The essential teachings of the Buddha

11 Oct

[Siddhartha Gotama was the prince of the Sakiya clan who ruled a prosperous republican community belonging to Kosala kingdom situated at the foot of Himalayan ranges. His father was Suddhodana a Sakyan Chieftain; and his mother was Maya. Siddhartha was born under a sal tree in the Lumbibi garden (along the Indo -Nepal border) while his mother was travelling to her parent’s home. He lost his mother while he was still an infant; and, was brought up by his mother’s sister, Pajapati Gotami. He married Yasodhara, his cousin; and the couple had a son named Rahula. Siddhartha was a good looking person with a strong body. He had his military training in his upbringing and was once invited by King Bimbisara to join his army as a General.

Siddhartha left his home, at the age of twenty nine, soon after the birth of his son, in search of ‘Truth’.  For six long years he studied earnestly, went from teacher to teacher and lived the life of a mendicant practicing severe austerity. He was satisfied neither with the teachings nor with the methods prescribed. He also realized   that with a body so utterly weakened as his, he would not be able to pursue his path with any chance of success. Finally, he broke away from his fellow Samanas and also abandoned extremes of self-torture and prolonged fasting. He practiced meditation under a pipal tree in the Uravela forests along the banks of the Neranjara River (near Gaya). Gotama at the age of thirty-five, attained enlightenment on a full moon of May (vaisakha, vesak).

The Buddha was a wandering monk for twenty years starting from his enlightenment, continuously on move from place to place. He then settled down at Savasthi, living on alms, for about twenty years. He left Savasthi in his 79th year and spent the next rainy season at Rajagraha from where he moved northward. While on move, at the age of 80, he passed away quietly at Kusinara in the Malla country.

The Buddha is the precious jewel of humanity. No matter how you look at him, he must have been a wonderful person of majesty, tenderness, compassion and one who was free from prejudices. He always carried himself with dignity. You cannot fail to wonder at the brilliance, greatness, empathy and the nobility of the person and his teachings. Though twenty-five centuries have gone since the passing away of the Buddha, his message of love, compassion and wisdom continue to influence and guide us.]


1.1. It is said that the First Discourse (pathamadesana) of the Buddha introduces his teachings and his philosophy. Many think it holds the essential teachings of the Master: ‘There is no teaching of the Master outside the scope of this sermon.’ It also marks a watershed in his life. It was from here that Samana Gotama the wanderer emerged as the Revered Teacher (Bhagava), as the Blessed One (Araha) and as the perfectly enlightened One (Sammaa- Sambuddha).

1.2. The pathamadesana is of unique importance in the Buddhist history. It was from here the incomparable wheel of Dhamma was set in motion (Dhamma-chakka-parivattana) by the Blessed One. The full moon of Asadha is therefore celebrated as Dhamma Day and it marks the beginning of the annual retreat period in the monasteries for the monsoon (Vassa or chatur-masya).

A. My emancipation is won

2.1. It was on the full moon night in the month of Vesaka – the sixth month; on one of those nights he spent under the Bodhi tree, he understood the sorrows of earthly existence and experienced the supreme peace unaffected by earthly existence. He said to himself “My emancipation is won…Done what is to be done. There is nothing beyond this (katamkarniyam, naaparamitthattaya).”

2.2. For several days, he wandered in peace and tranquillity, among the woods. He enjoyed his quiet serene days and lonely walks in the forest. He wished the idyllic life would last forever. He pondered whether he should share his newfound wisdom with others. Yet, he wondered whether anyone would be interested or would appreciate his findings, which helps in seeing things clearly, as they are, and in attaining knowledge, higher wisdom, peace, and enlightenment or nirvana.

2.3. He debated, there might still be those not entirely blinded by the worldly dirt. He thought of his teachers Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, both “wise, intelligent and learned; and of nature scarcely tainted “; and said to himself they would quickly comprehend the knowledge he had just gained. Then, he sadly realized that Uddaka son of Rama had just passed away; and Alara Kalama died about seven days ago. Then the thought came to him of his erstwhile fellow Samanas, those who left him to pursue their ways. He decided to talk to his fellow seekers and share with them the new wisdom (Majjhima Nikaya; Sutta 26).

3.1. He journeyed from place to place from Gaya ; and at length reached the holy city of Varanasi after nearly seven weeks, covering a distance of about 144 miles .On his way a monk named Upaka enquired Gautama where he was headed to, “To set in to motion the wheel of Dhamma (Dhamma Chakkampavattetum)” he replied ” I proceed to Varanasi”.

