The Four Noble Truths

Image of Buddha

The First Noble Truth: Suffering is an integral part of normal life.

Life as we know it always has its share of disagreeable experiences -- sickness, physical pain, and distress are obvious examples. The world at large is full of suffering, from hunger and war to injustice and environmental destruction. Even in the affluent West we may suffer from anxiety, stress, or a loss of meaning. Moreover, agreeable experiences are limited and transitory. We suffer from the deaths of those we love or for the loss of an intimate companion, and we know that our own death can come at any moment. As human beings we are always vulnerable amid the uncertainties of life, and no manipulation of our outer situation can protect us completely from the possibility of sorrow.

The Second Noble Truth: The cause of suffering is craving.

While no one can entirely avoid sickness and physical pain, the Buddha taught that our mental suffering has its roots in a deep-seated tendency of mind that wants things to be different than they are. We give this tendency the general name of "craving," but it also expresses itself as disliking, fear, anger, jealousy, confusion, etc. This tendency can be so pervasive that it gives rise to a nearly constant sense in our lives of striving and struggle. When this sense of strife is unexamined, it leads to a belief that we are not sufficient in ourselves or that there is something wrong with us. In fact, the root of the problem is simply the repetitive nature of craving. Worldwide, these same forces of greed, anger, and confusion are the source of enormous suffering for humankind.

The Third Noble Truth: There is an end to the suffering of craving.

When the mind is in a state of craving, it is contracted and painful. When we see it as it is, we may choose simply to let go of the craving. Then the mind returns to its natural state of peace and balance. According to the Buddha, letting go of unnecessary desires is the way to peace and happiness. He said that when we let go completely of the force of craving, we discover the state he called "nirvana," a complete and unconditioned freedom.

The Fourth Noble Truth: The way to the end of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Buddha described the way to happiness as a path with eight component parts, which he called the Noble Eightfold Path, a comprehensive blueprint for living a spiritual life and coming to awakening. Its eight aspects, each of which supports the others, are Wise Understanding, Wise Intention, Wise Speech, Wise Action, Wise Livelihood, Wise Effort, Wise Mindfulness, and Wise Concentration.