Buddhism avec Continental Philosophy: Comment on The Four Noble Truths

For the life of me, I cannot figure out how to comment at Ghost in the Wire. Likewise, I can’t find any contact information for Kenneth Rufo to vent my frustration in private. If someone could tell me, I’d appreciate it. In light of that, I thought I’d just make a short post here, en lieu of a comment there, regarding his post on Mahayana Buddhism and the pre-Pomo Turn. 

I like the blog over-all, and this post too. I think there’s a problem in how Rufo introduced the Four Noble Truths though, specifically the third one, known as Nirodha or the Cessation of Dukkha. The name says it all, though Rufo describes its truth as “an alternative to suffering.” I think this misses the causal nature of the problem and its solution. The problem of suffering or dis-ease (dukkha) is a problem that arises from our feverish attachment to things (tanha) that come and go, in a universe where everything is come and go or impermanent (annica). By reading the Buddha’s teachings as offering an alternative to this dis-ease that we must simply chose to attain misunderstands how, effectively, the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path and the Cessation of Dukkha are best understood as the same thing, and how through this we do not end dis-ease and suffering through a single choice and its outcomes, but a way of life and its proper reflection. 

In other words, the way Rufo asks us to approach the problem of dis-ease pre-supposes a sort of view from no where from which we may have not picked the problematic path that leads to suffering and dis-ease. Why this is not satisfactory is because the Buddha disavowed any such view from nowhere, any stable place in experience where we should locate it. This is one of many implications from the Buddha’s teaching of anatta, or “not-self,” which is basically that there is no stable feature of our experience to root the notion of a self, of a thinker behind thoughts or doer behind actions. 

By saying that suffering and nibbana are options falls short of understanding how the end of suffering is governed by the same co-dependent arising causality as everything else in phenomenal existence (samsara). Rather we should stick to the original formulation, which is really just a synomym for the name of the truth. Without recognizing the causal nature of the problem and its solution, we have little to build a bridge (or as the Buddha has put it, a raft) between the two.

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