Buddhist General Knowledge

The Four Noble Truths

Buddhists across the world may follow different schools of thoughts but are united in the basic philosophy upon which lies the foundation of Buddhism – that is the Four Noble Truths.

The Four Sights (533 BC)

The Buddha, as we are all aware, hailed from a royal family. He was prince Siddhartha of the Sakya tribe. He enjoyed the luxuries of his royal lineage and lived happily in the comforts of his several palaces. That was until he made a small excursion to the town one day. There, he witnessed sights that were earlier shielded from him. It is said, during this excursion, he encountered the following that completely changed his outlook to life:

  • A feeble old man
  • A diseased man
  • A corpse
  • A hermit

The Renunciation (533 BC)

For the young prince, these four sights left an indelible impression. He realized that there was old age, sickness and death and one had little control over one’s life. The fourth sight had great influence on his life and just before he turned thirty, he left the palace to lead an ascetic life.

The Enlightenment (528 BC)

After many years of wandering, self mortification, and spiritual study, he garnered a group of disciples. However, he was not satisfied or happy with the existing caste system that prevailed during those times. He yearned to find the happiness that eluded him. He looked for a way that would relieve mankind of suffering and lead him to happiness. It was this search that led to the famous meditation under the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya where he attained the Great Enlightenment. The Enlightenment showed the Buddha the way of salvation from suffering. And it is said that the Four Sights that led Prince Siddhartha to the path of Enlightenment found their way into the core of his first teachings. His first teachings manifested in the form of the Four Noble Truths and since then have been the core of all Buddhist teachings.

The Four Noble Truths

What are the Four Noble Truths that form the essence of Buddhism even today? They are:

  • Sufferings exists
  • Suffering arises from attachment to desires
  • Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
  • Salvation to suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path

Suffering Exists

In all human lives there is some suffering at some or other point in time. It could be in the form of ailments, old age, death, desire, longing, hatred, fear, sadness or others. Sometimes circumstances are in our control and sometimes not. For instance, we cannot control old age or sickness whereas we can control hatred or fear. Nevertheless when we let these instances gain control of our lives, we suffer.

Suffering Arises From Attachment To Desires

According to the Buddhist teachings, all suffering arises from our attachment to desires. Even in circumstances that are not in our control, for instance, old age, the suffering stems from our desire to remain young. Whether it is an intangible desire such as youth in this case or tangible desire such as your neighbor’s horse, the longing for these brings suffering. According to Buddhist teachings, all forms of desire are transient and hence lead to sufferings.

Suffering Ceases When Attachment To Desire Ceases

Once you learn that all forms of desire are transient, you will be able to refrain from longing for it. And once you stop longing for it, you stop suffering. According to Buddhist teachings, you stop suffering when you learn to be dispassionate about things, when you curb your desires. This state is known as Nirodha when you learn to detach yourself from cravings.

Salvation To Suffering Is Possible By Practicing The Eightfold Path

Once you have attained Nirodha, you are on the right path to Nirvana. Nirvana means freedom from all worries and sufferings. The path to Nirvana is described in the Eightfold Path of the Buddhist scriptures.

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path explains the way to end suffering. It is a practical guideline with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions; and it finally leads to understanding the truth about all things. Together with the Four Noble Truths, it forms the core of the Buddhist religion. Great emphasis has been laid on the practical aspect since it is only through practice that one can attain a higher level of existence and finally reach Nirvana. The eight aspects of the path are provided below.

Three Qualities

Eightfold Path

Wisdom (panna)

Right View

Right Thought

Morality (sila)

Right Speech

Right Action

Right Livelihood

Meditation (samadhi)

Right Effort

Right Mindfulness

Right Contemplation

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