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The 4 Noble Truths – The Core of The Buddha’s Teachings

The 4 Noble Truths – The Core of The Buddha’s Teachings

The 4 Noble Truths

Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Turning the Wheel of the Dhamma In Your Life 

Myth and legend are inextricably woven into the tapestry of culture, food, fashions and more that form the entirety of human history and experience. Through the proliferation of lore and legend, came the advent of rites, rituals, and beliefs, and the wonder and confusion that accompanied them. In our pursuit of the truth buried among the annals of sorcery and circumstance, it is these hidden philosophies behind the stories that continue to spur our research. There exist many facets of the world that yet remain unexplained by science or sense.

To some extent, legends possess their own artistic license, adding, removing, appending or exaggerating as it sees fit. The annals of history have been kind to some stories from a distant past, and less so to others. Even regional variations may result in vastly different interpretations of the same lore. One widely-known example is the story of Hanuman

, which is both widespread, and greatly varying across India, Thailand, Indonesia and a swathe of other countries.

 

 

Much of the lore surrounding Thai amulets, as we have observed, had their roots in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, and were often further transmogrified by the influence of other deeply spiritual Eastern traditions, e.g. Tibetan, Cambodian, Chinese, Thai etc. The wicha of Inn Thong

(or Inn Koo
) for example, originated from the Puruṣārtha
teachings of Hinduism (read our article on Inn Wicha
here to find out more).

 

Some key phrases and themes recur throughout our articles, such as ‘Du Sa Ni Ma

’ (the spell for invulnerability and protection) referring to the 4 Nobles Truths, ‘Na Ma Pa Ta
’ (referring to the 4 elements), or the Verses of Veneration (read our article on “Buddhaguna, Dhammaguna, Sanghaguna – The Verses of Veneration to The 3 Jewels” and “Tisarana – Taking Refuge in The Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha” to find out more) and so on, and so forth. What, however, do these really refer to, and what were the teachings of the Buddha that gave rise to them?

 

Sculpture of Buddha expounding the 4 Noble Truths (Pic credit: xTOLIndia.com/ Shutterstock.com)
Sculpture of Buddha expounding the 4 Noble Truths
(Credit: xTOLIndia.com/ Shutterstock.com)

This article is neither meant to be taken as a scholarly piece nor to be used as a template for practice, much less to be used as a point of contention and conflict to challenge another’s beliefs, faith or knowledge. Because of the archaic nature of some of the subjects discussed, certain Pali words may even, in present-day, be a source of disagreement between both academics and experts, their true meaning perhaps lost to the ravages of time.

What this aims to be, is a primer regarding the early teachings of the Buddha. The Pali words we chose to include are merely intended to provide the utmost clarity. The correct meditation practices should be undertaken with a qualified teacher to ensure that these protocols result in their fullest effects in your life, the specifics of which will be discussed later in this article.

 

The Buddha

The word “Buddha” in Pali means an “Awakened One”. He who is awakened to the cause of suffering and why it arises in all living beings (even almighty heavenly ones) and transcended it.

Siddhartha Gautama undertaking ascetic practices with 5 other companions to find enlightenment
Siddhartha Gautama undertaking ascetic practices with 5 other companions to find enlightenment

The Buddha was a prince named Siddhartha Gautama

who lived around the 5th century B.C. At the age of 30, he left his home to live as a wanderer, seeking to find the root of all suffering in the world. When he arrived at a small town named Bodhgaya
, he settled under a tree, vowing not to rise till he had found the answers he sought. Though applying the instruction he had received from a host of the finest spiritual masters of the day, he felt that nothing was sufficient to eradicate nor diminish the suffering inherent to Mankind.

