4 Descriptors of the Way Life Is

Four Noble Truths — 4 Descriptors of the Way Life Is

4 Descriptors of the Way Life Is–the Buddha’s age-old wisdom (the Four Noble Truths) is perfect for helping us see through the clouds of the last few years. 

Let’s have a look at the Bud­dha’s Four Noble Truths, which I pre­fer to call the 4 Descrip­tors of the Way Life Is.

Look­ing for more on this top­ic? Check out my book, Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall.

The 4 Descrip­tors, hav­ing a party…

Many of the Bud­dhist texts were trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish in the late 1800s. “Life is Suf­fer­ing,” for exam­ple, is the first of the 4 Descrip­tors, and is a trans­la­tion that is apro­pos of the 1800s. The actu­al Pali word that is trans­lat­ed as “suf­fer­ing,” dukkha, is real­ly about the unsat­is­fac­to­ry nature of life. Dukkha is com­mon­ly used to describe a range of feel­ing, from unease to suffering.

Suffering was a big deal to theologians and philosophers 100 years or more ago. For us, not so much.

It’s the same with “Noble” and “Truths.”

I cer­tain­ly don’t use the word “noble” in my dai­ly speech. A bet­ter trans­la­tion is “impor­tant” or “pre­em­i­nent.” And “truth” does not cap­ture the essence of the Pali word sac­ca, which real­ly means, “to be.” It refers to some­thing that is “right there; is obvi­ous.”

Thus, my shifting to 4 Descriptors of the Way Life Is.  Once you see them, they are “right there,” and oh so obvious.

For now, let’s look at the 4th descrip­tor, what is called the 8‑fold Path.

Each of the 8 items on the path is typ­i­cal­ly pref­aced with “Right,” as in Right View, Right Voca­tion, etc. Instead, I’ll fol­low Glenn Wal­lis, as con­veyed in the book, Basic Teach­ings of the Bud­dha. He notes the same lan­guage trans­la­tion issues I’ve men­tioned above, and says that “Right” has the con­tem­po­rary mean­ing of “cor­rect,” as in right and wrong. 

He pro­pos­es using the word “sound,” as in “that which leads to the result we seek.” I agree. “Sound” it is!

The 8 items on the 8‑fold path can be put into three groups:

  1. Under­stand­ing – Sound View, Sound Inclination
  2. Con­duct – Sound Speech, Sound Action, Sound Liveli­hood, Sound Effort
  3. Atten­tive­ness – Sound Aware­ness, Sound Concentration

A look at understanding

Peo­ple oper­ate out of a skewed view of how life is, and who they are. Our indi­vid­ual view is embed­ded into our sub-con­scious minds through the nor­mal “grow­ing up and learn­ing” process—something I call the ego devel­op­ment project.

This project is absolute­ly necessary—it is through this project that we self-iden­ti­fy, sep­a­rate our­selves from “moth­er,” and devel­op a sense of “me / not me.” 

It is the basic, first step in a lifetime of exploration – in a sense, it’s something that provides the convenience of our name/identity, but very little insight into “the way it is.”

Most peo­ple, how­ev­er, stall right there, and spend the rest of their lives pro­tect­ing and defend­ing their ego iden­ti­ty, to the detri­ment of find­ing true con­tent­ment and an ele­gant way of being. 

This is not their fault. It’s pret­ty hard to move past a social­ly accept­able place of being (espe­cial­ly as that arti­fi­cial tar­get keeps shift­ing,) to some­thing entire­ly dif­fer­ent. In a sense, with­out exter­nal inter­ven­tion, or anoth­er point of ref­er­ence, all we can expect is to be just like, or a lit­tle worse than, the social stan­dard or norm.

Sound View

We could get into a long debate about what the alter­na­tive to the cul­tur­al norm is. I point to a per­spec­tive that is non-dual, self-respon­si­ble, and one in which I see myself as “that which is emerg­ing from life (from is-ness) itself.” I have the choice to live in my head, lost in thought, find­ing myself dwelling in the past or the future. Or, I can come into moment-by-moment pres­ence, rec­og­niz­ing that, by choos­ing to view life in this way, I have no per­ma­nent reality.

I am as I am, and then I become that which is, in the next moment.

From this place of expan­sive­ness, I can choose. I can engage, or I can step back. I can let go, or I can embrace. I can shut down, or open up. Noth­ing is right or wrong (the non dual part) and noth­ing is required, oth­er than presence.

I choose to see my life as a series of com­ings and goings, with no per­ma­nence to attach to. Things are as they are, and then they are some­thing else. Which is sort of how we live our nomadic lifestyle…

This process of letting go (of non clinging) is the key to the practice.

Our egos des­per­ate­ly want us to be impor­tant, and tries to ele­vate every­thing we touch to “spe­cial, unique, and impor­tant.” Our egos are exces­sive­ly invest­ed in keep­ing the sta­tus quo, and remain a part of our ongo­ing expe­ri­ence until we die.

So, part of a sound view is tied up in how I see my ego.

I choose, then, to make peace with my ego, with my thoughts, with my emo­tions and feel­ings, and with my body. In oth­er words, I do not ignore, sub­li­mate, beat down, or dis­par­age any of the “stuff” that accom­pa­nies being alive in a body. Nor do I ele­vate any of the stuff to the lev­el of demigod. I am alive and hav­ing human experiences—and all of it is just as it should be.

The key to mov­ing past an old view to a new one is gen­tle accep­tance of what is, and who I am, while breath­ing into who I am becoming.

Sound Inclination

Incli­na­tion and view are paired. If our view is that “the world is unfair,” we will be inclined to be untrust­ing. If we view the world as “scary,” we will be inclined to be timid and reserved. If my view is that the movies I am run­ning in my head are both “right and true,” my incli­na­tion will be to look for evi­dence that match­es my invent­ed film, and also to try to con­vince or manip­u­late oth­ers into accept­ing my view.

And on and on.

If our view shifts to “the way it is, is the way it is,” our incli­na­tion will be to treat the world with open-eyed won­der and curios­i­ty. With this incli­na­tion, my eyes focus on what is before me. This includes thoughts which arise in me. I see “what is,” and I inter­act with it.

So, you might say that incli­na­tion is about inten­tion, and interaction.

In oth­er words, it’s not enough to say that you have a new view. It’s not enough to com­mit to fol­low­ing that view.

What is required is that final step of actu­al­ly liv­ing in har­mo­ny and coor­di­na­tion with the view you espouse.

Most have dif­fi­cul­ty here. I say to clients, “I don’t care what you say you will do, or what you say you under­stand. The only thing that mat­ter is what you choose to do as you live your life.”

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