This is what I hope to be the ultimate guide to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. Please enjoy. And if you find any improvements you’d like me to make, let me know in the comments at the end. Thank you!
First Noble Truth Of Dukkha.
What is dukkha?
Usually translated as “the noble truth of suffering,” Buddhism is neither pessmistic nor optimistic. While there is suffering in dukkha, there is also joy, as well as impermanence.
Buddhisms encourages realism and objectivity, acknowledging both the good and the bad of life. To see things exactly as they are without desire for it to be anything else other than what it is. That is the goal for Buddhists.
Dukkha has a deeper meaning than just suffering in Buddhism. It encompasses ordinary suffering, the suffering of all joys ultimately being temporary, and the non-existence of a real self you can call your own.
Without wisdom life will indeed be suffering, but you can escape that through detachment. There is ultimate happiness and true spiritual bliss in detachment, but that too is temporary. Whatever is impermanent is dukkha, subject to change, subject to loss, subject to cause you pain if you latch on to it.
The Three Things You Must Understand About Life:
- Freedom, liberation, the cessation of dukkha.
To understand life completely, you must understand that there is pleasure, pain, and freedom from both.
The Three Main Aspects Of Dukkha:
- Ordinary suffering,
- Suffering caused by change,
- And the suffering of conditioned energies: the doctrine of “no soul.”
There is no “self” separate from anything else. Every moment everything in the universe dies, then it is reborn. The death conditions the birth and the birth conditions the death. The universe is constantly changing and ever evolving.
What is a being then?
In Buddhism a being is just a combination of the ever changing energies of the universe. These energies are divided into 5 categories called the 5 aggregates of attachment.
- Mental formations,
Matter is of course the 4 great elements and their derivatives.
In Buddhism there are actually 6 senses. The mind is included as a sense. It is treated like any other faculty such as seeing, touch, taste, smell, and feeling. The mind isn’t spiritual or eternal like others believe.
Perceptions are just the labels we assign to things. The use of language, our judgments, views, opinions are all perceptions. How we call “blue” blue is this in action.
Mental formations are volitional activity or karma of any kind. Karma is not the result of karma. Karma is action itself and the results are the fruits of karma. Volition is mental activity that directs toward good things or bad things willfully.
Consciousness is just the awareness of things. It is just “seeing,” not recognizing or perceiving or judging. Remember, perception recognizes, consciousness is awareness.
Consciousness is also impermanent and dependent upon the 5 aggregates unlike some others believe. It depends on matter or any of the other energies to have an object. Visual consciousness depends on the sense of sight. Kinesthetic consciousness depends on the sense of feeling. Consciousness arises out of conditions and is thus conditional, impermanent, dukkha.
To use the analogy of a fire, a fire is named according to the material on which it burns. Think of a wood fire or a grease fire. The same is with consciousness. It is named according to the condition on which it arises.
A Quick Recap.
There is no consciousness independent of the 5 aggregates. The same with self. The self is conditional, subject to change, death, and resurrection: evolution.
A being is only the name for a certain combination of energies. The energies are impermanent and ever changing. No two moments are they ever the same.
Use the analogy of a mountain river: life is like a mountain river, flowing swift and fast, taking everything along with it. There is no moment, no instant, no second where it stops flowing. It keeps on flowing and continuing forever.
One thing arises, then it dies, conditioning the next birth.
There is no separate self apart from the universe. All life is interdependent and conditional. Life is One.
The concept of self is just a mental formation. It is a false view derived out of ignorance. There is no self behind the energy, there is only energy itself. See things for how they really are without labeling them.
There is no unmoving mover behind the movement, there is only movement itself. There is no thinker behind the thought, there is only thought. See things exactly are they are: no more, no less. See things as they are without adding to them or subtracting from them.
The Beginning Of Life According To Buddhism.
The beginning of life is unthinkable. The cycle of life is without visible end and the beginning of life is not to be perceived.
The beginning of ignorance is not to be perceived in such a way that postulates there was no ignorance beyond a certain point.
He who sees dukkha sees also how dukka arises, how dukkha is cessated, and the path to the cessation of dukkha.
The Qualities Of A Buddhist.
