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Buddhadharma : Spring 2019
44 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER'S QUARTERLY a fifth noBle truth? Once, during a question-and-answer session following a lecture I had given on the scrolls at the British Library in London, a member of the audience asked whether I had found in them “a fifth noble truth.” That is, was there anything that radically contradicted or fundamentally changed Buddhism as we know it? I answered in the negative; the doctrines presented in the manuscripts I had studied to that point were more or less in line with those of traditional Bud- dhism, specifically as understood within the Theravada sect. Imagine my surprise, then, when some years later I found in one of the British Library manuscripts the following mind-blowing statement: “A fifth noble truth exists.” Even more shocking were the assertions in the surrounding passage: “The self exists; a sixth aggregate (skandha) exists; a thirteenth sense-sphere (ayatana) exists; a nineteenth element (dhatu) exists; a fifth noble truth exists.” Was this some sort of bizarro version of Buddhism that denied the fun- damental precepts of the dharma as we know it? When taken in the context of the surrounding text, though, it becomes clear this is not the case. The scroll containing these shocking claims was a polemic Abhidhamma treatise framed as a formal debate between the unnamed writer and an opponent representing the Sarvastiva- din school. The long-defunct sect held that, with reference to the workings of karma, “everything exists at all times,” a premise the writer attempted to discredit, showing how this fundamental prin- ciple implied the existence of things any Buddhist should agree do not really exist. The “fifth noble truth,” then, was nothing but a rhetorical trick, not the message of some hitherto unknown radical dissident.