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I. Human Suffering
A. The Buddhist Position on Human Suffering Briefly Stated
1. All human life is grievous. 2. Ignorance and the desires of the senses lead to suffering. 3. Deliverance from suffering can be achieved through enlightenment.
4. Enlightenment is attained by obeying the Buddhist ethic.
B. Arguments Used by Buddhists to Support Their Position on Human Suffering, Otherwise Known as the "Four Noble Truths"
1. The First Noble Truth is dukkha.
a. Definition of dukkha
(1) The general meaning of the word dukkha is "suffering," "pain," "misery," or "sorrow."
(2) Buddhist scholars, however, regard this translation as highly unsatisfactory and misleading because it tends to give people the impression that Buddhist philosophy is pessimistic.
(3) According to the Buddhist scholar Walpola Rahula, dukkha not only means "suffering," but it also comprises "deeper ideas such as 'imperfection,' 'impermanence,' 'emptiness,' 'insubstantiality.' It is difficult therefore to find one word to embrace the whole conception of the term dukkha as the First Noble Truth, and so it is better to leave it untranslated, than to give an inadequate and wrong idea of it by conveniently translating it as 'suffering' or 'pain.'"
b. The First Noble Truth's perspective on life (1) The Buddha's teaching on human suffering is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Rather, it is realistic.
(2) Buddhists view the Buddha as a spiritual physician. He neither ignores the problem and says all is well nor exaggerates the problem and gives up hope. Instead, he diagnoses the problem objectively and correctly, "understands the cause and the nature of the illness, sees clearly that it can be cured, and courageously administers a course of treatment, thus saving his patient.... He is the wise and scientific doctor for the ills of the world."
c. The three aspects of dukkha
(1) Dukkha is all forms of physical and mental suffering, which includes "birth, old age, sickness, death, association with unpleasant persons and conditions, separation from beloved ones and pleasant conditions, not getting what one desires, grief, lamentation, distress."
(2) Dukkha is change. Since all things are impermanent, pain, suffering, and unhappiness ultimately result. For example, a person is happy being with a loved one, but when that loved one is gone, that person becomes unhappy. Change has caused the suffering. The Buddha taught that there is happiness in life, but that inevitably that happiness will turn to sorrow.
(3) Dukkha is the essence of life. Although people do not possess a soul, the energies that form a person are ever changing. Since life is impermanent and in constant flux, it is dukkha.
2. The Second Noble Truth is samudaya.
a. The definition of samudaya
(1) Samudaya means "arising of dukkha." (2) In other words, samudaya is the origin of suffering.
b. The Second Noble Truth as tanha
(1) Tanha means "craving" or "thirst."
(2) Some Buddhist scholars refer to the Second Noble Truth as tanha because tanha leads to suffering.
(3) Tanha is not the first or only cause of the arising of suffering, but it is the critical link in the causal chain that leads to suffering.
c. The "Twelvefold Chain of Causation"
The Buddha traced the cause of suffering to its origin as follows: "From ignorance as cause arise the aggregates [the energies or identity of a person], from the aggregates as cause arises consciousness, from consciousness as cause arises name-and-form (mind and body), from name-and-form as cause arises the sphere of the six (senses), from the sphere of the six as cause contact, from contact as cause sensation, from sensation as cause craving, from craving as cause grasping, from grasping as cause becoming, from becoming as cause birth, from birth as cause arise old age, death, grief, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair. Even so is the origination of all this mass of pain."
3. The Third Noble Truth is nirodha.
a. The definition of nirodha
(1) Nirodha means "cessation of dukkha."
(2) In other words, nirodha reveals that there is liberation from suffering.
b. Nirodha as nirvana
(1) When one attains nirvana, one experiences nirodha.
(2) For Buddhists, nirvana is not the extinction of self, since there is no self or soul to annihilate. Rather it is the annihilation of the illusion or false idea of self.
(3) In order to achieve nirvana, one must eliminate the main root of dukkha ("suffering"), which is tanha ("craving"). When craving is totally extinguished, nirodha occurs.
(4) In addition, understanding the teachings of the Buddha not only removes ignorance, the primordial cause of suffering, but also paves the way for deliverance.
4. The Fourth Noble Truth is magga.
a. The definition of magga
(1) Magga means "the path leading to the cessation of dukkha."
(2) Magga is also known as the "Middle Path," because it avoids the one extreme of seeking happiness through the senses and the other extreme of seeking truth through self-mortification.
b. The Noble Eightfold Path
(1) The Fourth Noble Truth comprises Buddhist ethics, which is known as the Noble Eightfold Path.
(2) The Noble Eightfold Path is right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
(3) These eight categories of the Noble Eightfold Path are taught in order to perfect the three essentials of Buddhist training and discipline, namely, ethical conduct, mental discipline, and wisdom.
(4) These eight categories of the Path are not stages that can be performed in succession or isolated from one another. Rather they are different dimensions of a total way of life.
(5) The Buddha taught that suffering is the result of selfish desires or clinging and that they chain people to the wheel of insubstantial impermanent things. The Buddha's teachings aim at eliminating these selfish desires in ways described in the Fourth Noble Truth and at guiding the individual to nirvana or deliverance.
C. Refutation of Arguments Used by Buddhists to Support Their Position on Suffering
1. The Buddhist teaching that human life is grievous is not in question.
a. The Buddhist observation that people experience suffering of all sorts is an observable truth.
b. In addition, the search for an explanation for human suffering is not only critical to Buddhism, but also to all philosophies and religions, including Christianity.
