When we look at Buddhism, it is important to note that the term buddha is Sanskrit for “awakened one” or “enlightened one.” It is not a name, but rather a title or description of a person who has come to understand the true nature of reality.
Buddhists believe that there have been – and will be – many more buddhas, or “awakened ones.” That is actually the overall goal of studying Buddhism – to “wake up” to our true nature which is free from all suffering. It is often referred to as Nirvana.
Read: How the Buddhist Concept of Dharma Can End All Your Suffering
Buddhism: Is It Religion or Philosophy?
The historical Buddha (born Siddhartha Gautama) was a teacher, philosopher, and spiritual leader believed to have lived in India around the 6th century B.C.
Specific dates and facts regarding his life are debated. He is, however, agreed upon as the founder of Buddhism, as the religion is based off his teachings. As with many other religions though, over time, people began to disagree on how the lessons should be taught, resulting in different sects of Buddhism.
For many, though, Buddhism is not a religion, but instead a way of life. Buddhism is a philosophy that holds the key to a happier, more peaceful existence.
That will be the focus of this article. Rather than dive into the history of the religion and life of the Buddha, we will look at two core Buddhist teachings that can be applied to your life without understanding all the intricacies of Buddhism – The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
This is simply an introduction to the concepts. It can take years to fully understand each aspect of these teachings.
Lessons Larger than Life
It is important to first note a foundational belief within Buddhism – reincarnation. Buddhism teaches the concept of samsara, which means a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Buddhists believe we repeat this cycle over and over until we become enlightened.
Think of it like this – Earth is a school and we come back year after year to learn until we finally graduate, meaning we reach Nirvana.
Even if you struggle to accept the concept of multiple lives, you can still benefit greatly from the teachings of Buddhism.
Regardless of your thoughts on reincarnation, the teachings found within The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path are still relevant and when applied, will help you live a happier life. You’ll begin to understand how much of our suffering is self-inflicted based on how we see the world.
And you will start to wake up to a different reality – one that is filled with love, compassion, and inner peace.
Read: 5 Things That Happen During a Spiritual Awakening
Buddhism and The Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths are often misunderstood because they are looked at on a very superficial level. On the surface, they state that life is suffering, we suffer because of our greed, we will stop suffering when we stop wanting, and we do that by following the Eightfold Path.
But really, each Truth refers to a deeper part of our psyche. Each Truth helps us peel back a layer of ego and get to the core of our being. Each Truth, when fully understood, begins to wake us up.
The First Noble Truth – The Truth of Suffering
Simply put, the First Noble Truth states that life is suffering. This concept can turn people off from Buddhism, but the word “suffering” often gets lost in translation.
Scholars maintain the Sanskrit word the Buddha used – dukkha – could also be translated to “incapable of satisfying” or “not able to bear or withstand anything” or even simply “stressful.”
Yes, life does involve suffering as we typically understand and use the word. But Buddha taught that there are three types of dukkha: suffering (or pain), impermanence, and conditioned states.
Impermanence means that everything in the physical world, including mental states, is temporary. Even happiness is temporary and therefore it is dukkha (or suffering) because we want it to be permanent.
Conditioned states means that everything is dependent on and affected by everything else. This is especially important when it comes to our concept of Self, which we prefer to see as individual, autonomous, and permanent. It also helps remind us that the only thing in this life that we can control is ourselves.
Yet we tend to look outward instead of inward . . .
The Second Noble Truth – The Truth of the Cause of Suffering
That brings us to The Second Noble Truth – the cause of our suffering is basically our attachment to our desires. The term desire here extends much further than wanting clothes, cars, or money.
We are attached to ideas of how we think life should be, how others should be, what will make us happy, and on and on. We want life – and everyone in it – to be a certain way and when it isn’t, we suffer. We get hurt, disappointed, angry, and frustrated.
In terms of our concept of Self, attachment takes the form of our ego. Our ego has a definition of who we are – one that is individual, autonomous, and permanent – and will do anything and everything to defend it.
If you want to dive deeper into the Second Noble Truth, I wrote an article about that too, and you can read it here!
