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The Four Noble Truths & the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment

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  • 0:01 Origins of Four Noble Truths
  • 1:57 Suffering Happens
  • 2:46 Cause of Suffering
  • 3:16 End of Suffering
  • 4:16 The Middle Path
  • 6:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. In doing so, it will explain the origins of Buddhism and the life of Siddhartha Gautama. It will also highlight the Buddhist belief of the Eightfold Path.

Origins of Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths make up the core of Buddha's teachings, and although they are rather vague and definitely leave lots of room for wondering, they have somehow survived throughout the ages. Although often worded differently by many differing scholars, the four truths are The Truth of Suffering, The Truth of the Cause of Suffering, The Truth of the End of Suffering, and The Truth of the Path that Leads to the End of Suffering.

To say it more simply and without using the word 'Truth' so many times, we could say them like this, 'Suffering happens,' 'It has a cause,' 'It has an end,' and 'There is a way to bring about its end.' Although the actual origins of these truths are rather hazy, Buddhists believe they were conceived by their founder Siddhartha Gautama, known more commonly as Buddha.

Legend says he came up with these truths after witnessing four things: the suffering of an elderly man, the suffering of a sick man, the body of a dead man, and the actions of an ascetic, or a monk. Upon witnessing the sad existence (or non-existence when it comes to the dead guy) of these men, Buddha was shocked by the suffering of mankind. With this, the roots of Buddhism began to take shape.

Now, since I've already said the word suffering about a gazillion times, it'd be easy to see Buddhism as an extremely depressing worldview. However, the followers of Buddhism would probably rather call it a realistic worldview. Yes, they place lots of emphasis on suffering, but they don't deny the presence of pleasure and happiness.

They're more so saying pleasure and happiness are fleeting and that the pursuit of them will only lead to an unappeasable craving for more. In time, this craving will just lead to suffering. With this, let's take a look at each truth, keeping in mind that they're kind of a practical guide to acknowledging and dealing with this unavoidable suffering.

Suffering Happens

As I said before, the First Noble Truth is 'The Truth of Suffering.' To put it simply, suffering happens; it's unavoidable, and it hits everyone. Some people look like they have an easy life, and some may even be lucky enough to being doing pretty well. However, it's only a matter of time before suffering comes knocking at their door.

Adding to this rather melancholy view, the First Truth goes on to say that suffering is to be gone through alone. For example, someone who is sick and dying is sick and dying alone. Yes, those around him may care an awful lot. They may even weep at the thought of their friend's death. However, only the sick person can really know what his sickness is like. No one can take his place. For this reason, he suffers alone.

Cause of Suffering

This leads us to the Second Noble Truth, 'The Truth of the Cause of Suffering.' To Buddhists, the cause of suffering is simple. Desire and ignorance are to blame. Humans suffer because we hunger after pleasure and material possessions. However, the more of these we get, the more we want. It's a never ending cycle, a stomach that will never be filled, and our ignorance of this leads only to (yep, you guessed it) suffering!

End of Suffering

This leads to our Third Noble Truth, 'The Truth of the End of Suffering.' Fortunately, this is where things start to look up a little bit. Upon coming to terms with suffering, Buddha spent many years trying to figure out if it could have an end. Finally, and through many years of his own suffering, he came to the realization that, yes, suffering can end.

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