42 The centre of all the Buddha's teachings is the Four Noble Truths (cattari ariya sacca). If these Four Noble Truths are understood, one can understand Buddhism. The Buddha defines the First Noble Truth like this:
And what is the Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha ariya sacca) ? Birth is suffering, ageing is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering, separation from the loved is suffering, association with the unloved is suffering.
It can be seen from this statement that the Buddha is talking about two types of suffering - physical and psychological.
Physical suffering includes all pain we might have through experiencing bodily sickness, injury, old age, tiredness, and so on.
Psychological suffering includes all pain caused by our mental state. To live is to experience a greater or lesser degree of suffering.
The Buddha does not deny the existence of joy and happiness; he is merely drawing our attention to the obvious fact that suffering is an integral part of life, that suffering is a problem that all experience and that all wish to avoid.
In fact, most human activity and endeavour is concerned with trying to avoid suffering and experience happiness. And yet, despite so much time and ingenuity being devoted to the quest for true happiness, contentment and inner peace, they are rare indeed. The Buddha was the compassionate physician who came to show all mankind how to overcome suffering, pain, death, and rebirth, and how to attain the joy of Nirvana.
43 Most religions are based upon beliefs, whereas the Buddha's teachings are based on the unshakable foundation of truth. Truth (sacca) can be defined as a statement or realization which corresponds with reality.
Most religions make statements which they claim to be true, but because most of these statement cannot be verified, they can only be called beliefs rather than truths.
If someone says: "There is two dollars in my pocket," and we look into his pocket and find two dollars, we can say that the person's statement is true and that we know it to be true.
If we cannot look into the pocket we can only say that the person claims to have two dollars in his pocket and that we believe his claims.
Truths that are known are infinitely superior to claims that are believed. Suffering is not an idea, it is a fact. Suffering is not a belief we accept because it is mentioned in the sacred scriptures, it is something we know through our own experience. Thus it is true to say that the Buddha's teachings are based on a truth that can be known by all, not beliefs that are accepted on faith.
44 The Second Noble Truth is the Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering ( dukkha samudaya ariya sacca). The Buddha tells us that all the suffering we experience is directly or indirectly caused by craving (tanha) and ignorance (avijja), It is fairly easy to understand how craving and ignorance cause psychological suffering.
For example, a person might strongly desire to become rich because he thinks that money will make him happy. Not being to be rich, he would feel frustration and discontent. The relationship between craving (desiring money) and ignorance (mistakenly believing that money brings happiness) on the one hand, and suffering (frustration and discontent) on the other, is clear.
But how does craving and ignorance cause physical suffering? We have seen before (30) that craving creates the kamma that leads to rebirths. To be born is to have a body, and once we are susceptible to accidents, injury, sickness, old age and other forms of physical suffering. Thus we can say that craving and ignorance also cause physical suffering.
45 If craving is one of the causes of suffering, does this mean that we should never strive for anything? In answering this question, it is important to realize that the Buddha distinguishes between craving growing out of ignorance, and striving based on understanding.
The Buddha often mentions that we should be energetic (adithana), that we should have strong determination (tibbacchanda), even that we should have a passion to attain Nirvana (Chandajato anakkate).
To desire to be a good parent, a loyal friend or a responsible citizen are desires based upon understanding, and this results in good, not suffering. To desire to walk the Path or to attain Nirvana are desires based upon understanding, and result in good, not in suffering. When we want, desires and aspirations are based upon understanding, when they manifest themselves as ethical behaviour, and when they are desired towards worthwhile goals, such desires are to be encouraged.
46 The Third Noble Truth is the Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering (dukkha nirodha ariya sacca). In this Noble Truth, the Buddha clearly and unequivocally tells us that we can transcend suffering and attain the freedom and happiness of Nirvana .
The word ‘Nirvana’ literally means ‘to blow out’ and refers to cooling or blowing out the fires of greed, hatred and delusion. But the Buddha uses many other names for this state - the Immortal (amata), the Safe Refuge (khema), Peace (santa), Protection (tana), the Ultimate Happiness ( paramam sukham), the Destruction of Craving (tanhakkhaya), the Eternal (dhura).
What is Nirvana? Some people think it is the extinction of the individual - annihilation. The Buddha says that this is not correct.
When one has freed the mind, the gods cannot trace him even though they think: " This is the consciousness of the Tathagata." And why? It is because the Tathagata is untraceable.
Although I say this, there are some ascetics and Brahims who misrepresent me falsely, contrary to fact, saying: "The ascetic Gotama is a nihilist because he teaches the cutting, the destruction, the disappearance of the existing entity," but this is exactly what I do not say. Both now and in the past, I simply teach suffering and the stopping of suffering.
