Have you heard of the four noble truths of Buddhism? They are basically the four principles of life that govern Buddhist philosophy.
According to Gautama Buddha, these four principles are the essence of his philosophy and necessary to understand and follow if you are to attain “nirvana” or “enlightenment”.
Much has been written about these four noble truths, so we decided to share each one with practical quotes from the Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh to show how they can be applied to living a modern life.
Here are the noble truths with accompanying quotes. Enjoy!
1. All existence is dukkha (suffering)
The Buddha’s insight was that our lives are a struggle, and ultimately we don’t find ultimate happiness or satisfaction in anything we experience. This is the key problem of our existence.
Here’s a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh on suffering:
“The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.”
2. The cause of suffering is craving
The natural human tendency is to blame our difficulties on things outside ourselves. But the Buddha says that their actual root is to be found in the mind itself. In particular our tendency to grasp at things (or alternatively to push them away) places us fundamentally at odds with the way life really is.
In the quote below, Thich Nhat Hanh makes the key point that our attachment usually is focused on attaining something in the future. Our relationship with the future is a key focus in letting go of our craving or attachment:
“We have negative mental habits that come up over and over again. One of the most significant negative habits we should be aware of is that of constantly allowing our mind to run off into the future. Perhaps we got this from our parents. Carried away by our worries, we’re unable to live fully and happily in the present. Deep down, we believe we can’t really be happy just yet—that we still have a few more boxes to be checked off before we can really enjoy life. We speculate, dream, strategize, and plan for these ‘conditions of happiness’ we want to have in the future; and we continually chase after that future, even while we sleep. We may have fears about the future because we don’t know how it’s going to turn out, and these worries and anxieties keep us from enjoying being here now.”
3. The cessation of suffering comes with the cessation of craving
As we are the ultimate cause of our difficulties, we are also the solution. We cannot change the things that happen to us, but we can change our responses.
The key point Thich Nhat Hanh makes about letting go of craving and attachment is that it comes from adopting practices of mindfulness. You can start with being present in the drinking of tea:
“You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea. Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup. Only in the present, can you savor the aroma, taste the sweetness, appreciate the delicacy. If you are ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of tea.
“You will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone. Life is like that. If you are not fully present, you will look around and it will be gone. You will have missed the feel, the aroma, the delicacy and beauty of life. It will seem to be speeding past you. The past is finished. Learn from it and let it go. The future is not even here yet. Plan for it, but do not waste your time worrying about it. Worrying is worthless. When you stop ruminating about what has already happened, when you stop worrying about what might never happen, then you will be in the present moment. Then you will begin to experience joy in life.”
4. There is a path that leads from dukkha.
Although the Buddha throws responsibility back on to the individual he also taught methods through which we can change ourselves, for example the Noble Eightfold Path.
The steps of the Noble Eightfold Path are Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Moreover, there are three themes into which the Path is divided: good moral conduct (Understanding, Thought, Speech); meditation and mental development (Action, Livelihood, Effort), and wisdom or insight (Mindfulness and Concentration).
The key point is this:
You have the power to shape your own relationship with your mind to bring yourself on the path to enlightenment.
As Thich Nhat Hanh says:
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”