dharma takes

“Fasten Your Seatbelts…”

At the core of all Buddhist traditions are the Four Noble Truths. They have been translated, annotated, and exegesisized for 2500 years.

Below is a free translation that may not be exactly literal, but that captures the ‘feeling’ of the 4NTs as I understand them and experience them in my own life.

All my attempts at free translation are inspired by poet Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching–a masterpiece of clarity and insight.


NT-01: Life is a rough ride.*

Birth is rough. Aging is rough. Sickness is rough. Dying is rough. Pain is rough. Losing what you love is rough. Not getting what you want is rough. In short, the human condition is bumpy and aggravating.

NT-02: The origin of aggravation.

The origin of aggravation is craving** for circumstances to be different than what they are.

NT-03: Liberation from aggravation.

It is possible to stop craving different circumstances.

NT-04: The Path of Liberation.

To follow the Path of Liberation a person cultivates eight qualities of clarity. Developing these qualities extinguish the craving for different circumstances:

  • Wisdom Qualities
    • Clear perspective.
      • Seeing things as they are. In context. Without confusion.
    • Clear intention.
      • Moving through the world with principle. Resisting reactivity.
  • Ethical Qualities
    • Clear communication.
      • Precise, truthful, compassionate content. Avoiding the creation of confusion & harm. Skillful silence.
    • Clear behavior.
      • Embodied actions that do not injure, exploit, or manipulate.
    • Clear work.
      • Making a living that benefits self and others without causing injury or harm.
  • Meditative Qualities
    • Clear discipline.
      • Prioritizing activities and mental states that create conditions for awakening and liberation.
    • Clear presence.
      • Being here now. Fully inhabiting time and space.
    • Clear focus.
      • Mindfully meeting whatever arises with calm, friendly equanimity.

* the Pali word ‘dukkha’ (translated here as “a rough ride”) doesn’t have an exact English translation. Suffering is the typical translation. But dukkha can vary in intensity from deep existential angst to stress to vague dis-ease. Literally, dukkha means the space around a poorly fitted axle of an ox cart that prevents the wheel from turning smoothly.

** craving here has the quality of ‘thirst.’ Like suffering, thirst can vary in intensity from a dry mouth to dehydration and hallucinating in the desert.