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Buddhism 101 - Be a lamp upon yourself

The Four Noble Truths
and the Noble Eightfold Path


The Buddha’s teachings are based upon the solid foundation of Truth in the Four Noble Truths which can be known by all. They are not beliefs with unknown basis accepted on mere faith. They start from the centre of our very own undeniable direct human experience.


What are the Four Noble Truths?

The Buddha was only interested in showing us a clear direct path to True Happiness. The Four Noble Truths form the heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. They are noble because they are taught by the Noble Ones- those who have direct perception of reality. By understanding them, we become ennobled.

The First Noble Truth : The Truth of Dukkha:

Life is full of Dissatisfaction- We undergo many unsatisfactory experiences which should be identified: Birth, Aging, Sickness and Death… Departure from what we love, Being with what we dislike, Failing to achieve what we want…

The Second Noble Truth : The Truth of the Origin of Dukkha:

The Cause of Dissatisfaction- These unsatisfactory experiences have causes which should be identified: Craving (Wanting), Hatred (Not Wanting) and Ignorance (Lack of Wisdom)

The Third Noble Truth : The Truth of the End of Dukkha- Nirvana:

Life can be Without Dissatisfaction- There is a peaceful state where there are no unsatisfactory experiences: Enlightenment or Nirvana

The Fourth Noble Truth : The Truth of the Path Leading to the End of Dukkha:

The Way to Life Without Dissatisfaction- There is a path to lead us to this state of peace and True Happiness: The Noble Eightfold Path.

Why is there so much "Suffering" in Buddhism?

The use of the word "suffering" in Buddhism can be misleading. When we hear the Buddha say "life is suffering", we wonder what He is saying, as most of us don’t experience extreme misery most of the time.

The actual word used is the Pali term "dukhka" which means that "things aren’t completely right in our lives- there are many unsatisfactory conditions in our existence; something always seems amiss." "Suffering" used in Buddhism thus refers to all kinds of dissatisfactions big and small.

What about happiness?

To live is to experience a greater or lesser degree of dissatisfaction. The Buddha never denied that there is joy and happiness in life. But the nagging problem of dissatisfaction is always around, while "happiness" is always swiftly fleeting by. This is the only problem in our lives. But it is the BIGGEST problem as it encompasses all problems we face. The Buddha is only drawing our attention to the fact that suffering is an inevitable part of life, that it is a problem that all experience, and wish to avoid, and that it can be overcome with the attainment of Nirvana (True Happiness).

Are the Four Noble Truths pessimistic?

Some say Buddhism is a pessimistic religion- that it keeps talking about suffering. This is definitely untrue. But neither is Buddhism a blindly optimistic religion. It is however, realistic and full of hope as it teaches that True Happiness is achievable through personal endeavour, one being the master of one’s life.

Problems and difficulties exist whether we think of them or not. But only with honest recognition of them is solving them possible. The Buddha stated the indisputable truth that life is full of dissatisfaction so that He could teach us the way out of dissatisfaction towards True Happiness!

How are the Four Noble Truths important?

To realise the Four Noble Truths is the central task of the Buddhist life as they lead to True Happiness. You will discover that the structure of the Four Noble Truths is the most simple, logical, scientific and systematic problem-solving formula possible. As these truths solve the ultimate problem of suffering, they are very important indeed.

How do the Four Noble Truths work?

The first Truth states our problem of suffering. The second states the cause of the problem. The third states the ideal state without the problem, and the fourth Truth states how this ideal state can be achieved.

What is the origin of the Four Noble Truths?

The Four Noble Truths were first taught by the Buddha during His first sermon at the Deer Park in Isipatana (of ancient India near Benares) after He attained Enlightenment- that was more than 2500 years ago. The sermon was called the Dharmmacakkappavattana Sutra (The Teaching of the Turning of the Wheel of Truth) All the teachings that the Buddha later gave were either further in-depth elaboration of the Four Noble Truths, or teachings that led to them. He used a wide variety of skillful means and methods in teaching them to different people.

What is the Noble Eightfold Path?

The Noble Eightfold Path (of the Fouth Noble Truth) is a systematic and complete formula to rid Dissatisfaction and attain True Happiness. It contains everything needed for virtuous living, clarity of understanding and the attaining of Wisdom. The eight aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path include the following:

Perfect Speech

We should make an effort to notice and comment upon others’ good qualities and achievements instead of venting our anger or frustration on others. We can give each other moral support, console them in times of grief, and teach them the Dharma. Speech is a powerful tool to influence others. When used wisely, many will benefit.

Perfect Speech includes the avoidance of: Lying, Tale-bearing, Harsh Speech, Idle Talk

We should: Praise, Criticise Constructively, Spread the Truth, Say Healing Words, Keep Necessary Silence

Perfect Action

The practice of Perfect Action involves the respect for the life, property and personal relationships of others. It helps to develop a character that is self-controlled and mindful of the rights of others.

