The Four Noble Truths

The Buddha’s Teaching – In His Own Words
Texts selected, arranged, and translated by Bhikkhu Ñānamoli

The Four Noble Truths

Narrator Two. Now here is a description of the Four Noble Truths.

First Voice.

I. “What is the noble truth of suffering? Birth is suffering, ageing is suffering,
sickness is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; association with the loathed is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering; in short, the five aggregates affected by clinging are suffering.” SN 56:11

II. “What is the noble truth of the origin of suffering? It is craving, which renews being, and is accompanied by relish and lust, relishing this and that: in other words, craving for sensual desires, craving for being, craving for non-being. But whereon does this craving arise and flourish? Wherever there is that which seems lovable and gratifying, thereon it arises and flourishes.” DN 22

“It is with ignorance as condition that formations come to be; with formations as condition,
consciousness; with consciousness as condition, name-and-form; with name-and-form as condition, the sixfold base for contact; with the sixfold base as condition, contact; with contact as condition, feeling; with feeling as condition, craving; with craving as condition, clinging; with clinging as condition, being; with being as condition, birth; with birth as condition, ageing and death come to be, and also sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair; that is how there is an origin to this whole aggregate mass of suffering. This is called the noble truth of the origin of suffering.” AN 3:61

III. “What is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering? It is the remainderless fading and
cessation of that same craving, the rejecting, relinquishing, leaving and renouncing of it. But whereon is this craving abandoned and made to cease? Wherever there is that which seems lovable and gratifying, thereon it is abandoned and made to cease.” DN 22
“With the remainderless fading and cessation of ignorance there is cessation of formations; with cessation of formations, cessation of consciousness … with cessation of birth, ageing and death cease, and also sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair; that is how there is a cessation to this whole aggregate mass of suffering. This is called the noble truth of the cessation of suffering.” AN 3:61

IV. “What is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering? It is this Noble
Eightfold Path, that is to say: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right
livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.” DN 22
“Of these Four Noble Truths, the noble truth of suffering must be penetrated to by full
knowledge of suffering; the noble truth of the origin of suffering must be penetrated to by
abandoning craving; the noble truth of the cessation of suffering must be penetrated to by
realizing cessation of craving; the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering must be penetrated to by maintaining in being the Noble Eightfold Path.”
SN 56:11 and 29 (adapted)

“These Four Noble Truths (Actualities) are real, not unreal, not other than they seem.”
SN 56:27

Narrator One. The Four Noble Truths are each analysed and defined in detail.

I The Truth of Suffering

Narrator Two. It was said that the truth of suffering was “in short, the five aggregates affected by clinging.” Here are definitions of them.
First Voice. “What are the five aggregates affected by clinging? They are the (material) form aggregate affected by clinging, the feeling aggregate affected by clinging, the perception aggregate affected by clinging, the formations aggregate affected by clinging, and the consciousness aggregate affected by clinging.” DN 22

“Why does one say ’form’? It is deformed (ruppati), that is why it is called ’form’ (rūpa).
Deformed by what? By cold and heat and hunger and thirst, by contact with gadflies, gnats, wind, sunburn and creeping things.” SN 22:79

“What is form? The four great entities and any form derived upon them by clinging are called form.” SN 22:56

“Whatever in oneself, belonging to oneself, is solid, solidified, and clung to (organic), such as head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin; flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys; heart, liver, midriff, spleen, lights; bowels, entrails, gorge, dung, or whatever else in oneself, belonging to oneself, is solid, solidified, and clung to: that is called earth element2 in oneself. Now earth element in oneself and external earth element are only earth element.

“Whatever in oneself … is water, watery, and clung to, such as bile, phlegm, pus, blood,
sweat, fat; tears, grease, spittle, snot, oil of the joints, urine, or whatever else in oneself … is water, watery, and clung to: that is called water element in oneself. Now water element in oneself and external water element are only water element.

“Whatever in oneself … is fire, fiery, and clung to, such as that whereby one is warmed, ages, and is consumed, and whereby what is eaten, drunk, chewed and tasted gets digested and assimilated, or whatever else in oneself … is fire, fiery, and clung to: that is called fire element in oneself. Now fire element in oneself and external fire element are only fire element.

“Whatever in oneself … is air, airy, and clung to, such as upgoing winds (forces), down-going winds (forces), winds (forces) in the belly and in the bowels, winds (forces) that pervade all the limbs, in-breath and out-breath, or whatever else in oneself … is air, airy, and clung to: that is called air element in oneself. Now air element in oneself and external air element are only air element.

