7.1 Its importance

Four Noble Truths are very important aspects of Buddha's teaching. If we are ignorant in understanding the Four Noble Truths, we can never get rid of suffering, and we will always remain in the cycle of birth and death.

The Four Noble Truths represent the realization of Buddha's goal in teaching. In other words, it is not just the theory or doctrine, but also a fundamental practice in Buddhism.

Four Noble Truths are:
1. The Truth of Suffering - Suffering
2. The Truth of Causes of Suffering - Aggregation
3. The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering - Extinction
4. The Truth of the Path to the Cessation of Suffering - Way

Four Noble Truths are derived from the Principle of Cause and Effect. The first pair is Suffering and Aggregation. Suffering is an effect while aggregation is the cause. The second pair is Extinction and Way. Extinction is an effect while Way is the cause.

The Cause and Effect related to Suffering (dharma for desirous world)

===> Suffering

The Cause and Effect related to Happiness (dharma for spiritual world)

===> Extinction

Just like a doctor, Buddha teaches us to observe the symptoms of suffering, to diagnose its cause, to know that curing the cause will give health and well-being, and to prescribe the way of treatment as remedy. The whole purpose is to bring us to the ultimate well-being of spiritual enlightenment.

7.2 Truth of Suffering

The Sanskrit word of suffering is Dukkha, which is one of the characteristics of all conditioned things. This word has a more comprehensive meaning than just suffering. It also refer to incompleteness, imperfection, discontent, dissatisfaction and pain.

In Buddhism, there are three sufferings:

  1. Suffering that is produced by direct causes.
  2. Suffering that is produced by loss or deprivation.
  3. Suffering that is produced by the transience or impermanency of all things.
Moreover, suffering can be divided into two categories, physical and mental.

For the physical suffering of a human being, there are four kinds:

1. Birth
Physical pain suffered by the infants, which also impels all the other sufferings. Birth in this sense is the gateway to other physical sufferings.

2. Aging
Being old, one is not able to work, to think, to function, and becomes ugly and sometimes depressed.

3. Sickness
Very few can avoid suffering from sickness.

4. Death
Nearly all human beings are afraid of death.
These sufferings are inevitable parts of our lives. It is the law of nature, governed by the Principle of Cause and Effect.

On the mental side:

5. Suffering of separation from the loved ones.

6. Suffering of contact with the hated ones.

7. Suffering of frustrated and non-practical desire

8. Suffering of the illness of Five Skandhas.

In Buddhism, the eight kinds of suffering is called Eight Sufferings.

The insight into suffering is the very essence of the Buddha's teachings. It is usually the experience of suffering which arouse our interest to seek for liberation, and also the truth - Buddhism.

7.3 The Truth of Causes of Suffering

By understanding the cause of suffering, we can solve the problem of suffering. The Buddha has indicated that craving or desire (Trishna or Raga) is the great cause of suffering.

People crave for pleasant experience, material things, and eternal life or eternal death. It is said that trying to satisfy one's desire for pleasant experience is like drinking salt water when one is thirsty. It is also said that the desire to acquire material things is involved with three major sufferings or problems: (1) the problem of getting it, (2) the problem of protecting it, (3) the problem and suffering of losing it, because sooner or later, they will fall apart.

Craving for existence of eternal life is a cause of suffering. Craving for life causes us to be born again and again. On the other end, craving for non-existence or eternal death is also a cause of suffering. This expresses itself in nihilism and in suicide.

The foundation of craving is ignorance, which is not seeing things as they really are, or failing to understand the reality of experience or the reality of life.

Ignorance is the primary cause, while the Three Poisons, i.e. desire, hatred and illusion are the secondary causes.

Taking the self as real, supposed to be one of our greatest ignorance, is the fundamental cause of suffering. It will be elaborated later in Three Universal Truths (or Three Seals).

7.4 The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering

The greatness and uniqueness of the Buddha lie in his discovery of the way to the cessation of suffering. Having identified the causes of suffering, one should eliminate the cause of suffering, such as ignorance, desire, hatred and illusion and craving, etc.

The first obstacle that we have to overcome is the doubt whether there is an end to suffering. It is in this respect that confidence or faith plays an important role in Buddhism.

Faith is the source of the Way.
Faith is the mother of merit and virtue.
As they arise by faith, all wholesome dharmas must by faith be nurtured.

(from Avatamsaka Hymn of Faith)

Faith does not mean blind acceptance. It means recognizing or admitting the possibility to achieve the cessation of suffering, and the attainment of the Nirvana, or even the Buddhist Way.

7.5 The Truth of the Path to the Cessation of Suffering

The cessation of suffering is an important objective of Buddhist practice (particularly for Hinayana).

Buddhism teaches us that happiness or suffering in this life is the result of our deeds (Karma) in the past. This is in accordance with the Principle of Cause and Effect.

Practicing Buddhism will result in happiness in this life. This is similar to the teachings of most religions.

The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to attain Nirvana, which is the total, absolute and permanent cessation of suffering.

Nirvana literally means "extinguished". Its real meaning cannot be represented by words. It can only be experienced by the wise themselves.

Buddha says, one without attachment realizes Nirvana.

Buddha also says, end of craving is Nirvana.

The Buddha described Nirvana as supreme happiness, peace and immortality.

One has to experience the end of suffering (the Way) for oneself through eliminating the causes of sufferings - The Three Poisons.

And, the path to eliminate them, as taught by the Buddha, is the Middle Path. The Noble Eightfold Paths are comprehensive paths to the end of suffering. It is designed to eliminate the causes of suffering done through our body, mouth and mind.