The Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths make up the cornerstone of the dharma, the teachings of the Buddha. Here they are:
- To the unenlightened, life is filled with dukkha.
- Dukkha is caused by selfish desire, anger and ignorance.
- Dukkha can be diminished, extinguished and eliminated.
- The way or practice leading to the end of dukkha is called the Eightfold Path.
Dukkha is a Pali word (duhkha in Sanskrit) meaning “unsatisfactoriness.” Sometimes it is translated as “suffering,” or chronic frustration, anxiety and stress. It is not necessarily suffering, as we know it. Happiness, for instance, can be unsatisfactory due to its impermanence.
Here is another way to interpret the Four Noble Truths:
- Life can stink
- Because of our ignorance,
- But there’s a way to make it smell good.
- Here’s how.
The Noble Eightfold Path
The path leading to the end of dukkha, or the Way to make life satisfactory, is called the Eightfold Path. The Path is known also as the “Middle Way,” because it avoids two extremes, one extreme being the search for happiness through the pleasures of the senses, and the other being the search for happiness through self-mortification (shame, humiliation, regret, etc.) in different forms of asceticism (severe, hermit-like, secluded, etc.), which is painful and non-productive. It is divided into three stages: morality, equanimity of mind, and wisdom and insight.
Although the word “right” is often used in expressing the Path’s wisdom, ethical conduct and mental discipline, it is helpful to also think in terms of the words “realistic and skillful.”
Here is the Eightfold Path:
- Right, realistic and skillful understanding.
- Right, realistic and skillful thought.
Ethical Conduct (Morality)
- Right, realistic and skillful speech.
- Right, realistic and skillful action
- Right, realistic and skillful aspiration (livelihood)
Mental Discipline (Equanimity of mind)
- Right, realistic and skillful effort (exertion)
- Right, realistic and skillful mindfulness (attentiveness)
- Right, realistic and skillful concentration
Following the Eightfold Path is an evolutionary process through many states of spiritual development until the ultimate goal is reached, which is enlightenment.
Practically the entire teaching of the Buddha is concerned in some way or other with this Path. The Buddha explained it in different ways and in different words to different people, according to the stage of their development and their capacity to understand it.
All eight elements are linked and each helps to cultivate the others. They are not listed in order of importance, nor are they to be followed one at a time. They should be followed to the best of one’s ability all at the same time. When practiced, when you try to live your life by using these guides, you are perfecting the three essentials of Buddhist training, namely: Ethical Conduct (Sila), Mental Discipline (Samadhi) and Wisdom (Panna).