3.2. There at Varanasi he learnt the five ascetics (Kondanna, Vappa, Mahanama, Assaji, and Bhadda) whom he knew before were at Isipatana (Rishipattana – where the sages live; now called Saranath), nearby. He found them in the garden Migadaaya (Deer park) at Isipatana. They were surprised to see him but were impressed by his majestic, pure and serene demeanour. They wondered whether he had achieved uttari-manusa-dhamma, the super human status.

He told them he had done what had to be done. He had attained it. He asked them to listen to his findings. He told them: “I teach about suffering and the way to end it”.

3.3. They listened to him in all earnestness. What he spoke to those five ascetics later gained renown as one of the greatest and most important discourses in religious history. At the end of the talk, Gotama emerged as the Teacher. He came to be revered as Bhagava (the Blessed One).

The talk was “The first teaching” (Pathamadesana). It later came to be celebrated as Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the discourse that set in motion the wheels of Dhamma.

B. Pathamadesana

4. 1.The Buddha spoke to the five ascetics at the garden of Migadaaya where the deer roamed unmolested and in peace, located in Isipatana near the holy city of Varanasi, in the evening of the full moon day in the month of Asalhi – the eighth month (Ashada-July). He spoke in simple Magadhi the language his listeners understood well. The discourse was brief, with short, simple and precise statements. There were no definitions and no explanations. It was a direct sincere talk.

4.2. It was a simple and a straight narration of how Samana Gotama transformed into the Buddha. He spoke from his experience, narrated his findings, and explained the four truths and the three aspects of each; and the middle path.

5.1. He opened the discourse by exhorting the five monks who believed in strict asceticism to avoid the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification, as both do not lead to perfect peace and enlightenment. “These two extremes should not be resorted to by a recluse who has renounced the world”. He advised them to follow the Middle Way (majjhiama-patipada). Then, he went on to explain four noble truths (cattariariya-sacchani) and their true nature: Sorrow (Dukkha) in life is a fact; it has a cause; that cause can be eliminated; and there is a method by which it is eliminated.

5.2. The Indian tradition looks upon the Buddha as the master of the analytical method (vibhajyavadin). His very first discourse is an excellent example of his consummate analytical skill.

5.3. The discourse is logically well structured. It puts forth certain postulates derived from observation and experience; and seeks to construct a logical structure explaining relationships among the postulates.

5.4. The Buddha did not stop at the intellectual edification. He was moved by compassion for his fellow beings and tried to show a method for eradication of sorrow. Dhamma preached here is both a theory and a practical procedure.  His postulates have therefore an operational aspect. The methods he suggested were drawn from his life and his experiences. His methods lead to a definite end (niyyana). It is like “putting down the burden” or to “cure the disease”. That is what Dhamma really means.

C. The Middle Way (majjhiama-patipada)

6.1. The Buddha arrived at a time when almost every shade of opinion was in currency in the Indian scene; but, excessive speculation was the bane of the period. In a way of speaking, he came to the rescue of Indian philosophy at its critical hour when no one seemed to have a clear view of things. He set himself to prepare a perfect –net (Brahma-jaala) of dialectics for entangling all sorts of sophistry.   The Buddhist philosophy is not only an integral part of Indian philosophy, but is a whole in itself. It therefore shares many characteristics   of the other streams of Indian thought; and, at the same time asserts its own beliefs.

6.2. The Buddha opened his celebrated discourse at the Migadaaya in Isipattana, saying:

“There are two extremes, O monks, from which he who leads a spiritual life must abstain. What are those two extremes? One is a life of pleasure, devoted to desire and enjoyment: that is base, ignoble, and un-spiritual, unworthy, unreal. The other is a life of mortification: it is gloomy, unworthy, unreal. The perfect one, O monks, is removed from both these extremes and has discovered the way which lies between them, the middle way (majjhiamapatipada) which enlightens the eyes, enlightens the mind, which leads to rest, to knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nirvana.”

6.3 The Middle-way that the Buddha taught here as the right conduct for a monk is compared to tuning a lute which emits melodious sounds of right pitch only when its strings are stretched neither too loose nor too tight.

