This is a concise representation of some interesting points of Buddhism. It is not aiming at going into details or explaining the terms (like enlightenment, suffering, attachment, karma, awareness, etc.), so some background knowledge of Eastern philosophy may be necessary.
The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path are the focal points of the Buddhist teachings. The purpose of Buddhism is spiritual enlightenment. Enlightenment will lead to nirvana, breaking the cycle of death and rebirth and thus finally releasing oneself from suffering. The Four Noble Truths explain the reasons why we suffer so much in our life, and also offer us hope that suffering can be ended. With their full comprehension they do not appear as simple as they may do at first. The Eightfold Path is a plan of self-discipline designed to bring about cessation of our suffering by changing our conduct and attitude to life.
The Four Noble Truths
(in quotes as set out by the Buddha and recorded in the Pali texts)
The First Noble Truth
THE EXISTENCE OF SUFFERING
"What is the Truth of suffering? Birth is suffering, decay, sickness and death are suffering. To be separated from what you like is suffering. To want something and not get it is suffering. In short, the human personality, liable as it is to clinging and attachment brings suffering."
Suffering is a characteristic of existence and is adjunct to another of its characteristics - impermanence.
The Second Noble Truth
THE ORIGIN OF SUFFERING
"And what is the Truth of the origin of suffering? It is craving. Craving leads to rebirth, bound up as this is with the search for pleasure and restless greed. It is in craving for sensuality, craving for new life, craving for non-existence and annihilation."
Craving is an important link in the chain of causality. Therefore it makes the wheel of rebirth, suffering and death spin continuously according to the past actions, or to the Law of Karma.
Here are all the links of the chain of causality, or the Wheel of Becoming, and the images they are traditionally symbolised with. Each process arises because of the previous.
Ignorance - a blind man
Karma Formation - a potter
Consciousness - a monkey
Name and Form - a ship with a passenger
The Senses - an empty house
Contact - a man and woman embracing
Feeling - a man eating
Craving - a man reaching for fruit
Clinging - a man taking care of fruit trees
Becoming - a woman and child
Rebirth - a woman in childbirth
Death - a man with a corpse
The Third Noble Truth
THE EXTINCTION OF SUFFERING
"And what is the Truth of the extinction of suffering? It is the indifference to and elimination of craving: freedom and detachment from it."
When enlightenment is achieved, karma, suffering and fear of death are eliminated, and replaced by a state of eternal bliss, or nirvana. Compassion is emphasised as an element of enlightenment.
The Fourth Noble Truth
THE WAY LEADING TO THE EXTINCTION OF SUFFERING
"And what is the Truth about the Way (or the Path) leading to the extinction of suffering? Just this Eightfold Path leads to the extinction of suffering."
The Eightfold Path delineates a plan of self-discipline regarding ethical conduct, mental discipline, and wisdom. The Path is a Middle way because it avoids the extreme sensuality and the extreme ascetism. The word "right" here has three aspects, meaning truthful, ethically correct, and balanced, or following the middle way.
The Eightfold Path
1. RIGHT VEIW
The View and understanding of the world should not be superficial but should go deeply into the true nature of things. It is one of the factors that constitute wisdom.
2. RIGHT THOUGHT (or RIGHT PURPOSE)
Selflessness, compassion, love and detachment are Right Thoughts (Right Purpose, or Right Attitude) that show wisdom.
3. RIGHT SPEECH
Speech should always be truthful. It should also be calm, clear, concise and to the point, and bringing peace. Ethical conduct is based on Right Speech.
4. RIGHT ACTION
Right Action is a non-violent action. Ethical conduct is rooted in Right Action.
5. RIGHT LIVELIHOOD
Right Livelihood is achieved through avoiding making profit from harming others. Right Livelihood is ethical conduct.
6. RIGHT EFFORT
Persistency in preventing evil and inharmonious states of mind from coming to be, and also persistency in promoting good and harmonious states of mind. Right Effort is a mental discipline.
7. RIGHT AWARENESS (or MINDFULNESS)
This is detached awareness of what we sense and feel, and what our mind is thinking about. Right Mindfulness is a mental discipline.
8. RIGHT MEDITATIVE CONCENTRATION
Various modes of meditation are used to strengthen mental discipline. With continued meditation the mind becomes calm and clear.