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4 Noble Truths
Superb -- and BRIEF -- summary / outline of Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.

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The core of the Buddhist teaching is the Four Noble Truths: There is suffering. There is a cause to suffering. There is an end to suffering. The is a path out of suffering (the Noble 8-fold path).

  1. The Reality of Suffering--dukkha
  2. The Cause of Suffering--samudaya
  3. The Cessation of Suffering--nirodha
  4. The Path to the Cessation of Suffering--magga

1 - The Reality of Suffering--dukkha

The Pali word dukkha, in ordinary usage means 'suffering', 'pain', 'sorrow' or 'misery'. But in the context of the First Noble Truth, dukkha also means 'imperfection', 'impermanence', 'emptiness', 'insubstantiality'. There are three kinds of suffering:

  • Ordinary Suffering--dukkha-dukkha
  • Suffering produced by Change--virapinama-dukkha
  • Suffering as Conditioned States--samkara-dukkha

Ordinary Suffering--dukkha-dukkha

There are all kinds of suffering in life: birth, old age, sickness, death, association with unpleasant persons and conditions, separation from beloved ones and pleasant conditions, not getting what one desires, grief, lamentation, distress--all forms of physical and mental suffering.

Suffering produced by Change--virapinama-dukkha

Pleasant and happy feelings or conditions in life are not permanent. Sooner or later they change. When they change they may produce pain, suffering, unhappiness or dissappointment. This vicissitude is considered viparimana-dukkha.

Suffering as Conditioned States--samkara-dukkha

An 'individual', an 'I' or a 'self' is a combination of ever-changing mental and physical forces which can be divided into five groups or 'aggregates' pancakkhandha. Suffering as conditioned states is produced by attachment to these five aggregates:

  • Matter--rupakkhandha
  • Sensations--vedanakkhandha
  • Perceptions--sannakkhandha
  • Mental Formations--sankharakkhandha
  • Consciousness--vinnanakkhandha

2 - The Cause of Suffering--samudaya

The principle cause of suffering is the attachment to "desire" or "craving", tanha. Both desire to have (wanting) and desire not to have (aversion).

  1. desire for sense-pleasures--kama-tanha,
  2. desire to become--bhava-tanha,
  3. desire to get rid of--vibhava-tanha.

The desire for sense pleasures manifests itself as wanting to have pleasant experiences: the taste of good food, pleasant sexual experiences, delightful music.

The desire to become is the ambition that comes with wanting attaiments or recognition or fame. It is the craving to "be a somebody".

The desire to get rid of the unpleasant experiences in life: unpleasant sensations, anger, fear, jealousy.

The clinging to desire comes from our experience that short-term satisfaction comes from following desire. We ignore the fact that satisfying our desires doesn't bring an end to them.

3 - The Cessation of Suffering--nirodha

The end of suffering is non-attachment, or letting go of desire or craving. This is the state of Nibbana, where greed, hatred and delusion are extinct.

Freedom from attachments to the five aggregates of attachment is the end of suffering. This freedom is not conditioned by causes, as are the conditioned states: Nibbana is the non-attachment to conditioned experience.

To understand the unconditioned, we need to see for ourselves that everything that has a nature to be born has a nature to die: that every phenomenon that has a cause is impermanent. By letting go of attachment to desire for conditioned phenomena, desire can come to an end and we can be liberated from suffering.

4 - The Noble Eightfold Path--magga

The end to suffering (see the Third Noble Truth) will result by following the Noble Eightfold Path--Ariya-Atthangika-Magga. There are three qualities that must be developed to attain Nirvana: Morality--Sila, Concentration--Samadhi, and Wisdom--Panna.

  1. Widsom--Panna
    • Right Understanding--samma ditthi
    • Right Thought--samma sankappa
  2. Morality--Sila
    • Right Speech--samma vaca
    • Right Action--samma kammanta
    • Right Livelihood--samma ajiva
  3. Concentration--Samadhi
    • Right Effort--samma vayama
    • Right Mindfulness--samma sati
    • Right Concentration--samma samadhi


Wisdom comes from understanding the three characteristics of existence

  • all conditioned phenomena are impermanent
  • all conditioned phenomena are not personal, not self
  • attachment to desire for impermanent phenomena leads to suffering

"Right Understanding" of the impermanent, non-self nature of phenonmena and that attachment to them leads to suffering brings about "Right Thought", i.e. the aspiration or intention to be liberated from suffering and to understand the truth.

The deepening of wisdom is enhanced when the lifestyle and mind are calmed through the practices of Morality--Sila and Concentration--Samadhi.


Adherence to moral guidelines--precepts--is an essential protection from causing suffering to oneself and to others. While these guidelines define a code of discipline, the virtues that bring about moral behaviour can also be cultivated with the practice of a culture of the heart.

There are 5 basic precepts that Buddhist practitioners undertake (Monks and Nuns undertake many more). A modern analysis of these precepts is offered by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. They are:

  1. Reverence for Life (refrain from killing)
  2. Generosity (refrain from stealing)
  3. Sexual Responsibility (refrain from sexual misconduct)
  4. Deep Listening and Loving Speech (refrain from lying)
  5. Mindful Consumption (refrain from ingesting intoxicants)

In the context of the Eightfold path, these 5 precepts imply:

Right Speech

Right Speach means to tell the truth and speak appropriately in accordance with the 4th precept. Specificially, it implies abstaining from

  • lying
  • divisive gossip
  • rude and abusive language
  • idle and useless chatter

Right Action

Right actions are the the actions that are consistent with precepts 1,2,3 and 5. They include actions that show reverence for life, generosity and restraint in sexual conduct.

Right Livelihood

Right livelihood means that one should earn a living that allows the 5 precepts to flourish. Dealing in arms, drugs or violence; exploitation of others and profiteering cannot be conducive to the moral life.


The development of Widsom and Morality demand a certain training of the mind.

  • Right Effort--samma vayama
  • Right Mindfulness--samma sati
  • Right Concentration--samma samadhi
What the Buddha Taught: Revised and Expanded Edition with Texts from Suttas and Dhammapada
by Walpola Rahula

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