What Are the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism?

What did the Buddha teach about the Four Noble Truths and their meaning?

I’ve asked myself this question when I decided to learn more about Buddhism.

While doing research, I came across quite a few sources with information on this topic, but most of them were too vague and hard to understand.

That’s why I’ve decided to write this article which gives a short and clear answer.

Rest assured that information is reliable because it comes from Matthew Flickstein, an ordained Buddhist monk and meditation teacher. Here’s an excerpt from his book titled Voices of Truth: Enlightened Teachings of Contemporary Eastern Teachers:

The First Noble Truth states that life is inherently problematic and we suffer. We encounter aging, illness, and death. We do not get what we want; we eventually lose what we have; we become separated from our loved ones; and we inevitably meet with unpleasant circumstances throughout our lives.

The Second Noble Truth tells us that the reason we suffer is not because of the problems or difficulties we encounter, but because of craving. We resist our moment-to-moment experiences and strive to have the circumstances of our lives meet our self-centered desires and expectations.

The Third Noble Truth teaches us that the way to end the suffering in our lives is to stop this incessant craving. We achieve this end by realizing Nirvana, the transcendent reality experienced when the mind is free from greed, hatred, and confusion.

The Fourth Noble Truth states that we can realize this lofty but attainable goal by following the Noble Eightfold Path. That is, by conducting one’s life according to ethical principles, by learning to focus the mind, and by using that focus to cultivate wisdom and an open heart.

Of course, this summary gives only conceptual understanding of these ancient teachings.

Many books I’ve read mention that the Four Noble Truths are often included as subjects of meditation — something that Buddhist monks spend years, sometimes a lifetime, contemplating and trying to understand on a deeper level.

What I personally find helpful is to think of the Four Noble Truths in the context of my everyday life.

You can try to do the same: go through each definition mentioned above, recall something significant that happened to you — something that changed your life for better or for worse — and ask yourself, “Is this the actual truth when applied to my own experiences?”

I also wanted to mention that I’m deeply grateful to Mulligan Brothers for posting this interview with master Shi Heng Yi on the meaning of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism:

Complement with our article on the Noble Eightfold Path, 5 Buddhist precepts, and 5 best Buddhism books for beginners.

Editor’s note: this article was updated and now features an interview with master Shi Heng Yi posted on Mulligan Brothers’ YouTube channel.

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