If you understand the four noble truths and and follow the path to the cessation of dukkha you will be the happiest of beings. You wont be fearful or anxious. You will be calm and serene.
If you see things exactly as they are, you will be unable to be upset by calamities or changes. You will be ever smiling.
Although there is suffering in life, there is also joy and happiness, so don’t be impatient with suffering. Be patient in suffering. Understand it, understand how it comes about, understand how to get rid of it, and then work diligently with intelligence, determination, and energy to release suffering in your life.
The Second Noble Truth: The Cause Of Dukkha
What Is The Cause Of Dukkha?
The cause of dukkha is the “thirst” for existence, sensory pleasures, and even the thirst for death or annihilation. It is the desire for more and more, the dissatisfaction with the present moment the way it is. This “thirst” is not the only cause of dukkha, it is also conditional like all of the things in our world.
The main cause of suffering is the false idea of a self. This false self wants not only material things like wealth, power, and sensory pleasures, but also spiritual things like ideas, conceptions, and opinions.
All trouble, strife, and evil arise from this false sense of self that thinks it is separate from the universe at large.
Karma And Rebirth.
Mental volition, aka karma, is the will to live, to re-exist, to continue on and become more and more. It creates the root of existence and continuity, striving forward either good or bad. The
“thirst” for these things is apart of the rising of dukkha because there is no real self to receive the fruits of karma.
Not all actions are karma, only the volitional or willful ones. Karma is also never the results of karma. It is the action itself and the results are the fruits of karma.
Volition may be good or bad, but it is relative. Good action produces good results and bad action produces bad results. This is a natural law, not supernatural.
Karma has one job: to go forward. To continue, good or bad is dependent on the deeds.
An Arahant, an Enlightened One, a Buddha, does not accumulate karma because they are free from the false idea of self. There is no one to receive the fruits of karma, they are beyond duality.
An Important Note.
The cause of dukkha is within dukkha itself, not outside of it. The cessation of dukkha is also within itself. Whatever can arise can also cease, so do not despair.
What Is Death In Buddhism?
As we learned earlier, a being is nothing more than the compilation of mental and physical energies from the 5 aggregates. Death is just the cessation of the bodily functions. The energies continue on. The energies that comprise the being don’t die simply because the body dies.
In Buddhism, karma is one of the energies that keeps going and manifests itself in another form. Volition or willpower is the greatest force in the world. It is almost a cosmic willpower.
What Is Life According To Buddhism?
Life too is just a combination of the mental and physical energies of the 5 aggregates. These energies are constantly changing, constantly evolving. They don’t remain the same for 2 consecutive moments. Every moment they are born and die and are reborn.
When the aggregates are born, decay, and die you are born, decay, and die. Every moment we are born and every moment we die but we still continue on. Even in this life we continue on without permanence so why would the Hereafter be any different?
When the body’s functions cease the energies do not die, they simply continue on in another form.
A child is a child but within the child is the potential for a fully grown adult. Physical and mental energies have within themselves the power to take a new form.
Life Is Movement.
It is like a flame which burns through the night. The flame at the end of the night is not the same flame as was at the start of the night but it isn’t a different one.
A child grows up to be elderly. The elder is not the same person as the child but they are not someone else either.
Similarly, a person who dies and is reborn is not the same person nor is he someone else. This is all a continuity of the same series.
The difference between death and birth is only a thought-moment. The last thought-moment of this life conditions the first thought-moment of the “next-life,” which is the continuity of the same, unbroken series.
As long as there is “thirst” to become, the cycle of continuity, samsara goes on. It stops only when the “thirst” is destroyed through wisdom which sees Nirvana.
The Third Noble Truth Of Nirvana.
The third noble truth is that there is a cessation to dukkha, an emancipation from suffering, liberation from struggle called Nirvana.
What exactly is Nirvana?
The best and simplest answer is that it can’t be explained in human words. It is beyond the perception of human beings. We have a hard enough time explaining things of this world much less another. It’s like a fish trying to imagine what it’s like to hike a mountain or land on the moon.
Word’s are only symbolic representations, an approximation of what is being described. Ignorant people get stuck in words when trying to understand things but wise men see through the words into a deeper truth of reality.
Using Negative Language For Describing Nirvana.
