The Four Noble Truths (Sanskrit: catvāri āryasatyāni; Pali: cattāri ariyasaccāni) are regarded as the central doctrine of the Buddhist tradition, and are said to provide a conceptual framework for all of Buddhist thought. These four truths explain the nature of dukkha (Pali; commonly translated as "suffering", "anxiety", "unsatisfactoriness"[a]), its causes, its cessation, and the path leading to its cessation.
The truth of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, unsatisfactoriness[a])
The truth of the origin of dukkha
The truth of the cessation of dukkha
The truth of the path leading to the cessation of dukkha
The first noble truth explains the nature of dukkha. Dukkha is commonly translated as “suffering”, “anxiety”, “unsatisfactoriness”, “unease”, etc., and it is said to have the following three aspects:[c]
The anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing.
A basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.
The central importance of dukkha in Buddhist philosophy has caused some observers to consider Buddhism to be a pessimistic philosophy. However, the emphasis on dukkha is not intended to present a pessimistic view of life, but rather to present a realistic practical assessment of the human condition—that all beings must experience suffering and pain at some point in their lives, including the inevitable sufferings of illness, aging, and death. Contemporary Buddhist teachers and translators emphasize that while the central message of Buddhism is optimistic, the Buddhist view of our situation in life (the conditions that we live in) is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic.[d]
The second noble truth is that the origin of dukkha can be known. Within the context of the four noble truths, the origin of dukkha is commonly explained as craving or thirst (Pali: tanha) conditioned by ignorance (Pali: avijja). On a deeper level, the root cause of dukkha is identified as ignorance (avijja) of the true nature of things. The third noble truth is that the complete cessation of dukkha is possible, and the fourth noble truth identifies a path to this cessation.
According to the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha first taught the four noble truths in the very first teaching he gave after he attained enlightenment, as recorded in The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta), and he further clarified their meaning in many subsequent teachings.[e]
The two main traditions of Buddhism, the Theravada and Mahayana, have different approaches to learning about the four noble truths and putting them into practice. The Theravada tradition strongly emphasizes reading and contemplating the The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth—the first discourse of the Buddha—as a method of study and practice. In the Mahayana tradition, practitioners are more likely to learn about the four noble truths through studying various Mahayana commentaries, and less like to study the first discourse directly. The Mahayana commentaries typically present the four noble truths in the context of the Mahayana path of the bodhisattva.
The Four Noble Truths are regarded as central to the teachings of Buddhism; they are said to provide a unifying theme, or conceptual framework, for all of Buddhist thought. According to the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha compared these four truths to the footprints of an elephant: just as the footprints of all the other animals can fit within the footprint of an elephant, in the same way, all of the teachings of the Buddha are contained within the teachings on the four noble truths.[f][e][g]
According to tradition, the Buddha taught on the four noble truths repeatedly throughout his lifetime, continually expanding and clarifying his meaning.[e]Walpola Rahula explains:
The heart of the Buddha's teaching lies in the Four Noble Truths (Cattāri Ariyasaccāni) which he expounded in his very first sermon to his old colleagues, the five ascetics, at Isipatana (modern Sarnath) near Benares. In this sermon, as we have it in the original texts, these four Truths are given briefly. But there are innumerable places in the early Buddhist scriptures where they are explained again and again, with greater detail and in different ways. If we study the Four Noble Truths with the help of these references and explanations, we get a fairly good and accurate account of the essential teachings of the Buddha according to the original texts.
Contemporary Tibetan teacher Geshe Tashi Tsering emphasizes the importance of the four noble truths for the individual path:
The four noble truths lay down the blueprint for the entire body of the Buddha’s thought and practice and set up the basic framework of the individual’s path to enlightenment. They encapsulate all of Buddhist philosophy. Therefore studying, meditating, and fully understanding this teaching is very important, because without an understanding of the four noble truths it is impossible to fully integrate the concepts and practices of Buddhism into our daily lives.
The teachings on the Four Noble Truths explain the nature of dukkha (commonly translated as suffering, anxiety, unsatisfactoriness[a]), its causes, and how it can be overcome.
The first noble truth is the truth of dukkha. Within the Buddhist tradition, the term dukkha is commonly explained according to three different patterns or categories:[h]
The dukkha of ordinary suffering (dukkha-dukkha) - the obvious physical and mental suffering associated with birth, growing old, illness and dying.
The dukkha produced by change (vipariṇāma-dukkha) - the anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing.
The dukkha of conditioned states (saṃkhāra-dukkha) - a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.
Contemporary translators of Buddhist texts use a variety of English words to convey the different aspects of dukkha, such as: anxiety, stress, frustration, unease, unsatisfactoriness, etc.[a] As one source notes: "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".[web 7]
The central importance of dukkha in Buddhist philosophy has caused some observers to consider Buddhism to be a pessimistic philosophy.[d] However, the emphasis on dukkha is not intended to present a pessimistic view of life, but rather to present a realistic practical assessment of the human condition—that all beings must experience suffering and pain at some point in their lives, including the inevitable sufferings of illness, aging, and death. Contemporary Buddhist teachers and translators emphasize that while the central message of Buddhism is optimistic, the Buddhist view of our situation in life (the conditions that we live in) is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic.[d]
The Buddha acknowledged that there is both happiness and sorrow in the world, but he taught that even when we have some kind of happiness, it is impermanent and subject to change. And due to this unstable, impermanent nature of all things, everything we experience is said to have the quality of dukkha or unsatisfactoriness. Therefore unless we can gain insight into that truth, and understand what is really able to give us happiness, and what is unable to provide happiness, the experience of unsatisfactoriness or dissatisfaction will persist.
Normally we think our happiness is contingent upon external circumstances and situations, rather than upon our own inner attitude toward things, or toward life in general. The Buddha was saying that dissatisfaction is part of life, even if we are seeking happiness and even if we manage to find temporary happiness. The very fact that it is temporary means that sooner or later the happiness is going to pass. So the Buddha said that unless we understand this and see how pervasive dissatisfaction or duhkha is, it is impossible for us to start looking for real happiness.
The second noble truth is the truth of the origin of dukkha. Within the context of the four noble truths, the origin (Pali: samudaya) of dukkha is commonly explained as craving (Pali: tanha) conditioned by ignorance (Pali: avijja).[web 1][i] This craving runs on three channels:
Craving for sense-pleasures (kama-tanha): this is craving for sense objects which provide pleasant feeling, or craving for sensory pleasures.
Craving to be (bhava-tanha): this is craving to be something, to unite with an experience. This includes craving to be solid and ongoing, to be a being that has a past and a future, and craving to prevail and dominate over others.
Craving not to be (vibhava-tanha): this is craving to not experience the world, and to be nothing; a wish to be separated from painful feelings.[j]
Ignorance (Pali: avijja) can be defined as ignorance of the meaning and implication of the four noble truths. On a deeper level, it refers to a misunderstanding of the nature of the self and reality.[k]
Another common explanation presents the cause of dukkha as disturbing emotions (Sanskrit: kleshas) rooted in ignorance (Sanskrit: avidya).[l] In this context, it is common to identify three root disturbing emotions, called the three poisons, as the root cause of suffering or dukkha. These three poisons are:
Ignorance (Sanskrit: avidya or moha): misunderstanding of the nature of reality; bewilderment.
Attachment (Sanskrit: raga): attachment to pleasurable experiences.
Aversion (Sanskrit: dvesha): a fear of getting what we don't want, or not getting what we do want.[m]
The third Noble Truth is the truth of the cessation of dukkha. The term cessation (Pali: nirodha) refers to the cessation of suffering and the causes of suffering. It is
the cessation of all the unsatisfactory experiences and their causes in such a way that they can no longer occur again. It's the removal, the final absence, the cessation of those things, their non-arising."[web 8]
Cessation is the goal of one's spiritual practice in the Buddhist tradition. According to the Buddhist point of view, once we have developed a genuine understanding of the causes of suffering, such as craving (tanha) and ignorance (avijja), then we can completely eradicate these causes and thus be free from suffering.
Cessation is often equated with nirvana (Sanskrit; Pali nibbana), which can be described as the state of being in cessation or the event or process of the cessation. A temporary state of nirvana can be said to occur whenever the causes of suffering (e.g. craving) have ceased in our mind.