7.1. His majjhiama-patipada was not merely his ethical teaching but was also the very foundation of his views on many issues including those on the nature of universe, the nature of soul sand such other subjects. One could even say that the metaphysics of the Buddha was based in the ’middle-way’. By this, he achieved a position that was away from extremes, away from dogmatism. He always maintained that one should avoid clinging to an idea or a concept for the mere sake of it. He is said to have remarked “I’ve used ideas as boats to cross the river, not to carry them around upon my head.”

Being and Non-Being

8.1. Even at the very early stages of Indian thought, two groups had clearly emerged: the one that asserted the hypotheses of the Being (sat-karya-vada), and the other of Non-Being (asat-karya-vada) .Both the camps left strong impressions on the later Indian speculations. The history of the subsequent Indian philosophy could be said to be mostly about the unfolding and expansion, a wider application, continued modifications of these two ancient postulates, or   departure from either.

8.2. The Buddha rejected both the extreme positions of Being and Non-Being. He preached the doctrine that embodied the middle mode (eteubho ante anupa-gammam-ajjhimena …Dhammamdeseti) of Becoming; believing neither in chance nor in necessity exclusively, but in conditioned happening.

The Universe

9.1. In regard to the Universe, the Buddha was questioned several times whether ‘it exists’ or whether ‘it does not exist’’; whether the universe (loka) is eternal or not; whether it is infinite or not. The Thathagatha, not going by the extremes, taught the intermediate way (Madhyama Prathipada). He explained that the concept of ‘it – exists (asti)’ represents an absolute and an un-changing substance; while ‘it- does not – exist (nasti)’ concept means that everything is annihilated without a trace. His middle-path was   that the world is neither Being nor is it Non-Being; but it is the Becoming. It is a continual change- to- be and passing away; ‘there is nothing permanent or eternal in the universe’. He preferred a dynamic explanation to the static changeless position.

9.2. The real nature of the universe, according to the Buddha, consists series of temporary principles, which change; each principle in the sequence of conditions becomes the condition for the next; there is continuity though there no continuous substance.

The Buddha explained  :

“ Just as from milk comes curds , from curds butter , from butter ghee , from ghee junket;  but, when it is milk it is not called curds, or butter , or ghee or junket; and, when it is curds it is not called by any of the other names; and so on”.

 Here, he was not only putting forward his concept of the law of causation but was also pointing to the principle of identity at each stage. Each state in the chain of changes is real in its own context and when it is ‘present’; and it is not real when it was past as ‘something that it was’; and also not real when in future ‘it will be something’.

10.1. The Buddha held the view that the transmigration (samsara) was a process and it was beginning-less. No ultimate point of origin could be discerned. There is no final, ultimate beginning, according to the Buddha. One can go on forever tracing the cycle back from life to life. The same conditions will be found generating new life all the time. “Leave aside these questions of the beginning and the end “he said “I shall instruct you on the Law. If that is, this comes to be; on springing of that, this springs up. If that is not, this does not come to be; on the cessation of that, this ceases to be” (Majjima Nikaya: 2.32).

11.1. The Buddha was asked several times ‘who runs’; ‘who contacts’; or ‘who desires’ the universe, and so on. His reply was that the questions were ‘unsound’ or wrongly worded. The proper form of the questions, as he said, was ‘through what conditions is there contact or desire’ etc. For each condition there is the ‘cause’ (hetu), the source (nidana), the origination (samudaya); and there is a condition (pratyaya) for each principle we are examining. If the condition did not exist the principle would not happen. It is not, therefore, correct to speak of persons who do things; but we should try to understand the universe in terms of the series of events and the conditions that caused those events. In other words, there is action, but there is no agent such as a god, soul, self etc ‘who does things’ (Samyutta Nikaya: 2.13).There is just the process (vritti) a continuing coming-to-be and passing away or a series of related events; and, these are impersonal.

11.2. The Buddha was no mere logician; he was a philosopher endowed with a keen insight into the nature of reality. In place of theories of this or that agency constituting the source, the Buddha put attention on the order of things itself. The order he conceived was the continual coming-to-be and passing away of everything. He explained the reality , as he understood, in terms of change, movement, continual becoming; a change which does not consist of disconnected events or isolated freaks of nature, but one that presents a continuous structure, a closed series of forms, a series of causes and effects. It is not that the effect is identical with the cause, but it has its roots in the cause. When a seed grows into a plant, it becomes a wholly different object without the seed having survived (niranvaya-vada). But a tree would not have been in existence without the presence of the seed

11.3. That constant transition, change or becoming is not erratic, not pre-ordained; but, it goes on by the momentum of its own natural laws of causes and effects. Thus, the universe, according to the Buddha, is some kind of objective reality that is governed by natural and impersonal forces and processes; by conditions and principles that are transient, with no beginning. And, his universe has no enduring substances.


