Buddha teaching

The Four Noble Truths is the most basic doctrine of Buddhism and the doctrinal foundation of the faith. It has been described as a kind of basic blueprint of the Buddha's teachings, delivered in his First Sermon at Sarnath after attaining enlightenment. After his enlightenment at age 35, The Buddha decided to teach others what he had learned, encouraging people to follow a path he called "The Middle Way. "According to the Middle Way one must: 1) live their life “fully but not care what happens; " 2) avoid putting too much emphasis on material success because "it soon turns to dust in our hands;" 3) don’t get “obsessed with the dust, convinced that nothing matters”; and 4) recognize the Four Noble Truths.

In the Four Noble Truths, The Buddha preached his view of life and suffering. The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are: 1) “dukka,” the belief that human life is an exercise in suffering replete with evil, disease, imperfection and unhappiness; 2) “samodaya” , the concept that suffering is caused by craving and desire, which can not satisfy the spirit; 3) “nirodha” , freedom offered by renouncement of desire, which is rooted in ignorance; and 4) “magga” , the cessation of desire which culminates in nirvana by following the Eightfold Path. These principals were introduced in the First Sermon at Sarnath.

According to the Four Noble Truths: suffering exists; craving (or desire) is the cause of suffering; release from suffering can be achieved by stopping all desire; and enlightenment — buddhahood — can be attained by following the Noble Eightfold Path — 1) right views, 2) right intention, 3) right speech, 4) right action, 5) right livelihood, 6) right effort, 7) right mindfulness, and 8) right concentration — which constitutes a middle way between sensuality and ascetism. Enlightenment consists of knowing these truths. The average layperson cannot hope for nirvana after the end of this life, but can — by complying, as best he or she is able to, with the doctrine's rules of moral conduct — hope to improve his or her karma and thereby better his condition in the next incarnation. *

Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “These truths tell us, 1) that life in samsara is suffering; 2) that this has a cause..our longing for illusory things; 3) that this suffering may be ended by following the path of the Buddha; 4) what that path is. The first two truths comprise the basic worldview of Buddhist thought. The final two truths point towards the practical core of Buddhism: its path towards salvation through self-cultivation in the manner of the Buddha's own struggle to enlightenment.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive ; Introduction to Buddhism ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA ; View on Buddhism ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism


As we said above “dukka” (duhkha; Pali:, dukkha) is the belief that human life and suffering are intertwined. Barbara O’Brien wrote: Dukka "has a broader meaning than this, referring to anything that is temporary, conditional, or compounded of other things. Even something precious and enjoyable is dukkha, because it will end. Related to the nature of life is the nature of self. Are we not also temporary, conditional and compounded of many parts? We can understand that life is impermanent but are we, also, impermanent? The Buddha taught that before we can understand life and death we must understand the self.” [Source: Barbara, O’Brien,]

All four of the Noble Truths can be expressed in terms of Dukka as follows: 1)The truth of Dukkha; 2) The truth of the origin of Dukkha; 3) The truth of the cessation of Dukkha; and 4) The truth of the path, the way to liberation from Dukkha. The Theravada Buddhist scholar Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote: “The word 'Dukkha' has often been translated as suffering, pain and misery. But 'Dukkha' as used by the Buddha has a much wider and a deeper meaning. It suggests a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all existence, all forms of life, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. The term, dukkha, indicates a lack of perfection, a condition that never measures up to our standards and expectations.” ***

Bhikkhu Bodhi goes on to say: “The recorded teachings of the Buddha are numerous. But all these diverse teachings fit together into a single unifying frame, the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha compared the Four Noble Truths to the footprints of an elephant. Just as the footprint of an elephant can contain the footprints of any other animal, the footprints of tigers, lions, dogs, cats, etc. So all the different teachings of the Buddha fit into the single framework of the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha makes it clear that the realization of the Four Noble Truths coincides with the attainment of enlightenment itself. He says that when a Buddha appears in the world there is a teaching of the Four Noble Truths. So the special purpose of the Dhamma is to make known the Four Noble Truths and the special aim of those treading the path to enlightenment is to see for themselves the Four Noble Truths...The function to be performed in respect of each Noble Truth is as follows: 1) The First Truth has to be understood. 2) The Second Truth has to be abandoned. 3) The Third Truth has to be realized. 4) The Fourth Truth has to be developed.” ***

