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At the core of all Buddhist traditions are the Four Noble Truths. They have been translated, annotated, and exegesisized for 2500 years.

Below is a free translation that may not be exactly literal, but that captures the ‘feeling’ of the 4NTs as I understand them and experience them in my own life.

All my attempts at free translation are inspired by Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching, which I consider a masterpiece of clarity and insight.

The 4NTs have changed my life. May they offer some ease for you.


NT-01: Life is a rough ride.*

Birth is rough. Aging is rough. Sickness is rough. Dying is rough. Pain is rough. Losing what you love is rough. Not getting what you want is rough. In short, the human condition is bumpy and frustrating.

NT-02: The origin of aggravation.

The origin of aggravation is craving** for circumstances to be other than what they are.

NT-03: Liberation from aggravation.

It is possible to stop craving different circumstances.

NT-04: The Path of Liberation.

To follow the Path of Liberation a person must cultivate eight qualities of clarity. Developing these qualities will extinguish the craving for different circumstances:

  • Wisdom Qualities
    • Clear perspective.
      • Seeing things as they are. In context. Without bias.
    • Clear intention.
      • Moving through the world with integrity according to one’s values. Resisting reactivity.
  • Ethical Qualities
    • Clear communication.
      • Precise, truthful, compassionate content. Avoiding confusion & harm. Skillful silence.
    • Clear behavior.
      • Skillful action that does not injure, exploit, or manipulate.
    • Clear work.
      • Making a living in a way that benefits others without causing injury or harm.
  • Meditative Qualities
    • Clear discipline.
      • Prioritizing activities and mental states that lead to awakening and liberation.
    • Clear presence.
      • Being here now. Continuous mindfulness.
    • Clear focus.
      • Concentrating attention on whatever arises with calm, friendly equanimity.

* the Pali word ‘dukkha’ (translated here as “a rough ride”) doesn’t have an exact English translation. Suffering is usually substituted. But dukkha can vary in intensity from deep existential angst to stress to vague dis-ease. Literally, dukkha means the space around a poorly fitted axle of an ox cart that prevents the wheel from turning smoothly.

** craving here has the quality of ‘thirst.’ Like suffering, thirst can vary in intensity from a dry mouth to dehydration and hallucinating in the desert.

Photo by Joรฃo Guimarรฃes on Unsplash

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