In the story of the Buddha’s life in Lesson 2, you
learned that right after his enlightenment he traveled
to Deer Park. There he set in motion the wheel of dharma
by delivering his first discourse, the subject of which
was the Four Noble Truths.
All the numerous and diverse recorded teachings of the
Buddha fit together into a single unifying frame — the
teaching of the Four Noble Truths.
It is sometimes said that the Four Noble Truths form an
introductory teaching — the ABCs of Buddhism,
preparation for higher doctrines, for the real thing. This
view is not correct. The Buddha said
that so long as he had not clearly understood the Four
Noble Truths in three turnings (content of the truths,
functions to be accomplished, fulfillment of these functions),
and twelve aspects (the three turnings applied to each
of the four truths), he did not proclaim in the world that
he had achieved the supreme perfect enlightenment.
In his first discourse, when he sets in motion the wheel
of Dhamma, the Buddha says:
He says that when a Buddha appears in the world there
is a teaching of the Four Noble Truths. This, he says,
is like the arising of the sun and the moon shedding great
light over the world.
So the special purpose of the Dhamma is to make known
the Four Noble Truths and the special aim of those treading
the path to enlightenment is to see for themselves the
Four Noble Truths.
Living the Four Noble Truths
The Buddha says that as long as we remain blind to the
Four Noble Truths we’re lost in ignorance, we roam
in samsara, the round of suffering. But when we awaken
to the truths, when we make them a living experience, that
is the wisdom of enlightenment, that leads to the freedom
of the liberated mind.
The Four Noble Truths are:
The truth of dukkha Dukkha is usually
translated as suffering, but as we’ll see the Pali
word has much deeper meaning.
The truth of the origin of dukkha The
Buddha identified craving, thirst, blind self-centered
desire as the cause of suffering.
The truth of the cessation of dukkha The
end of suffering, which the Buddha identifies as nibanna,
the deathless state.
The truth of the path The way to liberation
from dukkha, the
noble eightfold path.
As you can see, the Four Noble Truths center around a single
theme or subject – dukkha. Each treats this theme from
a different angle:
The first truth lays out the problem, the forms of dukkha.
The second truth traces the problem to its cause.
The third solution gives us the solution.
The fourth truth maps out the means to achieve the solution.
Translating and understanding the word dukkha
Since the Four Noble Truths are address the problem of dukkha,
our understanding of the Dhamma hinges on the way we understand
The Pali word dukkha is often translated as
suffering, pain and misery. While these capture part of its
meaning, they also give rise to misconceptions, due in part
to the fact that no single English word does full justice to
the original Pali word.
The word dukkha originally meant pain and suffering, and the
Buddha sometimes uses it in this limited sense, when he speaks
about unpleasant feelings of body and of mind and calls them Dukkha
vedena, pain fulfilling. But the Buddha took this word
of common usage and elevated it to a much wider and deeper
meaning, where it suggests a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading
So when we use the English word suffering we should
understand that while it refers to of felt pain, unhappiness,
dissatisfaction, the Buddha is also using it in the deeper,
Each word in the phrase "Four Noble Truths" is significant:
The Pali word Sacca, truth, indicates an existing
reality (“that which is”) rather than a true statement
or a proposition. So the Four Noble Truths are not mere formulations
propounded by Buddha. They are rather four actualities discovered
by the Buddha, valid quite independent of him. This is the
truth that is always present, but which is hidden from our
sight due to the screen of ignorance.
The first truth is the state of dukkha
itself. The second truth is its actual cause, craving. The
third truth is its cessation. The fourth truth is the path,
the noble eightfold path. The fact that these are truths
implies that they are not merely formulations propounded
by the Buddha.
The Truths are called Noble, Ariya, truths because:
They are taught by the Ariyan, the noble one, the
They lead to the Ariyan state. (An Ariyan is a 'noble one',
an enlightened one or one on the path to enlightenment.)
They call for noble qualities, for courage, honesty, wisdom,
profundity of character, to see reality as it is.
There are four truths, which give us everything we need to
gain liberation. No other truth has to be added to it nor can
any of them be removed for the purpose of gaining liberation.
They give us everything we need to gain liberation.