12.1. The texts tend to bracket the issue of universe with the question of the ‘soul’. He was often asked whether he who acts is the same as the one who (subsequently) enjoys the results of it; or, whether one (person) acts and another one experiences the results of it. Here too, the Buddha favoured a middle path avoiding the extremes of an entity called soul that survives birth after birth; and that of a soul which perishes as the body withers away. The Buddha explained a human as the dynamic inter-relation of five skandas. 

“Truly, if one holds the view that self is identical with the body, in that case there can be no holy life. Again, if one holds the view that self is one thing and the body another, in that case, too, there can be no holy life. Avoiding both extremes the Perfect One teaches the doctrine that lies in the middle.” (Sauyutta Nikaya: 2, 61).

13.1. Here, the Buddha opted for a sequence of conditioned events, where there is neither a permanent soul nor an agent, but where there are series of causes and effects, with each effect conditioning that which follows it.

The Buddha in his second discourse delivered a few days after his first discourse at Saranath on the outskirts of Varanasi, speaks about his concept of AnattaAnatta – lakkhana – sutta’. The teaching instructs one not to identify self with ‘”Any kind of feeling whatever…Any kind of perception whatever…Any kind of determination whatever… Any kind of consciousness whatever…”

13. 2. But, translating the Buddhist concept of an-atma or anatta as –   ‘no soul’ or that ‘self does not exist at all ‘- seems rather misleading.  An-atta, in the Buddhist context suggests that ‘self is not an enduring entity or eternal essence’. It is not the ultimate reality (dharmataa) either .The Buddhist tradition believes that the root of all suffering is in regarding the ‘self’ as a permanent or a static entity or as an unchanging essence; and clinging to it.

14.1. It must be mentioned that Buddhism does not deny a soul altogether. The Buddhist view is that the belief in a changeless “I-entity” (soul) is the result of incorrect interpretation of one’s experiences. As per the Buddhist view, self/soul is not a permanent entity, or a static substance, or as an essence, but it is understood as a dynamic process which one experiences as perceptions, ideas or desires. It says; self is wrongly taken as a fixed, enduring entity. According to Buddhism, there is not anything which is enduring, fixed, and eternal. Everything is interdependent and changing. Everything is an aggregate lacking self (samghata); and has no astitva or existence outside of shifting contexts . Everything is in constant flux (spandana). If things are not momentary, everyone and everything would be eternal. There is incessant change; but with continuity. All phenomena come into being as a result of causes and conditions, they change every moment, and eventually they pass away. A belief in a permanent or a changeless-self is a false concept leading to mistaken notions about reality.

14.2. The Buddhism believes that the self is a changing phenomenon. It is like a raindrop. When it is in the ocean, it is a part of the ocean ; when it evaporates, it becomes a part of the cloud; and, when it rains, it becomes a part of stream or a lake or a well. It is its functions and relationship which give form to its character.


15.1. Similarly, in regard to consciousness too, the Buddha did not deny existence of feelings, thoughts, sensations or whatever; but, he did not also talk about a permanent conscious substance that experiences all these. According to him, the streams of consciousness ever changing, arise and perish leaving behind no permanent “thinker”. As Abhidhamma-kosa explains that there is no agency apart from feeling, ideas, volitions, etc “There is no self separate from a non-self”. In other words, there is no “self” apart from the process.

15.2. Each phase of experience, as it appears and disappears, is shaped into the next. That process of change with continuity ensures that every successive phase carries within it ‘all the potentials of its predecessors’. Hence, a man is not the same in any two moments’;  and yet he is not quite different. The body which is the aggregate (skandas) of sensations, the thoughts, and the physical frame is thus    not only a collective, but also a   recollective unit.

Suspended judgment

16.1. The Buddha is often blamed for maintaining silence on the key question of a permanent self. I reckon that was rather unjust. The Buddha was reluctant to define the indefinable, that which cannot be apprehended by mind.