It’s proper and forbearing for us to use negative language to describe Nirvana so that it wont be an object of attachment for some people. Certainly a positive denotation wouldn’t 100% describe it accurately either. It is beyond duality, non-duality, beyond the perception of a human being.
Some negative expressions of Nirvana would be the extinction of selfish desire, the uncompounded, the unconditioned. The absence of desire, the cessation, the blowing out, extinction. None of these sound all that appealing. It does seem a lot like the death we know if we don’t recognize anything afterward. Eternal rest.
The ending of self imposed suffering is when you give up selfish desire. It is when you renounce the selfish the desires of the false self and gain emancipation from it. It is when you detach yourself from selfish desires.
Nirvana is the calming of all conditional things, the giving up of defilements. Detachment, cessation of attachment. It is the extinction of hatred and illusion.
Whatever there may be among conditioned or unconditioned, detachment is the highest vibration. Freedom from conceit, the extinction of the false self: this is Nirvana.
The abandoning and destruction of craving for the 5 aggregates of attachment: that is Nirvana. The cessation of duality perception. Seeing things as they truly are.
There is unconditioned because there is conditioned, so there is escape for the conditioned and birth for the unconditioned.
Nirvana has no place for the 4 elements. Length, breadth, subtle, gross, good, evil, name, form, all of these have no place. This world, the next world, the last world, coming, going, standing, death, birth, sensory objects, none of these exist. Nirvana is beyond the perception of a human being.
Whatever You Think Nirvana Is, It Isn’t.
It is not negative or positive nor does it represent annihilation or death. There is no self to annihilate except the false self.
It isn’t anything in duality. No terms within such a language can encompass it. It is beyond relativity.
How To Find Nirvana?
Mankind is made up of 4 elements and different kinds of energies. After analyzing them he finds none of them to be his “true self.”
They understand how consciousness appears and disappears, how pleasure appears and disappears, and through this knowledge the mind becomes detached and they find themselves within a purity that can direct the life to unimaginable glory and spiritual achievement. But even that is a mental construction and temporary, so that is released too.
Since mankind does not cling anymore they can’t be anxious. Completely calm within, there is knowing, “Finished is birth. Lived is pure life. What should be done is done. There is nothing left to do.”
Now when mankind suffers or enjoys spiritual bliss, there is knowing that it is impermanent, so it does not bind him. In complete detachment, there is knowing that both the good and the bad will be pacified with the cessation of his bodily functions. Just as the flame of a candle goes out, the fire of the desire that causes suffering goes out.
The Ultimate End To Our Journey.
Knowledge of Nirvana is the absolute noble wisdom. Our deliverance founded on it is unshakable. Illusion is illusion and the ultimate reality is the ultimate reality. Truth and
reality are interchangeable here.
There is nothing absolute is this world. Everything is relative, conditioned, and impermanent. There is no separate self from the rest of the universe. Life is One. We are interdependt.
To recognize Nirvana is to see things exactly as they are without illusion or ignorance. To have detachment and wisdom: that is the cessation of suffering, Nirvana.
Nirvana is not the result of detachment. It is not produced by cause and effect, that would make it conditioned. It just IS. Truth IS. Nirvana IS. All you can do is realize it, see it.
There is a path leading to the realization of Nirvana but it is not the result of that path. Like a mountain isn’t a result of you hiking to it and a light isn’t the result of your eyesight, Nirvana isn’t the result of the path.
Nirvana is non-duality, the final destination for what we know. There is nothing beyond it that we can fathom. Not that we can even fathom Nirvana. Nirvana doesn’t exist like we think, it is
totally beyond our perception.
There Is No Eternal Self.
It is thought that thinks. There is no thinker behind the thought. Only movement exists, no unmoving mover behind it. All the rest is a mental creation and temporary, subject to die, pass away, and be long gone.
If something can arise, it can also die. If it can die it can also arise. Suffering arises because of attachment and ceases because of wisdom. The shaking off of unreality and realizing Nirvana IS. That is wisdom.
Attachment and wisdom are both within the 5 aggregates. The 4 Noble Truths are within them as well.
There is no external power that causes suffering, nor is there any external power that ceases it. All we can do is realize Nirvana. We cannot achieve something already with us.
