End suffering with the four noble truths of Buddhism

 

Everybody has to deal with suffering. It is all around us: in the world, in our families and friend groups and even within ourselves. Especially during the pandemic, rates of mental health issues have been rising. When suffering continues for a long time, it can become too much for a person. Therefore, it is important to get out of the cycle of suffering, however, this is not an easy task. In Buddhism, the largest religion in Thailand, the four noble truths are presented to help end suffering. These four noble truths are known as the truth of suffering, the truth of the origin of suffering, the truth of the cessation of suffering, the truth of the path of the cessation of suffering (the Noble Eightfold Path). In this blog, I will be giving a brief introduction to Buddhism, the four noble truths and the Eightfold Path and how it influences Thai culture.

Buddhism

Buddhism is a religion founded by Siddhartha Gautama also known as “The Buddha”. The faith was founded in India and is currently one of the major world religions, most prominently practised in East- and Southeast Asia. Interesting about Buddhism is that Buddhist do not believe in a supreme god. Instead is focused on achieving enlightenment and the word Buddha also means “enlightened”! Enlightenment is seen as a state of inner peace and wisdom and when this has been achieved, Buddhist experience “nirvana” [1].

What Buddhism teaches is called “dharma”. According to History.com(2020)

all Buddhist live by five moral precepts, which prohibit: killing livings things; taking what is not given; sexual misconduct; lying; using drugs or alcohol.

To reach inner peace, Buddhism also explains “four noble truths”. These truths specifically explain why we hurt and how to overcome suffering.

Image by (El Caminante) from Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

 

The four noble truths

2500 years ago, Buddha spoke the words “I teach suffering, its origin, cessation and path. That’s all I teach”. The essence of the teachings is the four noble truths. The truths are the following:

  1. The truth of suffering (Dukkha);
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering (Samudāya);
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering (Nirodha);
  4. The truth of the path of the cessation of suffering (Magga).

The truth of suffering

The first noble truth is called ‘The truth of suffering’ or ‘Dukkha’. It is explained by Buddhism that suffering comes in many forms. When Buddha went on his expedition outside of his palace, the first three things he encountered were old age, sickness and death. However, suffering is much more and much more complicated than just that. According to Buddha, the issue is that life frequently fails to live up to our expectations. Human beings seek to satisfy their desires and when they fail they suffer. When they do succeed to fulfil their desires, the satisfaction is only temporary. Pleasure is not everlasting, because if it did it would become repetitive. So even when we are not suffering from one of the obvious kinds of suffering, such as sickness and old age, we are often still left feeling incomplete and unsatisfied. According to Buddhism, this is the truth of suffering. It is important to not deny suffering for change as well[2].

This can be seen as quite pessimistic, however, Buddha says this to be realistic. Fortunately, suffering is not the end and in the noble truths is also explained how to end suffering.

Origin of suffering

In the second noble truth, Buddha defines the origin of suffering. Where does suffering come from? It is explained that the root of suffering lays deeper than just everyday troubles such as injuries or sadness. Buddha argues that suffering comes in three forms: the Three Roots of Evil, the Three Fires or the Three Poisons[3].

Kienas, F. (2009). The Three Fires of hate, greed and ignorance, shown in a circle, each reinforcing the others [Photo]

In the Three Roots of Evil, the most prominent causes of suffering are illustrated. According to BBC (2009), these are:

  1. Greed and desire (in the picture shown as the rooster)
  2. Ignorance and delusion (in the picture shown as the pig)
  3. Hatred and destructive urges (in the picture shown as the snake)

 

Cessation of suffering

The third noble truth is also explained as “the possibility of liberation”. According to Buddha suffering is caused by desire and to set free from this desire you have to free yourself from attachment. It is important for a Buddhist to be able to assess a situation as it is without being misled by them or even enchanted. When this is achieved, which also can be explained as inner peace and wisdom, a Buddhist becomes enlightened. As mentioned earlier, when enlightenment is reached, nirvana is attained. Nirvana means “extinguishing”, so when nirvana is attained you have extinguished yourself from the Three Fires of greed, delusion and hatred

Path to cessation of suffering

The fourth and last noble truth is “path to cessation of suffering”. In other words, this noble truth explains how to end suffering. To end suffering, Buddha has set up a set of principles to follow to redeem yourself from troubles. These principles are called the Eightfold path, also known as the Middle Way since it both avoids indulgence and simplicity[4]

According to Buddha, suffering will vanish when the eight divisions are followed. So what are these eight divisions? Important to know is that there is no particular order, the stages support and emphasize each other. BBC (2009) explains the Eightfold Path as the following:

Right Understanding

Firstly, it is important to accept the Buddhist teachings (Dharma). It is not intended to believe everything blindly, but to challenge them and judge the teachings for themselves.

