This comprehensive, compact, lucid, and faithful account of the Buddha’s teachings persistently enjoys great popularity in colleges, universities, and theological schools both here and abroad. “An exposition of Buddhism conceived in a resolutely modern spirit.”from the Foreword.
“For years,” says the Journal of the Buddhist Society, “the newcomer to Buddhism has lacked a simple and reliable introduction to the complexities of the subject. Dr. Rahula’s What the Buddha Taught fills the need as only could be done by one having a firm grasp of the vast material to be sifted. It is a model of what a book should be that is addressed first of all to ‘the educated and intelligent reader.’ Authoritative and clear, logical and sober, this study is as comprehensive as it is masterly.”
A classic introductory book to Buddhism, What the Buddha Taught, contains a selection of illustrative texts from the original Pali texts, including the Suttas and the Dhammapada (specially translated by the author), sixteen illustrations, and a bibliography, glossary, and index.
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THE BUDDHIST ATTITUDE OF MIND
Among the founders of religions the Buddha (if we are permitted to call him the founder of a religion in the popular sense of the term) was the only teacher who did not claim to be other than a human being, pure and simple. Other teachers were either God, or his incarnations in different forms, or inspired by him. The Buddha was not only a human being; he claimed no inspiration from any god or external power either. He attributed all his realization, attainments and achievements to human endeavour and human intelligence. A man and only a man can become a Buddha. Every man has within himself the potentiality of becoming a Buddha, if he so wills it and endeavours. We can call the Buddha a man par excellence. He was so perfect in his 'humanness' that he came to be regarded later in popular religion almost as 'super-human'.
Man's position, according to Buddhism, is supreme. Man is his own master, and there is no higher being or power that sits in judgment over his destiny.
'One is one's own refuge, who else could be the refuge?' said the Buddha. He admonished his disciples to 'be a refuge to themselves', and never to seek refuge in or help from anybody else. He taught, encouraged and stimulated each person to develop himself and to work out his own emancipation, for man has the power to liberate himself from all bondage through his own personal effort and intelligence. The Buddha says: 'You should do your work, for the Tathagatas only teach the way.' If the Buddha is to be called a 'saviour' at all, it is only in the sense that he discovered and showed the Path to Liberation, Nirvana. But we must tread the Path ourselves.
It is on this principle of individual responsibility that the Buddha allows freedom to his disciples. In the Mabaparinibbana-sutta the Buddha says that he never thought of controlling the Sangba (Order of Monks), nor did he want the Sangha to depend on him. He said that there was no esoteric doctrine in his teaching, nothing hidden in the 'closed-fist of the teacher' (acariya-mutthi), or to put it in other words, there never was anything 'up his sleeve'.
The freedom of thought allowed by the Buddha is unheard of elsewhere in the history of religions. This freedom is necessary because, according to the Buddha, man's emancipation depends on his own realization of Truth, and not on the benevolent grace of a god or any external power as a reward for his obedient good behaviour.
The Buddha once visited a small town called Kesaputta in the kingdom of Kosala. The inhabitants of this town were known by the common name Kalama. When they heard that the Buddha was in their town, the Kalamas paid him a visit, and told him:
'Sir, there are some recluses and brahmanas who visit Kesaputta. They explain and illumine only their own doctrines, and despise, condemn and spurn others' doctrines. Then come other recluses and brahmanas, and they, too, in their turn, explain and illumine only their own doctrines, and despise, condemn and spurn others' doctrines. But, for us, Sir, we have always doubt and perplexity as to who among these venerable recluses and brahmanas spoke the truth, and who spoke falsehood.'
Then the Buddha gave them this advice, unique in the history of religions:
'Yes, Kalamas, it is proper that you have doubt, that you have perplexity, for a doubt has arisen in a matter which is doubtful. Now, look you Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: 'this is our teacher'. But, O Kalamas, when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome (akusala), and wrong, and bad, then give them up ... And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good, then accept them and follow them.'
The Buddha went even further. He told the bhikkhus that a disciple should examine even the Tathagata (Buddha) himself, so that he (the disciple) might be fully convinced of the true value of the teacher whom he followed.
