The Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path of Buddhism

The four noble truths and eightfold path of Buddhism are crucial aspects of Buddhist philosophy and key teachings of the Buddha.

Siddhartha Gotama Buddha – the Story of the Buddha leaving the Palace

The Buddha, the founder of the Buddhist religion was called Prince Siddhartha Gotama. Siddhartha Gotama was sheltered from the suffering of the world by his father the King, who kept him behind the palace doors, until one day, at the age of 29, the Buddha ventured out of the palace with his charioteer. When he left the palace, the Buddha saw a sick man, an old man, death and a holy man. He realised the existence of suffering and accepted the need to renounce all his worldly goods to seek the truth about the world.

Buddha at Wat Doi Suthep

However, after living both extremes – a life of luxury in the palace followed by a life of asceticisms where he gave up all his belonging, the Buddha developed the ‘Middle Way’ – about living a life between the two.

Under the Bodhi tree, the Buddha reached ‘enlightenment’ reaching realisation of the truths about the world.

Above – porcelain Buddha at the Blue Temple Chiang Rai.

Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path of Buddhism

The four noble truths and eightfold path are key concepts in Buddhism. The four noble truths are key beliefs or realisations about the world and how to escape the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth (samsara).

1. The Truth of Suffering (Dukkha)
The Buddha realised that this world if full of suffering (dukkha). All existence including birth, old age, sickness and death is suffering and sorrow is dukkha. This is called the Truth of Suffering.

2. The Truth of the Cause of Suffering (Samudhaya)
The cause of human suffering lies in ignorance. Ignorance and its resulting Karma have often been referred to in Buddhism as “desire” or craving (tanha). The Buddha declared:
“Verily it is this thirst or craving, causing the renewal of existence, accompanied by sensual delight, seeking satisfaction now here, now there – the craving for gratification of the passions, for continual existence in the worlds of sense.”

Buddha says that the root of the cause of suffering is found in the mind itself. In particular our tendency to grasp at things (or alternatively to push them away) places us fundamentally at odds with the way life really is. For example, we suffer when we lose something because our mind formed an attachment to it.

3. The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering (Nirodha)
The extinguishing of all human ignorance results in a state known as Nirvana. This is the Truth of the Cessation of Suffering. Reaching Nirvana is not a place or ‘heaven’ but more like a state of peacefulness. Imagine there is a flame representing the ignorance of the world. The extinguishing of that flame is Nirvana.

4. The Truth of the Path to the Cessation of Suffering (Magga)
The Truth of the Path to the Cessation of Suffering is the Noble Eight-fold Path. How do we reach Nirvana as Buddhists? We follow it in everyday life.

Following the four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path

Believing in and following the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path in everyday life can help Buddhists to reach Nirvana, the ultimate goal of Buddhism. The Noble Truths are the belief and the eightfold path is the action(s) that follows from the belief.

What is the Eightfold Path of Buddhism?

Buddhists will practice the eightfold path on a daily basis and live it in every means possible. By following this teaching, one can follow in the footsteps of the Buddha himself.

1. Right View or Right Understanding – Seeing things how they really are, not how you think they are. For example, keeping yourself free from prejudice.
2. Right Thoughts – Having kind thoughts, for example, not being greedy. In other words, to turn away from the evils of this world and direct your mind towards righteousness and positive thought.
3. Right Speech – To refrain from harmful speech and to speak kindly to everyone. Avoid lies, gossip and hurtful words.
4. Right Conduct – To make sure that your deeds are peaceful, benevolent (good) and compassionate. To live the Teaching of the Buddha daily. This includes, saving life (not destroying it), not stealing, being respectful to others.
5. Right Livelihood – To earn your living in such a way as to entail no evil consequences. Examples of right livelihood may include making a living as a teacher or doctor – jobs that do not involve hurting people or animals.
6. Right Effort – To work hard and put effort into understanding the way of the world. We should direct our efforts to the overcoming of ignorance and selfish desires.
7. Right Mindfulness – To cherish good and pure thoughts for all that we say and do arise from our thoughts. We should be aware of our actions, words and thoughts at all times.
8. Right Meditation or Right Contemplation – To meditate and concentrate your mind on the Buddha, his Life and his Teaching. Many Buddhists will meditate at a Buddhist temple, but meditation can take place at home or in any other quiet place.

If you enjoyed this article, you might be interested in Chinese Buddhism and Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the Colonial Era.

Visiting Buddhist Temples in Thailand

Thailand is an amazing place to visit Buddhist temples. If you enjoying visiting ancient Buddhist temples when travelling, I highly recommend adding Sukhothai Historical Park in your Thailand Itinerary.

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