 

He set out on a path of his own making, seeking the answers that had yet escaped him. Eventually, this led him to Enlightenment, a newfound consciousness that afforded him clarity of mind and medium, where he came to recognise impermanence (Anicca

), dissatisfaction, and imperfection (Dukkha
). He came to see experiences as a composite in nature (Anatta
). For the next 45 years of his life, he wandered across Northern India. He shared his insights and taught meditation techniques to help people overcome their desires, ill-will, and delusions that trapped them in an endless cycle of suffering. The messages of Sila
(Morality), Samadhi
(Mental Training) and Panna
(Liberating Insight) were a constant throughout all his teachings.

 

Credit: Terd486/ Shutterstock.com
Credit: Terd486/ Shutterstock.com

 

The First Sermon

According to the Theravada

Buddhist tradition, the Buddha’s first sermon to his 5 companions was the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
, known as “Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion”. It contains the first teachings that the Buddha shared after attaining full awakening and liberating himself from rebirth.

 

Through these 4 Noble Truths, he advised his 5 students to take the middle path, avoiding the two extremes; indulgence in sensual pleasures, and self-torture.

Here, we present a condensed version of these teachings, meant as a primer for newcomers. Upon familiarising oneself with these concepts, you might choose to kick it up a notch by pursuing Vipassana meditation under the tutelage of an orthodox teacher.

 

 

The First Noble Truth: Noble Truth of Suffering – to be perceived (Dukkha-ariya-sacca

)
  1. Birth
  2. Decay
  3. Unease (includes illness, grief, lamentation, pain, displeasure, despair)
  4. Death
  5. Association with the unpleasant
  6. Separation from the beloved
  7. When one does not obtain what one desires
  8. In brief, the 5 aggregates (Matter/Body, Feeling, Perception, Mental Formations, Consciousness) are suffering

The Second Noble Truth: Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering – to be eradicated (Dukkha-samudaya-ariya-sacca

)
  1. Craving for sensual pleasures
  2. Craving for Existence
  3. Craving for Non-Existence

The primary cause of suffering is described by the Buddha as Tanha

, loosely translated as thirst or craving. A simple brush with pleasure may result in an addiction, a longing that may never be slaked without the cultivation of the mind. Food, music, money, sights, smells, even sex, all of these are meant to trap the being in a spiral of craving or aversion. This constant reverberation between the light and the dark widens the duality echoing within ourselves, making one crave an existence as “somebody”, or in certain cases, causing them to detach entirely, praying for an end to their tethered misery. Such suffering is not only endemic to us but also plagues the denizens of all 31 planes of Existences (refer to our article on the 31 planes of existence to understand better as Buddhism explained about how different beings, from animals to spirits and deities, even to existences on other world systems, are plagued by Desire, Ill-Will and Delusional Views.)

 

The Third Noble Truth: Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering – to be realised (Dukkha-nirodha-ariya-sacca

)
  1. Enlightenment, Supreme Bliss, Emancipation

 

The Fourth Noble Truth: Noble Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering – to be developed (Dukkha-nirodha-gaminipatipada-ariya-sacca

)

 

The Noble Eightfold Path:

The Noble Eightfold Path

 

The Noble Eightfold Path – Morality (Sila
)

 

Right Speech

  • Abstention from lying
  • Abstention from slandering
  • Abstention from harsh speech
  • Abstention from vain talk

Right Action

  • Abstention from killing
  • Abstention from stealing
  • Abstention from sexual misconduct

Right Livelihood

  • Not trading in arms
  • Not trading in living beings
  • Not trading in flesh
  • Not trading in intoxicants and addictive substances
  • Not trading in poisons

 

Credit: marekuliasz/ shutterstock.com
Credit: marekuliasz/ shutterstock.com

 

The Noble Eightfold Path – Mental Development (Samadhi
)

To fully comprehend the aspects of Mental Development discussed here, (which encompass Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration), one must engage in the practice of Buddhist meditation.

The first part, Right Effort, coupled with Morality (explained above) emphasizes the conduct of an individual, wherein his mind is insulated from extreme wounding or agitation due to the consequences of his actions. Once this is achieved, one proceeds to the practice of Samatha

(mindfulness of the breath), contained in Right Concentration) in tandem with Vipassana training, which also encompasses Right Mindfulness.

