Buddhas Fourth Noble Truth – The Path Out of Suffering

Buddhas Fourth Noble Truth – The Path out of Suffering

As I’ve already mentioned in a previous post, the Buddhas Four Noble Truths can be seen as a process as well as a medical prescription.

First Noble Truth – Identifying the Problem of Dukkha
Second Noble Truth – Identifying the Causes of Dukkha
Third Noble Truth – Prognosis that Dukkha can end
Fourth Noble Truth – The therapy (discipline, mindfulness, and meditation) that brings Dukkha to an end and the realization of real unconditional happiness

Buddhas Fourth Noble Truth is also known as the Eight-fold Path or the Middle Way and is usually represented by the eight-spoked wheel with each spoke representing one aspect of the Eight-fold Path.  This image has become widely accepted as the symbol of Buddhism itself.

buddhas fourth noble truth

The Noble Eightfold Path

The eight spokes of the Eight-fold Path all begin with the Pali word ‘samma’ which is commonly translated as “right” (e.g. right view), however a better translation would be ‘skillful’ and/or “wise”. 

So the word ‘samma’ doesn’t mean “right” as in the dualistic concept of right vs wrong.

These should not be considered as commandments as one would find in the Abrahamic religions, but are rather guides and signs on the way to realization of the true nature of reality and all of its implications of selflessness.
 
 
Now let’s get to the actual spokes of the Wheel:

  1. Right (Skillful/Wise) View or Understanding – This refers to an understanding of the Four Noble Truths themselves. I think we can all see that suffering is the root of mankind’s woes, that it has a cause, and that it can end.
     
    Daily Reflection: Am I seeing what’s really there in front of me, or am I seeing what I want to see?
  2. Right (Skillful/Wise) Intention
    This refers to the cultivation of a single-minded focus on the goal of liberation from dukkha via the cessation of dukkha, Nirvana.Once we have “attained” Nirvana then we find that our focus becomes one of perfect selflessness.  Also in our compassion for all living beings and desires with compassion for everyone else to also “attain” Nirvana and experience the Bliss of Interdependence.Examples: 1) the renunciation of the significance of worldly possessions; 2) Avoiding doing harm to others; 3) Engaging in activities that will help us to our goal, which would include study and meditation practice.
     
    Daily Reflection:
    “Am I truly committed to living compassionately?
  3. Right (Skillful/Wise) Speech
    Skillful speech stems from skillful intention so if we are operating in the mindset of “Right Speech” then we will naturally refrain from abusive speech as well as speaking untrue words.Speak gently and don’t gossip about others behind their backs.
     
    Daily Reflection: Am I saying anything that I wouldn’t say about a certain person in their presence?  Are my words helpful or harmful?


     

  4. Right (Skillful/Wise) Actionbuddhas fourth noble truth
    Like all of the steps, the fourth step in the Eightfold Path is rooted in Right Speech.  This step builds mental calm by cultivating morality which is essential to the concentration step.It means we walk the walk and do our best to avoid the physical expression of negative mental states, which is something that we work up to with the previous steps.When we use Right Action with Right Speech together, this results in the natural inclination to not partake in stealing, lying, sexual misconduct (i.e. rape or adultery), and the ingestion of intoxicants that can cloud our minds.

    Again these are not commandments but are rather signs that we are walking the path to awakening.

     
    Daily Reflection:
    Am I engaging in behaviors that try to dull the mind? Do I always practice what I preach?

  5. Right (Skillful/Wise) Livelihood
    Essentially this is the training of morals in oneself wherein we avoid occupations that lead people to engage in killing, lying, cheating, stealing, or engage in sexual misconduct (a modern example would be sleeping with a colleague from the workplace).Instead it is better to choose an occupation that doesn’t violate the path or cause harm to others.  For example, I used to work in the Pharmaceutical industry where employees routinely engaged in lying, spoke unskillful words.  This is not Right Livelihood.
     
    Daily Reflection:
    Am I truly happy in my occupation? Have I lost sight of my calling in life?