When he suspended his judgment on certain questions, he really meant us to understand that no one answer (eka-amsika) could be taken to be the only right one. The Buddha chose not to give out a partial answer of either a ‘yes’ or ‘a no’ when other explanations seem quite possible. For instance, on the question of ‘soul’, had he said ‘yes’, it would not have been consistent with his position that all things are impermanent. And, had he said “no” then, he would be denying his own concepts of kamma, rebirth, and dependent origination etc. Merely judging the issue from individual (separate) stand points of view would lead to wrong conclusions. According to the Buddha , as most of those matters pertained to a ‘state – of –fact’ (loka-dhamma) it would be prudent to approach each from more than one point of view (aneka-amsika).

16.2. His teaching represents a reaction and an attempt to approach life rationally. He was averse to theoretic curiosity. He did not speculate on things beyond the sphere of perception and reason. He was pragmatic. The Buddha taught what was necessary to overcome Dukkha. He did not dwell upon all that he knew, since he saw no practical use for the rest. He denied speculative intervention; disassociated from dogmas. He perhaps thought that such speculations would fuel idle curiosity and distract the seeker from the task of getting past Dukkha. ‘Philosophy purifies none,’ he said, ‘peace alone does.’

D. Four noble truths (cattariariya-sacchani)

17.1. The Buddha then went on to explain four noble truths (cattariariya-sacchani): Sorrow (Dukkha) in life is a fact; it has a cause; that cause can be eliminated; and there is a method by which it is eliminated.

Briefly, he said:

  • Clinging to existence is sorrow (dukkha-mariya-saccham);
  • Thirst or craving (tanha) for pleasure (kamatanha), thirst for existence (bhavatanha), thirst for heavenly existence (vibhavatanha) is the cause;
  • Suffering ceases with the complete cessation of this thirst, and
  • The Path (dukkha – nirodha-gaminipatipadaariya-saccham) that leads to the cessation of sorrow is the Eightfold Path, that is: Right Belief, Right Aspiration, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Means of Livelihood, Right Endeavour, Right Memory and Right Meditation.

17.2. When a person properly develops the Noble Eight Fold Path (ariyo-atthangiko-maggo) he can eradicate craving which is cause of suffering. When he eradicates craving, he can stop completely the continuous cycle of suffering. When this craving and this suffering are removed completely (vimutti), one can realize Nibbana.

17.3. Based on these postulates the Buddha set out to teach his methods for the benefit of humanity. The rest of Buddha’s teachings are within the ambit of these principles.

 18.1. The first three Noble Truths (understanding, diagnosis, and prescription) are of theoretical import while the fourth is essentially a practical measure. The discourse explains this as the method (naya), the road (magga) and the steps to be taken (patipada) to eliminate sorrow and to obtain emancipation.

18.2. The second and the fourth postulates (origination of sorrow and the methods of eliminating sorrow) represent Buddha’s original contribution to Indian ethos; the former being his philosophical stand point and the latter his religious system.

18.3. Of the eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path, the first two relate to Wisdom, the second three to Morality, and the last three are about Concentration. Sila – Morality (right speech, right action, right livelihood), Samadhi – Concentration (right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration), and Panna – Wisdom (right attitude, right understanding) are the three stages of the Noble Path. These factors denote the stages and attitudes of the aspirant.

18.4. The concept of path as it relates to the pilgrim and his progress occurs in Upanishads too. Yajnavalkya mentions it as pantha. The Buddha extends it to a series of steps patipada (step by step) leading to the goal (vaddanaka-patipada).The Buddha is thus the path finder of noble path (ariyapada or ariya-atthangika-magga). He preferred to describe it, simply, as majjima-patipada, the middle path.

18.5. The removal of Dukkha was also the stated objective of other doctrines (e.g. Samkhya), but the Buddha made it the central point of his teaching. Its special value lies in the explanation it gives of the origin of suffering, in the manner in which it deduces the possibility of its removal and in the means it recommends for doing so.

E. Dukkha: cause and cessation

19.1. The First Noble Truth deals with Dukkha, which, for want of a better term in English, is inadequately rendered as suffering or sorrow. In many English-language – Buddhist texts Dukkha is therefore often left un-translated. As a feeling, Dukkha means that which is difficult to endure. What is Dukkha? It is a phenomenon, which is universal (sabba-satta-sadharana); and is readily identifiable (suvinneya) by the troubles (badhana) it causes. It is like the ’burning heat’ (santhapana).

