I’ve heard some of the most senior Buddhist teachers and lineage holders of the highest rank say:
1) There is no such thing as Nirvana
2) Cessation of suffering is not possible
3) There is no problem with passion and desire
To explain why these respected high ranking teachers and lineage holders are still considered by their peers to be Buddhists will be complicated. It’s an esoteric subject.
But when it comes down to it, you don’t really even need to go through all the esoteric teaching it takes to reach the subtle views that can be summarized that way. Common sense really is pretty close enough to the mark.
Common sense is this:
We need to see the big picture of what we desire and go after it strategically, and weigh up all the costs and benefits, and decide which cookies are overall helpful, and which cookies are not. There are many ways in which we find happiness. We enjoy sensory pleasures, we enjoy giving to others, we enjoy ego stroking and status, we enjoy oxytocin and dopamine rushes, we enjoy quiet solitude and roller coaster rides. Maximizing happiness can take many flavors, however there are equally many ways to fuck up our strategies and get tunnel vision and take strategies that clearly do not give us the best possible OVERALL happiness. Heroin is not the way to go. Sitting in a box meditating full time is not the way to go. Happiness is about a well rounded strategy that approaches many different ways of being happy.
But if you are interested in Buddhist philosophy, I’ll explain why the 4 noble truths are overly simplistic, and how it’s actually best to simply consider them to be wrong.
In some Buddhist traditions, for instance Tibetan Buddhism, it is taught that there are 3 main schools of Buddhism; Hineyana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Hineyana Buddhists concern themselves mostly with the Vinaya rules of moral conduct, and mindfulness. Mahayana Buddhists also emphasize compassionate embrace and seeing all aspects of mind and the world as lacking in narrative in their essence – or emptiness. Vajrayana Buddhists use some tricks to embrace emotions as they arise with clarity.
It’s been said that although it appears that there is direct contradiction between the Vajrayana approach of embracing anger and genuinely being angry and acting on anger and the Hineyana approach of dissassociating from negative emotions, that fundamentally there is no contradiction.
Actually, that’s bullshit. There IS contradiction. It’s just that you can’t get to a Vajrayana attitude without starting from a Hineyana one. You need to learn to regulate your emotions before you can see their nature clearly and use them effectively.
It all gets very subtle and esoteric.
Hindus talk about Atman, or your true Self, and say that “you are that”. Buddhists talk about suchness, or tatagata, and say that the nature of mind has no self. On the face of it they are saying the exact opposite, and yet it’s also been said that they are saying the exact same thing. It takes a lot of meditation and study to know why they are saying the same thing. Every thought movement you have is you. It is Buddha mind. When taught to meditate, you are taught to not push away thoughts – if you have a desire, don’t stop it – don’t push it away – just notice it. You start by dis-identifying with it. By noticing it, it is no longer you. But later your awareness becomes more encompassing and it makes just as much sense to say that everything that occurs is you. The keyboard is you. The couch is you. Your desire is you. It is all Self. There is no Self. It’s saying the same thing, strangely.
But you don’t really need to know all that. No matter how deep your meditative experience becomes or how regularly you practice or how profound is your philosophical understanding, common sense is still basically good enough. Because as the renowned Shunryu Suzuki said, karma never stops. There is no cessation of karma. You will never stop having desires, and you will never stop having suffering. That does not happen.
Even trying to make that happen is foolish, and yes, that’s a very Buddhist point of view. The attempt at stopping suffering is impossible and foolish, according to Buddhism. You can’t eliminate desire, and the very effort to do so is counter productive.
You can transcend ego, but chances are that the experience will be temporary. And regardless if you do, desires still arise. Your frame of reference will shift, and you won’t identify with the desires completely, but the desires will still arise. Karma will still happen. The game will still be the game.
Remember the ox herding pictures. At first the meditator goes into the forest, but in the end he just goes back to the marketplace. In the end he just laughs and plays and fucks and looks just like anyone else. In the end common sense is good enough.
Maximize your overall happiness, because that game never stops.