The centerpiece of Buddhism is the doctrine of Interdependent Arising

There are no independent, enduring selves that reap the benefits and suffer the misfortunes of life

Persons are constituted by five sets of processes:

  • Physical processes: nervous system, immune system, DNA, etc.
  • Processes of sensation: responsible for feelings of pain and pleasure
  • Perceptual processes: responsible for sense-perceptions
  • Volitional processes: responsible for the will and the decisions it makes

The processes of consciousness: responsible for awareness

  • These processes do not belong to persons – my body, my feelings, my perceptions, my decisions, my awareness – rather, together they make up persons
  • These processes are interrelated
  • Awareness depends on perceptions which depend on the organs of sense, the nervous system, the brain, etc.
  • The will is directed by feelings of pleasure and pain which depend on the nervous system and the brain
  • These processes are also conditioned by a person’s environment
  • Your thoughts, beliefs, desires, perceptions, and decisions are, in part, a product of the place and time in which you find yourself
  • Your body is being continually altered by your environment
  • These processes are in continual flux
  • Your body, sensations, perceptions, will, and awareness are ever-changing
  • Yet, we tend to think of our personal identity as being independent of our conditions and stable over time – Descartes, Locke
  • Most of the decisions that we make throughout our lives are informed (misinformed) by this supposition
  • There is, then, a fundamental disconnect between the world as it is and the world as we take it to be – and this disconnect concerns that with which we are supposed to be most familiar: ourselves
  • When the Buddha was enlightened, he realized that “ignorance is the root of all evil”
  • The diagnosis of, and treatment for, the human condition is contained in Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths

The First Noble Truth

  • Life is duhkha
  • ‘Duhkha’ is generally translated as ‘suffering’, but may be more accurately understood as ‘absurd’, ‘despair’ or ‘unbalanced’
  • We necessarily fail to make sense of our lives because we fail to understand what we are

The Second Noble Truth

  • Duhkha is caused by selfish craving (trishna)
  • We are born selfish – the only desires that we care about are our own
  • This is not because young children find themselves to be more important than everyone else, but because they know only their own desires
  • In fact, it is because of these desires that we come to believe that we have independent, unchanging identities
  • We’re not selfish because we believe we have independent, enduring selves; we believe we have independent, enduring selves because we are selfish
  • Human beings are naturally greedy, and our greed compels us to think that we remain the same over time
  • I desire x for my self at time t1 – some time elapses between my initially desiring x and my attaining it at time tn – but because I desire x for my self, I believe that the person who enjoys x at time tn is the very same person who desired x at time t1
  • Human beings are naturally proud, and our pride compels us to think that we are the sole authors of our actions
  • I have a right to be proud of my actions only if they are my actions

The Third Noble Truth

  • The cessation of duhkha can be achieved only by the elimination of selfish craving (trishna)
  • We believe in the existence of independent, enduring selves because of our selfish cravings, not because we have evidence for this belief
  • Thus, contrary evidence, by itself, will fail to dislodge our belief in the existence of independent, enduring selves
  • Instead, we must cure ourselves of this belief by attacking its source: our selfish cravings
  • As long as we live self-obsessed, myopic lives, we will continue to be out of sync with reality

The Fourth Noble Truth

  • Selfish craving is eliminated by following the Noble Eightfold Path
  • 1. Right view
  • 2. Right intention
  • 3. Right speech
  • 4. Right action
  • 5. Right livelihood
  • 6. Right effort
  • 7. Right mindfulness
  • 8. Right concentration
  • We are naturally selfish animals, so becoming selfless is no small task – it is not a matter of simply forming different beliefs or making different decisions
  • To become selfless, we must live selfless lives
  • Enlightenment is not achieved in thought, deed, or meditation, but in all three together
  • “Learning is a good thing; but it availeth not.  True wisdom can be acquired by practice only.  Practice the truth that thy broth is the same as thou.  Walk in the noble path of righteousness and thou wilt understand that while there is death in self, there is immortality in truth.”
  • Once we realize our selflessness, we have achieved the state of Nirvana

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