This post is for Buddhists. It is an exercise in heresy! Given that Buddhists don’t consider themselves to be creatures committed to doctrine, I am sure “heresy” must also be something they don’t worry about. So I am hoping this thought-experiment will be fun and instructive:
Imagine that the four noble truths were never uttered by the Buddha. Let’s just say that some wayward Buddhist monks actually preferred the ascetic, renunciative life. These heretical monks felt that: “Life is bad, we must forsake the body. The mind is everything, Sex, food, and property are all distractions causing attachment and suffering. We must forsake these all to escape and cleanse our minds of attachment to anything so as to escape suffering”.
Let’s say those guys made up the Pali scriptures and made the Buddha into their puppet to say the four noble truths in hopes of propagating their favored life of renunciation. What if the actual Buddha just discussed ways to more fully enjoy life and to embrace even pleasures and indulgences? Let’s say the actual Buddha found methods to sparkle the mind — he didn’t see life as suffering at all but as ripe opportunity for pleasure. But after he died, those Pali-speaking renunciates became considered orthodox and bang! that becomes standard Buddhism with the 4 spiritual laws (ooops, I mean 4 noble truths).
OK, so that is the thought experiment’s presupposition. If you discovered that what I just said was true, would your meditation practice change? Would your view of why you do meditation change?
Bottom line — do those 4 nobel truths really matter?
Actually, I am sure many Buddhist readers will be very savvy at telling us all sorts of creative ways to interpret the four noble truths so as to make such a though experiment seem naive. For those people, then, let me offer a more radical thought experiment: What if the Buddha was a total myth? How would that change your meditation practice, would your view of why you do meditation change? You see, the questions remain the same.
Note: This is a similar thought-experiment to my post to Christians entitled: “Trading Jesus for God“. Give it a look.