Four Noble Truths of Mahatma Buddha- Introduction
The Four Noble Truths, foundational to Buddhism, provide insights into the nature of existence, its causes, and the means to live without suffering. These truths form the core of Mahatma Buddha’s teachings, offering profound wisdom on the path to enlightenment.
The Four Noble Truths
- Life is suffering
- The cause of suffering is craving
- The end of suffering comes with an end to craving
- There is a path that leads one away from craving and suffering
The Fourth Truth introduces the Eightfold Path, a guide to liberation from desire and suffering.
The Eightfold Path
The Eightfold Path, as outlined in the Fourth Noble Truth, serves as both a roadmap to non-attachment and the journey itself. These eight teachings include:
- Right Vision
- Right Resolution
- Right Words
- Right Action
- Proper Livelihood
- Proper Exercise
- Right Memory
- Proper Samadhi
By comprehending the Four Noble Truths and diligently following the Eightfold Path, individuals can attain freedom from worldly desires and attachments. This liberates them from the perpetual cycle of suffering, which is intertwined with rebirth and death. While different Buddhist schools assign varying degrees of importance to these truths and the path, they remain fundamental aspects of the faith.
The Wisdom of Buddha
According to Buddhist tradition, Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, began life as a Hindu prince shielded from suffering for his first 29 years due to a prophecy.
The Four Pivotal Scenes
Siddhartha’s awakening began when he was exposed to four fundamental scenes that opened his eyes to the realities of life:
- The Old Man
- The Sick Person
- The Deceased Individual
- The Ascetic or Sanyasi
These four Incidents led Siddhartha to question the impermanence of life and the inevitability of suffering. The realization that nothing in life is permanent tormented him, but he found solace in the peaceful countenance of the ascetic. This moment marked a turning point in his life.
Despite being married and an heir to his father’s throne, Siddhartha could not shake the awareness of life’s impermanence. One night, he made the life-altering decision to renounce his palace and family to follow the path of an ascetic.
Siddhartha embarked on a journey of spiritual exploration, learning meditation and discipline from various religious masters. He likely dabbled in Jainism, a belief system founded by Mahavira, an older contemporary of Siddhartha. Jainism emphasized the renunciation of sensual attachments.
Siddhartha’s quest for enlightenment led him to fast and adopt extreme ascetic practices, but they did not provide the answers he sought. Frustrated, he went alone to sit under a Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, where he made a solemn vow: attain enlightenment or give up his life.
During meditation under the Bodhi tree, Siddhartha experienced a profound revelation illuminated by the light:
People suffer because they cling to permanence in a world of constant change.
They define themselves by their possessions, families, and jobs, erroneously viewing these as stable when nothing in life truly is.
Suffering arises from the desire for stability in an ever-changing world.
Siddhartha realized that by redirecting one’s energy and thoughts from unproductive attachments to the illusory world, one can eliminate craving, attachment, and suffering. This shift encourages detachment, peace, and love for all.
The Profound Nature of Love in Buddhism
Love in Buddhism transcends conventional romantic attachments and ordinary feelings. It encompasses a profound way of accepting the world as it is, acknowledging its inherent nature, and nurturing a genuine attitude toward all living beings. This love is a conscious decision to feel compassion while maintaining behavior that aligns with the goal of cultivating compassion without attachment. The Eightfold Path, a fundamental concept in Buddhism, serves as a means to attain this state of love and compassion, and it is closely tied to the Four Noble Truths.
A Detailed Look at the Four Noble Truths
Origins and Translation
In their original language (Sanskrit: catavāri āryasatyani; Pali: catārī āriyasakkani), the Four Noble Truths are interpreted as “worthy of attention” and “worthy of respect.” However, the translation is not straightforward. Scholars such as Robert E. Buswell, Jr. and Donald S. Lopez, Jr. clarify that the term “noble” (Arya) refers to those who understand these truths rather than the truths themselves. Thus, it may be more accurately rendered as “the four truths spiritually known as great.” These truths are believed to be true by those with profound insight into the nature of reality, contrasting with ordinary mortals who remain unaware of them.
The Wheel of Becoming and Samsara
Ordinary beings, as described, are individuals who cling to the idea of a permanent world, refusing to accept the constant change inherent in life. Their existence is ensnared in the cycle of rebirth and death, referred to as samsara, which is governed by what the Buddha termed the “wheel of becoming.”
This wheel is depicted as a vast, spoked wheel in constant motion, with ignorance, craving, and hatred at its center. The six states of existence lie between the center and the rim, where states of suffering are located. Those shrouded in ignorance, craving, and hatred perpetually revolve on this wheel, reborn into the same cycle of suffering for eternity.
Freedom from Suffering through Interdependent Emergence
To break free from the cycle of birth and death, the Buddha emphasized the importance of recognizing the fundamental interconnectedness of all transient beings. This interconnectedness, known as interdependent emergence (pratityasamutpada), was the core insight gained under the Bodhi Tree, leading to the understanding of the Four Noble Truths.
Scholar John M. Koller explains that under the Bodhi Tree, the Buddha contemplated his existence with a calm and focused mind. This contemplation led to the realization that human life is not inherently self-sufficient and unchanging at its core. Instead, it is a continuous process of change, rise, and fall, intertwined with numerous other processes.
The Middle Way
This insight into existence as a continuous process of change arising from interactions with other processes became one of Buddhism’s most vital teachings. Referred to as interdependent emergence, it served as the foundation for comprehending the nature of suffering, its origins, and how it could be eliminated.
The Buddha recognized that people’s challenge lay in their reluctance to let go of their belief in permanent states of existence. However, acknowledging the principle of interdependent emergence reveals that what one considers immutable is, in fact, in a constant state of flux.
