The Four Noble Truths

In Sutra of the Four Noble Truths, Buddha says:

You should know sufferings.
You should abandon origins.
You should attain cessations.
You should practice the path.

These instructions are known as the “four noble truths.” They are called “noble truths” because they are superior and non-deceptive instructions.

 

You should know suffering

In general, everyone who has physical or mental pain, even animals, understands their own suffering. But when Buddha says “you should know sufferings,” he means that we should know the sufferings of our future lives. Through knowing these, we shall develop a strong wish to liberate ourself from them. This practical advice is important for everybody because, if we have the wish to liberate ourself from the sufferings of future lives, we shall definitely use our present human life for the freedom and happiness of our countless future lives. There is no greater meaning than this. If we do not have this wish, we shall waste our precious human life only for the freedom and happiness of this one short life.

You should abandon origins

This is also very practical advice. “Origins” refers mainly to our delusions of attachment, anger and self-grasping ignorance. Normally we have a sincere wish to avoid suffering permanently, but we never think to abandon our delusions. However, without controlling and abandoning our delusions, it is impossible to attain permanent liberation from suffering and problems. Therefore, we should follow Buddha’s advice and, through our concentration on the profound meaning of Dharma and the force of our determination, emphasize controlling our attachment, anger, and other delusions.

You should attain cessations

This means that we should attain the permanent cessation of suffering. Generally, from time to time, everybody experiences a temporary cessation of particular sufferings. For instance those who are physically healthy are experiencing a temporary cessation of sickness. However, this is not enough because it is only temporary. Later they will have to experience the suffering of sickness again and again, in this life and in countless future lives. Every living being without exception has to experience the cycle of the sufferings of sickness, ageing, death and rebirth, in life after life, endlessly. Following Buddha’s example, we should develop strong renunciation for this endless cycle, and make the strong determination to attain enlightenment, the permanent cessation of suffering, and to lead every living being to that state.

You should practice the path

In this context, “path” does not mean an external path that leads from one place to another, but an inner path, a spiritual path that leads to the pure happiness of liberation and enlightenment.

The practice of the stages of the path to liberation can be condensed within the three trainings of higher moral discipline, higher concentration and higher wisdom. These trainings are called “higher” because they are motivated by renunciation, a sincere wish to attain permanent liberation from the sufferings of this life and future lives. They are therefore the actual path to liberation that we need to practice.

The four noble truths can be understood and practiced on many different levels. Directly or indirectly, all Dharma practices are included within the practice of the four noble truths. Through the above instructions we can understand in general how to practice them. We should also understand how to practice them with regard to particular sufferings, origins, cessations and paths; for example, the suffering of anger, its origin (which is anger itself), its cessation (the true cessation of the suffering of anger) and the path that is the practice of patience.

 

Citation (MLA): Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. How to Solve our Human Problems. Ulverston: Tharpa Publications, 2005

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