“I teach suffering, its origin, cessation and path. That’s all I teach” – Buddha
The Four Noble Truths contain what is the essence of Gautama Buddha’s teachings. It is these four truths that he realised as he meditated under the Bodhi Tree. They are:
- The truth of suffering (Dukkha)
- The truth of the origin of suffering (Samudāya)
- The truth of the cessation of suffering (Nirodha)
- The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering (Magga)
Buddha has been compared to a doctor, on the basis of these truths. In the first two, he diagnoses the problem. In the third one, he hints that there is a cure. And the fourth truth is the prescription using which one finds his or her release from suffering.
The First Noble Truth: Suffering (Dukkha)
Until the age of 29, Prince Siddhartha was confined within the four walls of his palace by his father who wanted to protect him from the harshness of the outside world. One night the prince escaped the palace. The first few things he saw were a crippled man, a sick man and a human corpse or in other words, he saw old age, sickness and death.
That is when he realised that the underlying tone of life is suffering. The reason for this being the fact that human beings are not perfect. Likewise, the world inhabited by them is also ridden with imperfections. He did not wish to project the idea that life is awful by stating this truth. Rather he wanted us to have a realistic perception of life.
The Second Noble Truth: Origin of Suffering (Samudāya)
The Buddha taught that the root of all suffering is desire, tanhā. This comes in three forms, which he described as the Three Roots of Evil, or the Three Fires, or the Three Poisons. They are:
- Greed and desire, represented in art depictions by a rooster
- Ignorance or delusion, represented by a pig
- Hatred and destructive urges, represented by a snake
The Third Noble Truth: Cessation of Suffering (Nirodha)
Buddha stated that to put an end to suffering, we need to control our desires or practice non-attachment which can be achieved through diligent practice.
This liberation from attachment and consequently from suffering frees the mind. The attainment of this liberation is called “Nirvana” in Sanskrit and “Satori” in Japanese. It is a state of profound spiritual joy, without negative emotions and fears.
The Fourth Noble Truth: Path to the Cessation of Suffering (Magga)
(Nirvana/Satori) is a condition that can be attained by leading a balanced life which can be done by following the Eightfold path which is a ‘gradual path of self-improvement.’ This path is also called the Middle Way: it avoids both indulgence and severe asceticism, neither of which Buddha found helpful on his search for enlightenment. It consists of:
- Right Understanding
- Right Intent
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
Millions across the globe continue to base their lives on these four enchanting truths as they try to find their way to a better life, if not enlightenment.