The 4 Noble Truths Made Simple – Part 1
This is based directly from the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta where the Buddha himself outlined the proper way to understand the 4 Noble Truths. Here, I tried to distil the essence of the meaning into the key principles for you all.
The 2 Extremes vs The Middle Way
The Buddha said that there are these 2 extremes that should NOT be followed by one who has gone forth:
- The pursuit of happiness through pleasures of the senses – because they are inferior pleasures – vulgar, the way of the ordinary person, unworthy and unfruitful.
- Inflicting pain upon yourself – because this is painful, unworthy, unfruitful.
This is basically:
- The desire to get
- The desire to get rid of
So they should avoid these 2 extremes and cultivate the Middle Way that the Buddha had awoken to because it leads to peace, higher knowledge, enlightenment, Nirvana.
What is this Middle Way of the Buddha?
It’s the Noble Path consisting of 8 factors (we’ll elaborate on this later) – The Noble Eightfold Path.
The important thing to know is that the Noble Eightfold Path begins with Right View – it begins with Right Understanding because if you start off with Wrong View – you can be wasting a lot of time and effort going in the wrong direction because you couldn’t read the map correctly.
Noble Truth 1 – There is Dukkha
What is the Noble Truth of Suffering?
Dukkha means suffering, pain, stress. It also means unsatisfactoriness, i.e., not good enough, not perfect – it still has imperfections in it, not perfectly balanced in the same way that the axle of a wheel is misaligned
What are the main ways that suffering can occur?
The following 3 ways:
- Through undergoing impermanence – birth, old age, sickness and death
- Having to be with what you hate/Not being able to be with what you love
- Not getting what you want
In short, these are all aspects of the body/mind complex (the 5 skandhas), which is subject to grasping – they are Dukkha. So this everyday body/mind complex that we mis-take to be our “self” – they are Dukkha – they are unsatisfactory, stressful, suffering.
These are the 3 reflections to the 1st Noble Truth:
- There is Dukkha
- Dukkha should be understood
- It has been understood
So this is how to reflect on the 3 aspects of the 1st Noble Truth:
- There is this Dukkha
- You should really understand Dukkha for what it is
- You should also know for yourself once you’ve really understood it
That’s how you penetrate the 3 aspects of the 1st Noble Truth.
Now notice that the Buddha NEVER said:
- Everything is suffering
- Life is suffering
- I am suffering
The Buddha never said it like that – these are NOT the first Noble Truth (even though you will find these incorrect explanations quite often). He said, “There is” suffering.
For an excellent way of learning “How to” actually use the 1st Noble Truth, check out Ajahn Sumedho’s work – it’s the best explanation that I’ve seen on the 4 Noble Truths: