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The Four Noble Truths

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Buddhism: Week 1

The Four Noble Truths
Thursday, September 3, 2015

After his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, the Buddha sat for some days in his inner liberation, which he called a state of nirvana. As Thich Nhat Hanh explains, “Nirvana means extinction—first of all, the extinction of all concepts and notions. Our concepts about things prevent us from really touching them.” [1] For the Buddha, the ability to see reality as it really is, free of all concepts that distort it, was also the extinction of suffering. James Finley says, “Suffering was blown out from within, so that it no longer had any footing in his mind or heart.”

Here’s how Finley describes the Four Noble Truths that Buddha taught for the rest of his life:

The Buddha felt called to share his discovery to help others come to this realization. He found the ascetics that he had lived with and told them, “I come to teach the Middle Way.” He embodies the Middle Way in the Four Noble Truths. The First Truth is the truth of suffering. By suffering, the Buddha means a pervasive discontent—that the ability to abide in inner peace and fulfillment is elusive. There is a pervasive sense of precariousness. This suffering is the presenting problem. The illness that the Buddha seeks to cure is the propensity for suffering.

The Second Noble Truth is that there is a way of life that perpetuates the suffering. There are certain habits of the mind and heart that are perpetuating the very suffering that we seek to be free from. This way of life has its basis in wanting life to be other than the way it is. This is the diagnosis.

The Third Noble Truth is that it is possible to be healed from these symptoms by learning to live as one with the way life is. This is the truth of nirvana—this way of abiding peace and equanimity in the rise and fall of daily circumstances just as they are. So this is the hope for the cure—that it is possible to rest in this abiding inner peace and fulfillment.

The Fourth Noble Truth is the Noble Eightfold Path which is the way of life in which one is liberated from the tyranny of suffering so that one might come to this nirvanic peace, this inner peace, the peace that passes understanding in the midst of life as it is. What good would it do if the Buddha just pointed out the problem and did not give us a way to be delivered from the problem? That way is the Noble Eightfold Path. [2]

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “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.” [3] We will unpackage the Noble Eightfold Path in tomorrow’s meditation.

Gateway to Silence:
To understand everything is to forgive everything. —Buddha

[1] Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Broadway Books: 1998), 129.
[2] James Finley, Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), disc 2 (CD, DVD, MP3 download).
[3] Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, 11.

Image credit: “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” (detail of woodblock print), Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).
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