The Four Noble Truths as a limited “specific teaching”

Nichiren explained that the teaching of the Four Noble Truths was merely one of several specific teachings, which Shakyamuni taught in accordance with his listeners’ capacity and stage of practice:

        “In the various other sutras we find [many doctrines] ...

         the four noble truths [taught] for voice-hearers...”

In his Comparison of the Lotus Sutra with Other Sutras Nichiren clearly states that the Four Noble Truths were not dedicated to all categories of Buddha’s disciples, but merely to the immediate Voice-Hearers (Sravaka).  Nichiren further declares that:

         “The Lotus Sutra is entirely different. It was preached equally for all”.

Duality and Limitation

in the concept of the Four Noble Truths

The teaching of the Four Noble Truths considers ‘desires’ as the cause for sufferings. There is however, a category of desires, which do not cause sufferings, but rather constitute good causes for enlightenment. The basic human desire for health of body and mind, desire to learn, desire for helping and protecting others, desires of compassion, desire to benefit society and ultimately the desire to attain Buddhahood - these are desires which should be enhanced.

The strict focus of the Four Noble Truths on the sole element of “suffering in daily life” is basically inconsistent with the principle of non-separation (and non-duality) of all phenomena.  As a fact, sufferings express only one side of human experience - so it is incorrect that “all life” is suffering, focusing on one extreme.

In his letter Happiness in this World, Nichiren states that neither sufferings nor joy really constitute the essence of one’s life.  The Ultimate Truth of life is the Middle way. It is the truth of Temporary Existence (of both sufferings and joy) and the Interconnectedness of all Phenomena, being the Dharma or the Wonderful Law of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo:

        Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy.

         Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life,

          and continue chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

         no matter what happens.

         How could this be anything other than the boundless joy of the Law?WND 1 p 681

Nichiren’s explanation in the above passage (that both sufferings and joy are facts of life), is consistent with the principle of non-duality and non-separation of opposites.  Furthermore, with the power of the Law, sufferings in daily life can be transformed into enlightenment.

The Four “Natural Sufferings” of all human beings

Nichiren Buddhism teaches that all people regardless of their social position have to endure inevitable hardships and sufferings in life, being:

the “Four Natural Sufferings” are those of Young age, Sickness, Old Age and Death.

These Natural Sufferings are part of the makeup of life. They are not caused by craving or attachment to desires (which constitute the subject of the Four Noble Truths) .

Old Age, for example, is simply a natural occurrence of progression of life.  No one “desires” or “craves for” that stage of Old Age, and so is the situation with Death and Sickness, or also the suffering experienced in birth, childhood and young age. 


Author: Safwan Darshams

                                       The Four Noble Truths in SGI Buddhism

The Lotus Sutra and the Four Noble Truths

Frequently Asked Questions