The second noble truth suggests that reality is at least characterized by causal and dependence relations among its constitutive elements or features. To provide an analysis of causal or dependence relations between desire and the various modes of suffering identified in widely prevalent formulations of the first noble truth is to extend these causal or dependence relations to reality. The Buddhist doctrine of paticcasamuppāda, shorn of absurd Mahayana accretions or additions such as “interdependent co-arising”, is a development of the second noble truth.
Reflection on the four noble truths raises an important question: What’s reality got to do with all this? What must the fundamental aspects of reality be like if both suffering and liberation from suffering can occur within its folds?
Since suffering is caused by desire, and, we must add, this usually requires the thwarting of desire, reality must be such that there is no “pre-established harmony” between our desires and reality. The thwarting of our desires implies that reality can be, and often is, incompatible with our desires. And this, in its turn, implies that reality must be independent of our desires.
Thought, memory, feeling, and volition are constitutive elements of desire. To have a desire for an ice cream is to think about it, have feelings of pleasure anticipating having an ice cream, or remembering the enjoyment of an ice cream in the past, to have a volition or will in the direction of fulfillment of the desire, etc.
So, if reality is independent of desire, it must also be independent of the constitutive elements of desire such as thought, memory, feeling, and volition. Let’s put this point in simple terms: reality must be independent of our minds!
Thus, the first and second noble truths imply and echo commonsense realism, i.e., that reality is independent of our minds, or our desires, thoughts, and feelings. So, any form of subjectivism, or “subjective idealism”, which makes reality dependent on our minds, or our desires, thoughts, and feelings is inconsistent with the first and second noble truths! And in terms of the criterion of compatibility with the four noble truths, we must hold that subjective idealism is not a truly Buddhist teaching!
The second,third, and the fourth noble truths suggest that reality must have an underlying causal and dependence-relations structure which can be understood by human reason and that this understanding can be applied to bring about freedom from suffering. If suffering can be understood and overcome, then the reality within whose folds this occurs must be intelligible or comprehensible to human reason.
This import of the four noble truths resonates well with Einstein’s avowed astonishment that even the complex structures of reality are intelligible to or comprehensible by human reason.
So, as I have pointed out in other posts, skepticism and any denigration of the ability of human reason to comprehend reality are inconsistent with the four noble truths.
Thus, the four noble truths and science converge in on this most important feature of reality and the relation of human reason to it.
In light of these arguments, I have expanded the list of claims a truly Buddhist teaching cannot contain or countenance:
1. Things have no inherent or essential nature.
2. Causality or causal relations have no reality.
3. We cannot know anything.
4. The subject or self does not exist.
5. Common sense is never reliable.
6. There are no real distinctions, i.e., “non-dualism”.
7. Rationality has no value and cannot facilitate enlightenment.
8. There are supernatural beings.
9. Suffering is caused by supernatural beings.
10. We can overcome suffering only with the aid of supernatural beings.
11. We have an innate, enlightened, “Buddha Nature” not subject to ignorance, desire, and suffering.
12. Reality cannot be known by human reason.
13. Reality is dependent on our minds, or our desires, thoughts, and feelings.