The four noble truth is the first sermon preached by Buddha. It actually has more importance other than being ranked the first lesson taught.
If we undertsand the 4 noble truth well, then we are equipped with the wisdom to distinguish the true teachings of Buddha.
In Buddha’s career of spreading enlightenment, he met with many people.(including non humans) to teach the way towards enlightenment. He preached according to the mental capacity of his audience. Therefore, it is said that there are 84,000 teachings in total.
The background of the 4 noble truths
After Buddha attained enlightenment, he expressed with marvel, the profoundness of the ultimate truth. The state of enlightenment is simply beyond words and no one in the entire universe will be able to understand it unless they experience it for themselves.
One of the great gods came to the pressence of Buddha and beseech him to at least teach a way to attain Enlightenment.
Buddha surveyed the world for the best candidates to receive his guidance. He found that the five ascetics who were his spiritual companions would have the right mental apptitude to recieve his teaching and benefit from it.
At this point, I conclude that the first sermon was delivered to the best candidate available. That means, the 1st sermon is preached in the most direct manner.
Contrary to being viewed as the “basic” Dharma, it is actually Dharma that is the most direct.
In fact, the first enlightenment occurred while Buddha was explaining the four noble truths to the 5 ascetics.
It is therefore appropriate that we examine the various teachings we received today under the spotlight of the 4 noble truths to authenticate their validity.
The importance of other Dharma teachings
Subsequent to helping the 5 ascetics attain enlightenment, Buddha proceeded untiringly to explain a way towards Enlightenment to different people with different interest in life. Some are just interested in being a better person or leading a better life. Not everyone wants to be a Buddha or be enlightened.
If we try to explain the 4 noble truths, we will soon discover that not everyone is receptive towards it. I excitedly tried to explain it to my aunty in her car when I was 16 years old. Being young, healthy, successful and rich, the point that life is suffering simply does not hit a note with her.
Even for those who find the 4 noble truth intelligent or meaningful, it stops there.
It remains a sensible knowledge/notion. The 4 noble truths does not trigger an immediate enlightenment in the mind. The reason is beacuse teachings are just “road map” pointing the mind towards enlightenment. This road maps are not the destination.
Perhaps for people whose mind is already near enlightenment, the 4 noble truth is enough to direct them towards enlightenment. For others who are still far away from the destination, we need a road map that help us take the right train and transit at the right station, followed by hiking etc before we can be enlightened.
Which “road map” out of the 84,000 is suitable for us?
This is not a simple question. To answer that we need to know where we are…. We will know it best and perhaps some experience teacher may know us.
However, the most important thing is to use our intelligience and self honesty to determine where we are? what is our starting point?
That is why in the 5 precepts, upholding true speech is important. Unless we are honest with people, including ourselves, it is very difficult to take the correct 1st step in our spiritual journey.
If we are a glutton, admit it. If we are selfish, admit it. If we are control freaks, admit it. If we are sex addict, admit it. That kind of self confidence and self assurance is hard to come by. We like to wear mask and in the process confuse our mask to be our face.
There’s the story of how Tantric Buddhism came about. In short, a king informed Buddha that he wish to gain Enlightenment and be in possession of supernatural power. However, he does not wish to give up his concubines, power and wealth. (That king was honest with himself, no need for false pretense)
Voila! Tantrism is preached. Just another road map, suitable for people with similar apptitude as that king.
Is the “road map” we receive correct?
One of the way to check the map we received is to rely on the 4 noble truth. This is because it is taught to disciples whose mind was already closest to enlightenment (the best candidates to successfully gain enlightenment)
Another authentication technique is to examine the teachings that we received under the light of the 3 Dharma seals (if you follow the Theravada traditions) or the 4 Dharma seals. (Mahayana traditions)
Will stop for now and hopefully continue on the Dharma seals in the next post.