In the Canon, the Pali term ‘Dukkha’ is meant to denote disquiet, unrest, sorrow, affliction,   stress, a sort of heat (tapana) etc caused by attachment. It is explained; attachment to whatever that is impermanent (anichcha) leads to Dukkha (Yad-aniccam tam Dukkham). It was meant to include both pleasure and pain; happiness and suffering; all arising out of impermanence of things. In short, whatever is subject to the law of causality is characterized by Dukkha.   The older texts equate Dukkha with ‘tanha’ (Snkt. thristna) meaning thirst, craving , dissatisfaction  or at times with burden.

19.2. Elimination (nirodha) of Dukkha, in contrast, has the character of quiet (santi). Nirodha is the absence of rodha (flood) of suffering. It is characterized by cessation (attagama), detachment (virago) and freedom from craving (mutti).

19.3. In this context, happiness (sukha) is not mentioned as an opposite of sorrow (Dukkha) or as an ideal state for aspiration. In the Buddha’s scheme of things, nothing phenomenal could appear to be sukha; happiness is not a reality. Suffering is a reality and when it is removed, we find quiet, wisdom and freedom as positive gains- and not happiness.

20.1. The Buddha, the Great Healer, looked upon Dukkha as a sort of disease and his method was naturally that of a physician seeking a remedy to cure it. Illustrating the Buddha’s design the second century scholar Upatissa in his Vimutti-Magga wrote: “Just as a skilled physician first sees the symptoms of a disease, then examines the cause of it, and then prescribes a suitable remedy; so the four truths may be known as coming in the same order”. The Buddha is therefore revered as the Beshaja- guru and Mahabeshaja (the great physician).

20.2. The Buddha believed that if one wishes to avoid certain types of results, one needs to change the conditions that give rise to them. The effect lies latent in the cause; and that effect in turn seeds the next effect. He said, removal of a basic condition will remove all its effect.

20.3. The Buddha reasoned that Dukkha the core problem of human existence has a cause; and, the removal of that cause must result in removal of its effects. The Buddha recognized that Dukkha is caused by the ignorance of the reality of things as they are and by clinging to things that have ceased to exist. Holding on to something that no longer exists, he observed, leads to delusions, attachments and stress.

20.4. He argued, if you find the principles, you should also be able to find the method, because the two are intimately associated; and, if we once know the process, we are on the most expedient way (magga) to get rid of its effects. Since the problem originates from lack of right understanding, the solution to the malady should be sought in gaining the right understanding. Therefore, the Buddha said, one desirous of seeking liberation (vimutti) must move away from attachments and discard mistaken ideas in order to acquire right understanding (samyak-gnana or prajna). That is to say, when ignorance is dispelled (attagama) by right knowledge, the succeeding links of the chain snap one after another automatically.

20.5. In other words, a person’s bondage is caused by ignorance or incorrect understanding. Liberation too is, in effect, caused by understanding- but it is the proper understanding; and nothing more. Bondage is the wrong understanding that binds; while liberation is the right understanding that frees. In either case, it is a matter of understanding. He said, ‘clinging to ideas is an obstruction to right –understanding; the best of states for right- understanding is non-attachment; and let-go all attachments, even the attachment to ideas and concepts’.

20.6. According to this scheme, prajna or right knowledge is the basis of the whole discipline of the four-fold truth. But if it were to result in a sense of freedom, it should be more than mere intellectual conviction, however strong it might be. It is essential that the knowledge be transformed into one’s own authentic experience. And prajna leads to that intuitive experience.


21.1. What is the logical aim of the eight-fold path? The object attained by following this discipline is designated Nirvana. The term Nirvana derived from the root va (to blow like the wind) qualified by a negative prefix nir denotes a state of motionless rest where no wind blows, where the fire has been quenched, where the light is extinguished and where the stars have gone out . The term therefore literally means ‘blowing out’ or ‘becoming cool’. It signifies attaining the Truth by cessation of craving (tanha) and clinging (upadana). Nibbana is a state of utter extinction – not of existence, but of attachment to things that are impermanent. It is a state beyond the chain of causation, a state of freedom and spontaneity.

The Buddha explained it with a simile of an oil-lamp sinking upon itself and expiring when its fuel runs out. Nirvana suggests a state of emptiness and nothingness; of the emptiness of ego and of the impermanence of all things. It is the realization of truth that destroys ignorance; and ends cravings, hatred and suffering.  And, Nirvana is described as a state of blessedness, unbound peace and deliverance. The Pali Canon speaks of Nirvana as a state beyond all conceptual thoughts; and yet, the one that could be experienced in meditation.

