Practices of a Buddhist Doctrine: the Four Noble Truths in the Tipitaka

Anderson, Carol S.

     This is a study of how the four noble truths are represented in the canonical literature of Theravada Buddhism. Based on a survey of the Pali canon, the four noble truths follow one of two distinct patterns when they appear in the canon. The four noble truths are either regarded symbolically as a integral part of the Buddha, his enlightenment and his teaching, or they are placed within a much broader network of teachings as one teaching among many. The thesis argues that the doctrine of the four noble truths is fundamental to the Theravada tradition because it is represented in the Pali canon as a intrinsic part of the Buddha's charisma and role as the founder of Buddhism, but also argues that the four noble truths are no more fundamental to the Theravada textual tradition than any other doctrine.
     Methodologically, this thesis suggests that the category of doctrine should be grounded within a theory of practice. The rationale for a theory of practice lies in the fact that academic scholars of Buddhism have traditionally defined Buddhist doctrine in terms of the intellect, or as a matter of theory. The Theravada canon defines the comparable term of ditthi (view or doctrine) as transformative knowledge which involves both intellectual assent and certain kinds of action. In order to avoid the erroneous separation of theory from action, as Bourdieu, Gramsci and, most recently, Catherine Bell have suggested, the category of doctrine should be approached with a theory of practice. The practices of the four noble truths differ according to which pattern the four truths are taught: as a symbol, the four truths are taught within a fixed formula, but as within the networks of doctrines, the four truths are taught and learned with the same techniques that all teachings are conveyed.