The Teachings of the Buddha
Turning the Wheel of Dharma

The Four Noble Truths

I. Life Involves Suffering
The “Dissatisfactory” Nature of Existence

Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of duhkhaBirth is duhkha, old age is duhkha, sickness is duhkha, and death is duhkha. Sorrow, lamentation, dejection, and despair are duhkha. Contact with unpleasant things is duhkha, and separation from what one wishes is duhkha. In short, the Five Aggregates onto which one grasps are duhkha. (BIBE, 48; cf. OBS, 47)
  • Was the Buddha a pessimist? Why not try to maximize pleasure and minimize pain?

II. The Cause of Suffering

Now this, monks, is the noble truth about the arising of suffering: It is craving [tanha] that leads to rebirth, along with the delight and the lust longingly now here, now there: namely, the craving for sensual pleasure, the craving for rebirth, the craving for extinction. Such, monks, is the noble truth about the arising of suffering. (OBS, 47; cf. BIBE, 49)
  • Do you agree that desire is the cause of suffering? Why or why not?
Karma and Rebirth
In the center of some of the artistic renderings of the Wheel of Life are pictures of the various realms in which living beings can be reborn through karma. Karma, according to the Buddha, is the result of willful intention: “It is will [cetana], O monks, that I call karma; for having willed, one acts through body, speech or mind” (Anguttara-nikaya, III, 415). In other words, the good or bad willful intentions that motivate the doing of good or bad actions are what result in karmic fruition. Accidental or unintended good or bad actions, like nonmoral actions, do not result in karma. However, all intentional moral or immoral acts condition or mold one’s consciousness in ways that, in turn, condition one’s life in the future, and ultimately one’s rebirth. Remember that it is consciousness that, like a flame in this life, lights the flame of one’s next life. In this regard, good or bad rebirths are not to be seen simply as rewards or punishments, but as the resulting effect of one’s conscious character molded by lives of good and bad actions that reflect how one ultimately chooses to live. (BIBE, 41-42)
III. The Cessation of Suffering
When Desires Cease, Suffering will Cease
Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of duhkha. It is the complete cessation of that very craving, giving it up, renouncing it, release from it, detachment from it. (BIBE, 51; cf. OBS, 48)
  • Does the elimination of desire inevitably lead to the extinction of suffering?
  • If suffering can be eliminated, then why do we fail to pursue this as a serious goal?
One thing that is interesting about the Buddha’s statement of the Third Noble Truth is the few words he uses in comparison to the number used in stating the other three truths. Perhaps the reason is that the Buddha never spoke very much about what Nirvana ultimately is. Up to this point we have been looking at teachings of the Buddha that he explicates at some length. Therefore, there is not a great deal of disagreement among scholars about what those teachings entail. However, this is not the case with Nirvana. In fact, volumes have been written in which scholars have tried to answer the question, “What is Nirvana?” Some claim that it is an absolute Truth. Others say it is a transcendent metaphysical Reality. Still others argue that it is a supermundane experience or a supreme and pure state of mind. (BIBE, 50)
IV. The Eightfold Path
Working Towards the Cessation of Suffering

Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of the way that leads to the cessation of duhkha. This is this Noble Eightfold Path, namely, Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration. (BIBE, 51; cf. OBS, 48)

The path can be divided into 3 groups:


1. Right Understanding

  • Adherence to Buddha’s understanding of the Four Noble Truths as a starting point.

2. Right Thought

  • Forming the intention to pursue the Buddha’s path, including the resolution to practice benevolence or nonharmfulness to sentient beings.


3. Right Speech

  • Ones speech should always be in accordance with the principle of nonharmfulness.

4. Right Action

  • Ones actions should also be in accord with the principle of nonharmfulness.

5. Right Livelihood

  • In line with the previous ethical principles, laypeople should pursue a line of work that promotes the welfare of other sentient beings and minimizes actions that might harm them.


6. Right Effort

  • The effort to eliminate harmful karma at the mental level; this represents the beginning of the self-examination process.

7. Right Mindfulness
  • Mindfulness meditation employs aspects of the two main techniques of Buddhist meditation: samatha (calming) and vipassana (insight). Samatha is good for stabilizing the mind and preventing new karma, but only “insight” leads to nirvana. Mindfulness meditation combines these by first stabilizing the mind by focusing on the breath, and then directing the mind to contemplate the nature of body, mind, and their relationship to the totality of things.
8. Right Concentration