The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path Explained

When Buddha reached Enlightenment, he decided to spread his teachings. He understood that life brought about suffering and that in order to be free from it, we must observe certain ways and know certain wisdom. With that, he taught the most important elements of Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

The Four Noble Truths explains how suffering is part and parcel of our lives but there is always respite from it. On the other hand, the Eightfold Path teaches the proper way of living in order to achieve freedom from suffering and enlightenment.

The Three Jewels of Buddhism

Before we go into the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, let us first look at the core of Buddhism which is the Three Jewels.

The Three Jewels are:

  • The Buddha
  • The Dharma and
  • The Sangha.

The Buddha

The Enlightened One or Siddhartha Gautama or Gautama Buddha. The Buddha is only known Buddha to mankind, however it is said that there were many Buddhas that came before him and there will be future Buddhas to come. He is the teacher who received the knowledge on how to achieve Nirvana. He journeyed to teach others how to free one’s self from Dukkha or suffering.

The Dharma

Dharma is defined literally as the cosmic order. It is known in Buddhism as the teachings of the Buddha towards the freedom from the Dukkha. The Dharma is mainly a philosophical way to live not just for enlightenment but also all the teachings about daily life, relationships, working and earning money, family and all facets of life are taught in the Dharma.

The Sangha

The Sangha literally means community, assembly or association in Sanskrit. It is a group of people normally Buddhist monks and nuns who teach and uphold the teachings of Buddha to others. They are people who have at least attained one of the four levels of Enlightenment.

The Four Noble Truths

There are Four Noble Truths that exist regarding Dukkha. Dukkha is suffering. And suffering is constant. Everything around us causes suffering, even those that bring about pleasure since they are all impermanent. This impermanence makes us crave and desire them more leaving us in a state of discontentment and thus suffering.

Have you ever woken up in the morning feeling like you’d rather just go back to bed and not get up to face the day? Have you ever ate a slice of cake feeling regretful that it would make you fat or have you ever had icecream wanting another scoop and getting that next scoop and another one and another one till you have eaten the whole pint? Well this in essence is suffering. A human’s struggle to live and satiate the whims of the body.

1. The Truth of Suffering

The Truth of Suffering states that we are in a constant state of wanting, longing, suffering, pain and sorrow. We go through life with different emotions and thus it causes us turmoil. This also relates to the point of being reborn into a state of wanting and suffering again.

2. The Truth of the Cause of Suffering

The Truth of the Cause of Suffering states that WE SUFFER BECAUSE WE DESIRE. Desire is the main reason for suffering. Desiring, be it a good thing or a bad thing can cause us discomfort. Even life needs causes suffering. Desire and needing food causes hunger. Desiring shelter and not having it causes homelessness. Even wanting to live causes us to suffer.

Humans’ greatest desire is LIFE itself. To be able to stay alive in a organic body that is doomed to whither and die eventually. We fear death because we desire life. And this fear of death a lot of times brings us suffering.

You may see desire in many forms. The desire for money. We work too hard because we think that if we have money we will be more comfortable. We desire love, we feel depressed and lonely without it. We desire acceptance. We desire material things. We desire power. We desire many things and thus WE SUFFER.

3. The Truth of the Freedom From Suffering

The Third Truth of the Four Noble Truths states that Dukkha can cease if we cease to cling on to desire. We can find Nirvana and freedom if we no longer desire things, people, money and even the need to hold on to life. Yes life is precious but we need not be afraid of death. We need not be afraid of hunger.

By accepting that desiring things causes suffering we can learn how to curb and lose those desires. When you desire nothing, then you have reached the first step towards enlightenment.

But removing desire from our hearts and our minds is DIFFICULT. Buddha knew this, and hence he said the final teaching of the Four Noble Truths, which is the Truth of Liberation from Suffering Through the Eightfold Path.

4. The Truth of Path of Liberation from Suffering

Buddha knew that being man, we are exposed to desires, hurt, pain, suffering, delusion and anger. He knew that man is fallible and hence he created an Eightfold Path that teaches the Right Ways of Life. When followed, we can live towards the attainment of Nirvana.

