The central teaching of the Buddha, around which all his other teachings revolve, is the Four Noble Truths:
1. Life involves suffering. All beings are subject to old age, sickness and death. They will inevitably experience some disappointment, discomfort, sadness, anxiety or pain.
2. The root cause of suffering is craving for sensual pleasure, for existence, for non-existence or for things to be different than they are. Craving is fueled by likes and dislikes, driven by the illusion of 'me' and 'mine', which in turn is due to misunderstanding the true nature of reality.
3. Suffering ends with the ending of craving. This is the attainment of enlightenment, Nibbana (or Nirvana). Enlightenment is the complete letting go of the illusion of a permanent and independent self or soul. An enlightened person is called an Arahant.
4. Enlightenment is achieved through a gradual training, a path called the Middle Way, or the Noble Eightfold Path.
Buddhism is a realistic religion in that it faces up to the fact of life's many imperfections, and optimistic in that it offers a practical solution: enlightenment in this very life.
Because all things that arise from a cause are in a constant state of change, they are inherently unable to provide permanent happiness or reliable satisfaction. Grasping and clinging onto any aspect of experience leads to friction, stress or disappointment when those things, people or situations fade and disappear. As long as suffering is seen as something unnatural or abnormal that is to be feared, avoided or rejected, it will be impossible to uproot its causes and live a truly happy life. To the degree that the subtle and all-pervasive nature of suffering is recognized, one can accept and be free from it. This is why the reflection on suffering is emphasized as the key to ultimate liberation, and those who have realized enlightenment are inspiring examples of profound happiness, loving-kindness and compassion.
(to be continued...)