Four Noble Truths of Buddhism
by Ron Kurtus (10 December 2009)
The basis of Buddhism is a doctrine known as the Four Noble Truths. The First Truth is that all life is suffering, pain, and misery. The Second Truth is that this suffering is caused by selfish craving and personal desire. The Third Truth is that this selfish craving can be overcome. The Fourth Truth is that the way to overcome this misery is through the Eightfold Path.
The Four Noble Truths is a fundamental concept taught by the Buddha.
Questions you may have include:
- What are the Four Noble Truths?
- What does each mean?
- What is the Eightfold Path?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Note: This is an educational website. We are not promoting any one religion.
Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are stated in simple terms as:
- Suffering exists
- Suffering arises from attachment to desires
- Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
- Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path
Details of Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths are open to interpretation, especially in modern versions of Buddhism.
1. Suffering exists
The viewpoint is that life consists of suffering and dissatisfaction. This suffering is called dukkha.
Human nature is imperfect, as is the world you live in. During your lifetime, you inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death. This is especially true for poor people.
This means you are never able to keep permanently what you strive for. Happy moments pass by, and soon you will too.
2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
The cause of suffering is called samudaya or tanha. It is the desire to have and control things, such as craving of sensual pleasures. For example, if you desire fame and fortune, you will surely suffer disappointment and perhaps even cause suffering for others.
Attachment to material things creates suffering because attachments are transient and loss is inevitable. Thus suffering will necessarily follow.
3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
The end to suffering is called nirodha. It is achieving Nirvana, which is the final liberation of suffering. The mind experiences complete freedom, liberation and non-attachment. It lets go of any desire or craving. It is attaining dispassion.
Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles and ideas. It is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it.
4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path
In order to end suffering, you must follow the Eightfold Path. This liberation from suffering is what many people mean when they use the word "enlightenment."
The path to the end of suffering is gradually seeking self-improvement through the eight elements. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance and other effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made through each lifetime.
There are eight attitudes or paths you must follow to find freedom from suffering. These are the "right" or correct things to do in your life:
- Right view
- Right intention
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
This is the way to reach Nirvana.
(See Four Noble Truths of Buddhism for more information.)
The Four Noble Truths is the basis of Buddhism. The First Truth is that all life is suffering, pain, and misery. The Second Truth is that this suffering is caused by selfish craving and personal desire. The Third Truth is that this selfish craving can be overcome. The Fourth Truth is that the way to overcome this misery is through the Eightfold Path.
Resources and references
About Buddhism - The Four Nobel Truths
ReligiousTolerance.org - Buddhism
BuddhaWeb - Buddhism basics
Mapping the Dharma: A Concise Guide to the Middle Way of the Buddha by Paul Gerhards; Parami Press (2007) $15.95 - For people interested in learning the basics of Buddhism; easy to read and follow
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