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The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths are the most fundamental Buddhist teachings and appear countless times throughout the most ancient Buddhist texts, the Pali Canon. They arose from Buddha's enlightenment, and are regarded in Buddhism as deep spiritual insight, not as philosophical theory, with Buddha noting in the Samyutta Nikaya: "These Four Noble Truths, monks, are actual, unerring, not otherwise. Therefore they are called noble truths."[1]

The Four Noble Truths (Catvāry Āryasatyāni) are as follows:

  1. The truth that suffering exists (Dukkha).
  2. The truth that suffering exists with a root cause (craving).
  3. The truth that suffering can be eliminated (Nirvana).
  4. The truth that there is a way to eliminate suffering known as the Noble Eightfold Path.

Two Truths Doctrine (Tibetan: bden-pa gnyis)

The Two Truths Doctrine in Buddhism differentiates between two levels of truth in Buddhist discourse, a "relative", or commonsense truth (Tibetan: kun-rdzob bden-pa; Sanskrit: samvrtisatya), and an "ultimate" or absolute spiritual truth (Tibetan: don-dam bden-pa; Sanskrit: paramarthasatya). Stated differently, the Two Truths Doctrine holds that truth exists in conventional and ultimate forms, and that both forms are co-existent. Other schools, such as Dzogchen, hold that the Two Truths Doctrine are ultimately resolved into nonduality as a lived experience and are non-different. The doctrine is an especially important element of Buddhism and was first expressed in complete modern form by Nagarjuna, who based it on the Kaccāyanagotta Sutta.


There is no unilateral agreement amongst the different denominations of Judaism concerning truth. In Orthodox Judaism, truth is the revealed word of God, as found in the Old Testament, and to a lesser extent, in the words of the sages of the Talmud. For Hasidic Jews (an Orthodox sect), truth is also found in the pronouncements of their rebbe, or spiritual leader, who is believed to possess divine inspiration.[2] Kotzk, a Polish Hasidic sect, was known for their obsession with truth.

In Conservative Judaism, truth is not defined as literally as it is amongst the Orthodox. While Conservative Judaism acknowledges the truth of the Old Testament, generally, it does not accord that status to every single statement or word contained therein, as do the Orthodox. Moreover, unlike Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism believes that the nature of truth can vary from generation to generation, depending on circumstances. For instance, with respect to halakhah, or Jewish law (which loosely-speaking can be described as the will of God as expressed in day-to-day activity), Conservative Judaism believes that it can be modified or adapted depending on the needs of the people. In Orthodox Judaism, by contrast, the halakhah is fixed (by the sages of the Talmud and later authorities); the present-day task, therefore, is to interpret the halakhah, but not to change it.

Reform Judaism takes a much more liberal approach to truth. It does not hold that truth is only found in the Old Testament; rather, there are kernels of truth to be found in practically every religious tradition. Moreover, its attitude towards the Old Testament is, at best, a document parts of which may have been inspired, but with no particular monopoly on truth, or in any way legally binding.


Nikolai Ge's What is Truth?, depicting the New Testament account of the question as posed by Pilate to Jesus.
Pontius Pilate's "What is Truth?" - stylized inscription at entrance to Antoni Gaudi's Sagrada Família (Barcelona).

Assertions of truth based upon history, revelation and testimony set forward in the Bible are central to Christian beliefs. Some denominations have asserted additional authorities as sources of doctrinal truth — for instance, in Roman Catholicism the Pope is asserted to be infallible on matters of church doctrine.[3] The central person in Christianity, Jesus, claimed to be "Truth" when he said, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through me."[4] In Christian Science, (not recognised as a Christian organization by the bulk of mainstream churches) Truth is God.[5]

Biblical inerrancy

Some Christian traditions hold a doctrine called Biblical inerrancy, which asserts that the Bible is without error, that is, it can be said to be true as to all issues contained within, whether Old Testament or New. Various interpretations have been applied, depending on the tradition.[6][7] According to some interpretations of the doctrine, all of the Bible is without error, i.e., is to be taken as true, no matter what the issue. Other interpretations hold that the Bible is always true on important matters of faith, while yet other interpretations hold that the Bible is true but must be specifically interpreted in the context of the language, culture and time that relevant passages were written.[8]

The Magisterium of the Church

The Roman Catholic Church holds that it has a continuous teaching authority, magisterium, which preserves the definitive, i.e. the truthful, understanding of scripture. The notion of the Pope as "infallible" in matters of faith and morals is derived from this idea.

"Double truth" theories

In thirteenth century Europe, the Roman Catholic Church denounced what it described as theories of "double truth," i.e. theories to the effect that although a truth may be established by reason, its contrary ought to be believed as true as a matter of faith.


Truthfulness is the ninth of the ten attributes of dharma. Generally, truthfulness relates to speech; i.e. only to speak what one has seen, heard or understood, however the essence of truthfulness is far deeper in Hinduism: it is defined as upholding the central concept of righteousness.[9] In the Upanishads of ancient India, Truth is Sat (pronounced Sah't), the One Reality and Existence, which is directly experienced when the vision is cleared of dross. The Rishi discovers That which exists, Sat, as the Truth of one's own Being, the Self or Atma, and as the Truth of the Being of God, Ishvara. In this usage, the term Truth is used to refer to not merely a derived quality “true rather than false”, but the true state of being, Truth as that which really is there. This is poignantly described by Ramana Maharshi: “There is no greater mystery than that we keep seeking reality though, in fact, we are reality.”


Although, historically, Jain authors have adopted different views on truth, the most prevalent is the system of anekantavada or "not-one-sidedness". This idea of truth is rooted in the notion that there is one truth, but that only enlightened beings can perceive it in its entirety; unenlightened beings only perceive one side of the truth (ekanta). Anekantavada works around the limitations of a one-sided view of truth by proposing multiple vantage points (nayas) from which truth can be viewed (cf. nayavada). Recognizing that there are multiple possible truths about any particular thing, even mutually exclusive truths, Jain philosophers developed a system for synthesizing these various claims, known as syadvada. Within the system of syadvada, each truth is qualified to its particular view-point; that is "in a certain way", one claim or another or both may be true.

See also


  1. ^ The Collected Discourses of the Buddha: A new translation of the Samyutta Nikaya, Bhikkhu Bodhi, 2000
  2. ^
  3. ^ See, e.g., Richard F. Costigan, The Consensus Of The Church And Papal Infallibility: A Study In The Background Of Vatican I (2005)
  4. ^ See, e.g. Bible: John 14:6
  5. ^ truth - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  6. ^ See, e.g. Norman L. Geisler, Inerrancy (1980)
  7. ^ Stephen T. Davis, The debate about the Bible: Inerrancy versus infallibility (1977)
  8. ^ See, e.g. Marcus J. Borg, Reading the Bible Again For the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally (2002) 7-8
  9. ^ Truth Alone Will Triumph, [1]


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