Naturally, the Four Noble Truths are expounded by the Buddha in the first sutra, The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (“Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion”). I hereby offer what I take to be Advaita Vedanta’s riff on the following structure:
- There is suffering.
- There is a cause, or source, of suffering.
- There is an absolute end of suffering.
- There is a path from suffering to the absolute end of suffering.
Advaita Vedanta’s First Noble Truth
The mind is suffering.
This should be understood with the utmost clarity: whenever mind rises, it already rises as agitation–and that agitation is suffering. That is, there is no such thing as mind rising, in the sense that Sri Ramana speaks of “mind rising,” without suffering.
To rise is to suffer. To set is to temporarily experience relief. To “destroy” the mind is ultimate peace.
Advaita Vedanta’s Second Noble Truth
The cause of suffering is ignorance.
Mind rising at all is concomitant with ignorance–or, better put, is nothing but ignorance.
This ignorance is maya where, as Michael James suggests in Happiness and the Art of Being Happiness and the Art of Being: An Introduction to the Philosophy and Practice of the Spiritual Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana (2012; second edition), the primary form of maya is “self-forgetfulness.”
Suffering results, quite simply, from taking myself to be what I am not. Specifically, “I am the body idea” is, as Shankara says, the source of all misery. Mind’s rising just is its identification with a particular body, which body–be it the waking body or a dream body–is thought to be a temporary resident in an objective world.
Mind, in consequence, seems to be bound by the body, by space (for it presumes that the body is moving in space whereas in truth the Self is unmoving), and by time (for it presumes that it is subject to changing while, in truth, the Self is timeless and unchanging).
Ignorance is “bondage.”
Advaita Vedanta’s Third Noble Truth
The absolute end of suffering is Self-knowledge.
I must know exactly and immediately who I am and thus must see through “what I am not” (which, James tells us, is the literal translation of maya).
As Sri Ramana often says, it’s not true, however, there is something “new” termed “Self-knowledge.” It’s rather that the removal of all ignorance is the immediate apperception of the Truth.
Advaita Vedanta’s Fourth Noble Truth
The path from suffering to nirvana is atma vicara: that is, Self-inquiry, Self-investigation, or Self-abidance.
(a) I can’t simply turn away from what I am not and abide in a trance-like state of manolaya even if turning away from illusion–wheeling all the way around–is the beginning. (b) I must also see that there is no such thing as ego. (c) But seeing that there is no such thing as ego, or mind, is tantamount to being, immediately, “I am,” “I,” “I-I,” or “I am what I am.”
(a) and (b) look, because they are, like inquiry while (c) feels like abidance. Yang, as it were, gives way to Yin.
In brief, (a) – (c) is one way of spelling out what atma vicara is. Now, the latter is not only the direct path to Truth but also the only ultimate path since, at some point, the question of “Who?” or “What?” must become central, all-encompassing.