The first substantive step in the path to inner peace is to understand the Four Noble Truths. This simply means to have an understanding of how things really are. These four truths are: 1) to know what suffering is; 2) to know the cause of suffering; 3) to know that suffering can end; and 4) to know the path of practice leading to the end of suffering.
This is all there is. When we know these things, our problems are over. This may sound confusing but give it time and it will become more clear.
You may ask, why are the teachings of Buddha so detailed and extensive if the path is comprised of only four things? The reason is to explain these things in a more refined way, to help us to see them. Imagine you are medical doctor examining a sick patient (except you are the doctor and patient). Ask yourself these diagnostic questions:
A. What are the symptoms of the disease? The symptoms are feelings of unhappiness, incompleteness and dissatisfaction. Put another way, it is the inherent in-satisfactoriness of existence.
This includes our inner reactions to disagreeable situations and events, unpleasant encounters, to be separated from the pleasant, and not to receive what one craves. Pleasures give us happiness while it lasts, but when it eventually passes, the loss leaves us feeling deprived.
Like all patients, the severity of our symptoms may vary from extreme to mild. One person may suffer constant, intense anguish. Whereas another person may only have the slightest sense that their happy moments won’t last and despair at the thought of having only temporarily happiness.
B. What is the cause of the disease?
The cause of unhappiness and despair is self-centered craving, wanting and grasping. This includes craving for sense-pleasure, craving to become something or identified as something, or craving not to be alive.
Unwholesome mental states, called defilements, are the source of most human suffering. To purify the mind, we must cleanse the mind of defilements which run beneath the surface stream of consciousness spoiling our thinking, values, attitudes and actions. The two most basics defilements are greed and anger.
Our minds are obsessed by greed and anger. Generosity is the antidote for greed, while kindness and compassion are the antidotes for anger. From the two basic defilements emerge other defilements such as conceit, jealousy, ambition, laziness and arrogance.
To gain freedom from suffering, we must eliminate these defilements. We can’t just want them to go away; the work must be guided by investigation in a methodical way. The main method offered for purifying the mind is meditation. To rid the mind of these defilements, the body should be looked after well, kept in good health, while the mental faculties are trained to generate liberating wisdom.
C. Is the disease treatable?
The prognosis is positive. The feeling of incompleteness and dissatisfaction can fade away and even be eliminated. However, he severity of our symptoms will dictate how much of the cure is needed to end our illness.
D. Since it is a treatable mental disease, what medicine is recommended?
The cure is the guide for how we end our incompleteness and find abiding peace and contentment. The remaining steps in this guide focus on the path to rid ourselves of suffering. We must study and practice until we come to see that there is nothing worth desiring. Every Buddhist is encouraged to mold his or her life according to this Path as taught by Buddha. If you adjust your life according to this noble way of living, you will be free from the miseries of this life.