The Four Noble Truths

"(1) The Truth of Suffering. The First Noble Truth is known as dug ngal [sdug bsngal] in Tibetan. To confidently walk the path, we must have a clear understanding of the suffering of impermanence that pervades all existence. It is often said that for an ordinary person, this subtle impermanence is as imperceptible as a hair on the palm of one’s hand. For an enlightened being, however, it is felt as sharply as a hair on one’s eyeball. Though we can all admit to experiencing pain and sadness at least occasionally, it takes deeper investigation of reality for most of us to perceive the more subtle modes of suffering that shadow even the happiest occasion. This suffering can take the form of awareness that the happy occasion must come to an end, or it can take the form of the persistent intrusion of minor irritations. Generally speaking, whatever we do is in need of constant adjustment. For instance, we are either too hot or too cold; we are either hungry or stuffed. No matter where we are or what we are doing, at some level our bodies or minds are uneasy or uncomfortable.

Buddhist doctrine classifies suffering into three root sections and eight branches. The three root sections are (1) the suffering of suffering itself, (2) the suffering of change, and (3) all-pervasive suffering. The eight branches are (1) birth, (2) sickness, (3) old age, (4) death, (5) unfulfilled desire, (6) unexpected misfortune, (7) separation from loved ones, and (8) physical discomfort.

(2) The Cause of Suffering. The Second Noble Truth is known as kunjung [kun byung] in Tibetan, meaning “source of everything.” This basically indicates that the source of all suffering is the interplay between ignorance and karma. Suffering is the result of karmic causes that we accumulate by engaging in various activities rooted in ignorance.

(3) The Truth of Cessation. The Third Noble Truth is known as gogpa [’gog pa] in Tibetan. This indicates the cessation that bring freedom from both suffering and the causes of suffering. “Cessation” is sometimes referred to as the “state of extinguishment,” “ultimate joy, peace, and relaxation,” and “nirvāna.”

(4) The Cause of Cessation. The Fourth Noble Truth is known as lam [lam] in Tibetan. This is the Eightfold Path2 that brings about nirvāna.
Such are the Four Noble Truths, which definitely exist on the relative level. Since conventional reality forms a huge part of our experience, it is necessary for us to fully understand these precious truths. We can highlight them using the metaphor of sickness. To begin, we can say the First Noble Truth diagnoses a disease. As we all know, if we want to cure a disease, we must discover its cause. This is outlined in the Second Noble Truth. Once we know the cause of a disease, our doctor can prescribe effective treatment. Here, the Buddha is the doctor prescribing the path of Dharma, the Fourth Noble Truth. This is like the medicine that will bring us to a state of complete health, or cessation, described in the Third Noble Truth.

That is the relative level. On the absolute level, the Four Noble Truths have no more inherent existence than anything else we have discussed so far—they are all based on great emptiness. Having thus pronounced the emptiness of both the ground and path, Avalokiteshvara arrives at the fruition or goal of practice: transcendent wisdom. This, too, is empty of inherent existence."

Venerable Khenpo Rinpoche ...

Ceaseless Echoes of the Great Silence: A Commentary on the Heart Sutra Prajnaparamita (pgs 50-52)

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