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The Four Noble Truths symbolise the foundation of Buddhism. This is because they carry the real meaning of Buddha’s teachings. While meditating under the bodhi tree, the Buddha came to understand the following four basic principles:
- Dukkha- the truth of suffering
- Samudaya- origin of suffering
- Nirodha- cessation of suffering
- Magga- the path towards the end of suffering
Comparisons have been drawn between a physician and the Buddha. For example, he diagnosed the problem (in this case, suffering) and discovered the cause of suffering in the first two of the Four Noble Truths. In the third Noble Truth, the Buddha identified a cure to the problem and in the fourth Noble Truth, he identified the prescription to end suffering.
Dukkha- the truth of suffering
This is the first Noble Truth. There are many forms of suffering including sickness, old age, and death (Molloy 18). The Buddha observed that there is nothing no such thing as an ideal life and as such suffering is much deeper that what we see on the surface. We are faced with cravings and desires that we are never able to fully satisfy and if we do, it is only for a short time. Buddhists find this teaching realistic.
Samudaya- origin of suffering
This is the second Noble Truth. Some of the identifiable causes of our everyday troubles include pain from an injury, thirst, and sadness after losing our loved ones. The Buddha affirmed that he had identified the cause of all suffering in his second Noble Truth. He claims that suffering is due to deeply rooted issues that are beyond immediate worries (Molloy 21).
According to Buddha, all suffering stems from desire. Suffering comes about when we attach to negative, positive and neutral thoughts and sensations. Thirst comes about when we decide to ignore the self. Our lives are characterized by an attachment to physical things, opinions and ideas about us in an attempt to gain security. When the world fails to behave like we anticipated, we get frustrated.
Nirodha- cessation of suffering
Nirodha is the third Noble Truth taught by the Buddha. We can only extinguish desire (the root cause of suffering) by ridding ourselves of attachment. As human beings, we are capable of this seeing that the Buddha himself was a living example. Suffering is brought about by delusion, hatred, and greed and if we are to attain enlightment (Nirvana), we must extinguish the three aforementioned fires of delusion, hatred, and greed (Molloy 22).
According to the Buddha, we can overcome craving through diligent practice. Enlightment comes about when we are satisfied once we have ended the chase of the hamster-wheel. This is the state of Nirvana. Nirvana symbolise a state of intense spiritual joy, devoid of fears and negative emotions. A person who has attained Nirvana demonstrates compassion to all living things.
Magga- the path towards the end of suffering
Magga is the fourth Noble Truth as taught by the Buddha. It symbolises the path followed to get rid of suffering. This is the Eightfold path that helps one to overcome severe asceticism and indulgence (Molloy 54). According to the Buddha, the Eightfold Path aids in enlightment. Buddhism is different from majority of the other religions because no specific benefits accrue when one simply believes in a given doctrine. Instead, Buddhism places a lot of importance on walking the path and living the doctrine.
Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions, 5th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009. Print.