The Four Noble Truths represents the essence of the Buddha’s teachings, the core of Buddhism. These spiritual truths are the truth of the origin of suffering, the truth of the ending of suffering, and the truth of the way that leads to the ending of suffering. It was these four laws that the Buddha came to understand during his meditation under the Bodhi tree.
After his Awakening, the Buddha gave a sermon at the deer park in Benares called the Four Noble Truths. These Truths contain the entire Dharma because all of the Buddha’s teachings are connected to these Truths. He laid down his teachings in easily understandable language for the common man and woman could understand it.
The Four Noble Truths provide a thorough explanation of human suffering, as well as a method, a path that leads to happiness, inner peace, and compassion.
The Buddha is often compared to a physician. In the first two Truths, he diagnosed the illness (suffering) and recognized its cause (attachment). The third Truth is the understanding that there is a remedy, a cure to that suffering. In the fourth Noble Truth, the Buddha gives us the prescription, the antidote to achieve relief from suffering. That remedy is the Eightfold Path.
Though Buddhism is now divided into several schools, the Four Noble Truths proclaimed by Buddha more than two thousand five hundred years ago remain present in each school. Theravada Buddhism put a lot of emphasis on it while Mahayana schools tend to focus more on insight.
The Buddha’s teachings about the four noble truths were left unexplained, and let’s be honest, they can be pretty difficult to understand.
That’s exactly why I’ve decide to write this article to explain to you, in a simple and easy to understand way, what are the four noble truths. I hope this simplified and well explained description of the Buddha’s four noble truths will help you integrate it into your life.
First Noble Truth – To live Involves Suffering
The First Noble Truth is deceptively simple, yet very profound and lucid. It’s usually translated as “All life involves suffering“, or “All life is unsatisfactory“.
It’s probably the First Noble Truth that leads many to believe that Buddhism is a cynical or pessimistic religion, especially for those who never read the parts which talk about the cause, and the antidote to suffering.
The First Noble Truth is a plain and obvious realization that all life contains suffering at various levels. The original word used by the Buddha was Dukkha, and can be translated as “suffering”, “pain”, “dissatisfaction”, “stress”, or “anxiety”.
Of course, Dukkha includes the obvious forms of physical suffering like pain, injury, and illness such as hitting your toe on the living room table, having a headache, breaking a bone, or enduring the excruciating pain of a chronic or terminal disease.
Dukkha also includes a long-range of emotional and mental uneasiness and discomfort, like having a dispute with your partner, feeling frustrated, inadequate, being disappointed regarding your job, hurt, experiencing depression or being angry and upset, etc.
Suffering is also a characteristic of tension in the mind, like stress, anxiety, restlessness, preoccupation, unease, feeling blues, boredom, etc.
Second Noble Truth – The Origin of Suffering is Attachment
After the Buddha realized that suffering is an integral part of life, he recognized that there could be no end to suffering unless we find out what causes it.
In the second noble Truth, the Buddha tells us that the root of all suffering is attachment, and said that the fundamental cause of suffering is “the attachment to the desire to have (craving), the attachment to the desire not to have (aversion) and the attachment to ignorant views“.
It’s important to pinpoint that desire is not the problem here, craving or attachments is.
Three Attachments that Causes Suffering
These three mental states that cloud the mind are called Klesha in Sanskrit. They are referred to as the three poisons in the Mahayana tradition, or as the three unwholesome roots in the Theravada tradition.
1- Craving (Raga)
Craving can be described as intense desires that people have for pleasing their senses, experiencing life, and protecting their ego.
Cravings are not simple desires, they are very powerful, disturbing mindsets that should be understood more as uncontrollable thirsts or urges.
Three Kinds of Craving
In his first sermon, Siddhartha Gautama – now the Buddha – outlined three sorts of craving: the craving for sensual pleasure, the craving for becoming, and the craving for non-becoming.
1. Sensual desires are easy to recognize, they are attachments to sex, food, objects, entertainment, comfort, etc.
2. Craving for becoming is am attachment to the desire to be famous or powerful.
3. Craving for non-becoming is an attachment to the desire to getting rid of something, whatever that something is.
2- Aversion (Dvesha)
Dvesha is a Sanskirt word meaning “aversion”, “repulsion” or “hate”, and is one of the obstacles that block a practitioner toward achieving Awakening. It can be defined as a fear of getting, or to be in contact with what we don’t want or what we don’t like.
The symptoms of aversion can manifest up as aversion and dislike, all the way up to anger, hostility, and wishing pain, harm, or suffering upon someone.
With aversion, we tend to resist, deny, avoid, and oppose unpleasant emotions, events, and people we do not like. Our ego wants everything in our life to be pleasant, easy, comfortable and satisfying all the time.
This disturbed state of mind only strengthens our perception of duality and separation with the world, with reality. It also imprisons us into a vicious cycle of continuously experiencing conflict and finding enemies wherever we go.
What is ignorance from a Buddhist perspective? True ignorance has nothing to do with someone’s level education, but with one’s incapacity to see the true nature of the self and the world, to see things as they really are, without the filter of the discriminating mind.
The Buddha believed that there are numerous truths in the world that people are unaware or uninformed of, because of the limits of their comprehension and knowledge.
Now, this raises an interesting question, why are we so attached to desires? Once again, the answer is surprisingly simple and Awakening
Why are We so Attached to Desires?
From a Buddhist perspective, we’re having all those desires because we seek happiness. Yep, it’s that simple.