Ajahn Buddhadasa, a well-known Thai master of the last century, said that when village people in India were cooking rice and waiting for it to cool, they might remark, "Wait a little for the rice to become nibbana". So here, nibbana means the cool state of mind, free from the fires of the defilements. As Ajahn Buddhadasa remarked, "The cooler the mind, the more Nibbana in that moment". We can notice for ourselves relative states of coolness in our own minds as we go through the day.
Fourth truth: path to the cessation of dukkha
The Dharma wheel, often used to represent the Noble Eightfold Path
The fourth noble truth is the path to the cessation of dukkha. This path is called the Noble Eightfold Path, and it is considered to be the essence of Buddhist practice. The eightfold path consists of: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
While the first three truths are primarily concerned with understanding the nature of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, stress) and its causes, the fourth truth presents a practical method for overcoming dukkha. The path consists of a set of eight interconnected factors or conditions, that when developed together, lead to the cessation of dukkha.[web 1]Ajahn Sucitto describes the path as "a mandala of interconnected factors that support and moderate each other."
Thus, the eight items of the path are not to be understood as stages, in which each stage is completed before moving on to the next. Rather, they are to be understood as eight significant dimensions of one's behaviour—mental, spoken, and bodily—that operate in dependence on one another; taken together, they define a complete path, or way of living.
In the Buddhist tradition, the four noble truths, and Buddhist philosophy in general, are understood to be based on the personal experience of the Buddha. This understanding is implied in the term "noble truths," which is a translation of the Pali terms ariya sacca (Sanskrit: arya satya). The Pali term sacca means "truth" and "real" or "actual thing." In this context, contemporary Buddhist scholar Rupert Gethin explains that the four noble truths are not asserted as propositional truths or creeds; rather, they are understood as "true things" or "realities" that the Buddha experienced.[n][o]
Contemporary Buddhist teacher Thanissaro Bhikkhu emphasizes the same point, noting that the Four Noble Truths are best understood as categories of experience, rather than as beliefs. Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes:
These four truths are best understood, not as beliefs, but as categories of experience. They offer an alternative to the ordinary way we categorize what we can know and describe–[we ordinarily categorize things] in terms of me/not me, and being/not being.[p] These ordinary categories create trouble, for the attempt to maintain full being for one's sense of "me" is a stressful effort doomed to failure, in that all of the components of that "me" are inconstant, stressful, and thus not worthy of identifying as "me" or "mine". [...][T]he study of the four noble truths is aimed first at understanding these four categories, and then at applying them to experience so that one may act properly toward each of the categories and thus attain the highest, most total happiness possible.[web 6]
The Tibetan Buddhist lama Chögyam Trungpa emphasizes that cessation is a personal experience. Chögyam Trungpa explains:
The truth of cessation is a personal discovery. It is not mystical and does not have any connotations of religion or psychology. It is simply your experience... It is like experiencing instantaneous good health: you have no cold, no flu, no aches, and no pains in your body. You feel perfectly well, absolutely refreshed and wakeful! Such an experience is possible.
Illness, diagnosis, and cure
In the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha is often compared to a great physician, and his teachings are compared to medicine. The teachings on the four noble truths in particular are related to a medical diagnosis, as follows:[q]
The truth of dukkha: identifying the illness and the nature of the illness (the diagnosis)
The truth of origin: identifying the causes of the illness (the etiology)
The truth of cessation: identifying a cure for the illness (the prognosis)
The truth of the path: recommending a treatment for the illness that can bring about a cure (the prescription)
This analogy is said to emphasize the compassion of the Buddha—that he was motivated by the desire to relieve the suffering of beings. It also emphasizes that the Buddha was presented as physician, or healer of the spirit, rather than as a meta-physician or someone who spoke of supernatural powers.[r] For example, Pico Iyer states: "The Buddha generally presented himself as more physician than metaphysician: if an arrow is sticking out of your side, he famously said, don’t argue about where it came from or who made it; just pull it out. You make your way to happiness not by fretting about it or trafficking in New Age affirmations, but simply by finding the cause of your suffering, and then attending to it, as any doctor (of mind or body) might do."[web 12]
Contemporary Buddhist teacher Tamara Engel also emphasizes the Buddha's reluctance to comment on metaphysical matters:[web 10]
The brilliance of this medical model is that the Buddha offers a complete spiritual path that does not depend on metaphysical speculation or belief—no speculation or belief about God. No leap of faith is required. The illness the Buddha refers to is a particular kind of suffering, and there is nothing metaphysical about it. We all experience it. In fact, it is said that the Buddha would never enter into a metaphysical discussion. He stated, “I teach one thing and one thing only. Suffering and the end of suffering.”
There are many examples both in the original suttas and in traditional and contemporary commentaries that compare the Buddha to a physician.[s]
Methods of study and practice
Differences between Theravada and Mahayana approaches
The two main traditions of Buddhism, the Theravada and Mahayana, have different approaches to learning about the four noble truths and putting them into practice. The Theravada tradition strongly emphasizes reading and contemplating the The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth—the first discourse of the Buddha—as a means to study the four noble truths and put them into practice. In the Mahayana tradition, practitioners are more likely to learn about the four noble truths through studying various Mahayana commentaries, and less like to study the first discourse directly. The Mahayana commentaries typically present the four noble truths in the context of the Mahayana path of the bodhisattva.
The two main Buddhist traditions, Theravada and Mahayana, have different sets of scriptures. The Theravada is an earlier tradition whose teachings are recorded in the Pali texts, while the Mahayana is based on Sanskrit texts that were written down later. The countries that follow the Theravada tradition strongly emphasize reading, reciting, and learning the actual discourses of the Buddha. In the Tibetan monasteries, which follow the Mahayana tradition, we study the four noble truths on many occasions over the course of our education, but we do not typically study the sutra itself. Usually we study this topic in conjunction with the teachings that emphasize the bodhisattva aspiration for enlightenment for the sake of all other beings.
Paul Williams writes that in contrast to the East Asian traditions, there has been a strong tendency in Tibetan Buddhism and the Himalayan traditions to approach the sūtras indirectly through the medium of exegetical treatises if at all.
Another point of difference between the two traditions is that the Theravada tradition emphasizes contemplating three stages for each truth (for a total of twelve insights) as outlined in The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth, whereas certain Mayahana traditions also identify sixteen characteristics of the four noble truths. (These alternatives are explained below.)
The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth identifies three stages in the understanding of each truth, for a total of twelve insights. The three stages for understanding each truth are:[t]
sacca-ñāṇa - knowing the nature of the truth (e.g., acknowledgement, view, reflection)
kicca-ñāṇa - knowing what needs to be done in connection with that truth (e.g., practice; motivation; directly experiencing)
kata-ñāṇa - accomplishing what needs to be done (e.g., result, full understanding, knowing)
These three stages of understanding are emphasized particularly in the Theravada tradition, but they are also recognized by some contemporary Mahayana teachers.[u]
Three insights for the first noble truth
The three insights for the first noble truth are:
There is suffering.
Ajahn Sumedho explains: "We don’t need to make it into anything grand; it is just the recognition: ‘There is suffering’. That is a basic insight. The ignorant person says, ‘I’m suffering. I don’t want to suffer. I meditate and I go on retreats to get out of suffering, but I’m still suffering and I don’t want to suffer.... How can I get out of suffering? What can I do to get rid of it?’ But that is not the First Noble Truth; it is not: ‘I am suffering and I want to end it.’ The insight is, ‘There is suffering’."
Suffering should be understood.
Ajahn Sumedho explains: "The second insight or aspect of each of the Noble Truths has the word ‘should’ in it: ‘It should be understood.’ The second insight then, is that dukkha is something to understand. One should understand dukkha, not just try to get rid of it. [...] In Pali, ‘understanding’ means to really accept the suffering, stand under or embrace it rather than just react to it. With any form of suffering – physical or mental – we usually just react, but with understanding we can really look at suffering; really accept it, really hold it and embrace it. So that is the second aspect, ‘We should understand suffering’."
Suffering has been understood.
Ajahn Sumedho explains: "When you have actually practised with suffering – looking at it, accepting it, knowing it and letting it be the way it is – then there is the third aspect, ‘Suffering has been understood’, or ‘Dukkha has been understood.’ "
Three insights for the second noble truth
The three insights for the second noble truth are:
There is the origin of suffering, which is attachment to desire (tanha)
Ajahn Sumedho emphasizes contemplating the three aspects of tanha: kama-tanha (the desire for sense pleasures); bhava-tanha (the desire to become something, such as seeking wealth or fame); vibhava-tahha (the desire to get rid of things, e.g. to avoid suffering)
Desire should be let go of
Ajahn Sumedho states: "The more we contemplate and investigate grasping, the more the insight arises, 'Desire should be let go of.'"
