About Four Noble Truths


The Four Noble Truths
by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama,
November 5th-8th 1982, New Delhi, India.

When the great universal teacher Shakyamuni Buddha first spoke about the dharma in the noble land of India, he taught the four noble truths: the truths of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the path to the cessation of suffering. Since many books contain discussions of the four noble truths in English, they (and the eightfold path as well) are very well known. These four are all-encompassing, including many things within them.

Speaking of the four noble truths in general, and considering the fact that all of us want to have happiness and to eliminate suffering, we can speak of an effect and a cause on both the disturbing side and the liberating side. The true sufferings and true causes of suffering are the effect and cause on the side of things that we do not want; the true cessation and the true paths are the effect and cause on the side of things that we desire.

1. The Truth of Suffering

We experience many different types of suffering. All are included in three categories: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change and all-pervasive suffering.

1) Suffering of Suffering: This refers to things such as headaches and so forth. Even animals can recognize this kind of suffering and, like us, want to be free from it. Because beings have fear of and experience discomfort from these kinds of suffering, they engage in various activities to eliminate them.

2) Suffering of change: This refers to situations where, for example, we are sitting very comfortably relaxed and at first everything is all right, but after a while we lose that feeling and get restless and uncomfortable.

In certain countries, like India, we see a great deal of poverty and disease: these are sufferings of the first category. Everybody realizes that these are suffering-conditions to be eliminated and improved upon. In many Western countries there may not be so much problem of poverty, but where material facilities have been highly developed there are different kinds of problems. At first we may be very happy, having overcome the problems that our forefathers faced, but as soon as we have solved certain problems, new ones arise. We have plenty of money, plenty of food and good shelter, but by over-estimating the value of these things we render them worthless. This sort of experience is the suffering of change.

A very poor, underprivileged person might think that it would be wonderful to have an automobile or a television set, and should he acquire them, at the beginning he would feel very happy and satisfied. Now, if such happiness were something permanent, since he had the car and the TV set his happiness should remain forever. But it does not; it goes. After a few months he wants another kind of car; if he has the money he will buy another kind of television set. The old ones, the same objects that before gave him so much satisfaction, now cause dissatisfaction. That is the nature of change; that is the problem of the suffering of change.

3) All-Pervasive Sufferings: Because it acts as the basis of the first two categories of suffering, the third is called, in Tibetan, kyab.pa.du.ched.kyi.dug.ngel (literally: the suffering of pervasive compounding). There may be those who, even in developed Western countries, want to be liberated from the second suffering, the suffering of change. Bored with the defiled feelings of happiness, some seek the feeling of equanimity: this may lead to rebirth in, of the three realms, the upper realm that has only the feeling of equanimity.