Barbara O’Brien, a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, wrote: “The Forth Noble Truth is truth of the path that frees us from suffering. Here the Buddha as physician prescribes the treatment for our illness: The Eightfold Path. Unlike in many other religions, in Buddhism there is no particular benefit to merely believing in a doctrine. Instead, the emphasis is on living the doctrine and walking the path.” [Source:]

Buddha’s First Sermon: on the Four Noble Truths

Siddhartha witnessing suffering

In the First Sermon, The Buddha talked about the Four Noble Truth: “Now the Blessed One set the wheel of the most excellent law rolling, and he began to preach to the five bhikkhus, opening to them the gate of immortality, and showing them the bliss of Nirvana. The Buddha said: "The spokes of the wheel are the rules of pure conduct: justice is the uniformity of their length, wisdom is the tire; modesty and thoughtfulness are the hub in which the immovable axle of truth is fixed. "He who recognizes the existence of suffering, its cause, its remedy, and its cessation has fathomed the four noble truths. He will walk in the right path. "Right views will be the torch to light his way. Right aspirations will be his guide. Right speech will be his dwelling-place on the road. flis gait will be straight, for it is right behavior. His refreshments will be the right way of earning his livelihood. right efforts will be his steps right thoughts his breath; and right contemplation will give him the peace that follows in his footprints. [Source: Ephanius Wilson, Sacred Books of the East, rev. ed. (London: The Colonial Press, 1900), pp. 158, 160-61, 171-72, repr. In Mark A. Kishlansky, ed., Sources of World History, Volume I, (New York: HarperCollins CollegePublishers, 1995), pp. 67-71, Brooklyn College website]

"Now, this, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning suffering: "Birth is attended with pain, decay is painful, disease is painful, death is painful. Union. with the unpleasant is painful, painful is separation from the pleasant, and any craving that is unsatisfied, that too is painful. In brief, bodily conditions which spring from attachment are painful. "This, then, O bhikkus, is the noble truth concerning suffering. "Now this, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the origin of suffering: "Verily, it is that craving which causes the renewal of existence, accompanied by sensual delight, seeking satisfaction now here, now there, the craving for the gratification of the passions, the craving for a future life, and the craving for happiness in this life. "This, then, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the origin of suffering-

"Now this, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the destruction of suffering: "Verily, it is the destruction, in which no passion remains, of this very thirst; it is the laying aside of, the being free from, the dwelling no longer upon this thirst."This then, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the destruction of suffering- 'Now this, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the way which leads to the destruction of sorrow. Verily! it is this noble eightfold path: that is to say: "Right views; right aspirations; right speech; right behavior; right livelihood, right effort; right thoughts; and right contemplation. "This, then, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the destruction of sorrow. "By the practice of lovingkindness I have attained liberation of heart, and thus I am assured that I shall never return in renewed births. I have even now attained Nirvana."

Buddha’s Explanation of the Four Noble Truths

In his first sermon after his enlightenment, at Sarnath, The Buddha said: “This, O monks is the Middle Way:..1) Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of pain: birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful, death is painful, sorrow, lamentation, dejection, and despair are painful. Contact with unpleasant things is painful, not getting what one wishes is painful. In short the five skandhas of grasping [form, sensation, conception, volition, and consciousness] are painful. [Source: “A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy,” pp. 274-75]

“2) Now this, O monks is the noble truth of the cause of pain: that craving which leads to rebirth [note the discussion of karma above], combined with pleasure and lust, finding pleasure here and there, namely, the craving for passion, the craving for existence, the craving for non-existence.

“3) Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of pain: the cessation without a remainder of that craving, [namely,] abandonment, forsaking, release, non-attachment. 4) Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of the way that leads to the cessation of pain: this is the noble Eightfold Path, namely, right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, right concentration...Knowledge arose in me; insight arose that the release of my mind is unshakable; this is my last existence; now there is no rebirth.

