Basic Buddhist Teachings – II
The Four Noble Truths
In Buddhism, the four noble truths (Pāli: cattāri ariyasaccāni) are recognized as the first teaching given by the Buddha and are considered one of his most important teachings.
They are called “Noble Truths” because, as the Buddha says, they are real (tathāni), infallible (avitathāni), and do not change (anaññathāni). (SN Tatha Sutta).
It is because of the complete understanding of these four noble truths, as they really are, that the Buddha is called “Worthy” (Arahant), and “Perfectly Enlightened by Himself ” (Sammā Sambuddho). (SN Sammā sambuddha Sutta).
Besides, the word “Buddhism” comes from the word “buddha”, which in turn comes from the word “buddhi” and “bodhi”. These words literally mean “intellect”, “intelligence”, “wisdom” or “supreme knowledge”. They refer more specifically to the intelligence and supreme knowledge that a Buddha possesses due to the understanding of the four noble truths. But metaphorically they are usually translated as “enlightenment” or “awakening”, and the word “Buddha” as “enlightened” or “awakened”.
Whether a Buddha appears in the world or not, the four noble truths exist. However, a Buddha is needed to reveal them, bring them to light and teach them to the “deceived” world. As formulated by the Buddha, the four noble truths are central and universal events regardless of time and space. These are:
- All beings experience pain and misery (dukkha) during their lifetime:
“Birth is pain, old age is pain, sickness is pain, death is pain; sorrow, grief, sorrow, grief, and anxiety is pain. Contact with the unpleasant is pain. Separating from the pleasant is pain. Not getting what one wants is pain. In short, the five assemblies of mind and matter that are subject to attachment are pain“.
- The origin (samudaya) of pain and misery is due to a specific cause:
“It is the desire that leads to rebirth, accompanied by pleasure and passion, seeking pleasure here and there; that is, the desire for pleasures, the desire for existence, the desire for non-existence“.
- The cessation (nirodha) of pain and misery can be achieved as follows:
“With the complete non-passion and cessation of this very desire, with its abandonment and renunciation, with its liberation and detachment from it“.
- The method we must follow to stop pain and misery is that of the Noble Eightfold Path.
These truths do not exist in external things such as grass, wood and stones; they do exist though, in our body, which is composed of material elements and mental elements, such as consciousness and perception. As the Buddha says, “In this body with its perception and consciousness I declare the world of pain, the origin, the cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation“.
Of the four truths, the first identifies the innate physical and psychological pain or the innate misery, pain and suffering intertwined in the essence of life; the second identifies the origin and cause of the pain; the third recognizes the state in which the pain and its cause cease and are thus absent; and the fourth formulates a course of practice towards this state of pause.
This teaching begins with the analysis of the concept of pain that we all experience and the source of it, i.e., the desire we have within us. Due to our desire and in order to feel safe and secure, we constantly strive to gain experiences and objects that create pleasant emotions. We avoid anything that causes us pain and try to manipulate situations and people around to achieve what we want. In reality, the rest of the unstable world seldom matches what we want, and thus, we are often hurt and frustrated.
If we manage to overcome our desire we will feel greater harmony with ourselves and the world around us and the pain will be eliminated. The way to achieve this is through the Noble Eightfold Path.