For as long as space exists
And sentient beings endure,
May I too remain,
To dispel the misery of the world.
The Four Noble Truths are the most central tenets of Tibetan Buddhism.
1. The truth of suffering
Buddhism describes three levels or types of suffering:
1.1. The suffering of suffering. These experiences are painful. In Buddhism there are four main experiences of this type of suffering which are considered to be fundamental to life in samsara: the sufferings of birth, sickness, aging, and death.
1.2. The suffering of change refers to experiences we ordinarily identify as pleasurable. However, in reality, as long as we are in an unenlightened state, all our joyful experiences are tainted and ultimately bring suffering.
On an everyday level, for example, when you have good food, nice clothes, attractive jewellery and so on, for a short time you feel really marvellous. Not only do you enjoy a feeling of satisfaction, but when you show your things to others, they share in it too. But then one day passes, one week passes, one month passes, and the very same object that once gave you such pleasure might simply cause you frustration. That is the nature of things–they change. The same also applies to fame.
1.3. The suffering of conditioning. This addresses the main question: why is this the nature of things? The answer is, because everything that happens is samsara is due to ignorance. Under the influence or control of ignorance, there is no possibility of a permanent state of happiness. Some kind of trouble, some kind of problem, always arises.
The reason it is called the suffering of conditioning is because this state of existence serves as the basis not only for painful experiences in this life, but also for the causes and conditions of suffering in the future.
There is a technique we can use in order to free our mind from thoughts of past experiences and from any form of anticipation of the future: Meditation
When you are able to clear away thoughts of the past and the future, slowly you begin to get a sense of the space between the two. You learn to abide in that present moment. In that space, you begin to glimpse what we call emptiness, and if you can remain in that emptiness for longer and longer periods of time then gradually the nature of consciousness itself, which is the sheer luminosity and natural awareness of mind, will slowly down in you.
2. The truth of the origin of suffering
In Buddhism there are two types of ignorance or avidya: ignorance of the laws of causality, specifically of the laws of karma, and ignorance of the ultimate nature of reality.
Karma, then, is an instance of the general law of causality. What makes karma unique is that it involves intentional action, and therefore an agent. The natural causal processes operating in the world cannot be termed karmic where there is no agent involved. In order for a causal process to be a karmic one, it must involve an individual whose intention would lead to a particular action. It is this specific type of causal mechanism which is known as karma.
But the process of cause and effect in the natural world takes place regardless of karma.
The most important thing for us to know is that afflictive emotion is our ultimate enemy and a source of suffering.
So long as the inner enemy is there, and so long as we are under its control, there can be no permanent happiness. Understanding the need to defeat this enemy is true realization, and developing a keen desire to overcome it is the aspiration to seek freedom, technically called renunciation. Therefore this practice of analysing our emotions and our inner world is very crucial.
3. The truth of cessation
Applying our understanding of emptiness because of its implications for interpreting our own personal experience in life
When strong emotions arise in you, say attachment or anger, if you examine the experience of that emotion you will see that underlying it is an assumption that there is something objective and real out there which you are holding on to, and on to which you project desirable or undesirable qualities. According to the kind of qualities you project on to a thing or event, you feel either attracted to it or repulsed by it. So strong emotional responses in fact assume the existence of some form of objective reality.
The moral that we can draw from all of this is that the strong emotions which afflict our mind arise from a fundamental state of confusion, which leads us to apprehend things as real and existing independently. In conclusion, we know that afflictive emotions and thoughts have no valid basis, neither in our experience, nor in reality, nor in reason.
4. The truth of the path
According to the Madhyamaka explanation, the true path should be understood in terms of developing a direct intuitive realization of emptiness.
In order to have such a realization [emptiness] one must have a basis in single-pointed meditation, since this is what leads to an experiential knowledge of emptiness. The point at which an individual attains that experiential knowledge is said to be the beginning of what is called the Path of Connection or Path of Preparation, and the point at which he gains direct intuitive realization of emptiness is called the Path of Seeing.
The experiential knowledge of emptiness must in turn be based on an intellectual understanding of emptiness, developed through inference.