According to the Buddha's teaching, doubt (vicikiccba) is one of the five Hindrances (nivarana) to the clear understanding of Truth and to spiritual progress (or for that matter to any progress). Doubt, however, is not a 'sin', because there are no articles of faith in Buddhism. In fact there is no 'sin' in Buddhism, as sin is understood in some religions. The root of all evil is ignorance (avijja) and false views (micchaditthi.) It is an undeniable fact that as long as there is doubt, perplexity, wavering, no progress is possible. It is also equally undeniable that there must be doubt as long as one does not understand or see clearly. But in order to progress further it is absolutely necessary to get rid of doubt. To get rid of doubt one has to see clearly.
There is no point in saying that one should not doubt or one should believe. Just to say 'I believe' does not mean that you understand and see. When a student works on a mathematical problem, he comes to a stage beyond which he does not know how to proceed, and where he is in doubt and perplexity. As long as he has this doubt, he cannot proceed. If he wants to proceed, he must resolve this doubt. And there are ways of resolving that doubt. Just to say 'I believe', or 'I do not doubt' will certainly not solve the problem. To force oneself to believe and to accept a thing without understanding is political, and not spiritual or intellectual.
The Buddha was always eager to dispel doubt. Even just a few minutes before his death, he requested his disciples several times to ask him if they had any doubts about his teaching, and not to feel sorry later that they could not clear those doubts. But the disciples were silent. What he said then was touching: 'If it is through respect for the Teacher that you do not ask anything, let even one of you inform his friend' (i.e., let one tell his friend so that the latter may ask the question on the other's behalf).
Not only the freedom of thought, but also the tolerance allowed by the Buddha is astonishing to the student of the history of religions. Once in Nalanda a prominent and wealthy householder named Upali, a well-known lay disciple of Nigantha Nataputta (Jaina Mahavira), was expressly sent by Mahavira himself to meet the Buddha and defeat him in argument on certain points in the theory of Karma, because the Buddha's views on the subject were different from those of Mahavira. Quite contrary to expectations, Upali, at the end of the discussion, was convinced that the views of the Buddha were right and those of his master were wrong. So he begged the Buddha to accept him as one of his lay disciples (Upasaka). But the Buddha asked him to reconsider it, and not to be in a hurry, for 'considering carefully is good for well-known men like you'. When Upali expressed his desire again, the Buddha requested him to continue to respect and support his old religious teachers as he used to.
In the third century B.C., the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka of India, following this noble example of tolerance and understanding, honoured and supported all other religions in his vast empire. In one of his Edicts carved on rock, the original of which one may read even today, the Emperor declared:
'One should not honour only one's own religion and condemn the religions of others, but one should honour others' religions for this or that reason. So doing, one helps one's own religion to grow and renders service to the religions of others too. In acting otherwise one digs the grave of one's own religion and also does harm to other religions. Whosoever honours his own religion and condemns other religions, does so indeed through devotion to his own religion, thinking "I will glorify my own religion". But on the contrary, in so doing he injures his own religion more gravely. So concord is good: Let all listen, and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by others'.
We should add here that this spirit of sympathetic understanding should be applied today not only in the matter of religious doctrine, but elsewhere as well.
This spirit of tolerance and understanding has been from the beginning one of the most cherished ideals of Buddhist culture and civilization. That is why there is not a single example of persecution or the shedding of a drop of blood in converting people to Buddhism, or in its propagation during its long history of 2500 years. It spread peacefully all over the continent of Asia, having more than 500 million adherents today. Violence in any form, under any pretext whatsoever, is absolutely against the teaching of the Buddha.
The question has often been asked: Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy? It does not matter what you call it. Buddhism remains what it is whatever label you may put on it. The label is immaterial. Even the label 'Buddhism' which we give to the teaching of the Buddha is of little importance. The name one gives it is inessential.
What's in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet.
In the same way Truth needs no label: it is neither Buddhist, Christian, Hindu nor Moslem. It is not the monopoly of anybody. Sectarian labels are a hindrance to the independent understanding of Truth, and they produce harmful prejudices in men's minds.
