Buddha's Four Noble Truths

The Buddha's Four Noble Truths: A Logical Basis for Philosophy

The Buddha Shakyamuni was born in the 6th century BCE in the area
presently known as Nepal. During his 80 year lifetime, he systematically
developed a pragmatic, empirically based philosophy which he claimed would lead
its followers towards an enlightened existence. Buddhism is commonly called a
religion; however, it differs from the usual definition of a religion in that it
has no deities, does not promote worship of demigods, and is based on logical
reasoning and observation rather than spiritual faith. At the heart of Buddhist
philosophy is the Buddha's enumeration of Four Noble Truths: Dukkha (suffering),
Samudaya (origin of suffering), Nirodha (cessation of suffering), and Magga
(path to cessation of suffering). The Buddha's Four Noble Truths are based on
archetypal traits that were elucidated through careful empirical observance and
intensive introspection. These Four Noble Truths form a logically coherent set
of axioms upon which the whole of Buddhism is based, and provide a solid
foundation for a philosophy which is applicable several millennia after its

"What we call a 'being,' or an 'individual,' or 'I,' according to Buddhist
philosophy, is only a combination of ever-changing physical and mental forces or
energies...." - Walpola Rahula{2}

In order to fully understand the Four Noble Truths, it is necessary to
investigate the Buddhist view of the individual and its makeup. In some
respects, the manner in which Buddhism deals with the mind/body problem is much
more advanced than most religious views, and closer to science's understanding
of the mind and body. Rather than postulating the existence of an eternal soul
with no physical manifestation, the Buddha taught that the person is really a
collection of five skandhas or aggregates. These include rupa (matter), vedana
(sensations), sanna (perceptions), samkhara (mental formations), and vijnana
(consciousness). The aggregate of matter encompasses all tangible aspects of
the world. The aggregate of sensations is akin to the process of sensory input;
e.g., the activation of retinal cells in the eye. Vedana does not include the
process of perception, however; the act of perceiving the senses, i.e.,
recognition of external sensations, is within the realm of the sanna. Buddha
classified mental activities (samkhara), i.e., ideas and thoughts, as being
disparate from the state of mental consciousness (vijnana). Consciousness, in
the Buddhist view, is the awareness of the sensations and perceptions that the
person experiences, while the mental formations are the volitions, whims,
thoughts, and ideas that a person has. The breakdown of the individual into the
skandhas is strikingly similar to the classifications used in the modern field
of psychology. Matter, sensation, perception, cognition, and consciousness are
common nomenclature in both paradigms.

"There is this Noble Truth of suffering: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering,
sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief,
and despair are suffering, association with the loathed is suffering,
dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is
suffering...." - Shakyamuni Buddha{3}

The First Noble Truth, the Truth of Dukkha, is based on Buddha's
observation that all people in the world are in a state of dukkha. Dukkha,
which translates literally as ?suffering' from the Pali, does not mean pain or
distress as the word ?suffer' usually implies. Instead it is used to convey the
idea that the very act of living is one of imperfection and impermanence, and
hence is a situation that must be remedied in order to achieve true happiness.
There are three types of dukkha: dukkha-dukkha (suffering in the conventional
sense), viparinama-dukkha (suffering caused by the ephemeral nature of happiness
in life), and samkhara-dukkha (suffering caused by existence itself). Suffering
in the conventional sense of the word, such as that caused by pain, disease, and
poverty, is classified as dukkha-dukkha. The Buddha also noted that happiness
itself, being a fleeting emotion, usually resulted in an eventual loss of
happiness greater than the initial happiness. This loss of happiness is caused
by the removal of whatever situation or object precipitated the happiness in the
first place; therefore the transitory nature of life itself is the root of
dukkha, in this case called viparinama. This leads to the conclusion that
suffering is an inherent trait of existence itself, and is classified as
samkhara. And thus the question is raised that if suffering is inherent in life
itself, what is the cause (and the remedy) for this undesirable state of

"There is this noble truth of the origin of suffering: It is craving, which
produces renewal of being, is accompanied by relish and lust, relishing this and
that; in other words, craving for sensual desires, craving for being, craving
for nonbeing." - Shakyamuni Buddha{4}

While dukkha has a variety of direct causes, Buddhist doctrine teaches
that at the heart of all suffering