When the Buddha preached his first sermon, following his enlightenment, in the Deer Park at Sarnath, usually titled “Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dharma,” he put forth the Four Noble Truths that he had experienced in the course of his awakening:
- All existence involves suffering
- The cause of suffering is craving
- Release from suffering (nirvana) comes through eradicating passionate craving for material or sensual satisfaction
- The way to achieve that release is the Noble Eightfold Path. These eight ways of right being encompass right understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration
One Buddhist scholar has suggested that the Four Noble Truths may be based on an ancient Indian medical formula of diagnosis, cause, prognosis, and treatment. Yet because of the way these four truths are formulated, Westerners often mistake Buddhism for a largely negating, pessimistic, and moralistic religion. Yet, in keeping with his Middle Way, the Buddha spoke of different kinds of happiness — the happiness of sensory pleasures as well as of renunciation, of the family and of the monk. Scholars point out that his word “duhkha,” usually translated as “suffering,” also has overtones of “impermanence,” “insubstantiality,” and “discontent,” giving it less the sense of pain than of the fleeting and illusory nature of existence: nothing lasts forever.
Furthermore, two of the Buddha’s basic teachings are to do no violence to any sentient being and to strive for the liberation of all others. Perhaps for this reason, as much as for Buddha’s teaching of the irrelevance of worldly striving, Buddhism has proven to be the least warlike of the major religions.