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Buddhism: The 4 Noble Truths

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Buddhism's Four Noble Truths

Siddharta Gautama was twenty-nine years old when he abandoned his family to search for a means to bring to an end his and other's suffering after studying meditation for many years. At age thirty-five, Siddharta Gautama sat down under the shade of a fig tree to meditate and he determined to meditate until he reached enlightenment. After seven weeks he received the Great Enlightenment which he referred to as the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path. Henceforth he became known as the Buddha.

In The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh provides a citation from the Buddha, which gives insight into the cure of our distress. "I teach only suffering and the transformation of suffering" (Thich Nhat Hanh 3). When we recognize and acknowledge our own suffering, the Buddha, which is present in everyone, will look at it, discover what has brought it about, and prescribe a course of action that can transform it into peace, joy, and liberation. Suffering is the means the Buddha used to liberate himself, and it is also the means by which we can become free.

The teachings of the Buddha revolve around this central tenant known as the "Four Noble Truths". The Four Noble Truths represent the basis of the Buddha's teaching and form the central foundation of Buddhism. Historically, Lord Buddha preached on these topics during his first public commentary following his enlightenment.

The First Noble Truth states that "Life is Dukkha." Dukkha, in English "suffering", exists, even that this is the natural and universal state of beings. To live, one must suffer because it is an inevitable part of life, which one cannot avoid. All beings must endure physical suffering as well as enduring psychological suffering the form of many human emotions. Human beings are subject to impermanence and uncertainty which very often, causes us to associate with things that are unpleasant and disassociate with things that are pleasant. This may seem a bit cynical and may suggest to many individuals that Buddhism is a dismal, fatalistic religion yet it just implies we must accept the good with the bad. Buddha's first noble truth is a statement that can obviously not be denied.

In The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, the author provides insight into the truth of suffering. "To succeed in the practice, we must stop trying to prove that everything is suffering. In fact we must stop trying to prove anything. If we touch the truth of suffering with our mindfulness, we will be able to recognize and identify our specific suffering, its specific causes, and the way to remove these causes and an end to suffering" (Thich Nhat Hanh 22).

Expressed in a slightly different way, one may conclude that everything in the world, is ultimately unsatisfying. One also may conclude: it is impossible to satisfy ourselves with worldly things. This may be the best translation of them all. The fact that we cannot be ultimately satisfied means all aspects of life are filled with dukkha, and this causes suffering. Buddha further suggested that there are three kinds of dukkha. Everyday dukkha (dukkha-dukkha) relates to the ups and downs of daily living, birth, death, and physical pain. The dukkha of change or changing circumstances (virapinama-dukkha) recognizes that we have an innate desire to keep things the way they are when they are good but we cannot. Finally, dukkha caused by the innate flaw of our conditioned existence (samkara-dukkha) describes the dissatisfaction or difficulty that arises from the fact that we are not perfect, eternal beings but are made up of the five skandha (aggregates) which become the hooks on which our attachments hang. It is these attachments that are at the root of our suffering.

The Second Noble Truth is that the source of our suffering is craving and desire. When we look at psychological suffering, it is easy to see how craving causes it. The Second Noble Truth says that getting what you want does not guarantee happiness. Rather than constantly struggling to get what you want, try to modify your desires. Wanting deprives us of contentment and happiness. A lifetime filled with wanting and cravings, either for feelings or objects, contains of a powerful energy which causes that individual to be reborn. When one is reborn, one has a physical body which is susceptible to injury and disease; can be exhausted by work; ages and eventually dies. Thus, craving leads to physical suffering because it causes us to be reborn.

In Thoughts without a Thinker, Mark Epstein provides an instance reinforcing the cause of suffering, "A wealthy patient confided to me that after having a gourmet meal, he craves a cognac. After the cognac, a cigarette; after the cigarette he will start to think about making love; after perhaps another cigarette. Soon, he begins to crave sleep, preferably without any disturbing dreams. The search for comfort through sense pleasures rarely has an end" (59).

Buddha says is that when our desires, our constant discontent, and our continual longing for more causes suffering, then we should stop doing it but not to stop all desires because individuals need to have goals. Buddha states one must differentiate between what we need and want and to strive for our needs and modify our wants. He teaches that our needs can be fulfilled but that our wants are endless. Desires beyond one's fundamental necessities of life should be gradually lessened.

The Second Noble Truth also explores the source of dukkha, which arises from attachments, craving, or desire. The attachment or desire of the Second Noble Truth can spring from, or relate to many aspects of our life. We may desire sensual pleasure, or fine possessions. We may thirst for recognition, or wish to become something we are not. This is all actually commonplace and a normal aspect of an individual's life in this world.

The Third Noble Truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness achieved. This is perhaps the most significant of the Four Noble Truths because in it the Buddha reassures us that true happiness and contentment are possible. When we give up useless craving and learn to live each day at a time, enjoying without restless wanting the experiences that life offers us, patiently enduring the problems that life involves without fear, hatred and anger, it is then that one can become content, free and live life fully. This state of consciousness is referred to as Nirvana. When one becomes free from all psychological suffering as well; this state is called Final Nirvana.

Nirvana cannot be explained because it is a dimension transcending time and space and thus difficult to talk or think of. Thus Nirvana is eternal because it is beyond space, there

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