     

  6. Right (Skillful/Wise) Effort
    This step is about keep our mind oriented on our goal of liberation by overcoming negative feelings that may arise within us such as impatience, slothfulness, excessive pride, vengeance, or greed.The idea is to overcome these mental obstacles to equanimity and meditation that arise as a result of dukkha (suffering) and maintain a steady effort toward the goal of liberation without getting distracted by negative feelings.
     
    Daily Reflection:
    Am I staying on track or do I find myself get lazy and distracted?  Is my effort consistent, or do I engage in bursts of activity?
  7. Right (Skillful/Wise) Mindfulness
    buddha fourth noble truth

    Image: Flickr User Hartwig HKD


    This step involves Mindfulness which has become a buzzword in recent decades but I think Buddha’s teaching goes into it more deeply.

    Essentially this is the quality of attentiveness to your thoughts and actions and knowing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

    With Right Effort we need to gently shift our perspective from a state of confusion and random thinking to a state of clarity and mindfulness.  We then become more aware of everything that arises within and observe it with perfect clarity.

    Daily Reflection: Am I fully aware of the present moment? Do I notice when my emotions or thinking changes?

  8. Right (Skillful/Wise) Concentration

    Right Concentration is focusing all of one’s mental faculties onto one physical or mental object (i.e. Avalokiteshvara).  This allows us to see reality as it truly is and not how our minds create them to be.

Summary

I hope you enjoyed this article on Buddhas Fourth Noble Truth, and as we can see this is a process.  Not only can we visualize the process in the form of a wheel, but we can also see that each step is a petal of the eight-petaled lotus within.  When we experience cessation from suffering we feel ourselves opening to ourselves and others.

Please leave your thoughts below in the comments and don’t forget to check out my Buddhist Online Book Store.


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10 Responses to Buddhas Fourth Noble Truth – The Path Out of Suffering

  1. jo says:

    im not religious, but this site is awesome. I’m surprised at your knowledge about the Buddhism. You did an amazing job making this site navigatable, if i was practicing this religion and needed help or doing a school project on Buddhism i would find myself really easily and getting some great information as well. great job on the website keep it up !

    • Ian H says:

      Thank you! You don’t have to be religious to benefit from Buddhism, since Buddhism really isn’t a religion in its essence but more a way of seeing.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Kiefer says:

    Very interesting stuff! I have a question, however. When discussing the ‘samma’, you say that “The word ‘samma’ does not refer to a dualistic concept of right vs wrong but rather refers to the art of seeing the world not as it truly is, but how we want it to be.”

    Is this meant to imply that being a good or wise devote of the Eight Fold path entails holding a relativistic view of the world, such that what is true or false depends on one’s personal perspective?

    Or does it entail the more modest claim that while there are things that are true or false about the world independently of one’s desires, adopting the ‘samma’ requires ignoring that focusing instead merely on what one desires the world to be like?

    Thanks!
    – Kiefer

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Kiefer,

      Actually that was a typo on my part. I fixed it in the post. Thanks for the question though. 🙂
      Let me know if you need any additional clarification.

      Ian

  3. Cephas says:

    This is a call to action especially the question contained in your daily reflection “Am I really seeing what is in front of me or am seeing what I want to see?” I do not have to let my personal motives distort the beauty or originality of the things that lie before me.

    I appreciate and let them keep coming

  4. Vijay says:

    Very interesting post. I always saw Buddhism as being all about meditation and quieting the mind chatter. I think this explains Buddhism well using the wheel defining the eight fold path. I like the way each path is explained with a daily reflection clarifying it further with examples. This a post which is simple and easy to understand and a good work.

    • Ian H says:

      Thank you!

      I think the emphasis on meditation is more in line with Zen Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism, meditation and quieting the mind are certainly important, but so are the study of the sutras and contemplating their truths.

      Both are correct in their own ways and are also influenced by the cultures.

  5. HelenRuth says:

    A very interesting website, the subject is something that I knew nothing about. I found the post extremely factual and easy to understand, and I can see that this website would be the perfect place to stop if you wanted more information on Buddhism. Love the freshness of the site and the ease of navigation. Well done !

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