Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama in the sixth century BC. Born in a royal family, he was the prince of Kapilvastu and brought up in luxury. His parents ensured that he did not see any pain and suffering in his younger days.
Once, when Gautama was twenty-seven, he ventured out of the city gate and saw four instances or four sights that changed his life. These sights were:
1. An old man
2. A sick man
3. A dead man
4. A wondering monk
When he enquired from his charioteer about what he had seen, he explained that everyone gets sick some time or the other; everyone has to become old and then eventually die. When he saw the monk, Gautama had noticed that though the monk had renounced all worldly possessions, yet he was happy and peaceful, unaffected by problems of the world. It was then that Gautama decided to discard all luxuries and leave his palace to discover the truth about life which could provide humans freedom from suffering. He met many masters over the next six years and learned numerous spiritual practices. However, he was not satisfied. Finally, at Bodhgaya, he remained in the state of meditation for six days and nights and, got enlightenment. He thus became a ‘Buddha’, meaning ‘Enlightened One’. Thereafter, he taught the first Wheel of Dharma which included Four Noble Truths and other discourses.
Four Noble Truths of Buddhism
The Four Noble Truths are the essence of Buddhist teaching. These Truths are:
1. The truth of suffering (Dukkha)
2. The truth of the origin/cause of suffering (Samudaya)
3. The truth of the cessation of suffering (Nirodha)
4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering (Magga)
1. The Truth of Suffering
Suffering is an essential part of life. As long as we are alive, we can’t avoid suffering altogether. Everyone has to suffer illness, old age-related problems and finally death. However, once we accept suffering as a part of life, we won’t try to run away from suffering. Instead, we would try to find the cause of our suffering so that we can reduce or end it. Thus, once we are mentally prepared to accept pain as a part of life, our sufferings are considerably reduced as we take necessary steps to reduce our sufferings.
Suffering or dukkha (pain, anxiety and dissatisfaction) are of three types:
1. Dukkha-dukkha (Suffering of the body): The physical sufferings include the pain of childbirth, illness, growing old and death.
2. Viparinama dukkha (Suffering of change): The world is in a constant state of flux. We can’t stop the change and yet we are always concerned about our future. We are often anxious and feel stressed when we try to hold on to things that are constantly undergoing change.
3. Samhar dukkha (Suffering of conditioned mind): We often suffer due to our unrealistic ideals. When we find that the world does not measure according to our ideals, we suffer pain of frustration and dissatisfaction.
2. The Cause of Suffering
The Buddha explained that our suffering is never random because all suffering has a cause. We can thus manage our suffering by working on its causes.
Human suffering comes in three forms, which he described as the ‘Three Roots of Evil’, the ‘Three Fires’, or the ‘Three Poisons’. This is depicted in Figure 1.