The Teachings of the Buddha
Having realized the goal of Perfect Enlightenment, the Buddha spent
the next 45 years teaching a Path which, when diligently followed,
will take anyone regardless of race, class or gender to that same
Perfect Enlightenment. The Teachings about this Path are called the
Dhamma, literally meaning "the nature of all things" or "the truth
underlying existence". It is beyond the scope of this pamphlet to
present a thorough description of all of these Teachings but the
following 7 topics will give you an overview of what the Buddha
1. The way of Inquiry
The Buddha warned strongly against blind faith and encouraged the way
of truthful inquiry. In one of His best known sermons, the Kalama
Sutta, the Buddha pointed out the danger in fashioning one's beliefs
merely on the following grounds: on hearsay, on tradition, because
many others say it is so, on the authority of ancient scriptures, on
the word of a supernatural being, or out of trust in one's teachers,
elders, or priests. Instead one maintains an open mind and thoroughly
investigates one's own experience of life. When one sees for oneself
that a particular view agrees with both experience and reason, and
leads to the happiness of one and all, then one should accept that
view and live up to it!
This principle, of course, applies to the Buddha's own Teachings. They
should be considered and inquired into using the clarity of mind born
of meditation. Only when one sees these Teachings for oneself in the
experience of insight, do these Teachings become one's Truth and give
The traveller on the way of inquiry needs the practice of tolerance.
Tolerance does not mean that one embraces every idea or view but means
one doesn't get angry at what one can't accept.
Further along the journey, what one once disagreed with might later be
seen to be true. So in the spirit of tolerant inquiry, here are some
more of the basic Teachings as the Buddha gave them.
2. The Four Noble Truths
The main Teaching of the Buddha focuses not on philosophical
speculations about a Creator God or the origin of the universe, nor on
a heaven world ever after. The Teaching, instead, is centred on the
down-to- earth reality of human suffering and the urgent need to find
lasting relief from all forms of discontent. The Buddha gave the
simile of a man shot by a poison-tipped arrow who, before he would
call a doctor to treat him, demanded to know first who shot the arrow
and where the arrow was made and of what and by whom and when and
where ... this foolish man would surely die before his questions could
be well answered. In the same way, the Buddha said, the urgent need of
our existence is to find lasting relief from recurrent suffering which
robs us of happiness and leaves us in strife.
Philosophical speculations are of secondary importance and, anyway,
they are best left until after one has well trained the mind in
meditation to the stage where one has the ability to examine the
matter clearly and find the Truth for oneself.
Thus, the central Teaching of the Buddha, around which all other
teachings revolve is the Four Noble Truths:
1. That all forms of being, human and otherwise, are afflicted with suffering.
2. That the cause of this suffering is Craving, born of the illusion
of a soul (see below, note 7).
3. That this suffering has a lasting end in the Experience of
Enlightenment (Nibbana) which is the complete letting go of the
illusion of soul and all consequent desire and aversion.
4. That this peaceful and blissful Enlightenment is achieved through a
gradual training, a Path which is called the Middle Way or the
It would be mistaken to label this Teaching as 'pessimistic' on the
grounds that it begins by centring on suffering. Rather, Buddhism is
'realistic' in that it unflinchingly faces up to the truth of life's
many sufferings and it is 'optimistic' in that it shows a final end of
the problem of suffering - Nibbana, Enlightenment in this very life!
Those who have achieved this ultimate peace are the inspiring examples
who demonstrate once and for all that Buddhism is far from
pessimistic, but it is a Path to true Happiness.
3. The Middle Way or Eightfold Path
The Way to end all suffering is called the Middle Way because it
avoids the two extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification.
Only when the body is in reasonable comfort but not over-indulged has
the mind the clarity and strength to meditate deeply and discover the
Truth. This Middle Way consists of the diligent cultivation of Virtue,
Meditation and Wisdom, which is explained in more detail as the Noble
1. Right Understanding
2. Right Thought
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration
Right Speech, Action and Livelihood constitute the training in Virtue
or Morality. For a practising Buddhist it consists of maintaining the
five Buddhist Precepts, which are to refrain from:
1. Deliberately causing the death of any living being;
2. Intentionally taking for one's own the property of another;
3. Sexual misconduct, in particular adultery;
4. Lying and breaking promises;
5. Drinking alcohol or taking stupefying drugs which lead to lack of
Right Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration refer to the practice of
Meditation, which purifies the mind through the experience of blissful
states of inner stillness and empowers the mind to penetrate the
meaning of life through profound moments of insight.
Right Understanding and Thought are the manifestation of Buddha-Wisdom
which ends all suffering, transforms the personality and produces
unshakeable serenity and tireless compassion.
According to the Buddha, without perfecting the practice of Virtue it
is impossible to perfect Meditation, and without perfecting Meditation
it is impossible to arrive at Enlightenment Wisdom. Thus the Buddhist
Path is a Gradual Path, a Middle Way consisting of Virtue, Meditation
and Wisdom as explained in the Noble Eightfold Path leading to
happiness and liberation.
Kamma means 'action'. The Law of Kamma means that there are
inescapable results of our actions. There are deeds of body, speech or
mind that lead to others' harm, one's own harm, or to the harm of
both. Such deeds are called bad (or 'unwholesome') kamma. They are
usually motivated by greed, hatred or delusion. Because they bring
painful results, they should not be done.
There are also deeds of body, speech or mind that lead to others' well
being, one's own well being, or to the well being of both. Such deeds
are called good (or 'wholesome') kamma. They are usually motivated by
generosity, compassion or wisdom. Because they bring happy results,
they should be done as often as possible.
