In his very first sermon, The Lord Buddha explained the basic doctrine of Buddhism. The essence of Buddhism is embodied in his teaching of The Four Noble Truths which are fundamental to Buddhist beliefs.
1. The Truth of Suffering (Dukkha) or Everything is Suffering
2. The Truth of the causes of Suffering or What are the origins or causes of this Suffering.
3. The truth of the cessation of Suffering or Real happiness (Nirvana) can only be achieved by removing Suffering
4. The Truth of the way to cessation of Suffering or How to remove suffering
The most difficult to understand, and therefore the most mis-understood, of the Four Noble Truths is the first one. Once the Truth of Suffering is fully understood then our discussion on the First Noble Truth will we hope make the remaining three Noble Truths self explanatory.
So what exactly is meant by Everything is Suffering. Can Buddhism really be so pessimistic. Do we not all believe that at least sometimes we are really happy. To understand the meaning of Dukkha we can try to divide suffering into 3 causal groups.
2. Separation or change suffering
3. Illusion of “Self” suffering
Pain suffering is easy to understand. We have all experienced physical pain perhaps as the result of an accident.
Separation or change suffering is a little bit more difficult to understand. The Lord Buddha teaches us that nothing is permanent. All the material objects that we crave for or which we believe are making us happy are only temporary. The new sports car will one day cease to exist. The latest mobile phone that we must own will soon become part of yesterday. The loss of these items which we think will bring us happiness will soon be the cause of pain and suffering. Nothing lasts forever and the more we are attracted to them then the more suffering will be inflicted. Any happiness we feel is brought about only by the illusion of the true nature of these things.
Illusion of “Self” suffering. This is the most difficult concept to grasp. We all think we know who we are. But do we really know. Our personality, our thoughts, our beliefs today at this moment in time may be vastly different from last week or last year. We look upon ourselves as being a tangible entity, something real. Perhaps some of us are proud of who we are, some are perhaps guilty of thinking too much of themselves. Many people, when things go wrong, will ask how this could happen to me. This me, this self, this personality we refer to as “I” though is not something fixed or rigid but a transient and changing collection of thoughts and feelings. Buddhism indeed teaches us that there is in fact NO “self”. A good example to try to explain this is that our life is like the flames of a burning candle. Constantly changing, no two moments alike. Nothing is permanent. We sometimes incorrectly think of “self” as the candle rather than the flickering flames. When the candle burns down it will be as if it never existed. When the candle burns out it is only that stream of ever changing flames that will be reborn, not the candle itself.