People are born, grow old, and eventually die. Machinery ages and breaks down. Money changes hands, and houses require maintenance. The natural world continuously demonstrates interdependence with the growth of grass, the migration of birds, and the changing of leaves on trees.
The Buddha asserted that the longer one remains ignorant of this interconnectedness, the longer one will suffer. Suffering is a personal choice, and individuals can choose to end it by recognizing the Four Noble Truths at any point in their lives.
The Middle Path
The Buddha referred to his path as the “middle way,” situated between complete immersion in the world and complete renunciation of it. By following this middle path, one achieves liberation (nirvana) from the cycle of becoming, escaping the cycle of rebirth and suffering experienced in previous lives. The first step on this middle path is to accept the First Noble Truth, acknowledging the inherent existence of suffering.
First Noble Truth: Dukkha – The Nature of Suffering
Understanding the Essence of Suffering The First Noble Truth, known as Dukkha or “suffering,” stands as a cornerstone in Buddhism. It delves into the intrinsic nature of life, which is characterized by suffering. The teachings of Buddha underline that suffering persists as long as an individual fails to grasp its genuine essence. While most people acknowledge suffering as an integral part of life, they often view it as an inescapable facet of existence.
Buddha’s Insights on the Five Aggregates of Attachment Buddha identified the root of suffering in what he referred to as the “five aggregates of attachment” or the “five aggregates of suffering.” These aggregates encompass:
- Rūpa – physical form, material impression
- Vedanā – sensations arising from form, one’s feelings
- Saṃjñā – perceptions derived from the form
- Saṅkhāra – psychological activity in response to form
- Vijñāna – one’s consciousness shaped by psychological activity
Buddha posited that these five factors foster attachment to the illusion of permanence in form, not only in one’s unchanging self but also in the belief that everything else remains unaltered. This attachment fuels suffering by encouraging ignorance of the genuine nature of life and the self, which is change.
This ignorance, in turn, gives rise to a fear of change as it challenges the illusion of permanence. The desire for permanence arises from the notion of security and comfort that it promises, but since permanence is illusory, it results in perpetual longing and, consequently, suffering.
Second Noble Truth: Samudaya – The Cause of Suffering
Comprehending the Roots of Suffering The Second Noble Truth, known as Samudaya or “Origination,” delves into the underlying causes of suffering. It centers on the craving for stability in a world that is constantly changing. People erroneously believe in their permanent existence, crafting an illusory world that cannot satisfy them and leads to constant disappointment and pain. Buddha defined this craving as an intense desire for things that are unattainable.
Buddha’s Understanding of Craving According to Buddha, the core of suffering is craving (trishna), driven by passionate greed. It perpetually seeks gratification in various forms: craving for sensory pleasures, craving for existence and becoming, and craving for nonexistence or self-annihilation. Suffering arises from the longing for true reality while remaining entangled in the illusions perceived as reality.
Confronting Ignorance and Fear of Loss Suffering endures because people fear the loss of their identity and belonging. Believing in their unique and independent identity, they insist on a reality that supports it and reject any challenges to their beliefs.
The primary cause of this craving is ignorance of the genuine nature of existence, characterized by constant change and interdependence. Ignorance constructs a false reality of separate, permanent selves and objects, and individuals mistake this illusion for the truth, leading to feelings of isolation and anxiety.
Third Noble Truth: Nirodha – Cessation of Suffering
Ending Cravings and Suffering The Third Noble Truth focuses on cessation, the cessation of suffering. To end suffering, individuals must understand the nature of their cravings and recognize that the illusion of permanence cannot meet their needs. The path to the end of suffering lies in recognizing that the longing is for true reality, not an illusion of reality. Craving can be ended by understanding that it is a deep desire for reality.
Buddha’s Call for the End of Craving Buddha emphasizes that the cessation of suffering is the complete abandonment of craving, its renunciation, liberation, and detachment from it. In essence, the end of suffering coincides with the end of craving.
Fourth Noble Truth: Magga – The Path to Freedom
The Middle Way The Fourth Noble Truth, Magga, introduces the path that leads away from craving and suffering. Buddha refers to this path as the “middle way,” providing a balanced approach to navigating life. This path consists of the Eightfold Path, which includes:
- Right view
- Right thought
- Right Speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
These eight aspects can be categorized into wisdom, conduct, and mental discipline. It is crucial to understand that the path is not sequential but rather a holistic framework. While one may need to work more diligently on certain aspects, all eight points work together to move individuals from ignorance toward self-knowledge and enlightenment.
Conclusion: Variations in Interpretation
It’s worth noting that different schools of thought within Buddhism do not universally interpret and apply the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. After Buddha’s passing, his disciples institutionalized his teachings, leading to various schools with distinct perspectives on his original vision. These differences have given rise to three main contemporary schools:
- Theravada Buddhism (The School of the Elders)
- Mahayana Buddhism (The Great Vehicle)
- Vajrayana Buddhism (The Way of the Diamond)
Each of these schools interprets the Four Noble Truths and the path differently, with variations in their approaches to cessation and the overall understanding of suffering.
Theravada Buddhism (The School of the Elders)
Mahayana Buddhism (The Great Vehicle)
Vajrayana Buddhism (The Way of the Diamond)
Each of these schools interprets the Four Noble Truths and the path differently. One significant difference revolves around Truth 3 – cessation. While Theravada and Mahayana emphasize the need for individuals to actively stop craving, Vajrayana holds that recognizing the first two truths will naturally lead to the end of craving. By pursuing lasting values and true reality and abandoning attachment to an ever-changing world, suffering can be left behind.