Zen: The Four Noble Truths

The eightfold path

First, we’ve beent taught that Life is suffering and that the origin of suffering is egoistic craving and attachment. But, there is a way to the cessation of suffering. And this way is the Eightfold Path:

Right Understanding;
Right Thinking;
Right Speech;
Right Attitude;
Right Livelihood;
Right Effort;
Right Mindfulness;
Right Concentration

The Four Noble Truths (Sanskrit: catvāri āryasatyāni; Pali: cattāri ariyasaccāni) are “the truths of the Noble Ones” or the truths and realities which are understood by the “worthy ones” who have attained nirvana. These truths are dukkha: the arising of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, the path leading to the end of dukkha, and expresses the basic orientation of Buddhism. We crave and cling to impermanent states and things, which are dukkha, “incapable of satisfying” and painful, and this keeps us caught in samsara, the endless cycle of repeated rebirth, dukkha, and dying again. But there is a way to reach real happiness and close this cycle, namely following the eightfold path.

 

The meaning of the truths is as follows: Life in this mundane world with its craving and clinging to impermanent states and things, is dukkha, unsatisfactory and painful. That is called samudaya, the origination or arising of dukkhaDukkha, and repeated life in this world, begins with taṇhā, “thirst,” craving for and clinging to these impermanent states and things. This craving and clinging produce karma leading to renewed becoming, keeping us trapped in rebirth and renewed dissatisfaction.

 

Niroda, the cessation of dukkha starts by stopping this craving and clinging so when nirvana is attained, no more karma is produced, and rebirth and dissatisfaction will no longer arise again. Magga, the path to the cessation of, or liberation from dukkha, is achieved by following the Noble Eightfold Path: restraining oneself, cultivating discipline, and practicing mindfulness and meditation, consequently craving and clinging is stopped, and rebirth and dissatisfaction are concluded.

 

The four truths provide a conceptual framework for introducing and explaining Buddhist thought, which has to be personally understood or experienced. The formulation of the these truths and their importance developed over time, when prajna, or liberating insight, came to be regarded as liberating in itself, instead of the practice of dhyana. In the sutras, the four truths have both a symbolic and a propositional function. They represent the awakening and liberation of the Buddha, but also the possibility of liberation for all sentient beings, describing how release from craving can be reached.

 

The four truths are of central importance in the Theravada tradition, which holds to the idea that insight into the four truths is liberating in itself. They are less prominent in the Mahayana traditions, which emphasize insight into sunyata and the Bodhisattva-path as central elements in their teachings.