The Four Noble Truths

        After realizing complete, perfect awakening (samyak sambodhi), the Buddha had to find words to share his insight. He already had the water, but he had to discover jars like the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path to hold it. The Four Noble Truths are the cream of the Buddha's teaching. The Buddha continued to proclaim these truths right up until his Great Passing Away (mahaparinirvana). 

The Chinese translate Four Noble Truths as "Four Wonderful Truths" or "Four Holy Truths". Our suffering is holy if we embrace it and look deeply into it. If we don't, it isn't holy at all. We just drown in the ocean of our suffering. For "truth", the Chinese use the characters for "word" and "king". No one can argue with the words of a king. These Four Truths are not something to argue about. They are something to practice and realize. 

The First Noble Truth is suffering (dukkha). The root meaning of the Chinese character for suffering is "bitter". Happiness is sweet; suffering is bitter. We alls uffer to some extent. We have some malaise in our body and our mind. We have to recognize and acknowledge the presence of this suffering and touch it. To do so, we may need the help of a teacher and a Sangha, friends in the practice. 

The Second Noble Truth is the origin, roots, nature, creation, or arising (samudaya) of suffering. After we touch our suffering, we need to look deeply into it to see how it came to be. We need to recognize and identify the spiritual and material foods we have ingested that are causing us to suffer. 

The Third Noble Truth is the cessation (nirodha) of creating suffering by refraining from doing the things that make us suffer. This is good news! The Buddha did not deny the existence of suffering, but he also did not deny the existence of joy and happiness. If you think that Buddhism says, "Everything is suffering and we cannot do anything about it", that is the opposite of the Buddha's message. The Buddha taught us how to recognize and acknowledge the presence of suffering, but he also taught the cessation of suffering. If there were no possibility of cessation, what is the use of practicing? The Third Truth is that healing is possible. 

The Fourth Noble Truth is the path (marga) that leads to refraining from doing the things that cause us to suffer. This is the path we need the most. The Buddha called it the Noble Eightfold Path. The Chinese translate it as the "Path of Eight Right Practices": Right View, Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. 

The Pali word for "Right" is samma and the Sanskrit word is samyak. It is an adverb meaning "in the right way", "straight", or "upright", not bent or crooked. Right Mindfulness, for example, means that there are ways of being mindful that are right, straight, and beneficial. Wrong mindfulness means that there are ways to practice that are wrong, crooked, and unbeneficial. Entering the Eightfold Path, we learn ways to practice that are of benefit, the "Right" way to practice. Right and wrong are neither moral judgments nor arbitrary standards imposed from outside. Through our own awareness, we discover what is beneficial ("right")and what is unbeneficial ("wrong").

From "Heart of the Buddha's Teachings"
by Thich Nhat Hanh
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