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TheNobilityoftheTruths
by
BhikkhuBodhi
1998

ThemostcommonandwidelyknownformulationoftheBuddha'steachingisthatwhich
theBuddhahimselfannouncedintheFirstSermonatBenares,theformulaoftheFour
NobleTruths.TheBuddhadeclaresthatthesetruthsconveyinanutshellallthe
essentialinformationthatweneedtosetoutonthepathtoliberation.Hesaysthatjust
astheelephant'sfootprint,byreasonofitsgreatsize,containsthefootprintsofallother
animals,sotheFourNobleTruths,byreasonoftheircomprehensiveness,containwithin
themselvesallwholesomeandbeneficialteachings.However,whilemanyexpositorsof
Buddhismhavedevotedattentiontoexplainingtheactualcontentofthefourtruths,
onlyrarelyisanyconsiderationgiventothereasonwhytheyaredesignatednoble
truths.Yetitisjustthisdescriptiveword"noble"thatrevealstouswhytheBuddha
chosetocasthisteachingintothisspecificformat,anditisthissametermthatallows
ustoexperience,evenfromafar,theuniqueflavorthatpervadestheentiredoctrineand
disciplineoftheEnlightenedOne.

Theword"noble,"orariya,isusedbytheBuddhatodesignateaparticulartypeof
person,thetypeofpersonwhichitistheaimofhisteachingtocreate.Inthediscourses
theBuddhaclassifieshumanbeingsintotwobroadcategories.Ononesidetherearethe
puthujjanas,theworldlings,thosebelongingtothemultitude,whoseeyesarestill
coveredwiththedustofdefilementsanddelusion.Ontheothersidetherearethe
ariyans,thenobleones,thespiritualelite,whoobtainthisstatusnotfrombirth,social
stationorecclesiasticalauthoritybutfromtheirinwardnobilityofcharacter.

Thesetwogeneraltypesarenotseparatedfromeachotherbyanimpassablechasm,
eachconfinedtoatightlysealedcompartment.Aseriesofgradationscanbediscerned
risingupfromthedarkestleveloftheblindworldlingtrappedinthedungeonofegotism
andselfassertion,throughthestageofthevirtuousworldlinginwhomtheseedsof
wisdomarebeginningtosprout,andfurtherthroughtheintermediatestagesofnoble
disciplestotheperfectedindividualattheapexoftheentirescaleofhuman
development.Thisisthearahant,theliberatedone,whohasabsorbedthepurifying
visionoftruthsodeeplythatallhisdefilementshavebeenextinguished,andwiththem,
allliabilitytosuffering.

Whilethepathfrombondagetodeliverance,fromworldlinesstospiritualnobility,isa
gradedpathinvolvinggradualpracticeandgradualprogress,itisnotauniform
continuum.Progressoccursindiscretesteps,andatacertainpointthepoint
separatingthestatusofaworldlingfromthatofanobleoneabreakisreachedwhich
mustbecrossed,notbysimplytakinganotherstepforward,butbymakingaleap,by
jumpingacrossfromthenearsidetothefurthershore.Thisdecisiveeventintheinner
developmentofthepractitioner,thisradicalleapthatpropelsthedisciplefromthe
domainandlineageoftheworldlingtothedomainandlineageofthenobleones,occurs
preciselythroughthepenetrationoftheFourNobleTruths.Thisdisclosestousthe
criticalreasonwhythefourtruthsrevealedbytheBuddhaarecallednobletruths.They
arenobletruthsbecausewhenwehavepenetratedthemthroughtothecore,whenwe
havegraspedtheirrealimportandimplications,wecastoffthestatusoftheworldling
andacquirethestatusofanobleone,drawnoutfromthefacelesscrowdintothe
communityoftheBlessedOne'sdisciplesunitedbyauniqueandunshakablevision.

Priortothepenetrationofthetruths,howeverwellendowedwemaybewithspiritual
virtues,wearenotyetonsecureground.Wearenotimmunefromregression,notyet
assuredofdeliverance,notinvincibleinourstrivingonthepath.Thevirtuesofa
worldlingaretenuousvirtues.Theymaywaxortheymaywane,theymayflourishor
decline,andincorrespondencewiththeirdegreeofstrengthwemayriseorfallinour
movementthroughthecycleofbecoming.Whenourvirtuesarerepletewemayrise
upwardanddwellinblissamongthegodswhenourvirtuesdeclineorourmeritis
exhaustedwemaysinkagaintomiserabledepths.

