Buddhism is a very practical “religion” that does not promote deification and theology. It is about straightforward and simple truths which, if followed in everyday life, can help people overcome suffering and achieve an inborn sense of happiness. While Buddhism does not encourage blindly following rules and principles, it is important to know the teachings and philosophies of Buddha to understand the discipline that Buddhism is all about.
The First Noble Truth
The first of the Four Noble Truths propounded by Sakyamuni soon after he attained Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree was: “Life is suffering”. A depressing statement, indeed! “Suffering” however does little justice to the original, many layered Pali word, “dukkha”, which includes all things transient and conditional. In this sense, the most precious things and happiest of experiences in life ultimately bring dukkha – because they are impermanent and our attachment to them is strong.
The Buddha’s reflection was based on what he observed as Prince Siddhartha and later, a wandering monk – that the one factor uniting humanity was suffering.
The beginning of life is marked by suffering in the pain experienced by mother and child. As people age, their senses deteriorate and bodies grow weaker, causing suffering. Disease brings dukkha; finally, death is the cause of much grief and pain. No one can avoid the suffering involved in being born, aging and dying. Worse, dukkha, whether in the form of a fever or loss of a loved one has to be endured alone. No one can fully experience the suffering of another.
The Buddha spoke of three types of mental suffering.
- People feel dukkha when they are separated or lose loved ones.
- The discomfort or stress felt in the company of unpleasant or hostile people is also dukkha.
- Being unable to get everything we want causes dejection and frustration – dukkha by another name.
The Buddha also reflected on the many kinds of happiness that exist – friendships, family life, good health, the joys of celebrating and sharing. But as real as these are, they are impermanent. Typically, people try escaping from dukkha by filling their lives with transient pleasures; when these fade, they are left struggling with reality.