Pariyesanna Sutta – Noble and Ignoble Searches


Pariyesanna Sutta – Noble and Ignoble Searches is an article and talk on the Buddha’s teachings on appropriate direction and focus for developing understanding of The Four Noble Truths.

There is a very old joke, I heard it first from an uncle over 45 years ago, and many times since: I was walking down a street at night and noticed an old man walking back and forth under a street light, head down and mumbling to himself. I asked if I could help him. The old man told me had dropped his wallet about a half-block back. When I asked why he was looking here if he lost his wallet down the street, he replied “the light is better here!”

In the Pariyesanna Sutta, The Sutta on noble and ignoble searches, the Buddha describes the consequences of searching for understanding and lasting happiness where understanding and lasting happiness can’t be found:

“Friends, there are four ignoble searches: One who is subject to aging seeks happiness in what is subject to aging. One who is subject to sickness seeks happiness in what is subject to sickness. One who is subject to death seeks happiness in what is subject to death. One who is subject to distraction and confusion seeks happiness in what is subject to distraction and confusion.”

Attempting to establish and maintain an ego-personality that is subject to stress and unhappiness within the environment that stress and unhappiness abides can only bring more stress, unhappiness, distraction and confusion. Continuing to search where lasting peace and happiness cannot be found is like the old man looking for his wallet where his wallet can’t possibly be found. It is an endless search originating in ignorance.

The wisdom of the Buddha brings right seeking:

“Friends, these are four noble searches: When one who is subject to aging realizes the unhappiness of what is subject to aging seeks the unbinding from the yoke of aging. When one who is subject to sickness realizes the unhappiness of what is subject to sickness seeks the unbinding from the yoke of sickness. When one who is subject to death realizes the unhappiness of what is subject to death seeks the unbinding from the yoke of death. When one who is subject to distraction and confusion realizes the unhappiness of what is subject to distraction and confusion seeks the unbinding from the yoke of distraction and confusion. These are four noble searches.”

Much of what is experienced as confusion and further distraction in “Buddhist” practice is not part of the Buddha’s teachings at all. Even during the time of the Buddha there were many with the compulsive need, arising from a clinging ego-personality, from anatta, to adapt the Dhamma to accommodate the continuation of the ego-self.

The Buddha awakened to the understanding that it was common human ignorance that led to craving and clinging to a wrong view of “self.” From ignorance, through 12 observable causative links, dukkha, all manner of disappointment and confusion arises. This is known as dependent origination. The Buddha summarized his profound understanding of Dependent Origination in the First Noble Truth: “There is Dukkha.” Dukkha describes the common human experience of life as confusing and ultimately disappointing as life is experienced from an ignorant wrong view resulting in clinging conditioned mind.  The Second Noble Truth summarizes this by stating that “craving and clinging originates dukkha.”

The Third Noble Truth establishes that clinging and the resulting suffering can be brought to cessation: Cessation of Dukkha is possible. The Fourth Noble Truth presents the path that de-tangles the complicated entanglements established by ignorance and the ongoing compulsion to ignore anything that would shine the light of wisdom on these ignorant views.

The Buddha would teach the Dhamma for 45 years. Every teaching was presented in the context of Dependent origination and the Four Noble Truths. The challenge for any human engaging in the Buddha’s teachings is to avoid the ego-personality’s need to continue establishment of ignorance through ignoble searches. If a teaching, “Buddhist” or another, promotes clinging the ego-self to anything subject to aging, sickness, death, or any deluded or confusing doctrine is to be known as an “ignoble search” and is to be abandoned, if one hopes to follow the Buddha’s teachings.

The Buddha taught a very specific and unambiguous Dhamma. The Buddha’s Dhamma was very broad-minded in its acceptance of other teachings or even in individual non-engagement with his Dhamma. The Buddha was also very clear that his teachings were not to be accommodated to fit cultural or individual ego-centered views: “I teach this Dhamma not to gain followers or to convert those following another’s doctrine, or to change the manner of living, or to change opinions of other teachers or their teachings. But, there are teachings, rituals, and practices that are unwholesome and will develop further confusion and suffering and further establishment of what is anatta. These teachings, if not abandoned, will develop further suffering and it is for the rejection of these things that I teach the Dhamma.”

The Buddha often used the word “ehipassiko” which means “come and see for yourself” to show that the dhamma does not require blind faith in order to engage with, nor does one initially need to reject their current beliefs in order to engage with the Dhamma. No one need to declare themselves a “Buddhist” in order to develop release from clinging. The Buddha did not see himself as a savior or his dhamma as a salvific religion, merely a direct and consistent teaching that any human could develop understanding and put aside the cause of their own confusion and suffering.

The Eightfold Path is the path for engaging in Noble Search, the search for lasting peace and happiness. By being mindful of the Dhamma and engaging whole-heartedly with Dhamma practice, freedom from the yoke of ignorance and dukkha can be realized. Enjoy your search and your practice!

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