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The Four Noble Truths

The Foundation of Buddhism

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The Buddha's first sermon after his Enlightenment centered on the Four Noble Truths, which are the foundation of Buddhism. The truths are:

  1. The truth of suffering (dukkha)
  2. The truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya)
  3. The truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha)
  4. The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga)

Let's look at one truth at a time.

The Truth of Suffering

The First Noble Truth often is translated as "Life is suffering." Many people new to Buddhism tune out as soon as they hear this. But the Pali word dukkha also refers to anything that is temporary, conditional, or compounded of other things. Even something precious and enjoyable is dukkha, because it will end.

Related to the nature of life is the nature of self. Are we not also temporary, conditional and compounded of many parts? We can understand that life is impermanent but are we, also, impermanent? The Buddha taught that before we can understand life and death we must understand the self.

Read More: What is the self?
Read More: What the Buddha Meant by "Suffering"

The Truth of the Cause of Suffering

The Second Noble Truth teaches that the cause of suffering is craving or thirst (tanha). We continually search for something outside ourselves to make us happy. But no matter how successful we are, we never remain satisfied.

The Buddha taught that this thirst grows from ignorance of the self. We go through life grabbing one thing after another to get a sense of security about ourselves. We attach not only to physical things, but also to ideas and opinions about ourselves and the world around us. Then we grow frustrated when the world doesn't behave the way we think it should and our lives don't conform to our expectations.

The Buddha's teachings on karma and rebirth are closely related to the Second Noble Truth.

Read More: Karma and Rebirth

The Truth of the End of Suffering

The Buddha's teachings on the Four Noble Truths are sometimes compared to a physician diagnosing an illness and prescribing a treatment. The first truth tells us what the illness is, and the second truth tells us what causes the illness. The Third Noble Truth holds out hope for a cure.

The Buddha taught that through diligent practice, we can put an end to craving. Ending the hamster-wheel chase after satisfaction is enlightenment (bodhi, "awakened"). The enlightened being exists in a state called Nirvana.

Read More: Enlightenment and Nirvana

The Truth of the Path That Frees Us From Suffering

Here the Buddha as physician prescribes the treatment for our illness: The Eightfold Path. Unlike in many other religions, in Buddhism there is no particular benefit to merely believing in a doctrine. Instead, the emphasis is on living the doctrine and walking the path.

Read More: The Eightfold Path

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