It is our ego that wants to separate us from everything and everyone instead of accepting it is all connected; instead of seeing that everything is a conditioned state.
Our ego is attached to who we think we are as a person and constantly looks outward to validate that – a job, income level, marital status, parental status, social status, etc.
But all those things are impermanent. They are all conditional. That is the suffering.
The Third Noble Truth – The Truth of the End of Suffering
The Third Noble Truth states that an end to suffering is possible and Buddhism teaches that we do that by letting go.
Unfortunately, this can’t be done with an act of will. Instead, it is a more complicated process of seeing and understanding the true nature of reality.
When we understand that everything external is impermanent, and therefore the happiness it brings us is as well, we can begin to release our attachments to our desires for life and focus on the one and only thing we can control – ourselves.
If you want to dive deeper into the Third Noble Truth, I wrote an article about that too, and you can read it here!
The Fourth Noble Truth – The Truth of the Path that Frees Us from Suffering
The Fourth Noble Truth lays out a path – The Eightfold Path – to reach enlightenment.
Don’t think of Nirvana as some heavenly place that you will physically ascend to once reached. It is simply a state of mind – a complete understanding of life and harmony with every aspect of it.
There is no suffering because we are able to accept life as it happens – without judgment – and respond in a more loving, compassionate way.
It requires a complete shift of how we view ourselves, each other, and the world around us. There is no quick fix, but instead it is a slow, consistent awakening.
Buddhism and The Eightfold Path
The Eightfold Path is a way of life lived in every single moment, every single thought, and every single action. It is not a lesson that you sit down to study and practice each morning.
And the steps on the path are not to be viewed as something you complete one at a time. It’s not like we work on one, master it, and move on to the next. They all build off each other and depend on each other.
Additionally, try not to think of “right” as in the opposite of “wrong.” “Right” in this instance is more about getting back to our true nature, which is wise, whole, and complete. Think of it more like righting a ship.
1. Right view
Having the right view means understanding the true meaning of life and why we are all here, which is to reach enlightenment. That view of life will change your priorities as well as your perspective in any given situation.
2. Right intention
With a new view of life, we begin to understand the importance of our intentions. Every action begins with a thought. That thought is our intention and the intention is either reinforcing our attachments or starting to let them go.
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3. Right speech
Buddhism teaches compassion and loving kindness. Right speech involves speaking kindly to each other, but also to ourselves.
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4. Right conduct
Our thoughts, speech, and actions should all be in harmony. When we take a compassionate view towards others and ourselves, our actions should easily follow.
5. Right livelihood
Our lifestyle should reflect the work we’ve done to correct our thoughts, actions, and speech. This refers to both how we make a living and how we live our daily lives. We should strive for honesty and integrity on every level.
6. Right efforts
To use the buzzwords of today, this is self-work, self-care, and self-love. We should be working on ourselves instead of trying to change others. We want to cultivate more generosity, compassion, and loving kindness, while letting go of anger, greed, and hatred.
7. Right mindfulness
This is full body and mind awareness. Living in the present and seeing our thoughts and emotions for what they truly are – impermanent. When we are mindful, we do not get swept up in anger or hurt. We see and understand that all emotions are fleeting, and we do not let them dictate our actions.
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8. Right concentration
This is usually viewed as meditation. Meditation helps the mind with every step of the Eightfold Path. We must be aware of our thoughts and intentions in order to change our actions.
And we must create space between ourselves and our thoughts and emotions so we don’t get lost in them. This is accomplished through meditation.
A Calm, Quiet and Controlled Mind Comes Through Meditation and Focus On the Breath: Learn Both With This Guided Meditation From YA Classes
With Carisa Banuelos
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This Introduction to Buddhism Is Just the Beginning
There are many more facets to Buddhism. Fully understanding the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path can take years or even lifetimes.
We are always able to go deeper into the truths, uncovering all the hidden agendas and ulterior motives our ego hides behind. But we can start with a basic understanding that life is dukkha.
There is pain, everything is impermanent, and everything is connected. And what we strive to understand and wake up to is that everything is a lesson and an opportunity to better understand ourselves and the purpose of our existence.