The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism
“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” – Westley, The Princess Bride
Siddhartha lived his early years protected from pain, a life manufactured and padded by his wealthy father.
But Buddha realized that, no matter how protected he was by those high palace walls, he would never be free from the one thing that unites us, poor or privileged: our human suffering.
We, each one of us, suffer the pain of desire. We all suffer the pain of loss. We all will experience the pain of death. Whether it be the deaths of those we love, or the pain of facing our own mortality — age, sickness, and death.
As we touched upon in our previous post, A Beginner’s Guide to Tibetan Buddhism, Buddha spent many years searching for the solution to end human suffering.
After many weeks of meditating, Buddha awoke, knowing the truth of suffering. The first step, he realized, is that we must know these noble truths of our pain — the cause of all this suffering.
And from that knowing, we then need only to walk the path that leads to enlightenment, and thus freedom from the cycle of pain.
1. The Truth of Suffering: Dukkha
Your first challenge is to understand that life is suffering. It can hold many beautiful things too, of course, but to live is to suffer all the same. We face sickness, death, hunger, pain, loss, disappointment.
We hold happiness in our hands for but a moment until it is replaced by loss and sadness. Things continue to shift and change, even when we wish for them to stay the same. We may try to avoid these moments through escapism, or denial, but they will remain.
We must learn to acknowledge that suffering is part of life, and that it is a universal experience.
2. The Truth of the Origin of Suffering: Samudāya
This second truth tells us that there is a cause to this suffering. We suffer because of our desires and our greed, because of our predilection to see what we want to see, rather than what is, and because of our hedonistic urges that help us alleviate some of our suffering.
We didn’t get the promotion/person/life we wanted, and so we nurse the wound by drinking/yelling/binge watching Netflix, hoping to find a shred of happiness. We wake up the next day with a pounding headache and only minutes of sleep, even less happy than the day before. Sound familiar?
Buddha stated that the origin of suffering is our attachment to outcomes, people, and things. We must stop looking outside of ourselves for happiness and instead change direction to look inward.
3. The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering: Nirodha
Buddhist teachings show that there is a way out of this loop of desire, loss, and suffering. The simple recognition that this cycle of pain can end is an important truth in itself.
Desire can be abated by practicing non-attachment.
Non-attachment doesn’t mean that you no longer care about things or attempt to become an unfeeling automaton. It is simply the practice in holding things at a distance to see things as they really are.
To see them but not become entangled by them. To observe your feelings instead of falling into the pit of them. To notice your negative thoughts and the reason you feel them, instead accepting them as fact and following down a rabbit hole.
When you disengage from the pull of your desires and your habits of delusional thinking, you will be on your way to liberation from suffering.
If you master this detachment, you will reach Nirvana, and awaken, as Buddha did, thousands of years ago.
So, do not hold on to your suffering and carry it like a cross. Know that there is another way to live; a different path to follow.
4. The Truth of the Path to the Cessation of Suffering: Magga
“I teach suffering, its origin, cessation and path. That’s all I teach.” – Buddha
Now, you know the following
1.Life is suffering
2. Suffering is caused by desire
3. Suffering can end by reaching Nirvana
For the Fourth Noble Truth, Buddha taught us the way to reach Nirvana – peace from suffering and karmic rebirth.
The Eightfold Path, or The Middle Way, is the set of guidelines Buddha directs us follow if we wish to reach enlightenment and freedom. Those eight steps are as follows:
- Right Understanding – knowing and understanding the Four Noble Truths
- Right Intention – going about your life with the right attitudes and intentions
- Right Speech – refraining from gossip, lies, and verbal abuse
- Right Action – doing all things in peace and positivity. Refraining from hedonistic pleasures and immoral actions
- Right Livelihood – making a living in a positive way that avoids hurting other people or animals
- Right Effort – encouraging and cultivating positive states of being. Doing even mundane things with positive effort and attention
- Right Mindfulness – cultivating your awareness of your body, you feelings, your habits, your mind
- Right Concentration – practicing meditation and honing mental focus to help you be mindful while you follow the steps of the Middle Way
Following this path isn’t a weekend walk in the park… it is a way of daily life. And it takes practice. And this practice may not end with your current lifetime.
It may take many births and deaths for us to get it just right. It is only when we are able to reach the end, Nirvana, that Buddha says we end the cycle of rebirth.
So if you’re only just getting started with your journey into Buddhism, be gentle with yourself. Start with small steps: be mindful of all your bodily sensations when you take that first bite of your morning meal.
Pay attention to the feelings that inflame your heart before opening your mouth. Choose words of love in the place of insult.
Every step along the Way is one closer to the end.