Many people may be uncomfortable with the idea of applying ideals of Buddhism to their everyday life, but it is important to understand that I am not speaking for the religion but rather the philosophy behind the religion. For example, think of the golden rule from the Christian Bible, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” You do not have to be a Christian to see the wisdom in these words. That is the point of this article, to expose readers to an unfamiliar philosophy, in this case the Four Noble Truths, that can be useful in everyday life. The Four Noble Truths where created by Siddhartha Gautama to help people handle challenges that we all face. The first is the Noble Truth of Suffering, the Second is the Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering, the third is The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering, and the Fourth is the Way Leading to the Cessation of Suffering or the Eightfold Path.
The Noble Truth of Suffering is one that is always relevant. Every single human being that has ever lived and that will ever live has experienced suffering. Whether you are the Queen of England or a fugitive in a third world country, suffering is unavoidable. Furthermore, it is important not to trivialize suffering. To think that you cannot be sad because there are people in a worse position than you is similar to thinking that you can not be happy because there are people in a better position than you. Whether it comes from getting a car accident, a bad relationship, or even just feeling misunderstood, suffering is fated in all of our lives. Once this is understood it becomes easier to accept. It becomes clear that asking “Why?” is often pointless because oftentimes there is no answer to that question. Sometimes bad things just happened without cause and understanding, and this knowledge makes it easier to accept.
The Second Noble Truth is that the origin of suffering is attachment to desire. There are three types of desire: desire for pleasure, desire to become, and desire to be rid of. The more you desire the greater your suffering will be. Whether it is wanting to do something to have fun, which is the desire for pleasure, wanting to be taller or better looking, which is the desire to become, or just really not wanting to go to school, which is the desire to be rid of. In our society the desire for pleasure causes a lot of suffering. We are constantly searching for stimulation in the way we move from computer screens to television screens to phone screens. This constant search for stimulation always keeps us in a state of limbo between happiness and sadness. This in-between state fills us with apathy and causes several different aspects of life to lose their meaning. As well as the desire for pleasure, the desire to become is especially prevalent in our society. We experience a constant stream of media telling us how to dress, how we should act, what makes you attractive. This is not to say that you should abandon self-improvement. Self-improvement is important, but so is self-acceptance. The third type of desire, the desire to be rid of, also causes suffering for our generation. Sitting around in school all day wishing you were not there only makes you miserable. This is not to say that the school system is fair, or even reasonable, but rather it is not really something that you can avoid. In that case, as in several others, it is better to accept what you cannot change.
The Third Noble Truth is Cessation of Suffering. The first part of The Third Noble Truth is contemplating the meaning behind everything. Why is it like this? Why is it this way? For example, why does someone dress the way they do why do they behave the way they do? The goal here is not to pass judgment but only to search for meaning. This step is necessary because to better understand others is to better understand yourself. Once you understand what makes others suffer or what brings peace to others, it is easier to see how you will be affected. After this part of The Third Noble Truth, then a good deal of introspection is needed. To put it simply, when you are unhappy observe why you are unhappy, and when you are happy observe why you are happy. The value of learning to recognize activities that you enjoy or that calm you down and ones that you dislike or that stress you out is obvious. However, one thing that is often lost is the ability to differentiate between healthy relationships and toxic ones. Not only should you reduce the amount of stressors in in your life, but also the amount of people that cause you to have stress. Oftentimes we unknowingly cling to relationships that leave us emotionally drained while falsely believing that they are good for us. That is the whole aim of Buddhist teachings; to develop a reflective mind in order to let go of illusions.
The Fourth Noble Truth is also called the Eightfold Path or the Path to End Suffering. The eight parts to it are generally translated as
- Right Understanding
- Right Thought
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
Now the translation generally uses the word “right”, but that is not necessary accurate, the original word, “Samma” does not mean right as in right and wrong. It has a meaning closer to whole or complete; it can even be compared to the English word summit. In this sense the opposite of right understanding would not be wrong understanding.
Right Understanding comes from insight gained from the first three Noble Truths. Right Understanding is often described as understanding that, “All that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing.” To put it simply, everything, from things that fill us with joy to some of the greatest sources of suffering, all can come to an end. Surroundings that you have become familiar with can be gone overnight, and it can be disorienting. It can feel similar to having a rug pulled out from under you, change can also bring opportunity, if you are willing to accept it. The next step in the Eightfold Path is Right Thought. When speaking of Right Thought, first you must contemplate this; many people believe that if they had a beautiful house, a secure and luxurious job, and a good marriage then they would be happy. This is not true, there are many people with all of that, and they are still unhappy. In addition, this kind of thinking leads to the belief that you are not whole without all of these things that our society demands which is also a false believe. When we accept that our lives on this earth are not meant to make us content, then it is easier to let go of that demand and therefore easier to let go of desire.
After Right Thought comes Right Speech. Learning Right Speech is a challenging task because most of us do not realize how many different ways speech can hurt us. Exaggeration hurts your credibility, talking without reason makes you seem a fool, words spoken in anger leave behind guilt, and lying can have all three of these effects. Right Speech probably takes the most effort to develop.
Next in the Eightfold Path is Right Action. Right Action is simple; it is the impulse to help. If you see someone fall and your first thought is to help that person, and you do, then that is an example of Right Action. It would not be right action if you helped someone to impress people around you, or to help hoping for a reward. Right Action is done out of compassion for a fellow human being and because it is the right thing to do. Alongside Right Action is Right Livelihood. The essence of living the Right Livelihood is to live a life that does not exploit or harm anyone in any way. It sounds easy enough, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain in modern life. Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration all tie in together. Right Effort is consciously trying to follow the Eightfold Path. Right Mindfulness is being aware of what you should and should not do. And Right Concentration is having the goal of becoming enlightened, or in our modern setting, becoming a better person.
Now this may be a lot to take in all at once, but The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path are filled to the brim with wisdom and even just applying a small part of them to our modern lives can make a huge difference. At the very least, allow some of these ideas to sink in and maybe even affect your perspective on the world.