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “Recall the context of the Buddha's first sermon, at least according to legend. After his former companions begged him to communicate his enlightenment experience, the Buddha did so, or at least attempted to do so, out of compassion for their suffering. He called his teaching the "Middle Way." The audience to whom the Buddha preached consisted of religious seekers, and most English translations of the first sermon refer to them as "monks."[Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University ~]

First Noble Truth: Dukkha and Suffering

The First Noble Truth, posits that suffering (dukka) exists in the world. This is brought to life in the Siddhartha story, when as a young prince he leaves the palace and becomes aware that the world is not all wonderful like it is inside the palace walls. Rather, palace life is just an illusion. In the first sermon, the Buddha says that birth is duhkha, old age is duhkha, sickness is duhkha, death is duhkha — in fact, everything is duhkha, including things that seem to be pleasurable. The aim of the First Noble Truth is not to engender a pessimistic worldview but, rather, to alert people to the reality of the world and to promote a clear, truthful view of that world. The response to the reality of suffering, as illustrated the Buddha's own desire to realize and share the dharma, is that one must show compassion (karuna) and kindness (maitri) to all living beings. [Source: Jacob Kinnard, Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2018,]

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote: The Buddha explains this truth by simply listing the various types of Dukkha. 1) Birth: Birth in a general sense means the entire period of gestation from the time of conception to exit from the womb. Birth in itself, when it takes place becomes a painful experience. Being thrust out from the womb, being thrown out into the world without a choice, without any understanding is a traumatic experience. Birth is dukkha also since this is the first point for all other forms of Dukkha that will follow during the course of life. After birth growth takes place, which also has its share of pain. ***

Siddhartha witnessing more suffering

2) “Ageing: When the maximum point of growth is reached, ageing sets in. The skin wrinkles, the teeth begin to fall out, sense faculties loose their sharpness, hair turns grey, memory fades and vitality declines. 3) Disease: Sickness whether physical or mental is suffering. 4) Death At the end comes death. The break up of the body, the extinguishing of the life force is suffering. 5) Sorrow, lamentation, pain , grief and despair: Sorrow is intense woe because of some deprivation. Lamentation is crying and weeping. Pain is bodily pain. Grief is any kind of mental unhappiness. Despair is the lowest point of mental anguish, when all hope is given up. ***

6) “Union with the unpleasant: Facing the various unpleasant situations and disagreeable people we don't want to face is suffering, when we are thrown into them against our will. 7) Separation from the pleasant: There are pleasant and agreeable situations or people we would like to meet with and hope will last, or we want to cling or hold to or relationships we want to endure. Facing separation from these pleasant situations or people is suffering. 9) Not to get what we desire. Generally we desire pleasure, wealth, fame and praise, but instead one meet with pain, poverty, dishonour and blame. When we want to remain young, we grow old, when we want to be healthy we fall sick. All this is suffering. ***

“Then the Buddha sums up: "In brief the five aggregates of clinging are dukkha". With this statement the Buddha indicates that all our experience is included in dukkha. The five aggregates are the basic components of our experience, which is of five types. They are material form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. The material form covers the physical body with its sense faculties and the other four are the mental side. The reason they are all included in Dukkha is that they are all impermanent, changing from moment to moment. In fact they are only momentary events without any inner core. What we call "my self" is just a combination of aggregates changing from moment to moment. It is the aggregates that are born, that grow old and finally die.” ***

Why Dukka Is More Than Just Suffering

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote; “To make it clear that Dukkha means more than ordinary suffering: The Buddha divides Dukkha into three types, depending on the depth: 1) Dukkha as ordinary suffering, as bodily or mental pain. 2) Dukkha due to change. This is a step remote from felt suffering. At this level we see that all pleasant experiences are Dukkha because they are subject to change. This does not mean that suffering arises due to the change of pleasure, rather it means that the pleasant experiences themselves and the things that give pleasure are already Dukkha, even while we are enjoying them. Health can be undermined by disease and therefore even when we are healthy, the state of health is dukkha. Youth has to give way to old age. Therefore our youthfulness is still Dukkha, unsatisfactory. 3) The Dukkha of Conditioned Formations. This is what Buddha intends when he declares that the five aggregates of clinging are dukkha. Our individuality is simply a combination of conditioned phenomena and all conditioned phenomena are impermanent and undergo constant transformation. As a result we have no mastery over them, we have no control over them, they go their way. For one with wisdom they are experienced as dukkha.***

