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The Buddha and His Teachings

The Buddha and His Teachings

by Samuel Bercholz

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Originally published as Entering the Stream, this book offers a simple and inspiring answer to the question "What is the Buddha's teaching?" primarily in the words of the Buddha and other masters. This anthology draws on traditional Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetan sources as well as teachings by contemporary Buddhist masters. Among the contributors,


Originally published as Entering the Stream, this book offers a simple and inspiring answer to the question "What is the Buddha's teaching?" primarily in the words of the Buddha and other masters. This anthology draws on traditional Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetan sources as well as teachings by contemporary Buddhist masters. Among the contributors, both classical and modern, are: Ajahn Chah, Pema Chödrön, The Second Dalai Lama, Dogen, S.N. Goenka, Dainin Katagiri, Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi, Milerepa, Padmasambhava, Reginald Ray, Shunryu Suzuki, Nyanaponika Thera, Thich Nhat Hanh, Chögyam Trungpa, and Burton Watson.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This splendid collection of classic and modern Buddhist texts provides insight into the teaching and practice of Buddhism."— Publishers Weekly

"Among many good introductions to Buddhism, this one stands out for seeing to it that its principles and practices are presented—through either translations or original commentaries—by masters who have dedicated their lives to teaching Westerners. The result is a book which, while faithful to the Buddhist tradition, speaks unusually effectively to an English-speaking audience."—Huston Smith, author of The World's Religions

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a relatively modern Western term. The body of spiritual doctrine and practice
to which it refers has generally been known on its own ground, in countries
across Asia, as the Buddha Dharma, which is perhaps best translated "way
of the Buddha." This teaching came from one young man who "woke
up" from life's melodrama more than twenty-five hundred years ago and was
thereafter called the Buddha, "the awakened one."

it turned out that this enlightenment of the Buddha's was profound and
brilliant, accurate and powerful, and also warm and compassionate. It was like
the sun behind the clouds. Anyone who has taken off in an airplane on a grim
and gloomy day knows that beyond the cloud cover the sun is always shining.
Even at night the sun is shining, but then we can't see it because the earth is
in the way, and probably our pillow also. The Buddha explained that behind the
cloud cover of thoughts—including very heavy clouds of emotionally charged
thoughts backed up by entrenched habitual patterns—there is continual warm,
bright, loving intelligence constantly shining. And even though in the midst of
thoughts, emotions, and habitual patterns, intelligence may become dulled and
confused, it is still this intelligence in the midst of the thoughts and
emotions and habits that makes them so very captivating, so resourceful and
various, so inexhaustible. This cloudy world of thoughts and emotions backed by
habits continually churns out what I referred to above as life's melodrama,
which from the Buddha's point of view is sleep. According to the Buddha Dharma,
everyone can wake up from this sleep. Everyone is capable of becoming Buddha.

we go to the movies, many of us don't only like to see nice, pleasant, lovable
movies. Just as much, or perhaps even more, we like to see sad, tragic,
painful, or aggressive movies, even horror movies. The positive and the
negative both draw us under their spell. In the same way, the Buddha
recognized, we keep our own personal melodramas (made up of thoughts once
removed) juicy and entertaining with these same very effective, sometimes
positive but often negative elements. According to the Buddha Dharma, the
personal melodrama that we keep going in one form or another over the years is
known as ego.

of course, we know that even ego, or the sense of self, is made up of that warm
basic intelligence fully discovered by the Buddha, because there simply isn't
anything else clever enough to produce and maintain ego. But some kind of
confusion has arisen, like a storm blowing up out of a cloudless sky. It's a
very pervasive and stubbornly persistent storm. It contains all our hopes and
fears relating to the processes of birth, growing up, being in our prime,
aging, sickness, and death—a lot of pleasure and pain. But since the Buddha
himself had awakened from all that hope and fear, he knew awakening from it was
possible. He taught people how to go about awakening from it. With some people
he just showed them his profound, brilliant wakefulness directly, and they too
woke up on the spot, just like shaking off a dream.

