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July 2012

the four noble truths – attachment – the basics of buddhist wisdom

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the four noble truths

1. life is suffering;
2. suffering is due to attachment;
3. attachment can be overcome;
4. there is a path for accomplishing this.

1. suffering is perhaps the most common translation for the sanskrit word duhkha, which can also be translated as imperfect, stressful, or filled with anguish.

contributing to the anguish is anitya — the fact that all things are impermanent, including living things like ourselves.

furthermore, there is the concept of anatman — literally, “no soul”. anatman means that all things are interconnected and interdependent, so that no thing — including ourselves — has a separate existence.

2. attachment is a common translation for the word trishna, which literally means thirst and is also translated as desire, clinging, greed, craving, or lust. because we and the world are imperfect, impermanent, and not separate, we are forever “clinging” to things, each other, and ourselves, in a mistaken effort at permanence.

besides trishna, there is dvesha, which means avoidance or hatred. hatred is its own kind of clinging.

and finally there is avidya, ignorance or the refusal to see. not fully understanding the impermanence of things is what leads us to cling in the first place.

3. perhaps the most misunderstood term in buddhism is the one which refers to the overcoming of attachment: nirvana. it literally means “blowing out,” but is often thought to refer to either a buddhist heaven or complete nothingness. actually, it refers to the letting go of clinging, hatred, and ignorance, and the full acceptance of imperfection, impermanence, and interconnectedness.

4. and then there is the path, called dharma. buddha called it the middle way, which is understood as meaning the middle way between such competing philosophies as materialism and idealism, or hedonism and asceticism.  this path, this middle way, is elaborated as the eightfold path.