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Four Noble Truths

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Dhamekh Stupa, where the Buddha gave the first...

Dhamekh Stupa, where the Buddha gave the first sermon on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path to his five disciples after attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. Also seen behind the stupa in the left corner is the yellow-coloured spire of Digamber Jain temple, dedicated to 11th Jain Tirthankar, Shreyansanath, known to be his birth place. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Four Noble Truths are the core of Buddhist teaching, said to have been outlined by the Buddha in his first discourse at Benares. They are as follows:

  1. All of life is suffering (dukkha)
  2. The cause of suffering is wrongful desire, craving or thirst (tanha)
  3. Suffering can be overcome by eliminating these causes
  4. The method for eliminating suffering is outlined in the Eightfold Path.

This differs from the Christian view of suffering. Christians, particularly Catholics, tend to make room for a positive view of some forms of suffering, regarded as a means towards purification in preparation for everlasting heaven. While neurotic suffering is not accepted and unnecessary suffering is to be avoided, the Catholic saints do not try to eradicate unavoidable “holy suffering,” which they believe should be patiently endured.

In some cases extreme suffering is welcomed as a blessing by the Catholic saint. St. Faustina Kowalska, for instance, embraced holy suffering because she believed she was instructed by Christ that it would maximize her heavenly reward. The depth psychologist C. G. Jung had something similar (but not identical) to say in his treatment of alchemy. For Jung suffering was a necessary kind of ‘smelting,’ as it were, for soul making—or rather, self making.

Again, the Buddhist understanding of suffering is very different from that of both Jungian theory and Christian theology. Buddhism sees all suffering as bad and something to be avoided, whereas mystical Christians see some types of suffering as a valuable experience leading toward purification and a heavenly reward beyond all human imagination. Jung’s take on suffering isn’t quite so grand as the Christian view. It’s more focused on psychological development within this life, and doesn’t really speak to the afterlife.

The Buddhist view of suffering and its solution also involves a supposed realization that we have no individual self. To most Christians and Jungians, alike, this view is simply misguided.

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