The Four Noble Truths
The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering. To live, you must suffer. It is impossible to live without experiencing some kind of suffering. We have to endure physical suffering like sickness, injury, tiredness, old age and eventually death and we have to endure psychological suffering like loneliness, frustrations, fear, embarrassment, disappointment, anger, etc.
My thought: Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling you something. ~ The Princess Bride
The Second Noble Truth is that all suffering is caused by craving.
When we look at psychological suffering, it is easy to see how craving causes it. When we want something but are unable to get it, we feel frustrated. When we expect someone to live up to our expectation and they do not, we feel let down and disappointed. When we want others to like us and they don't, we feel hurt. Even when we want something and are able to get it, this does not often lead to happiness either because it is not long before we feel bored with that thing, lose interest in it and commence to want something else. Put simply, the Second Noble Truth says that getting what you want does not guarantee happiness. Rather than constantly struggling to get what you want, try to modify your wanting. Wanting deprives us of contentment and happiness.
The Buddha says is that when our desires, our craving, our constant discontent with what we have, and our continual longing for more and more does cause us suffering, then we should stop doing it. He asks us to make a difference between what we need and what we want and to strive for our needs and modify our wants. He tells us that our needs can be fulfilled but that our wants are endless —a bottomless pit.
There are needs that are essential, fundamental and that can be obtained and this we should work towards. Desires beyond this should be gradually lessened. After all, what is the purpose of life? To get or to be content and happy.
My thoughts: A lot of people believe Buddhism is about breaking your attachments to material things. It's really about recognizing that life is a cycle of disappointments until you realize that the disappointment is created in the mind. If a computer breaks in the forest, and there's no one to swear at it, is it really "broken"?
If your needs are, for example, a comfortable living space, Buddhism isn't going to tell you you should abandon all your possessions and become a monk. And I appreciate that in a religion—there's no striving to meet an impossible ideal.
What Buddhism really argues against is—well, let me give you another example. In this modern world, especially in the lives we lead, we can even say a computer is a need. but the Apple iPad is a want—we don't NEED it, we have perfectly serviceable computers, and when we get it, we'll be happy with it for a few minutes and then be like "I'm bored, what's the next thing I can get?"
The Third Noble Truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness attained. This is perhaps the most important of the Four Noble Truths because in it the Buddha reassures us that true happiness and contentment are possible. When we give up useless craving and learn to live each day at a time, enjoying without restless wanting the experiences that life offers us, patiently enduring the problems that life involves without fear, hatred and anger, then we become happy and free. Then, and only then, do we being to live fully. Because we are no longer obsessed with satisfying our own selfish wants, we find we have so much time to help others fulfill their needs. This state is called Nirvana. We are free from all psychological suffering as well. This is called Final Nirvana.
My thoughts: I really appreciate that not only is there no striving to meet an ideal in Buddhism, the central idea is that you BECOME the ideal, that there's the possibility for greatness in everyone.
The Fourth Noble Truth is the Path leading to the overcoming of suffering. This path is called the Noble Eightfold Path and consists of Perfect Understanding, Perfect Thought, Perfect Speech, Perfect Action, Perfect Livelihood, Perfect Effort, Perfect Mindfulness and Perfect Concentration. (more about these later)
Beginning a Buddhist practice consists of practicing these eight things until they become more complete. You will notice that the steps on the Noble Eightfold Path cover every aspect of life: the intellectual, the ethical, the social and economic and the psychological and therefore contain everything a person needs to lead a good life and to develop spiritually.
My thoughts: Wow. This one is going to be ... a challenge.