The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path is the third circle in the core of teachings of Buddha. These teachings are timeless, philosophical yet practical ways of living life. By following the Eightfold Path, one can live a life full of compassion, virtue and thus achieve Enlightenment.

1. Right View

2. Right Intention

3. Right Action

4. Right Speech

5. Right Livelihood

6. Right Effort

7. Right Mindfulness

8. Right Meditation

1. Right View

The Right View or the Right Understanding means being able to understand that life is full of suffering. We need to embrace the Four Noble Truths and learn from it. It means to understand life, death and rebirth. It means understanding the path towards Enlightenment. It states to understand the Three Marks of Existence such as IMPERMANENCE, NOT SELF (letting go of one’s selfishness and ego) and SUFFERING.

The Right View combines understanding the Three Marks of Existence, Four Noble Truths and understanding Karma. Basically it is knowing and understanding the teachings of the Buddha. Because wisdom is the key to Enlightenment, we must seek to understand it.

2. Right Intention

Our intentions shape our thoughts and actions. They signal us on how to feel, think and react on life and the people around us. Buddha teaches that we need to to have the intent to be the NOT SELF or letting go of our selfishness. We need to embody mindfulness and less of greed, delusion and desire.

3. Right Action

Right Action means not engaging in evil acts such as killing and hurting sentient beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, taking in intoxicants such as drugs and alcohol. Buddha teaches us that we need to turn away from cruelty and evil acts and only partake in acts of kindness and love. We need to show compassion and care towards others.

4. Right Speech

Right Speech states that “It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.” — AN 5.198.

This means that one should only speak if the words will help others, if what is being said is true, the speech should be kind and helpful and finally a person should speak only to promote good-will.

This means that we should shun slander, gossip, argumentative speech, false witness to another and words spoken in spite. We should never spread rumors and try to avoid nagging.

5. Right Livelihood

Right Livelihood means not doing harms ways of earning a living. It means not committing prostitution, selling intoxicants or selling dead animals. But some Buddhists argue regarding the sale of meat.

To the lay person, Right Livelihood means practicing kindness, dutifulness and good conduct when working. It asks you “how does your job help you and others alleviate suffering?”. It also asks you if you are able to live a balanced life despite of your work.

6. Right Effort

The Right Effort means being able to combine Action and Intention in order to attain freedom from suffering. It means disregarding desires that cause suffering to one’s self and other. It means setting aside time for meditation. It means not succumbing to immoral sexual desires. It means to be practicing mindfulness when it is most difficult to do so.

Without the Right Effort, all the teachings of Buddhism cannot be followed by anyone, be it a lay person or a member of the Sangha. A person needs to put effort into achieving Enlightenment.

7. Right Mindfulness

Right Mindfulness means being able to practice mindfulness in every moment of one’s life. Mindfulness means being aware of the exact moment you are living in, not dwelling in the past or the future. It also means being mindful of others.

Mindfulness teaches us to live in the present. To work when work is needed, to rest when we are tired and to avoid doing so many things at the same time. It means living fully in each moment that is given to us.

How do you do this? Have you ever been on a beach but instead of embracing it’s beauty, you take out your phone and take a picture. Or have you ever had dinner but you scroll on you phone instead of talking to the people around you. This is where mindfulness comes in. It means you have to live life IN THE NOW.

This is one of the most useful teachings of The Buddha in the present day when we are constantly pushed to multitask.

8. Right Meditation

Right Meditation or Concentration is the ability to let the mind focus on one thing, normally your breath. Since the world is full of things that we regard, our minds race all the time. We fail to focus. By learning to meditate, we let go of the world around us. We commune instead with our inner beings. This in turn communes with the universe.

It is said that the busier you are the more you should meditate. Why? Because meditation is the cure to stress, suffering, anger, hate and all that is churning in our hearts and mind. When we meditate, we find peace. If the mind is at peace, you will be able to live a life of goodness and virtue.

Buddhism and Everyday Life

Buddhism is one of the most pragmatic teachings known to man. These teachings which began centuries ago are still applicable now. These precepts such as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path teach us that we ourselves can save us from suffering. We have the power within us to find Enlightenment

But Enlightenment needs commitment and to free one’s self from suffering, one must follow these teachings everyday.

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