illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
I'm definitely not a fan of starting summaries of "what Buddhism is" with the classical translation of the four noble truths. In particular, I find "life is suffering" misleading, I think it's a mis-translation: it may well be accurate word-for-word, but it doesn't convey the meaning to the English reader.
When translated such, the first of the four noble truths is commonly misunderstood as pessimism. Buddhism doesn't say "life sucks" though, it says that "life is pleasurable and ordinary minds can't get enough of it", ordinary minds crave and scheme and cling! gplus.wallez.name/FmJ3YsTLrSo
We may of course use "life is unsatisfactory" or "life is frustrating" but it leads to the same sort of 'pessimistic' interpretation of Buddhism; what we may more accurately write is e.g "life does not move according to one's wishes" gplus.wallez.name/65Yw2aukGKN
However, if we look at the intention behind stating the "noble truths", we end up in a much much better (philosophical / religious) place: tasks! The Buddha does not posit "life is suffering" as an undeniable fact, but as something to enquire into, to investigate, to realise (cf. the Kālāma sutta, gplus.wallez.name/PUQ2AeReGEM )… so what he really says is: "study worldly suffering"! Other truths are similarly motivated and this leads to a rather different interpretation of the "four tasks of the noble one" gplus.wallez.name/eVFH1vmfz3g
"Life is suffering… but you can be alive and without suffering" is self-contradictory. If the Buddha was a great teacher and philosopher and psychologist, then it's surprising the summary of his teachings would immediately be inconsistent.
"Study worldly suffering, study its causes, study how to cease the causes (in order to cease the consequence), apply the antidotes" isn't contradictory.
So what is Buddhism? Studying and applying… Being present, avoid cognitive pitfalls and engaging… In this light, the lists of perfections, faults and remedies (gplus.wallez.name/FE7UwdSnTXq) suddenly make a lot more sense.
Photo from the ’matchstick men’ installation by © Wolfgang Stiller (wolfgangstiller.com)