The Four Noble Truths are given in brief in the first discourse named the “Turning of the Wheel of Law” (Dhammacakkappavattana-sutta), delivered at Isipatana, in Benares, by the Buddha after His Enlightenment. It is interesting to note that the sutta begins by showing the futility of the two extreme practices (self-indulgence and self-mortification) prevailing among the truth seekers of the day.
What are the four noble truths?
There is suffering.
There is an origin of suffering.
There is the cessation of suffering.
There is a path to cessation of suffering. (Noble eightfold path).
First Noble truth
“What, Bhikkhus, is the Noble Truth of Suffering?
Birth is suffering; ageing is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering. To be separated from the pleasant is suffering; to be in contact with the unpleasant is also suffering. In short, the five aggregates of Existence connected with attachment are all suffering.”
Physical suffering is related to birth, ageing and death.
What is birth (jàti)?
The birth of beings into the various orders of beings, their coming to birth, precipitation in a womb, generation, the manifestation of the aggregates, obtaining the bases for contact. Birth is one of the 12 links in dependent origination. Because of birth there will be ageing, disease and finally death which cause physical suffering. Hence Birth is suffering.
What is Ageing (jàra)?
The aging of beings in the various orders of beings, their old age, broken teeth, greying of hair, wrinkling of skin, decline of life, weakness of body. Ageing brings along pains and diseases which cause both physical suffering. No one can reverse ageing and maintain their youthful looks and health. Hence ageing causes suffering.
What is Death (maraõa)?
The passing of beings out of the various orders of beings, their passing away, dissolution, disappearance, dying, completion of time, dissolution of aggregates, laying down of the body. No one can be an eternal soul hence death is suffering.
Mental suffering comprises of emotions like sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. It also includes being association with things/people we dislike and separation from things/people we like.
What is Sorrow (soka)?
The sorrow, sorrowing, sorrowfulness, inner sorrow, and inner sorrowfuless of one who has encountered some misfortune or is affected by some painful state is called sorrow. For example having a mishap and losing someone/something dear is sorrowful. This causes mental suffering.
What is Lamentation (parideva)?
The wail and lament (grief), wailing and lamenting, bewailing and lamentation of one who has encountered some misfortune or is affected by some painful state is called lamentation. Lamenting over "what if i have done that.. what if i have said this " causes negative feelings. This cause mental suffering.
What is Pain (dukkha)?
Whatever is experienced as bodily pain, bodily discomfort, pain or discomfort born of bodily contact, that is called pain. This cause mental suffering.
What is distress?
Whatever is experienced as mental pain, mental discomfort, pain or discomfort born of mental contact, that is called distress. Distress over work, relationships and unhappy moments make one suffer. This causes mental suffering.
What is Grief (domanassa)?
Mental pain, mental discomfort, painful, uncomfortable feeling born of mental contact is called grief. Grief over the loss of possessions and death of loved ones. This cause mental suffering.
What is despair?
Whatever despair, despondency, desperation of anyone suffering from misfortune, touched by a painful thing, that is called despair. This cause mental suffering.
What is the stress of association with the unbeloved?
There is the case where undesirable, unpleasing, unattractive sights, sounds, aromas, flavours, or tactile sensations occur to one; or one has connection, contact, relationship, interaction with those who wish one ill, who wish for one's harm, who wish for one's discomfort, who wish one no security from the yoke. This is called the stress of association with the unbeloved. This connection with unbeloved makes us feel unhappy and suffer mentally.
What is the stress of separation from the loved?
When desirable, pleasing, attractive sights, sounds, aromas, flavours, or tactile sensations do not occur to one; or one has no connection, no contact, no relationship, no interaction with those who wish one well, who wish for one's benefit, who wish for one's comfort, who wish one security, nor with one's mother, father, brother, sister, friends, companions, or relatives. This is called the stress of separation from the loved. This cause grief and sadness because of clinging to be with loved ones, result in mental suffering.
What is the stress of not getting what is wanted?
All our wishes of wanting desirable things and gifts, to be with our loved ones forever and happiness cannot be achieved by wanting. This is the stress of not getting what is wanted. All our wishes of discarding things we hate, dissociate with people we hate and to get rid of unhappiness cannot be achieved by wanting. This is the stress of not getting what is unwanted , hence cause mental suffering.
The doctrinal aspect of suffering
It is stated in brief in the discourse referring to the clinging or grasping of five aggregates namely: i. grasping of material form (råpa upàdàna) ii. grasping of feeling (vedanà upàdàna) iii. grasping of perception (sa¤¤à upàdàna) iv. grasping of mental formation (sankhàra upàdàna) v. grasping of consciousness (vi¤¤àna upàdàna)
In short clinging to the 5 aggregates are stressful and suffering.
The First Noble Truth with its three aspects is: "There is suffering, dukkha. Dukkha should be understood. Dukkha has been understood."
The First noble truth as mentioned above acknowledges the presence of physical, psychological and doctrinal suffering. Buddhist approach is neither pessimistic nor optimistic. In fact it advocates realism which lies between those two extremes (self-indulgence and self-mortification). Besides, Buddhism does not stop at analysing the constituents of ‘dukkha’, on the contrary, it shows an antidote to overcome it which is the 4th noble truth: noble eightfold path leading to ultimate blissful Nibbana state.