reserved space

The Fourth Noble Truth

We have already tasted true happiness and freedom in the The Third Noble Truth that promises the end of dukkha, the disease of unsatisfactoriness.

The Third Noble Truth presents a simple prognosis of the antidote to suffering, being essentially the extinction of tanha(thirst or craving). Not easy to realize this freedom, the Buddha Gotama put forward a systematic approach to be applied at every moment in our lives.

The medicine which the Buddha prescribed is the

Eightfold Noble Path

samma ditthi Right Understanding
samma sankappa Right Thought
samma vaca Right Speech
samma kammanta Right Action
samma ajiva Right Livelihood
samma vayama Right Effort
samma sati Right Mindfulness
samma samadhi Right Concentration

The cultivation of these eight qualities requires both internal and external development. This systematic training of the mind may be grouped into three aspects of ethics, meditation and wisdom. In this context, here is a brief summary of (what I understand by) each of the components of the Eightfold Path:

  1. Ethics
    Right Speech
    This is a very subtle quality, which does not merely require speaking the truth at all times, but knowing also when to speak and to what extent. Right speech covers abstention from telling lies; from harmful and malicious speech whether directly at someone or indirectly about someone; and from gossip or frivolous chat. Right speech is always appropriate for the particular situation.
    Right Action
    is selfless conduct that respects all life, plus the property (material and intellectual) of others, has honourable respect for oneself and enters into honourable relationships with others.
    Right Livelihood
    means undertaking an ethical way of earning a living, hence choosing an occupation that facilitates the Eightfold Noble Path, especially one that does not involved killing or fraud. This quality can be applied at successively finer levels, so that one chooses perhaps methods of carrying out a job in a noble manner ... until right livelihood meets with right action.

  2. Meditation
    Right Effort
    is energetic will that on the one hand seeks to cultivate worthy and wholesome states of mind until they are perfected; and, on the other, to reduce and eradicate each and every unwholesome state of mind.
    Right Mindfulness
    is awareness at all levels of mind, attentive to the activities of kaya (the body), vedana (sensations or feelings) , the activities of citta (the mind) and dhamma (thoughts, ideas, concepts and perceptions)
    Right Concentration
    is the development of mind that is successively more and more focused, until equanimity is reached. It is the quality that is synonymous with states that are reached in meditation.

  3. Wisdom
    Right Understanding
    In any situation, with this quality one knows things as they really are: that such is such, that given these causes, then there may arise those effects; more generally it means understanding the Four Noble Truths at the deepest level, with the whole mind..
    Right Thought/Aspiration
    is the quality of having the right initial intention as regards any undertaking, being one of selfless renunciation and service.

Sometimes these aspects are summed up as the Three Fundamental Principles:
  1. Cease to do evil
  2. Cultivate what is good
  3. Purify the mind
The Eightfold Noble Path is popularly termed the Middle Way (Majjhima Patipada) since it avoids the two extremes of searching for happiness through sense pleasure, which is "low, common, unprofitable and the way of ordinary people"; and the search for happiness through self-mortification, which is "painful, unworthy and unprofitable".

Characteristic of the Middle Way is a balanced life, one that cultivates wisdom and compassion:

Words of wisdom to become True Individuals:

Don't go by mere tradition. Don't go by mere reasoning. Don't go merely because it is the master who says this. Don't go merely because it is said in the scriptures, etc... But when you know for yourselves - these things are not good, conducing to loss and sorrow - then reject them. When you know for yourselves - these things are good, conducing to welfare and happiness - then follow them

And words of compassion to encourage on-line Community:

It is the whole, not the half, of the best life - this good friendship, this good companionship, this association with the good. Whatever living beings there may be - feeble or strong, long, stout, or medium, short, small or large, seen or unseen, those dwelling far or near, those who are born and those who are yet to be born - may all beings, without exception, be happy. Just as a mother would protect her only child even at the risk of her own life, even so let one cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings.

Links on the Fourth Noble Truth


  • Journal of Buddhist Ethics is the first academic journal dedicated entirely to Buddhist ethics and has earnt much respect in the Buddhist community and several net awards. A mirror(?) site is here (Goldsmiths College, UK).
  • To establish a solid ethical foundation, many Buddhists try to observe Five precepts. These are discussed in an interesting Question and Answer Session.

The above is just a small selection: these three major themes constitute the heart of Buddhism, so we shall meet them many times in future!


This article was originally one of a series of contributions I made as a 'Buddhist Guide' for the Mining Company.

Index to articles | Index to books | Main Index

- Paul Trafford