From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to: navigation, search

Here I have simply coloured each sentence in the lede according to the cites used to back up the sentence. The sentences are:

  • violet if it is cited to a Western style academic scholar
  • red if cited to an Eastern sutra tradition style scholar.
  • black (for NPOV) if cited to both, uncited, or unsure what the cite is.

Compare #Old version with #New version to see the change.

Notes on the colouring

I have made no attempt to evaluate whether the statements are western academic or sutra tradition in flavour, or whether they accurately summarize the cited sources. This is just to show the tendencies in choice of authors for the reliable secondary sources for the article. It's of course much easier to do that than to evaluate the actual slant of each sentence and even more so to explain that slant to someone and the reason for your choice.

Some sections have notes with a long list of quotes that consist of roughly equal numbers of Western and Eastern academics - for those sections I have left the sentences cited to a long list of equal numbers of both types of source black as NPOV.

It would be possible to go through both articles in their entirety in the same way. Many later sections would be almost entirely red or black, with occasional patches of violet in the old article and many of the later sections would be almost entirely violet with occasional patches of red or black in the new version.

Old version

Source: old version as edited on: 15:47, 10 October 2014

The Four Noble Truths (Sanskrit: catvari aryasatyani; Pali: cattari ariyasaccani) are regarded as the central doctrine of the Buddhist tradition, and are said to provide a conceptual framework for all of Buddhist thought. These four truths explain the nature of dukkha (Pali; commonly translated as "suffering", "anxiety", "unsatisfactoriness"[lower-alpha 1]), its causes, its cessation, and the path leading to its cessation.

The four noble truths are:[lower-alpha 2]

  1. The truth of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, unsatisfactoriness[lower-alpha 1])
  2. The truth of the origin of dukkha
  3. The truth of the cessation of dukkha
  4. The truth of the path leading to the cessation of dukkha

The first noble truth explains the nature of dukkha. Dukkha is commonly translated as “suffering”, “anxiety”, “unsatisfactoriness”, “unease”, etc., and it is said to have the following three aspects:[lower-alpha 3]

  • The obvious physical and mental suffering associated with birth, growing old, illness and dying.
  • The anxiety or stress of trying to hold on to things that are constantly changing.
  • A basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.

The central importance of dukkha in Buddhist philosophy has caused some observers to consider Buddhism to be a pessimistic philosophy. However, the emphasis on dukkha is not intended to present a pessimistic view of life, but rather to present a realistic practical assessment of the human condition—that all beings must experience suffering and pain at some point in their lives, including the inevitable sufferings of illness, aging, and death.[6] Contemporary Buddhist teachers and translators emphasize that while the central message of Buddhism is optimistic, the Buddhist view of our situation in life (the conditions that we live in) is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic.[lower-alpha 4]

The second noble truth is that the origin of dukkha can be known. Within the context of the four noble truths, the origin of dukkha is commonly explained as craving or thirst (Pali: tanha) conditioned by ignorance (Pali: avijja). On a deeper level, the root cause of dukkha is identified as ignorance (avijja) of the true nature of things. The third noble truth is that the complete cessation of dukkha is possible, and the fourth noble truth identifies a path to this cessation.

According to the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha first taught the four noble truths in the very first teaching he gave after he attained enlightenment, as recorded in The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta), and he further clarified their meaning in many subsequent teachings.[lower-alpha 5]

The two main traditions of Buddhism, the Theravada and Mahayana, have different approaches to learning about the four noble truths and putting them into practice. The Theravada tradition strongly emphasizes reading and contemplating The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth—the first discourse of the Buddha—as a method of study and practice. In the Mahayana tradition, practitioners are more likely to learn about the four noble truths through studying various Mahayana commentaries, and less likely to study the first discourse directly. The Mahayana commentaries typically present the four noble truths in the context of the Mahayana path of the bodhisattva.[7]

