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Four Truths of the Noble Ones

The four truths (Sanskrit satya or Tibetan denpa) are said to be the realizations that came to the Buddha on the night of his full awakening. These four truths have frequently been translated as “the four noble truths”, but the more accurate translation would be “the four truths of the noble ones”.

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The four truths (Sanskrit satya or Tibetan denpa) are said to be the realizations that came to the Buddha on the night of his full awakening. The term has been most frequently translated as “truth”; but it specifically means “that which is in accord with reality”, or “reality”, or “fact”. These four truths have frequently been translated as “the four noble truths”, but the more accurate translation would be “the four truths of the noble ones”. The truths themselves are realities or facts that are not obvious without investigation. For noble ones, those who have seen the true nature, they are truths.1 Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press.

  1. Duḥkha (Tibetan སྡུག་བསྔལ་གྱི་བདེན་པ་). The reality of unease. This term was traditionally translated as suffering. However, many modern scholars emphasize that suffering is too narrow an interpretation. In general, the term includes unease, dissatisfaction, pain, discomfort, or unhappiness that accompanies all temporary experiences.
  2. Duḥkha-samudaya-satya (Tibetan ཀུན་འབྱུང་བའི་བདེན་པ་). The reality of the origin or coming into being of unease or dissatisfaction.
  3. Nirodha-satya (Tibetan འགོག་པའི་བདེན་པ་). The reality of the cessation of unease or dissatisfaction.
  4. Mārga-satya (Tibetan ལམ་གྱི་བདེན་པ་). The reality of the path leading to cessation.

In the foundational vehicle, the primary text associated with the four truths is the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, “Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion”, found in the Pali Canon. That sutta is one of fourteen Pali texts that was translated into Tibetan. Within the Tibetan canon, there are seven Mahayana sutras that give accounts of these realities. In the Lalitavistara, one of the most important and widely spread sutras within Buddhist Mahayana literature, the penultimate chapter offers one clear example of the presentation.

In this description, in the words of the Buddha, the penetration of the four truths allowed for “wisdom, vision, understanding, intellect, intelligence, knowledge, and insight” to become manifest. And this became identified as “enlightenment” or awakening.

Monks, there are also four truths of the noble ones. What are these four? Suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path that leads to the cessation of suffering.

What is suffering? It is the pain that accompanies birth, growing old, falling sick, and dying. It also includes the suffering of meeting the unpleasant and parting from the pleasant. Not finding what is being sought is also suffering. In short, the five perpetuating aggregates are suffering. This is what we call suffering.

What is the origin of suffering? It is the craving that perpetuates existence, which is attended upon by the passion for enjoyment, and which finds pleasures here and there. That is the origin of suffering.

What is the cessation of suffering? It is the complete and dispassionate cessation of craving that perpetuates existence, which is attended upon by the passion for enjoyment, and which finds pleasures here and there. This is the cessation of suffering.

What is the path that leads to the cessation of suffering? It is exclusively the eightfold path of the noble ones. This is the path that starts with correct view and ends with correct concentration. It is called the path that leads to the cessation of suffering‍—a noble truth.

Monks, these four truths are the truths of the noble ones.

Monks, this teaching I had not heard previously. I understood it by intensely and introspectively focusing my mind on suffering. In this way my wisdom, vision, understanding, intellect, intelligence, knowledge, and insight became manifest.

Monks, this teaching I had not heard previously. I understood it by focusing intently on the origin of suffering. In this way my wisdom, vision, understanding, intellect, intelligence, knowledge, and insight became manifest.

Monks, this teaching I had not heard previously. I understood it by focusing intently on the cessation of suffering. In this way my wisdom, vision, understanding, intellect, intelligence, knowledge, and insight became manifest.

Monks, this teaching I had not heard previously. I understood it by focusing intently on the path that leads to the cessation of suffering. In this way my wisdom, vision, understanding, intellect, intelligence, knowledge, and insight became manifest. 

Monks, within this teaching that I had not heard previously, suffering must be known. This I understood by focusing intently on suffering. In this way my wisdom, vision, understanding, intellect, intelligence, knowledge, and insight became manifest.

Monks, within this teaching that I had not heard previously, the origin of suffering must be abandoned. This I understood by focusing intently on the origin of suffering. In this way my wisdom, vision, understanding, intellect, intelligence, knowledge, and insight became manifest.

Monks, within this teaching that I had not heard previously, the cessation of suffering must be actualized. This I understood by focusing intently on the cessation of suffering. In this way my wisdom, vision, understanding, intellect, intelligence, knowledge, and insight became manifest.

Monks, within this teaching that I had not heard previously, the path that leads to the cessation of suffering must be practiced. This I understood by focusing intently on the path that leads to the cessation of suffering. In this way my wisdom, vision, understanding, intellect, intelligence, knowledge, and insight became manifest.

Monks, within this teaching that I had not heard previously, I have fully understood suffering. This I did by focusing intently on suffering. In this way my wisdom, vision, understanding, intellect, intelligence, knowledge, and insight became manifest.

Monks, within this teaching that I had not heard previously, I have abandoned the origin of suffering. This I did by focusing intently on the origin of suffering. In this way my wisdom, vision, understanding, intellect, intelligence, knowledge, and insight became manifest.

Monks, within this teaching that I had not heard previously, I have actualized the cessation of suffering. This I did by focusing intently on the cessation of suffering. In this way my wisdom, vision, understanding, intellect, intelligence, knowledge, and insight became manifest.

Monks, within this teaching that I had not heard previously, I have practiced the path that leads to the cessation of suffering. This I did by focusing intently on the path that leads to the cessation of suffering. In this way my wisdom, vision, understanding, intellect, intelligence, knowledge, and insight became manifest.

Monks, in this way I genuinely contemplated each of the four truths of the noble ones while I recited them three times. Still, I did not develop the wisdom that sees their twelve aspects. Monks, therefore I did not make any claims of having awakened to unsurpassable, perfect, and complete buddhahood, and I still lacked the insight of wisdom.

However, monks, once I had recited the four truths of the noble ones three times, I developed the wisdom that sees their twelve aspects. At that point my mind was free and my insight was now free and pure. Monks, at that point I declared that I had awakened to unsurpassable, perfect, and complete buddhahood. My wisdom vision had been developed, my births had been exhausted, I had carried out my religious practice, I had done what needed to be done, and I will not have another life.

The Noble Great Vehicle Sūtra “The Play in Full”, Ārya­lalita­vistara­nāma­mahā­yāna­sūtra, translated by Dharmachakra Translation Committee, 2013.

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