What are the main teachings of the Buddha?
All of the many teachings of the Buddha center on the
Four Noble Truths just as the rim and spokes of a wheel center
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 are true.
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 so true and 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 the only truly universal religion because it
goes right to the core of every individual human being's concern
- 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
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.
That's all very well. But if we stopped wanting altogether,
we would never get or 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 that 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 to
be content and happy.
You have talked about rebirth, but is there any proof
that such a thing happens?
There is ample evidence that such a thing happens, but
we will look at this in more detail later on.
What is the Third Noble Truth?
The Third Noble Truth is that suffering can be overcome
and happiness attained. This is perhaps the most important of
the Four Noble Truths because in it the Buddha reassures us that
true happiness and contentment are possible. When we give up useless
craving and learn to live each day at a time, enjoying without
restless wanting the experiences that life offers us, patiently
enduring the problems that life involves without fear, hatred
and anger, then we become happy and free. Then, and only then,
do we being to live fully. Because we are no longer obsessed with
satisfying our own selfish wants, we find we have so much time
to help others fulfil their needs. This state is called Nirvana.
We are free from all psychological suffering as well. This is
called Final Nirvana.
What or where is Nirvana?
It is a dimension transcending time and space and thus
is difficult to talk about or even to 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 profound happiness. He says:
Nirvana is the highest happiness.
But is there any proof that such a dimension exists?
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 it 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 become, Not-made, Not-compounded,
there could not be made any escape from what is born, become,
made, and compounded. But since there is this Unborn, Not become,
Not-made, Not-compounded, therefore is there made known an escape
from what is born, become, made, and compounded."
We will know it when we attain it. Until that time, we can still
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. Being a Buddhist practice consists
of practicing 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, the social
and economic and the psychological and therefore contain everything
a person needs to lead a good life and to develop spiritually.