Even some Buddhism enthusiastically proclaim that Nirvana is the extinction of the individual, and yet at the same time they deny that Buddhism teaches nihilism. They try to resolve the contradiction by saying:
"Annihilation is the only possible if there is an individual to be annihilated. But in the ultimate sense, no such individual exists. So how can Nirvana be annihilation when there is no individual to annihilated ? "
But despite this word game, such people are still claiming that Nirvana is a void nothing where the individual no longer exists in any form.
The Buddha had plenty of opportunities to say the individual who attains Nirvana ceases to exist, but he never did so. Once, Upasiva asked the Buddha:
One who has gone (to Nirvana),
Does he cease to exists,
Or does he remain unimpaired forever?
Explain this to me, O Sage,
For you know this truth well.
And the Buddha answered:
There is no measuring of one who has gone.
That by which one might speak of him
No longer exists.
When all phenomena have been removed.
Then all ways of describing are removed also.
Once, a wanderer called Vacchagotta asked the Buddha whether one who has attained Nirvana arises, that is, continues to exist, or whether one does not arise, that is, ceases to exist. The Buddha refused to give an answer, and he tells us why he refused because the Nirvanic state is beyond words.
" But, good Gotama, where a monk whose mind is free in this way arise? " Arise' does not apply. "
" Well then, what about `does not arise'? "
" `Does not arise' does not apply. "
" Well then, does that person both arise and not arise? "
" `Both arises and does not arise' does not apply."
" Well then, does he neither arise nor not arise?"
" `Neither arises nor not arises' does not apply."
" Then I am at a loss on this point, good Gotama,
I am confused, and the satisfaction I had as a result of former discussion with you I have now lost..."
" Free from denotation by consciousness is the Tathagata; he is deep, immeasurable, unfathomable as the great ocean.
‘Arises’ do'es not apply, ‘does not arise’ does not apply,
‘both arises and does not arises’ does not apply,
‘neither arises nor does not apply’ does not apply."
When the Buddha says that one who has attained Nirvana does not exist, he means that all the characteristics we associate with the existence - birth, death, corporeality, movement in time and space, and the feeling of being a separate self - do not apply to the Nirvanic state. When he says that one who has attained Nirvana does not cease to exist, he means exactly that. The nature of the Nirvanic dimension cannot be adequately described in worldly language any more than the nature of Nirvanic existence can be imagined by the worldly mind.
47 However, despite difficulties in describing it, the Buddha does give us a general idea of the nature of Nirvana. Describing human mind, the Buddha says:
The mind is luminous, but it is stained by defilements that come from without. The ordinary folk do not realize this, so they do not cultivate the mind.
The mind is luminous, and it can be cleaned of defilements that come from without. The noble disciples understand, so they do cultivate the mind.
In other words, the mind is luminous by nature (pabhassaram) and the defilements are removed, the mind's luminosity reappears. The Buddha says:
Where do earth, water, fire and air no footing find? Where do long and short, small and great, pure and impure, name and form finally cease? The answer is: it is boundless and all-radiant. There it is that earth, water, fire and air no footing find. There is that long and short, small and great, pure and impure, name and form finally cease. When consciousness ceases, so do all these.
Nirvana is a realm where corporeality and all the pairs of opposites - long and short, great and small, pure and impure - disappears and the mind is signless (anidassanam), boundless (anantam) and all-radiant (sabbato pabhamn). It is unchanging state (nibbanam accutam) of purity (suddhi), freedom (vimitti) and supreme happiness (nibbanam paramam sukham).
48 The Buddha says that Nirvana is attained in two stages. Firstly, one attains Nirvana, in which one's mind is free but because the body remains, one is still susceptible to physical suffering. This is called Nirvana with basis remaining (saupadisesa nibbana). Later, when the body finally dies, the mind is freed even from physical suffering and one attains total Nirvana. This is called Nirvana without basis remaining (anupadisesa nibbana), or sometimes Final Nirvana (parinibbana)
49 Although we can only fully comprehend the nature of Nirvana at the time we realize it, we can nonetheless know that such a state exists. Firstly, we can infer its existence. If there is a dimension with birth, death, defilements and becoming, we can infer that there is a dimension without these things. An ancient Buddha text says:
Where there is heat,
There must be cool.
In the same way,
Where there are the three fires,
There must also be Nirvana.
Where there is evil,
There must also be good.
In the same way,
Where there is birth,
Non-birth can be inferred.
The second way we can know that there is such a state as Nirvana is that the Buddha attained it, and he unequivocally affirms its existence. He says:
There is an Unborn, an Unbecome, an Unmade, an Uncompounded. If there were not this Unborn, Unbecome, Unmade, Uncompounded, there would be no escape from the born, the become, the made, the compounded. But as there is an Unborn, an Unbecome, an Unmade, an Uncompounded, there is an escape from the born, the become, the made, the compounded.
And again, he reaffirms its existence.
