The Four Noble Truths

Welcome to Four Noble Truths Dot Org.  I thank you for stopping by.  Of all of the ideas that have arisen on this planet, one has, without a doubt, the most practical impact, and that is the Four Noble Truths.  It is not simply a religious idea.  In it’s pure and original form I would argue to say that it had nothing to do with religion.  I consider it a psychology or a philosophy before I consider it a religion, which built up around this fundamental insight into our world.

Having been raised as a Christian, I learned compassion and love for others.  But Buddhism taught me to also love myself in a way that I never knew was possible.  As I grew, I encountered situations, ideas, and existential anxieties that Christianity simply couldn’t supply a satisfactory answer for, despites its strong efforts.  Of course this is relative for everyone, but for me, I found relief and release in the basics of Buddhism.

The absolute most important concept I learned was the one of “not worrying about answers.”  These answers were pertaining to questions that had no direct relevance to my life in the present.  Concerns of the existence of deities, transcendental realms, and other metaphysical concerns had nothing to do with the real reason I was asking these questions.  I wanted answers so that I could relax and not be anxious.  I wanted guidance on how to think and behave.  And these questions and answers, although very fascinating, were very far off the mark.  They are more a fun, intellectual game for me to play with myself now.

But the Buddha had it right when he said, and I paraphrase, “Don’t worry about these things.  Keep your eye on the goal.”  My goal, and his, and everyone else’s is to remove suffering from our lives.  And his insight into this matter is one of the most profound solutions to the problem I’ve encountered yet and has completely altered my life for the better.  Learning how to confront the reality in front of us can save us a lot of trouble in life.

My goal with this website is to share this information in a very down-to-earth fashion so that anyone can read it and understand.   This homepage will touch the basic concept of the Four Noble Truths, but each page linked on the sidebar will take every truth and analyze it in more depth for those interested.  Let’s get started!

four noble truths

What’s the Background to the Four Noble Truths?

Understanding how the Four Noble Truths came about really requires some background knowledge on the culture of the time.  In India, Hinduism was and is the leading religious and philosophical though, although it has evolved quite a bit over time as well.  As the story goes, the Buddha was a prince who was sheltered from much of the negative aspects of life in his lavish home.  One day, he snuck out and was exposed to things he had never known before, such as sickness, old age, and death.  This was his first recognition of suffering that led him on a deep journey to understand the nature of this suffering.

He started learning under different types of Hindu practitioners, from ascetics who denied physical reality in order to peer deeper into reality, and from hedonists who said to take in as much pleasure as possible.  The Buddha tried both, and realized they were two extremes on one scale of “attachment.”  Both groups had some relationship with their senses and bodies that were two sides of the same coin.  The Buddha decided to take the “middle way” and not have either extreme.  Of course, there were other fundamental differences between this new Buddhism and the older Hinduism, but those aren’t necessary to discuss here.

The Buddha’s goal, he decided, was to sit in meditation underneath this certain Bo tree until he understood the nature of suffering.  You will find most lay people who speak English translating the word “dukkha” into “suffering.”  However, the scholars find it more descriptive to call it “unsatisfactoriness,” to include the physical and psychological aspects of suffering and pain.

So the Buddha maintained his meditation under this tree for some amount of time (the stories differ, especially where mythology creeps in), and he eventually did gain a very deep insight into the nature of unsatisfactoriness.  And this insight he organized and taught as the Four Noble Truths, the framework for all Buddhist thought, and really any human thought.

An Explanation of the Four Noble Truths

Before we break it down too far, let’s go through a simplified list of the Four Noble Truths:

  1. The Truth of Suffering – Suffering is inherit in this universe.  It’s just a part of the deal.
  2. The Truth of the Origin of Suffering – Suffering arises from our attachments to things, our mental graspings.
  3. The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering – Suffering can end by eradicating attachment in our minds.
  4. The Truth of the Noble Eightfold Path – The Noble Eightfold Path teaches the method to put an end to attachment and suffering.

That is the very basic outline of the Four Noble Truths.  Of course, any curious mind wants to know more, so let’s look into a little more depth.  We will break each step down separately below.

The First of the Four Noble Truths – The Disease

We all live in Samsara, or this wheel of death and re-birth.  You can think of the universe we live in as Samsara if you like.  This place exists within the field of time, or the field of time exists within it.  Either way, because of this, it is subject to impermanence and change.  Every single thing will change.  Humans don’t like this.  We like stability and constancy.  When we can depend on things to not change, we can feel safe and secure.  However, this is just not the case.  So our mental desires are never fully satisfied.  That’s why dukkha is called “unsatisfactoriness.”

So this is the disease of existence and consciousness.  We are attached to notions, pleasurable stimuli for our senses, and even the absence of unappealing things.  But all of this shifts and changes, and so our minds become unsatisfied, and anger, anxiety, sadness, and a slew of other emotions and feelings arise.  We feel our bodies aging, falling apart, and succumbing to gravity and illness.  We spill grease on our t-shirts and have to guy new ones.  Our family members pass out of this world and are gone.  An insect stings us.  Small and large, there are so many unsatisfactory events occurring day after day in the field of time.