This is true not only in intellectual and spiritual matters, but also in human relations. When, for instance, we meet a man, we do not look on him as a human being, but we put a label on him, such as English, French, German, American, or Jew, and regard him with all the prejudices associated with that label in our mind. Yet he may be completely free from those attributes which we have put on him.
People are so fond of discriminative labels that they even go to the length of putting them on human qualities and emotions common to all. So they talk of different 'brands' of charity, as for example, of Buddhist charity or Christian charity, and look down upon other 'brands' of charity. But charity cannot be sectarian; it is neither Christian, Buddhist, Hindu nor Moslem. The love of a mother for her child is neither Buddhist nor Christian: it is mother love. Human qualities and emotions like love, charity, compassion, tolerance, patience, friendship, desire, hatred, ill-will, ignorance, conceit, etc., need no sectarian labels; they belong to no particular religions.
To the seeker after Truth it is immaterial from where an idea comes. The source and development of an idea is a matter for the academic. In fact, in order to understand Truth, it is not necessary even to know whether the teaching comes from the Buddha, or from anyone else. What is essential is seeing the thing, understanding it. There is an important story in the Majjhima-nikaya (sutta no. 140) which illustrates this.
The Buddha once spent a night in a potter's shed. In the same shed there was a young recluse who had arrived there earlier. They did not know each other. The Buddha observed the recluse, and thought to himself: 'Pleasant are the ways of this young man. It would be good if I should ask about him'. So the Buddha asked him: 'O bhikkhu, in whose name have you left home? Or who is your master? Or whose doctrine do you like?'
'O friend,' answered the young man, 'there is the recluse Gotama, a Sakyan scion, who left the Sakya-family to become a recluse. There is high repute abroad of him that he is an Arahant, a Fully-Enlightened One. In the name of that Blessed One I have become a recluse. He is my Master, and I like his doctrine'.
'Where does that Blessed One, the Arahant, the Fully-Enlightened One live at the present time?'
'In the countries to the north, friend, there is a city called Savatthi. It is there that that Blessed One, the Arahant, the Fully-Enlightened One, is now living.'
'Have you ever seen him, that Blessed One? Would you recognize him if you saw him?'
'I have never seen that Blessed One. Nor should I recognize him if I saw him.'
The Buddha realized that it was in his name that this unknown young man had left home and become a recluse. But without divulging his own identity, he said: 'O bhikkhu, I will teach you the doctrine. Listen and pay attention. I will speak.'
'Very well, friend,' said the young man in assent.
Then the Buddha delivered to this young man a most remarkable discourse explaining Truth (the gist of which is given later).
It was only at the end of the discourse that this young recluse, whose name was Pukkusati, realized that the person who spoke to him was the Buddha himself. So he got up, went before the Buddha, bowed down at the feet of the Master, and apologized to him for calling him 'friend' unknowingly. He then begged the Buddha to ordain him and admit him into the Order of the Sangha.
The Buddha asked him whether he had the alms-bowl and the robes ready. (A bhikkhu must have three robes and the alms-bowl for begging food.) When Pukkusati replied in the negative, the Buddha said that the Tathagatas would not ordain a person unless the alms-bowl and the robes were ready. So Pukkusati went out in search of an alms-bowl and robes, but was unfortunately savaged by a cow and died.
Later, when this sad news reached the Buddha, he announced that Pukkusati was a wise man, who had already seen Truth, and attained the penultimate stage in the realization of Nirvana, and that he was born in a realm where he would become an Arahant and finally pass away, never to return to this world again.
From this story it is quite clear that when Pukkusati listened to the Buddha and understood his teaching, he did not know who was speaking to him, or whose teaching it was. He saw Truth. If the medicine is good, the disease will be cured. It is not necessary to know who prepared it, or where it came from.
Almost all religions are built on faith — rather 'blind' faith it would seem. But in Buddhism emphasis is laid on 'seeing', knowing, understanding, and not on faith, or belief. In Buddhist texts there is a word saddha (Skt. sraddha) which is usually translated as 'faith' or 'belief. But saddha is not 'faith' as such, but rather 'confidence' born out of conviction. In popular Buddhism and also in ordinary usage in the texts the word saddha, it must be admitted, has an element of 'faith' in the sense that it signifies devotion to the Buddha, the Dhamma (Teaching) and the Sangha (The Order).