Desire has been let go of
Ajahn Sumedho states: "Then through the actual practice and understanding of what letting go really is, we have the third insight into the Second Noble Truth, which is 'Desire has been let go of.' We actually know letting go. It is not a theoretical letting go, but a direct insight. You know letting go has been accomplished. This is what practice is all about."
Three insights for the third noble truth
There is the cessation of suffering, of "dukkha"
Ajahn Sumedho emphasizes the importance of reflecting on impermanence, that everything that arises also ceases. He states: "Rather than just thinking about it, really contemplate: 'All that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing.' Apply it to life in general, and to your own experience. Then you will understand. Just note: beginning...ending. Contemplate how things are. This sensory realm is all about arising and ceasing, beginning and ending; there can be perfect understanding in this lifetime.
The cessation of dukkha should be realized
Ajahn Sumedho states: "To allow this process of cessation to work, we must be willing to suffer. This is why I stress the importance of patience. We have to open our minds to suffering, because it is in embracing suffering that suffering ceases. When we find that we are suffering, physically or mentally, then we go to the actual suffering that is present. We open completely to it, welcome it, concentrate on it, allowing it to be what it is. That means we must be patient and bear with the unpleasantness of a particular condition. We have to endure boredom, despair, doubt and fear in order to understand that they cease rather than running away from them."
The cessation of dukkha has been realized
Ajahn Sumedho states: "[When craving] has ceased, you experience nirodha — cessation, emptiness, non-attachment. Nirodha is another word for Nibbana. When you have let something go and allowed it to cease, then what is left is peace."
Three insights for the fourth noble truth
There is a path to the cessation of suffering
Phillip Moffitt introduces this insight as follows: "In the Tenth Insight the Buddha asks you to realize that there is a path to finding freedom from the angst of your life and experiencing more joy. Implicit is the authentic possibility that you have the power to change your inner experience of life, and there is a specific means for you to do so. The realization of this insight evokes in you the faith to undergo the discipline, hard work, and renunciation that are called for in the Eleventh Insight."
This path should be cultivated (actualized)
Phillip Moffitt introduces this insight as follows: "The Noble Eightfold Path is not a set of beliefs or laws but rather a practical, direct experience method for finding meaning and peace in your life. Think of it as an organic blueprint from which you organize and live your life. Each of the eight path factors defines one aspect of behavioral development needed for you to move from suffering to joy. Its eight factors function as an integrated system or matrix that supports and informs all parts of your life. By "cultivating" the Buddha means attending to, nourishing, and manifesting each of these factors of wisdom in your life."
This path is realized
Phillip Moffitt states: "As you begin working with the twelfth and final of the Buddha's insights, you are nearing the end of your search to know how to live wisely. In your journey you have utilized mindfulness to explore the experiences of your mind and body, which has allowed you to directly know the emotional, psychological, existential, and spiritual dilemmas of daily life. You are no longer deluded-you no longer have the mistaken belief that your mind has to be trapped in stress and reactivity for the rest of your life. You now know that freedom is truly possible, and you "know that you know" effective ways to respond to desire and difficulty when they arise in your life. You know that a path to cessation with its eight factors exists; you know its parts; you know you are capable of practicing it; and you know that it works for you!"
The Mahayana text Ornament of Clear Realization (Abhisamayalamkara) identifies four characteristics of each truth, for a total of sixteen characteristics, which are presented as a guide to contemplating and practicing the four noble truths. The Ornament of Clear Realization is a key text in the curriculum of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and study colleges, and this method of study and practice is emphasized in the Tibetan tradition.
These sixteen characteristics are identified as follows:[web 15]
impermanence - the five aggregates are impermanent and change from moment to moment
suffering - the five aggregates have come into being because of avidya (ignorance) and kleshas (disturbing emotions), and they are under the influence of the avidya and kleshas
emptiness - there is no "self" outside of the five aggregates that controls or makes use of the five aggregates
selflessness - there is no "self" to be found within the five aggregates that controls or makes use of the five aggregates
Truth of origin - these characteristics refer to karma, kleshas, and avidya (ignorance)
causes - karma, kleshas, and avidya are constantly arising within our mental continuum, and because of their nature they have the quality of being the causes of suffering.
origin - kleshas and karma are the actual origin of suffering, not just intermediate links.
strong production - avidya, kleshas, and karma act forcefully as the main causes of suffering (they are not just passive ingredients)
condition - avidya, kleshas, and karma are more than just the main causes of suffering, they are also the contributory causes
Truth of cessation - these characteristics refer to cessation
cessation - cessation is the ceasing of all kleshas and avidya forever
pacification - cessation pacifies the torment of suffering, bring true peace
being superb - cessation is supreme in bringing about the source of all health and happiness
definite emergence - cessation will definitely bring us out of samsara
Truth of the path - these characteristics refer to the path
path - the path leads to cessation
awareness - the path leads us to a full and complete understanding of the root of cyclic existence (samsara) and the means to escape it
achievement - through the path, we can definitely achieve the result of liberation and enlightenment
deliverance - the path delivers us from the bondage of our conditioned existence
Within the discourses
According to the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha taught on the four noble truths repeatedly throughout his lifetime, continually expanding and clarifying his meaning.[e] Hence, there are many discourses (Pali: suttas)—the written records of the teaching of the Buddha—that provide explanations of the four noble truths.
Within the first discourse
A relief depicting the first discourse of the Buddha, from the 2nd century (Kushan). [web 16] The Walters Art Museum. The Buddha's hand can be seen at right.
According to the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha first taught the four noble truths in the very first teaching he gave after he attained enlightenment, as recorded in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth). Within this discourse, there are four key verses which present the four noble truths. Several translations of these key four verses are provided below.
John T. Bullit translation
In the following translation of these key four verses by contemporary Theravada translator John T. Bullit, the term dukkha is left untranslated:[v]
"Now this, monks, is the noble truth of dukkha: birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha.
"And this, monks is the noble truth of the origination of dukkha: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.
"And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving.
"And this, monks, is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of dukkha: precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration."
Bhikkhu Bodhi translation
In the following translation of these key four verses by contemporary Theravada teacher Bhikkhu Bodhi, the term dukkha is translated as "suffering":[web 18]
“Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.
“Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to re-becoming, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for becoming, craving for disbecoming.
“Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance on it.
“Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is this noble eightfold path; that is, right view ... right concentration."
Thich Nhat Hahn translation
Contemporary Mahayana teacher Thich Nhat Hahn presents the following translation of these verses from the Mahayana point of view, based upon multiple sources:[w]
“Brothers, [...the first truth] is the existence of suffering. Birth, old age, sickness, and death are suffering. Sadness, anger, jealousy, worry, anxiety, fear, and despair are suffering. Separation from loved ones is suffering. Association with those you hate is suffering. Desire, attachment, and clinging to the five aggregates are suffering.
“Brothers, the second truth is the cause of suffering. Because of ignorance, people cannot see the truth about life, and they become caught in the flames of desire, anger, jealousy, grief, worry, fear, and despair.
“Brothers, the third truth is the cessation of suffering. Understanding the truth of life brings about the cessation of every grief and sorrow and gives rise to peace and joy.
“Brothers, the fourth truth is the path which leads to the cessation of suffering. It is the Noble Eightfold Path, which I have just explained. The Noble Eightfold Path is nourished by living mindfully. Mindfulness leads to concentration and understanding which liberates you from every pain and sorrow and leads to peace and joy. I will guide you along this path of realization.”
And what is the noble truth of the origination of stress [dukkha]?
From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications. From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness. From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form. From name-&-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media. From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then old age & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.
Maha-satipatthana Sutta (The Great Frames of Reference)
The Maha-satipatthana Sutta (Digha Nikaya 22) elaborates on the meaning of each of the four noble truths (providing additional details to those found in the first discourse of the Buddha).[web 20]
For example, this sutta includes the following details on the first noble truth (the truth of dukkha):[web 20]
"Now what is the noble truth of stress [dukkha]? Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful; separation from the loved is stressful; not getting what one wants is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.
"And what is birth? Whatever birth, taking birth, descent, coming-to-be, coming-forth, appearance of aggregates, & acquisition of [sense] spheres of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called birth.
