The Four Noble Truths & the Two Extremes of Sensual Pleasures & Self-Mortification

This article discusses the book ‘The Four Noble Truths’ by Geshe Tashi Tsering (ISBN 9780861712700). You can learn about Geshe Tashi Tsering at

The book includes (see pp.3-5) the ‘The Four Noble Truths’ sutra up to and including “This is what the Blessed One said”.

‘The Four Noble Truths’ sutra was the Buddha’s first teaching after he attained Enlightenment. The sutra is the framework for all of the Buddha’s teachings and so to understand the Four Noble Truths is to understand Buddhism as a whole. This makes the Four Noble Truths a text worthy of study for students at all levels.

‘The Four Noble Truths’ sutra includes the section below. It describes the two extremes that the historical Buddha had lived through and found no real happiness. Those two extremes are the pursuit of sensual pleasures and the pursuit of self-mortification.

“Bhikkhus, these two extremes should not be followed by one who has gone forth into homelessness. What two? The pursuit of sensual happiness in sensual pleasures, which is low, vulgar, the way of worldlings, ignoble, unbeneficial; and the pursuit of self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, unbeneficial. Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathāgata has awakened to the middle way, which gives rise to vision, which gives rise to knowledge, which leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.

The type of self-mortification that the Buddha lived through the abstinance of an ascetic for religious reasons, using practices such as starvation that would harm his body and mind. But in modern times people continue to seek real happiness in ways that damages their body and mind, including physical self-harm (such as hitting or cutting), addiction (such as alcoholism or drug addiction), and eating disorders. Such forms of self-mortification are commonplace. Although they are not driven by religious reasons, they are forms that people seek real happiness in modern times. We could say that the pusuit of self-mortification is a surprisingly popular choice in modern times.

The pursuit of sensual pleasures is more easily recognised in modern times, including:

  • Consumerism and accumulation of possessions, such as shoes and clothes, book, technology and vehicles, make-up.
  • Material wealth, including financial wealth far beyond what any family really needs.
  • Over consumption of food and drink to the point of health levels declining in may countries around the world.

Nothing is wrong with enjoying these pleasures. Of course, we need clothes on our back, money to pay the bills, and food in our belly. But it is important to recognise that they are fleeting moments of joy and do not represent a source of real happiness, despite what the advertisements might suggest.

In conclusion: We must seek real happiness in a sources beyond these two extremes.

Love, @HappyOps