2. The Buddhist explanation for the cause and origin of suffering is incorrect.
a. The implication of the Buddhist teaching on the cause of suffering (1) Buddhist doctrine asserts that the origin of one's suffering is ignorance and that the cause of that suffering is one's craving.
(2) In essence, what Buddhist doctrine teaches is that we cause all the suffering we experience.
(3) The following scenarios dispute that Buddhist doctrine.
b. Victims of natural disasters
(1) If a one-day-old baby is severely injured in an earthquake and then dies, is that baby responsible for its suffering?
(2) The Buddhist will argue that what the baby did in its former life caused its present suffering. Thus the baby is responsible for its suffering.
(3) However, the cycle of life, death, and rebirth cannot be proven. Therefore, the Buddhist claim that one suffers because of what one has done in a previous life rests on an assumption that relies on no factual evidence.
c. Victims of religious persecution
(1) If a Christian is tortured in a society hostile toward Christianity because he or she refuses to reject Jesus Christ as God, is that Christian responsible for his or her suffering?
(2) The Buddhist will argue that the Christian is deluded into thinking that Jesus Christ is God. Such delusion causes suffering for the Christian.
(3) The Buddhist explanation, however, rests on the belief that Christ is not God. Since the Buddhist cannot prove that Jesus Christ is not God, its argument is based solely on an unprovable assumption.
d. Victims of crime
(1) If a woman is savagely raped by a total stranger in her house, is she responsible for her suffering?
(2) The Buddhist will argue that her suffering was due to the negative actions that she had previously done, though she had done nothing at the time to precipitate the assault.
(3) The moral consciousness common to people throughout the world, however, would argue that she was an innocent victim of the crime, and every civilized judicial system would punish the guilty assailant, not the victim, of the crime.
(4) Furthermore, if the woman's suffering was a result of a previous action on her part, then karma (cause and effect) forced her assailant to commit the crime. Therefore, his evil action was caused by her bad karma, for which he must then suffer.
(5) In other words, the Buddhist in effect says that some people suffer grievously for a former act committed during a previous life while other people suffer for that which a higher force compelled them to do.
(6) Victims of crime, however, are not responsible for what they suffered as a result of the crime, while criminals are responsible for committing their crimes.
3. The Buddhist assertion that there is deliverance from suffering can be accepted to a point.
a. It is agreed that it is possible for human suffering to end (as will be shown in I.D.3 below).
b. The Buddhist teaching that human suffering ceases through extinction is false.
(1) Of course, if extinction of a person were possible, suffering would also cease.
(2) Christ, however, taught that the wicked "will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (Matt. 25:46; see also 2 Thess. 1:9; Rev. 20:10-15).
(3) In other words, people are immortal; they will not be extinguished.
4. The Buddhist quest for the cessation of suffering is misdirected.
a. The Fourth Noble Truth of the Buddha is the Noble Eightfold Path.
(1) The purpose of the Noble Eightfold Path is to eliminate craving, which causes suffering.
(2) In effect, Buddhists ultimately seek escape from suffering.
b. The Bible disputes the Buddha's Fourth Noble Truth in two ways. (1) The Bible does not teach that all desires are evil. In fact, we are to "desire" to do God's will (Ps. 40:8), "desire" God's mercy (Matt. 9:13), "desire" spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1), and "desire" to live honorably (Heb. 13:18).
(2) The Bible also teaches that the distinct purpose of Christ's coming to this world was to suffer on behalf of humanity's sins (Matt. 17:12; Mark 8:31; 9:12; Luke 24:26; Acts 3:18; 17:2-3; 26:22-23; Heb. 2:9-10, 18; 1 Peter 1:10-11; 2:21-24; 3:18; 4:1); that is, Christ purposely embraced suffering for us rather than attempting to avoid it.
c. The contrasting approaches to suffering by the Buddha and Christ is perhaps best described by Stephen Neill: "Why suffer? That is the ultimate question. It comes to sharp and challenging expression in the contrast between the serene and passionless Buddha and the tortured figure on the Cross. In Jesus we see One who looked at suffering with eyes as clear and calm as those of the Buddha. He saw no reason to reject it, to refuse it, to eliminate it. He took it into himself and felt the fullness of its bitterness and horror; by the grace of God he tasted death for every man. Others suffer; he will suffer with them and for them.... But he does not believe that suffering is wholly evil; by the power of God it can be transformed into a redemptive miracle. Suffering is not an obstacle to deliverance, it can become part of deliverance itself. And what he was he bids his children be-the world's sufferers, in order that through suffering the world may be brought back to God."
D. Arguments Used to Prove the Biblical Doctrine on Suffering
1. The Bible regards human suffering as a crucial issue.
a. In fact, the Bible devotes an entire book to the issue of human suffering.
(1) In the book of Job, Job seeks to understand why he must suffer.
(2) God does not answer Job's specific question but helps him understand that he is sovereign and will ultimately bring about good for those who keep their trust in him.
b. The Bible indicates that all humans can expect to suffer and die (Job 5:7; 14:1, 10, 22).
c. Nevertheless, the Bible makes a distinction between right and wrong kinds of suffering. Indeed, God commends those who suffer for doing good but not those who suffer for doing evil (1 Peter 2:19-20; 4:15).
Excerpted from Buddhism by J. Isamu Yamamoto Copyright © 1998 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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