Becoming noble

Noble Truths
[Photo copyright by Jess Hamilton via Flickr under creative commons licence]

The core teachings of Buddhism are condensed in what is known as the >Four Noble Truths< and for a good decade now I was confused about this terminology. Why would the historic Buddha, who was such an practical and straight forward man use such a weird and, well, kind of cheesy term like >noble truths<? They are not even truths, they are merely guidelines to train along, they are not even close to all the christian commandments. On top of it, if they are not even >truths<, why would they be >noble<? And by the way, what is noble?

I got lucky, because, I finally came across the brilliant talks of one Dr. John Peacock who kindly explained something very obvious that I was completely missing all those years. The historical context.

Turns out that in the time of the Buddha India was a highly structured society. You were born in a class, you stayed in that class, you died in that class (not that much different from today, I know). The spiritual world of this pre-Hindu society was guided by the Brahman priests who ruled over a very strict orthopractical religion. This means your life was not about what you believed (orthodox) but what you did (orthopractic) – and what you did were your daily rituals.

To be a good member of your society you had to perform rituals – a lot of them – at specific times throughout your day. When you were a good and thorough ritual-performer it was that what would make you a >noble< person. India by that time was all about becoming a noble person. And your guidelines were the >truths< watched over by the Brahmans.

Now imagine a guy coming along who not only questioned the whole class idea – which was the worst thing you could do at that time anyway – but who would also come up with his very own noble concepts about life.

He would say:
Here is what I think makes you a noble person. Wake up and realize that no matter what ritual you perform, you will never ever make your life completely satisfying. Do rituals all you like, but there will always be suffering. Now, that is what I call a noble truth. Chew on that one.

This is what the Buddha did. He pointed out the flaws in the doctrine of the dominant religious movement. He taught his own ideas by building on the ideas he found.
He took the meaning of key terms and turned them around to point back to and call out the ruling class.
Hence he did not only criticize his own society in a very harsh way, he also used their very own terminology to make fun of them.

I knew I liked that guy.

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