Monday, December 31, 2018

The Four Noble Truths, series table of contents

A few years ago, I wrote a somewhat comprehensive series on the so-called Four Noble Truths as supposedly propounded by Mr Siddharth Gautam, or the Sakyamuni Buddha, circa 2500 BC.

In light of the current human understanding, a better title for those four "truths" might be: The Four Tenets about Suffering.  Those tenets are neither true, nor very noble.  They are of course the foundation of the religion of Buddhism, and as such derive a certain nobility due to their scriptural status.

To clarify, I have absolutely no problem with someone who chooses to follow the moral precepts of a religion.  Most religions posit moral tenets which are quite in line with being a good human being, and for the vast majority of religious people, religion is essentially a force of conscience, morality, community and culture.  It is only for the philosopher/monk that this series of articles is intended, not for a lay practitioner of Buddhism.  A lay practitioner will probably find himself in more trouble if he discards his religious beliefs and tries to find meaning elsewhere.

  1. Part I: Introduction, The First Noble Truth
  2. Part II: The Second Noble Truth
  3. Part III: The Second Noble Truth, continued
  4. Part IV: The Third Noble Truth

    The Fourth Noble Truth: The Eight-fold Path
  5. Part V: Right View
  6. Part VI: Right Intention
  7. Part VII: Right Speech
  8. Part VIII: Right Action
  9. Part IX: Right Livelihood
  10. Part X: Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration
  11. Part XI: Epilogue

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Sickness unto Death

(the title is a nod to that melancholic groan by Kierkegaard)

Krishnamurti famously said (and it became famous because spiritual misanthropes gleefully latched on to this quote) "It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society."

Is humanity "sick"?  Or are you just sick of it.

Those very naturalists who decry man for not being in harmony with nature are also quite miffed with the natural, animal instincts which man has somewhat tamed.

It is true that modern life has its discontents.  Alienation, Stress, Loneliness, Financial insecurity.  Is life as an animal better?

One of my friends expressed a wish to be a bird.  To be human was too burdensome for him.

Rent, mortgage, health insurance, car repairs, immunizations...

But he could choose to live as a bird even now.  He can give up his home, his family and his work, and be a bum.  He could choose never to go to a doctor or a mechanic.

We think the birds are happy.  But the birds (if they could think) must be envious of our comforts.  Birds must suffer during every rain, during every storm, and one can imagine their distress when they fly back to their nest and find that a ravaging predator has left blood soaked mess of feathers and bones of the birds' young ones.

Our greatest gift, the mind, also imposes its burden.

Happiness is not to wish to be someone else.  That someone else is probably not that happy either.

The Quest

Someone shared this aphorism: "In Zen, we don't find the answers, we lose the questions."

An adult seeks understanding.  A child wants to know.  Only an infant is free from the desire to know and to understand.

Spirituality can best be understood as a regression to an infantile state.  You go to a Guru as an adult, he denigrates your mind and intellect enough that you give up.

"Logic is hardly the means."

"Your mind is the enemy."

"Thought cannot touch That."

"That which is unconditioned cannot be experienced by the conditioned."

"Live from the heart, not from the brain."

The resulting state is not one of understanding, but of stupidity. 

One may be a happy idiot, but almost universally, the happy idiots who live in the now are supported by the toiling ones who worry about the future and have to plan for the harvests and oil prices.

I am more proud of a man who has unanswered questions than of one who is content with his ignorance.

Sunday, December 09, 2018


Atheists debate the notion of God as if disproving a math equation.

Recently a colleague of mine lost her daughter to cancer.  The deterioration was sudden and crushing, and within a few weeks of being diagnosed, her daughter died a painful death.

The thought that her dear daughter was now in peace and in a better place must have given her comfort in her immense pain.  Flooded by the sudden loss, her faith kept her afloat.

Human understanding of the world continues to advance, but we will never know everything.  As limited beings in time, our knowledge remains ever finite.  The moments, days, years of the future remain uncertain, no matter how much we know about the present and the past.

This uncertainty, this limit and this finitude will continue to imbue our lives with fear, as well as with mystery and wonder.  And therefore, God will never die.  As much in our moments of fear and pain, as in our moments of wonder and gratitude, we seek to express our feelings toward that which is unknown to us, and that unknown is God.

An astrophysicist may know some things about the stars, but even he must be filled with wonder at their sight.  We know a bit about the moon, but that does not take away the beauty of its silence, of its changing form and its movement across the sky.

To feel that sense of beauty and wonder is also a prayer.  The mystery, the silence, the vastness fills us with awe, and we seek almost to kiss the very feet of its artist.


For many days now, a long forgotten melody had been on my lips.  I asked many which song did the melody belong to.  But to no avail.  I did have an inkling that it was a song of devotion, and I persevered and finally found it.

It is the Aarti composed by Guru Nanak, sung in the evening at the Sikh temples.  Even an obstinate intellectual as myself found the beauty of the poetry absolutely marvelous, and listening to the song almost brought tears to my eyes.

The aarti is a traditional ritual in Indian religions where the prayer to a deity is accompanied with lamps, incense and offerings.  This particular hymn is remarkable in that it combines the wonder and beauty of nature with a homage and a prayer.

The first two verses of this long poem are as below:

ਰਾਗੁ ਧਨਾਸਰੀ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ॥
Raag Dhhanaasaree Mehalaa 1 ||
रागु धनासरी महला १ ॥

Raag Dhanashree, First Mehl.
(the "First Mehl" refers to Guru Nanak being the author of this hymn)
(Raga Dhanasri, or Dhanashree, is an Indian classical raga, denoting that this hymn should be sung in this particular way)

ਗਗਨ ਮੈ ਥਾਲੁ ਰਵਿ ਚੰਦੁ ਦੀਪਕ ਬਨੇ ਤਾਰਿਕਾ ਮੰਡਲ ਜਨਕ ਮੋਤੀ ॥
Gagan Mai Thhaal Rav Chandh Dheepak Banae Thaarikaa Manddal Janak Mothee ||
गगन मै थालु रवि चंदु दीपक बने तारिका मंडल जनक मोती ॥

With the sky as the platter, and the sun and the moon as the lamps, the very stars being the studded pearls for this offering.

ਧੂਪੁ ਮਲਆਨਲੋ ਪਵਣੁ ਚਵਰੋ ਕਰੇ ਸਗਲ ਬਨਰਾਇ ਫੂਲੰਤ ਜੋਤੀ ॥੧॥
Dhhoop Malaaanalo Pavan Chavaro Karae Sagal Banaraae Foolanth Jothee ||1||
धूपु मलआनलो पवणु चवरो करे सगल बनराइ फूलंत जोती ॥१॥

The fragrance of sandalwood in the air is the temple incense, and the wind is the fan. All the plants of the world are the altar flowers in offering to You.

It has been beautifully sung by two traditional religious singers from India: