It was Siddhartha Gautama, a young prince of the Shakya clan, child of King Shuddhodana and Queen Mayadevi, who became the Buddha, the Awakened One. There were many spiritual teachers before him and there have been many spiritual teachers that have come since. So what makes Gautama special? What makes him the Awakened One? To know this, one can examine the nature of the Buddha’s claims and see if there is any truth to them. The essence of the Buddha’s teachings, what he realized while meditating at the Bodhi Tree, is contained in the Four Noble Truths. These Four Noble Truths are:
The Truth of Suffering
This realization is easy to see, yet we attempt to mask it from ourselves all the time. That is part of the problem. The First Noble Truth is that there is suffering – the pain of birth, aging, sickness, death, association with the unpleasant, losing or not getting what we desire – all these are forms of suffering. This is part of everyday life.
The Truth of the Origin of Suffering
Suffering has a cause, an origin. The cause of all suffering is craving. This means desire to hold on to pleasurable things or experiences and to be rid of unpleasant things or experiences. This is further elucidated by the Three Poisons, which are ignorance, attachment and aversion.
The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering
The Third Noble Truth is that suffering and its causes can cease. There is a way out of this mess. There is a possibility of complete and total liberation, an end to suffering.
The Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering
The Fourth Noble Truth is the path that leads to the end of suffering. This is called the Noble Eightfold Path.