“Also whatever in oneself … is space, spatial, and clung to, such as ear-hole, nose-hole,
mouth-door, and that (aperture) whereby what is eaten, drunk, chewed, and tasted is
swallowed, and that wherein it is contained, and that whereby it passes out below, or whatever else in oneself … is space, spatial, and clung to: that is called space element. Now space element in oneself and external space element are only space element … And space element has nowhere any standing of its own.” MN 62

“Any form whatever, whether past, future, or present, in oneself or external, coarse or fine, inferior or superior, far or near, that is affected by taints and provocative of clinging: that is called the form aggregate affected by clinging.” SN 22:48

“Why does one say ’feeling’? It is felt, that is why it is called feeling. Felt as what? Felt as
pleasure, as pain, or as neither-pain-nor-pleasure.” SN 22:79; cf. MN 43

“Whatever is felt bodily or mentally as pleasant and gratifying is pleasant feeling. Whatever is felt bodily or mentally as painful and hurting is painful feeling. Whatever is felt bodily or mentally as neither gratifying nor hurting is neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling.… Pleasant feeling is pleasant in virtue of presence and painful in virtue of change. Painful feeling is painful in virtue of presence and pleasant in virtue of change. Neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling is pleasant in virtue of knowledge and painful in virtue of want of knowledge.” MN 44

“There are these six bodies of (such) feeling: feeling born of eye-contact, of ear-contact, of nosecontact, of tongue-contact, of body-contact, and of mind-contact.” SN 22:56

“Any feeling whatever … that is affected by taints and provocative of clinging: that is called the feeling aggregate affected by clinging.” SN 22:48

“Why does one say ’perception’? It perceives, that is why it is called perception. Perceives what? It perceives, for example, blue and yellow and red and white.” SN 22:79

“There are these six bodies of perception: perception of (visible) forms, of sounds, of odours, of flavours, of tangibles, and of ideas.” SN 22:56

“Any perception whatever … that is affected by taints and provocative of clinging: that is called the perception aggregate affected by clinging.” SN 22:48

“Why does one say ’formations’? They form the formed, that is why they are called formations. What is the formed that they form? (Material) form as the state (essence) of form is the formed (compounded) that they form (compound); feeling as the state of feeling is the formed that they form; perception as the state of perception is the formed that they form; formations as the state of formations is the formed that they form; consciousness as the state of consciousness is the formed that they form.” SN 22:79

“Three kinds of formations: formation of merit (as action which ripens in pleasure), formation of demerit (as action which ripens in pain), and formation of imperturbability (as action, namely, meditation, which ripens in the formless states, which for as long as they last are unperturbed by perception of form, resistance, or difference).” DN 33

“Three formations: in-breaths and out-breaths belong to a body, these are things bound up with a body, that is why they are a bodily formation. Having previously thought and explored, one breaks into speech, that is why thinking and exploring are a verbal formation. Perception and feeling belong to consciousness, these are things bound up with consciousness, that is why they are a mental formation.” MN 44; cf. MN 9

“What are formations? There are six bodies of choice:4 choice among visible forms, sounds, odours, flavours, tangibles, and mental objects.” SN 22:56

“Choice I call action.” AN 6:63

“Any formations whatever … that are affected by taints and provocative of clinging: these are called the formations aggregate affected by clinging.” SN 22:48

“Why does one say ’consciousness’? It cognizes, that is why it is called consciousness. Cognizes what? It cognizes, for example, the sour, bitter, pungent, sweet, alkaline, unalkaline, salty, and unsalty.” SN 22:79

“What does that consciousness cognize? It cognizes, for example, that there is pleasure, that there is pain, that there is neither-pain-nor-pleasure.” MN 43, 140

“There are these six bodies of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-, nose-, tongue-, body-, and mind-consciousness.” SN 22:56

“Consciousness is called after the conditions due to which it arises. When consciousness arises due to eye and forms, it is called eye-consciousness; due to ear and sounds, ear-consciousness; … due to mind and ideas, mind-consciousness.” MN 38

“Feeling, perception and consciousness are conjoined, not disjoined, and it is impossible to separate each from each in order to describe their different potentialities; for what one feels, that one perceives, and what one perceives, that one cognizes. By bare mind-consciousness disjoined from the five sense-faculties the (external) base consisting of infiniteness of space can be known thus ’infinite space’; the (external) base consisting of infiniteness of consciousness can be known thus ’infinite consciousness’; and the (external) base consisting of nothingness can be known thus ’there is nothing at all.’ A knowable idea is understood by the eye of understanding.” MN 43