22.1. The Buddha refused to speculate on the nature of his Nirvana. His attitude was, in effect: If you want to know what Nirvana is like, then experience your own Nirvana. We therefore do not really know how the Buddha experienced his Nirvana.

22.2. The Buddha insisted that his followers should not try borrowing ideas or experiences from him; but they should arrive at their own. In other words, every person should win his/her own liberation. It is an attainment through self-reliance, not by the grace of a god; or by the blessings of a teacher or someone else.

22.3. The Buddha guides the aspirant on the path that leads to right-understanding. But he disclaims any personal authority; and asks the follower to work it out himself. The follower when he succeeds in attaining the enlightenment will not become a second Buddha or a replica of the Buddha. In the final analysis, both the Buddha and his follower free themselves from the bonds of samsara; yet, each retains his individuality.

22.4. The Buddha, therefore, emphasized that Nirvana is neither annihilation nor eternal life. It simply is a cessation of a process, of a sequence of events. In the Brahma-nimantanika Sutra (Majjhima-Nikaya), the Buddha said: Do not think that this (nirvana) is an empty or void state. There is this consciousness, without distinguishing mark, infinite and shining everywhere (Vinnana-mani-dassana-manantam-sabbato-pabham); it is untouched by the material elements and not subject to any power.


23.1. A right understanding when it arises frees instantaneously; and is not delayed until the exhaustion of the karmas that have brought the current life into existence. In other words, liberation need not wait until one’s death. An enlightened- one living in a body is termed an Arhant in the Buddhist lore. On one occasion, the Buddha describes the state of an Arhant as:

He who has gone to rest, no measure can fathom him.

There is no word to speak of him.

What thought could grasp has blown away.

And every path to speech is barred. (Suttanipata)

23.2. The Buddha was rather reluctant to be drawn into a discussion on the state of consciousness of an Arhant after he discarded his mortal coils.  Asked what happens to an Arhant upon his death, the Buddha is said to have exclaimed: “What happens to footprints of birds in mid air?” Perhaps, the Buddha likened the death of an Arhant to the extinction of a flame when the fuel (karma or clinging) runs out.

 F. Compassion and ethics

24.1. The Buddha did not stop at the intellectual edification. He was moved by compassion for his fellow beings and tried to show a method for eradication of sorrow. The Dhamma he preached was at once the theory and the practical way of conduct in life. In his first discourse, the Buddha talked about the importance Sila-Morality: right speech, right action, right livelihood; and asked his listeners “To cease from evil, to cleanse one’s mind, to do what is good”.

24.2. The distinctive character of the Buddha’s teaching is his emphasis on compassion and ethics. The Buddha asserted that it is not adequate if one merely focuses on elimination of suffering; but one must acquire the skill of probing the nature of the object. Those efforts must essentially be rooted in ethics and a wholesome mental state. The cultivation of the four sublime virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic Joy, and equanimity is of great importance; and should be practiced with mindfulness.

The practice of these virtues would help development of a well-focused healthy human being. It would also ensure common good and help moving toward a harmonious strife-less society.

24.3. The Buddha is the very embodiment of compassion the loving kindness towards all beings. Dharmakirti (c. 600 -660 AD), a Buddhist philosopher, a pupil of Isvarasena and a teacher at Nalanda, remarked that the greatness of the Buddha as a spiritual teacher lies not so much in his mastery or knowledge in various fields of learning but in his having attained boundless compassion for all beings.


Resources and References


2. Outlines of Indian Philosophy by Prof M Hiriyanna

3. A course in Indian Philosophy by  Prof. AK Warder

4. A Philosophical Analysis of Buddhist Notions by ADP Kalansuriya

Pictures are from Internet


Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism


Tags: , , , , , , ,

8 responses to “The essential teachings of the Buddha

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 18, 2015 at 6:01 am

    “In the Brahma-nimantanika Sutra (Majjhima-Nikaya), the Buddha said: Do not think that this (nirvana) is an empty or void state. There is this consciousness, without distinguishing mark, infinite and shining everywhere (Vinnana-manidassanamanantamsabbato-pabham); it is untouched by the material elements and not subject to any power.”

    The above statement is a contradiction of Ambedkar’s (and others’) claim that Buddhism does not recognize the existence of a soul or a God (an eternal conscious entity).

    The story of the Buddha’s birth and parentage is patently mythological. The Buddha’s mother is Maya — a Cosmic goddess — who gives birth while standing under the World Tree. Immediately after birth, the Buddha takes seven steps, including four in the cardinal directions, after which he proclaims, “I alone am the World-Honored One!”

