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What are the Four Noble Truths?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2016
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The Four Noble Truths are a foundational part of Buddhism. They are said to arise directly from the insights and thoughts of Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) right after he achieved enlightenment, and they’re present in some of the earliest Buddhist texts, especially the Pali Canon. This is the collection of works that is said to be the written record of Buddha’s and his disciple’s teachings, 500 years after Buddha’s death. This would date the canon to approximately 2000 years ago. The Four Noble Truths may have been the subject of Buddha’s first sermon.

In the Pali Canon and in other works, the Four Noble Truths are the essential underpinning of Buddhism, but some contend they cannot be realized or accepted by everyone. You may need to be “ready” to hear them. However, readiness to hear the truths and appreciate them as non-negotiable things rather than good ideas is important toward achieving enlightenment and continued following of a Buddhist path.

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In brief, the Four Noble Truths begin with the concept that living or life means you will suffer. This is the first truth: suffering is common to us all. The second truth is that suffering is caused by our attachments not only to things we own and the people we love, but also because we hold onto ideas we have. Some identify this as the origin of suffering and suggest that our continued attachments or “craving” even keep us tied to reincarnation. We can’t stop wanting things: life, love, objects and et cetera.

The third of the Four Noble Truths can take a great deal more acceptance. People must believe that there is a way to cease suffering. Lastly, the fourth truth is that there is not only a way to cease suffering but a path to end suffering. This path may not be totally complete in a lifetime and might take several lifetimes to complete.

The path to end suffering in the last of the Four Noble Truths is called the Noble Eightfold Path. This path involves study and concentration to develop wisdom, ethical conduct and concentration. The person wishing to cease suffering must evolve right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right concentration, right livelihood, and right mindfulness. This is not the work of a moment and all of these things may be worked on simultaneously. The idea is that over time a person can develop these things and when a person has totally achieved all the things in the Eightfold Path, they attain Nirvana.

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