“Consciousness depends for its being upon a duality (the duality of the in-oneself and the
external bases for contact).” SN 35:93

“Any consciousness whatever, whether past, future or present, in oneself or external, coarse or fine, inferior or superior, far or near, that is affected by taints and provocative of clinging: that is called the consciousness aggregate affected by clinging.” SN 22:48

“These five aggregates affected by clinging have desire for their root.… The four great entities (of earth, water, fire, and air) are the cause and condition for describing the form aggregate. Contact is the cause and condition for describing the aggregates of feeling, perception, and formations. Name-and-form is the cause and condition for describing the consciousness aggregate.” MN 109

“Whatever monks or brahmans recollect their past life in its various modes, they all recollect the five aggregates affected by clinging or one or another of them.” SN 22:79

II The Truth of the Origin of Suffering

Narrator Two. Here are detailed definitions of the second noble truth.
First Voice. “These five aggregates affected by clinging have desire for their root.… The
clinging is neither the same as the five aggregates affected by clinging, nor is it something apart from them. It is the desire and lust comprised in them that is the clinging there.” MN 109

“That comes to be when there is this; that arises with the arising of this.” MN 38

“(In the statement of dependent arising) What is ageing? In the various orders of beings, it is any being’s ageing, old age, brokenness of teeth, greyness of hair and wrinkledness, decline of life and weakening of sense-faculties. What is death? In the various orders of beings, it is any being’s passing, passing away, dissolution, disappearance, dying, completion of time, dissolution of aggregates, laying down of the carcase. What is birth? In the various orders of beings, it is any being’s birth, coming to birth, precipitation in a womb, generation, manifestation of aggregates, acquisition of bases for contact. What is being? Three kinds of being are: being in the mode of sensual desire, being in the mode of form, being in the mode of the formless. What is clinging? There are four varieties of clinging: clinging as the habit of sensual desire, clinging as the habit of wrong view, clinging as the habit of (misapprehension of) virtue and duty, and clinging as the habit of self-theories. What is craving? There are six bodies of craving: craving for visible forms, sounds, odours, flavours, tangibles, and ideas. What is feeling?
There are six bodies of (the three sorts of) feeling: feeling born of eye-contact, of ear-contact, of nose-contact, of tongue-contact, of body-contact, and of mind-contact. What is contact? There are six bodies of contact: eye-contact, ear-contact, nose-contact, tongue-contact, body-contact, mind-contact. What is the sixfold base? It is the eye-base, ear-base, nose-base, tongue-base, bodybase, and mind-base. What is name-and-form? What is called name comprises feeling, perception, choice, contact, and attention; what is called form comprises the four great entities and any forms derived upon them by clinging; so this name and this form are what is called name-andform.
What is consciousness? There are six bodies of consciousness: eye-consciousness, earconsciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, and mindconsciousness. What are formations? Three formations are: the bodily formation, verbal formation, and mental formation. What is ignorance? It is nescience about suffering, about the origin of suffering, about the cessation of suffering, and about the way leading to the cessation of suffering.” SN 12:2

“Dependent on eye and visible forms, eye-consciousness arises; the coincidence of the three is contact; with contact as condition, feeling; with feeling as condition, craving; that is how there is an origin to suffering (and so with ear … mind).” SN 12:43

“Inflamed by lust, incensed by hate, confused by delusion, overwhelmed by them and his mind obsessed, a man chooses for his own affliction, for others’ affliction, and for the affliction of both, and experiences pain and grief.” AN 3:55

“Being are owners of actions, heirs of actions, they have actions as their progenitor, actions as their kin (and responsibility), actions as their home-refuge; it is actions that differentiate beings into the inferior and superior.” MN 135

“What is old action? Eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind, are old action (already) determined and chosen that must be experienced to be seen. What is new action? It is whatever action one does now, whether by body, speech, or mind.” SN 35:145

“This body is not yours or another’s, but is past action (already) determined and chosen that must be experienced to be seen.” SN 12:37

“It is choice that I call action; it is in choosing that a man acts by body, speech, and mind. There are actions whose ripening will be experienced in hell, in the animal womb, in the realm of ghosts, among human beings, and in heavenly worlds. Actions ripen in three ways: they can ripen here and now, on reappearance, or in some life-process beyond that.” AN 6:63

“Actions done out of lust or hate or delusion ripen wherever an individual selfhood is
generated, and wherever those actions ripen, there their ripening is experienced, whether here and now or on next reappearance or in some life-process beyond that.” AN 3:33

