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The Four Noble Truths

At the occasion of his first sermon after becoming fully enlightened, Siddartha, the historical Buddha, spoke of what he called The Four Noble Truths. One English translation of The Four Noble Truths is:1

  1. "There is this Noble Truth of suffering (Sanskrit: duhkha, Pali: dukkha): Birth is suffering; ageing is suffering; sickness is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow, pain, grief, and despair are suffering, association with the loathed is suffering; disassociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering...
  2. "There is this Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering (duhkha): Suffering (duhkha) results from certain causes—it is craving, which produces renewal of being, is accompanied by relish and lust, relishing this and that; in other words, craving for sensual pleasure, craving for being, craving for nonbeing.
  3. "There is the Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering (duhkha): It is the remainderless fading and ceasing, the giving up, relinquishment, letting go, and rejecting of that craving.
  4. "There is this Noble of the Way leading to the Cessation of Suffering: It is this Noble Eightfold Path, that is to say: (1) Right View2, (2) Right Intention3, (3) Right Speech, (4) Right Action4, (5) Right Livelihood, (6) Right Effort5, (7) Right Mindfulness, and (8) Right Concentration."

Siddartha lived all of his life in India—from about 566 BCE to about 486 BCE, according to one conventional reckoning.6 He spoke in an ancient Indian dialect. His sayings were handed down by word of mouth for over one or two centuries after his death before they were first written down. In northern and central India, the words of Siddartha were written down in the Sanskrit dialect. In southern India and the island of Sri Lanka (Ceylon), they were written down in the Pali dialect.

The original word in the Four Noble Truths that is translated as "suffering" is duhkha in Sanskrit, and dukkha in Pali. The only differences between the Sanskrit word and the Pali word are the differences in their spellings. They both have the same meaning. But they correspond to a number of terms in English, including: suffering, pain, discontent, unhappiness, sorrow, affliction, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, and frustration. Although duhkha/dukkha is often translated as "suffering", its philosophical meaning is more analogous to "disquietude" as in the condition of being disturbed.7

The Four Noble Truths are given in the traditional format of a doctor's diagnosis and prescription. In this case, the "disease" is duhkha, which translates rather well here as "dis-ease" or "uneasiness"—though such a translation may tend to belie the serious nature of the problem..

Now, let us go on to examine The First Noble Truth.


1Translation from Sherab Chodzin Kohn, "The Life of the Buddha" in Entering the Stream: An Introduction to the Buddha and His Teachings (ed. by Samuel Bercholz and Sherab Chodzin Kohn, c. 1993), p. 19.

2Sometimes this is labeled as "Right Understanding" instead of "Right View."

3Sometimes this is labeled as "Right Aspiration" instead of "Right Intention."

4Sometimes this is labeled as "Right Behavior" instead of "Right Action."

5Sometimes this is labeled as "Right Diligence" instead of "Right Effort."

6See for example BuddhaNet—"Timeline of Buddhist History". But see also "Centuries of Buddhism". The latter gives the dates for the birth and passing away (parinibbana) of the Buddha according to the contemporary Theravadin traditions of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

7 See Wikipedia—"Dukkha".


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