The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path of Buddhism
I recently came across the topic of the Four Noble Truths and reincarnation after a prolonged period of study into several religions and spiritual-based practices that dealt with topics such as karma and the notion of past lives.
For all I am not a Buddhist, I have committed myself to the life-long practice of meditation and living mindfully, with many of my adopted techniques stemming from the Indian religious sentiments.
Whilst I have the current belief that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, I have only recently been lead to delve deeper into the subject of why we are facing such particular lessons in our lifetime and for all some religions may not support this idea of reincarnation, they certainly have karma as the thread of commonality in which I am curious to learn more about.
What This Post Will Cover:
- What are the Four Noble Truths?
- The Cycles of Samsara
- The Eightfold Path
- Karmic Lives and Spiritual Lessons
The Four Noble Truths describes the Buddhist orientation in its basic form, meaning ‘we crave and cling to impermanent states and things‘ such as materialism and or tangible items; that cannot be taken with us when we pass, nor will it create purpose, love, happiness, joy and any other truly valuable assets.
In Buddhism, this state of mind is known as Dukkha; ‘incapable of satisfying‘; a life spent obtaining what we perceive to be valuable, outwith ourselves, rather than nurturing what is within us all, is believed to be the cause of pain in our lives.
It is said that until we have learned that what is within us is more valuable than what is out with us, we shall become confined to the endless cycle of reincarnation; rebirth and dying again, that only leads to experiencing dukkha in the end and repeatedly.
As per the Buddhist religious texts – Sutras – those who have broken this cycle, which is known as reaching Moksha, Nirvana, Mukti or Kaivalya; ending all cravings for the “impermanent states and things”, has been accomplished by taking the Eightfold path, journeyed through the practice of mindfulness, meditation and learning from the lessons in which our soul is here to learn.
What Are The Four Noble Truths?
The Four Noble Truths in Buddhism are the following, written in both English and it’s original, Sanskrit:
catvāri āryasatyāni; Pali: cattāri ariyasaccāni
- Dukkha; meaning ‘arising‘.
- Samudaya; meaning ‘coming together‘.
- Nirodha; meaning ‘cessatation/confinement‘.
- Marga; describing the path that leads to cessation.
These are known as the truths of the ‘Noble Ones‘; those who have obtained nirvana by following their true path – understanding the truths and realities of their life – therefore the ‘worthy ones‘.
Like most religious texts, the sutras have both a symbolic and suggestive nature to them, however, in Buddhism, not only do the sutras describe the journey to freedom or nirvana of the Buddha – an Indian religious leader – through the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path but it’s attainability for all attentive or awakened beings; those who wish to follow this journey and reach nirvana, thus breaking the samsara cycle.
There are several Buddhist traditions that have evolved the Four Noble Truths over time, in particular, the importance of dhyana meditation has been recognised to be an integral part of the journey in of itself, rather than its prior, additional practice of choice position, in which according to research, is due to the ‘wisdom‘ of liberation that it brings or Prajñā – liberating in itself:
Prajñā (Sanskrit) or paññā (Pāli) “wisdom” is insight in the true nature of reality, namely primarily anicca (impermanence), dukkha (dissatisfaction or suffering), anattā (non-self) and śūnyatā(emptiness).
In particular, the Theravada tradition is of the belief that merely having awareness of the Four Noble Truths, provides freedom in of itself, whereas the Mahayana tradition expresses the need for the enlightened to be living among us – assuming the witnessing or need for a teacher who has obtained spiritual enlightenment.
The Cycles of Samsara:
In Hinduism and other Indian religions, Saṃsāra – in Sanskrit – meaning ‘wandering‘ or ‘world’, pertains to the cycle of our lives being continuous and indirect as well as referencing the belief in reincarnation, rebirth of all ‘existence, life and matter‘. Samsara is understood to be a core belief in all Indian religions and is more popularly referred to as karmic cycles in the western world.
Samsara is believed to be apart of the illusion that is life on this earth, that enables us to think that we are separate from one another – nature and spirit – rather than connected to all things and as a result, can only lead us to behave and act in ways that incur karma that keeps us in this state of samsara until that karma has been cleared.
