The Buddha’s first teaching after his enlightenment centered on the Four Noble Truths, which are the foundation of Buddhism. It is said that when the Buddha first realized enlightenment, he had no intention of teaching. But upon reflection—in the myths, he was asked to teach by gods—he decided to teach to relieve the suffering of others.
- The truth of suffering (dukkha)
- The truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya)
- The truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha)
- The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga)
The Buddha is sometimes compared to a physician treating a patient.
The First Noble Truth diagnoses a disease. The Second Noble Truth explains the cause of the disease. The Third Noble Truth prescribes a remedy. And the Fourth Noble Truth is the treatment plan.
Quite often, people get hung up on “life is suffering” and decide Buddhism isn’t for them. However, if you take the time to appreciate what the Four Noble Truths are really about, everything else about Buddhism will be much clearer. Let’s look at them one at a time.
The First Noble Truth
The Truth of Suffering
Life always involves suffering, in obvious and subtle forms. Even when things seem good, we always feel an undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty inside.
Dukkha isn’t just suffering, English translation doesn’t grasp the meaning fully.
Dukkha refers to anything that is temporary, conditional, or compounded of other things. Even something precious and enjoyable is dukkha because it will end.
The Buddha said, “All I teach is suffering and the end of suffering.” Suffering in his teaching does not necessarily mean grave physical pain, but rather the mental suffering we undergo when our tendency to hold onto pleasure encounters the fleeting nature of life, and our experiences become unsatisfying and ungovernable.