- GOOD QUESTION GOOD ANSWER
- Ven. Shravasti Dhammika
- Basic Buddhist Concept
What are the main teachings of the Buddha?
All of the many teachings of the Buddha centre on the Four Noble
Truths, just as the rim and spokes of a wheel centres on the hub. They are called 'Four'
because there are four of them. They are called 'Noble' because they ennoble one who
understands them and they are called 'Truths' because, corresponding with reality, they
What is the First Noble Truth?
The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering. To live, you must
suffer. It is impossible to live without experiencing some kind of suffering. We have to
endure physical suffering like sickness, injury, tiredness, old age and eventually death
and we have to endure psychological suffering like loneliness, frustrations, fear,
embarrassment, disappointment, anger, etc.
Isn't this a bit pessimistic?
The dictionary defines pessimism as 'the habit of thinking that
whatever will happen will be bad,' 'or 'The belief that evil is more powerful than good.'
Buddhism teaches neither of these ideas. Nor does it deny that happiness exists. It simply
says that to live is to experience physical and psychological suffering which is a
statement that is so obvious that it cannot be denied. The central concept of most
religions is a myth, a legend or a belief that is difficult or impossible to verify.
Buddhism starts with an experience, an irrefutable fact, a thing that all know, that all
have experienced and that all are striving to overcome. Thus Buddhism is truly a universal
religion because it goes right to the core of every individual human being's concern with
suffering and how to avoid it.
What is the Second Noble Truth?
The Second Noble Truth is that all suffering is caused by craving. When
we look at psychological suffering, it is easy to see how it is caused by craving. When we
want something but are unable to get it, we feel frustrated. When we expect someone to
live up to our expectation and they do not, we feel let down and disappointed. When we
want others to like us and they don't, we feel hurt. Even when we want something and are
able to get it, this does not often lead to happiness either because it is not long before
we feel bored with that thing, lose interest in it and commence to want something else.
Put simply, the Second Noble Truth says that getting what you want does
not guarantee happiness. Rather than constantly struggling to get what you want, try to
modify your wanting. Wanting deprives us of contentment and happiness.
But how does wanting and craving lead to physical suffering?
A lifetime wanting and craving for this and that and especially the
craving to continue to exist creates a powerful energy that causes the individual to be
reborn. When we are reborn, we have a body and, as we said before, the body is susceptible
to injury and disease; it can be exhausted by work; it ages and eventually dies. Thus,
craving leads to physical suffering because it causes us to be reborn.
If we stop wanting altogether, we would never achieve anything.
True. But what the Buddha says is that when our desires, our craving,
our constant discontent with what we have and our continual longing for more and more does
cause us suffering,then we should stop doing it. He asks us to make a difference between
what we need and what we want and to strive for our needs and modify our wants. He tells
us that our needs can be fulfilled but that our wants are endless - a bottomless pit.
There are needs that are essential, fundamental and can be obtained and this we should
work towards. Desires beyond this should be gradually lessened. After all, what is the
purpose of life? To get or be content and happy.
What or where is Nirvana?
It is a dimension transcending time and space and thus is difficult to
talk about or even think about. Words and thoughts being only suited to describe the
time-space dimension. But because Nirvana is beyond time, there is no movement and so no
aging or dying. Thus Nirvana is eternal because it is beyond space, there is no causation,
no boundary, no concept of self and not-self and thus Nirvana is infinite. The Buddha also
assures us that Nirvana is an experience of great happiness. He says:
Nirvana is the highest happiness.
But is there proof that such a dimension exist?
No, there is not. But its existence can be inferred. If there is a
dimension where time and space do operate and there is such a dimension - the world we
experience, then we can infer that there is a dimension where time and space do not
operate - Nirvana. Again, even though we cannot prove Nirvana exists, we have the Buddha's
word that is does exist. He tells us:
"There is an unborn, a not-become, a not-
made, a not-compounded. If there were not, this unborn, not-made, not-compounded, there
could not be made any escape from what is born, become, made, and compounded. Therefore is
there made known an escape from what is born, made, and compounded."
We will know it when we attain it. Until that time, we can practise.
What is the Fourth Noble Truth?
The Fourth Noble Truth is the Path leading to the overcoming of
suffering. This path is called the Noble Eightfold Path and consists of Perfect
Understanding, Perfect Thought, Perfect Speech, Perfect Action, Perfect Livelihood,
Perfect Effort, Perfect Mindfulness, and Perfect Concentration. Buddhist practice consist
of practising these eight things until they become more complete. You will notice that the
steps on the Noble Eightfold Path cover every aspect of life: the intellectual, the
ethical and economic and the psychological and therefore contains everything a person
needs to lead a good life and to develop spiritually.
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