There is that condition where there is no earth, water, fire or air, where there are not the Spheres of Infinite Space, Infinite Consciousness, Nothingness, or the Sphere or Neither-Consciousness-Nor-Unconsciousness, where there is not this world, the world beyond or both together, no sun and no moon, where there is no coming to birth, no going to death, no duration and hence no falling or arising. It is not something fixed, it does not move, it is based on nothing. This indeed is the end of suffering.
50 But can anybody attain the happiness and freedom of Nirvana, and if so, will everyone attain it ? The answer to the first is clear. Anyone can attain Nirvana, and the Buddha never neglected to urge people to make it the goal of their lives and strive to attain it. The words of a woman who had herself attained Nirvana sing aloud and clear in answer to this question.
This immortal state has been attained by many,
And can be attained even today
By anyone who applies himself,
But not for those who do not strive.
Whether or not everyone will attain Nirvana cannot be predicted because different human beings have different goals and interests. The Buddha taught the Dhamma and in many ways encouraged people to practise it, but the actual practising of the Dhamma depends upon each individual.
"Good Gotama, on being taught and instructed by you, will all of your disciples attain the
unchanging goal, or will some not attain it?"
"Some will atain it and some will not."
"What, good Gotama, is the reason for this?
What is the cause?"
"I will question you Brahim; answer as you please.
What do you think ? Do you know the way leading to Rajagaha?"
"Yes, good Gotama, I do."
"Well, a man might come to you, saying that he wants to go to Rajagaha and asking you the way.
And you might say to him: This road goes to Rajagaha; go along it for a while until you see a village, continue until you come to a market town, and if you continue still further you will see Rajagaha with its delightful fields and its delighted ponds.' But despite being taught and instructed by you in this way, he might take the road that goes to the west. Another man might come to you saying that he too wants to go to Rajagaha, and so you instruct him, he follows your instructions and he eventually arrives safely.
Now since Rajagaha exists, since the way leading there exists, and since you exist as an advisor, why is it that one man arrives at Rajagaha and the other does not?"
"Good Gotama, what can I do in this matter ? I am but a shower of the way."
"Even so Brahim, Nirvana exists, the way leading to Nirvana exists, and I exist as advisor.
But while some of my disciples on being taught and instructed attain Nirvana, others do not. What can I do in this matter? The Tathagata is a shower of the Way."
But one thing can be said with certainty - whoever does attain Nirvana will do it by practising the Buddha's teachings.
"If, with full comprehension, the good Gotama teaches Dhamma to his disciples for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and despair, for the ending of grief and dejection, for reaching the method, for attaining of Nirvana, then will the whole world attain it, or half of it, or a third."
At these words, the Lord was silent. Then Ananda thought: "This person must not be allowed to think that the Lord cannot answer this all-important question." So Ananda said:
"I will give you a simile. Imagine a walled town with strong foundations and towers and a single gate, and at that gate a watcher, shrewd and alert, who lets in known people and keep
As he patrols the walls, he sees there is not a hole in the wall big enough for even a cat to slip through. And he would know that whatever creatures big or small enter or leave the town, they all do so by the gate.
In the same way, as to that question of yours, that is not important to the Lord. What he does say is this:
`Whoever has escaped, is escaping or will escape from the world, they will do it by abandoning the five hindrances, those defilements of the mind that weaken wisdom; they will do it with the mind well-established in the four foundations of mindfulness, and by developing the seven factors of enlightenment.' "
After the Buddha attained Nirvana, he invited all mankind to walk the Path he had discovered so that they too could experience peace, happiness and freedom. His invention still stands today.
The doors of the Immortal are open.
Let those who can hear respond with faith.
Summary of the Four Noble Truths
“The mind sent outside is the origination of suffering. The result of the mind sent outside is suffering. The mind seeing the mind is the path. The result of the mind seeing the mind is the cessation of suffering.”
51 The Fourth Noble Truth is the Way leading to the ending of suffering (Dukkha nirodha gamini patipada), and this Way is the Noble Eightfold Path (ariya atthangika magga). It is called 'Noble' because when practised, it leads to an en-nobling of human life, it is called eightfold because it has eight constituents, and it is called a path because, like a path, it leads from one place to another, from samsara to Nirvana. The first three Noble Truths are how the Buddha sees the world, the theory, the Fourth Noble Truth is what the Buddha urges us to do about it, the practice.
52 The Noble Eightfold Path has several unique characteristics. Firstly, it is a complete system of spiritual training containing everything needed for ethical living, clarity for understanding and the attaining of Nirvana.
Because attaining the freedom of Nirvana is the aim of life, every aspect of life has to be taken into account while on this quest, and this the Noble Eightfold Path does. It is uncommon today for one religion to adopt or even copy some of the insights of another religion. Many liberal Christians for example, now see the value of Buddhist meditation, and have integrated it into their own practice. Buddhism have never had to borrow from other faiths because the Eightfold Path is already complete.
