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 this word.

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 all existence.

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, broader sense.

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 Buddha.
  • 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.  

(See "The Nobility of the Truths")


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.

A Doctor's Prescription


The Four Noble Truths

1 of 7

Qualities of the Dharma
The Four Noble Truths
The Noble Eightfold Path
The True Nature of Existence
  The Five Aggregates of Clinging
  Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta
  Dependent Arising
  Kamma, Nibbana and Rebirth


The Sangha
The Buddhist Sangha