"And what is aging? Whatever aging, decrepitude, brokenness, graying, wrinkling, decline of life-force, weakening of the faculties of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called aging.
"And what are the five clinging-aggregates that, in short, are stress [dukkha]? Form as a clinging-aggregate, feeling as a clinging-aggregate, perception as a clinging-aggregate, fabrications as a clinging-aggregate, consciousness as a clinging-aggregate: These are called the five clinging-aggregates that, in short, are stress."
Sammaditthi Sutta (The Discourse on Right View)
Mahāhatthipadopama Sutta (The Greater Discourse on the Elephant-footprint Simile)
The Mahāhatthipadopama Sutta (The Greater Discourse on the Elephant-footprint Simile; Majjhima-Nikāya 28), a discourse given by Sāriputta, presents the simile of the elephant-footprint; this sutta states:[web 22]
Friends, just as the footprint of any breathing thing that walks can be placed within an elephant’s footprint, and so the elephant’s footprint is declared the chief of them because of its great size, so too, whatever beneficial ideas there are can all be included in the four Noble Truths.
This sutta also elaborates on the meaning of the five aggregates which are mentioned in the first discourse as part of the cause of suffering.[web 22]
Maha-parinibbana Sutta (Last Days of the Buddha)
The Maha-parinibbana Sutta was given near the end of the Buddha's life. In this sutta, the Buddha emphasized the importance of the four noble truths with the following statement:[web 23]
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Bhikkhus, it is through not realizing, through not penetrating the Four Noble Truths that this long course of birth and death has been passed through and undergone by me as well as by you. What are these four? They are the noble truth of suffering; the noble truth of the origin of suffering; the noble truth of the cessation of suffering; and the noble truth of the way to the cessation of suffering. But now, bhikkhus, that these have been realized and penetrated, cut off is the craving for existence, destroyed is that which leads to renewed becoming, and there is no fresh becoming."
Thus it was said by the Blessed One. And the Happy One, the Master, further said:
Through not seeing the Four Noble Truths,
Long was the weary path from birth to birth.
When these are known, removed is rebirth's cause,
The root of sorrow plucked; then ends rebirth.
Within Buddhist traditions
Early Indian Buddhism
The Ekavyāvahārika sect emphasized the transcendence of the Buddha, asserting that he was eternally enlightened and essentially non-physical. According to the Ekavyāvahārika, the words of the Buddha were spoken with one transcendent meaning, and the Four Noble Truths are perfectly realized with one wisdom.
According to the Mahīśāsaka sect, the Four Noble Truths should be meditated upon simultaneously.
"The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the Buddha's teaching on the Four Noble Truths, has been the main reference that I have used for my practice over the years. It is the teaching we used in our monastery in Thailand. The Theravada school of Buddhism regards this sutta as the quintessence of the teachings of the Buddha. This one sutta contains all that is necessary for understanding the Dhamma and for enlightenment."
In the Mahayana tradition, the four noble truths are considered central to the teachings of Buddhism, but are traditionally studied and practiced in conjunction with teachings on bodhisattva path. For example, the Dalai Lama states:
...although I recite mantras and visualize certain deities, even so, the main emphasis of my daily practice is the Four Noble Truths and bodhichitta. These two practices I feel are of real practical benefit.
Within Tibetan Buddhism, the four noble truths are traditionally studied from Mahayana commentaries such as the Abhisamayalamkara, rather than from reading the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. In this context, the truth of the path (the fourth truth) is traditionally presented according to a progressive formula of five paths, rather than than as the eightfold path presented in other traditions.[x] The Tibetan tradition also emphasizes the study of the sixteen characteristics of the four noble truths, as described in the Abhisamayalamkara.
Note however, that some contemporary Tibetan Buddhist teachers have provided commentary on the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta and the noble eightfold path when presenting the dharma to Western students. For example, Geshe Tashi Tsering's commentary on the four noble truths emphasizes the Pali version of the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, and contemporary texts by Ringu Tulku and Lama Surya Das present the noble eightfold path.
From the Tibetan Buddhist point of view, these alternative methods of presentation are not considered to be contradictory, but rather as different ways to present the Buddhist path.
Nichiren Buddhism is based on the teaching of the Japanese teacher Nichiren, who believed that the Lotus sutra contained the essence of all of Gautama Buddha's teachings. In his letter "A Comparison between the Lotus and Other Sutras," Nichiren states that the Four Noble Truths are a specific teaching expounded by the Buddha for the sake of the śrāvakas disciples, those who attain awakening by listening to the teachings of a Buddha.[web 24] The implication here is that the teachings on the four noble truths are a provisional teaching, which Shakyamuni Buddha taught according to the people’s capacity, while the Lotus Sutra is a direct statement of Shakyamuni’s own enlightenment.[web 25] The essence of the Four Noble Truths about the cause of sufferings being "Attachment to Earthly Desires" is recognized in Nichiren Buddhism, however as just one cause among others, such as Arrogance, Ignorance ...etc., as explained by Nichiren in his letter on The Fourteen Slanders.
Nichiren Buddhism regards the Four Noble Truths as specific teachings for the sravaka or voice hearers disciples of the Buddha: “the Sravaka, a term Hurvitz translates as ‘voice hearer’, is what we might call the standard followers of the Buddha for whom he teaches the four noble truths”., contrasted with the Dharma of the Lotus Sutra:” the Lotus Sutra was addressed to all people
The Second and Third Truth regarding the cause of suffering are recognized in Nichiren’s teaching as “Attachment to earthly desires”, however other causes of suffering are also listed such as arrogance, negligence, hatred and grudges and others.
Another difference in perceiving the teaching of the Eightfold Path is Nichiren’s teaching of the “direct path” to enlightenment: “The key point that set Nichiren Buddhism apart from the other Buddhist schools of his day was the establishment of this concrete means for attaining Buddhahood [in one’s current lifetime]” 
Buddhist schools which are based on the Lotus Sutra pay respect to the teaching of the Four Noble Truths, and recognize it as the first teaching of the Buddha, but – differently from other schools - not as the final teaching – and which they consider to be the Dharma of the Lotus: “The Lotus Sūtra, which is the Buddha’s final teaching, expounds all essences of the Buddha’s enlightenment based on the universal law”.
According to Watson, the Lotus Sutra refers to the four noble truths in the context[need quotation to verify]of presenting the teachings on the bodhisattva path: .[web 26] The third chapter of the Lotus Sutra states that the Four Noble Truths was the early teaching of the Buddha, while the Dharma of the Lotus is the 'most wonderful, unsurpassed great Dharma':
In the past at Vārāṇasī, you turned the wheel of the Darma of the Four Noble Truths, making distinctions and preaching that all things are born and become extinct, being made up of the five components (skandhas). Now you turn the wheel of the most wonderful, the unsurpassed great Dharma. This Dharma is very profound and abstruse; there are few who can believe it. Since times past often we have heard the World-Honored One's preaching, but we have never heard this kind of profound, wonderful and superior Dharma. Since the World-Honored One preaches this Dharma, we all welcome it with joy.
Many contemporary Buddhist teachers have provided brief summaries of the four noble truths as a means of introducing this doctrine to Western students. A sampling of this summaries is included here.
Sylvia Boorstein: life is challenging
Sylvia Boorstein summarizes the four truths as follows:[web 27]
Life is challenging. For everyone. Our physical bodies, our relationships—all of our life circumstances—are fragile and subject to change. We are always accommodating.
The cause of suffering is the mind’s struggle in response to challenge.
The end of suffering—a non-struggling, peaceful mind—is a possibility.
The program for ending suffering is the Eightfold Path.
The Second Noble Truth: Life is difficult because of attachment, because we crave satisfaction in ways that are inherently dissatisfying
The Third Noble Truth: The possibility of liberation from difficulties exists for everyone.
The Fourth Noble Truth: The way to realize this liberation and enlightenment is by leading a compassionate life of virtue, wisdom, and meditation. These three spiritual trainings comprise the teachings of the Eight-fold Path to Enlightenment.
Damien Keown, et al: life is suffering
Many contemporary Buddhist teachers and scholars offer summaries of the Four Noble Truths that begin with the statement "life is suffering." For example, Damien Keown presents the essential meaning of the four truths as follows:
life is suffering,
suffering is caused by craving,
suffering can have an end, and
there is a path which leads to the end of suffering.
