1.The Four Noble Truths

By Ben Chang and George Soko, Malawi

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The Buddha, through his limitless, immeasurable, boundless compassion and loving kindness, revealed them to us for our own benefit. The Buddha wishes that all sentient beings should perfectly understand these teachings, but due to ignorance, sentient beings fail to realize them and as a result they keep on doing unwholesome deeds that give rise to rebirth now and again. Failure to understand the Four Noble Truths is failure to attain supreme happiness (enlightenment). It needs self-diligence to attain this type of happiness and not rely on someone else; as the Buddha said, ‘rely on one self not others.’ Truth is an English world, which means sacca in Pali. No one has the ability to change this sacca. This is so because sacca is limitless and ultimate. The Four Noble Truths pertain to all sentient beings in this deluded world and they are eternal. These truths are called the Four Noble Truths because they are four in number, they ennoble the defiled one and they are the reality or supreme truths of the so-called being. In Pali, they are called Ariyasaccani. These truths include:


The Buddha realized that life is suffering. Suffering can be categorized into mental suffering and physical suffering and can be experienced in many different ways. Examples of physical suffering can be birth, sickness, old age and death. Mental suffering may include stress, worry, discontentment, disharmony, hunger, craving for power and contact with enemies, loneliness, fear, hatred, etc. All sentient beings are subject to all these types of uffering. Contact with disliked ones is suffering because no one wants to meet someone or something that he does not like.If he meets them, he feels unhappy and develops hatred or an evil mind while trying to eliminate or run away from them. Though I have said that life is suffering, it does not mean that there is no happiness or pleasure in the world. Happiness and pleasure exist, only that they are impermanent and do not last for long. The happiness that we experience in this world is a fake, fleeting happiness; it just deceives us. This type of happiness cannot make us attain supreme happiness or everlasting peace; instead, it increases our craving, desires, attachment and unsatisfactoriness

True happiness cannot be generated by mundane achievements or possessions, but it can be generated by wisdom. True happiness lies within one’s mind and it cannot be defined in terms of worldly material or immaterial belongings. Fleeting happiness cheats sentient beings. They don’t realize that the happiness attained in this world is like bait in water.I am comparing it to bait because, when fishing, people take a hook and attach fish food. When it is in the water, and a fish sees it, the fish feels happy thinking that it has found food to eat. It doesn’t know that it is not real food, but something intended to give it problems. Then it advances to it and swallows it. Thereafter, the hook sticks on the throat or in the mouth. Eventually, the fish dies. If it rescues itself, it experiences too much pain or sustains abnormalities. The same applies to worldly happiness. It looks like real happiness, but in reality, it is false happiness. This is so because it retards one’s spiritual happiness and keeps him in samsara. It is like fake food (bait) enticing fish in the water. Sentient beings ought to realize this truth.


When a problem arises and you know its cause, it is very easy to solve it. When one is hungry, he doesn’t feel okay. Hunger can also be considered a problem. The cause of this problem might be not taking food for a couple of hours or days. Now, the best solution to solve this problem is taking food. Similarly, when one is sick and goes to see the doctor, the doctor first understands the sickness so that he can give him the right medication. By understanding the sickness, I mean knowing what disease the patient is suffering from and examining the cause of that disease.

The above analogies apply to the second Noble Truth (cause of dukkha). Our Lord Buddha realized the cause of all suffering in this world of desires. The cause of suffering is craving and attachment. The chief cause is ignorance. Many sentient beings, in particular people, are attached to and crave things for self-gratitude and enjoyment. Example of things people crave and are attached to include honor, body, eternal life, worth, relatives, friends, ideas, concepts, religions, world, fame, et cetera. Due to this, they fail to realize the true purpose of life. No one in the world wants to be poor or be considered an underdog. In the process of craving, people create suffering for themselves. They try the best they can to fulfill their desires. If they fail, they get worried; as a result, weak-minded, ignorant people reach the point of committing suicide.

Some people are not satisfied with what they possess. For example, a thousandaire wants to become a millionaire; a millionaire wants to become a billionaire and so on. Others crave for power so that they should be respected in society. If they attain all these things that they crave for, they become attached to them. The Buddha clearly explained that it is not only the Buddha who has the ability to eliminate attachment and craving, but all sentient beings are able to do this. By this, I mean everyone has the ability to attain supreme enlightenment.


