The four noble truths of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) are as follows:
Once during a walk outside his palace, Siddhartha Gautama came upon an old person, a sick man, corpse and a hermit and was so profoundly stirred by the sight that he renounced his kingly pleasures and ventured forth in search of truth.
He found the cause of suffering and the means of removing it. He attained enlightenment and came to be designated as the ‘enlightened’ (the Buddha). The knowledge realized by him is comprehended in four noble truths.
These Noble Truths are as follows:
1. There is suffering:
Observing the life of human beings and meditating upon it, the Buddha came to the conclusion that human life and the life of other beings is painful. This concept is found in number of his statements, like—
“There is pain with birth, destruction too is painful, separation from the pleasant is also painful. Conjunction with the undesired is painful and separation from the pleasant is painful, and that passion is painful which remains unsatiated. In brief, Panchaskandha springing from attachment is painful.” “The whole world is on fire and not an occasion for celebration.” “Pain is the outcome of pleasure. Fear comes of pleasure-seeking.” “Pain also comes when objects of sensual pleasure are lost.”
“Man has shed more tears than there is water in the oceans.” “Man can find no place on the face of the earth where death does not hover over him.” “Man, wounded by the arrow of pain, should extract it.” “Life is all pain.” “All objects born, suffer pain.” In this way, contrary to Charvaka, the Buddha looks upon the momentary things of the world as painful and preaches means of escape from suffering.
2. There is cause of suffering:
According to the Buddha, the second Noble Truth pertains to the causes of suffering. Desire, the motivating force sustaining the cycle of birth and death, is the fundamental cause of sorrow. This desire is of three types— (1) Sex desire for sensual pleasures; (2) Life desire for enjoyment of life; and (3) Wealth desire for worldly wealth. “Actually the hope initiating coming and going, the hope of seeking sensual satisfaction now here now there, is the desire for the satisfaction of passions, desire for a future life or success in the present one, and it is the fundamental cause.” All sorrows arise from attachment which itself is the result of ignorance. These causes of sorrow have been explained in depth by the Buddha in the theory of Dependent Origination, which is included in the second Noble Truth.
3. There is cessation of suffering:
The third Noble Truth according to the Buddha, is in respect of the destruction of pain. In it, passion, desire and love of life are completely destroyed. Desires are to be completely sacrificed and our total separation from them brought about. The subject of this Noble Truth is the elimination of sorrow. The destruction of the ego and the love of truth bring in their wake, destruction of attachment, jealousy, doubt and sorrow.
Nirvana is the destruction of passion, doubt and sensual pleasure by contemplation of Nothing or Sunya. It is everlasting and complete, infinite nothingness. It is complete peace free from desires and can be likened to the charm of deep seas. As water leaves the petals of the lily, sorrow leaves a person who overtakes this strong and dangerous passion. “Dig out the roots of desire so that it may not crush you time and again.” In the context of truth, the Buddha has also, given a detailed description and explanation of Nirvana.
4. Path of Liberation:
The fourth Noble Truth, according to the Buddha, is the path to cessation of sorrow, meaning the road of escape from sorrow. The Buddha not only detailed the causes of sorrow but also sent a current of hope in world of pessimism by showing the path to the annihilation of sorrow by removing these causes. This path is eightfold. Pursuing this path, the Buddha attained the stage of absolute liberation and others can do the same by pursuing it. It, actually, is the essence of Buddhist religion. The aim of the Buddha was not the presentation of any philosophical system, but rather the development of a practical solution for attaining freedom from suffering.
Thus the four Noble Truths are: (i) There is suffering; (ii) There are causes of suffering; (iii) There can be cessation of suffering; and (iv) There is a path of liberation. These four Noble Truths are the foundation stone of Buddhist philosophy and they also reflect the entire circle of Gautama’s spiritual life which has its origin in consciousness of suffering and its consummation in the discovery of means of escape from suffering. In this way, Gautama’s spiritualism is based on solid realism. It is this unique feature which is the reason for the wide popularity of his thoughts.