Secondly, the Eight-Eightfold Path is the only religious practise that leads to the freedom of Nirvana. The Buddha says:
Of all paths, the Eightfold is the best,
Of all truths, the Four are the best.
Of all states, freedom from passion is best,
Of all humans, one with vision is best.
This is the only Path;
There is no other for attaining purity and vision.
Walk this path,
And you will bewilder Mara.
Walk this path,
And you shall make an end of suffering.
I proclaimed this path,
Having plucked the thorn from myself first.
Most other religions are inadequate in that they only lead to rebirth in the deva realm, which is better than being reborn in the lower realms, but it is nowhere near as good as attaining the supreme happiness of Nirvana.
The third characteristic of the Eightfold Path is that it is eternally valid. In distant millenniums the Path might be obscured by ignorance or superstition, but because it is universally valid, someone will always rediscover it, be transformed by it, and teach it again for the benefit of all mankind. Likewise, centuries before the present era, the Path was known but fell into obscurity, only to be rediscovered anew and taught to us by Gotama Buddha. This is, as he Buddha says, an ancient Path which has always been valid and will always remain so.
It is just as if a man travelling in a forest should come across an ancient road, an ancient path, traversed by men in former times, and proceeding along it, should come to an ancient city, an old royal citadel lived in by men in former times, with parks and groves, water tanks and walls – a truly delightful place.
Then, suppose this man should tell of his discovery to the king or a royal minister, saying :
"Sire, you should know that I have discovered an ancient city. Restore that place." Then, suppose that ancient city was restored, so that it became prosperous, flourishing, populus, and was filled with folk, and it grew and expanded.
In the same way, I have seen an ancient road, an ancient path traversed by the fully enlightened Buddhas of former times. And what is that path ? It is the Noble Eightfold Path.
53 The Buddha sometimes gave the Noble Eightfold Path an alternative name in order to indicate not only what has to be practised in order to attain the freedom of Nirvana, but also the spirit in which it should be practised. He called it the
Middle Way (majjhima-patipada) between extremes.
He specifically mentions the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification, but implies that one walking the Path should avoid all extremes.
Extremism is an attitude characterised by the belief that only one way is right, by tolerance of all alternatives and by inflexibility. Extremism tends to make one aggressive and blind to other ways of doing things, and this is why it is so dangerous.
The Buddhist should practise the Path with moderation (mattannuta), flexibility (mudu) and a willingness to consider other points of view. In every aspect of life and practice the Buddhist should be one who takes a happy medium.
54 The Noble-Eightfold Path is traditionally divided into three parts - virtue (sila), concentration (samadhi) and wisdom (panna).
Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood are grouped under virtue; Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration are grouped under concentration ; Right Understanding and Right Thought are grouped under wisdom. However, in order to highlight some important aspects of the Path that are sometimes neglected, we will divide the steps of the Path differently.
Right Understanding will be categorized as intellectual training; Right Thought, Speech, Action and Livelihood will be categorised as ethical training; and Right Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration will be categorised as psychological training.
By intellectual training, we mean having firstly a clear and realistic conceptual understanding of the Four Noble Truths which is gradually deepened into an actualization by the development of the other steps on the Path.
By ethical training, we mean determining what is good and then applying it to both our individual and social behaviour.
By psychological training we mean the conscious transformation of the mind from its mundane level to a state of unconditioned clarity. It is by applying the steps of the Noble Eightfold Path to one's life that one becomes a Buddhist, and it is by realizing the insights
that arise as a result of this practice that one becomes enlightened.
The wanderer Nandiya asked the Lord: "What conditions are there, that when developed and practised, lead to Nirvana, have Nirvana as their goal, culminate in Nirvana? "
“There are, Nandiya, eight things which, when developed and practised, lead to Nirvana, have Nirvana as their goal, culminate in Nirvana.” “What eight?”
" Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
The Noble Eightfold Path
The Noble Eightfold Path
Intellectual Training (Wisdom) :
(1) Right Understanding (sama ditthi)
(2) Right Thought (sama sankappa)
(also known as Right View and Right Intention)
Ethical Training (Ethical Conduct) :
(3) Right Speech (sama vaca)
(4) Right Action (sama kammanta)
(5) Right Livelihood (sama ajiva)
Psychological Training (Mental Development) :
(6) Right Effort (sama vayama)
(7) Right Mindfulness (sama sati)
(8) Right sama Samadhi)
“The best of paths is the Eightfold Path. . .
This is the only Way. There is none other,
for the purity of vision”
When one realises the Four Noble Truths, one becomes a Noble one.
“Great doubt leads to great realisation of the Truth.
Little doubt leads to little realisation of the Truth.
No doubt leads to no realisation of the Truth.”