When I was in Vancouver getting laser eye surgery, I stole a copy of The Teaching of Buddha from my hotel room nightstand. Surprisingly, there is little in the book regarding theft. My previous exposure to buddhism was fairly limited: a comparative religions class at the Y, some buddhist friends growing up, and some literary references here and there. So, I plunged into my newly-pilfered book with gusto, and highly enjoyed it.
It wasn’t long before my mormon-centric POV started to draw parallels and make associations between buddhism and mormonism. Most of the associations were banal; many were stupid and wrong. But there was one aspect of buddhism that particularly resisted correlation with mormonism: the Four-Fold Noble Truth.
Let me explain (standard disclaimers of ignorance apply).
The Four-Fold Noble Truth is one of the most central and primary teachings in buddhism, regardless of the branch of buddhist practice one follows. More fulsome discussion is available here, but The Teaching of Buddha expresses them as:
- The world is full of suffering. Birth is suffering, old age is suffering,
sickness and death are sufferings. To meet a man whom one hates is suffering,
to be separated from a beloved one is suffering, to be vainly struggling
to satisfy one’s needs is suffering. In fact, life that is not free from
desire and passion is always involved with distress. This is called the
Truth of Suffering.
- The cause of human suffering is undoubtedly found in the thirsts of
the physical body and in the illusions of worldly passion. If these thirsts
and illusions are traced to their source, they are found to be rooted in
the intense desires of physical instincts. Thus, desire, having a strong
will-to-live as its basis, seeks that which it feels desirable, even if
it is sometimes death. This is called the Truth of the Cause of Suffering.
- If desire, which lies at the root of all human passion, can be removed,
then passion will die out and all human suffering will be ended. This is
called the Truth of Cessation of Suffering.
- In order to enter into a state where there is no desire and no suffering,
one must follow a certain Path. The stages of this Noble Eightfold Path
are: Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Behavior, Right Livelihood,
Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. This is called
the Truth of the Noble Path to the Cessation of the Cause of Suffering.
My first inclination was to link these precepts to our own Articles of Faith: normative statements whose rhetorical purpose is to lead one to believe in the religion. It’s true that there is this goal, inherent in the Noble Truth; the only way out of the world it describes is through the path of enlightenment, as demonstrated by the Buddha. But I don’t think our own Articles of Faith establish a global understanding of the world on the same level of the Noble Truth. The closest we come in the A&F of a description of the world is the expression that we will be punished for our own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression. By interpretation and deduction we can arrive at some conclusions about the world, but they’re not immediately evident in the A of F. Further, there is surprisingly little in the A of F about how to get saved; we explain that salvation comes via the Atonement, through obedience to the principles and ordinances of the Gospel, but the bulk of the A of F is about nuances of Christianity — it is a document designed to set forth the Church in a Christian context, not in a global context.
So where then can we look for the Four-Fold Noble Truth of Mormonism? 2 Nephi 2 is a good reference, but it too is concerned with different subject matter, focussed on the nature of good vs. evil in the world. King Benjamin’s discourse also comes to mind; it is very good at detailing the fallen nature of man and the solution through Christ to the Fall. However, it is far from a succinct set of precepts.
Ultimately, I’m led to believe that nowhere do we concisely but carefully describe the Mormon world-view in the vein of the Four-Fold Noble Truth. So, I turn to you — what is our Fourfold Noble Truth?