Siddhartha meeting ascetic

“The teaching given by Buddha in the First Noble Truth often tends to arouse a certain degree of emotional resistance. This has given rise to false charges that Buddha is a pessimist, a negativist. However, we have to understand the intention of the Buddha in teaching the First Noble Truth. The Buddha's whole aim is to lead us to liberation out of this Dukkha. This calls for effort and causes some amount of internal friction. We set up emotional screens around us so that we can see and understand things in ways that are governed by our desires. But the Dhamma goes against our ordinary inclinations . Since the Dhamma is truth we have to be prepared to look at existence as it is. For it is only by seeing and seeing rightly, that we can win freedom. For this we have to stop seeing what we want to see and look at things objectively. ***

“The Buddha says that in order to gain a complete view we have to look at things from three angles: 1) From the angle of enjoyment or satisfaction; 2) From the angle of danger or unsatisfactoriness; 3) From the angle of release or escape. Buddha points out that life involves pleasure and enjoyment. He says that if there were no pleasures or enjoyments in our world, belongings, relationships etc. people wouldn't become attached to the world. It is precisely because there is enjoyment that we become attached to this world, and not all of these enjoyments are unwholesome. Happiness of a good family, true love, aesthetic pleasure, religious life can be truly gratifying. However, when you look at life from the second angle, you will see that since all this is impermanent it is unsatisfactory. Therefore we have to put away attachment and desire and examine whether these enjoyment can give us complete satisfaction. ***

“When we examine our lives in the light of the Buddha's teachings it becomes clear that real happiness can not be found in the realm of birth and death. However the Buddha also shows us the way out of this Dukkha, that is Nibbana and the path to Nibbana. He assures us that it can be attained by any one of us just as he attained it. Hence the path laid down by Buddha becomes the most optimistic and the hopeful. However in order to free ourselves from suffering we have to find the causes for our bondage. This brings us to the Second Noble Truth.” ***

Second Noble Truth: Desire and Craving

Buddha's battle with Mara

Jacob Kinnard wrote in the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices: The second Noble Truth is the arising (samudaya) of suffering. Since suffering exists, the Buddha posits, it must have a cause, which is most simply expressed as tanha (thirst or desire). This thirst takes many forms: the desire for life, for things, for love. Although on its face this, too, may seem to engender a pessimistic worldview, in which the individual must stifle all sensual pleasure, it is important again to stress that the Buddha advocates a middle path, between sensual indulgence and extreme asceticism. Pleasurable experiences should be experienced for what they are, without grasping. Indeed, the Buddha pronounces that it is precisely because humans mindlessly grasp things and experiences, always rushing to the next, that they fail to fully experience their lives, including that which is pleasurable. The point then is not to deny the sensual but to fully experience sensations and thoughts as they are happening. [Source: Jacob Kinnard, Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2018,]

Barbara O’Brien wrote: The Second Noble Truth — truth of the cause of suffering — teaches that the cause of suffering is craving or thirst (tanha). We continually search for something outside ourselves to make us happy. But no matter how successful we are, we never remain satisfied. The Buddha taught that this thirst grows from ignorance of the self. We go through life grabbing one thing after another to get a sense of security about ourselves. We attach not only to physical things, but also to ideas and opinions about ourselves and the world around us. Then we grow frustrated when the world doesn't behave the way we think it should and our lives don't conform to our expectations. The Buddha's teachings on karma and rebirth are closely related to the Second Noble Truth. [Source: Barbara, O’Brien,]

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote: “Different philosophies and religions give us different answers to the question why we are subject to suffering. Some say that it comes through mere chance, or by fate or destiny, some attribute it to the will of an Almighty God. Buddha dismisses these as fanciful products of belief and imagination. They all lead to two results, either they encourage a passive acceptance of suffering or else get us involved in treating the symptoms. ***

Buddhist Way of Dealing with Craving

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote: “The Buddha's approach is to trace the problem to its cause, to its root. Buddha declares that the origin of Dukkha is craving, in Pali 'Tanha'. The Buddha recognizes that there are three types of craving. There can be wholesome desires such as desire to practise the Dhamma, the desire to give, etc. There are also neutral desires, the desire to take a walk, the desire to sleep, etc. And there are unwholesome desires. Tanha means the unwholesome desire - the desire grounded in ignorance, the drive for personal gratification. Although desire is singled out as the cause of dukkha, it is not the only factor involved in the origination of suffering. However, it is the chief factor. But craving always works within a complex of factors. It is conditioned by ignorance, by the psycho-physical organism and it requires objects. ***