[lower-alpha 5][lower-alpha 6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 For clarification of translations, see Dukkha#Translating the term dukkha.
  2. Contemporary translators have used a number of variations in presenting the essential list (i.e. the names or titles) of the Four Noble Truths. For example:
    • Bhikkhu Bodhi states: "The Four Noble Truths are as follows: 1. The truth of Dukkha; 2. The truth of the origin of Dukkha; 3. The truth of the cessation of Dukkha; 4. The truth of the path, the way to liberation from Dukkha".[web 1]
    • John T. Bullit (Access to Insight) states: "What are these four? They are the noble truth of dukkha; the noble truth of the origin of dukkha; the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha; and the noble truth of the way to the cessation of dukkha."[web 2]
    • Ven. Dr. Rewata Dhamma states: The Four Noble Truths [...] are: 1. The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha); 2. The Noble Truth of the origin of suffering (samudaya); 3. The Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering (nirodha); 4. The Noble Truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering (magga).[1]
    • Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism states: "1. The noble truth that is suffering; 2. The noble truth that is the arising of suffering; 3. The noble truth that is the end of suffering; 4. The noble truth that is the way leading to the end of suffering."[2]
    • Geshe Tashi Tsering states: "The four noble truths are: 1. The noble truth of suffering; 2. The noble truth of the origin of suffering; 3. The noble truth of the cessation of suffering and the origin of suffering; 4. The noble truth of the path that leads to the cessation of suffering and the origin of suffering."[3]
    • Joseph Goldstein states: "The four noble truths are the truth of suffering, its cause, its end, and the path to that end.[4]
    • Mark Epstein states: "[The Buddha] formulated his first teaching as the Four Noble Truths: suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path to its cessation".[5]
  3. See the article Dukkha for further details and citations.
  4. For citations and further clarification, see Dukkha#Neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic; in particular, see the footnotes in this section for detailed information on sources.
  5. 5.0 5.1 The Four Noble Truths are regarded as central to the teachings of Buddhism; they were taught repeatedly by the Buddha throughout his lifetime:
    • Judith Leif states: "The four noble truths are central to the Buddhist tradition. The Buddha presented these teachings in one of the first sermons he gave after his enlightenment, and they were recorded in the sutra The First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma. [...] In later teachings the Buddha touched on the four noble truths repeatedly, expanding upon and further elucidating his original presentation."[8]
    • Ron Leifer states: "The Buddha repeated over and over again that the four noble truths are the foundation and nucleus of his teachings. All Buddhist wisdom is contained within them like the layers of an onion, each layer more subtle and profound than the previous, leading to a central insight. Monks, Buddha said, by the fact of understanding as they really are, these four truths, a Tathagata is called an Arhat, a fully enlightened one."[9]
    • Walpola Rahula states: "In [the Buddha's first] sermon, as we have it in the original texts, these four Truths are given briefly. But there are innumerable places in the early Buddhist scriptures where they are explained again and again, with greater detail and in different ways."[10]
    • Thich Nhat Hanh states: "The Buddha continued to proclaim these truths right up until his Great Passing Away (mahaparanirvana)."[11]
    • Ajahn Succitto states: And many would say that [the Buddha's first discourse] was his most important discourse because it established the basis of the teaching that he added to throughout his life—the teaching of "suffering and the cessation of suffering," which he encapsulated in four great or "noble" truths.[12]
    • Rupert Gethin states: "In a Nikāya passage the Buddha thus states that he has always made known just two things, namely suffering and the cessation of suffering. This statement can be regarded as expressing the basic orientation of Buddhism for all times and all places. Its classic formulation is by way of 'four noble truths'..."[13]
    • Piyadassi Thera states: "...the Four Noble Truths are the central concept of Buddhism. What the Buddha taught during his ministry of forty-five years embraces these Truths, namely: Dukkha, suffering or unsatisfactoriness, its arising, its cessation and the way out of this unsatisfactory state."[web 3]
    • Thubten Thardo (Gareth Sparham) states: "[Siddhārtha] went to Varanasi, where he “turned the wheel of the Dharma,” teaching his distinctive doctrine of the four noble truths to his first followers, who became the core of a Buddhist community that soon grew and flourished. During the remaining years of his life, the Buddha continued to teach the four noble truths— the truth of suffering, the truth of its cause, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path to its attainment— and he instructed his followers how to live as a community in harmony."[14]
  6. The Four Noble Truths are regarded as central to the teachings of Buddhism; they have been compared to the footprints of an elephant:
    • Bhikkhu Bodhi states: "The recorded teachings of the Buddha are numerous. But all these diverse teachings fit together into a single unifying frame, the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha compared the Four Noble Truths to the footprints of an elephant. Just as the footprint of an elephant can contain the footprints of any other animal, the footprints of tigers, lions, dogs, cats, etc. So all the different teachings of the Buddha fit into the single framework of the Four Noble Truths."[web 1]
    • Thanissaro Bhikkhu states: "The four noble truths are the most basic expression of the Buddha's teaching. As Ven. Sariputta once said, they encompass the entire teaching, just as the footprint of an elephant can encompass the footprints of all other footed beings on earth."[web 4]
    • Piyadassi Thera states: [These truths] are the essence of the Buddha's teaching. ‘As the footprint of every creature that walks the earth can be contained in an elephant's footprint, which is pre-eminent for size, so does the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths embrace all skilful Dhamma (the entire teaching of the Buddha).' [M. 28.][web 5]
    • Joseph Goldstein states: "Sāriputta, the chief disciple of the Buddha, spoke with a group of monks about these truths: 'Friends, just as the footprint of any living being that walks can be placed within an elephant’s footprint, . . . so too, all wholesome states can be included in the Four Noble Truths.'"[15]