This is the complete eradication of attachment, craving and finally ignorance. The complete cessation of suffering means Nibbana, which is the ultimate goal of Buddhism. This can be attained only by the total eradication of internal and external attachment and craving. I can define Nibbana as the ultimate supramundane peace of mind or an eternally happy state of mind. The other meaning can be the cessation of the three fires. These three fires are hatred, delusion and greed. Nibbana is unconditional; it does not rely on causes and conditions for its existence. In reality, Nibbana is above the above descriptions. It is not easy to describe Nibbana as one can fail to tell the taste of sugar if he has never tasted sugar. Nibbana is uncreated, immortal and it is beyond everything. The best way to describe it is to experience it. Eliminating all defilements can experience this: delusion, aversion, attachment, craving and ignorance. Nibbana can also be achieved in this life.

All sentient beings are encouraged to realize these Four Noble Truths. The Buddha said that everything in the world is impermanent, nothing contains true nature. Impermanence applies to both things that can be perceived and those that cannot be perceived with our eyes. The same applies to dukkha, no one can claim to have seen dukkha using his or her own eyes, but you can only experience it. Dukkha is also impermanent, it can vanish anytime. There is a need of great effort to eliminate it. This Noble Truth can be realized by developing the eightfold Path.


This route avoids the extremes of self-mortification and self-indulgence. Like the doctor, firstly he identifies the disease, then analyzes the cause of the disease, then gives the cure or medication required. The Noble Eightfold Path is also arranged in steps to cure diseases of the mind. This path leads to supreme enlightenment (Nibbana). This path includes right understanding, right thoughts, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

Right Understanding is the keynote of Buddhism. This is the understanding of oneself. It is the understanding of how something really is. This also includes the understanding of every phenomenon, and taking it as it really is.

Right Understanding leads to Right Thoughts. This means to eradicate unwholesome thoughts in the mind; instead, harbour wholesome thoughts. It can also mean changing one’s mental state for the better. Normally one is defiled by one’s thoughts. Similarly, one is purified by one’s thoughts. Unskillful thoughts destroy one while skillful thoughts ennoble one. Right Thoughts can be in form of loving-kindness, non-attachment, selflessness, unselfishness, renunciation of worldly pleasures, harmlessness, non-callousness, goodwill, compassion, non-possessiveness, non-aggressiveness, et cetera

Right Thoughts lead to Right Speech. If the mind is pure, there are no wrong thoughts; the speech produced from the mouth will also be pure. Right Speech is about refraining from backbiting, producing words that can harm others, slandering, frivolous talk and falsehood. Right Action follows Right Speech. This is to avoid all unwholesome actions like sexual misconduct, killing and stealing. These unskillful actions are caused by ignorance, attachment, anger, greed and finally ignorance, which is the chief cause.

Right Action leads to Right Livelihood. This is refraining from the five kinds of evil trades. Mostly this applies to the lay disciple. A monk is completely not allowed to do any type of trade. These evil trades include: trading in arms, poisonous stuffs, intoxicants, human beings and flesh. Breeding animals for slaughter falls under the same category.

Right Livelihood gives rise to Right Effort. This is one of the most important steps in the Noble Eightfold Path. It is by one’s effort that one eliminates defilements. No one has ability to eradicate someone else’s defilements; as for example the Buddha attained enlightenment through his own effort. He did not rely on someone else to attain supreme enlightenment.

Right Effort leads to right Mindfulness. This is the regular mindfulness of mind, body, feelings and thoughts. Right Mindfulness leads to the eradication of attachment, delusion, mistaken belief and misconceptions.

Lastly, Right Concentration. This is the one-pointedness of the mind. A concentrated mind sees things as they really are. It does not give the wrong view.

This George Soko is a 24 years old Malawian student. He has studied at African Buddhist Seminary for three years. I gave this topic to write some explanation about his understanding on four noble truths as one of the main teachings in Buddhism. The Buddha in his first Discourse named “Dhammacakka pavattana sutta” in the sutta pitaka at Isipatana migadaya in India explained this . Here mainly was talking about Suffering, Cause of suffering, Cessation of suffering and the way of cessation of suffering. These four noble truths are relative to all of our problems. If any body really understands them, he can come out from his all sufferings. Majority of Africans are still suffering with many things as I mentioned in chapter six. Aids, poverty, other diseases, low education etc. These are the African people’s main sufferings. To completely eradicate these sufferings, first they have to understand what are the causes for these sufferings. Only then they can easily find the way to eradicate those causes. After that they will get complete liberation. Until they have reached fully understanding and follow this theory, they cannot come out from their sufferings. This teaching is very important for cessation of their suffering.

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