The four noble truths teach living beings how to fundamentally resolve the problem of the suffering and delusion they face in their daily lives and attain peace of mind. The “four noble truths” entail realizing four essential principles: the “truth of suffering,” “truth of the cause of suffering,” “truth of the extinguishment of suffering,” and the “truth of the Way that extinguishes suffering.” “Truth” in the sense used here means “making clear,” or “discerning clearly,” and by way of explanation, expressly clarifying or discerning suffering, its cause, the possibility of extinguishing it, and the concrete methods required to extinguish it.
In simple terms, the truth of suffering tells us that “for those who have not heard the teachings of the Buddha and put them into practice, this life and everything in this world is nothing but suffering.” Human life is filled with spiritual and emotional, physical, economic and many other forms of suffering. Realizing the truth of suffering means that instead of making halfhearted and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to run away, we instead turn and face our suffering in order to fully understand it.
The “truth of the cause of suffering” is reflecting on the reasons why suffering occurs in life by seeking out and patently understanding their causes. The causes of suffering are understood by applying the teachings of the twelve causes and conditions and the ten suchnesses, which is a descriptive analysis of the reality of all things.
The “truth of the extinguishment of suffering” is the state of peace and serenity in which all the sufferings of human life are extinguished. It is severing the bonds of spiritual and emotional, physical, economic, and all the other forms of suffering, and realizing that this world is, just as it is, the realm of the Eternal Buddha. The realm of the Eternal Buddha is a way of experiencing the world that can only be truly attained by awakening to the three great truths that Shakyamuni realized: “all things are transient,” “all things are nonself,” and “nirvana is tranquility.”
Yet, even though they form the very core of Buddhism, we ordinary people cannot easily realize these three great truths. Doing so requires putting them into practice by making great efforts to realize them in our everyday lives. This entails practicing the bodhisattva path in its three dimensions: First is the “wondrous” dimension of the mind; second, the dimension of “form”, which means our bodies; and third, the dimension of “behavior”, which means our actions. If we jump directly to the heart of the matter, practicing with our minds, bodies and behavior entails devoting ourselves to cultivating the eightfold noble path and the six paramitas, or “perfections” of the bodhisattva.
To recap, the teaching of the four noble truths as explained above, leads us to face the fact that human life is a realm of suffering, which is the truth of suffering. Next, grasping the real causes of our suffering is the truth of the cause. Practicing the eightfold noble path and the six paramitas in our daily lives make up the truth of the path. Finally, eliminating all of our suffering is the truth of the extinction of suffering.