Note, however, that a number of Buddhist teachers and scholars have cautioned that the phrase "life is suffering" can lead to a misunderstanding of the Buddhist view by seeming to present a pessimistic outlook. For example:
Thanissaro Bhikkhu states: "You've probably heard the rumor that "Life is suffering" is Buddhism's first principle, the Buddha's first noble truth. It's a rumor with good credentials, spread by well-respected academics and Dharma teachers alike, but a rumor nonetheless. The truth about the noble truths is far more interesting. The Buddha taught four truths — not one — about life: There is suffering, there is a cause for suffering, there is an end of suffering, and there is a path of practice that puts an end to suffering. These truths, taken as a whole, are far from pessimistic. They're a practical, problem-solving approach [...]" [web 14]
Phillip Moffit states: "Oftentimes, the First Noble Truth is misquoted as `All life is suffering," but that is an inaccurate and misleading reflection of the Buddha's insight. He did not teach that life is constant misery, nor that you should expect to feel pain and unhappiness at all times. Rather, he proclaimed that suffering is an unavoidable reality of ordinary human existence that is to be known and responded to wisely."
Gil Fronsdal states: "The First Noble Truth simply says that suffering occurs. It does not say, "Life is suffering." "
Ajahn Sumedho, et al: there is suffering
Many contemporary Buddhist teachers and scholars offer summaries of the Four Noble Truths that begin with the statement "there is suffering."[y] For example, Ajahn Sumedho presents the following summary of the four truths:
there is suffering;
there is a cause or origin of suffering;
there is an end of suffering; and
there is path out of suffering which is the Eightfold Path.
In this case, Ajahn Sumedho is referring to the first of three insights for each truth. For example, regarding the first insight of the first noble truth, Ajahn Sumedho states:
For the First Noble Truth, 'There is suffering' is the first insight. What is that insight? We don’t need to make it into anything grand; it is just the recognition: ‘There is suffering’. That is a basic insight. The ignorant person says, ‘I’m suffering. I don’t want to suffer. I meditate and I go on retreats to get out of suffering, but I’m still suffering and I don’t want to suffer.... How can I get out of suffering? What can I do to get rid of it?’ But that is not the First Noble Truth; it is not: ‘I am suffering and I want to end it.’ The insight is, ‘There is suffering’.
Gil Fronsdal: suffering occurs
Contemporary Buddhist teacher Gil Fronsdal summarizes the four truths as follows:
The cause of suffering is craving.
The possibility for ending suffering exists.
The cessation of suffering can be attained through the Noble Eightfold Path.
Mingyur Rinpoche: ordinary life is conditioned by suffering
Mingyur Rinpoche describes the Four Noble Truths as "Four Pure Insights into the Way Things Are". He summarizes these insights as follows:
Ordinary life is conditioned by suffering;
Suffering results from causes;
The causes of suffering can be extinguished;
There is a simple path through which the causes of suffering can be extinguished.
Phillip Moffitt: your life contains moments of dukkha
the cause of your dukkha is clinging to desired objects and states of being;
you can release dukkha by letting go of clinging to those desires; and
there is an Eightfold Path to freedom from dukkha that you can follow in order to accomplish all this.
Moffitt states that understanding these truths is the foundation of Buddhist wisdom.
Mark Epstein: the inevitability of humiliation in our lives
Mark Epstein relates the Four Noble Truths to modern psychology.[z] He summarizes the essential meaning of the four truths from a psychological perspective as follows:
The first truth highlights the inevitability of humiliation in our lives
The second truth speaks of the primal thirst that makes such humiliation inevitable.
The third truth promises release
The fourth truth spells out the means of accomplishing that release.
Pema Chodron: we change and flow like the weather
Pema Chodron provides an explanation of the four noble truths that relates our changing thoughts and emotions to the weather. In this context, Pema Chodron summarizes the four truths as follows:[aa]
The first noble truth says that it’s part of being human to feel discomfort. Nothing in its essence is one way or the other. All around us the wind, the fire, the earth, the water, are always taking on different qualities; they’re like magicians. We also change like the weather. We ebb and flow like the tides, we wax and wane like the moon. We fail to see that like the weather, we are fluid, not solid. And so we suffer.
The second noble truth says that resistance is the fundamental operating mechanism of what we call ego, that resisting life causes suffering. Traditionally it’s said that the cause of suffering is clinging to our narrow view, which is to say, we are addicted to ME. We resist that we change and flow like the weather, that we have the same energy as all living things. When we resist, we dig in our heels. We make ourselves really solid. Resisting is what’s called ego.
The third noble truth says that suffering ceases when we let go of trying to maintain the huge ME at any cost. This is what we practice in meditation. When we let go of the thinking and the story line, we’re left just sitting with the quality and the energy of whatever particular “weather” we’ve been trying to resist.
The essence of the fourth noble truth is that we can use everything we do to help us to realize that we’re part of the energy that creates everything. If we learn to sit still like a mountain in a hurricane, unprotected from the truth and vividness and the immediacy of simply being part of life, then we are not this separate being who has to have things turn out our way. When we stop resisting and let the weather simply flow through us, we can live our lives completely. It’s up to us.
Ajahn Sucitto: the feeling of lack or loss or conflict in our lives
Ajahn Sucitto presents the essential topics of the four truths as follows:
The four noble truths are about “suffering,” how it arises, how it ceases, and a way to bring around that ceasing. These occupy the center of the Buddha’s teaching, because they already are central to human experience. Everyone knows the feeling of lack or loss or conflict in their lives: this is what the Buddha called dukkha, often translated as “suffering,” but covering a whole range of meanings and nuances. At times, we feel it as a sense of need, or a dissatisfaction that can vary from mild weariness to utter despair. This feeling can be triggered either by physical experience or by mental impressions concerning ourselves or other beings. It is a feeling characterized by a sense that things are “out of balance.” Even if we are physically well and mentally skilled, we can feel disappointed that life isn’t offering us enough, or that we’re not making enough of it or doing enough, or that there’s not enough time, space, freedom. We can feel anxiety over the state of the planet and the environment; our perceptions of the present and the future are not secure and problem free. So that pulls on us emotionally. Then there’s the sense of “too much”—feeling overwhelmed, not having enough space, time, and ease. In both cases there’s a continual sense of subtle or gross stress. Just reflect upon your activities and pursuits: notice that they involve a constant effort to change or cope with what is disagreeable, or to stimulate well-being. This striving is universal.
Sāmanera Bodhesako: a recursive algorithm
Sāmanera Bodhesako describes knowledge of the four noble truths as a recursive algorithm:[web 30]
The most fundamental level of the Buddha’s Teaching is that of the four noble truths: the truth of dukkha, the truth of the arising of dukkha, the truth of the ceasing of dukkha, and the truth of the path leading to the ceasing of dukkha. The fourth truth is, in its expanded form, that of the noble eightfold path, namely, right view, right attitude, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. The first of these factors, right view, is defined (at e.g. D. 22: ii,312) as knowledge of the four noble truths. Such knowledge will of course include knowledge of the fourth of these truths, namely the noble eightfold path; and it will of course include knowledge of the first factor of that path, namely right view. Therefore right view means (among other things) having right view about right view. Further, it means having right view about right view…about right view. Not only does one know, but one knows that one knows. As with properly aligned mirrors, which reflect each other’s images endlessly, so too the hierarchy of knowledge is recursively infinite.
David Brazier: existence is imperfect
David Brazier also relates the four noble truths to modern psychology. Brazier asserts that the traditional translations of the Pali terms samudhaya and nirodha as "origin" and "cessation", coupled with the translation of dukkha as "suffering", give rise to a causal explanation of suffering, and the impression that suffering can be totally terminated. Brazier offers different translations of these terms and summarizes the four noble truths as follows:
Dukkha: existence is imperfect, it's like a wheel that's not straight into the axis;
Samudhaya: simultaneously with the experience of dukkha there arises tanha, thirst: the dissatisfaction with what is and the yearning that life should be different from how it is. We keep imprisoned in this yearning when we don't see reality as it is, namely imperfect and ever-changing;
Nirodha: we can confine this yearning (that reality is different from how it is), and perceive reality as it is, whereby our suffering from the imperfectness becomes confined;
According to Brazier's translation, samudhaya means that the uneasiness that's inherent to life arises together with the craving that life's event would be different. The translation of nirodha as confinement means that this craving is a natural reaction, which cannot be totally escaped or ceased, but can be limited, which gives us freedom.
