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I don't even like to post a question like this but I just want to share a misconception that people from other beliefs have regarding Buddhism. Please what this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0ws36pd-Q0.

What this person says is that according to the third noble truth sorrow can be eliminated by getting rid of desire. And when desire is eliminated there is no reason to have a fourth noble truth which talks about the 8 fold path. This is just absolute illogical and misleading statements. But I just do not have the proper knowledge to make my Muslim friends understand why this is wrong. Please do share your views. Thank you

  • good answers below. I just want to make a comment, Buddha only used the word "Tanha" in negative context only. However, compare to "Chanda" Buddha used it in both positive and negative contexts. This is just to spark intellectual curiosity in Buddha's lectures. Both words Tanha and Chanda can be roughly translated to "desire" in English but may not be 100% right on. Answers below still apply to "chanda" as well. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chanda_(Buddhism) – user5056 Feb 18 '16 at 22:26
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If you compare suffering to a sickness, the first noble truth would be knowing that you are sick. The second noble truth would be knowing the cause of the sickness. The third noble truth would be knowing that the sickness can be cured or knowing that there's a healthy state. The fourth noble truth would be knowing how to cure it or knowing how to reach that healthy state.

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I did not watch the video but ...

If you take education there are different levels of education. The level discussed in kindergarten and university is quite different. Similarly when some concept is presented. The most systematic form of the path is the rendering in the Noble 8 Fold Path.

Anyway 3rd Noble truth is eliminating unsatisfactoriness by ridding yourself of craving and clinging and the 4th is the method to do so. In ridding yourself of craving clinging you also rid yourself of the unsatisfactoriness.

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Maybe he's not entirely wrong.

Or at least, whether he's right or wrong might not be the same as whether you can usefully "make my Muslim friends understand why this is wrong".

A discussion which includes a reply like, "What you said is just wrong! The truth is that etc.", might not go very well in real life, 'human nature' being what it is.

It might be better to have a discussion which includes replies like, "What you said is interesting and there may be some truth in that.", and which then goes on to add to (augment) or shed more light on what they said.


FYI the 'Four Noble Truths' are spelled out in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta,

  1. Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress:[1] Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.

  2. "And this, monks, is the noble truth of the origination of stress: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

  3. "And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of stress: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving.

  4. "And this, monks, is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress: precisely this Noble Eightfold Path — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

You can double-check what the third noble truth says here on buddha-vacana.org site, which has a word-by-word translation (try using the mouse to hover over each word of the Pali), which I could translate as:

  1. And this surely, monks, cessation-of-suffering noble-truth: that very desire not leaving a remnant dispassion/nirvana cessation abandoning giving up release freedom from attachment.

I think he's saying that giving up desire is the cause of cessation-of-suffering ... or more specifically, not the cause of cessation but the state of cessation -- the truth of cessation, the state of cessation, the reality or conditions in which suffering has ceased, is the state of freedom from attachment.

The fourth noble truth is the practice: it's how to do that.


Your friend says, "when desire is eliminated there is no reason to have a fourth noble truth" -- however, how to practice "desire is eliminated" isn't obvious. Specifically, before the Buddha became enlightened he tried to practice some extreme austerities before deciding that didn't help, and that the Middle Way (and, in more detail, the Noble Eightfold Way) was better, was the way to be taught.


Let me try another simile for the four noble truth:

  1. A car crash is painful
  2. A painful car crash is conditioned by (i.e. it happens when there is) uncontrolled speed
  3. There's truthfully no danger of the pain caused by a car crash, when the car isn't speeding
  4. The practice for not speeding is to avoid using the accelerator and to use the brakes.

So I think you're friend may or not be right.

If he's saying something like, "I can safely drive a car without brakes, because I won't be driving very fast", perhaps that seems true theoretically, but the problems with that statement ought to be obvious.


If you want to talk with your friend about states of being in which "desire has been eliminated" it might be worth considering this answer too.

I think it says that different schools (or practitioners) of Buddhism may have different ways of living. If you don't mind my saying so (and because you added the tag to your question), there are different branches within Islam too, for example Sufism.

That answer (i.e. what Bhikkhu Bodhi writes about the Mahayana) is probably easy to misunderstand, though, and it isn't the first thing to be learned about Buddhism. I thought the first thing to be learned about Buddhism was the Four Noble Truths (I thought that was the first thing to be taught), but for some second opinions on that, see the answers to How to explain what Buddhism is? ... and note that when Suminda's answer says "three trainings", those three training are actually a synonym for the Eightfold Way, i.e. for the fourth noble truth. And so, although your friend might say, "there is no reason to have a fourth noble truth", in a sense the fourth noble truth is the practice of Buddhism.

