The Four Noble Truths are:
- The Noble Truth of Suffering, that describes the current state of suffering.
- The Noble Truth of the Causes of Suffering, the causes that gave raise to i. the Noble Truth of Suffering.
- The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering, that there is an opportunity to bring the current state of suffering to an end.
- The Noble Truth of the Path, the practices to be implemented to bring the current state of suffering to an end.
The Four Noble Truths were taught by Buddha Shakyamuni in a reversed order. The second Noble Truth causes the first Noble Truth, and the fourth Noble Truth causes the third Noble Truth. In other words:
- #2. The Noble Truth of the Causes of Suffering > leads to > #1. the Noble Truth of Suffering
- #4. The Noble Truth of the Path > leads to > #3. the Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering.
Buddha Shakyamuni taught the Noble Truth of Suffering first for the benefit of the students. It is only by first understanding the problem that a need for a solution is clear. The student can then be certain that the solution meets the requirements of the problem. This was suitable when Buddha Shakyamuni presented the Four Noble Truths to the ascetics in his first teaching as a Buddha. This same presentation given to the ascetics is also suitable for all future students. It is this same structure that His Holiness the Dalai Lama follows and the lamrim text follows.
The sequence that Buddha Shakyamuni taught the Four Noble Truths is similar to a natural language conversation that we might have with a medical doctor, similar to this:
[Noble Truth of Suffering]
Doctor: I’m sorry to tell you that you’re actually very sick. The “consumerism and anger” that you described are actually symptoms of a serious condition known as “conditioned existence”.
[Noble Truth of the Causes of Suffering]
Patient: That is terrible! I do physical exercise and eat well, how did that happen?
Doctor: Well the medical condition is perpetuated by your negative actions, and your actions are caused by mental afflictions. Your negative actions are actually the cause for further mental afflictions. So the problem isn’t about physical exercise and eating well, the problem is caused by mental afflictions.
[Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering]
Patient: Is there a cure?
Doctor: Yes there is, a medicine was actually discovered by the medical researcher Buddha Shakyamuni almost 2,500 years ago. Using this medicine you can alleviate all your problems, but you must remember to take the medicine every day.
[Noble Truth of the Path]
Patient: That’s excellent news! When do we begin the course of medicine?
Doctor: Yours is a very serious medical case and it is better if we start the course of medicine as soon as possible. During your road to recovery we apply different medicine at different times. Let’s start with a course of ‘TakingRefuge’ and go from there.