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The Four Noble Truths

After the Buddha attained enlightenment, he gave his first teaching in the Deer Park in Sarnath (North India). He taught the Four Noble Truths; they form the basis for Buddhism:

1. The Existence of Suffering

The word suffering here means any kind of physical or mental discomfort ranging from discontent to pain and despair. Suffering (Sanskrit: Dukkha) is a recurring experience in our lives that affects both our mind and body. Happiness is usually short-lived and quickly gives way to dissatisfaction, a need for change or 'wanting and having to do everything'. Nothing in our world is quite perfect or reliable. Our only certainty in life is death, and in dying we lose everything we are attached to.

2. The Causes of Suffering

We usually blame circumstances or other people for our pain and frustrations. But if we are very honest, we find that our hearts are full of endless desires: the feeling of, "If I have this and that, then I will be happy". But on a subtler level, like "I want to be good, have more money, I want etc...” They all seem like good ideas, but they never lead to complete satisfaction. Instead of satisfaction, our dissatisfied ego always comes up with other wishes. These endless desires of our ego make us do things that often harm ourselves and others, and such negative actions (karma) eventually result in unwanted troubles for ourselves and others. Because we are not correctly looking at or understanding this process in a way that benefits us, we keep doing things again and again and ending up with unwanted results.

In summary, our own disruptive emotions, such as excessive attachment, anger, and ignorance cause us to harm others; and those negative actions (karma) end up causing trouble for ourselves and others.

3. The End of Suffering is Possible: Nirvana

The Buddha (like almost everyone in his time in India) believed in rebirth: he also remembered many of his past lives. So, death is not the end of all our problems, because after it, we are reborn in another body, with all the additional unresolved problems and karma from our previous life. At the same time, the Buddha also understood that there can be a definitive end to this suffering; in the state of Nirvana, in which there is no suffering and no rebirth. This insight is an inspiration for Buddhists to try to free themselves from the endless cycle of birth and death and of unsatisfied desires and misery. It is even possible to go one step further and become a Buddha yourself, becoming the best possible guide/teacher to help others.

4. The Path That Leads to Eliminating the Causes of Suffering

The Buddha advises us to live in a way in which we are no longer guided by endless selfish desires but start to create the conditions for eventually attaining Nirvana and even Buddhahood. This can be done, for example, by omitting the ten negative activities (such as killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, etc.) and practicing the so-called eightfold path. This path offers practical ways to reduce our desires and problems and eventually stop completely, so that we attain enlightenment and are released from all suffering. The different factors of the eightfold path can be divided into ethical behavior, concentration and wisdom:

Ethical Conduct (Sanskrit: śīla)

1. Right Speech/Communication
2. Right Actions, Acts
3. Right Livelihood

Concentration (Sanskrit: samādhi)

4. Right effort
5. Right awareness - not excited, but clear and mindful
6. Right concentration

Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajña or jñana)

7. Right motivation / intention
8. Right insight into reality

See the following page: Suffering - what exactly is that about?