What are the Four Noble Truths? - Being Zen (2024)

The Four Noble Truths are one of the most foundational teachings of Buddhism. They describe the nature of human suffering and the steps we can take to liberate ourselves from it.

The Four Noble Truths are:

  • The truth of suffering (Dukkha)
  • The truth of the origin of suffering (Samudāya)
  • The truth of the cessation of suffering (Nirodha)
  • The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering (Magga)

In this post, we’ll explore these truths and how they can help us live a more meaningful, mindful life.

The Truth of Suffering

The truth of suffering is perhaps the most straightforward of the Four Noble Truths. It simply means that life is full of all kinds of physical and emotional pain. The pain of sickness, the pain of change, the pain of loss, and the general ‘suffering’ that comes with being human are all included in this truth.

This truth is the starting point for our understanding of the Four Noble Truths (and Buddhism in general) because it helps us see that life is not all sunshine and rainbows. As much as we might try, things will always go wrong. However, this does not mean that suffering should be accepted. By following the Eightfold Path and living a meaningful life, we can alleviate suffering for ourselves and others.

Also, the first noble truth explains how our desires, expectations, and preoccupations help create this suffering. Essentially, desire is the root of all suffering. If we can accept that life will always contain some misery, we can better put up with the bad times and enjoy the good ones.

The truth of suffering emphasizes that suffering is a part of life. If we can accept this truth, it will help us live with more awareness and compassion towards ourselves and others.

What are the Four Noble Truths? - Being Zen (1)

The Truth of the Origin of Suffering

This truth states that for suffering in the world, there needs to be a force by which we create suffering. In other words, suffering originates from our minds. Greed, hatred, and delusion are the three ‘poisons’ that contribute to suffering.

Greed is the first poison. We can see this in over-eating, over-spending, gambling, and other non-skillful actions. And yet, greed operates on many levels. It can mean wanting better things or dissatisfaction with what we already have. Greed is always looking for more and never thinking enough is enough.

Hatred (or aversion) is the second poison. Hatred spoils love and kindness in the world. Out of jealousy, we want others to suffer. And hatred is not reserved only for others. We can also hate ourselves when we don’t like who we are or what we have become. Hatred is always looking for someone or something else to blame.

Delusion (or ignorance) is the third poison. Delusion is the opposite of wisdom. It clouds our judgment and prevents us from seeing things as they are. We can delude ourselves by believing in false realities. Humans have a tendency to ignore facts. Sometimes we refuse to see the bigger picture. These are all examples of delusions.

All these poisons operate within us to some extent. If we are aware of them, we can weaken their influence and start living a more mindful life.

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The Truth of Cessation of Suffering

This truth tells us it’s possible to be free from suffering. However, it doesn’t promise us a life free from pain. Instead, it tells us there is a way out of suffering if we are willing to work for it. With enough effort and training, our desires can become less overwhelming. When we overcome our desire, we can begin to overcome suffering.

This truth emphasizes the possibility of change. We don’t have to be ‘stuck’ in any situation if we work towards a solution. Even if our problems seem insurmountable, it’s possible to overcome them. So long as there is the will to do so.

People always think their happiness and unhappiness depend on what happens to them. But basing your happiness on external factors is a recipe for suffering. It depends on how you react. We can choose not to be overcome with suffering by changing how we view the world. As they say, “What we resist, persists.”

The Truth of the Path to Cessation of Suffering

This truth begins the practical aspect of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. It tells us how to overcome suffering. All Buddhist traditions teach various meditation and mindfulness disciplines (studying Zen koans, for example). By employing these techniques, we can start on the path to liberation. These practices help us recognize the poisons within our minds so we can begin to rid ourselves of them.

The fourth truth says it requires effort, discipline, and training to overcome suffering. No one can do this work for us, but we can achieve freedom from suffering if we are willing to undertake it.

This truth teaches us the different forms the path can take:

  • Right view
  • Right intention
  • Right speech
  • Right action


We can follow these guidelines in our daily lives to become happier and more effective in what we do.

It’s important to note that this truth doesn’t tell us how to ‘become’ free from suffering. Instead, it teaches us how to be accessible for brief periods between each new bout of suffering. We can only be free from suffering in the here and now.

Many people confuse ’emptiness’ with destruction. But it is a state of being free from obstructions. By purifying our delusions, we can uncover the true nature of reality. We are no longer obscured by our preconceptions. Also, as we purify our delusions, our true nature becomes more explicit.

Other truths can be found within the Buddhist tradition. For example, the truth of suffering’s cause, the truth about the cessation of suffering, and various truths about skillful action. However, these are not part of the Four Noble Truths themselves.

Practicing the Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths and the eightfold path are easy to understand. But they take a lifetime of practice to put into effect. They don’t tell us everything there is to know about the world. But they do provide an invaluable guide through the ups and downs of life. They teach us how to be at peace with ourselves and reduce our suffering. The four noble truths teach us to develop greater wisdom and compassion. And most importantly, they teach us a sense of responsibility towards others.

More from Being Zen:

  • The Foundational Attitudes of Mindfulness
  • Does a Meditative State Really Exist?
  • What is a Zen Garden?
  • What are the Four Noble Truths?
  • How to Meditate: A Step by Step Guide for Beginners
What are the Four Noble Truths? - Being Zen (2024)
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