Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
Why are we here? Why are we not happy
with our lives? What is the cause of our unsatisfactoriness? How can we
see the end of unsatisfactoriness and experience eternal peace?
Buddha's Teaching is based on the Four Noble Truths. To realize these
Truths is to realize and penetrate into the true nature of existence,
including the full knowledge of oneself. When we recognize that all
phenomenal things are transitory, are subject to suffering and are void of
any essential reality, we will be convinced that true and enduring
happiness cannot be found in material possessions and worldly achievement,
that true happiness must be sought only through mental purity and the
cultivation of wisdom.
The Four Noble Truths are
a very important aspect of the teaching of the Buddha. The Buddha has said
that it is because we fail to understand the Four Noble Truths that we
have continued to go round in the cycle of birth and death. In the very
first sermons of the Buddha, the Dhammachakka Sutta, which He gave
to the five monks at the Deer park in Sarnath was on the Four Noble Truths
and the Eightfold Path. What are the Four Noble Truths? They are as
The Noble Truth of Dukkha
The Noble Truth of the Cause of Dukkha
The Noble Truth of the End of Dukkha
The Noble Truth of the Path leading to the end of Dukkha
There are many ways of
understanding the Pali word 'Dukkha'. It has generally been translated as
'suffering' or 'unsatisfactoriness', but this term as used in the Four
Noble Truths has a deeper and wider meaning. Dukkha contains not only the
ordinary meaning of suffering, but also includes deeper ideas such as
imperfection, pain, impermanence, disharmony, discomfort, irritation, or
awareness of incompleteness and insufficiency. By all means, Dukkha
includes physical and mental suffering: birth, decay, disease, death, to
be united with the unpleasant, to be separated from the pleasant, not to
get what one desires. However, many people do not realize that even during
the moments of joy and happiness, there is Dukkha because these moments
are all impermanent states and will pass away when conditions change.
Therefore, the truth of Dukkha encompasses the whole of existence, in our
happiness and sorrow, in every aspect of our lives. As long as we live, we
are very profoundly subjected to this truth.
Some people may have the
impression that viewing life in terms of Dukkha is a rather pessimistic
way of looking at life. This is not a pessimistic but a realistic way of
looking at life. If one is suffering from a disease and refuses to
recognize the fact that one is ill, and as a result of which refuses to
seek for treatment, we will not consider such a mental attitude as being
optimistic, but merely as being foolish. Therefore, by being both
optimistic or pessimistic, one does not really understand the nature of
life, and is therefore unable to tackle life's problems in the right
perspective. The Four Noble Truths begin with the recognition of Dukkha
and then proceed to analyse its cause and find its cure. Had the Buddha
stopped at the Truth of Dukkha, then one may say Buddhism has identified
the problem but has not given the cure; if such is the case, then the
human situation is hopeless. However, not only is the Truth of Dukkha
recognized, the Buddha proceeded to analyze its cause and the way to cure
it. How can Buddhism be considered to be pessimistic if the cure to the
problem is known? In fact, it is a teaching which is filled with hope.
In addition, even though
Dukkha is a noble truth, it does not mean that there is no happiness,
enjoyment and pleasure in life. There is, and the Buddha has taught
various methods with which we can gain more happiness in our daily life.
However, in the final analysis, the fact remains that the pleasure or
happiness which we experience in life is impermanent. We may enjoy a happy
situation, or the good company of someone we love, or we enjoy youth and
health. Sooner or later, when these states change we experience suffering.
Therefore, while there is every reason to feel glad when one experiences
happiness, one should not cling to these happy states or be side-tracked
and forget about working one's way to complete Liberation.
If we wish to cure
ourselves from suffering, we must first identify its cause. According to
the Buddha, craving or desire (tanha or raga) is the cause of
suffering. This is the Second Noble Truth. People crave for pleasant
experiences, crave for material things, crave for eternal life, and when
disappointed, crave for eternal death. They are not only attached to
sensual pleasures, wealth and power, but also to ideas, views, opinions,
concepts, beliefs. And craving is linked to ignorance, that is, not seeing
things as they really are, or failing to understand the reality of
experience and life. Under the delusion of Self and not realizing
Anatta (non-Self), a person clings to things which are impermanent,
changeable, perishable. The failure to satisfy one's
desires through these things causes disappointments and suffering.
of Selfish Desire
Craving is a fire which
burns in all beings: every activity is motivated by desire. They range
from the simple physical desire of animals to the complex and often
artificially stimulated desires of the civilized man. To satisfy desire,
animals prey upon one another, and human beings fight, kill, cheat, lie
and perform various forms of unwholesome deeds. Craving is a powerful
mental force present in all forms of life, and is the chief cause of the
ills in life. It is this craving that leads to repeated births in the
cycle of existence.
Once we have realized the
cause of suffering, we are in the position to put an end to suffering. So,
how do we put an end to suffering? Eliminate it at its root by the removal
of craving in the mind. This is the Third Noble Truth. The state where
craving ceases is known as Nibbana. The word Nibbana is
composed of 'ni' and 'vana', meaning the departure from or end of craving.
This is a state which is free from suffering and rounds of rebirth. This
is a state which is not subjected to the laws of birth, decay and death.
This state is so sublime that no human language can express it. Nibbana
is Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. If there were not this
Unborn, this Unoriginated, this Uncreated, this Unformed, then escape from
the conditioned world is not possible.
Nibbana is beyond
logic and reasoning. We may engage in highly speculative discussions
regarding Nibbana or ultimate reality, but this is not the way to
really understand it. To understand and realize the truth of Nibbana,
it is necessary for us to walk the Eightfold Path, and to train and purify
ourselves with diligence and patience. Through spiritual development and
maturity, we will be able to realize the Third Noble Truth.
The Noble Eightfold Path
is the Fourth Noble Truth which leads to Nibbana. It is a way of
life consisting of eight factors. By walking on this Path, it will be
possible for us to see an end to suffering. Because Buddhism is a logical
and consistent teaching embracing every aspect of life, this noble Path
also serves as the finest possible code for leading a happy life. Its
practice brings benefits to oneself and other, and it is not a Path to be
practised by those who call themselves Buddhists alone, but by each and
every understanding person, irrespective of his religious beliefs.
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