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Basic Concepts of Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths, The Eightfold Path and Rebirth

The Buddha's four realisations led to the formulation of an eightfold path, a 'middle way' that leads from suffering and rebirth to nirvana.
Central to Buddhism is the Buddha's realisation of four truths namely that (1) life is suffering, (2) suffering is caused by craving, (3) suffering can have an end, and (4) there is a path that leads to the end of suffering.

The Four Noble Truths The first truth may seem pessimistic, a common criticism of Buddhism, but the Sanskrit word dukkha can be translated as "dissatisfaction", which is perhaps easier to accept. It refers to the fact that life is often difficult. The human body is prone to illness and ultimately death and while life has many pleasures, none are permanent. Even in a happy, healthy life, a person can sometimes feel disappointed in his relationships, work or hobbies.

The reason a person suffers, according to Buddhism, is because they crave "good" and reject'bad' experiences too strongly. The greatest human desire is to exist and when something threatens a person's survival they naturally feels anxious. On a much smaller scale a person's everyday expectations of pleasure, if disappointed, can cause mild suffering too.

That's not to say that all desire is wrong. Buddhism uses two terms to describe craving: tanha refers to desire that has become perverted, excessive or misdirected, while chanda describes having positive goals for oneself and wishing happiness for others.

The Buddha suggested that once a person accepts the fact of suffering they can set in motion a process to end it. To end suffering is to attain the state of nirvana, the cessation of greed, hatred and delusion. He set out a path which, if followed, can lead from suffering and rebirth to nirvana.

The Eightfold Path
This is also known as the &#;middle way8216' because it takes a moderate course avoiding both indulgence and austerity. The eight elements of the path fall into three categories: wisdom, morality and meditation, and are designed to cultivate intellectual, moral and mental virtues respectively.

In cultivating wisdom, according to Buddhism, one must have (1) Right Understanding and (2) Right Resolve, which mean accepting Buddhist teachings and making a serious commitment to them.

To develop morality one must cultivate three habits. (3) Right Speech means not lying and always speaking thoughtfully. (4) Right Action means physically acting in a responsible way by not stealing, killing or over-indulging in sensual pleasures. (5) Right Livelihood means making a living in a way that does not negatively affect others.

Meditation is a central part of Buddhist practice and requires more attention than can be given here. In short, it is controlling one's mind to induce altered states of consciousness from general calmness to deeper states of reflection that may result in spiritual insight. (6) Right Effort means attempting to gain control of one's thoughts and (7) Right Mindfulness is cultivating awareness. Both are practiced not only in periods of formal meditation but in everyday life, too. Finally (8) Right Meditation is the practice of certain techniques, usually in a formal situation, which are designed to induce deeper levels of consciousness.

This concept is difficult for Westerners to accept but was a popular belief in Asian cultures even before the Buddha's time. While Buddhism rejects the idea of a soul, the craving that causes our suffering in this life also propels us on to new lives. An addiction to pleasure creates a momentum whose energy is so great it does not cease at death but continues its search for fulfilment into the next life. While to some this is a comforting notion, Buddhism sees this as a negative situation because of the suffering inherent in our craving. To break this cycle and enter Nirvana is the goal of Buddhism.

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