What is Truth?
Truth is defined in the Oxford dictionary as the quality or a state of being true. Truth in a conventional sense is subjective and in one way or another is judgmental. Truth is something what most people accepted, but it may not always be agreeable to all. For instance, when we see a green traffic light a colour blind person may see it in another shade, and when most Asians regard durian fruit as having a pleasant smell, most Europeans may think that the smell is offensive.
How can we classify Truth?
• We can classify truth as conventional-truth where most people agree with a quality by convention; for example, we all accept that taking drugs is bad, but it may not be true to addicts who think it in another way.
• We can also classify truth conditionally, depending upon how one has become conditioned to a quality. Durian fruit is an example for the conditional-truth.
• There is another type of truth that is universal and is applicable to everybody. It is free of condition or convention. This type of truth is called "paramattha sacca" in Pali language, whilst conditional and conventional-truth is called "panatta sacca." Greed and anger, for example, are a part of human nature and it is a universal-truth that they exist. Everyone has these qualities although they may vary in intensity from one to another.
What are the Noble Truths?
They are the universal or ultimate-truths that can make a person to become noble or enlightened when they are understood and comprehended by the person. There are altogether four Noble Truths.
I. Dukkha sacca or the reality of suffering or unsatisfactoriness, imperfection and impermanence. Suffering exists in reality although we may try to hide it or justify it. The rich, the poor, the ugly, the beauty, the learned or an idiot, happiness or sadness, everything and everybody in this universe, in this conditioned-existence is Dukkha in one way or another. Some of these qualities may seem to be pleasant, but in reality they are all Dukkha in a sense that they are impermanent; they are hidden by a transient happiness that can be followed by unsatisfaction or suffering when we have to part with them or do not obtain them.
II. Samudaya sacca or the cause of suffering. All the qualities of suffering have five common roots which are Avija, wrong seeing or lack of supra-mundane wisdom (i.e., the Four Noble Truths), Sankhara or reactions and responses to our senses, Tanha or cravings, Upadana or attachment, clinging, obsession and Kamma-bhava or volitional actions. These five causes result in a continuous wandering in Samsara, the cycle of existences in which rebirths and deaths occur in sequence.
III. Nirodha sacca or the end of suffering. It is the cessation of all qualities of suffering and it is the ultimate perfection. It is the absolute peace and tranquillity that is eternal and is free from rebirth and death.
IV. Magga sacca or the path to the liberation from suffering. It is the eight-fold path comprising of right view (Samma ditthi), right thought (Samma sankappa), right speech (Samma vaca), right action (Samma kammanta), right livelihood (Samma ajiva), right effort (Samma vayama), right mindfulness (Samma sati) and right concentration (Samma samadhi).
Who discovered the Four Noble Truths?
Although the Noble Truths are present at all times they are not understood fully unless a teacher explains them. The Four Noble Truths are taught by the Buddha who became enlightened and came to know these realities by self inspection and analysis. A Samma Sambuddha is the enlightened human being who discovers the Four Noble Truths without any help and understands them perfectly and fully. Gotama Buddha contributed the knowledge of all the four Noble Truths which were lost at the time when he became enlightened.
Are the four Noble Truths taught by any other faiths ?
No, these truths are not known or understood fully by followers of any other faiths. A view or faith in Pali is called Ditthi and those who believe and follow the Four Noble Truths are called Right Viewers or Samma Ditthi, and the others are known as Wrong Viewers or Miccha Ditthi.
Some might consider that three out of the Four Noble Truths were already in existence before the time of the Buddha as suffering existed all the time and most of the causes of suffering were known before the time of the Buddha. They argued that Nirvana, a Sanskrit term for what was thought to be equivalent to Nibbana was said to have existed before the Buddha.
If we examine these facts closely, suffering exists all the time and it would have existed at the time of the Buddha without any doubt. However, the suffering for being in the Samsara, or in other words having to wander endlessly in the round of rebirths and deaths is in itself, is impermanent. This knowledge is the authentic contribution of the Buddha because everybody at that time thought that the realm of Brahma gods (in the Samsara) was permanent and unity with the soul of the Brahma God was the liberation from Samsara.
Similarly, most of the causes of suffering may have existed before the time of the Buddha, but Bhava tanha, the craving for existence which was a subtle form of clinging that made one to wander endlessly in the Samsara, was pointed out by the Buddha and by nobody else. Every teacher was preaching the doctrine of Atta, or eternal soul at that period and it was the Buddha who expounded the doctrine of Anatta, the absence of eternal soul and had gone against the main stream. Therefore, the Second Noble Truth is also the contribution of the Buddha.
Nirvana or Nibbana is the cessation of suffering and a liberation from wandering in the round of Samsara. This term is contributed by the Buddha, but some pointed out that it was in the Veda texts which were thought to have existed at the times of the Buddha. This term could be traced only in the Vedanta (the End of the Vedas) the school which gave organised and systemic form to the teaching of the Upanishads ( (philosophical compositions) ). This school is very much alive and nearly all the great Hindu religious teachers of recent centuries have been Vedantists of one branch or another. They regarded the Buddha as the ninth incarnation of Vishnu (one of the Hindu Gods) and added the teaching of the Buddha, the Majjhima Nikaya, in the Upanishad texts in the Middle Ages. This may be the reason why the word Nirvana was in the Veda texts and it could not have been in existence before the time of the Buddha.
If one may argue that Nirvana has the same meaning as the Hindu equivalent to liberation (Moksha), it is certainly not. The unity of the individual soul (Atman) with the one impersonal and absolute World-Soul (Brahman) is the liberation from Samsara in the Hindu sense. To achieve this highest bliss is the Hindu concept that is totally different from Anatta concept of the Buddhists. Therefore, the Third Noble Truth is also contributed by the Buddha. The Fourth Noble Truth is without any doubts, is solely contributed by the Buddha. There is no reason for having any suspicion on the authority of the Lord Buddha for the contribution of these Four Noble Truths. We must not be misled by any suggestion or any indication from anyone that the Buddha’s unique contribution is the Noble Eight-fold Path, and not the other Noble Truths.