“There are four incalculables, which cannot be calculated, an attempt to calculate which would lead to frustration and madness. What four? They are the objective field of the Buddhas, the objective field of one who has acquired the meditations, the ripening of action, and the calculation of the world.” AN 4:77

“The world is led by mind.” SN 1:72

III The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering

Narrator Two. Here are detailed definitions of the third truth.
First Voice. “That does not come to be when there is not this; that ceases with the cessation of this.” MN 38

“Dependent on eye and visible forms, eye-consciousness arises; the coincidence of the three is contact; with contact as condition, there arises what is felt as pleasant or as painful or as neitherpainful- nor-pleasant. If, on experiencing the contact of pleasant feeling, one does not relish it or welcome it or accept it, and if no underlying tendency in one to lust for it any longer underlies it—if, on experiencing the contact of painful feeling, one does not sorrow or lament or beat one’s breast, weep and become distraught, and if no underlying tendency in one to resistance to it any longer underlies it—if, on experiencing the contact of neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, one understands, as it actually is, the arising, disappearance, gratification, dangerous inadequacy, and escape, in the case of that feeling, and if no underlying tendency in one to ignorance any longer underlies it—then, indeed, that one shall make an end of suffering by abandoning the
underlying tendency to lust for pleasant feeling, by eliminating the underlying tendency to
resist painful feeling, and by abolishing the underlying tendency to ignore neither-painful-norpleasant feeling: that is possible.” MN 148

“When lust, hate, and delusion are abandoned, a man does not choose for his own affliction or for others’ affliction or for the affliction of both. In that way there comes to be Nibbāna here and now, without delay, inviting inspection, onward-leading, and experienceable by the wise.” AN 3:55

“Actions done out of non-lust, non-hate, and non-delusion, done when lust, hate, and delusion have disappeared, are abandoned, cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, done away with, and are no more subject to future arising.” AN 3:33

“Formless states are more peaceful than states of form; cessation is more peaceful than formless states.”
“There is that (external) base where no earth (is), or water or fire or air or base consisting of infinity of space or base consisting of infinity of consciousness or base consisting of nothingness or base consisting of neither-perception-nor-non-perception or this world or the other world or moon or sun; and that I call neither a coming nor a going nor a staying nor a dying nor a reappearance; it has no basis, no evolution, no support; it is the end of suffering.”

“The Unaffected is hard to see;
It is not easy to see Truth.
To know is to uncover craving;
To see is to have done with owning.
There is an unborn, an un-brought-to-being, an unmade, an unformed. If there were not, there would be no escape described here for one who is born, brought to being, made, formed. But since there is an unborn, an un-brought-to-being, an unmade, an unformed, an escape is therefore described here for one who is born, brought to being, made, formed.” Ud 8:1–3

“There are two elements of Nibbāna. What two? There is the element of Nibbāna with result of past clinging still left, and the element of Nibbāna without result of past clinging left. What is the element of Nibbāna with result of past clinging still left? Here a bhikkhu is an arahant with taints exhausted, who has lived out the life, done what was to be done, laid down the burden, reached the highest goal, destroyed the fetters of being, and who is completely liberated through final knowledge. His five sense faculties remain, owing to the presence of which he still encounters the agreeable and disagreeable, still experiences the pleasant and painful. It is the exhaustion of lust, of hate, and of delusion in him that is called the element of Nibbāna with result of past clinging still left. And what is the element of Nibbāna without result of past clinging left? Here a bhikkhu is an arahant who has lived out the life … and is completely liberated through final knowledge. All in him that is felt will, since he does not relish it, become cool here in this very life: this is called the element of Nibbāna without result of past clinging left.” It 44

“That which is the exhaustion of lust, of hate, and of delusion, is called Nibbāna.” SN 38:1

“Just as a flame blown by the wind’s force, Upasīva,” said the Blessed One,
Goes out, and designation applies to it no more,
So too the Silent Sage,
Being freed from the name-body,
Goes out, and designation applies to him no more.
Then when he has thus gone out,
Does he exist no more?
Or is he made immortal for eternity?
So may it please the Sage to make this plain to me,
Because it is a state that he has understood.”
“There is no measuring of one who has gone out,
Upasīva,” said the Blessed One,
“And nothing of him
Whereby one could say aught of him;
For when all ideas have been abolished,
All ways of saying, too, have been abolished.” Sn 5:7

IV The Truth of the Way

Narrator Two. The fourth noble truth is the Noble Eightfold Path. Each of its eight components needs a separate definition.