Back to the basics – The Four Truths *

* Originally the term was “The Four Truths”. While the truths certainly are noble, the word noble was not added until a later date.

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

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

The First Truth often is translated as “Life is suffering.” Many people new to Buddhism run 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 enjoyable is dukkha, because it will end. We are 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.

The Second Truth teaches that the cause of suffering is craving. 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 craving 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.

The Third Truth offers us hope to end the 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 for satisfaction is enlightenment (bodhi, “awakened”). The enlightened being exists in a state called Nirvana.

In the Fourth Truth the Buddha as physician prescribes the treatment for our illness: The Eightfold Path. Unlike 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 on a daily basis.

Click on The Four Truths to learn more.