The Buddhist teaching about Four Noble Truths is considered to be the quintessence of all wisdom and knowledge of the Buddha (Sumedho, n. d.). These Four Noble Truths uncovered in Buddhist teachings represent the ultimate meaning of the whole Buddhist philosophy and religion. Four Noble Truths are crucial for the ones that intend to understand the Dharma. The Truths are the way towards enlightenment. Four Noble Truths are not a set of religious believes in Buddhism, they are the realities, but according to Buddhism not all people are truly able to comprehend them (Velez, n. d.).
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The Buddha talked about Four Noble Truths in his First Sermon. All of the Truths or Realities involve the meaning of dukkha, which is translated as suffering, dissatisfaction, absence of fulfillment (Gowans, 2003). In his First Sermon the Buddha taught his former ascetic companions about dukkha. The Buddha said that there is dukkha, there is an origin of dukkha, there is an end of dukkha and there is a path that leads to the end of dukkha. These are the Four Noble Truths.
The First Noble Truth revealed by the Buddha says that there is suffering and it is everywhere around us. Being born is a suffering, getting older and growing up is a suffering and so is dying. As we first appear in this world during the labor, we cause suffering to our mothers and to ourselves. The older we get, the more complicated our lives become. Our sufferings multiply and lead to even more sufferings. In Buddhism there are three forms of suffering. The first one is suffering of pain that includes all types of it. We experience pain of the body, or physical pain, when we are sick; we go through pain of the soul when we are depressed or hurt emotionally. The second form of suffering is the suffering of change. Unstable things and events cause dukkha. Even happiness can be a cause of dukkha because when it goes away we become dissatisfied or disappointed. The third form of suffering in Buddhism is conditioned existence (Bodhipaksa, 2012). When we become dependent on certain circumstances or something starts to affect our life this brings dukkha that has the capacity of generating more and more dukkha. Buddhism teaches that everything influences and produces everything. This sequence and causality is quite scary for understanding, it brings the feeling of inevitability of sufferings.
The Second Noble Truth revealed by the Buddha states that dukkha has origin. This means that the sufferings we experience every day are caused by something. The Buddha taught that the cause of dukkha is tanha – the selfish desire for something, the constantly changing and growing need for various objects and pleasures, different passions that arise in our hearts explained by our attachment to the material things. Tanha is affected by the changes of the world around and the metamorphoses of our minds and selves, as a result, we start to experience deep frustration and stress when our wishes and expectations are not fulfilled. This truth is very logical, because the reason of being disappointed about something is our expectation for the world and things to be a certain way in the first place. If there was no desire, there would be no expectation, no following disappointment and no suffering in the end. In his First Sermon, the Buddha tells the Truths to his ascetic former companions, men that were trying to detach themselves from the material pleasures physically. The teaching states that only by complete emotional and spiritual detachment one can overcome tanha, so the monks had to detach themselves even from their practice and the rules in order to reach enlightenment like the Buddha did (Laumakis, 2008). This detachment would stop the causality of tanha and dukkha and break the infinite circle of passions, desires and sufferings (Berger, n. d.).
The Third Noble Truth is tightly connected to the Second one. These two statements complement each other, because the Second one says that the cause and origin of dukkha is never ending craving for things. In this case finding a cause identifies the way out, so the Third Noble Truth states that dukkha has an end. According to the teaching of the Buddha, cessation of the sufferings lies in abandoning of desire and passions that create instability and frustration in our minds and lives. In order to stop the constant process of dukkha one must let go of tanha or desire that disturbs the inner peace. It is hard to abandon tanha because it is often accompanied by pleasure, delight and attachment (Harvey, 1990). In the Buddha’s teachings sufferings such as pain, delusion, expectations and frustrations are described as fire. The person is burning from the inside tortured by these passions caused by desires, attachments and cravings. Nirvana is what comes after the fire is extinguished. A person is able to reach Nirvana after they understand the origin of dukkha and release on the attachments and cravings. Nirvana is the state of absolute stillness and peace, the end of sufferings; it arrives when a mind is no longer disturbed by all kinds of emotional changes. In Buddhism a disturbed and frustrated mind full of passions is often viewed as a bowl of water, when the passions shake the bowl, the surface of the water reacts, becomes distorted, but when passions are dismissed, the water becomes still and the surface starts to reflect. This is the state of clear mind.