Gudo Wafu Nishijima: three philosophies and one reality
The Pali terms ariya sacca (Sanskrit: arya satya) are commonly translated as "noble truths". This translation is a convention started by the earliest translators of Buddhist texts into English; however, many contemporary translators have pointed out that this is not necessarily the most accurate translation of this terms. For example, contemporary scholar Paul Williams states:
...as K. R. Norman has pointed out, there is no particular reason why the Pali expression ariyasaccani should be translated as 'noble truths'. It could equally be translated as 'the nobles' truths', or 'the truths for nobles', or 'the nobilising truths', or 'the truths of, possessed by, the noble ones' (1990-6, in 1993 volume: 174). In fact the Pali expression (and its Sanskrit equivalent) can mean all of these, although the Pali commentators place 'the noble truths' as the least important in their understanding (ibid.; see also Norman 1997: 16). Norman's own view is that probably the best single translation is 'the truth[s] of the noble one (the Buddha)'. This would amount to a statement of how things are seen ('truth'; Sanskrit: satya; Pali: sacca, derived from 'sat', being, how it is) by a Buddha, how things really are when seen correctly. Through not seeing things this way, and behaving accordingly, we suffer.
Contemporary Buddhist teacher Mingyur Rinpoche describes the four arya satya as "Four Pure Insights into the Way Things Are".
The term ariya (Sanskrit: arya) can be translated as "noble", "not ordinary", "valuable", "precious",[ab] "pure", etc. Paul Williams states: "The Aryas are the noble ones, the saints, those who have attained 'the fruits of the path', 'that middle path the Tathagata has comprehended which promotes sight and knowledge, and which tends to peace, higher wisdom, enlightenment, and Nibbana' (Narada 1980: 50 ).
The modifier noble means truth as perceived by arya beings, those beings who have had a direct realization of emptiness or selflessness. Noble means something seen by arya beings as it really is, and in this case it is four recognitions—suffering, origin, cessation, and path. Arya beings see all types of suffering—physical and mental, gross and subtle—exactly as they are, as suffering. For people like us, who do not have the direct realization of emptiness, although we may understand certain levels of physical and mental experiences as suffering, it is impossible for us to see all the levels of suffering for what they are. Instead we may see some things as desirable when in truth they are suffering.
The term sacca (Sanskrit: satya) is typically translated as "truth"; but it also means "that which is in accord with reality", or "reality". Rupert Gethin states:
The word satya (Pali sacca) can certainly mean truth, but it might equally be rendered as ‘real’ or ‘actual thing’. That is, we are not dealing here with propositional truths with which we must either agree or disagree, but with four ‘true things’ or ‘realities’ whose nature, we are told, the Buddha finally understood on the night of his awakening.
^ abContemporary translators have used a number of variations in presenting the essential list (i.e. the names or titles) of the Four Noble Truths. For example:
Bhikkhu Bodhi states: "The Four Noble Truths are as follows: 1. The truth of Dukkha; 2. The truth of the origin of Dukkha; 3. The truth of the cessation of Dukkha; 4. The truth of the path, the way to liberation from Dukkha".[web 1]
John T. Bullit (Access to Insight) states: "What are these four? They are the noble truth of dukkha; the noble truth of the origin of dukkha; the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha; and the noble truth of the way to the cessation of dukkha."[web 2]
Ven. Dr. Rewata Dhamma states: The Four Noble Truths [...] are: 1. The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha); 2. The Noble Truth of the origin of suffering (samudaya); 3. The Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering (nirodha); 4. The Noble Truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering (magga).
Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism states: "1. The noble truth that is suffering; 2. The noble truth that is the arising of suffering; 3. The noble truth that is the end of suffering; 4. The noble truth that is the way leading to the end of suffering."
Geshe Tashi Tsering states: "The four noble truths are: 1. The noble truth of suffering; 2. The noble truth of the origin of suffering; 3. The noble truth of the cessation of suffering and the origin of suffering; 4. The noble truth of the path that leads to the cessation of suffering and the origin of suffering."
Joseph Goldstein states: "The four noble truths are the truth of suffering, its cause, its end, and the path to that end.
Mark Epstein states: "[The Buddha] formulated his first teaching as the Four Noble Truths: suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path to its cessation".
^See the article Dukkha for further details and citations.
^ abcdThe Four Noble Truths are regarded as central to the teachings of Buddhism; they were taught repeatedly by the Buddha throughout his lifetime:
Judith Leif states: "The four noble truths are central to the Buddhist tradition. The Buddha presented these teachings in one of the first sermons he gave after his enlightenment, and they were recorded in the sutra The First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma. [...] In later teachings the Buddha touched on the four noble truths repeatedly, expanding upon and further elucidating his original presentation."
Ron Leifer states: "The Buddha repeated over and over again that the four noble truths are the foundation and nucleus of his teachings. All Buddhist wisdom is contained within them like the layers of an onion, each layer more subtle and profound than the previous, leading to a central insight. Monks, Buddha said, by the fact of understanding as they really are, these four truths, a Tathagata is called an Arhat, a fully enlightened one."
Walpola Rahula states: "In [the Buddha's first] sermon, as we have it in the original texts, these four Truths are given briefly. But there are innumerable places in the early Buddhist scriptures where they are explained again and again, with greater detail and in different ways."
Thich Nhat Hanh states: "The Buddha continued to proclaim these truths right up until his Great Passing Away (mahaparanirvana)."
Ajahn Succitto states: And many would say that [the Buddha's first discourse] was his most important discourse because it established the basis of the teaching that he added to throughout his life—the teaching of "suffering and the cessation of suffering," which he encapsulated in four great or "noble" truths.
Rupert Gethin states: "In a Nikāya passage the Buddha thus states that he has always made known just two things, namely suffering and the cessation of suffering. This statement can be regarded as expressing the basic orientation of Buddhism for all times and all places. Its classic formulation is by way of 'four noble truths'..."
Piyadassi Thera states: "...the Four Noble Truths are the central concept of Buddhism. What the Buddha taught during his ministry of forty-five years embraces these Truths, namely: Dukkha, suffering or unsatisfactoriness, its arising, its cessation and the way out of this unsatisfactory state."[web 5]
^The Four Noble Truths are regarded as central to the teachings of Buddhism; they encompass the entire spiritual path:
Walpola Rahula states: "The heart of the Buddha's teaching lies in the Four Noble Truths (Cattāri Ariyasaccāni)..."
The Dalai Lama states: "The Four Noble Truths are the very foundation of the Buddhist teachings, and that is why they are so important. In fact, if you don't understand the Four Noble Truths, and if you have not experienced the truth of this teaching personally, it is impossible to practice the Buddha Dharma. Therefore I am always happy to have the opportunity to explain them."
Ringu Tulku states: "The fist instruction of the Buddha was the teaching on the Four Noble Truths. These cannot be said to be just "Shravakayana". They are everything. Apart from the Four Noble Truths, there is nothing else in Buddhism. So they are the most important thing."
Thich Nhat Hanh states: "After realizing complete, perfect awakening (samyak sambodhi), the Buddha had to find words to share his insight. He already had the water, but he had to discover jars like the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path to hold it. The Four Noble Truths are the cream of the Buddha's teaching."
Joseph Goldstein states: "[The Buddha's] first teaching [...] is called "Setting the Wheel of the Dharma in Motion," and it lays out the Four Noble Truths, the basic doctrine of liberation common to all Buddhist schools."
Ajahn Sumedho states: "The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the Buddha's teaching on the Four Noble Truths, has been the main reference that I have used for my practice over the years. It is the teaching we used in our monastery in Thailand. The Theravada school of Buddhism regards this sutta as the quintessence of the teachings of the Buddha. This one sutta contains all that is necessary for understanding the Dhamma and for enlightenment."
Geshe Tashi Tsering states: "The four noble truths lay down the blueprint for the entire body of the Buddha’s thought and practice and set up the basic framework of the individual’s path to enlightenment. They encapsulate all of Buddhist philosophy. Therefore studying, meditating, and fully understanding this teaching is very important, because without an understanding of the four noble truths it is impossible to fully integrate the concepts and practices of Buddhism into our daily lives."
Geshe Tashi Tsering also states: "The four noble truths encompass the entire spiritual path with all its many aspects..."
Lama Surya Das states: "The Four Noble Truths are the core of the Buddhist Dharma."
Traleg Kyabgon states: "...the Four Noble Truths are the essence of all the Buddha's teachings. Without understanding them, we cannot proceed. All the later interpretations of the original Buddhist teachings are based on the Four Noble Truths."
