much less important than the ability to communicate them effectively to people who need to hear them - and in that case it's important to use language that the particular person can relate to - even if it contemporizes in a way that is not aesthetically appealing.

I have an adolescent psychotherapy patient who says he's depressed though he doesn't technically meet criteria for major depression. When I asked him to get at the root of that feeling he said "Everything just sucks!" It was abundantly clear to me that he was appreciating the reality of dukkha - and that much if not all of his trouble stemmed from his attachments and his self-centered thinking and craving.

Now I could have said, "Well Jack, there are many things in life that are basically unsatisfactory: being separated from something you love, etc..." and probably lost him.

What I did say was "What you're telling me reminds me of what the Buddhists call "The 4 Noble Truths" - the first one is that "LIfe sucks." - basically what you're telling me." His eyes lit up when I told him that - someone long ago had understood his experience now. He went on to ask me what the others were - and I was able to explain the origin of dukkha, and the way out.

So I do think there is a pragmatic reason to update - because the meaning will change over time anyway - and communicating the essential truth of the message is much more important than preserving it's authenticity.

RE: Slang Formulation of the 4 Noble Truths
Answer
9/18/09 2:58 AM as a reply to David Charles Greeson.
David Charles Greeson:

While I appreciate purism as a general stance, and while it is far from my intent to dilute the original ideas, it is clear that something has already been lost in translation and in cultural context since the time in which they were formulated. That's impermanence at work for you... I believe the specific formulation of the ideas is much less important than the ability to communicate them effectively to people who need to hear them - and in that case it's important to use language that the particular person can relate to - even if it contemporizes in a way that is not aesthetically appealing.

I have an adolescent psychotherapy patient who says he's depressed though he doesn't technically meet criteria for major depression. When I asked him to get at the root of that feeling he said "Everything just sucks!" It was abundantly clear to me that he was appreciating the reality of dukkha - and that much if not all of his trouble stemmed from his attachments and his self-centered thinking and craving.

Now I could have said, "Well Jack, there are many things in life that are basically unsatisfactory: being separated from something you love, etc..." and probably lost him. [I seriously doubt that, unless the person was a real moron to begin with; although for fairness' sake I'll grant you your point.]

What I did say was "What you're telling me reminds me of what the Buddhists call "The 4 Noble Truths" - the first one is that "LIfe sucks." - basically what you're telling me." His eyes lit up when I told him that - someone long ago had understood his experience now. He went on to ask me what the others were - and I was able to explain the origin of dukkha, and the way out.

Now that you put your quotation in context, I see your point. At least as far as it goes without a larger and more comprehensive explanation of the 4NTs to someone who is not in "therapy" and who has a sincere desire to learn more about this path. Pretty neglectful of you to omit the context in your initial post, don't you think. As most readers here may have, I took the context to be that you were speaking to a healthy and suitably interested (in Buddhism, that is) listener and not to a troubled adolescent in therapy with whom you were trying to relate.

Yet, even when dealing with healthy adolescents, I would be disinclined to use the version you submitted as it would be talking down to their intelligence (in a way that wasn't exact enough and which assumed that they might not understand or appreciate a more detailed approach). This is not to deny that there may be contextual instances wherein the approach you outlined may be more effective in getting across certain general points with your listener in order to establish rapport.

David Charles Greeson:

So I do think there is a pragmatic reason to update - because the meaning will change over time anyway - and communicating the essential truth of the message is much more important than preserving it's authenticity.

I disagree that the essential meaning changes all that much over time, although I do agree that the essential truth of the message is important to preserve (along with explanations of historical authenticity). If "the meaning was changing" that much "over time" were true, those of us who are using the translated version of the Nikayas would not be able to understand them in present-day context. I will concede, however, that historical differences in idiom and whatnot may need to be either explained or updated for a contemporary audience. But I have found that the painstaking translations that Bhikkhu Bodhi in particular has done (along with those of Nyanaponika Thera, Nanamoli Thera, and Maurice Walshe) have only added to my appreciation of them. Time honored concepts like "dukkha," despite the difficulty sometimes encountered in translating between different cultures centuries apart, has managed to be made clear and precise in these translations, which is all that one could reasonably ask of the translation of documents thousands of years old.

Personally, I think it is important to preserve the context of the time period and the general cultural thought and milieu in which the discourses where made in order to preserve them accurately as historical documents. Without that, sometimes, it can be difficult to make out the intent within certain contexts (context itself having already been noted as being important). The preservation of the historical context has helped to clarify this reader's appreciation of the meaning of the discourses, as well as assisting in bringing his own life's experience to the table in order to help comprehend fine points in the text.

But, unless you have read the discourses within the context I'm speaking about, I don't suppose you would have an inkling what I'm talking about.

Moving thread: Slang Formulation of the 4 Noble Truths
Answer
9/18/09 4:26 AM as a reply to David Charles Greeson.
Yet, even when dealing with healthy adolescents, I would be disinclined to use the version you submitted as it would be talking down to their intelligence (in a way that wasn't exact enough and which assumed that they might not understand or appreciate a more detailed approach)
...
But, unless you have read the discourses within the context I'm speaking about, I don't suppose you would have an inkling what I'm talking about.


Moderator comment: please consider that last bit in the light of the first. Also, since there's an entire category for discussing traditional positions, this thread is being moved there.

