The Four Noble Truths
Buddhism is essentially the quest for Enlightenment. Its purpose is to eliminate suffering and the ignorance that causes suffering. In order to do that, it is necessary to understand the ultimate nature of mind and the world of phenomena, and the potential for perfection that is in every being.
The Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths in his first sermon in the Deer Park near Benares. The first is the truth of suffering. not just the suffering that we normally call suffering, the kind that is obvious, but also the more subtle suffering of change. The false happiness that turns to anguish. The even more subtle suffering that is latent in every creature as long as ignorance has not been eradicated.
Thus the fundamental cause of suffering is ignorance, the ignorance that makes us take the self for a separate reality. The distinction between self and others leads to hatred, desire, pride and jealousy, and many other thoughts that destroy our happiness and poison our lives and those of others. So the second truth is the causes of suffering.
These mental poisons can be eliminated because they are transitory and stem from a variety of causes which can be remedied. The third truth, the end of suffering, is then possible.
It is the fourth truth, the truth of the path, that makes this possibility a reality. This is the process of transformation, using any method necessary to eliminate the root causes of suffering.
The Four Noble Truths were taught during what is known as the 'first turning of the Wheel of the Dharma'. But the Buddha taught at various levels. Depending on the type of audience and their level of understanding, he spoke to them in terms of relative or absolute truth.
To some, he showed the imperfections of the everyday world. To others, he revealed the perfection that is the essential nature of phenomena. To some he explained emptiness, to others the infinite compassion that is its essence. He showed that every being contains within itself, like an indestructible nugget of gold, the potential to become a Buddha. He pointed to the path that anyone can take to realize that potential.
The essence of Buddhism is the union of wisdom and compassion. Wisdom enables us to recognize our innermost nature and compassion shows us that the happiness and suffering of others are more important than our own.
The Buddha's teaching is not just an object of intellectual curiosity. It can only have value if it is put into practice. Buddhism is a path to enlightenment. Right from the start it tries to make us understand the mechanisms of happiness and suffering and shows us how to free ourselves from negative emotions and reveal the immutable joy within us.
Matthieu Ricard in "Buddhist Himalayas"
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