The Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths
The First Sermon — The Four Noble Truths
In His first sermon to the five ascetics in the Deer Park near Varanasi, the Buddha spoke of the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths sum up, in a systematic formula, the central teachings of the Buddha.
(1) The Truth of Suffering;
(2) The Truth of the Cause of Suffering;
(3) The Truth of the End of Suffering;
(4) The Truth of the Path leading to the End of Suffering.
The Truth of Suffering
The Buddha’s discovery of the solution to the problem of suffering began with the recognition that life is suffering. This is the first of the Four Noble Truths. If people examine their own experiences or look at the world around them, they will see that life is full of suffering. Suffering may be physical or mental.
Physical suffering takes many forms. People must have observed at one time or another, how their aged relatives suffer. Most of these aged suffer aches and pains in their joints and many find it hard to move about by themselves. With advancing age, the elderly find life difficult because they cannot see, hear or eat properly. The pain of disease, which strikes young and old alike, is unbearable, and the pain of death brings much grief and suffering. Even the moment of birth gives pain both to the mother and the child that is born.
The truth is that the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death are unavoidable. Some fortunate people may now be enjoying relatively happy and carefree lives, but it is only a matter of time before they, too, will experience suffering. What is worse, this suffering must be borne alone. For example, a man may be very concerned that his mother is growing old. Yet he cannot take her place and suffer the pains of ageing on her behalf. Similarly, if a boy falls very ill, his mother cannot experience the pains of his illness for him. Finally, neither mother nor son can help each other when the moment of death comes.
The Buddha taught people to recognise that suffering is a part of life and that one cannot avoid it. There is a well-known story of Kisa Gotami which illustrates this point very well.
Story of Kisa Gotami
Kisa Gotami was a young woman from a well-to-do family and was married to a wealthy merchant. When her only son was about a year old, he fell ill and suddenly died. Overcome with grief, Kisa Gotami took the dead child in her arms and went from house to house asking people if they knew of a medicine that would restore her child to life. Of course, no one was able to help her. Finally she met a follower of the Buddha, who advised her to see Him.
When she carried the dead child to the Buddha and told Him her sad story, He listened with patience and compassion, and then said to her, “There is only one way to solve your problem. Go and get me four or five mustard seeds from any family in which there has never been a death.”
Kisa Gotami set off to look for such a household, but without success. Every family she visited had experienced the death of some person or other. At last, she understood what the Buddha had wanted her to find out herself — that death comes to all. Accepting the fact that death is inevitable, she no longer grieved. She took the child’s body away and later returned to the Buddha to become one of His followers.
Besides physical suffering, there are also various forms of mental suffering. People feel sad, lonely or depressed when they lose someone they love through separation or death. They feel irritated or uncomfortable when they are forced to be in the company of those whom they dislike or those who are unpleasant. People also suffer when they are unable to satisfy their limitless needs and wants. Teenagers, for example, may feel utterly frustrated and dejected if their parents refuse to let them participate in a late-night party or spend large sums of money on expensive fashionable clothing. Adults, on the other hand, may be extremely unhappy if they are unable to gain wealth, power or prestige. These are the mental sufferings that can arise from being separated from the people one likes, being together with people one dislikes, or just not getting what one desires.
Happiness in Life
When the Buddha said that there is suffering in life, He did not deny that there is happiness also. On the contrary, He spoke of various kinds of happiness, such as the happiness of friendship, the happiness of family life, the happiness of having a healthy body and mind, and so on. But all these kinds of happiness are impermanent and when one loses them, one suffers. For example, one may like a pleasant and charming person and enjoy his or her company. But when one is separated from that person, the happiness turns into suffering. One suffers because of one’s attachment to pleasures that do not last.
People often remain unaware of the inevitable sufferings of life because they are distracted by temporary pleasures. Imagine a man enjoying himself, rowing a boat down a swift but treacherous river. He becomes so involved in enjoying the ride on the sparkling water in the warm sunshine that he does not bother to think of any trouble that may be ahead. He is unaware of the fact that, just around the next bend in the river, there are wild rapids and whirlpools that will smash his boat against the jagged rocks lurking just below the surface. Fortunately, someone on the shore calls out to warn him of the dangers ahead. Being a sensible person, he heeds the timely advice.
In the same way, the Buddha taught people not to be distracted by momentary pleasures, but to recognise the fact that these do not last forever. Therefore, people should learn from Him the way to solve the problem of suffering.
Suffering is a fact of life. There are four unavoidable physical sufferings — birth, old age, sickness and death. There are also three forms of mental suffering — separation from the people one loves, contact with people one dislikes and the frustration of desires. The truths of suffering must first be recognised before the solution to the real problems of life can be found.
Title: Buddhism for Beginners
By: Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery
Chapter 9,10,11,12 | Page 45 to 61