Perfect Action include the avoidance of: Killing, Stealing, Sexual Misconduct

Perfect Action also includes physically acting in ways that benefit others. This includes helping and rescuing others from danger or suffering. It ranges from helping the elderly cross a busy street to rescuing a drowning person and so on.

Perfect Livelihood

Perfect Livelihood means earning one’s living in a way that is not harmful to others. In the choice of one’s occupation, one should show respect for the life and welfare of all beings.

There are 5 trades that the Buddha considered as unworthy means to make one’s living. They should be avoided as they cause suffering and unhappiness to others or create disunity in society. The trades that ought to be avoided are: Trade in Deadly Weapons, Animals for Slaughter, Slavery, Intoxicants and Poisons

Perfect Effort

Effort is needed to cultivate Virtue or develop one’s mind, because one is often distracted or tempted to take the easy way out of things. The Buddha teaches that attaining True Happiness and Enlightenment depends upon one’s own efforts. Effort is the root of all achievement. Thus, no matter how great the Buddha’s achievement may be, or how excellent His Teaching is, one must put the Teaching into practice before one can expect to obtain the desired results. .

There are four types of Perfect Effort that should be practiced:

1) Effort to Prevent the Arising of Unwholesome Thoughts (of Craving, Aversion and Ignorance)
2) Effort to Rid Unwholesome Thoughts that have Arisen
3) Effort to Develop Wholesome Thoughts (of Wisdom and Compassion...)
4) Effort to Maintain the Wholesome Thoughts that have Arisen (even when they are unappreciated)

Perfect Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an essential quality in everyone’s daily activities. It is a mental factor that enables us to remember, and keep our awareness and attention on what is beneficial in terms of thoughts, words and deeds. For example, when we awake in the morning, we can determine, "Today I will try not to harm others and will benefit them as much as possible." Mindfulness helps to keep this thought in our mind all day and makes us aware whether or not our daily actions correspond to this motivation. The mind must be constantly aware of what is happening for neither mishaps nor misgivings to occur.

Perfecting Mindfulness is necessary if one is to progress towards Wisdom and Enlightenment. The mind must be controlled and protected against distractions. Greed and Anger should be consciously avoided. Attention is given to the mind because it is through the mind that everything is comprehended, interpreted and understood. If lasting happiness is to be attained, the undisciplined mind must first be looked after. To tame the mind is to tame the world.

Perfect Meditation

Meditation is the gradual process of training the mind to focus on a single object, and to remain fixed upon that object without wavering. The object of concentration may be a material thing such as a flower or a quality such as Loving-kindness. Even if one was to practice meditation for only a few minutes a day, one will experience its benefits. The constant practice of meditation helps one to develop a calm and concentrated mind, and prepares one for the attainment of Wisdom and Enlightenment ultimately.

Perfect Understanding

Perfect Understanding is the seeing of all things as they really are, rather than as they appear to be. In order to see things as they really are, one must observe one’s self and situation carefully, examining the meaning of what is observed. It is the true knowledge of all things realised by oneself through practice.

An inquiring and analytical attitude is important in acquiring Perfect Understanding. The Buddha taught us not to rely upon hearsay, tradition or authority for the Truth but to judge the Truth in the light of our own unbiased and objective experience. The Buddha taught that just as a wise man does not accept any metal that glitters as being gold on the advice of another, but tests its properties for himself, so should one not accept what is heard without testing it by one’s own experience.

Nonetheless, in seeking the Truth, one can do well to turn to the Teaching of the Buddha for help. This is the first step towards developing right Understanding. One should listen to and study the Teaching of the Buddha and the explanations of qualified teachers. But listening to the Buddha’s Teaching alone is not enough. One must also be attentive and try earnestly to remember and practice it.

The Buddha says developing Perfect Understanding is like a blind man who has his eyesight restored, and whose attitude towards things he used to like and dislike changes because he can now see them accurately.

Perfect Thought

Thoughts influence one’s words and actions. If one speaks or acts out of Greed or Anger, then one will speak or act wrongly and suffer consequently. It is necessary to purify one’s thoughts if one really wishes to improve one’s conduct. Perfect Thought is knowing how to use the knowledge that we have for the benefit of one and all.

Perfect Thought means to avoid Craving and Ill-Will and to cultivate thoughts of Renunciation (giving up Attachment), Loving-Kindness and Compassion. Craving should be avoided because it can never be fully satisfied, leading to unwholesome actions. Thoughts of Renunciation remove Craving, while thoughts of Loving-Kindness and Compassion remove Ill-Will.

Source: Phor Kark See web page, http://www.kmspks.org

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