  1. Dhamma 1997, p. 55.
  2. Buswell 2003, Volume One, p. 296.
  3. Geshe Tashi Tsering 2005, Kindle Locations 246-250.
  4. Goldstein 2002, p. 24.
  5. Epstein 2004, p. 42.
  6. Gethin 1998, p. 61.
  7. Geshe Tashi Tsering 2005, Kindle Locations 275-280.
  8. Chogyam Trungpa 2009, p. viii.
  9. Leifer 1997, p. 70.
  10. Walpola Rahula 2007, Kindle loc. 514-524.
  11. Thich Nhat Hanh 1999, p. 9.
  12. Ajahn Sucitto, p. 2.
  13. Gethin 1998, p. 59.
  14. Khunu Rinpoche 2012, Kindle loc. 240-243.
  15. Goldstein 2013, p. 287.

Web references

New version

Source: New version as edited on:(06:35, 30 April 2017)

The Four Noble Truths (Sanskrit: catvari aryasatyani; Pali: cattari ariyasaccani) are "the truths of the Noble Ones,"[1] the truths or realities which are understood by the "worthy ones"[web 1] who have attained Nirvana.[2][web 1] The truths are dukkha, the arising of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, and the path leading to the cessation of dukkha.

In the sutras, the four truths have both a symbolic and a propositional function.[3]They represent the awakening and liberation of the Buddha, but also the possibility of liberation for all sentient beings, describing how release from craving is to be reached.[4] In the Pali canon, the four truths appear in a "network of teachings,"[5]as part of "the entire dhamma matrix,"[6]which have to be taken together.[5]They provide a conceptual framework for introducing and explaining Buddhist thought, which has to be personally understood or "experienced".[7][8] [9][web 2][10][note 1]

The four truths defy an exact definition, but refer to and express the basic orientation of Buddhism[11] in a formulaic expression:[12][note 2]we crave and cling to impermanent states and things,[13] which is dukkha,[14]"incapable of satisfying"[web 3] and painful.[web 3][13][15][16][17][web 2] This craving keeps us caught in samsara,[note 3] the endless cycle of repeated rebirth and dying again, and the dukkha that comes with it.[note 4] But there is a way to end this cycle and reach real happiness,[26][note 5]namely by letting go of this craving and attaining nirvana, whereafter rebirth and dissatisfaction will no longer arise again.[note 6][29] This can be accomplished by following the eightfold path,[note 2]restraining oneself, cultivating discipline, and practicing mindfulness and meditation.[37][38]

The function of the four truths, and their importance, developed over time, when prajna, or "liberating insight," came to be regarded as liberating in itself,[39][8] instead of or in addition to the practice of dhyana.[39]This "liberating insight" gained a prominent place in the sutras, and the four truths came to represent this liberating insight, as part of the enlightenment story of the Buddha.[40][41]

