The four noble truths, as I understand them.
The four noble truths were developed by “The Buddha”, which is a whole story, by itself.
For now, however, let’s just go through what the basic premise is of the four noble truths, as I understand them.
The first noble truth is “life is dukkha“. From the definition, “Dukkha is a Pali word, which appears in Sanskrit as duḥkha, and it is most often translated as “pain,” “suffering,” “stress,” or “dis-ease” (and as an adjective, “painful, stressful”). The concept of dukkha is one of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism”
In other words, “life is pain, or suffering, or stressful”, which, perhaps, is not a great selling point.
I mean, if I were trying to introduce a world changing philosophy, I don’t know that I’d start with that. I don’t know how many people want to buy my self-help book, if I start with “life is suffering”. But there it is. “Life is suffering” as the first noble truth.
The second noble truth attempts to identify the source of suffering as Taṇhā, translated to “thirst, desire, longing, greed”. So, the first noble truth defines our existence; or, at least, our interpretation of experience; and, that interpretation is experienced in the lens of suffering.
That suffering, as defined in the second noble truth, comes from craving, from wanting our current experience to be different than it actually is.
Whatever that may be. Whether you are upset that you don” have enough money, in your opinion. Or, perhaps, you are unhappy with your career or just the news of the day is upsetting you or your partner or spouse is not living up to your expectations. These are all examples of you being upset because you want things to be different than they are; and there is the kernel of the second noble truth. Our perception of life, that it is suffering, stems from our own desire, our own craving.
The idea of the second noble truth extends to real, physical pain; and perceived or emotional pain.
There is a notion in Buddhism that we experience something twice. Or, rather, the untrained mind experiences existence twice. First, we experience what happens. We stub our toe; we feel that pain. And then, we react to that pain, which is often a greater and more intense perception than the original experience.
The third noble truth.
If the source of suffering is craving or longing, then the third noble truth states that the end of suffering is to release yourself from craving.
This leaves us with a question. Up until now, it was going okay. The first noble truth, life is suffering. Yes, I can see that. We do tend to, at times, define our existence by our level of suffering. We are fascinated by whether we are happy or not happy, whether we are entertained or not entertained. So yes, I can see the first noble truth.
And the second noble truth, by defining the cause of suffering to be from craving, does seem to be a natural progression. It does seem that me wanting things to be different than they actually are, can be frustrating. It can be dissatisfying.
But now we’re saying that the third noble truth is to let go of your craving, which sounds okay for the bad stuff. Yes, stop letting yourself get upset about your bills, or your job, or your lack of a job, or whether you are getting along with your partner, or your spouse, or don’t have a partner. Let go of all of that. Yes.
But what about the good stuff? What about good food and drink? What about being successful? About making a mark on the world, about putting that small dent in the universe, as someone once said.
What about the good stuff we crave? Love and happiness?
I think the argument is going to be something along the lines that one is the same as the other. Chasing after things you enjoy is the same as avoiding things you don’t want to experience. It may seem like it’s moving in different directions, but it’s still chasing ephemeral states of your emotions. What is driving you to your definition of success?
There is a concept of non-duality. The idea is that much of what we look at life, or how we define our experiences, are put into two groups — good and bad. This experience is good, this experience was bad. That is duality. Non-duality, as I understand it, would say that all experience is just that, experience. The labels of good or bad to an experience is something we apply to the experience. It’s the second experience, our reaction to the experience.
Which leads to the fourth noble truth. The fourth noble truth identifies the eightfold path as the way to release oneself from the burden of craving.
- the first noble truth suggests that life is suffering — or that we perceive life as suffering
- The second noble truth suggest that the cause of our suffering is desire; or, craving.
- The third noble truth suggests, if the cause of our suffering is craving, then releasing ourselves from craving is the path to freedom
- The fourth noble truth suggests the Eightfold path is the way to attain freedom from craving