Butwiththepenetrationofthetruthsweleapacrossthegulfthatseparatesusfromthe
ranksofthenobleones.TheeyeofDhammahasbeenopened,thevisionoftruthstands
revealed,andthoughthedecisivevictoryhasnotyetbeenwon,thepathtothefinal
goalliesatourfeetandthesupremesecurityfrombondagehoversonthehorizon.One
whohascomprehendedthetruthshaschangedlineage,crossedoverfromthedomainof
theworldlingstothedomainofthenobleones.Suchadiscipleisincapableofregression
totheranksoftheworldling,incapableoflosingthevisionoftruththathasflashed
beforehisinnereye.Progresstowardthefinalgoal,thecompleteeradicationof
ignoranceandcraving,maybesloworrapiditmayoccureasilyorresultfromanuphill
battle.Buthoweverlongitmaytake,withwhateverdegreeoffacilityonemayadvance,
onethingiscertain:suchadisciplewhohasseenwithimmaculateclaritytheFourNoble
Truthscanneverslidebackward,canneverlosethestatusofanobleone,andisbound
toreachthefinalfruitofarahantshipinamaximumofsevenlives.

ThereasonwhythepenetrationoftheFourNobleTruthscanconferthisimmutable
nobilityofspiritisimpliedbythefourtasksthenobletruthsimposeonus.Bytaking
thesetasksasourchallengeinlifeourchallengeasfollowersoftheEnlightenedOne
fromwhateverstationofdevelopmentwefindourselvesbeginningat,wecan
graduallyadvancetowardtheinfalliblepenetrationofthenobleones.

Thefirstnobletruth,thetruthofsuffering,istobefullyunderstood:thetaskitassigns
usisthatoffullunderstanding.Ahallmarkofthenobleonesisthattheydonotflow
alongthoughtlesslywiththestreamoflife,butendeavortocomprehendexistencefrom
within,ashonestlyandthoroughlyaspossible.Forus,too,itisnecessarytoreflect
uponthenatureofourlife.Wemustattempttofathomthedeepsignificanceofan
existenceboundedononesidebybirthandontheotherbydeath,andsubjectin
betweentoallthetypesofsufferingdetailedbytheBuddhainhisdiscourses.

Thesecondnobletruth,oftheoriginorcauseofsuffering,impliesthetaskof
abandonment.Anobleoneissuchbecausehehasinitiatedtheprocessofeliminating
thedefilementsattherootofsuffering,andwetoo,ifweaspiretoreachtheplaneof
thenobleones,mustbepreparedtowithstandtheseductivelureofthedefilements.
Whiletheeradicationofcravingcancomeonlywiththesupramundanerealizations,
eveninthemundanecourseofourdailylifewecanlearntorestrainthecoarser
manifestationofdefilements,andbykeenselfobservationcangraduallyloosentheir
gripuponourhearts.

Thethirdnobletruth,thecessationofsuffering,impliesthetaskofrealization.Although
Nibbana,theextinctionofsuffering,canonlybepersonallyrealizedbythenobleones,
theconfidenceweplaceintheDhammaasourguidelinetolifeshowsuswhatweshould
selectasourfinalaspiration,asourultimategroundofvalue.Oncewehavegraspedthe
factthatallconditionedthingsintheworld,beingimpermanentandinsubstantial,can
nevergiveustotalsatisfaction,wecanthenliftouraimtotheunconditionedelement,
NibbanatheDeathless,andmakethataspirationthepolearoundwhichweorderour
everydaychoicesandconcerns.

Finally,thefourthnobletruth,theNobleEightfoldPath,assignsusthetaskof
development.Thenobleoneshavereachedtheirstatusbydevelopingtheeightfold
path,andwhileonlythenobleonesareassuredofneverdeviatingfromthepath,the
Buddha'steachinggivesusthemeticulousinstructionsthatweneedtotreadthepath
culminatingintheplaneofthenobleones.Thisisthepaththatgivesbirthtovision,that
givesbirthtoknowledge,thatleadstohighercomprehension,enlightenmentand
Nibbana,thecrowningattainmentofnobility.

Pu blish er'sn ot e

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past2500yearsandisstillasrelevanttodayasitwaswhenitfirstarose.

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Howtocitethisdocument(asuggestedstyle):"TheNobilityoftheTruths",byBhikkhuBodhi.Accessto
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