Thus much of what one experiences is the result of one's own previous
kamma. When misfortune occurs, instead of blaming someone else, one
can look for any fault in one's own past conduct. If a fault is found,
the experience of its consequences will make one more careful in the
future. When happiness occurs, instead of taking it for granted, one
can look to see if it is the result of good kamma. If so, the
experience of its pleasant results will encourage more good kamma in
The Buddha pointed out that no being whatsoever, divine or otherwise,
has any power to stop the consequences of good and bad kamma. The fact
that one reaps just what one sows gives to the Buddhist a greater
incentive to avoid all forms of bad kamma while doing as much good
kamma as possible.
Though one cannot escape the results of bad kamma, one can lessen
their effect. A spoon of salt mixed in a glass of pure water makes the
whole very salty, whereas the same spoon of salt mixed in a freshwater
lake hardly changes the taste of the water. Similarly, the result of a
bad kamma in a person habitually doing only a small amount of good
kamma is painful indeed, whereas the result of the same bad kamma in a
person habitually doing a great deal of good kamma is only mildly
This natural Law of Kamma becomes the force behind, and reason for,
the practice of morality and compassion in our society.
The Buddha remembered clearly many of His past lives. Even today, many
Buddhist monks, nuns and others also remember their past lives. Such a
strong memory is a result of deep meditation. For those who remember
their past life, Rebirth is an established fact which puts this life
in a meaningful perspective.
The Law of Kamma can only be understood in the framework of many
lifetimes, because it sometimes takes this long for Kamma to bear its
fruit. Thus Kamma and Rebirth offer a plausible explanation to the
obvious inequalities of birth; why some are born into great wealth
whereas others are born into pathetic poverty; why some children enter
this world healthy and full-limbed whereas others enter deformed and
diseased... The fruits of bad Kamma are not regarded as a punishment
for evil deeds but as lessons from which to learn, for example, how
much better to learn about the need for generosity than to be reborn
among the poor!
Rebirth takes place not only within this human realm. The Buddha
pointed out that the realm of human beings is but one among many.
There are many separate heavenly realms and grim lower realms, too,
realms of the animals and realms of the ghosts. Not only can human
beings go to any of these realms in the next life, but we can come
from any of these realms into our present life. This explains a common
objection against Rebirth that argues "How can there be Rebirth when
there are 10 times as many people alive today than there were 50 years
ago?" The answer is that people alive today have come from many
Understanding that we can come and go between these different realms,
gives us more respect and compassion for the beings in these realms.
It is unlikely, for example, that one would exploit animals when one
has seen the link of Rebirth that connects them with us.
6. No Creator God
The Buddha pointed out that no God or priest nor any other kind of
being has the power to interfere in the working out of someone else's
Kamma. Buddhism, therefore, teaches the individual to take full
responsibility for themselves. For example, if you want to be wealthy
then be trustworthy, diligent and frugal, or if you want to live in a
heaven realm then always be kind to others. There is no God to ask
favours from, or to put it another way, there is no corruption
possible in the workings of Kamma.
Do Buddhists believe that a Supreme Being created the universe?
Buddhists would first ask which universe do you mean? This present
universe, from the moment of the 'big bang' up to now, is but one
among countless millions in Buddhist cosmology. The Buddha gave an
estimate of the age of a single universe-cycle of around 37,000
million years which is quite plausible when compared to modern
astrophysics. After one universe- cycle ends another begins, again and
again, according to impersonal law. A Creator God is redundant in this
No being is a Supreme Saviour, according to the Buddha, because
whether God, human, animal or whatever, all are subject to the Law of
Kamma. Even the Buddha had no power to save. He could only point out
the Truth so that the wise could see it for themselves. Everyone must
take responsibility for their own future well being, and it is
dangerous to give that responsibility to another.
7. The Illusion of Soul
The Buddha taught that there is no soul, no essential and permanent
core to a living being. Instead, that which we call a 'living being',
human or other, can be seen to be but a temporary coming together of
many activities and parts - when complete it is called a 'living
being', but after the parts separate and the activities cease it is
not called a 'living being' anymore. Like an advanced computer
assembled of many parts and activities, only when it is complete and
performs coherent tasks is it called a 'computer', but after the parts
are disconnected and the activities cease it is no longer called a
'computer'. No essential permanent core can be found which we can
truly call 'the computer', just so, no essential permanent core can be
found which we can call 'the soul'.
Yet Rebirth still occurs without a soul. Consider this simile: on a
Buddhist shrine one candle, burnt low, is about to expire. A monk
takes a new candle and lights it from the old. The old candle dies,
the new candle burns bright. What went across from the old candle to
the new? There was a causal link but no thing went across! In the same
way, there was a causal link between your previous life and your
present life, but no soul has gone across.
Indeed, the illusion of a soul is said by the Buddha to be the root
cause of all human suffering. The illusion of 'soul' manifests as the
'Ego'. The natural unstoppable function of the Ego is to control. Big
Egos want to control the world, average Egos try to control their
immediate surroundings of home, family and workplace, and almost all
Egos strive to control what they take to be their own body and mind.
Such control manifests as desire and aversion, it results in a lack of
both inner peace and outer harmony. It is this Ego that seeks to
acquire possessions, manipulate others and exploit the environment.
Its aim is its own happiness but it invariably produces suffering. It
craves for satisfaction but it experiences discontent. Such deep-
rooted suffering cannot come to an end until one sees, through deep
and powerful meditation, that the idea 'me and mine' is no more than a
These seven topics are a sample of what the Buddha taught. Now, to
complete this brief sketch of Buddhism, let's look at how these
Teachings are practised today.
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