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The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path

Dan Bammes

Some time ago, a young person sent me an e-mail note asking about the basic beliefs of Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path represent that essence; this is my reply. It is simply my interpretation at this stage of my understanding; you’re welcome to agree or to dispute it as you might choose.

Looking back over your message, I’m guessing you wanted something a little more than the obvious answers I included in my previous message. At the risk of giving you more than you asked for, here’s my fundamental orientation to Buddhism.

The foundation beliefs of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. These were taught by the Buddha (a word which means The Enlightened One) about 2500 years ago. They are essentially the same through every sect and tradition of Buddhism. They are:

  1. All life knows suffering. Nobody gets what they want out of life.
  2. The cause of suffering is ignorance and clinging. Wanting it is the problem.
  3. There is a way to end suffering. By learning not to want it.
  4. This is the way to end suffering: The Eightfold Path.
    1. Right Understanding Learning the nature of reality and the truth about life.
    2. Right Aspiration Making the commitment to living in such a way that our suffering can end.
    3. Right Effort Just Do It. No Excuses.
    4. Right Speech Speaking the truth in a helpful and compassionate way.
    5. Right Conduct Living a life consistent with our values.
    6. Right Livelihood Earning a living in a way that doesn’t hurt others.
    7. Right Mindfulness Recognizing the value of the moment; living where we are.
    8. Right Concentration Expanding our consciousness through meditation.

Beyond this, Buddhism is a mixture of monastic tradition and folklore. Some of it is helpful to me; much of it I reject as silly. I don’t believe in reincarnation or in deities. I do believe Buddha had the human condition figured out.

Don’t be in a hurry to embrace Buddhism. It will be here waiting for you when you’re ready. It took me 20 years of living to come to understand that the truth doesn’t have to be sold. It’s all around us, accessible as soon as we’re open to it. Yana Davis, a friend in our group, calls Buddhism “profound common sense.” That’s all it is.

—Dan Bammes

For a view of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path as compared to the Twelve Step Programs in AA and other organizations, click here.

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