One day, Chang-sha Ching-tsen (d. 868), one of the well-known Chinese Ch'an masters, wandered in the mountain. When he was back just at the gate of the temple, the head monk asked him:
-Where have you been, Sir?
FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
Visitor: The second noble truth says that the direct causes of suffering are desire or craving, and ignorance. When suffering is caused not by attachment but by e.g. sickness, how can craving be the cause of that specific suffering?
CT: Have you got sick at all in your life? If you did, then what were the causes of your sickness, do you think?
Visitor: There are various reasons for getting sick, accidents, contagion, bad food and so on... What are you aiming at?
CT: What you're telling here are in general. I would like to know some specific causes of a specific sickness you got, if any. Could you tell?
Visitor: Well, ok, for example my back hurts real bad from time to time. The doctor says it comes from sitting long hours. Actually I'm not sure if he's correct. A few years ago, I had a car accident where I broke my back. Maybe that is the cause for my problems. Another example would be the occasional cold. Otherwise I don't get sick very often.
CT: All of what you're telling here are the causes of your body's physical sickness. This is a reasonable and comprehensible when we are human beings living on this earth. Nobody could avoid all this kind of sicknesses or their causes. Right? The sensibility of your body to the pain and needs to be healed is its intelligence.
What is said in the 4 noble truth belongs to a different category of sickness. This means the "psychological sickness" which is from craving, desire or ignorance. For example, some man who is married and has children, but if he wanted other man's wife, then he would get problems from this desire.
Another case, if someone wanted to be famous or powerful or to go to heaven after his death...these were all his desires that came from his ignorance. He wanted to become someone else but not himself, or something that only exits in word or thought. This is called ignorance.
Visitor: So what you are saying is that physical suffering can't be ended by getting rid of craving but only by stopping to be human -- that is by leaving the cycle of death and rebirth?
CT: No. I do not mean that. What I meant is: there are two different categories of sicknesses: one is physical sickness that needs to be healed. The other is psychological sickness that come from desire, anger, and ignorance, needs to be put an end, then we will be able to live a better life.
Visitor: So how can physical sickness by healed? Can it tbe healed by the end of craving? In other words, do the noble truths stating "the cause of suffering is craving and to stop craving is to stop suffering" relate only to psychological sickness or do they relate to physical sickness as well?
CT: When your physical body got sick, whom would need to see to get it heal? A medical doctor or a monk at church at temple or a political leader? Each kind of sicknesses needs a different cure. Patient is supposed to know what kind of sicknesses he gets and find a right "doctor" for it. The pain of physical sickness is a fact but the suffering of psychological sickness is not a fact, it comes from fear and fear comes from thought and imagination.
Visitor: Buddhism has an answer to the fact of physical illness, hasn't it? Our present state solely depends on what we did in the past. So if we refrain from unwholsesome acts, we will improve our future, we will not be sick anymore. So what are unwholesome acts? The answer to this question lies basically in the eightfold path. If we have identified unwholesome action, it should be easy to refrain from it. The reason why it isn't lies in craving. We crave for some things and that's why we commit unwholsesome actions. Otherwise we would refrain from unwholsesome action, because they prevent us from improving our situation. There is one favour I would like to ask: Please be more precise in your answers.
CT: Sir, I do not think we have met each other yet in our conversation so far.
What I have tried to say is like this: -When you got a physical sickness, you felt pain and you wanted it cured. In in this case, you need to see a medical doctor to have it cured, and you would not need to see a Buddhist teacher to cure it. Right?
-When you got physical sickness, beside the fact you felt pain, you thought of we might die or get disabled from that sickness and you got fear of it, then you went to a church or a temple to see a monk or a priest in there for his help in hoping that when after death you would do to a heaven or a Nirvana somewhere else, not on this earth. And you prayed to God or recited sutras or sat in meditation in hoping that you would put an end to our cycle of birth-n-death in this world. All of these are just the activities of thought and desires or craving as you have called it. All of these are called the activities of the "me" or the "ego" or the "self", and is also called the "psychological" or "mental" sickness or ignorance because it only existed in thought and craving.
To illustrate this, for example, you got your back pain from a car accident that happened in the past, as you told in a previous post of yours, and you needed to see a medical doctor to have it cured. This is all right for you as you are a human being living in this world.
However, if based on the back pain you might think that was the result of your bad action in the past which you do not know; and the more you thought about it, the more you got suffered, and you want to do something good for the sake of going to nirvana or putting an end to the cycle of birth-n-death, then, all of this thinking is the cycle of birth-n-death itself. This is called "living in ignorance".
Do I make myself clear this time?
Visitor: First of all I want to tell you that I didn't intent to insult you and I hope you have taken no offense. You are right, we have not met each other so far. The reason for this is probably that my question was aiming at understanding a concept but is entirely unrelated to myself.
I think, my question is basically a very simple one: The four noble truths speak about the fact that life is suffering and that suffering is caused by craving. So far we don't have a problem, because this is the most important concept, the focal point of buddhism.
Now if I look at this statement, a question comes up in my mind: It is quite easy to understand that we suffer, if we crave for something and we don't get, for example if we are separated from the pleasant or together with the unpleasant. If you take the craving away, you stop suffering. But, as you said, apart from psychological sicknesses, there are other kinds of suffering, other kinds of sicknesses, namely physical suffering. The question is, do the noble truths relate to all kinds of suffering? The answer I have formulated is yes, it does. Do you agree? I think that physical suffering is also caused by desires and by ignorance. As I said, this is a purely dogmatic matter, but I think it is legitimate to talk about it.
The Buddha often tried to make people understand concepts and he did so in a very admirable way. He used language that is both easy to understand and, at the same time, explains the unexplainable.
I'm sorry to bother you with that kind question over and over again, but if somebody were to ask me that question, I would like to explain it in a way, the person is able to understand. To be able to do that, I have to thoroughly understand the answer myself first. Everything you have said so far, is true, but still the answer to my question eludes me. Once again, do the four noble truths relate to all kinds of suffering? A simple yes or no would do. Thank you and best wishes.
CT: "The Buddha often tried to make people understand concepts and he did so in a very admirable way. He used language that is both easy to understand and, at the same time, explains the unexplainable."
-If as you have said here, then your question about the concept of the 4 noble truth was already answered by the Buddha. So, why and what for do you ask again and again here?
"Once again, do the four noble truths relate to all kinds of suffering? A simple yes or no would do."
-In the Western style of logic, generally, there are two categories of answers to a question: (1) 'Yes' that means affirmation, and (2)'No' that means negation.
-In the Buddhist style of logic, generally, there are four categories of answers to a question: (1) 'Yes'; (2) 'No'; (3) both 'Yes' and 'No'; (4)'Neither 'Yes" nor 'No'.
However, more often than not, the answers in Zen Buddhism do not fall into any of the four categories above.
Why is that so? Because the facts of life are not what people think about them. Concept (or thought) is a thing but the thing is not the concept (or thought). This is why when I talk to you or anyone else here in this forum, I have often dealt with the facts of life and not with the concepts about them.
So, if you would like to just think and talk about concepts, I would like to stay out. What we need to see is the fact or truth, not the concepts about them.
Visitor: If as you have said here, then your question about the concept of the 4 noble truth was already answered by the Buddha. So, why and what for do you ask again and again here?
Simple, because I don't know everything, the Buddha said.
Ok, enough talk, maybe I asked the wrong question, asked it in a wrong way, didn't understand the answer or you don't know the answer. Maybe the answer isn't even relevant. I want to understand, but up to now, I don't. Thank you.
CT: It's fine. You got what you thought.
Visitor & CT 04/08/03
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