Buddhism – Four Noble Truths

Introduction

Buddhism is one of the world’s major religions, first appeared in northeastern India in approximately 552 B.C. as a consequence of Hinduism. Buddha (the liberal one) believed that all people are reborn again and again until they attain nirvana, a sense of complete peace and happiness. Those who reach nirvana are not born again, and all their suffering is ended. The four major teachings of Buddhism are:

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Karma

Karma is the sum of one’s believes and actions all through each life. During each life, one has the choice to modify their karma for better or worse. The final goal is to advance one’s karma and end the cycle of rebirths. This is similar to the Christian conception of salvation.

The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path is a guide to a better life. According to Buddhism, if you follow this path, you will be freed from suffering and find happiness.

Nirvana

Nirvana is the ultimate goal of Buddhism. This is when one reaches a place where a desire for pleasure is completely absent. When Nirvana is reached, a person becomes one with the supreme God, where God is all, in all, and all is God. This is equivalent to the Christian concept of heaven.

The Four Noble Truths

  1. Life means suffering.
  2. The origin of suffering is attachment.
  3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.
  4. The path to the cessation of suffering.

Modern scientists often take the First Sermon, as it has been conserved in the Buddhist traditions, as a practically accurate account of the heart of the historical Buddha’s teachings. In it, the Buddha gave one expression to his teaching in a formula known as “The Four Noble Truths” These say that all this is suffering, there is an origin to suffering, there is an end to suffering, and there is a path, taught by the Buddha, to nirvana, that is, the end of suffering.

Life means suffering

To live means to suffer because human being nature is not perfect, and the same could be said about the world we live in. During our life, we unavoidably have to experience physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and ultimately death; and we have to experience psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are various levels of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we regard as things being opposite to suffering, such as ease, comfort, and happiness. Life in general and human being in particular in its totality is imperfect and defective because the world itself is subject to impermanence. That means that we are not able to keep our striving for something constantly, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.

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The origin of suffering is attachment.

The origin of suffering is attachment to temporary things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do involve not only the tangible objects that surround us but also ideas and -in a greater sense- all objects of our apprehension. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for the pain are desire, passion, ardor, pursue of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are temporary, the loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a “self,” which is an illusion because “self” does not exist long. What we call “self” is just a product of imagination, and we are merely a part of the eternal becoming of the universe.

The cessation of suffering is attainable.

The cease of suffering can be achieved through nirodha. Nirodha means the unmaking of sensual desire and intangible attachment. The third noble truth states the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion. Nirodha extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment. This means that suffering can be bridged through men’s activity simply by removing the reason for suffering. Achieving and perfecting detachment is a process of many stages that eventually results in the state of Nirvana. Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications, and ideas. Nirvana is not logically realizable for those who have not achieved it.

The path to the cessation of suffering

There is a path to the end of suffering – a path of self-improvement step by step, which is described in more detail in the”Eightfold Path.” It is the middle way between the two boundaries of unnecessary self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism), and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality distinguishes it from other paths, which are merely “wandering on the wheel of becoming” because these do not have a final point. The path to the end of suffering can enlarge over many lives, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic training. Passion, ignorance, delusions, and their effects will disappear step-by-step as progress is made on the path.

In the Tantric system, there are Buddhas and Buddha-worlds. From the historical point of view, Buddha, the wise thinker who discovered the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, is a part of attaining them. If the origin of Buddhism is defined by that splendid being, we are bound to feel to some extent restless with the numerous limbs, the flayed skins (sometimes human), the skulls, the scalps, the blood, even the exhibitionistic sex. We have, in any case, come a long way from the direct and simple offers that make Buddhism so attractive study or from those thrilling dialogues between Buddha and his follower and sidekick, Ananda. Some of this feeling survives in certain of the tangkas. There is a very touching one that shows the death of Buddha, for example, in a setting so good-looking and nonviolent that by itself it almost succeeds in detaching the viewer from the power of death (and how it differs from the gory death scenes paradigmatic to Christianity!). The Buddha is lying on one elbow on a stage set in the midst of a fertile landscape, a garden really, with a pond and ornamental trees and paired birds. There are waved Chinese clouds of annoyance rising into the blue sky, and rainbows raise in the air as if the world has been freshened by rain. The Buddha, in a spotted pink robe, is, of course, larger than anyone else, and he is saying his last words to his already mourning disciples, whom he has told to work for their salvation diligently. Obviously, they have a long way to go, for the fact that they are crying is evidence that they are still emotionally involved. My sense is that the detachment of the Buddha is symbolically personified in the very beauty of the day on which he has preferred to leave the world: The world he leaves is so intoxicatingly lovely that one must feel he has determined to quit it when we would be most attached to it. In contrast to his surprised followers, he is extremely calm. It is a very affecting image, defining one boundary of a system, the other boundary of which is exemplified in the sexual dance of Shamvara-Buddha and his flushed, tooth-grinding consort, clinging to him as to a tree. The distance from the boundary to the boundary tells the story of Buddhism’s evolution. Perhaps the incapacity for detachment, demonstrated in the weeping monks of the first image, reveals the extent to which we all need help, and hence the theoretical generating of helpers and the vast hierarchies of priestly specialists is the institutional response to the need. Nirvana is very far away, except perhaps through sexual shortcuts.

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References

  1. The four Noble Truths, 2007. the bigview.com project. Web.
  2. Gowans, Christopher W. Philosophy of the Buddha. New York: Routledge, 2003
  3. Danto, Arthur C. “The Sacred Art of Tibet.” The Nation 1991: 788
  4. Hallisey, Charles. “Buddha in His Time and Ours.” World and I 1999: 294.

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