|The following article is from the Summer, 1994 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.|
The Four Noble Truths
After his enlightenment, the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths, which are the foundation and essence of all forms of Buddhism. The first truth diagnoses the nature of our existential illnesses and neuroses. The second explores their causes and conditions for arisal. The third shows that the causes of our problems can be removed and that we can be free from suffering. The fourth includes the many paths of practice that Buddhism offers to realize that goal. The Buddha has shown that the spiritual path is pragmatic and works directly with everyday experience in order to fundamentally transform the practitioner.
The following is an excerpt from chapter 4, "How True Origins Give Rise to True Suffering."
How True Origins Give Rise to True Suffering
Ignorance is the very root of all the origins of suffering and samsara. The question then becomes "Is there any way to get rid of that ignorance?" If there were no way to do so, it would be better not to introduce people to these ideas about suffering or to say life is in the nature of suffering. Rather, it would be kinder just to let them be happy in their own situations. Suffering and its causes are explained only in the context of a way to abandon them.
If a poor family had no means to buy food, it would be better not to tell them their diet was really poor. However, if someone who did have the means to improve their diet was eating something which wasn't good for them, then it would be suitable to say, you shouldn’t eat this, you should eat another type of food instead.
It is only because there is a way to abandon suffering and the causes of suffering that they are presented. Understanding the situation in samsara, and that there is a way to abandon it, will lead one to develop the wish to do so. One will develop the state of mind that wants to turn away from samsara, that dislikes one's present situation, that cannot bear the constant state of suffering. Once this very strong mind has been generated, if the practices have been presented, one will engage in the practices that can lead away from that state.
True origins and true suffering are presented because the whole of samsara is based upon a mind or minds that grasp at things which are not true. This, therefore, provides the basis for positing a way of becoming free from the state of samsara.
To get rid of ignorance, one meditates on selflessness. This will decrease the strength of delusion, and eventually eliminate the mind that is not in accordance with reality. The question then arises, "What happens then? Does one reach a state which is completely free from suffering? Does it lead to the end of the person's continuum?" All of that is uncomfortable to think about. This is said not to be the case. All that one gets rid of is the mistaken state of mind that is the cause of all suffering. Without the causes of suffering, the person will not experience the suffering. The person remains, but has rid himself or herself of a mistaken state of mind and the problems which ensue from that.
The first two Noble Truths have been explained from the perspective of the person caught in samsara. The last two Noble Truths, true cessations and true paths, are presented from the point of view of someone who is escaping or who has escaped from samsara. True cessations and true paths, which also have a cause and effect relationship, are discussed in the next chapter.
Ven. Lobsang Gyatso (1928–1997) was born in a small village in eastern Tibet. He became a monk at age eleven and later traveled to central Tibet to study at Drepung Monastic University. He was a meditation master who lived his life according to the Buddhist philosophy of wisdom and compassion. For more information about the author, click here.
Interested in learning more about the four noble truths and how to apply the teachings to your life?
Try this online course led by Judith Lief: Entering the Path: The Hinayana Teachings of Chögyam Trungpa which explores essential Buddhist concepts such as the four noble truths and much more.
Author of the online course:
Judith L. Lief is a Buddhist teacher, writer, and editor. She was a close student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who empowered her as a teacher, and she has edited many of his books including The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma volumes and Milarepa.