The four truths became of central importance in the Theravada tradition,[42][43] which holds to the idea that insight into the four truths is liberating in itself.[34] They are less prominent in the Mahayana tradition, which sees the higher aims of insight into sunyata and following the Bodhisattva-path as a central elements in their teachings and practice.[44]The Mahayana tradition reinterpreted the four truths to explain how a liberated being can still be "pervasively operative in this world."[45]Beginning with the exploration of Buddhism by western colonialists in the 19th century and the development of Buddhist modernism, they came to be often presented in the west as the central teaching of Buddhism.[46][47]


  1. Gethin: "The word satya (Pali sacca) can certainly mean truth, but it might equally be rendered as 'real' or 'actual thing'. That is, we are not dealing here with propositional truths with which we must either agree or disagree, but with four 'true things' or 'realities' whose nature, we are told, the Buddha finally understood on the night of his awakening. [...] This is not to say that the Buddha's discourses do not contain theoretical statements of the nature of suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path to its cessation, but these descriptions function not so much as dogmas of the Buddhist faith as a convenient conceptual framework for making sense of Buddhist thought."[10]
  2. 2.0 2.1 Graham Harvey: "Siddhartha Gautama found an end to rebirth in this world of suffering. His teachings, known as the dharma in Buddhism, can be summarized in the Four Noble truths."[27] Geoffrey Samuel (2008): "The Four Noble Truths [...] describe the knowledge needed to set out on the path to liberation from rebirth."[30] See also [21][31][9][16][32][17][27][33][web 2][web 5]

    The Theravada tradition holds that insight into these four truths is liberating in itself.[34] This is reflected in the Pali canon.[35] According to Donald Lopez, "The Buddha stated in his first sermon that when he gained absolute and intuitive knowledge of the four truths, he achieved complete enlightenment and freedom from future rebirth."[web 2]

    The Maha-parinibbana Sutta also refers to this liberation.[web 6] Carol Anderson: "The second passage where the four truths appear in the Vinaya-pitaka is also found in the Mahaparinibbana-sutta (D II 90-91). Here, the Buddha explains that it is by not understanding the four truths that rebirth continues."[36] Mahaparinibbana-sutta:

    Through not seeing the Four Noble Truths,
    Long was the weary path from birth to birth.
    When these are known, removed is rebirth's cause,
    The root of sorrow plucked; then ends rebirth.[web 7]

    On the meaning of moksha as liberation from rebirth, see Patrick Olivelle in the Encyclopædia Britannica.[web 8]
  3. See:
    * Gogerly (1861): "1. That sorrow is connected with existence in all its forms. 2. That its continuance results from a continued desire of existence."[18]
    *Perry Schmidt-Leukel: "Thirst can be temporarily quenched but never brought to final stillness. It is in this sense that thirst is the cause of suffering, duhkha. And because of this thirst, the sentient beings remain bound to samsara, the cycle of constant rebirth and redeath: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence as the Second Noble Truth."[19]
    * See also Williams & Wynne,[20] Spiro.[21]
  4. On samsara, rebirth and redeath:

    * Mahasatipatthana-sutta: "And what, bhkkhus, is the noble truth that is the arising of pain? This is craving that leads to rebirth."[22]

    * "Because of our ignorance (avijja) of these Noble Truths, because of our inexperience in framing the world in their terms, we remain bound to samsara, the wearisome cycle of birth, aging, illness, death, and rebirth."[web 4]

    * Paul Williams: "All rebirth is due to karma and is impermanent. Short of attaining enlightenment, in each rebirth one is born and dies, to be reborn elsewhere in accordance with the completely impersonal causal nature of one's own karma. The endless cycle of birth, rebirth, and redeath, is samsara."[16]

    * Buswell and Lopez on "rebirth": "An English term that does not have an exact correlate in Buddhist languages, rendered instead by a range of technical terms, such as the Sanskrit PUNARJANMAN (lit. "birth again") and PUNABHAVAN (lit. "re-becoming"), and, less commonly, the related PUNARMRTYU (lit. "redeath")."[23]

    See also Perry Schmidt-Leukel (2006) pages 32-34,[19] John J. Makransky (1997) p.27.[24] for the use of the term "redeath." The term Agatigati or Agati gati (plus a few other terms) is generally translated as 'rebirth, redeath'; see any Pali-English dictionary; e.g. pages 94-95 of Rhys Davids & William Stede, where they list five Sutta examples with rebirth and re-death sense.[25]

