Seeing a recent Tweet from Mick Jagger brought a smile to my face as I recall a great first introduction to The Four Noble Truths. Without the right understanding, Buddhism can be interpreted in a very negative and incapacitating way. Its worth remembering the story is Buddha achieved enlightenment and wanted to share the path, so a positive interpretation is good to hold.
What are the Four Noble Truths? The Four Noble Truths are regarded as the first teachings from Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) after his enlightenment. If Buddha were a Doctor, the Noble Truths are the symptoms, diagnosis and prescription in one succinct teaching. The Four Noble Truths are central to Buddhist teachings. The Four Noble Truths are commonly interpreted as:
- The truth of suffering. That life is suffering. (Stick around for the good news!)
- The truth of the cause of suffering
- The truth of the end of suffering
- The truth of the way to achieve the end of suffering
The truth of suffering
Simply put, life is suffering, we all suffer in life. Life can suck! Stick around this isn’t doom and gloom. Suffering is the most original translation we have of Dukkha which is what was originally written in Pali and Sanskrit. The Mick Jagger reference goes back to my first real teaching of the Noble Truths when the truth of suffering is put more plainly as “Can’t get no satisfaction”. The interpretation of dissatisfaction is likely closer to its real meaning than ‘suffering’ and is more widely used now.
The truth of the cause of suffering
A lack of satisfaction and cravings cause us a great deal of suffering. Where do these cravings come from? Essentially from our ego, a false sense of ‘I’ or ‘Me’. The false sense of our own importance leads to what is known as Samsara; the cyclic existence.
Remember that new car, phone or house, the happiness and glee it brought? How long did that last? Did it last until the next new phone came out? did a bigger house get built across the street that we think we deserve? This in part illustrates Samsara (within this lifetime). Our ego looks to external items and possessions in a grasping ‘I must have that’ manner. Once we have it we are quickly dissatisfied and crave the next thing.
Whilst we talk of grasping, the opposite also adds to our suffering. We recoil or push away those who we disagree with, find unattractive or of different financial means. A life with our ego at the centre has much grasping and repulsion, this leads to our own suffering.
The truth to end suffering
Simply put an end the obsession of ‘I’ or ‘Me’ and remove our cravings. Be accepting of what is. Our to borrow from the Stoics, be with Nature (Logos).
The truth of the way to end suffering
The prescription Buddha offers for our ailment is the Eight-fold Path. The Eight-fold path is summarized as:
- Right view, understanding of the nature of things.
- Right intention, avoiding thoughts of attachment, hatred, and harmful intent.
- Right speech, speech such as lying, harsh speech, and idle gossip.
- Right action, refrain from physical misdeeds such as killing, stealing, and harmful sexual misconduct.
- Right livelihood, not working in industries that directly or indirectly harm others, slavery, weapons, animals for slaughter, alcohol. drugs or poisons.
- Right effort, abandon negative states of mind that arise, preventing negative states from arising. Maintaining positive states that occur*
- Right mindfulness, awareness of body, feelings, thought, and phenomena.
- Right concentration, meditation and mindfulness.
*In modern Positive Psychology, the Negativity Bias might offer a clue why. We tend to pay more attention to negative than positive, often taking the positive for granted.