A Short Historical Introduction for Non-Buddhists
According to legend, the 4 Noble Truths were among Buddhas first teachings in the Sermon of Benares, these were given to his 5 fellow ascetics, in the deer park at Benares, 5-7 weeks after his enlightenment.
These 4 Noble Truths, are like the 10 commandments to Jews or love for Christians. The 4 Noble Truths are central to all schools of buddhism. They were repeated in different forms throughout his teaching.
I believe the Mahasatipatthana contains the most complete version of the 4 Truths. The Mahasatipatthana (maha:great) is the Satipatthana meaning : the foundations of mindfulness, AND the 4 Noble Truths. The Satipatthana or Mindfulness is of importance but not primary to all schools of Buddhism.
The 4 noble truths talk about the pali word "dukkha". At present, dukkha is translated in German and French always as Leiden or souffrance (suffering) … traditionally in English dukkha has also been translated as suffering – modern translations either leave dukkha untranslated or use the word stress. The common understanding of these 4 truths is : "There is suffering, there is a cause for suffering, there is an end of suffering, and there is a way to end suffering."