Cheers,
Florian

RE: Slang Formulation of the 4 Noble Truths
Answer
9/18/09 6:34 AM as a reply to David Charles Greeson.
David Charles Greeson:
First, to monkeymind: That list of sucky things is fairly comprehensive - it seems like a lot of those events will eventually happen in life. Also when you consider the three characteristics, pretty much everything is dukkha to some degree or another, by definition. Therefore I don't think it's inaccurate to summarize by saying "Life is dukkha."

Not inaccurate, no, but. Since Buddhism is a religion, a common first reaction to learning about the four noble truths is to interpret them as dogma. "To be a Buddhist, you have to believe that life is suffering" - the "blanket statement" I was mentioning before.

By formulating the first noble truth as "The noble truth of sufferig" (or "The natural law of suckage" or whatever) instead of "Life is suffering", there is this implicit invitation to figure out the truth of/in suffering, instead of the unspoken expectation to accept that life is suffering. Big difference, in my opinion, as it counters the tendency to turn the four noble truths into something to worship and instead encourages people to use them as a tool for poking at their experience, just in the way you showed them to your young client.

Anyway, I remembered an old usenet post (my position on non-dual teachings is a bit more informed these days), where I used the term "to suck" to pontificate on the four noble truths.

Cheers,
Florian

RE: Slang Formulation of the 4 Noble Truths
Answer
9/18/09 11:20 AM as a reply to Florian.
Florian Weps:
...but I think "life" doesn't quite capture the traditional list of "birth; aging; death; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress and despair; association with what is not loved; separation from what is loved; not getting what is wanted. In short, the five clinging-aggregates".

The specific list is not that important; what is important is the difference between "there is suckiness" and "life sucks".

It's difference between a blanket judgment and the invitation to look for the common denominator of all the experiences in the list; the difference between a dogma and a technique.

I'm in agreement with the sentiment expressed by Florian here. Which has, in one way or another, been the point of my other two posts.

RE: Moving thread: Slang Formulation of the 4 Noble Truths
Answer
9/18/09 11:41 AM as a reply to Florian.
Florian Weps:
Yet, even when dealing with healthy adolescents, I would be disinclined to use the version you submitted as it would be talking down to their intelligence (in a way that wasn't exact enough and which assumed that they might not understand or appreciate a more detailed approach)
...
But, unless you have read the discourses within the context I'm speaking about, I don't suppose you would have an inkling what I'm talking about.


Moderator comment: please consider that last bit in the light of the first.

In the interest of clarity, you're reading things in here that are not there. It was not meant as a put down, Florian. It was a statement of fact. I'm not even certain I have been able to adequately communicated the context in which I have read the discourses, it's so different from the way that most people read. I would probably need a face-to-face meeting in order properly to explain what I'm talking about.

That's why I said "unless you have read the discourses in the same way (taken from the same perspective) that I have read them, you probably would not understand what I was talking about." This is not "talking down" to David. It is admitting that he may not truly understand what I'm talking about.

(The projection that goes on in these forums is unbelievable. Of course, I don't really mean it is "unbelievable." There's an awful lot of projection that goes on simply because people do not personally know one another on these forums, and everyone is trying to figure out the "intention " of certain responses. Such confusion and misreading of posts is the price that comes with having a forum like this. It is unfortunate, but it is the truth.)

RE: Moving thread: Slang Formulation of the 4 Noble Truths
Answer
9/18/09 3:47 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Hi Ian,

Yeah, online communication has its problems, I fully agree, and we both are not alone there. Being aware of these problems, particularly of the possibility of being misinterpreted, taken too literally or not literally enough, due to missing visual and audible cues such as gestures, facial expressions, snorts and so on, is thus very important.

If you have a particularly interesting reading of an ancient text, a reading based on historical detail not generally known, and if it's of relevance to our practice today - go right ahead and share it, I'd say. Take your time to write up the best, most concise presentation of the novel (or ancient, as it were) context in which you read the suttas, how it's a boost to your practice - and I for one will be sure to read and consider it.

Cheers,
Florian

RE: Moving thread: Slang Formulation of the 4 Noble Truths
Answer
3/7/11 2:57 AM as a reply to Florian.
hi

i view the 1st Noble Truth as a gradual teaching & as a diagnosis

for me, it begins with listing those experiences that are ordinarily taken to be suffering by the ordinary person, such as giving birth to children, sickness, aging, death, sorrow, pain, etc, separation from the loved, not getting what one wants, etc

this is the same as when an ordinary person goes to a doctor to report their illness. they say to the doctor: "i have pain here, burning here, etc". the doctor, who is enlightened about medicine, says to the ordinary person: "you suffer from xmiximitosis"

the Buddha was the same. As the enlightened spiritual doctor, he said: "in summary, you suffer from clinging to the five aggregates as "I" and "mine"..."

just my opinion

regards

RE: Slang Formulation of the 4 Noble Truths
Answer
5/3/11 6:33 PM as a reply to David Charles Greeson.
I wanted to share a rephrasing by a teacher (who is quite scholarly and advanced), that telescopes all four into one phrase:

"If you cling, you will suffer."

It wasn't meant as a substitution for the original, more as a means of underscoring. It's been very helpful to me. Brought to mind in the minute-to-minute unfolding of daily life it can be a pointed reminded of what this stuff is all about.

(In my complicated younger days, I expect it would have lacked the plucky appeal of "life sucks"...)