 

Right Effort

  • The Effort of Avoidance

The will or intention to sidestep thoughts of unwholesome acts, and prevent them from arising.

  • The Effort of Overcoming

The will and effort to overcome unwholesome acts which have already occurred.

  • The Effort of Development

The pursuit of wholesome acts which you have yet to undertake. These are so-named as the 7 factors of Enlightenment:

      1. Mindfulness/ Awareness
      2. Investigation/Understanding of the teachings
      3. Energy/ Effort
      4. Rapture
      5. Tranquillity
      6. Concentration/ Focus
      7. Equanimity
  • The Effort of Maintenance

The cultivation of one’s will and determination to sustain wholesome acts, until the point of fruition.

See Also
  • Right Mindfulness

This encompasses meditation techniques to enable people to overcome desire, and recognise the fundamental nature of phenomena as unsatisfactory, impermanent and beyond the locus of the self, and that all things are the composite result of many other things.

The fruit of the Buddha’s teachings was the Dhamma, an art of living in pursuit of erasing the ills of human nature and mental suffering, which is inherent in all human beings. A doctor curing the sick and needy for example, despite not being a Buddhist himself, is practising the Dhamma by applying his skills in pursuit of wholesome deeds. Morality, mental focus, and the wisdom to do the right thing are said to take precedence over the petty particularities inherent to each system of organized religious systems.

Credit: marekuliasz/ shutterstock.com
Credit: marekuliasz/ shutterstock.com

 

“Right Mindfulness”, encompasses the 4 Foundations of Mindfulness. They are:

  1. Mindfulness of the Body
    • An awareness of the natural “in-out” breath
    • Acute awareness of the four postures (sitting, walking, standing and lying down)
    • Clear and sustained mindfulness of the self in daily tasks
    • Reflection on the repulsiveness of the body
    • The 4 elements of the body (Temperature – Heat, Fluid – Water, Movement – Air, Mass – Earth)
    • Contemplating the decomposition of human bodies
  2. Mindfulness of Feelings
    • as pleasurable
    • as uncomfortable
    • neither pleasurable nor uncomfortable
    • Bodily elation
    • Bodily pain
  3. Mindfulness of State of Mind
    • Lustful or the lack thereof
    • Hate or empathy
    • Delusion or clarity of mind
    • Attuned or distracted
    • Developed or undeveloped
    • Surpassed or unsurpassed
    • Focused or chaotic
    • Liberated or unliberated
  4. Mindfulness of Mind-Objects
    • The 5 Hindrances; sensual desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, doubt
    • The 5 Aggregates; form, feeling, perception, mental fabrications and consciousness
    • The 6 Sense Faculties; Sight, Hearing, Smell, Taste, Touch, Thinking
    • The 7 Factors of Enlightenment; Mindfulness, Investigative Efforts into the nature of reality, Energy (Determination and Effort), Joy or Rapture, Tranquillity, Concentration and Equanimity
    • The 4 Noble Truths

 

Credit: fizkes/ shutterstock.com

 

Right Concentration

To guide the mind to a place of serenity using Samatha, where it may then seek insight through Vipassana. In most cases, focusing on the breath is the primary tool for achieving this state. A total of 40 meditation methods exist, available to everyone from the staunchest faithful, the lustful, those with strong feelings of ill-will, to the most sceptical and lost.

(Meditation should always be guided by a qualified teacher.)