    See also punarmrityu
  5. Warder refers to Majjhima Nikaya 75: "I gave up the desire for pleasure [...] I did not long for them [...] Now what was the cause? That delight, Māgandiya, which is apart from pleasures, apart, from bad principles, which even stands completely surpassing divine happiness, enjoying that delight I did not long for inferior ones, did not take pleasure in them."[26]
  6. Ending rebirth:
    * Graham Harvey: "The Third Noble Truth is nirvana. The Buddha tells us that an end to suffering is possible, and it is nirvana. Nirvana is a "blowing out," just as a candle flame is extinguished in the wind, from our lives in samsara. It connotes an end to rebirth"[27]
    * Spiro: "The Buddhist message then, as I have said, is not simply a psychological message, i.e. that desire is the cause of suffering because unsatisfied desire produces frustration. It does contain such a message to be sure; but more importantly it is an eschatological message. Desire is the cause of suffering because desire is the cause of rebirth; and the extinction of desire leads to deliverance from suffering because it signals release from the Wheel of Rebirth."[21]
    * John J. Makransky: "The third noble truth, cessation (nirodha) or nirvana, represented the ultimate aim of Buddhist practice in the Abhidharma traditions: the state free from the conditions that created samsara. Nirvana was the ultimate and final state attained when the supramundane yogic path had been completed. It represented salvation from samsara precisely because it was understood to comprise a state of complete freedom from the chain of samsaric causes and conditions, i.e., precisely because it was unconditioned (asamskrta)."[9]
    * Walpola Rahula: "Let us consider a few definitions and descriptions of Nirvana as found in the original Pali texts [...] 'It is the complete cessation of that very thirst (tanha), giving it up, renouncing it, emancipation from it, detachment from it.' [...] 'The abandoning and destruction of craving for these Five Aggregates of Attachment: that is the cessation of dukkha. [...] 'The Cessation of Continuity and becoming (Bhavanirodha) is Nibbana.'"[28]


  1. Williams 2002, p. 41.
  2. Warder 1999, p. 67.
  3. Anderson 1999, pp. 223-231.
  4. Anderson 1999, p. 56.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Anderson 2001, p. 85.
  6. Anderson 2001, p. 86.
  7. Bronkhorst 1993.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Anderson 1999.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Makransky 1997, p. 27-28.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Gethin 1998, p. 60.
  11. Gethin 1998, p. 59.
  12. Norman 2003.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Nyanatiloka 1980, p. 65.
  14. Khantipalo 2003, p. 41.
  15. Emmanuel 2015, p. 30.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Williams 2002, p. 74-75.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Lopez 2009, p. 147.
  18. Harris 2006, p. 72.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Schmidt-Leukel 2006, p. 32-34.
  20. Paul Williams, Anthony Tribe & Alexander Wynne 2012, pp. 32–34.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Spiro 1982, p. 42.
  22. Anderson 2013, p. 91.
  23. Buswell & Lopez 2003, p. 708.
  24. Makransky 1997, p. 27.
  25. Rhys Davids & William Stede
  26. 26.0 26.1 Warder 2000, p. 45-46.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Harvey 2016.
  28. Rahula 2007.
  29. Buswell & Lopez 2003, p. 304.
  30. Samuel 2008, p. 136.
  31. Vetter 1988, p. xxi, xxxi-xxxii.
  32. Idema 2004, p. 17.
  33. Kingsland 2016, p. 286.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Carter 1987, p. 3179.
  35. Anderson 2013.
  36. Anderson 2013, p. 162 with note 38, for context see pages 1-3.
  37. Raju 1985, p. 147–151.
  38. Eliot 2014, p. 39–41.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Bronkhorst 1993, p. 99-100, 102-111.
  40. Gombrich 1997, p. 99-102.
  41. Bronkhorst 1993, p. 93-111.
  42. Anderson 1999, p. 55-56.
  43. Anderson 1999, p. 230-231.
  44. Carter 1987, p. 3179-3180.
  45. Makransky 1997, p. 346-347.
  46. Harris 2006, p. 72-73.
  47. Anderson 2001, p. 196.

Web references