The Four Noble Truths are said to be the first teachings of the historical Buddha after his enlightenment experience. They are informational, symbolic, and indirectly prescriptive. In the ultimate analysis, they are foundational to the Buddhist religion’s view of existence and the supreme spiritual purpose of Buddhists after multiple lifetimes.
The four noble truths are as follows:
- The truth of “suffering” or “pain.” Pian and suffering are due to impermanence. Impermanence includes the transience of positive emotional states, the fleetingness of existence, the impermanence of the novelty of a situation, etc. This teaching can remind us of the Pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus, who wisely stated that one could not step into the same river twice. In other words, the priority and constancy of change.
- The second truth tells us that suffering/pain (dukkha) arises simultaneously with craving (tanha) or attachment. Craving is often a craving for impermanent sensory experiences, emotional experiences, mental experiences, objects, people, and places. Things change when we don’t want them to. Even the desire for the cessation of life and what one may believe to be the end of suffering is a false conclusion in Buddhist doctrine because death is not permanent in the Buddhist view. After all, rebirth follows death (this is the doctrine of Reincarnation).
- The third truth tells us that there can be a cessation or end of suffering and pain caused by craving and attachment to impermanence. The end to suffering and pain (indicative of internal, emotional distress and turmoil) is to abolish one’s desire and attachment or contain it. When we imagine an individual utterly free of attachment, we may think of a dispassionate, emotionless, and uber-rational robot. Such a one is not an enlightened one in Buddhist thought because the admonishment to practice compassion tempers this potential outcome through the teachings of the eightfold path.
- The final noble truth is the way to achieve this compassionate, non-craving, unattached state. The way to achieve this state is through the eight-fold path of right view, right speech, right resolve, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right absorption (meditative state of union).
The eight-fold path is a prescriptive resource on living nobly as a Buddhist on one’s way to freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth, or the ultimate goal of nirvana.
The role of the four noble truths in the Buddhist religion is foundational. It is a core teaching upon which all further Buddhist teachings stem. We cannot take the importance of the Four Noble Truths lightly.