The Four Noble Truths are one of the most fundamental Buddhist teachings. In broad terms, these truths relate to suffering’s nature, origin, cessation and the path leading to the cessation. They are among the truths Gautama Buddha is said to have realized during his experience of enlightenment.
The Four Noble Truths appear many times throughout the most ancient Buddhist texts, the Pali Canon. The early teaching and the traditional understanding in the Theravada is that the four noble truths are an advanced teaching for those who are ready for them. Mahayana Buddhism regards them as a preliminary teaching for people not ready for its own teachings. They are little known in the Far East.
Some may see truths as a mistranslation. One author cites realities as a possibly better choice, since they are things, not statements, in the original grammar. However, the original Tibetan Lotsawas who studied Sanskrit grammar thoroughly, did translate the term from Sanskrit into Tibetan as “bden pa” which has the full meaning of truth.
1. The Nature of Suffering (Dukkha):
This is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.
2. Suffering’s Origin (Samudaya):
This is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.
3. Suffering’s Cessation (Nirodha):
This is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it.
4. The Way (Marga) Leading to the Cessation of Suffering:
This is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is the Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.
Why the Buddha is said to have taught in this way is illuminated by the social context of the time in which he lived. The Buddha was a Sramaṇa, a wandering ascetic whose aim was to discover the truth and attain happiness. He is said to have achieved this aim while under a bodhi tree near the River Neranjana. The Four Noble Truths are a formulation of his understanding of the nature of suffering, the fundamental cause of all suffering, the escape from suffering, and what effort a person can go to so that they themselves can attain happiness.