First Principles

As Buddhism spread from its birthplace in India to neighboring lands, the tradition adapted to fit the particular cultural context of each new country it came upon. In China, it merged with the Daoist tradition to form what has come to be known as Zen. A similar merging may occur as Buddhism takes root in westernized countries and encounters the forces of science and secularity. But only time will tell. For now, all we can do is nurture the dialogue and prepare a space for something beautiful to crystallize on its own. To this end, the School of Suchness offers the following list of Buddhist principles derived from the perspective of science.

The Three Marks of Existence

I. Impermanence

Everything that has ever existed, exists currently, or will exist in the future, is subject to destruction. This is true of the physical world just as it is true of the mental world. All sensations, perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and mental states, arise and pass away. Nothing lasts forever and the universe is in constant flux. Thus it is taught that all things are impermanent.

II. Unsatisfactoriness

All the objects we could ever obtain, and all the experiences we could ever have, are unsatisfactory because they are inevitably impermanent. Nothing in life can please us forever. Even things as highly regarded as love are unsatisfactory because our enjoyment of them is predicated on their presence in our lives, and that presence cannot exist without a corresponding absence. Thus our experiences of joy posses an intrinsic recognition of the possibility of despair. For this reason all things are said to be unsatisfactory.

III. No-Self

Nothing exists independently. Nothing exists in isolation from the rest of the extended universe. All the objects we perceive are inextricably connected to everything else in the world and do not inherently exist as objects in and of themselves. Because of delusion we perceive boundaries between one thing and another, but these boundaries only exist as projections of our own minds. Thus it is taught that neither subjects nor objects truly exist as a self: no-self.

Interdependence

All things are interdependent with one another. To talk about anything at all is to implicitly talk about all the associated things which define it. Black cannot exist without white; sound cannot exists without silence; and space cannot exist without form. Interdependence is a reference to this most basic of understandings.

The Four Noble Truths

I. The Existence of Suffering

The teaching of the four noble truths was first recorded in the Pali language. Suffering is a translation of the Pali word dukkha. This word can also be translated as: pain, stress, anxiety, sadness, or unsatisfactoriness. The first noble truth corresponds to the recognition that all living beings experience pain. From a biological perspective, every sensory and perceptual stimulus we receive is registered with an affective valuation: pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. These overtones serve to motivate us to approach, disregard, or avoid whatever is perceived.

II. The Cause of Suffering

The original teachings refer to the cause of suffering as tanha. The most common translation of this word is desire. Though it can also be translated as: craving, thirst, or grasping. Desire can be understood as a state of mind in which another potential state of mind is represented as a goal to be reached. The goal state is represented as an object, or other, and is differentiated from the present state, or self. In order to motivate us to reach the goal as soon as possible, the brain applies a cascade of negative overtones to the contents of perception. We become uneasy, restless, and want something about our present moment experience to change.

III. The Cessation of Suffering

Since desire is the cause of suffering, if we can learn to completely let go of desire then our suffering will cease to exist. When we accept the present moment fully and deeply, negative sensations are no longer seen as something we need to get rid of: they simply are. To abandon desire we must first abandon its roots: greed, hatred, and delusion.

IV. The Path Which Leads to the Cessation of Suffering

The fourth noble truth corresponds to the recognition that there are steps we can take which, after years of discipline and sustained effort, result in the complete cessation of desire and the suffering that follows. This is commonly known as enlightenment, and the steps which lead there are known as the eightfold path.

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