According to Asanga, the great Buddhist philosopher of the 4th century A.C., sraddha has three aspects: (1) full and firm conviction that a thing is, (2) serene joy at good qualities, and (3) aspiration or wish to achieve an object in view.
However you put it, faith or belief as understood by most religions has little to do with Buddhism.
The question of belief arises when there is no seeing — seeing in every sense of the word. The moment you see, the question of belief disappears. If I tell you that I have a gem hidden in the folded palm of my hand, the question of belief arises because you do not see it yourself. But if I unclench my fist and show you the gem, then you see it for yourself, and the question of belief does not arise. So the phrase in ancient Buddhist texts reads: 'Realizing, as one sees a gem (or a myrobalan fruit) in the palm'.
A disciple of the Buddha named Musila tells another monk: 'Friend Savittha, without devotion, faith or belief, without liking or inclination, without hearsay or tradition, without considering apparent reasons, without delight in the speculations of opinions, I know and see that the cessation of becoming is Nirvana.'
And the Buddha says: 'O bhikkhus, I say that the destruction of defilement and impurities is (meant) for a person who knows and who sees, and not for a person who does not know and does not see.'
It is always a question of knowing and seeing, and not that of believing. The teaching of the Buddha is qualified as ehi-passika, inviting you to 'come and see', but not to come and believe.
The expressions used everywhere in Buddhist texts referring to persons who realized Truth are: 'The dustless and stainless Eye of Truth (Dhamma-cakkhu) has arisen.' 'He has seen Truth, has attained Truth, has known Truth, has penetrated into Truth, has crossed over doubt, is without wavering.' 'Thus with right wisdom he sees it as it is (yatha bhutam)'. With reference to his own Enlightenment the Buddha said: 'The eye was born, knowledge was born, wisdom was born, science was born, light was born.' It is always seeing through knowledge or wisdom (ña-dassana), and not believing through faith.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "What the Buddha Taught"
Copyright © 1974 W. Rahula.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations,
CHAPTER I The Buddhist Attitude of Mind,
THE FOUR-NOBLE TRUTHS,
CHAPTER II The First Noble Truth: Dukkha,
CHAPTER III The Second Noble Truth: Samudaya: 'The Arising of Dukkha',
CHAPTER IV The Third Noble Truth: Nirodha: 'The Cessation of Dukkha',
CHAPTER V Noble Truth: Magga: 'The Path',
CHAPTER VI The Doctrine of No-Soul: Anatta,
CHAPTER VII 'Meditation' or Mental Culture: Bhavana,
CHAPTER VIII What the Buddha Taught and the World Today,
Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth (Dhammacakkappavattanasutta),
The Fire Sermon (Adittapariyaya-sutta),
Universal Love (Metta-sutta),
Getting rid of All Cares and Troubles (Sabbasava-sutta),
The Parable of the Piece of Cloth (Vattbupama-sutta),
The Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana-sutta),
Advice to Sigala (Sigalovada-sutta),
The Words of Truth (Dhammapada),
The Last Words of the Buddha (from the Mahaparinibbanasutta),
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A great introduction to Buddhism that distils the essence of the Path. Highlights Western misconceptions of Buddhism. Includes an important introduction to the doctrine of Anatta, No-self. Definitely, irrefutably worth your money.
A respected monk who has practiced and taught the teachings of Buddha most of his life writes this authoritative and clear account on Therevada Buddhism. This edition contains a sample of various Sutras and the Dhammapada. This is a good introduction to Therevada Buddhism for Westerners.
It's hard for me to give a rating since this is the firs book I read about Buddhism, but it seems like a great introduction to me, very readable but with enough depth for me to feel that I really know more about it after finishing the book (OK, not hard, but still).
This book is good. On the other hand ..... horrible horrible service. I ordered 2 books and only received one. Weeks later I got an email saying it was back ordered. Then I got another email saying It wouldn't ship until February and gave me two options. 1. I still want the book & 2. Cancel order. Of course I wanted the book so I chose option one. It said I'd receive it but then days later said sorry for the inconvenience your order has been canceled. horrible service.