- Life as we know it ultimately is or leads to suffering/uneasiness (dukkha) in one way or another.
- Suffering is caused by craving or attachments to worldly pleasures of all kinds. This is often expressed as a deluded clinging to a certain sense of existence, to selfhood, or to the things or phenomena that we consider the cause of happiness or unhappiness.
- Suffering ends when craving ends, when one is freed from desire. This is achieved by eliminating all delusion, thereby reaching a liberated state of Enlightenment (bodhi);
- Reaching this liberated state is achieved by following the path laid out by the Buddha.
Described by early Western scholars, and taught as an introduction to Buddhism by some contemporary Mahayana teachers (e.g., the Dalai Lama).
According to other interpretations by Buddhist teachers and scholars, lately recognized by some Western non-Buddhist scholars, the “truths” do not represent mere statements, but are categories or aspects that most worldly phenomena fall into, grouped in two:
- Suffering and causes of suffering
- Cessation and the paths towards liberation from suffering.
Thus, according to the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism they are
- “The noble truth that is suffering”
- “The noble truth that is the arising of suffering”
- “The noble truth that is the end of suffering”
- “The noble truth that is the way leading to the end of suffering”
The early teaching and the traditional Theravada understanding is that the Four Noble Truths are an advanced teaching for those who are ready for them. The Mahayana position is that they are a preliminary teaching for people not yet ready for the higher and more expansive Mahayana teachings. They are little known in the Far East
The Noble Eightfold Path
- Prajñā is the wisdom that purifies the mind, allowing it to attain spiritual insight into the true nature of all things. It includes:
- dṛṣṭi (ditthi): viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be.
- saṃkalpa (sankappa): intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness.
- Śīla is the ethics or morality, or abstention from unwholesome deeds. It includes:
- vāc (vāca): speaking in a truthful and non hurtful way
- karman (kammanta): acting in a non harmful way
- ājīvana (ājīva): a non harmful livelihood
- Samādhi is the mental discipline required to develop mastery over one’s own mind. This is done through the practice of various contemplative and meditative practices, and includes:
- vyāyāma (vāyāma): making an effort to improve
- smṛti (sati): awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness, being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion
- samādhi (samādhi): correct meditation or concentration, explained as the first 4 dhyānas
The practice of the Eightfold Path is understood in two ways, as requiring either simultaneous development (all eight items practiced in parallel), or as a progressive series of stages through which the practitioner moves, the culmination of one leading to the beginning of another.
In the early sources (the four main Nikayas) the Eightfold Path is not generally taught to laypeople, and it is little known in the Far East.
An important guiding principle of Buddhist practice is the Middle Way, which is said to have been discovered by Gautama Buddha prior to his enlightenment (bodhi). The Middle Way or Middle Path has several definitions:
- The practice of non-extremism: a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification
- The middle ground between certain metaphysical views (e.g., that things ultimately either do or do not exist)
- An explanation of Nirvana (perfect enlightenment), a state wherein it becomes clear that all dualities apparent in the world are delusory (see Seongcheol)
- Another term for emptiness, the ultimate nature of all phenomena, lack of inherent existence, which avoids the extremes of permanence and nihilism or inherent existence and nothingness
The nature of reality
Buddhist scholars have produced a prodigious quantity of intellectual theories, philosophies and world view concepts (see, e.g., Abhidharma, Buddhist philosophy and Reality in Buddhism). Some schools of Buddhism discourage doctrinal study, some regard it as essential, but most regard it as having a place, at least for some people at some stages. The concept of Liberation (Nirvana), the goal of the Buddhist path, is closely related to the correct perception of reality. In awakening to the true nature of the self and all phenomena one is liberated from the cycle of suffering (Dukkha) and involuntary rebirths (Samsara).