4. THE FOURTH NOBLE TRUTH: The path to the cessation of suffering.
There is a path to the end of suffering – a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely “wandering on the wheel of becoming”, because these do not have a final object. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.
The Middle Path
As a youth, Prince Siddhartha enjoyed the indulgent life of pleasure in his father’s palace. Later, when he renounced the worldly life and became an ascetic, he experienced the hardship of torturing his mind and body. Finally, not long before attaining Enlightenment, he realized the fruitlessness of these two extreme ways of life. He realized that the way to happiness and Enlightenment was to lead a life that avoids these extremes. He described this life as the Middle Path.
These three ways of life may be compared to the strings of different tensions on a lute. The loose string, which is like a life of indulgence, produces a poor sound when struck.
The overly tight string, which is like a life of extreme asceticism, similarly produces a poor sound when struck and is, moreover, likely to break at any moment. Only the middle string, which is neither too loose nor too tight, and is like the Middle Path, produces a pleasant and harmonious sound when struck. So those who follow the Middle Path which avoids the extreme of indulging one’s desires and the opposite extreme of torturing one’s mind and body unreasonably, will find happiness, peace of mind and Enlightenment. This is the Fourth Noble Truth of the path leading to the end of suffering.
So these who follow the Middle Path which avoid the extreme of indulging one’s desires and opposite extreme of torturing one’s mind and body unreasonably, will find happiness, peace of mind and Enlightenment. This is the Fourth Noble Truth of the path leading to the end of suffering.
THE EIGHTFOLD PATH
Like a wise and experienced doctor, the Buddha recognized the sickness of suffering. He identified its caused and discovered its cure. Then, for the benefit of mankind, the Buddha put his discovery into a systematic formula that can be easily followed in order to rid ourselves of suffering. The formula includes both physical and mental treatment, and is called the Noble Eightfold Path.