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Buddhism is a religion that strives to understand the nature of mind. It is more of a philosophy than a theology. Buddha taught that an enlightened mind is like a vast blue sky without the slightest cloud. Clouds are obstructions that Tibetans call "nyon-mong", or hurtful emotions. There are thousands of nyon-mongs but they can be grouped into three main categories: desire, hatred, and ignorance. These are called the "three poisons." Of these three, ignorance is the fundamental cause of all mental and physical suffering.

Four Noble Truths

Buddha realized Four Noble Truths. The first noble truth is about the truth of suffering - the pain that accompanies birth, sickness, old age, and death - the suffering that accompanies not getting what we want, or not wanting what we have, or being separated from loved ones, or being with people or things we dislike.

The second Noble Truth is the truth about the cause of suffering. The three poisons (desire, hatred, and ignorance) are the causes of suffering, ignorance being the epitome of all three.

The third Noble Truth is about the end of suffering. The power to end suffering is in our own hands. The law of cause and effect, or "karma," dictates that we reap what we sow. If we are joyful in this moment we are reaping the fruits of our past positive actions. If we are suffering, it is because of our past negative actions. It is also important to know that the way we respond to our suffering also sows seeds for the future. We have the power to create a better future for ourselves. Buddha taught that to avoid suffering we should not engage in what he called the ten un-virtuous actions - killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, harmful speech, gossip, divisive speech, greed, hatred, and perverted views. Whenever we cause harm or suffering to another we sow a seed of suffering for ourselves.

The fourth Noble Truth reveals the path to end of suffering. This is an eightfold path of right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

This path is summarized as the development of morality, meditation, and wisdom.

Morality = Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood (In essence, the development of love and compassion.)

Meditation = Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration (Control of thoughts and emotions that produce karma.)

Wisdom = Right View and Right Intention (Understanding the twelve links of interdependence and selflessness.)


At the heart of Buddhism is the understanding that ignorance is the root cause of all suffering.. The antidote to ignorance is wisdom and the most important wisdom in Tibetan Buddhism is the doctrine of selflessness, or "emptiness," or "no-self." There is no independent "self" or "I" either in us or in the world around us. Everything in the universe exists because of its dependence on something else. Nothing can be born or sustained by itself. The universe is interdependent.

On a superficial level, we do experience a sense of self and Buddhism contends that this comes from an amalgamation of five aggregates: form, feeling, perception, conception, and consciousness. Form is made of matter, which is a composition of five elements: earth, fire, water, air, and space. Feeling is the sensations of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Perception is the grasp of the world through the senses. Conception includes concentration and intentions that precede an action. Consciousness includes six organs of consciousness: eye, nose, ear, tongue, body, and mind. Our suffering comes from our ignorance and our mistaken belief in the importance of and attachment to these five aggregates.

Principle of Interdependence

On further examination we will find that these aggregates came into existence because of interdependence. Here we come to the second most important doctrine of Buddhism - the Twelve Links of Interdependence:

1.Ignorance produces --> 2.Karma (Law of Cause & Effect) --> 3.Consciousness --> 4.Form --> 5.Senses --> 6.Contact --> 7.Feeling --> 8.Desire --> 9.Grasping --> 10.Becoming --> 11.Birth --> 12.Old age and death.

Reversal of the above links frees one from ignorance and propels one into a state of nirvana (a state devoid of any suffering).


Copyright 2002 Tibetan Center for Compassion and Wisdom