This is the nature of Samsara and the suffering that is inherent within it.  Even happiness comes and goes, so it is something that causes suffering.  All things must pass, positive and negative.  This causes suffering, and it’s the only constant in this universe.

The Second of the Four Noble Truths – The Diagnosis

buddhist monksSo we’ve accepted that suffering is a part of the game.  But where is this suffering coming from?  What is the origin of suffering?  Suffering is caused by attachment.  We now understand that everything is impermanent.  It all changes.  So being attached to any of it is silly, and it’s this attachment that causes the suffering.  Let me use an example.

Let’s pretend that you are walking through the shopping mall and there is a kiosk selling donuts.  Donuts aren’t even in your awareness at this point, but then you smell a donut.  Suddenly a rush of pleasurable associations enter your mind.  You remember how delicious they are, and how many laughs you’ve had with friends while eating them, and how colorful the sprinkles can be, etc.  Suddenly you are grasping for a donut with your mind.  You don’t currently have one, so that creates some psychological movement which is unsatisfactory.  You want a donut and don’t have one.  That is not acceptable for your mind.  This is one type of suffering.  The desire for something you don’t have.  It’s a forward facing attachment, looking into the future.

So then you go to purchase a donut.  You have to wait in line, you have to part with money, and you have to take on calories!  All unsatisfactory!  But alas, you have your donut, and you bite into it and it is magnificent.  Your taste buds explode in the most enjoyable manner.  You feel the texture of the donut as it moves across your tongue and slides down your throat.  This is great!  And then it’s over.  You have no more donut.  You have no extra money for another donut.  So you are now disappointed.  This is another type of suffering.  The attachment to something you once had.  It’s a backwards facing attachment, looking into the past.

Now you begin thinking about your stomach fat.  You wish it wasn’t there.  This is another type of suffering.  You wish something wasn’t there that is there, instead of the other way around.  You see how complex this whole game becomes?  You can think of it like this:

You either want some sensory pleasure or to have some experience, or you don’t want to have the sensory pleasure or experience.  The rejection of the item is an attachment to its absence.  Very confusing and deep stuff here.  You are either attached, or are having an aversion to something, which is the anti-attachment, but still an attachment.

How do we put a stop to this nonsense?

The Third of the Four Noble Truths – The Cure

Luckily, there is a remedy to this whole predicament, and we are already working on it.  The first step is to move out of a state of ignorance.  Misunderstanding the way our psychology works, or not having any insight into it is ignorance.  Exposing the inner workings of the mind is the first step to curing this problem.  And the cure is to be done with attachment.

Being done with attachment first means we have to know it’s there, and that’s what the first two of the Four Noble Truths is about.  This third truth is about the reality that we can be done with suffering and attachment.  It is a statement of this truth.  We want there to be a cessation of suffering, a ceasing of unsatifactoriness.  Fortunately, this is entirely a psychological phenomenon we overlay onto Samsara.  So if we stop, then it stops.  The non-arising of suffering happens when we stop grasping mentally for things.  When we stop being attached to things, suffering stops arising!

When this suffering stops, we move out of an experience of Samsara into a “being” in Nirvana, which is a state that doesn’t feature suffering.  We have stepped out of the constant rebirth of psychological desires.  The flame has been extinguished.  The poison has been removed.

So this is a possibility for all of us, despite our religions, despite our race or gender, despite our location in space or time.  No matter where or when we are, this can be done.  But how?

The Fourth of the Four Noble Truths – The Treatment

noble eightfold pathThis fourth of the Four Noble Truths is a little different than the first three.  The first three are largely about knowledge, where as this last one is about action.  It lays out a framework for us to live by.  It has to do with ethics, action, and thinking.  This is the method for destroying attachment.  It teaches us insight into the nature of everything so that we understand why suffering and attachment happens, and also shows us what to do to make it stop.

The Four Noble Truths – The Noble Eightfold Path

The key here is that they must all be put in place.  They are interconnected, as everything in this reality is according to sunyata and dependent arising.  So let’s lay them out so we can see what it is we must do.

  • Right View
  • Right Thoguht
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration

The eight spokes of one wheel is the Noble Eightfold Path.  To walk this path is to move closer to liberation from suffering, and to move closer to a permanent state of Nirvana.  We will go into actual depth about these in the page about the Noble Eightfold Path, so if you are interested, please give it a read.

Thanks for Visiting the Four Noble Truths Dot Org!

The preceding was simply an intro into this wonderful and fascinating topic.  I hope I will have done well enough for you to be interested in reading some of the other pages for more in-depth discussions about each of the Four Noble Truths, and especially about the Noble Eightfold Path.

Please contact me if you have any recommendations, suggestions, corrections, clarifications, insights, etc.  I welcome all communication!  And most of all, please share this site with others if you find it useful in any way.  Thanks again!