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The Four Nobles’ Truths and Their 16 Aspects: On the Dogmatic and Soteriological Presuppositions of the Buddhist Epistemologists’ Views on Niścaya

Abstract

Most Buddhists would admit that every Buddhist practice and theoretical construct can be traced to or at least subsumed under one or more among the four nobles’ truths. It is hardly surprising, then, that listening to these truths and pondering upon them were considered the cornerstones of the Buddhist soteric endeavour. Learning them from a competent teacher and subjecting them to rational analysis are generally regarded as taking place at the very beginning of the religious career or, to put it otherwise, still as an ordinary person along the preparatory path. At this stage, the discursive nature of the four nobles’ truths fits well the didactic and intellectual requirements of early religious practice. But how about the subsequent, more distinctively intuitive/non-conceptual stages of a mystic’s career? How to interpret, for instance, our sources’ strong emphasis on the four nobles’ truths as forming the content of the first pivotal event on the path, the so-called path of vision? And how to understand a philosopher’s claim that the yogic path exhausts itself in one’s learning, rationally analyzing and mentally cultivating the four nobles’ truths? In order to understand this, one has to turn to Abhidharmic interpretations of the four truths as embodying the ultimately true aspects of reality itself. Here, the truths are not regarded as a didactic device encapsulating the entire Buddhist law, but as the basic sixteenfold structure of the real. It is, of course, these ultimately true aspects that the path of cultivation is supposed to make directly perceptible to the yogin, thus enabling him to get rid of ignorance.

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Eltschinger, V. The Four Nobles’ Truths and Their 16 Aspects: On the Dogmatic and Soteriological Presuppositions of the Buddhist Epistemologists’ Views on Niścaya . J Indian Philos 42, 249–273 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10781-013-9193-4

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Keywords

  • Four Nobles’ Truths (16 Aspects of the)
  • Buddhist Path
  • Perceptual Ascertainment (niścaya)
  • Abhidharma
  • Dharmakīrti