that is what Buddha Dharma is about—recognizing our psychological condition
and working with it so we can wake up from the confused aspect of it. Buddhists
follow the way that the Buddha taught for waking up from ego's confusion. Of
course, occasionally one or another Buddhist wakes up before completing all the
steps recommended by the Buddha. There are always a few rascals around like
that. But most Buddhists patiently continue following the Buddha's path.

main method the Buddha taught to help people awaken from confusion is
meditation. Meditating in the Buddhist way is not like praying. It is not
trying to believe in anything or making utterances in your mind about your
beliefs, longings, or intentions. It is more like relaxing and just letting
things be as they are—without cranking anything up. We spend a lot of time in
our lives trying to crank something up. In meditating, Buddhists take the
approach of letting go of all that struggle and resting in the way things
really are, which is however they happen to be.

techniques for taming attention, which tends to be wild and jump around
erratically when people first begin to meditate, were taught by the Buddha.
These techniques help to bring about natural composure in mind and body. This
in turn helps us to relinquish ego's ongoing struggle. As we learn to relax
from that, the turbulent and captivating ego world of thoughts and emotions
begins to become transparent, and our basic profound, brilliant, and loving
intelligence begins to shine through.

might think that if you let go of your ego world, you might become passive and
defenseless like some kind of crash dummy, and people will take advantage of
you. Or that you might wander around aimlessly in the street without an agenda.
If this were the case, as one contemporary Buddhist master pointed out, it
would be necessary to have enlightenment wards in hospitals to take care of
bruised or socially inoperative buddhas. But this is not the case. Rather than
being inmate types, people who have become enlightened to any degree are
builders of hospitals for other people. Their intelligence and compassion are
relatively unobstructed, and they tend to become quite active and effective

though the Buddha Dharma is based on direct experience and encourages its
practitioners to relate to naked experience with bare attention, there are
aspects of the teaching, which help to form a background for the practitioner's
effort, that seem like they are speculative thoughts at least one step removed
from direct experience. For example, we have the notions of karma and rebirth.
These sound like the usual kind of religious doctrines requiring belief or
faith. But let us look for a moment at these two teachings.

is a Sanskrit word meaning "action." The teaching about karma is that
the actions we take now will have consequences later. For the most part, this
is the everyday idea of cause-and-effect that most people take for granted. If
you kick a ball it goes. If you lose your airline ticket, you have hassles.
This is karma, action and its action, or effect.

according to the Buddha, action's action sometimes happens on a more subtle
level. Sometimes the conditions necessary for action's effect to happen are not
present. Let's say you murdered somebody in the woods. There was no one else
around and no evidence. Nobody suspected you at all. Yet there was a horrible
moment of raw aggression, unforgettably vivid. Does that just go away? Of
course we have the memory of it. But what is memory anyway?

to the Buddha, action's action does not tend to dissipate. The effect will tend
to happen some time, whenever suitable conditions are present. That moment of
horrible aggression is likely to have its backlash some time. But will that
backlash happen to you?

question connects the idea of karma to that of rebirth, or reincarnation. In
the India of the Buddha's time, in the first millennium BCE (as to a great
extent in the India of today), the notion of rebirth was taken for granted by
almost everybody. According to the popular Indian idea of reincarnation, you
get reborn again and again in different forms, sometimes as a human, sometimes
as an animal, sometimes as a god, sometimes in hell—in all kinds of better or
worse circumstances. What you do now, it is thought, will effect your future
rebirth. If you're greedy and mean, you might be reborn as a dung beetle. If
you're a splendid person, you might be reborn as a god or a king or queen. A
murderer will suffer a hideous situation somewhere along in the series of his
rebirths. Other karma might come to fruition first, but some time or other the
backlash of his aggression will strike him—with a corresponding force and
character, of course, because it is the action of his earlier action.