Sharon Salzburg states: "Everything within the Buddha’s teachings can be encapsulated with I teach one thing and one thing only. That is suffering and the end of suffering. And the normal formulation of that is what is called the Four Noble Truths."[web 3]
Bhikkhu Bodhi states: "The essence of the Buddha’s teaching can be summed up in two principles: the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The first covers the side of doctrine, and the primary response it elicits is understanding; the second covers the side of discipline, in the broadest sense of that word, and the primary response it calls for is practice."
Piyadassi Thera states: "In the original Pali texts, specifically in the discourses (suttas), these Four Truths are made clear in detail and in diverse ways. Without a clear idea of the Truths, one cannot know what the Buddha taught for forty-five years. To the Buddha the entire teaching is just the understanding of dukkha, the unsatisfactory nature of all phenomenal existence, and the understanding of the way out of this unsatisfactoriness."[web 4]
Gil Fronsdal states: "In his first sermon, "Turning the Wheel of the Dharma," the Buddha taught about suffering and the end of suffering in the form of the Four Noble Truths. After more than 2500 years they have come to us as the core teachings of Buddhism. Almost all Buddhist traditions consider the Four Noble Truths to be very central teachings. Intellectually, they are easy to understand, but it is said that a deep understanding of the full impact of these Four Truths is possible only for someone whose liberation is fully mature."
^The Four Noble Truths are regarded as central to the teachings of Buddhism; they have been compared to the footprints of an elephant:
Bhikkhu Bodhi states: "The recorded teachings of the Buddha are numerous. But all these diverse teachings fit together into a single unifying frame, the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha compared the Four Noble Truths to the footprints of an elephant. Just as the footprint of an elephant can contain the footprints of any other animal, the footprints of tigers, lions, dogs, cats, etc. So all the different teachings of the Buddha fit into the single framework of the Four Noble Truths."[web 1]
Thanissaro Bhikkhu states: "The four noble truths are the most basic expression of the Buddha's teaching. As Ven. Sariputta once said, they encompass the entire teaching, just as the footprint of an elephant can encompass the footprints of all other footed beings on earth."[web 6]
Piyadassi Thera states: [These truths] are the essence of the Buddha's teaching. ‘As the footprint of every creature that walks the earth can be contained in an elephant's footprint, which is pre-eminent for size, so does the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths embrace all skilful Dhamma (the entire teaching of the Buddha).' [M. 28.][web 4]
^For citations and more information on the three patterns of dukkha, see Dukkha.
^This explanation is more common in commentaries on the Four Noble Truths within the Theravada tradition: e.g. Ajahn Sucitta (2010); Ajahn Sumedho (ebook); Rahula (1974); etc.
^See the article Tanha for further citations and clarification.
^This explanation is more common in commentaries on the Four Noble Truths within the Mahayana tradition: e.g. Ringu Tulku (2005), p. 30; Chogyam Trunpa (2010); Thich Nhat Hahn (1999), p. 22. This explanation is also given in the Abhidharma teachings of both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions; see Kleshas (Buddhism).
^See the respective articles for citations and further clarification.
^Gethin states: The word satya (Pali sacca) can certainly mean truth, but it might equally be rendered as 'real' or 'actual thing'. That is, we are not dealing here with propositional truths with which we must either agree or disagree, but with four 'true things' or 'realities' whose nature, we are told, the Buddha finally understood on the night of his awakening. [...] This is not to say that the Buddha's discourses do not contain theoretical statements of the nature of suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path to its cessation, but these descriptions function not so much as dogmas of the Buddhist faith as a convenient conceptual framework for making sense of Buddhist thought.
^The original Tibetan Lotsawas (Sanskrit: locchāwa; Tibetan: lo ts'a ba), translators who studied Sanskrit grammar thoroughly, used the Tibetan term bden pa, which reflects this understanding.
^In the Buddhist tradition, the four noble truths are often compared to a medical diagnosis. For example:
Rupert Gethin states: "The Buddhist tradition has sometimes compared the Buddha to a physician and the four truths to a medical diagnosis: the truth of duḥkha is like a disease, the truth of the origin of duḥkha is like its cause, the truth of the cessation of duḥkha is like the disease’s being cured, and the truth of the path leading to the cessation of duḥkha is like the medicine that brings about the disease’s cure.[Lalitavistara ii. 525, 538–9 (Lefmann ed. 351, 358–9); Visuddhimagga xvi. 87.] It is the wish to relieve the suffering of the disease and eradicate its cause that is the starting point of Buddhist practice."
Geshe Tashi Tsering states: "In his first teaching, the Buddha compares the stages of freeing the mind to recovery from an illness: if we don’t first recognize that we are ill, we won’t seek help. And if we don’t know the origin of our illness, we cannot choose the most effective therapy. The Buddha uses the framework of the four noble truths to formulate this insight: the first truth, the truth of suffering, is the illness. The second truth, the truth of the origin of suffering, refers to the cause of the illness. The third truth, the truth of cessation, is the understanding that a complete cure is possible. And the fourth truth, the truth of the path that leads to cessation, is the cure."
Bhikkhu Bodhi states: "The Buddha sets out the Four Truths as a formula a doctor uses to deal with a patient. The Buddha first sets out the basic affliction of human life, the problem of Dukkha. Thereafter he makes the diagnosis, explaining the cause for the disease; this is the second truth as craving. As a third Step the doctor gives a prognosis. He determines the possibility of a cure, the cessation of dukkha. The Buddha says that suffering can be ended . As the fourth step the doctor prescribes the course of treatment. So too Buddha prescribed the fourth truth, the Noble Eightfold Path."[web 9]
Ron Leifer states: "Because of his compassion for sufferers, the Buddha become known as the great physician, a physician of the spirit. Using the medical model as a metaphor for the four noble truths, the first noble truth describes the disease; the second noble truth describes the cause of the disease; the third noble truth reveals the cure for the disease; and the fourth noble truth teaches the means for curing the disease."
Phillip Moffitt states: Thus, the Buddha, like a doctor, tells the patient what the illness is, diagnoses the cause, tells the patient the cure for the condition, and recommends the medicine needed to bring about the cure."
Ven. Dr. Rewata Dhamma states: "The Buddha is regarded as the "peerless physician" (bhisakka) who is capable of diagnosing exactly the illness of each and every being. It was in this manner of expression that the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths. First, he established that the world is founded on suffering (dukkhe loko patitthito) and that suffering is an undeniable and universal phenomenon (parinnatabba) one must strive to comprehend. He then established the cause of the disease: the origin of suffering is craving (tanha). Then the Buddha described the cure for the disease, which is nibbana (nirodha). Finally, he recommended the remedy, which is the Noble Eightfold Path."
Smith and Novak state: "The Buddha’s approach to the problem of life in the Four Noble Truths was essentially that of a physician. He began by examining carefully the symptoms that provoke concern... These symptoms the Buddha summarized in the First Noble Truth..."
Damien Keown states: "Sometimes a medical metaphor is used to illustrate the relationship between them, and the Buddha is likened to a physician who has found a cure for life's ills. First he diagnoses the disease, second explains its cause, third determines that a cure exists, and fourth sets out the treatment.
Tamara Engel states: "In the Discourses, the Buddha is often referred to as a doctor, and The Four Noble Truths are formulated according to the ancient Indian medical model: 1. There is an illness; 2. There is a cause(s) of illness; 3. There is a possibility of a cure of the illness; 4. There is a prescription i.e., what we need to do to bring about a cure. The brilliance of this medical model is that the Buddha offers a complete spiritual path that does not depend on metaphysical speculation or belief—no speculation or belief about God. No leap of faith is required. The illness the Buddha refers to is a particular kind of suffering, and there is nothing metaphysical about it. We all experience it. In fact, it is said that the Buddha would never enter into a metaphysical discussion. He stated, “I teach one thing and one thing only. Suffering and the end of suffering.”"[web 10]
Peter Della Santina states: One of the fundamental formulas evolved by practitioners of the science of medicine in ancient India was the fourfold scheme of disease, diagnosis, cure, and treatment. If you consider carefully these four stages in the practice of the science of medicine, it will be apparent that they correspond very closely to the formula of the Four Noble Truths: (1) the truth of suffering clearly corresponds to the first element of disease; (2) the truth of the cause just as clearly corresponds to the element of diagnosis; (3) the truth of cessation corresponds to the achievement of a cure; and (4) the truth of the path just as clearly corresponds to the course of treatment of a disease.[web 11]
Donald Lopez states: "The fact that the truths appear out of chronological sequence, with the effect coming before its cause, is explained through recourse to a medical model, in which the Buddha, in setting forth the truths, is following the procedure of a physician. The physician's first task is to recognize that illness is indeed present and to identify it. This is precisely what the Buddha has done in observing that existence is qualified by suffering. The second step is to make a diagnosis, to determine the source of the malady. In the second truth, the truth of origin, the Buddha explains the sequence of causes, both immediate and mediate, that give rise to suffering. The physicians next task is determine whether the disease is fatal or whether a subsequent state of health is possible; that is, the physician makes a prognosis. The third truth is the postulation of a state free from suffering, called cessation or nirvana. Once the prognosis is made, the physician must prescribe the cure, the course of action that will lead from sickness to health. The fourth and final truth of the path is said to be the Buddha's prescription."