The Fourth Noble Truth of the Buddha elaborates on the way towards the end of sufferings and Nirvana. In order to follow the way towards enlightenment, one must obey the eight important rules. The set of these rules in Buddhism is called the Eightfold Path. This Path is also referred to as the Middle Way. It is easy to think that the Middle Way could be a description of a very strict ascetic lifestyle, which makes the monks live in complete withdrawal from all possible pleasures and desires. Yet, the Eightfold Path in Buddhism does not mean severe asceticism, as this kind of lifestyle did not take the Buddha far on his way towards Nirvana (The Four Noble Truths, 2009). Eightfold Path requires its follower to stick to eight behaviors. They are right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right effort, right mindfulness, right livelihood and right concentration (The First Teaching, n. d.). In order to make all of these aspects right, one must be constantly aware of what they think, what they do, hope for, how they talk and what goals they pursue. Such high concentration is extremely difficult to achieve, this is why becoming enlightened is something that only the most devoted and pure followers of Buddhism can achieve through many of incredibly hard practices. All of the Four Noble Truths presented by the Buddha certainly have logical basis and make a lot of sense. At the same time, these Truths and rules may seem absolutely impossible to deal with for most people.
To my mind, many would object the First Noble Truth that states that basically everything that surrounds us is a suffering or will inevitably lead towards it. For example, in Buddhism happiness is viewed as one of the sides of suffering. Most people are used to saying that the pursuit of happiness is an ultimate goal of their lives. This is why Buddhist teaching that states that happiness is disturbing and unnecessary, that it leads to frustration and must be abandoned may confuse even the most devoted audience. In fact, in most cases Nirvana is unconsciously understood as the state of absolute happiness. The objectors of this teaching normally wonder what the purpose of reaching Nirvana is if it is not happiness. This point of view sticks to the common type of perception of the world around, which is based on personal feelings and emotions. Most of us would also wonder how happiness can be considered as suffering if it feels so good. Buddhism teaches that sufferings have many kinds, shapes and stages. This is why what feels good in the beginning is very likely to bring a lot of pain over time.
The Second Noble Truth states that the suffering or dukkha has an origin. The root of the fire burning us from the inside and causing frustration is the changeability of the world around and of our selves. Due to the constant flux of changes our expectations and our desires almost never come true or match the reality around us. This causes sufferings. The objection that could be raised to this Truth is that many people feel stuck and suffer because of lack of changes. They view change as a desirable and positive happening. They feel depressed because every single day of their lives seems just like the previous one. How can change be viewed as a cause of sufferings if they mostly occur when no change is happening at all? This is an example of people perceiving the universe and events though the perspective of their selfish desires and wishes. The world around is expected to be in certain way, and when it turns the other way we become frustrated, disappointed and start to suffer. What we desire or how much we want it is not the issue; the real problem is the mere fact of craving (O’Brien, 2014).
Berger, D. n. d., Nagarjuna, Web.
Bodhipaksa. 2012, Three Forms of Suffering, Reinterpreted, Web.
Gowans, C. W. 2003, Philosophy of the Buddha. London, Routledge.
Harvey, P. 1990, An Introduction to Buddhism. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Laumakis, S. J. 2008, An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
O’Brien, B. 2014, The Second Noble Truth, Web.
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Sumedho, A. n. d., The Four Noble Truths. Taiwan, Buddha Education Foundation.
The First Teaching, n. d. Buddhamind, Web.
The Four Noble Truths. 2009. BBC Religions, Web.
Velez, A. n. d., Buddha, Web.