In almost any contemporary introduction to Buddhism, one of the first things one learns is the Four Noble Truths:
- Everything is suffering (dukkha).
- Suffering is caused by craving.
- There is an end to suffering.
- One can reach this end by following the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path.
The Four Truths are central to the teaching of the early Pali suttas, so something like them was probably central to the teaching of the historical Buddha. There’s been a recent trend in Buddhist studies to disparage the Four Truths, on the ground that they were far removed from the practice of most Buddhists in history, whose lives (especially but not only in East Asia) focused much more on devotion and magic. But never mind. I’m far less concerned with learning about the historical structure of past Buddhist societies, and more with the question of whether these truths – undeniably revered and treated as truths by many Buddhists throughout history – are indeed true.
I noted before that the Second Noble Truth was of great importance in my own spiritual development. I would still count it as the most important thing I’ve learned from Buddhism. Maybe not all suffering comes from craving, but a huge chunk of it does.
But what about the other three? Continue reading