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The Third Truth indeed says that desire/craving/taṇhā/thirst can be eliminated. But it doesn't say how! It's not easy -- desire is tenacious, self-perpetuating, deeply embedded in our psyche. That's because it is inherently a matter of attraction -- satisfying desire feels good, and we want therefore to repeat it. And every time we do repeat it, it gets stronger.

So eliminating desire is not easy -- you can't just wish it away. Anybody who has tried to lose weight or quit smoking knows that well. And eliminating all desire is a lot harder.

In general, because you can name and describe a goal does not mean you can "just do it". On the stock market, the old saying is that the trick is "buy low, sell high". Sounds simple. But how to do that consistently fills whole bookshelves, heck, whole libraries.

So getting back to the Four Truths -- how to eliminate desire is the Fourth Truth.

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I see two misunderstandings with his statement.

He seems to take a sequential reading of the four noble truths as instructions, where the third would instruct to "remove desire" and the fourth would instruct to "follow the eightfold path". Then he argues that one who removed the desire on the third step, does not need to follow the eightfold path -- hence, it contradicts itself.

That reading is alien to buddhists, insofar as we are talking about one who hasn't satisfied the third noble truth (end of dukkha). It has been noted that the four noble truths mirror medical diagnosis: recognizing disease/symptoms (there's dukkha), identifying origin of disease (craving), determining if a cure is possible (there's end of dukkha), and if so, prescribing medicine (the eighfold path).

While he may be right that one who has satisfied the third truth no longer needs the training (e.g. an arahant), it doesn't seem to me that this is what he meant. The problem on the core of his argument is that he, as many others, identify "abandoning desire" and "having desire [for nirvana, for buddhahood, for learning dhamma, etc]" as contradictions. The contradiction, however, does not exist. If anything, it tells us a limitation of language and perception, not a limitation of the subject of matter.

For example, consider methods like vaccine: generally, a way to introduce a virus to train your immune system. Another way of explaining it would be "something that makes you ill to make you healthy". For another example, consider body workout: generally, a way to improve strength and build muscles. Another way of saying what it is would be "exercises to make your body weak and cause repeated damages to your muscles so you can be stronger and have more muscles".

Apparently, these are contradictions. But only in appearance, caused by mixing method and long term goals as if they had the same "semantic status", and while ignoring the process underneath. These examples, thus, tells us a limitation of language and perception, not a limitation of the subject of matter (i.e. it does not debunk workout or vaccine).

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To second everyone else.

Paraphrasing the Truths:

  1. Dukkha must be understood for what it is.
  2. Among the conditions responsible for the arising of Dukkha the unsatisfied thirst is a necessary condition.
  3. In the absence of the unsatisfied thirst Dukkha does not arise
  4. Here is how the thirst can be eliminated, step by step, from coarse to subtle.

Couple things to note here:

  • Dukkha is not sorrow
  • Tanha is not desire
  • The roots of Tanha run deeeeeep and in most cases can't be cut momentarily
  • The entire attitude to existence must change, down to very subtle/fundamental assumptions

So yeah, in one sense they are right - if you have reached the goal you no longer need to follow the path. In the other sense, they should not speak about "eliminating the desire" so lightly.

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The 4NT can be seen as 2 pairs of cause and effect: first pair is about suffering, second pair is about ending suffering:
1st NT: suffering: effect             <--- 2nd NT: craving: cause
3rd NT: end of suffering: effect  <--- 4th NT: the 8FNP: cause

It also can be seen as the 4 concrete steps to be taken: to comprehend, to abandon, to directly experience, and to develop:

"Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: 'This is the noble truth of stress.' Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: 'This noble truth of stress is to be comprehended.' Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before:' This noble truth of stress has been comprehended.'

"Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: 'This is the noble truth of the origination of stress'... 'This noble truth of the origination of stress is to be abandoned' [2] ... 'This noble truth of the origination of stress has been abandoned.'

"Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: 'This is the noble truth of the cessation of stress'... 'This noble truth of the cessation of stress is to be directly experienced'... 'This noble truth of the cessation of stress has been directly experienced.'

"Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: 'This is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress'... 'This noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress is to be developed'... 'This noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress has been developed.' ~ SN 56.11 ~

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