The essence of the Buddha's teaching is encapsulated in The Four Noble Truths:
1. The Noble Truth of Suffering
The First Noble Truth is suffering or dukkha. This includes physical, emotional and mental forms of suffering but can also be interpreted more widely as a feeling of ‘dissatisfaction’. Any happiness that we have in life will not last forever – old age, sickness and inevitably death cannot be avoided. In the scriptures, suffering is defined according to the following categories: Birth, Decay, Death, Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Grief and Despair. It is also defined as not getting what one desires.
2. The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering
The Second Noble Truth points to the origin of suffering, namely craving or tanha (literally ‘thirst’). At its most simple this relates to our constant craving for what is pleasurable in what we see, hear, smell, taste, touch and think. Our lives are constantly driven by our desire for pleasant sensations. When such pleasant sensations are denied us, as they inevitably are from time to time, then we feel frustrated, dissatisfied - we suffer. There can be more subtle forms of craving – a desire for fame, wealth, recognition – the list is endless.
3. The Noble Truth of the Extinction of Suffering
The Third Noble Truth refers to Nibbana in which craving has faded completely and thereby suffering too. It is an irrevocable ‘state’ of peace, in which greed, hatred and delusion have completely disappeared. By attaining to it, no more kamma is produced and the round of rebirths comes to an end.
4. The Noble Truth that leads to the Extinction of Suffering
The Fourth Noble Truth provides a practical pathway to the realization of Nibbana in the form of the Noble Eightfold Path. This consists of eight factors: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
-Tony Flanagan is a practicing Buddhist and a teacher of English Language, Literature and Religious Studies to pre-university students at a College in the UK.