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The Four Noble Truths

These Are My Four Nobel Truths

1. The Noble Truth of Suffering: There is Suffering - Rebirth, old age, disease, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair, association with objects we dislike, separation from objects we love, not to obtain what one desires cause suffering. There are also many happy hours and pleasure in man's life-time, but according to the law of nature, they are impermanent and these last only for a short time and vanish into nothing. Only sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are left by them behind.

2. The Noble Truth of The Arising of Suffering: Suffering has an origin - The Threefold Craving leads every being from birth to birth and is accompanied by joy and lust, seeking its gratification here and there, namely: Sensual Craving, Craving for Existence and Craving for Wealth and Power. There are also a sixfold craving, namely the eye craves for forms, the ear craves for sounds, the nose craves for odours, the tongue craves for taste, the body craves for objects, and the mind craves for noun, dreams or illusions. These Cravings and ignorance of the law of nature are the condition of origin of individual suffering.

3. The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering: Suffering Can Cease - The condition of cessation of suffering is the complete fading away and extinction of this three fold craving, forsaking it and giving it up, the liberation and detachment from it. The condition of mind of a person who has been giving up his threefold cravings or this sixfold craving together with ignorance can realize Nirvana (or the Extinction of the Cravings).

4. The Noble Truth of The Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering: There is a Path our of Suffering - It is the 'Noble Eightfold Path' (or the 'Middle Path' because it avoids the two extremes of sensual pleasure and self-mortification), that leads to the Cessation of Suffering.

In more detail
The Truth of Suffering

The first of the Four Noble Truths is suf­fering, which is the usual translation of the Sanskrit word duhkha (Pali, dukkha). We should qualify that translation by saying that this does not mean that the Buddha didn’t acknowledge the existence of happiness or contentment in life. The point that he was making is that there is happiness and also sorrow in the world; but the reason why everything we experience in our everyday life is said to be duh­kha is that even when we have some kind of happiness, it is not permanent; it is subject to change. So unless we can gain insight into that truth and understand what is really able to give us happiness, and what is unable to provide happiness, the experience of dissatisfac­tion will persist.

Normally we think our happiness is contingent upon external circumstances and situations, rather than upon our own inner atti­tude toward things, or toward life in general. The Buddha was saying that dissatisfaction is part of life, even if we are seeking happiness and even if we manage to find temporary happiness. The very fact that it is temporary means that sooner or later the happiness is going to pass. So the Buddha said that unless we understand this and see how pervasive dissatisfaction or duhkha is, it is impossible for us to start looking for real happiness.

According to the Buddha, even when we think we are trying to find real happiness, we are not doing it effectively, because we don’t have the right attitude and we don’t know where to look for it. The Buddha was not against happiness; rather, he gave us a method of finding out how to overcome that sense of dissatisfaction, and this method is part of the last Noble Truth. (We shall come to that soon.)

The key to understanding the truth of suffering is what the Bud­dha called the “three marks” of everything that exists. All condi­tioned phenomena,1 he said, are pervaded by these three marks: impermanence (anitya), dissatisfaction or suffering (duhkha), and in­substantiality (anatman, “without self”). According to the Buddha, if we do not understand how conditioned phenomena are marked by these three aspects, then we will not be able to understand the first Noble Truth. We may do all we can in order to avoid facing the fact that everything is contingent and transient—we may try to hide ourselves from it, and we may even spin out all kinds of metaphysical theories of an unchanging, permanent, substantial reality to avoid this all-pervasive nature of ephemerality. Also, if we do not under­stand that conditioned phenomena are unsatisfactory, we will not think about restraining ourselves from overindulgence in sensory gratifications, which makes us lose our center and become immersed in worldly concerns, so that our life is governed by greed, craving, and attachment. All of these things disturb the mind. If we do not understand that everything is insubstantial—anatman—then we may believe that there is some kind of enduring essence or substance in things, or in the personality, and because of this belief we generate delusion and confusion in the mind.

The Origin of Suffering

The second Noble Truth is the origin of suffering, which means that once we have realized that suffering or dissatisfaction exists, we next have to find out where that suffering comes from: does it originate within, or does it come from some kind of external situation or con­dition? The Buddha said that when we start to examine ourselves and see how we respond to situations, how we act in the world, how we feel about things, then we will realize that the cause of suffering is within. This is not to say that external social or economic conditions don’t create suffering; but the main suffering that afflicts us is created by our own mind and attitude.

The Buddha said that if we want to overcome dissatisfaction, which is intimately linked with our experience of suffering, then we have to deal with craving, grasping, clinging, and attachment—all these exaggerated forms of desire. Now, some people think that Bud­dhists encourage the idea of eradicating desire altogether, but that is not what the Buddha said. He said that we should try to overcome excessive and exaggerated forms of desire, which manifest as craving, grasping, and so on, because they make our condition worse by increasing our sense of dissatisfaction and discontentment. It is the more obsessive types of desire that the Buddha said we should try to overcome. As long as we have these strong forms of desire, they will always be accompanied by aversion, hatred, resentment, and so forth, because when we can’t get what we want, we become frustrated, angry, and resentful. Or, if we find some obstacles in the way of satisfying our desire, we want to eliminate them, eradicate them, or attack them. We may even resort to violence and deception in order to satisfy our greed and craving. So the Buddha said that we need to deal with these extreme forms of desires; but we should not aim to eradicate desire altogether, because we can use desire in all kinds of positive ways as well.

The Goal: The Cessation of Suffering

The third Noble Truth is the goal. First we find out about the human condition, how it is pervaded by a sense of dissatisfaction, then we look at the cause of that dissatisfaction, and after that we look at the goal, which is the attainment of nirvana. Some people think nirvana is some kind of absolute reality that is transcendent and otherworldly. But the Buddha said that one can attain nirvana while still living in this world; this is called “nirvana with remainder.” One can also at­tain nirvana at the time of death, which is called “nirvana without remainder.” So it is possible to achieve nirvana in this very lifetime. Achieving nirvana means that one’s mind is no longer afflicted by delusion and emotional afflictions. The mind becomes tranquil, and one’s experience of happiness is no longer dependent upon external situations and circumstances. Therefore, one’s reaction to things is less extreme, and one is able to maintain a sense of tranquillity and peace, even when faced by adverse circumstances.

This is so because the one who has attained nirvana has overcome the three root delusions of attraction, aversion, and ignorance. When the mind is no longer governed by strong emotional reactions of ei­ther attraction and aversion, we can be at peace and tranquil even when things are not going right. We maintain a sense of fortitude and face things courageously.

The Path: The Way Out of Suffering

Having realized that this is the goal—to achieve a permanent happi­ness that is not based upon external changing conditions—we then have to find out how to apply ourselves in order to achieve that goal. This is what the fourth Noble Truth explains. The fourth Noble Truth is the path, and this is the essence of Buddhist practice. Known as the Eightfold Noble Path, it is oriented toward developing three things in an individual: moral sensitivity, meditation or the concen­trated mind, and wisdom. Through the practice of moral sensitivity we become better individuals, able to overcome our egocentric ten­dencies. We become more compassionate and more sensitive to the needs of others. Through the practice of meditation our mind be­comes more focused, more resilient, and more aware, which in turn gives rise to wisdom.

Adapted from The Essence of Buddhism: An Introduction to Its Philosophy and Practice.

1 “Conditioned phenomena” (Skt., samskrita; Pali, sankhate) means everything that exists is mutually conditioned owing to causes and conditions; things come into existence, persist for some time, and then disintegrate, thus suggesting the impermanent nature of the empirical world.

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