Physical suffering takes many forms. All of us have seen at some time an elderly person with aches and pains in their joints, maybe finding it hard to move by themselves or worried about falling over on their sore bones and delicate skin. As we get older all of us find that life can become more difficult for all kinds of reasons; our eyes may not see as well, our hears may not hear as well or our teeth may not be as strong making it harder for us to eat. The pain of disease, which strikes young and old alike, is a reality for us all from time to time, and the pain of death brings much grief and suffering. Even the moment of birth gives pain both to the mother and the child that is born.
The First Noble Truth is that the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death is unavoidable. Some fortunate people may now be enjoying relatively happy and carefree lives, but it is only a matter of time before they, too, will experience suffering of some kind. What is also true is that this suffering — whether it is a cold, an injury or a sad event — must be borne alone. When you have a cold, it is your cold and only you experience how it feels for you. In another example, a man may be very concerned that his mother is growing old. No matter how much he cares for her he cannot take her place and suffer the pains of aging on her behalf. In the same way, if a boy falls very ill, his mother cannot experience the pains of his illness for him. The Buddha taught people to recognise that suffering is part of life and that it cannot be avoided.
When the Buddha said that there is suffering in life, He also spoke about happiness. Buddhists speak of many different kinds of happiness; the happiness of friendship; of family life; of a healthy body and mind; happiness from celebration and gifts, as well as from sharing and giving. Buddhists believe that happiness is real but impermanent — that is does not last forever — and that when happiness fades it leads to suffering. Imagine a person who is given a beautiful vase as a gift from a close friend. They feel happy that their friend cares about them and has chosen them a gift that suits their house perfectly. But if the vase was to smash accidentally, then the happiness would vanish and turn into suffering. The person suffers because their attachment to pleasure has not lasted.Buddhists learn that many people try to escape from the suffering in life by distracting themselves with temporary pleasures. There are many examples of people who try to block out sadness, pain, loss and grief by indulging in pleasures they think will bring happiness but actually end up disguising their real feelings, and making them feel even worse when the temporary happiness runs out. Imagine a person who likes chocolate, for example, and thinks that the wonderful experience of eating chocolate will always make them happy. If that person has a toothache and tries to make themselves feel better by eating chocolate, it might work once or twice, but the chocolate will never solve the toothache and soon it will make it worse. In this way, the Buddha taught his followers not to be distracted by momentary pleasures, but to look at the bigger picture of their life experiences. He taught that happiness and pleasures are temporary and therefore that people should learn more about what Buddha taught as the True way to end suffering. He taught these lessons in the next Three Noble Truths.
Suffering is a fact of life. There are four unavoidable physical sufferings; birth, old age, sickness and death. There are also three forms of mental suffering; separation from the people we love; contact with people we dislike and frustration of desires. Happiness is real and comes in many ways, but happiness does not last forever and does not stop suffering. Buddhists believe that the way to end suffering is to first accept the fact that suffering is actually a fact of life.