“Three Forms of Craving: 1) Sensual craving - kama tanha: The craving for sense pleasures. Craving for pleasant sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch sensations, and for enjoyable ideas. 2) Craving for existence - bhava tanha: The craving for continued survival. The drive to go on existing and to take on special forms, to become prominent, famous and wealthy, for immortality, etc. 3) Craving for anihilation - vibhava tanha: Craving for non-existence, the wish for self-annihilation. The most evident manifestation is suicide and it also includes other self-destructive behaviour. ***

Tibetan tantric padmasambhava yam-yum

“Now we have to see how craving originates Dukkha. The causal role of craving can be seen at two levels - a psychological level and a universal or cosmic level. Psychological level: We find that craving is the underlying root of unhappiness, sorrow, grief, fear, worry, and disapointment. Craving gives rise to sorrow when we are separated from the persons or things we are attached to. Also it gives rise to fear, we become afraid of losing what we have obtained, we are afraid that people might reject us or that circumstances might separate us. ***

“There are several stages in the psychological process by which craving leads to Dukkha. They are as follows: a) The very moment craving arises it brings along with it a feeling of dissatisfaction. This arises due to the contrast between one's present state of lack-of oneself without the object-and the possibility of fulfilling oneself by possession of the object. This is the Dukkha of striving and seeking. b) In the enjoyment of the object The enjoyment of the object is accompanied by the suffering of protection. Once we get an object we have to protect it. c) Loss of the object: With the break up of an object or loss of a loved one there is suffering of deprivation. If we examine our mind carefully we find that simply yielding to desire brings us only temporary satisfaction, which actually fuels the force of craving. Craving arises more strongly in the future. We need more money, more pleasure, more power. Thus it brings a stronger inner dissatisfaction. This is the way craving becomes the origin of suffering at the psychologicl level. ***

“Cosmic level, At a deeper level, craving is the force which fuels the round of rebirth, samsara. Craving uses the body as a means of finding delight. At death the body can no longer support consciousness, but the craving remains. Therefore, It latches onto a new body as the physical form and brings about rebirth, and the new existence provides the base of craving. In this way it originates Dukkha over and over again.” ***

Desire in the Buddhist Context

“"As rain pours through poorly thatched roofs, so does desire overwhelm the undeveloped mind." — Buddha from the Dhammapada According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “Recall the context of the Buddha's first sermon, at least according to legend. After his former companions begged him to communicate his enlightenment experience, the Buddha did so, or at least attempted to do so, out of compassion for their suffering. He called his teaching the "Middle Way." The audience to whom the Buddha preached consisted of religious seekers, and most English translations of the first sermon refer to them as "monks."[Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University ~]

“All around us are things we do not have. Most of us, for example, do not have a Rolls Royce car, and yet few suffer because of this lack. Not having something, in other words, does not itself cause us to suffer. It is the desire to have what we do not that causes us to suffer. The Buddha concluded not that life contains suffering (which would hardly have been insightful), but that suffering is so integral to human life that for all practical purposes, life is suffering. To put an end to the suffering, we must put an end to desires. If we succeed in eliminating all desires, then we also eliminate life as we know it. The result is a state called nirvana, in which one loses all sense of self and merges with the cosmos. Entering nirvana is the ultimate goal of most forms of Buddhism.~

“Some would object to the Buddha's formulation by suggesting that people simply satisfy our desires, which would prevent the suffering associated with them. This "solution," however only makes things worse in the long run. Lesser desires, when apparently satisfied, actually produce greater desires — the starting assumption of economics. The person without any car at all might be delighted with an old, used one. Soon, however, the car loses its appeal and the desire for a new one wells up. Having saved and sacrificed for the new car, the desire for a better model rears its ugly head. It is such a person who would eventually suffer by lacking a Rolls Royce. Vain attempts to eliminate suffering by "satisfying" desires only creates stronger desires and thus worse suffering. The Buddha preached his sermon to persons who already possessed sophisticated religious knowledge and experience. He and his audience shared many common assumptions. Therefore, prior to examining the Eightfold path, we should survey the most important of these assumptions.” ~