According to the Berkley Centre at the University of Georgetown, for religion, peace and world affairs:
‘By fully grasping the unity or oneness of all things, the believer has the potential to break the illusion upon which samsara is based and achieve moksha—liberation from samsara.’
The Eightfold Path:
The Noble Eightfold Path (Pali: ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo; Sanskrit: āryāṣṭāṅgamārga) is an early summary of the path of Buddhist practices leading to liberation from samsara, the painful cycle of rebirth. – Wikepedia
The Eightfold Path in Buddhism, is represented symbolically by the dharma wheel; an eight-spoke circle or chakra, in which each spoke represents the eight elements and the particular practice of each path. Every pathway takes us through a process of learning a particular lesson that ultimately leads us to nirvana and upon completion of all paths – such as self-restraint, discipline, the practice of mindfulness and meditation – in which you can read about in more detail here – breaks the repeated reincarnation and suffering cycle.
The eightfold path practices are as follows:
- right view; our actions have consequences, death is not finite, our actions and beliefs have consequences after death. This also includes karma and rebirth, and the importance of the Four Noble Truths, when “wisdom‘ became central to Buddhist soteriology.
- right resolve; leaving the comfort of your home and taking on the life of a poor, religious student in order to follow the path; thus encouraging peaceful sacrifice, leading us into an environment of non-sensuality, giving loving-kindness, choosing compassion over cruelty that creates an environment perfect for the contemplation of impermanence, suffering, and non-Self.
- right speech; no lying, no deceiving, no rude language or thought, no telling one person what another says about him, speaking only that which leads to salvation or nirvana.
- right conduct; no killing or injuring, no taking what is not given, no sexual acts, no material desires.
- right livelihood; begging in order to obtain only what is needed to sustain your life such as food.
- right effort; guarding oneself against sensual thoughts or any desires that may interfere with the meditative practice.
- right mindfulness; never be absent-minded, being conscious of what you are doing; this, encourages the mindfulness about the impermanence of the body, feeling and mind, as well as to experience the five aggregates (skandhas), the five hindrances, the four True Realities and seven factors of awakening. and,
- right samadhi (‘meditative absorption or union’); practising four stages of meditation (dhyāna) culminating into the unification of the mind.
Karmic Lives & Spiritual Lessons:
Throughout my own practice of meditation and mindfulness, I have found a natural desire of my own, to release past hurts, take full responsibility for all that has happened and is to come – both good and bad – as well as viewing the world and beings in it, as a mirror, reflecting my inner state. As a result, releasing past hurts as well as fixing what I am seeing externally within myself, have in a way, brought me to the study of the above beliefs and expanded my perspective.
I have found that I very much create my own reality and for all, I may not be in control of the consequences of my decisions or actions, I am in control of what emotional state or mental conclusion I have made that choice in, nevertheless, this need to delve deeper into the realm of reincarnation, karmic lives and the purpose of rectifying those wrongs, has only recently, become of interest and no doubt something I will continue to read into.
I view my brain as a sort of hard drive or backup system, which of course is valuable but not the only tool that we should be utilising in our lifetime. We have other internal and more valuable assets available to us all, such as intuition, that I explain more thoroughly in my previous post the Kybalion that allows us to trust ourselves, our judgement and without fail, leads us down the path of least resistance.
For all the notion of reincarnation and karmic life, cycles had not resonated with me in a way that other spiritual-based beliefs have so far, it has highlighted the need to reevaluate the particular relationships that I have had in the past.
Have you ever met someone and felt that you instinctively know them already? As if there is an unexplainable familiarity about them, or later, feeling there was a great reason as to why that person was in our life for a period of time? Or met someone incredibly young who just seems wise beyond their years? Me too…and most people can relate to those experiences in some shape or form; thus, it does beg the question along with new scientific research into Deja Vu, “are some of us truly old souls because we have lived this life many times over? Was that familiarity or deep love a reconnection from a previous life?”.
Regardless of our stance on the topic, it does offer food for thought and certainly encourages me to continue, channeling my focus inward even more so, in the hopes I can learn the lessons needed for the progression of my soul, or human experience which in my personal opinion, has done me more good than harm.
Sending you love and light,