The fundamental teachings in Buddhism are the original teachings of the Buddha, who was born as Siddhartha Gautama into a wealthy royal family in Lumbini (in today’s Nepal) in 563 BC. At the age of 29 he left home and spent years wandering, studying various philosophies and exploring different religions. Eventually after long studies in meditation he became enlightened while meditating under a bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, in today’s India. He then started teaching publicly and in his first sermons the Buddha outlined his key teachings: the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
The Four Noble Truths are that 1) all life is suffering, 2) the cause of suffering is craving (desire), 3) suffering can end when desire ceases and 4) following the Noble Eightfold Path is the way to end suffering and to reach nirvana (nibbana), or enlightenment.
The First Noble Truth is that all life is suffering (dukkha). The world is full of suffering: war, poverty, hunger, and each individual life is also full of suffering: pain, loneliness, disappointments, illness and eventually death. Since the idea of reincarnation is a part of the Buddhist thought, suffering also continues through several lifetimes.
The Second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by craving (desire) and aversion. Human beings always crave for something, try to grasp something, want something (or someone) or simply want things to be different than they are. Aversion means that while craving for something, humans are also always running away from something or away from the true nature of things. Since all things are impermanent, craving and aversion never lead to happiness.
The Third Noble Truth is that the end of suffering is possible. True happiness comes when desire (craving) ends. The end of suffering means that one has reached nirvana or enlightenment and has awakened to one’s true nature. The word “buddhi” means to awaken.
The Fourth Noble Truth is that suffering can end if one follows the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path includes right (or perfect) understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
By practicing the steps on the Eightfold Path one can eventually reach enlightenment and the end of suffering. Thus enlightenment is possible for everyone. The Buddha also taught the Middle Way, that life should not be about over-indulgence but not about self-torture and asceticism either. Buddha’s teachings are collectively called the Dhamma (or Dharma), which is the basis behind all the different schools of Buddhism in the world today.
Sources: DharmaNet Learning Centre