These meditation subjects are divided into;

  • the 10 Kasina
    (Earth, Water, Air, Fire, Blue, Yellow, Red, White, Light and Space),
  • the 10 Unattractive Objects (the bloated, the livid, the festering, the cut-up, the gnawed, the scattered, the hacked-up and cut-up, the blood-stained, the worm-infested, the skeletons)
  • The 10 recollections (of the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, morality, giving, virtues of the deities, of death, of the body, of the breath, of peace)
  • The 4 Immeasurable Sublime states (Loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, equanimity)
  • The 4 Immaterial states (perception of boundless space, boundless consciousness, nothingness and “neither perception nor non-perception”)
  • 1 Perception (the repulsiveness of food)
  • 1 Analysis (contemplation of the body in terms of the 4 elements; earth, fire, air, water)

 

The 4 Great Efforts;

  • Restraint of the senses
  • Abandonment of defilements
  • Cultivation of the 7 Factors of Enlightenment (Mindfulness, Investigative Efforts, Energy (Determination and Effort), Joy or Rapture, Tranquillity, Concentration and Equanimity)
  • Perseverance

 

The Noble Eightfold Path – Wisdom and Liberating Insight (Panna
)

 

Right Understanding

  1. The 4 Noble Truths
    Credit: ESB Professional/ Shutterstock.com
  2. Ten Kinds of Immorality to be understood and eradicated
    • Killing
    • Stealing
    • Sexual Misconduct
    • Lying
    • Slandering
    • Harsh Speech
    • Vain Talk
    • Covetousness
    • Hatred
    • Wrong Views
  3. Ten Kinds of Meritorious Deeds to be understood and cultivated
    • Generosity
    • Morality
    • Meditation
    • Reverence
    • Service
    • Sharing and Transference of Merits from virtuous deeds
    • Rejoicing for and Partaking in others’ virtuous deeds
    • Hearing and learning the Dhamma
    • Explaining or expounding the Dhamma
    • Correcting one’s wrong views
  4. The 3 Universal Characteristics
    • Impermanence/ Transient Nature
    • Unsatisfactory or Imperfect nature
    • Insubstantial / Composite nature of all phenomena
      Credit: desdemona72/ shutterstock.com
  5. The 4 Stages of Liberation – Eradicating the 10 fetters which plague beings
    • The Sotapanna
      (eradicating 3 mental fetters of identity view, doubt and attachment to rites and rituals)
    • The Sakadagamin
      (weakening 2 more mental fetters; sensual desire and ill-will
    • The Anagamin
      (eradicating the above 5 mental fetters)
    • The Arahant
      (eradicating the last 5 mental fetters; lust for material existence, lust for immaterial existence or formless realms, conceit, restlessness and ignorance)
  6. Dependent Origination (Paticca-Samuppada)
The Paticca-Samuppada
The Paticca-Samuppada

Right Thought

  • Thoughts free from lust, desire, craving, clinging
  • Thoughts free from malevolence, anger, hatred, other forms of ill-will
  • Thoughts free from cruelty, desire to harm, offend.

The Eightfold Noble Path can be thus be summarized into 3 components; Sila (Morality), Samadhi (Mental Training) and Panna (Liberating Insight or Wisdom)

Morality – Abstain from all that is sinful, harmful or unwholesome, be they physical or vocal. When carried out, they may disrupt the peace and harmony of other beings.

Mental Training – Perform wholesome deeds with mindfulness.

Liberating Insight or Wisdom – Purify the totality of our mind by developing insight through Vipassana meditation.

In order to understand and transcend the suffering of existence, one must be able to attain the states of liberation. Only then will one get a glimpse into the possibilities that lie beyond our everchanging world of mind and matter.

In order to reach the different states of liberation, one must be able to undertake the correct mental meditation practices such as Vipassana.

Achieving the highest states of liberation can only come with a comprehensive pursuit of truth and wholesomeness, which extends far beyond mere meditative practices. It should also be sought through actions and employment, engaging in activities that free the mind of clutter and agony.

The message of the Buddha’s teachings, ultimately, was that to free ourselves from suffering is to walk the same path he did, and unlock our own doors using the keys we afford in our hearts, minds, and actions until the very weight of the existence itself lifts off our shoulders.

 

References:

credit: antonpix/ shutterstock.com
Credit: antonpix/ shutterstock.com
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