Paul Williams states: "The formula for the four Noble Truths is probably based on the formula for a medical diagnosis. That is, it states the illness, the source of the illness, then the cure for the illness, and finally the way to bring about that cure.
^In the structure of the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha avoided metaphysical speculation. For example:
Gil Fronsdal states: I think it is significant that he chose to follow a medical model, because it avoids metaphysics. The religions of the world tend to be imbued with metaphysical or cosmological beliefs that followers are required to accept before the rest of the system can make sense. But the Buddha felt that metaphysical speculation was not beneficial in understanding liberation, the freedom from suffering. He avoided dogma. He offered practices and insights that we can verify for ourselves, rather than a doctrine to believe in. Indeed, part of the brilliance of the Four Noble Truths is that they offer a guide to the spiritual life without the need to adhere to any metaphysical beliefs.
^There are many examples both in the original suttas and in traditional and contemporary commentaries that compare the Buddha to a physician. For example:
Thanisarro Bhikkhu identifies discourses in the Pali canon in which the dharma is referred to as medicine, and the Buddha as a doctor.[web 13]
Thanissaro Bhikkhu states: "What's special about the Buddha's approach is that the problem he attacks is the whole of human suffering, and the solution he offers is something human beings can do for themselves. Just as a doctor with a surefire cure for measles isn't afraid of measles, the Buddha isn't afraid of any aspect of human suffering. And, having experienced a happiness totally unconditional, he's not afraid to point out the suffering and stress inherent in places where most of us would rather not see it — in the conditioned pleasures we cling to. He teaches us not to deny that suffering and stress or to run away from it, but to stand still and face up to it, to examine it carefully. That way — by understanding it — we can ferret out its cause and put an end to it. Totally."[web 14]
Walpola Rahula states: "Buddhism...tells you exactly and objectively what you are and what the world around you is, and shows you the way to perfect freedom, peace, tranquility and happiness. One physician may gravely exaggerate an illness and give up hope altogether. Another may ignorantly declare that there is no illness and that no treatment is necessary, thus deceiving the patient with a false consolation. You may call the first one pessimistic and the second optimistic. Both are equally dangerous. But a third physician diagnoses the symptoms correctly, understands the cause and the nature of the illness, sees clearly that it can be cured, and courageously administers a course of treatment, thus saving his patient. The Buddha is like the last physician. He is the wise and scientific doctor for the ills of the world (Bhisakka or Bhaisajya-guru)."
^The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth identifies three stages in the understanding of each truth:
Walpola Rahula states: "[...]with regard to each of the Four Noble Truths there are three aspects of knowledge: 1. The knowledge that it is the Truth (sacca-ñāṇa) 2. The knowledge that a certain function or action with regard to this Truth should be performed (kicca-ñāṇa), and 3. The knowledge that that function or action with regard to this Truth has been performed (kata-ñāṇa)."
Ajahn Sucitto states: "The Buddha goes on to deepen the significance of the practice of the four noble truths. He begins by analyzing the first noble truth in a pattern of three stages: acknowledgment, motivation, and result—or view, practice, and full understanding. This pattern is then repeated in each of the other noble truths. In each case, the first stage is a fuller reflection on the importance of bearing the meaning of the specific truth in mind; the second stage demonstrates the way of practicing with that truth; the third fully penetrates the significance of that truth. Together, the twelve stages define the process of awakening through the four noble truths."
Ajahn Sumedho states: "Now the Four Noble Truths are: there is suffering; there is a cause or origin of suffering; there is a end of suffering; and there is path out of suffering which is the Eightfold Path. Each of these Truths has three aspects so all together there are twelve insights. In the Theravada school, an arahant, a perfected one, is one who has seen clearly the Four Noble Truths with their three aspects and twelve insights."
Phillip Moffitt states: "There are three insights associated with each Noble Truth, and they follow a similar pattern: first reflecting, then directly experiencing, and finally knowing."
Geshe Tashi Tsering states: In the [Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the Buddha] repeats each noble truth three times, each time with a slightly different emphasis and a slightly different flavor. This repetition represents the three phases of understanding that the Buddha himself acquired in his ever-deepening realization of these four truths. The three phases are as follows: knowing the nature of the truth, knowing what needs to be done in connection with that truth, and finally accomplishing what needs to be done.
^For example, the contemporary Tibetan teacher Geshe Tashi Tsering identifies these twelve insights in his commentary on the four noble truths, and Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hahn explains these stages in this book The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings.
^Contemporary Mahayana teacher Thich Nhat Hahn has produced a notable rendering of the fist teaching of the Buddha in his biography of the Buddha entitled Old Path White Clouds. Thich Nhat Hahn relied on multiple sources for this rendering. This rendering is also included in Thich Nhat Hahn's book Path of Compassion: Stories from the Buddha's Life.
^From the Tibetan Buddhist point of view, the noble eightfold path is implicit in this Mahayana presentation of the five paths. For example, Geshe Tashi Tsering states: "Many people have asked me why Tibetan Buddhism does not present the noble eightfold path as part of the fourth noble truth, but for me there is no difference between the noble eightfold path and the five paths apart from the style of presentation. In the Mahayana tradition, when the path leading to cessation is presented in the context of the five paths, the noble eightfold path is implicit. The noble eightfold path is the substance, and the five paths is the process, the step-by-step progress that we have to make.
^Many contemporary Buddhist teachers and scholars offer summaries of the Four Noble Truths that begin with the statement "there is suffering." For example:
Ajahn Sumedho: "There is suffering; there is a cause or origin of suffering; there is a end of suffering; and there is path out of suffering which is the Eightfold Path".
Ringu Tulku (translation of the first teaching of the Buddha according to the Mahayana tradition): "There is suffering in this world. There are causes of this suffering. There is cessation of suffering, and there are ways to reach this cessation of suffering".
Thich Nhat Hanh (translation of the first teaching of the Buddha according to the Mahayana tradition): "Brothers, there are four truths: the existence of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path which leads to the cessation of suffering. I call these the Four Noble Truths".
^This summary is taken from Pema Chodron's book Comfortable with Uncertainty (2010); longer versions of this summary can also be found in two other books by Pema Chodron: The Wisdom of No Escape (2001, p. 51), and Awakening Loving Kindness (1996).
^Ajahn Sucitto states: "So the four truths (ariya sacca) are generally called “noble” truths, although one might also translate ariya as “precious.” "
^ abThe complete expressions from the first discourse (from the Pali canon) are as follows:
Bhikkhu Bodhi (2006), The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering, Pariyatti Publishing.
Chögyam Trungpa (2009), The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation, Shambhala.
Dalai Lama (1998), The Four Noble Truths, Thorsons.
Epstein, Mark (2004), Thoughts Without A Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective. Basic Books. Kindle Edition. (Part 1 examines the four truths from a Western psychological perspective)
Geshe Tashi Tsering (2005), The Four Noble Truths: The Foundation of Buddhist Thought, Volume I, Wisdom, Kindle Edition
Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, (Chapter 3 is a commentary of about 25 pages.)
Lopez, Donald S. (2001), The Story of Buddhism, HarperCollins. (pp. 42–54)
Moffitt, Phillip (2008), Dancing with Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering, Rodale, Kindle Edition. (An explanation of how to apply the Four Noble Truths to daily life)
Ringu Tulku (2005), Daring Steps Toward Fearlessness: The Three Vehicles of Tibetan Buddhism, Snow Lion. (Part 1 of 3 is a commentary on the four truths)
Thich Nhat Hanh (1999), The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Three Rivers Press