Right Intention

Secondly, with Right Intention, you make a commitment to nurture the right attitudes in life.

Right Speech

Furthermore, Buddhism highlights the importance of speaking truthfully and to avoid slander, to gossip about one another or abusive speech.

Right Action

Peaceful and harmonious behaviour is expected. This includes not stealing, killing and overindulgence in sensual pleasure.

Right Livelihood

By Right Livelihood is meant to not make money in ways that cause harm to others. For examples butcher (killing animals), exploiting people or trade in weapons.

Right Efforts

The key for Right Efforts is to try and always keep a positive mind set. According to Buddha, freeing yourself from evil and unwholesome thoughts help, while you should prevent these thoughts from happening in the future as well.

Right Mindfulness

Mindfulness has become very popular in western culture as well. Right Mindfulness means to develops awareness of the body and its feelings and state of mind.

Right Concentration

Lastly, a mental focus will be necessary to stay aware of yourself.

These eight dimensions can be grouped into three different aspects: Wisdom (the first two), Ethical Conduct (three, four and five) and Meditation (six, seven and eight). When following the Eightfold Path, Buddha believes you can free yourself from suffering and helps reach enlightenment.

Influence in Thailand

As said, the four noble truth and following the Eightfold Path are destined to end suffering. What it also teaches is that yes, suffering exists; it has a cause, but it also has an end. Besides, it is explained how to bring suffering to an end. To accept suffering and understand that it has an end as well, is overall a great mindset to have. Though ageing, sickness and death are inevitable, with the beliefs of Buddhism you can free yourself from the suffering from greed and desire[5]

Wheel of Dharma
Picture by Wikipedia

Buddhism is the biggest religion in Thailand with 90% of the Thai population being Buddhist. When looking into the culture, it becomes clear that Buddhism plays a huge role in Thai society and influences the culture and the mindset. For example, Dharma teaches the spirit of tolerance, which becomes clear in how accepting Thai people are of others (other cultures and even other religions). Other parts of the Eightfold Path come forward in Thai culture as well, Thai people are taught to treat being with respect and cause no harm to others. It isn’t for no reason that Thailand has become known for the land of smiles! People who have visited Thailand rarely witness any form of harm or threat. The following of the Eightfold path has to do with the concept of Karma as well. Karma is the law of cause and effect, which suggests that, for example, selfishness results in suffering. By following the Eightfold Path enlightenment can be the result leading to nirvana. For this reason, Thais are often described as peaceful, generally happy and selfless to achieve good karma![6].

 

 

 

[1] History.com. (2020). Buddhism. Retrieved on 18 March 2021, from https://www.history.com/topics/religion/buddhism#section_3

 

[2]  BBC. (2009). BBC – Religions – Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths. Retrieved on 18 March 2021, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/beliefs/fournobletruths_1.shtml

 

[3]  BBC. (2009). BBC – Religions – Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths. Retrieved on 18 March 2021, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/beliefs/fournobletruths_1.shtml

 

[4]  BBC. (2009). BBC – Religions – Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths. Retrieved on 18 March 2021, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/beliefs/fournobletruths_1.shtml

[5]PBS. (n.d.). Basics of Buddhism. Retrieved on 18 March 2021, from https://www.pbs.org/edens/thailand/buddhism.htm

 

[6] Cornell.edu. (2012, ). Role of religion in Thai culture | MMH In Asia Master Class in Bangkok. Retrieved on 25 March 2021, from https://blogs.cornell.edu/cornellmasterclassinbangkok/2012/02/26/role-of-religion-in-thai-culture/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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