According to Siddhartha Gautama (the original Buddha), these four truths, once realized, will lead one to enlightenment.
  1. Suffering exists.
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment to craving and desire.
  3. Suffering ceases when its cause (see #2) ceases.
  4. Freedom from suffering is possible by detaching oneself from craving and desire.
The Buddha-recommended method of performing this incredible feat of will (#4) was to follow the Eightfold Noble Path.

moJoe, the fourth noble truth has nothing to do with self-sacrifice. Quite the contrary. Please read the story of Gautama Buddha to see that he opposed self-denial.

The four noble truths are patterned after the medical practice of the time (and perhaps even today), as the Buddha saw himself as the spiritual physician:

  • First step: Diagnose the problem (there is suffering in the world).
  • Second step: Find the cause of the problem (suffering is caused by craving).
  • Third step: Identify a solution (cessation of craving stops suffering).
  • Fourth step: Prescribe a treatment (the eightfold path).

By the way, it is good to think of Buddhism as a prescription rather than a teaching. The Buddha says, "this will help" but he is not forcing you to do it. If you suffer, it is not because some God is mad at you, but because you are violating laws of nature and suffering natural consequences (see Law of Karma).

Your proposal, by the way, will not work. The craving the Buddha was talking about is compared to the desire of a fish on dry land for a drop of water: Something that is not possible to satiate. The fish must return to the pond, its thirst will never be satisfied on dry land.

Want an example: Bill Gates. His thirst for money is insatiable, yet he has enough of it even if he lived for a kalpa. If he just let go, his suffering (e.g., all his mess with the DOJ would stop.

The four noble truths as discovered by Sakyamuni Buddha

1. The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukka)
"Birth is suffering, decay is suffering, sorrow,
lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering,
not to get what one desires is suffering, in short, the
Five Groups of Existence
are suffering."
1. the Five Groups of Existence
2. The three characteristics of existence
3. Samsara (the wheel of existence)

2. The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering (dukkha-samudaya)
The cause of suffering is the Threefold Craving:
1. Sensual craving (kama-tanha)
2. Craving for (eternal) existence (bhava-tanha)
3. Craving for self-annihilation (vibhava-tanha)

3. The Noble Truth of the Extinction of Suffering
The way to put an end to suffering is to put an end to

4. The Noble Truth of the Path Which Leads to the
Extinction of Suffering
The path which leads to the extinction of suffering is The
Noble Eightfold Path (ariya-attihangikamagga)

The noble truths in plain english as noded by whizkid:
The first noble truth of buddhism
The second noble truth of buddhism
The third noble truth of buddhism
The fourth noble truth of buddhism
I feel it necessary to respond to moJoe's proposition that an alternate 'fourth noble truth' be the following:

"Freedom from suffering is possible by satiating ones cravings and desires."

This has been, throughout history, a common sentiment. After all, why should one try to purge cravings and desires from their life when it is possible to simply indulge them?

The Buddha answered this point directly in his teachings, and I shall attempt to convey his feelings on the issue.

One of the first realizations that one comes to through an understanding of the Dharma (a.k.a. Dhamma) is the transient nature of experience. Nothing (except Enlightenment) is so pleasing that it will keep us content forever. Nor is anything so painful, that we shall be pained by it for all our lives. Understanding this, perhaps, is the first step toward Enlightenment.

Because both happiness and sadness are temporary, no matter what we have at this moment which causes us happiness, eventually that will fall away and no longer be able to make us happy. It even may bring us unhappiness in the end.

And so, when we indulge in our cravings -- we may bring temporary happiness for ourselves, but eventually the satisfaction of fulfilling that particular desire will fade away, and we will return to craving something else ad infinitum. This sort of existence is animalistic in nature -- hunger, feed, hunger, feed, hunger feed -- and not beneficial to Enlightenment.

It is important to note, however, that the Buddha did not preach a path of strict asceticism, or of indulgence. Before his Enlightenment, the Buddha was a prince who lived in the lap of luxury until he left his home to become a monk, having become discontented with such a life (after realizing the temporary nature of pleasure). Upon doing so, he studied meditation and eventually became the kind of ascetic who starved himself to reach Enlightenment. Eventually, he realized that this was not the way to Enlightenment, and he swore off that life.

The Buddha said that walking a Middle Path was the optimal route to Enlightenment -- neither indulging in cravings, nor starving the body of its needs. This sort of middle-path is outlined in the Fourth Noble Truth, and helps the Dhamma farer to free themselves of attachment and become Enlightened.

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