Buddha's Developed Moral Doctrine
Buddha was far less concerned with metaphysics and far more concerned with how to live. To live well — as we were intended to live — we must embrace the Four Noble Truths. Coupled with the Eightfold Path to those truths, this is Buddha's philosophy for finding salvation. Buddha's list of the Four Noble Truths is as follows:
The Noble Truth of Suffering
Life is suffering (or duhkha). Dissatisfaction and unfulfilled desires are everywhere; sadness and sorrow are constant. Even when we experience ecstasy, it lasts only for a little while. For every joy, there is a sorrow, but for every sorrow, there may not be joy. Suffering can be found in three different categories: physical suffering, such as pain, sickness, distress, and death; suffering produced by change, such as when a joyful state of mind passes and one experiences depression, longing, or boredom; and suffering produced by conditioned states of consciousness (i.e., for every stage of existence there is a corresponding karmic effect). This is the deepest, most perennial form of suffering; the notion of self is the source of suffering. Remove the self and you will remove the suffering. Here, Buddhism differs from Hinduism and Western philosophies, which assert the existence of the self, but Buddhism holds to the idea of anatman, or not-self.
The Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering
The cause of suffering is desire and craving. What for? The longing is threefold: desire for pleasure, existence, and prosperity. Seeking pleasure is imprudent and futile, for pleasure is elusive, and even when it is achieved, it turns to displeasure. Since people wish to continue in their existence, they end up clinging to life, which leads to despair. Seeking prosperity, too, ends in its own kind of despair; a person's appetite for success is insatiable. A person can hanker for more pleasure and wealth, and conclude that his well-being depends on these things, but this is unenlightened. A desire for increased status will always lead to bad karma. Karma is cause and effect; good and intelligent actions will have good effects, while bad actions will produce bad effects. This is not for a future life; Buddhism speaks about Nirvana, or enlightenment, in this life.
In Buddhist thought, the soul does not exist; people live an existence of anatman. What people think is a soul is an amalgam of the five mental or physical aggregates: the physical body, feelings, understanding, will, and consciousness. These make the human personality subject to the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth typical of Indian religions.
The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering
The third truth concerns the cure for the suffering of life. Since the cause of suffering is desire or craving, eliminating the cause will allow you to eliminate the effect. If you can destroy desire, suffering ends.
The Noble Truth of the Path That Leads to the Cessation of Suffering
The way to achieve enlightenment is through a path of spiritual, moral, and mental exercise. The path includes eight parts:
Right Views (understanding)
Right Aspirations (thoughts)
Right Conduct of Action
Right Endeavor or Effort
Right Meditation or Concentration
These eight aspects of the path fit three attributes:
Ethical conduct (sila) includes universal love and compassion or tolerance. The Buddha taught his doctrine for “the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world.” Right speech involves truth telling and refraining from gossip, malicious words, impoliteness, and backbiting. Right conduct includes honesty and peacemaking in a person's whole life. It also includes refraining from violence, cheating, and illicit sexual liaisons. Right livelihood also refers to earning a living through honorable employment. This excludes butchers, arms dealers, bartenders, weapons sellers, and other professions that produce more evil than good.
Mental discipline (samadhi, for Hindus, “holy vision”) requires that a person be disciplined, exercise self-control, and concentrate his mind on the noble truths. To achieve this end concentration, he might practice breathing and other modes of yoga or meditation.
Attaining wisdom, and ultimately enlightenment or Nirvana, requires that a person live in universal love and discipline. The person now understands the puzzle of existence and has attained Nirvana.
The Buddha's philosophy is a practical but deeply spiritual approach to living that has led many to live peaceful, fulfilled lives.