The Four Noble Truths

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In Buddhism, the four noble truths (Pāli: cattāri ariyasaccāni) are considered to be the first teaching of the Buddha and 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 full 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 Sammāsambuddha Sutta)

Furthermore, the word “Buddhism” is derived from the word “buddha”, which in turn is derived from the words “buddhi” and “bodhi”. These words literally mean intellect”, “intelligence”, “wisdom” or “supreme knowledge”. More specifically, they refer to the intelligence and the supreme knowledge that a Buddha possesses because of the understanding of the four noble truths. Metaphorically, however, 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. But it is a Buddha that reveals them, brings them to light and teaches them to the deceived people. As the Buddha articulated them, the four noble truths are central and universal events regardless of time and place. These are:

1) All beings experience pain and unhappiness (dukkha) during their lifetime.

“Birth is pain, old age is pain, sickness is pain, death is pain; sadness, grief, ache, sorrow and anxiety are pain. Contact with the unpleasant is pain. Separation from pleasure is pain. Not getting what one wants is pain. In short, the five aggregates of the mind and matter that are subject to attachment are pain”.

2) The origin (samudaya) of pain and misery is due to a specific cause:

“It is desire that leads to rebirth, accompanied by pleasure and passion, seeking pleasure here and there; that is, the desire for pleasure, the desire for existence, the desire for non-existence”.

3) The cessation (nirodha) of pain and suffering can be achieved as follows:

“By the complete non-passion and cessation of this very desire, by abandoning it and giving it up, by being released and free from it”.

4) The method we must follow to stop pain and misery is that of the “Eightfold Path”, that is:

  1. the right understanding
  2. the right thought
  3. the right speech
  4. the right action
  5. the right livelihood
  6. the right effort
  7. the right memory
  8. the right mindfulness.

These truths do not exist in external things like grass, wood and stones, but in our body which is composed of material elements along with its mental elements, such as its consciousness and perception, because as the Buddha says, “In this body, with its perception and consciousness, I declare the world of pain, its origin, its cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation”.

Of the four truths, the first one identifies the innate physical and psychological pain or the innate misery, pain and suffering that is intertwined with the texture of life; the second identifies the origin and cause of the pain; the third one identifies the situation in which the pain and its cause cease and are absent; and the fourth one formulates a course of practice towards this state of cessation.

Thus, this teaching begins with the analysis of the concept of pain, misery and suffering that we all experience and the source of which is 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 feelings. We avoid anything that causes us pain and try to steer the circumstances and people around us in the direction we want. However, since the rest of the unstable world is rarely in tune with what we want, we often get hurt and frustrated.

But if we manage to overcome our desire, we will feel more in harmony with ourselves and the world around us and this pain will be eliminated. The way to achieve this is through the Noble Eightfold Path.