Why the Truths are Noble

In general, we can say that all liberated beings (aryas), such as arhats and buddhas, have thoroughly penetrated the Four Noble Truths. And because these truths pervade the understanding of these holy beings, we call them noble. They are also called noble because by understanding and practicing them, we too can reach liberation.

The aryas awakened to the first noble truth of suffering and its many origins. First there is suffering from catastrophe, calamity, natural disasters, and other threats from the environment. Second, we can isolate fear and uncertainty as sources of suffering. And third are the endless kinds of self-generated afflictions we experience. These latter types of suffering are more clearly mental in origin and manifestation. Thus, the awakened ones are fully aware of the manifold origins of suffering that keep us in the oceanic suffering of samsara, the cycle of birth and death.

The second noble truth is that the fundamental cause of suffering is ignorance manifesting as greed, aversion, and delusion. Ignorance in turn leads us to engage in actions that cause suffering. Action, the literal meaning of karma, includes overt actions as well as thoughts and words. So what we call the origin or cause of suffering is actually karma--the force that propels existing conditions in our life to a future result, a kind of momentum that leads us in a certain direction. It is a composite energy generated by the illusions and afflictions of sentient beings, causing them to engage in certain actions. These actions themselves plant further 'seeds' (causes and conditions) for further consequences. When the seeds ripen the resultant force becomes a potential that propels us into the future, leading us to particular experiences of suffering.

The third and fourth noble truths derive from the deep understanding realized by aryas of the actual non-existence of suffering, and hence the possibility of its cessation. The Buddha expounded various approaches to arrive at cessation from suffering. Among these, most important is an ethical way of life, which is to say, engaging in conduct that does not cause suffering. We must also cultivate awareness so that we do not create the causes for future suffering. If we are unaware of the causes of suffering, we prolong it by creating the same causes over and over. When we are aware of the causes of suffering, we can cease our negative actions, so that liberation from suffering can result.

Finally, we call these truths noble because they are genuine, timeless, and necessary. They are genuine because nothing can contradict, discredit, or supersede them, and while practicing them one will experience that they are genuine. They are timeless because suffering and the end of suffering are not limited to a particular culture or period of time. As long as there is suffering, sentient beings will strive to end such a state. Finally, they are necessary because to reach cessation we must actually practice the path that leads to liberation.

《Setting in Motion the Dharma Wheel》p. 0005-0007

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