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?
THE Buddha’s Teaching is based on the Four Noble Truths. To realise these Truths is to realise and penetrate into the true nature of existence, including the full knowledge of oneself. When we recognise 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 Buddha’s teaching. The Buddha has said that it is because we fail to understand the Four Noble Truths that we continue to go round in the cycle of birth and death. The very first sermon of the Buddha, the DHARMACHAKRA SUTRA, which He gave to the five monks at the Deer Park in Sarnath was on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are: 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, and not to get what one desires. However, many people do not realise 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 or negative way of looking at life. This is not a pessimistic but a realistic way. If one is suffering from a disease and refuses to recognise the fact that one is ill, and as a result, refuses to seek treatment, we will not consider such a mental attitude as being optimistic, but merely as being foolish. Therefore, by being either 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 the prevalence 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 recognised, the Buddha proceeded to analyse 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 that 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 of 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 realising that personality is 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.
(From Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught)