The Four Noble Truths can be traced back to the teaching of Buddha, in fact, it is the main principle of Buddhism. Buddha was the first one to realize these truths and from there he spread the word to his followers. To understand Buddhism is to understand these truths.
Studying the Four Noble truths brings a level of knowledge that not many people can grasp. It takes patience and hard work to truly know these guidelines. It is essential we do not simply read these truths; we need to understand and live them in our everyday lives.
The Four Noble Truths
First Noble Truth
The First Noble Truth is dukkha or suffering. However, it is not exactly easy to sum up. Dukkha can mean different things to different people. There isn’t an exact translation in the English language, which makes it difficult to pinpoint.
Many people have different ideas on what dukkha means. Most can agree that it incorporates feelings of stress, pain, loss, anxiety, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness. Since the term is so broad, it is important to fully understand this first noble truth in order to address it in your own personal life.
Essentially, dukkha is those lingering feelings of unhappiness, whether it be from stress, grief, or other. Every single person in the world is affected by this sensation at one time or another.
Dukkha is a part of life and unfortunately, there is no way around it. The four noble truths aren’t about eliminating dukkha altogether, but rather learning to manage it so you minimize your suffering.
When the Buddha introduced this truth, he did not want his followers to simply read it and move on, he wanted them to really sit and contemplate the existence of dukkha.
- Why does it exist?
- What purpose does it serve?
- Is there meaning to it?
Most people don’t like to question this because they think that contemplating suffering will make them unhappy. But this is quite the opposite actually. The suffering will usually pass; however, it can be an opportunity to truly know yourself in times of grief which ultimately will give you a better understanding of the self.
There are many ways to experience dukkha. The obvious ways are through grief, anger, sadness, or pain. It’s not until we really start to examine ourselves that we realize dukkha comes in many subtle forms; illness, envy, ageing, and small heartbreaks.
Many suffer from a sense of longing, perhaps for a better lover, body, or more money. This has just as much effect on us over time. It’s just not as obvious to our minds since our lives are filled with constant distractions. All of which are usually tied in with the source of suffering in the first place.
Second Noble Truth
The Second Noble Truth is the truth of the cause of dukkha or suffering. Suffering doesn’t just appear out of thin air, there are causes and conditions for every action. It is important to have a good understanding of the Buddhist principle of Karma in order to go further. If you are not familiar with the belief, please study these laws before reading any further.
The Buddha teaches that there are Three Poisons of the mind that we need to bring attention to. This will help you fully understand the Second Noble Truth.
The Three Poisons are:
Any source of dukkha is manifested through one of these. We either live in the past by trying to hold on to a pleasant experience. Or we live in the future by idealizing a situation that hasn’t happened yet. Or we become deluded and detached from our current reality over an unpleasant situation.
We all crave something; it is human nature. We want to fit in, we want to be successful, we want a great love. While this is almost impossible to avoid, it is important to examine these thoughts as they pass by so that we don’t attach feelings of happiness to them.
When we desire something, we build up a fantasy situation in our head and when that situation doesn’t happen, we feel a strong sense of unhappiness and loss for something that never existed in the first place. This can cause so much suffering when left unchecked and most of the time people don’t even realize they are doing this.
Another cause of dukkha is the inability to comprehend these thought patterns. We know we feel sadness and stress but are not able to explain where it came from. Perhaps you are simply trying to have a positive outlook on life so you dream of better things to come. But in reality, that can sometimes hinder your mental health when your realities don’t line up with the thoughts in your head.
Third Noble Truth
Now before we start feeling down about our inevitable thought patterns, there is hope! The third Noble Truth teaches us the solution to dukkha or at least gives us hope for a cure. This Truth teaches us the cessation of suffering or dukkha.
Essentially, the solution to dukkha is to stop clinging to ideas and false realities. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, not exactly. One cannot simply will themselves to stop longing, it is impossible and will not work. You need to be able to fully let these feelings pass while being aware that they are happening and examine the source of them.
It’s important to understand that these cravings do not satisfy us, but rather they just lead to disappointment. If you can fully understand this, the sense of longing should be able to pass any importance.
The Third Noble Truth is an easy one to miss, indulging in fantasies (good or bad) comes as second nature to most and the point isn’t to eliminate these thoughts. These thoughts can be beneficial and are important for living a good life. If no one cared or looked to the future, it would be very hard to find the motivation to work toward life goals.
The point of the Third Truth is to recognize where these cravings come from. To really understand where the thoughts come from and not place feelings of happiness or unhappiness on those thoughts. They should be able to flow through your mind like water. This is the key to reaching enlightenment, becoming the master of your own mind. Situations are inevitable, it’s how you react to them that matters.
Fourth Noble Truth
The last and final Noble Truth is breaking the cycle of dukkha. If you can do this, you can truly reach Nirvana. Of course, this is much easier said than done. It takes entire lifetimes to fully understand and live these truths. It is a matter of living each moment in a state of mindfulness. You must commit to this path and walk it for your entire life, it must come as second nature.
The Fourth Noble Truth is the understanding that our thoughts shape our reality. You must be able to clear your mind, de-attach any feelings to thoughts, and walk the path of enlightenment. It will be very difficult at first and might not be achievable in this lifetime.
Essentially, you are re-training your mind and entire thought process. Not an easy thing to do. But eventually, it will become easier by developing a strong mind, solid virtues and gaining new wisdom as often as possible.
These ancient teachings are still very relevant today. We all have the power within us to walk this path and achieve enlightenment with a lot of hard work and discipline.
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