It’s time to get back to the basics. It’s so often and easy to forget about the basic teachings because we’re so caught up in trying to learn advanced forms of meditation or understand profound concepts like emptiness and/or the Five Skandhas. The Four Noble Truths was Buddha’s first teaching after he attained Enlightenment and is regarded as the central doctrine of Buddhist teachings. We read about the Four Noble Truths every time we read a book about Buddhism or hear a lecture on Buddhism. It’s in every 101 book or video. Though it’s a basic, “it’s everywhere” concept, it’s also the most important.
The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering (Dukkha). For non-Buddhists or those new to it might take a dramatic reaction to the word “suffering,” because they might think of suffering in its literal sense of pain, gore, and torture. But suffering here means “dissatisfaction.” One thing to remember here is that our own mind causes it. So what is suffering? In the physical sense, suffering is physical pain, injury, sickness, old age, and of course death. Mentally, suffering is disappointment, jealousy, depression, sadness, fear, anger, frustration, etc. There are many degrees of suffering, but life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete. “But life isn’t always suffering – there are moments of happiness and contentness,” you might say. That’s exactly what it is! MOMENTS! They are imperfect, impermanent moments that will eventually fade away.
The Second Noble Truth is the cause, origin, roots, creating, or arising of suffering (Samudaya). The main cause of suffering is attachment and desire. It’s the attachment to transient things, not only physical transient objects, but also objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. Other big reasons for suffering are clinging and craving, as well as striving for fame or glory, and pursuit of wealth and prestige. Because there is attachment to these transient objects, their loss is inevitable, thus causing suffering.
The Third Noble Truth is the cessation of creating suffering by refraining from doing the things that make us suffer (Nirodha). The cessation of these sufferings can be attained through Nirodha; the unclinging to sensual craving and conceptual attachment. This means that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion, extinguishing all forms of clinging and attachment. By removing the cause of suffering, attaining and perfecting dispassion, will ultimately lead you to Nirvana.
The Fourth Noble Truth is the path that leads to refraining from doing the things that cause us to suffer – The Eightfold Path (Marga). It is the path of the Middle Way between the two extremes of excessive sensual self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism), and will lead to the end of Samsara (the cycle of rebirth). Though it might take many lifetimes to get over ignorance, craving, and delusion, it will disappear gradually as progress is made on the path (through Karmic conditioning).
Smile and be well!