Battle with Mara

Third Noble Truth: Overcoming Suffering and Desire

The Third Noble Truth addresses the cessation (nirodha) of suffering. Just as the Buddha realized that if suffering exists, it must then logically have an origin, and so too must it have an end. The end of duhkha is logically related to its source; nirodha comes as a result of ending craving, of stopping the grasping after impermanent things. When one stops grasping, one stops generating karma, and it is karma and karma alone that keeps beings trapped in samsara. The absolute elimination of karma is nirvana, eternal freedom from the bondage of samsara. [Source: Jacob Kinnard, Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2018,]

The Third Noble Truth offers the possibility a cure to the disease of suffering and its cause, desire. The Buddha taught that craving can be overcome through diligent practice, with the aim or the light at the end of the tunnel being enlightenment (bodhi, "awakened") and nirvana (the enlightened state of being). [Source: Barbara, O’Brien,]

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote: “Suffering can be totally overcome!” That is “the great affirmation of the Buddha. The Buddha announces that this process of becoming does not have to continue indefinitely. He announces the Truth of the Cessation of Dukkha. This truth shatters the charge of pessimism. It reveals the great affirmation of the Buddha, the affirmation that suffering can be totally overcome, that a state of perfect peace is open and available by way by of eliminating craving. ***

“The cessation of Dukkha which comes with the end of craving can be understood at two levels, the psychological and metaphysical levels. At the psychological level, when craving is cut off, all mental unhappiness comes to an end. The mind is inwardly released from sorrow, worry, fear, grief and distress. Corresponding to the end of Dukkha, there comes a great peace, supreme happiness, complete joy. The Arahant, the liberated one lives, in perfect peace, always content, always serene and happy. Physical pain, old age, sickness and other visisititudes of life cause no disturbance to his mind because he is released from all clinging. At death the process of becoming comes to an end. Since there is no craving there is no seed for new existence. Samsara draws to a close with the break up of his body. He passes from the world of becoming to a state which is inconceivable, immeasurable, which is beyond the range of concepts and words. It is the reality designated as Nibbana. ***

Fourth Noble Truth: The Path to Enlightenment

Barbara, O’Brien wrote: The Forth Noble Truth is truth of the path that frees us from suffering. Here the Buddha as physician prescribes the treatment for our illness: The Eightfold Path. Unlike in many other religions, in Buddhism there is no particular benefit to merely believing in a doctrine. Instead, the emphasis is on living the doctrine and walking the path. [Source: Barbara, O’Brien,]

Buddha's enlightenment, 2nd or 3rd century from Gandhara

The path leading to the cessation of Dukkha is The Noble Eightfold Path.: 1) Right View; 2) Right Intention; 3) Right Speech; 4) Right Action; 5) Right Livelihood; 6) Right Effort; 7) Right Mindfulness; 8) Right Concentration.

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “The Eightfold Path is often symbolized by the eight spokes of a wheel. Its ultimate goal is to lead to a person to enlightenment. While it may be possible for someone to accomplish all eight steps in one lifetime, most people will make slow progress over many lifetimes. In this scenario, the improved karmic state in each round leads to a better rebirth, which sets the stage for further progress. (The Buddha himself, according to legend, went through numerous past lives before his attainment of nirvana. Stories of events in these past lives — especially the Jataka Tales — serve as Buddhist parables to teach good behavior and the proper outlook on life.) The Eightfold Path is not something that one can normally accomplish quickly or easily.” [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University ~]

The “final stage is subdivided in to four "ecstasies," the last two of which are so profound that words cannot describe them. In the first ecstasy, a monk is entirely aloof from his former mental states and modes of perception, though he is still able to observe and reflect on them. Here, observation and reflection are his last link with the "ordinary" world. Finally, he abandons even these, which sets in motion a process that ends in enlightenment. ~

“Notice several important characteristics of this Eightfold Path. First, it is a stepwise progression, starting with relatively easy (if still difficult) tasks that become increasingly more demanding. Second, this is an arduous path, even in its early stages. Third, following the Eightfold Path is a personal quest. There is no superior being on whom to rely or to provide guidance, and there are no deities (deities come into Buddhism after it developed into a formal religion). The locus of the power to find enlightenment is within each person.” ~

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: East Asia History Sourcebook , “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University, Asia for Educators, Columbia University; Asia Society Museum “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg, Virtual Library Sri Lanka; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 5 East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1993); BBC, Wikipedia, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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