It is said that Lord Buddha practiced Vipassana mindfulness meditation to attain enlightenment. Images of the Buddha portray him in a serene meditating posture with his face radiating inner peace and joy.
Many types of meditations are popularly practiced in Buddhism including Zen and Vipassana. In this article, we discuss the four principles that form the foundation of Buddhism.
4 Noble Truths of Buddhism
Buddha declared that he taught about the origin of suffering and the path to its cessation. His teachings are summed up in The Four Noble Truths which have become the essence of Buddhism. The Buddha understood these principles while meditating under the Bodhi tree to gain enlightenment. The four noble truths are:
- The truth of suffering
- The truth of the origin of suffering
- The truth of the end of suffering
- The truth of the path to the end of suffering
The Buddha can be compared to a doctor in that he diagnosed suffering as the problem and prescribed the solution to it in the fourth noble truths.
The First Noble Truth: Suffering
There are many types of suffering. The Buddha first encountered suffering when he ventured outside his palace for the first time. He realized that old age, disease and death are inevitable aspects of human life.
The Buddha said the root cause of suffering is deeper. Our life does not proceed to our expectations most of the time. As humans, we fall prey to cravings and desires, and even if we satisfy them we only get temporary happiness. The pleasure obtained is fleeting and becomes boring after some time.
Even if we do not suffer from bereavement or illness, in our mind we still feel unfulfilled and unsatisfied. The Buddha identified this as the truth of suffering.
The Buddha was actually a realist. He went ahead and prescribed practical methods which we can use even today to put an end to suffering.
The Second Noble Truth: Origin of Suffering
Our daily troubles seem to have identifiable causes such as thirst, pain from injury, sadness at a death etc. But the Buddha said the root cause of all suffering is desire. He described desire in three forms known as the three roots of evil:
- Desire and greed
- Delusion or ignorance
- Destructive urges and hatred
The Third Noble Truth: End of Suffering
To end suffering we must liberate ourselves from attachment. The Buddha proved by example that anyone can do it in their lifetime. The enlightened state of mind that Buddha attained after diligent meditation is known as nirvana.
What is Nirvana?
Nirvana is a human state of mind that is full of profound joy without fears and negative emotions. An enlightened person is compassionate towards others.
Attaining nirvana does not mean disappearing into the heavens.
The Buddha did not entertain frivolous queries about nirvana. He motivated his followers to focus on ending their suffering.
The Fourth Noble Truth: Path to the End of Suffering
The Buddha initially tried to practice severe asceticism to attain nirvana. But he found that this method only hindered his quest and did not help it. Therefore he adopted the middle way which has come to be known as the Eightfold Path. These eight principles are:
1. Right Understanding
Realising the benefits of Buddhist teachings and meditation practices by experience and not blindly depending on any dogma or set of rules.
2. Right Intention
Cultivating correct attitudes by showing commitment.
3. Right Speech
Speaking only the truth and avoiding abusive words, gossip and slander.
4. Right Action
Behaving harmoniously and peacefully. Refraining from killing, stealing and overindulgence.
5. Right Livelihood
Earning an honest living by practicing right and legal methods and avoiding killing animals, exploiting people and trading in weapons or intoxicants.
6. Right Effort
Cultivating positive thinking and eliminating negative feelings and emotions.
7. Right Mindfulness
Being mindful of bodily sensations as well as mental states.
8. Right Concentration
Developing one’s powers of concentration to improve mindfulness and awareness.
These eight paths can be utilized as a raft to cross the river of suffering and attain enlightenment. One needs only to trust their ability and put in dedicated effort to overcome suffering and attain lasting inner peace and spiritual joy.
The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism show the path that can be practically followed even today to overcome life’s problems and live in happiness.
A simple method to inner peace is to meditate with awareness about bodily sensations as well as our feelings and emotions as they arise.
Vipassana is a simple yet effective technique that can be practiced by anyone to overcome suffering and gain happiness and contentment in daily life.