“Suffering, its origin, cessation and path..that’s all I teach”. These very words pronounced by Buddha about 2500 years ago, are an emblem of his spiritual philosophy. As a prince born in Lumbini, Nepal, around 567 BCE, he had a life defined by extravagance and opulence. However, his life changed forever when he reached about the age of twenty-nine. While journeying outside his castle, he became aware of the travesties and truths of life through his visual experiences. In separate incidents he witnessed first a sick person, and later on an old man, and lastly a corpse.
These visualizations altered his world view, making him see that his privileged posturing would not have the capacity to shield him from illness, old age and death. It was only when he began seeing a mendicant, that the peace of his heart and mind began to slowly restore. Thus, began the journey of soul-searching that impelled him to renounce his princely status and worldly life. Sitting in meditation beneath the “Bodhi tree”, he began understanding the realities of life. As a means of cleansing his soul, he began observing prolonged periods of fasting. At that particular point, he primarily believed that by punishing his body, he would not only be able to elevate his mind but also by being at the altar of death, he will gain wisdom. However, despite meditating with this belief for a period of 6 years, he failed to extricate the frustration in his heart. It was only after this period that he was enlightened with the fact that the ultimate road to peace was only possible through mental discipline.
Duhkha meaning ‘suffering’ is the first noble truth declared by Buddha. For Buddha, suffering can have multifarious forms, however the three dominant ones are illness, old age and mortality. These three areas find their root in Buddha’s notions of impermanence. By impermanence Buddha essentially means that everything in this world is fleeting and transitory. When we desire for a particular gain or achievement, we suffer when we fail to attain it. On the converse, even if we attain it, we still suffer since sooner or later, it would simply add to the monotony in our life and fail to grant us the satiation that it once did. This does not mean that he sees life through a negative lens, rather he declared it as seeing life ‘realistically’, just as it really is.
The second noble truth according to Buddha is Samudaya which basically pertain to the ‘causes’ of suffering. For Buddha an understanding of the causes of suffering is pertinent since it is only after a good comprehension of the causes, that we may be able to address and cure our suffering. Buddha sees suffering as emanating from craving and ignorance. By craving he means lusting for worldly pleasures and spending all our physical as well mental efforts to secure worldly gains. For instance, if one yearns to amplify their financial resources, working day and night for the attainment of this dream, a time will come where even after achievement of this goal, he will move onto crave another worldly goal, unable to satiate his hunger for physical pleasures. For Buddha, this is detrimental to human personality development and inhibits one’s spiritual growth. On the other hand, by ignorance Buddha means being unable to be mindful of the truth and veracity of things one sees and notions one adheres to. This is a direct derivative of our incapacity to use our rational sensibilities. If we take things as they are, without ever thinking of looking for logical reasons, we would always falter. Buddha believes, the moment we put a curb on craving and ignorance, we will be able to extricate ourselves from the shell of suffering and develop into promising spiritually enlightened beings.
Nirodha or cessation is the final destination of spiritual practice in Buddhism. According to Buddha once we develop a comprehension of the causes or our suffering (craving and ignorance), then we can clearly work to eliminate them and express a physically as well as mentally freeing posture. In Buddhism cessation is equalled to the achievement of the sacred state of Nirvana. For cessation, a generous awareness of the cause of suffering must be birthed into your hearts, since it is only then can you work to eradicate it. Without introspection, such a pertinent aspect of Buddhism cannot be materialized into practice.
The last and the fourth noble truth for Buddha was the Magga or the path to the cessation of suffering. He terms it as the “Nobel Eightfold Path”, which is visually represented through the dharma wheel. It is considered as the crux of Buddhist practice. Comprising of these eight areas: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, they should not be viewed as stages, rather they should be understood as dimensions that need to be practiced together to define a complete and wholesome way of living.
The essence of Buddhist philosophy lies in the idea of allowing man to be a self-conscientious individual, who moderates his behaviour, understands his motivations and resultantly monitors his actions. The cluttered, disillusioned existence man dwells in, is futile in terms of his personal growth. It is only when he is introspective and tries to gather a comprehension of his own personality, that he starts changing for the better. The term Buddha itself literally translates as ‘the one who is awake’. This means that one must be awake to the true nature of reality. This is what the Four Noble Truths of Buddha impart- to understand our human predicament of suffering and respond effusively by adhering to the Noble Eight-Fold Path.