The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism

Understanding the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism

Buddha once declared, “The one who understands the Four Noble Truths along with the doctrine of Cause and Effect sees myself, the Buddha.” 

But, to understand these four noble truths, we must have wisdom and insight because it is a profound philosophy. According to Buddha’s teachings, “Avidya” (ignorance) is the failure to realize the truth of suffering or cause of pain or elimination of suffering. First of all, we must understand the difference between the standard and the intention that exist in the world.  

The one who is blind with ignorance clings on to the standards of the world, thinking everything is about me, and everything belongs to me. Therefore, he/she suffers from birth, decay, and death. But, the one who has wisdom understands the reality behind this and intentionally attains “nirvana” (enlightenment). 

The four noble truths in the “Dhammacakkappavattana” sermon was the first teaching of Buddha taught to his first five monk-disciples. These four noble truths are “dukkha arya satthya” (the truth of suffering), “dukkha samudya arya satthya” (the truth of the origin of suffering), “dukkha nirodha arya satthya” (the truth of the cessation of suffering), and “marga satthya” (the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering).

What is the truth of suffering?

According to the Buddha’s teachings, all five skandhas“Rupa” (the body), “Vedana” (sensation), “Sanjna” (attachment), “Sankara” (thoughts), and “Vinjnana” (consciousness) are sufferings. 

The body consists of five aggregates, which are “Rupa” (view), “Shabdda” (sounds), “Ganda” (smell), “Rasa” (taste), and “Sparsha” (feel). 

Whenever we came to contact with these five aggregates, physical and emotional sensations occur within us. Then, we become attached to those physical and emotional sensations, thus creating thoughts in our minds. If these thoughts create pleasure in our consciousness, then we feel happy and satisfied.

On the other hand, if they are disgusting and sad, then we suffer because of that. However, both of these thoughts generate greed or hate in our mind, which ultimately lead us to suffer. Therefore, the Buddha has taught us that every aspect of the five aggregates makes us suffer. According to Buddhism, there are four significant types of suffering. They are the suffering of birth, the plight of old age, the pain of sickness, and death. Some people see this teaching as pessimistic. But, Buddhists view the truth of suffering, neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Instead, they understand and find this as realistic. Buddha did not stop at explaining the truth of suffering but went beyond that telling the world the cause of suffering and how to end it.

The origin of suffering

In our lives, we identify hunger, thirst, and loss of our loved ones as the causes of our sufferings. But, are they the real causes of this endless suffering? Actually no. In the truth of the origin of suffering, the Buddha has explained the real three reasons for suffering. They are “thanha” (desire), “avidya” (ignorance), and “dvesha” (hate). 

In the fire sermon, the Buddha has taught the “bhikkhus” (the Buddhist monks) that every “sanskara dharma” (five skandhas) is burning with the fire of lust, hate, and delusion. However, the suffering which is caused by the self exists only for a moment. But, when desire, ignorance, and hatred drive the ego, “karma” is formed that can be either meritorious or sinful. Because of these “karma,” all the beings are trapped in the cycle of rebirths or as Buddhists say “samsara.” Therefore, all humans are subjected to endless suffering throughout this “samsara,” and no ordinary person can escape from this.

The cessation of suffering

According to Buddhism, as soon as something originates in the universe, its “nirodha” or cessation also happens. This cessation is considered a fundamental rule of nature. 

The self consists of two “skandhas”“Rupa skandha” (the physical body) and “Chittha skandha” (the mind). Therefore, as soon as the illusion of me exists, its cessation also happens. Based on the truth of the cessation of suffering, the physical body divides into various parts, and those parts break into little pieces leading towards the destruction of the body. This is called “Rupa nirodha” or destruction of the physical body.

Furthermore, all these body, sensation, attachment, and thoughts exist in consciousness. One of the characteristics of consciousness is that whenever an attachment happens, consciousness deconstructs. Therefore, everything created in the world deconstructs. Hence, there is a possibility to end this suffering and escape from the cycle of rebirths. 

Buddha taught that the liberation from the attachment is the key to extinguish suffering. He further explained that the one who realizes the truth as it is, he is estranged from all the pleasures, hatred, and delusions, thus attaining “nirvana.”

The path to the cessation of suffering

Now we all know that we can end this cycle of suffering that we accompany from one life to another life. 

According to Buddha’s teachings, the only way to attain the cessation of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path

There are eight steps in this path that lead to the end of suffering. They are: 

  • “Samma ditthi” or Right understanding
  • “Samma sankappa“ or Right thought
  • “Samma vacha“ or Right speech
  • “Samma kammantha“ or Right action
  • “Samma ajiva“ or Right livelihood
  • “Samma vayama“ or Right effort
  • “Samma sathi” or Right mindfulness
  • and “Samma samadhi,” Right concentration.  

Moreover, these eight steps are categorized into three stages, and they are wisdom or insight (right understanding and thought), ethical and moral conduct (right speech, action, and livelihood), and meditation and mental development (right effort, mindfulness, and concentration). These steps in the noble eightfold path are taught not to be followed in order, but to support and reinforce each other.

The four noble truths are the essence of Buddha’s teachings. If we can understand these truths with wisdom and insight, we will be liberated from the attachment, thus leading us towards the “nirvana.”

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