The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism

The Simple Way To End Suffering

Legend says that when Gautama Buddha meditated under a Peepal Tree and reached nirvana in Bodh Gaya, east India, he realised “four noble truths.”

Giant Buddha head History records that after some deliberation, the enlightened prince Siddhartha returned to Sarnath in north India where he re-joined the five friends that had accompanied him in the early stages of his quest to find the Truth.

It was in Sarnath that that the Buddha gave his first sermon, focused on the inevitability of suffering. The key to his speech was that he had figured a way of ending the suffering.

The four noble truths form the basis of Buddhist learning and are intended to help the initiate come to terms with unavoidable facts of life. Each lesson takes a realistic viewpoint on life.

But more than that, the lessons teach that by understanding the reasons behind suffering, initiates can liberate their mind of anguish. Essentially, life is preparation for death.

The four noble truths are:

  • Dukkha – the truth of suffering
  • Samudāya – the truth of the origin of suffering
  • Nirodha – the truth of the end of suffering
  • Magga – the truth of the path to end suffering
  1. Suffering exists (Dukkha)

Siddhartha discovered the inescapable forms of suffering at the age of 29 when he first ventured from the cocoon-safety of his father’s palace. He realised that sickness, old age and death are unavoidable hardships in the natural life of all human beings.

Although the sightings of an old man, a sick man and a corpse were the catalyst for the prince’s quest, he also recognised that suffering comes in many different forms.

But like the Ayurvedic physicians of the day, Siddhartha become conscious that there was a cause for suffering. By understanding the root of suffering, the individual could find the cure. Thus he devised the three other noble truths.

  1. Suffering has a cause (Samudāya)

The Buddha realised that the root cause of all suffering is misplaced desires. He called these the three unwholesome roots or three poisons;

  • desire (greed, lust)
  • ignorance (delusion, lack of knowledge)
  • aversion (hatred, hostility)

We suffer because we are constantly looking for self-gratification, but ultimately are designs for life are self-destructive urges.

Regardless of how humble or righteous a person is, most of us typically hope for a better life.

Buddha statues Wot Pho, Bangkok

But when you hope for something, you project desire; and desire is a self-deception for gratification that eventually results in a vain struggle. Desire provokes opposition.

In the material world it has become a common trait to consume, to look for possessions or relationships that will make us feel better and boost our self-esteem.

Ultimately, we become bored with the monotony of life, cast aside the things we now longer desire and go in search of the next fix. But the grass is never greener.

Short-term solutions inevitably lead to a lack of satisfaction which cause a degree of suffering. Sometimes it is mere restlessness, other times it is gut-wrenching pain.

Likewise, modern society has bred us to be antagonistic and judgemental. We are filled with hatred and negative values. We do not love easily.

As for ignorance, I think it is fair to say that the majority of people are blind and oblivious to the injustices in the world.

And this is not a modern problem. When the 6th Century BC philosopher and poet Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching he observed:

Buddhist soft focusOf fame or life,

Which do you hold more dear?

Of life or wealth,

To which would you adhere?

Keep life and lose other things;

Keep them and lose your life:-which brings

Sorrow and pain more near?

Thus we may see,

Who cleaves to fame (and wealth)

Rejects what is more great

  1. Suffering can be ended (Nirodha)

The third noble truth is when the good news starts to kick in – although it’s not necessarily good news, depending on which way you look at it. Essentially, Buddha says, keep life simple.

But to do that, the Buddha says you have to be detached from the world, form simple relationships and abandon expectation of what you think you should achieve in life.

This is where the four noble truths and Buddhism in general does not sit comfortably with people, especially in the west where ambition is the cornerstone of a successful life.

By becoming detached you denounce making anything of yourself, which is unfulfilling if you cannot become entirely disconnected from things you hold as important in your life.

Does abandoning expectations and becoming a simple and straightforward person really relieve a person from suffering?

The three poisons can be eradicated by achieving nirvana, as it is possible to extinguish greed, delusion and hate with what the Buddha described as “the three fires.”

However, it is the purpose of the individual to strike a balance between material desire and personal ambition without any shortfall causing suffering.

The Indian philosopher, Sri Krishnamurti says, “the bliss of truth comes when the mind is not occupied with its own activities and struggles.” In other words, don’t be too hard on yourself when you don’t get what you want.

  1. The way to end suffering (Magga)

So how does the Buddha propose you can end all suffering without becoming lazy, with no ambition, a shallow character or a willingness to have anything more than a simple relationship?

Meditation. The practice of becoming mindful and aware of your feelings and thoughts cannot be underestimated.

The first step is to accept that the experiences you have in your life, is your experience of human existence, and you are having these experiences because you have a lesson to learn – or because you have been rewarded for passing a lesson.

By accepting the way things are through meditation you can end suffering.

Meditating Buddhist monks

Once you develop the insight to understand that life is really quite simple, you can begin to handle yourself and your relationships with more composure whereby you achieve better results.

To help individuals improve themselves, the Buddha came up with the concept of the Noble Eightfold Path which I will cover in a later article.

For now, remember this: by accepting your experiences of life as lessons you must learn, and that without obsessive or greedy behaviour, the things you desire will come naturally.

If your desires do not manifest, by accepting you have to earn life’s rewards by passing tests, you can continue your life without suffering. The four noble truths show you that life really can be that simple!

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