The Core Buddhist Teachings and What You Can Learn From Them

5 Jul

I see myself as a secular Buddhist. That is, I use Buddhist teachings as my path to a greater mind state full of compassion, happiness, and love rather than prescribing to the religious and superstitious aspects of Buddhism. I see it more as a way of life, and Buddhism is often taught as a way of life.

The Four Noble Truths

One of the most fundamental Buddhist teachings is the Four Noble Truths. They are the base to a great deal of Buddhist teachings. The Four Noble Truths lay out the cause of all suffering, as well as how to cease suffering.

I wish to preface my explanations of these core teachings by letting you know I’ve only researched these concepts online and in books, and these are just my interpretations of the core Buddhist teachings and the information on the teachings I have found. I will leave the links to my sources of information at the bottom if you wish to learn more, as well as to make sure if I explained anything wrong you can get the correct information.

The First Noble Truth: Dukkha

The first noble truth is the truth of dukkha. Dukkha is a Buddhist term that encompasses strife, anxiety, grief, worry, unpleasantness, dissatisfaction, and so on. Dukkha is often left untranslated as the term has a lot of nuance. It encompasses the most intense unpleasantries such as grief, to more subtle unpleasantries such as displeasure.

The first noble truth states that because you are alive, you will encounter dukkha. There’s nobody that will live that will never encounter dukkha, whether it is mental or physical. It just comes along with being human.

Buddhism often entails recognizing the truths that are hard to swallow. You have to acknowledge hardships to be able to overcome them. You can either accept hard times will come and learn how to go through them, or you can deny that they will come, and when they inevitably do come you can attempt to turn a blind eye to them. When you do this however, you won’t attempt to find any solutions as you won’t acknowledge to yourself there is an issue at hand.

The Second Noble Truth: The cause of suffering.

The second noble truth discusses the cause of the majority of our suffering. It is said that craving, attachment, and ignorance are the causes for most of our suffering.

In craving we base our happiness and overall contentment with life off of achieving and acquiring things. These include things such as material goods and luxuries, adoration from others, achieving goals we’ve imposed on ourselves, and so on. We cause ourselves suffering when we crave. We say, “I won’t be happy until I have this.” Instead one could cultivate a sense of contentment and appreciation for what one already has. One can acknowledge having a sick Lambo or a Ferrari would be sweet, but it’s ok to not have one as well.

In attachment we cause ourselves suffering by clinging to the impermanent, both physical and mental. Physical objects one may find themselves attached to include people and objects, from the most cherished objects such as a family heirloom, down to the most trivial such as a favorite fishing lure.

Mental things we may cling to consist of things such as relationships, friendships, and even identities. For example one may attach themselves to their reputation as a pro athlete, only to have an injury that prevents them from playing sports ever again.

When we cling to these things we set ourselves up for disappointment, as all things are impermanent. Loved ones will die, and objects will break or get lost. Relationships will end, identities will shift. It’s not cold to let go of a loved one after they die. Instead you can be appreciative of the time you got to spend with them.

It’s not removing care from these things, but rather cherishing the time we have with them, and letting ourselves move on when they leave our lives. After something is gone holding onto it and wishing it was still around only brings about suffering.

The other cause of dukkha discussed is ignorance. Ignorance is a lack of knowledge or information. One example of how ignorance can cause you dukkha is when you don’t know you’re causing yourself dukkha. You may have a bad habit such as unhealthy eating, and you don’t even know your eating is causing you lethargy because you never learned proper nutrition.

I believe one of the best ways to decrease your dukkha caused by ignorance is learning more about how to take proper care of your physical and mental health.

The Third Noble Truth: The Cessation of Dukkha

The third noble truth is that you can become free of dukkha. You can reach a mind state where you experience no dukkha at all. This is the Buddhist concept of enlightenment. A lot, if not all of Buddhism is based on the path of reaching this state. I agree that it probably is possible but it’s similar to becoming a complete master at a sport. Just, rather than a master of your body, you must be a master of your mind.

For the most of us we don’t have to expect to reach enlightenment to get something out of Buddhism. Just simply moving farther along the path of enlightenment than you were before is a big accomplishment.

I personally enjoy moving along the path of enlightenment because at the end of the day, the most you can do is at least attempt to be better than you were before. If every day I can become a little bit more loving, have a little bit clearer of a mind, and become a little bit of a better all around person than I was the day before, then I know I’m on the path I wish to be on.

The Fourth Noble Truth: The Eightfold Path

The eightfold path is the Buddhist teaching of HOW you reach enlightenment. It is eight different areas of which you focus on improving in to reach enlightenment.

  • Right Understanding: Understanding the Four Truths
  • Right Thought: Harboring thoughts such as compassion, selflessness, and detachment (non-clinging). Not holding thoughts of ill-will, violence, hate, etc.
  • Right Speech: Not telling lies, speaking slander, or verbally abusing anyone.
  • Right Action: Not doing harm to others, over indulging, stealing, etc.
  • Right Livelihood: Don’t make a living off wronging others, harming people, etc.
  • Right Mindfulness: Being aware/mindful of your actions, sensations, and mind. This is practiced through mindful meditation.
  • Right Concentration: Also practiced through mindful meditation, it can be closely compared to living in the present moment. Reaching a mind state where you are immersed in experience. Becoming pure awareness.
  • Right Effort: Preventing unwholesome states of mind (ie. hatred, malice, etc), getting rid of unwholesome states of mind, cultivating wholesome states of mind (ie. compassion, detachment), and keeping wholesome states of mind.

There can be debate over what is truly “right,” such as people saying right action may consist of never drinking alcohol, while others may say it means don’t over indulge in alcohol, but at the end of the day it’s up to you to decide what fits you best. Only you know what is best for you. I just wish to emphasize the importance of the middle path.

Buddhism teaches taking the middle path. When pursuing enlightenment do not go too light, and sit around half-assing everything, but at the same time don’t go so hardcore that you’re starving yourself to the brink of death to teach yourself a lesson on resisting indulgence.

If you wish to learn more about the Buddhist concept of accepting the present moment you can find my blog post on it here. If you wish to support what I’m doing sharing my post or signing up for my e-mail list would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for reading my stuff, I hope you found this useful and you have yourself a lovely day :-].

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