Four Noble Truths

After seven weeks of fasting and meditation, Buddha found the way of how we can address the reality that life is suffering. The solution is the Noble Eightfold Path.

One of these eight practices is mindfulness, mentioned in this entry. This Noble Eightfold Path is actually the fourth component of the Four Noble Truths. Without knowing these Truths, perhaps we can’t fully understand the essence of the Noble Eightfold Path, either.

What are these Four Noble Truths?

The First Noble Truth is Buddha’s (Siddhārtha Gautama) first realization; one of the primary reasons that he decided to enter his pursuit of the Enlightenment.

This Truth is somewhat apparent. He has realized that life is suffering. When Buddha (as Siddhārtha Gautama) was still the prince of the luxury Shakya clan-family, he witnessed four critical life situations.

Firstly, people are struggling with various life conditions such as poverty, selfishness, and deceitfulness, etc. Secondly, they always suffer from many kinds of diseases. Our human history is indeed a series of constant struggles against them. It’s only now that we are free from bacterial infections. Thirdly, aging is suffering. As we age, our body and mind gradually become dysfunctional. Lastly, death is suffering. Our life would end someday inevitably. How do we face our mortality and the death of people we love? It’s been one of the fundamental questions ever since.

Young Siddhārtha was overwhelmed by these four incidents (Living, Aging, Diseases, and Death). He’s realized the truth that life is indeed suffering. And he has decided to leave his family and pursue the path of the Enlightenment.

The Second Noble Truth is that there is the reason why life is suffering; moreover, why we think life is suffering. What is the origin of this suffering? It is our very self. After years of his pursuit, Buddha has boldly proclaimed that the root of pain is our self.

We crave to possess something or someone but we can’t; therefore, we suffer. We desire to become someone else but we can’t; therefore, we suffer. We love and hate ourselves and others too much; therefore, we suffer.

For all those conditions of living, aging, diseases, and death, the source of the problem is our self-reaction against them. We don’t care much about the living, aging, diseases, and death of others whom we don’t know, because there is no self-involved with them. It is only when and if these are related to our very self, we suffer. The source of suffering is our self. More commonly, we call it our ego.

Once we know the root cause of the problem, there could be a solution. That is the Third Noble Truth. He calls it the cessation of self or ego.

It is, however, much easier said than done. Our ego is one of our worst enemies. We know it very well. The dilemma is our desire to eliminate our ego is our ego. Our effort to be the right person could be part of our ego, which might entail a spiritual pride.

Your ego keeps on telling you that you are always right and they are always wrong, which sounds selfish causing various conflicts, and sufferings.

How can we reach the cessation of ego?

Buddha’s answer is counterintuitive. He tells us that it is impossible to eliminate our ego with our efforts. Don’t seek 100% perfect for it. It could be called the Middle Way.

Extreme asceticism can never lead us to the Enlightenment. It can never bring us to the complete cessation of our ego. For, the effort of asceticism itself is the very act of our ego. What we should aim is neither 100% self-effort nor nihilistic abandonment.

Being moderate is the key to the quality of life. Anything extreme keeps us from the path to the Middle Way.

Buddha himself has reached such realization after years of his extreme asceticism.

The fasting Buddha, receiving the gift of Sujata in the bottom relief (Gandhara, 2nd century CE).

After a series of sufferings, a lady maid, Sujata offered him a bowl of milk and rice. Ironically, her simple kindness enlightened him how he was such a selfish ego to achieve his Enlightenment by his efforts!

This Middle Way is the Fourth Noble Truth – how to tame our ego. And this Middle Way consists of eight practices, called the Noble Eightfold Path.

  1. Right view
  2. Right resolve
  3. Right speech
  4. Right conduct
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

When you are selfish, gently step back from your selfishness and kindly observe it. In the same way, mind your thought, speech, and demeanor, throughout these eight practices. Then, such a mindful self could be a non-extreme self, which is the path to the Middle Way.

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