The quest for enlightenment and inner peace has been a central focus of many spiritual traditions throughout history. Buddhism, in particular, offers a comprehensive path towards liberation from suffering and the attainment of true happiness. At the heart of Buddhist teachings lie The Four Noble Truths, which serve as the foundation for the entire Buddhist philosophy.
In this blog post, we will explore each of these truths in depth through the lens of the idea space, and understand how they can help us find peace and fulfillment in our daily lives.
First Noble Truth: Dukkha
The First Noble Truth is that of dukkha (Pali), which roughly translates to “suffering” or “frustration”. It is nicely summarized in the following passage where bhikkhu refers to someone on the path to awakening:
"Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of dukkha: birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha, death is dukkha; union with what is displeasing is dukkha; separation from what is pleasing is dukkha; not to get what one wants is dukkha; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering."
While this passage may seem to indicate the whole world is dukkha, or suffering, this is not the case. As the last sentence states, these objects (birth, aging, illness, death, etc.) are only suffering should we cling to any of the five aggregates of thoughts, emotions, sensations, perceptions, or consciousness.
In other words, if we cling, or attach ourselves, to any part of our idea space, then we will suffer. Why? Well, since an idea space is impermanent in nature, clinging onto an impermanent object is bound to create dukkha. It is as if one is trying to hold water in their hands. The more one grasps at the world, the more it changes.
Figure 1. The First Noble Truth of dukkha occurs when we cling onto any part of our impermanent idea space.
So, how can one combat the first noble truth of dukkha? The answer is to practice non-attachment. Non-attachment means letting go of our cravings, desires, and clinging to impermanent things. When we cling to things, we create expectations, and when our expectations are not met, we suffer.
Practicing non-attachment does not mean we should stop enjoying life, but rather we should enjoy life with a sense of detachment. We can appreciate the beauty of the world, the joy of relationships, and the pleasures of life, but we should not cling to them as if they are permanent. By practicing non-attachment, we can overcome the first noble truth of dukkha and find freedom from suffering.
Second Noble Truth: The Cause of Dukkha
The Second Noble Truth identifies the cause of dukkha:
Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the origin of dukkha: it is craving, [or desire]; that is craving for sensual pleasures, craving for becoming, craving for disbecoming.
Craving for sensual pleasures means desire for sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and sounds, which are agreeable or pleasant. Craving for becoming means desire for a renewed existence. Craving for disbecoming means desire for non-existence.
As Naval Ravikant wisefuly states, “Desire, [or craving], is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.” In all cases, there is a Self, or “I”, doing the craving: “I want to go to the beach”, “I want to be rich”, or “I want this experience to end.” In all cases, this “I” takes your Non-Self away from the present moment.
In terms of idea spaces, the Second Noble Truth relates to chasing particular thoughts, sensations, or emotions in hopes they are fulfilling.
Figure 2. The First Noble Truth identifies the cause dukkha, which is when we crave or desire a particular thought, emotion, sensation, or perception.
Third Noble Truth: The End of Dukkha
To end the constant desire for more, The Third Noble Truth introduces the end of dukkha:
Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha: the remainderless fading and cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, and letting go of that very craving.
To end desire, understanding the impermanent reality of our world comes to the rescue. Craving is often associated with a Self. "I" want this job. "I" want to watch Netflix.
Through impermanence we see there is no Self. The person we call “I” is always changing from moment to moment as your idea space and the universe are both uncountable. You are not the person you were five years ago. You are not the person you'll be five years from now.
Since there is no Self, we can let go of these cravings associated with “I” and return to the present moment. We can live in the here and now to watch the ever changing landscape of sensations, thoughts, emotions, and perceptions instead of getting caught in the imagined worlds our mind creates, which is the cause of dukkha.
In short, want what you already have. Don’t want what you can’t get.
Figure 3. The Third Noble Truth is the end of dukkha. To avoid suffering wish you were right here, right now, instead of somewhere else.
Fourth Noble Truth: The Eightfold Path
Of course, ending, or renouncing, all craving is a non-trivial task. Instead it is a life long process encapsulated by The Fourth Noble Truth, which is the path leading to the end of dukkha, or The Eightfold Path:
Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of dukkha: it is this noble eightfold path; that is, right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.
The first two are considered the wisdom group; the next three are considered the morality group; the last three are considered the concentration group.
Right view encompasses all the others and implies seeing the world yathabhutam, or just as it is, with clear awareness.
Right thought involves understanding that although we are not our thoughts, whatever we frequently think and ponder becomes the inclination of the mind.
Right speech is broken down into speaking truthfully, avoiding slander and gossip, remaining mindful of emotional tones, listening mindfully, and limiting useless talk. As an ancient once said, “Immeasurably great people are turned about in the stream of speech.”
Right action is the mindful action of avoiding unskillful acts, which are given as the five precepts. Right livelihood is the ability to find a profession which is spiritually fulfilling.
Right effort is putting energy into wholesome states of mind, like compassion and mettā, or loving-kindness, instead of unwholesome state of minds, like thoughts of sensual desire, ill will, or cruelty.
Right mindfulness involves not getting carried away by thoughts nor associating ourselves as those thoughts. Instead, mindfulness means returning to the present moment and seeing the world with bare attention: thoughts as thoughts, emotions as emotions, sensations as sensations, and perceptions as perceptions.
Right concentration is the ability to build momentum of mindfulness, or samadhi, either through one-pointed focused awareness or choiceless awareness.
Practicing The Eightfold Path throughout life requires dedication and discipline. It is a continuous process of self-reflection and improvement, guided by the principles of wisdom, morality, and concentration. By following this path, one can gradually let go of the cravings and attachments that cause suffering, and achieve the end of dukkha.
It is a challenging but ultimately rewarding journey towards inner peace and liberation from the cycle of suffering.
Figure 4. The Fourth Noble Truth is the path that leads to the end of dukkha, or The Eightfold Path.