Buddha's teaching about karma and rebirth resembles this picture in some ways
but differs from it essentially. How? One of the fundamental teachings of the
Buddha is egolessness, the fundamental unreality of the self. If there is no
self that gets reborn, what does rebirth mean? And can you just die and get
away with murder?

to one Buddhist text, the
the karma of sentient beings is so powerful that it brings worlds into
existence in order to reach fulfillment. Between the existences of worlds—at
the right moment, when the necessary conditions have gathered—karma, the
incompleted action of the previous action of sentient beings, begins to
activate the basic particles of space. The particles come into motion
generating a vast karmic wind that stirs up the other cosmic elements—fire,
water, and earth—and a world or worlds are formed.

can also be said that individual sentient beings, like worlds, come into
existence through the coming together of the force of karma and other necessary
conditions. Causally related karmic elements tend to hang together in the
transmigratory history of sentient beings. In that way, memory itself seems to
be an expression of karmic continuity. But in most cases there are no coherent
conscious memories of the relationships that related the karmic elements that
are the threads of our everyday lives.

according to the Buddha, karma is not all-pervasive and all-determining. The
wind of karma only blows in the cloudy weather systems of thoughts related to
passion, aggression, and willful ignorance. In the endless brilliance of the
cloudless sunlit sky, there is nothing for it to blow. In open, unobstructed
space of sentient beings' basic intelligence, karma becomes inoperative. The
awakened one is victorious over karma.

such as this, which may seem abstract, are part of the Buddha Dharma, because
they were included in the vastness of the unobstructed direct experience of the
Buddha and other enlightened masters of the Buddha Dharma. They have been
handed down through unbroken lineages of enlightened teachers stemming from the
Buddha himself as part of the support system provided to help people wake up.
But they are not required articles of belief. The Buddha discouraged people
from taking his teachings on blind faith. He invited anyone wishing to follow
his path to verify all his teachings personally and to maintain a healthy
skepticism until realization clears up doubts. So all the Buddhist teachings
are provided for the practitioner's examination and concrete testing. It is
always helpful to remember that the Buddha himself was not a Buddhist.

editors of this book have chosen a variety of texts from the centuries' store
of Dharma writing to give readers convenient access to the essential teachings
of the Buddha. The selection begins with a brief life of the Buddha and a quick
factual survey of Buddhist history. Then follow texts expressing the thought
and practice of the three main divisions of the Buddha Dharma, the Hinayana,
Mahayana, and Vajrayana. The works of great Buddhist masters of the past and
present have been included.

introduction to meditation practice will be found, as well as chapters to help
answer common questions about karma and rebirth. Thus interested readers will
find what they need to acquire a comprehensive impression of the Buddha Dharma
that has both depth and breadth.

all the selections in this book make easy reading. A passage may be difficult
because it runs against the current of our habitual thinking. Sometimes meaning
may be elusive because the subject matter is subtle and profound. Also,
specialized terms have been developed over the centuries, and they have been
translated into English in different ways. (To standardize foreign terms and
lessen confusion, we have changed most Pali terminology in the selections to
Sanskrit. A glossary is also provided, of which the reader is encouraged to
make liberal use.) Still, with a little perseverance, the reader will be able
to gain insights that may bring helpful new perspectives to everyday life.
Trying meditation might be helpful. It is the way par excellence of discovering
the great truths in one's own experience.

it is said that when a person catches a glimpse of ego's confusion and connects
this with an aspiration to awaken, he or she begins to enter the stream of
Dharma. When you find you are trusting yourself in all kinds of new and fresh
ways you never imagined before, you are really getting your feet wet. These
days more and more Westerners seem to be doing this.

Meet the Author

SAMUEL BERCHOLZ is the founder and editor-in-chief of Shambhala Publications. SHERAB CHÖDZIN KOHN has been teaching Buddhism and meditation for more than thirty years, and he has edited a number of the books of his teacher, the Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa. He has also published numerous translations, including an acclaimed version of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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