When wisdom is developed it sees the secret of life, detachment. And when the truth is seen everything becomes silent and peaceful. There is no need to wait, Nirvana can be realized right now. Just let go of what you cling to.
What Happens When We Realize Nirvana?
We will be free from all anxieties, complexes, worries, insecurities, and troubles, with perfect mental health.
We release the past and the future and live completely in the present, enjoying things in the purest sense without self projections. Joyful, exultant, pure, pleased, free from anxiety, serene, peaceful, and liberated. This is the ultimate attainment.
Free from selfish desire, hatred, ignorance, conceit, pride, and all such defilements, we will be pure, gentle, full of universal love, compassion, kindness, sympathy, understanding, and tolerance. Our service to others will be pure because we have no false idea of self. We gain nothing and accumulate nothing. We are free from the illusion of a separate, independent self.
Nirvana is beyond all terms of duality and relativity, beyond senses, logic, reasoning, and intellectual comprehension.
There is no explaining Nirvana. We simply take the path leading to it in quiet confidence.
The Fourth Noble Truth: The Path To Nirvana. The Eightfold Path.
There is a way to Nirvana. It is not extreme asceticism nor extreme fundamentalism. It is a middle path.
Extremists are stuck in inner conflict while the middle path gives vision and knowledge which leads to inner calm and insight about the nature of reality.
The essence of Buddhism is the path to Nirvana, the Noble Eightfold path. It is made up of the right, beneficial aspects of these:
The 3 Main Disciplines Of The Noble Eightfold Path are:
- Ethical Discipline,
- Mental Discipline,
- The Disciple Of Wisdom.
To become enlightened and realize Nirvana you must develop two traits equally and abundantly:
That is a summation of the Buddhist path.
Wisdom and compassion are linked together as you’ll find out. Truly wise men and women know that we are all in the life together and that harming others is ultimately harming themselves. Wise men and women develop compassion and give it to all living beings.
The Ethical Disciplines.
These are made up of the right and beneficial use of:
The Proper Use Of Speech:
Don’t lie, gossip, slander, or talk thoughtlessly. Only share information you are 1,000% sure on. Either ask questions in humility, genuinely seeking information, or speak the truth.
Speak kindly to and about people. Don’t talk maliciously behind people’s back, or talk down to people.
The Right Use Of Action:
Don’t steal, kill, or hurt any living being.
Help others. Improve the lives of others and be a benefit to the people you are around and to your community.
Beneficial Use Of Livelihood:
Don’t hold a job that harms people or any other living being, whether directly or indirectly.
Work in a way that improves the lives of all the living beings around you in a way that you are happy with.
The Mental Disciplines.
These are made up of the right and beneficial use of:
The Right Use Of Effort:
This is the energetic will to prevent bad states of mind from arising. To get rid of them when they come, to cultivate good states of mind, and to grow and mature those good states of mind is the fulfillment of this discipline.
The Correct Way To Use Mindfulness:
Be aware of the activities of your mind, your feelings, your thoughts, and your conceptions.
Breathing meditation helps with the awareness of the activities of your body.
Be aware of what you are feeling, good, bad, and indifferent. Notice how your feelings arise and disappear.
Realize what you are focusing on. See how these thoughts arise and disappear.
Become conscious of what your conceptions, beliefs, and ideas are. Understand what they are, how they arise, and how they disappear.
These 4 forms of mindfulness are expanded upon in the “Setting Up Of Mindfulness” text.
The Ideal Use Of Concentration:
This is meditation on detachment which leads to the loss of all good and bad states and leaves only pure awareness and equanimity.
The Wisdom Disciplines.
These are made up of the right and beneficial use of:
The Best Use Of Thought:
Selfless renunciation, detachment, universal love, and wisdom. These are the thoughts one wants to cultivate to realize Nirvana.
The Right Understanding:
This is seeing things exactly as they are. Fully understanding the four noble truths helps to realize Nirvana. Seeing things without a label.
The path to Nirvana is self discipline, discipline of the mind, body, and wisdom. In the following of the 8 fold path the Buddhist produces a Buddha-like state of mind and
interaction with the world. Peace be upon you.
I learned most of this from what is the best book on Buddhism so far: What The Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula. Check it out!