Basically, we all want happiness, that’s our human condition, but the problem that occurs with that pursuit of happiness is that we are looking for it in the wrong place.
We try to find happiness in money, consumption, food, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc. We falsely believe that we’ll finally find it by eating more chocolate cake, by drinking more red wine, by buying the latest iPhone, by having a raise, by having a bigger house or by having more sex with more partners.
Why does Attachment Cause Suffering?
Attachment is a strong, uncontrollable desire that causes suffering because it steals away our inner peace, serenity, and freedom.
By being a slave to desire, we become complicated, disturbed, frustrated, and angry, which in return creates even more suffering. As a result, this newly created suffering makes us engages even more in this vicious cycle of desires and attachment.
This obviously raises yet another question, how do we stop suffering?
Third Noble Truth – The End of Suffering is Attainable
The Third Noble Truth represents a pivot point of the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha reveals to us that there is a way to end suffering, and we can realize this in our life.
Not only the Third Noble Truth gives us purpose, but it also invites us to transform, to finally get free from our suffering and dissatisfaction. In my opinion, this is the most important of the Four Noble Truths because it gives us hope that inner peace, freedom, liberation is possible.
The Buddha stated that to put an end to suffering, we need to let go of our attachment to our desires. Please notice that I didn’t say “letting go of your desires”, I said, “letting go of our attachment to our desires” – that’s very different.
Getting rid of desires altogether is impossible anyway. Even the Buddha had desires. We need desires, without it, we would still live in caves wearing bear fur on our backs.
The important is not becoming a slave to our desires. This may sound difficult and arduous to accomplish, but it can be done through constant and vigilant practice.
When we’re no longer obsessed with satisfying our own selfish desires, we find that our mind transforms, and compassion and kindness grow in ourselves.
This liberation from attachment and clinging free our mind from troubles and worries. This attainment is called Nirvana in Sanskrit and Satori in Japanese.
Ok, but how do we achieve that? How do we actually end suffering?
Fourth Noble Truth – The Path to the Cessation of Suffering
The final Noble Truth is the Buddha’s prescription for the end of suffering. This is a set of principles called the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path, also designated the Middle Way is a Path of balance as it teaches to avoids extremes, something the Buddha had found to be a hindrance in his search for Awakening.
Buddhists often describe the teachings as a formula which is described in simple steps and includes both physical and mental treatment for ridding a person of suffering.
To follow the Noble Eightfold Path is something you experience, that you practice, it’s not a philosophy or some sort of intellectual knowledge. That being said, to apply it correctly into your life, it has to be accurately understood.
In Buddhist symbolism, the Noble Eightfold Path is commonly represented by the Dharma wheel, and its eight spokes represent the eight components of the Path.
In Buddhism, the Eightfold Path is a practical guide that needs to be understood, contemplated, but first of all, practiced, and applied to your life.
Buddhism never requests blind faith from its followers, so apply the Eightfold Path into your life. You’ll be amazed to see where the self-discovery and serenity resulting from it will take you.
The Eightfold Path
The Eightfold Path is a practical set of teachings that have to be experienced and practiced in order to achieve Awakening or Nirvana. These Paths are the fundamental teachings that Buddhists observe and practice in their daily lives.
You’ll notice that every Path starts with the word “right”. Try to understand it as a characteristic of action or minds that takes us away from suffering rather than a representation of good or evil – there are no such things in Buddhism.
1- Right Understanding
Seeing your mind, body, and the world as they truly are.
2- Right Intention
A commitment to cultivate the right attitudes.
3- Right Speech
Speaking truthfully, avoiding slander, gossip, offensive, or abusive speech.
4- Right Action
Refraining from crime, murder, and overindulging in sensual pleasure. Behaving with peace and harmony.
5- Right Livelihood
Avoiding making a living in ways that cause suffering to people or animals, or trading weapons or intoxicants.
6- Right Effort
Cultivating skillful, or wholesome qualities like compassion, kindness, and wisdom, as opposed to craving, aversion, and ignorance.
7- Right Mindfulness
Developing awareness of the body, sensations, feelings, and states of mind.
8- Right Concentration
Developing the mental focus necessary for this awareness. Practicing meditation.
The Eightfold Path should not be seen as stages, each Path is cumulative and should be practiced simultaneously.
PS: For a more detailed explanation of the Eightfold Path, click here.
The Four Noble Truths and You
People are attracted to Buddhism for a wide variety of reasons, but some of the most common reasons include the desire to become a better person, the need for inner peace and the desire to experience true happiness.
By understanding and practicing the Four Noble Truths (Buddhism is a practice, not a belief system or philosophy), you’ll have a greater understanding and awareness of yourself and the world around you.
This is achieved by introspection (looking within us) until we find the source of our suffering.
By following the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path, you’ll gain insight that will help you go beyond the illusion of separation and see the world and other beings in a different light.
The practice of meditation and mindfulness will naturally allow you to fully experience the present moment and deal effectively and distorted emotions and perceptions. Through meditation, you’ll learn to quiet the mind, and according to Buddhist doctrine, this inner tranquility is the source of happiness and contentment.
Walking the Path
Like all Buddhist teachings, the Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path will only work if you choose to practice them into your life and takes full responsibility for following its way.
Only you can walk the path that leads to a life free of dissatisfaction and suffering. No one, but you can achieve Nirvana – not the Buddha, not a Buddhist Master, but YOU and you alone.