Thoughts on Buddhism

Four Noble Truths (ārya-satya)

On this page , I give an outline of what Gotama discovered. (Each of the four truths is dealt with in greater detail on other linked pages.) I also suggest how his discoveries can be used in everyday life (as well as in meditation) to reduce suffering. I then comment on the point (stated by Gotama) that understanding the first truth means understanding of them all. 

The Four Noble Truths are not only the beginner level of Buddhism, but also its acme. If you understand them, if you have clear and penetrating vision of them, then you are enlightened or very close to it.

On this page:

  1. The 4 Noble Truths
  2. A Process to Eradicate Suffering
  3. The Four Tasks
  4. Understanding the First Truth is understanding them all

On other pages, in more detail:

  1. Four Noble Truths Comments
  2. First Noble Truth
  3. Second Noble Truth
  4. Third Noble Truth
  5. Fourth Noble Truth


The 4 Noble Truths

Gotama announced the Four Noble Truths shortly after his enlightenment.

They are, with the Pali:

  1. The Noble Truth of Suffering (Dukkha)
  2. The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering (Dukkha Samudaya)  
  3. The Noble Truth of Ending Suffering (Dukkha Nirodha), and
  4. The Noble Truth of the Path that Ends Suffering (Dukkha Nirodha Gamini Patipada)
"Friends, just as the footprints of all legged animals are encompassed by the footprint of the elephant, and the elephant's footprint is reckoned the foremost among them in terms of size; in the same way, all skillful qualities are gathered under the four noble truths." Sariputta, MN 28

As Sariputta said, these truths are an excellent summary of Buddhism. They provide a description of Buddhism: it is about suffering, its origin, its solution (and enlightenment) and how to apply the solution. Buddhism does not merely tell us the problem, the cause, and the remedy; it also tells us how to attain this solution.

The Four Noble Truths are the wisdom of the final stage, which is insight.

An original documents is discussed here.

These truths imply that Buddhism is just about suffering, it is about suffering only. It is not about philosophy, science, and it is not an academic pursuit. Just suffering and the cessation of suffering.

A Process to Eradicate Suffering

Clearly, the Four Noble Truths are more than a summary. They are a process to eradicate any suffering:

The Process Example The Four Noble Truths
The situation 1. Is there a problem? If so, what is it? Life is (normally) suffering
The origin 2. Is there a cause or origin? If so, what is it? The cause of suffering is craving. That is, when there is suffering, craving is also there, and when there is no suffering, craving is absent.
The result 3. What happens if the cause (support) is removed? The result of ending craving is the ending of suffering.
The means 4. How can this result be achieved? You follow the Noble Eightfold Path.


The Four Tasks

Gotama said we should

  1. Understand or comprehend suffering.
  2. Give up and let go of craving.
  3. Realize and know that by giving up craving, we are giving up suffering (mindfulness).
  4. Develop and follow the Noble Eightfold Path (or a valid path).

See The Twelve Round Knowledge

Understanding the First Truth is understanding them all

Gotama said, if you understand suffering, you understand the four truths.

For example ...

Mary is having a problem meditating. The memory of her little brother arises. Her brother became ill and died a decade ago, when he was only six. Mary feels an unbearable pain in her heart as she recalls it. Not grief or sadness but a deep, awful psychic pain. A horrible feeling of loss.

"He should not have died. He should have grown up to be a young man. It is so unfair. Why did he have to die?"

Almost incapable of enduring this feeling, she thinks, "This is suffering."

She thinks, "Perhaps this is a dream, and really he is alive and well." But she knows it isn't a dream. The solution is not her brother coming back to life. That is impossible.

She realises that she is suffering because she wants him back. Wants him to live his life. Wants this more than her own life and her own happiness. If she didn't think this, she wouldn't be suffering.

She realises, "This is craving."

The pain of this memory eases and she thinks, "This is the solution. Giving up craving is release from suffering."

The thought arises that if she didn't feel this pain, what kind of a person, of a sister, would she be? Wouldn't she be callous and unfeeling?

However, feelings of guilt do not arise. She knows this too is craving.

Because of this, her mind was filled by a wonderful feeling of love. She recalls her brother with joy and loving-kindness. And memories of him arose and filled her with love.

She realised, from this actual experience, that suffering is caused by craving. And the cessation of suffering is the cessation of craving. And that this is enlightening. She resolves to study and practice the path with increased diligence.

Note: Feeling loving-kindness towards images of dead loved ones is not unwise.