    “In modern times there has been an attempt to form a secular understanding of Siddhārtha Gautama’s life by omitting the traditional supernatural elements of his early biographies.” http://en.wikipe

    In the Birth of Buddha and its Vedic Parallel, Doctor Priyatosh Bannerjee cites similiarities between the birth and life of the Buddha and the Vedic god Indra.

    The Vedic scriptures also describe a sage named Gautama.

    Certainly someone spoke and wrote the sayings that are attributed to the Buddha, but I do not believe that the Buddha himself, as described in the mythological stories about him, ever existed. Mythological biographies like that of the Buddha get invented to provide a tangible hero or Deity for the believers to venerate or worship. The Buddha, as his name implies, is no one in particular — instead, he is simply the generic “Enlightened One.” There was no historic Buddha, just as there was no historic Jesus.

    Regards, Gregory Fegel

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 18, 2015 at 6:01 am

      Dear Gregory, Thank you. I agree.

      The life and teachings of the Buddha have come down to us in two main streams: The Pali Canon-the older tradition prevalent in Sri Lanka and Burma; and the Sanskrit tradition followed in Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism.

      The life of the Buddha as recorded in the Pali Canon based mainly on the autobiographical glimpses provided by the Buddha is rather factual or you could call it ‘matter-of-fact.’ The information gleaned from the Canon presents a very interesting and a demystified view of the Buddha’s life events.

      However, over a period, additional passages were written into to the Canon. These introduced the wonder and mystery of supernatural, elements of exaltation, religious romance and divine fervor. The plain accounts of the original gospel now strangely coexist with miracles and wonder.

      The Sanskrit tradition followed in Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism fully adopted and developed the legends, myths and miracles mystifying the Buddha and turning him in to a God of all gods.

      Yes; your take on the Buddha-name is also correct. The Buddha (the Awake) was certainly not the personal name of the Teacher and there is no evidence to suggest that he assumed that name at any stage in his life. He was not addressed as the Buddha during his lifetime; nor did the Canon referred to him as the Buddha. The term or epithet (the Buddha) was not applied to him until at least 150 – 200 years after his death. A Buddha, as you said, is anyone who is enlightened. A number of persons both before and after him were known by that title. For instance the sage Kashyapa, the progenitor, was often addressed the Adi-Buddha.

      But I disagree with you on the historicity of the Buddha. He was a historical person not a mythical figure. In fact the chronology of Indian History as we have it today is worked out on the basis of year of Alexander’s death and the linage of kings from the Buddha downwards.

      Kindly read Life of the Buddha- the Pali tradition which I wrote about four years back.


      • sreenivasaraos

        March 18, 2015 at 6:04 am

        sreenivasarao s: Thank you for your informative reply to my comment. I have just read your Life of the Buddha- the Pali tradition and also your The First Discourse Of The Buddha.

        Obviously most of the biography of the Buddha, particularly his early years as a Prince of Kapilavastu, is mythological and spurious. The Buddha’s youth in Kapilavastu, his royal parentage, his miraculous birth, his wife and child, and all of his activities prior to becoming a monk appear to be myths. If the Buddha existed, he was most likely a simple monk whose true biography may be largely unknown.

        I am open to the idea that the Buddha may have been an actual person, but I also think that it is possible that the early Buddhist Cannon, including the first Sermon at Sarnath, may have been developed and composed (in the absence of an actual Buddha) as a group effort by the community of Buddhist monks. A religious movement likes to have an individual (such as the Buddha) who it can identify as someone who has used the teachings to achieve the Goal. Otherwise you have only the teachings to offer, and no Success Story to show as an incentive.

        Personally, as a Seeker I believe that it is the teachings that might help me attain Enlightenment, and not mere faith in any Teacher or Avatar. I believe that the achievement of Enlightenment requires a personal transformation through personal effort, and that mere faith in an Avatar or Guru will not bring Enlightenment. So I do not feel a need to believe that there was an actual Buddha or Guru who attained Enlightenment. However, I recognize that it does help to believe that Enlightenment is possible, and that someone has achieved it in the past.

        sreenivasarao s wrote: In Ariya_pari_yesana Sutta, the Buddha recounts those momentous events: “Being myself subjected to earthly existence, I perceived the wretchedness of what is subject to earthly existence and seeking the supreme peace of Nibbana , which is not affected by earthly existence , I attained the supreme peace of Nibbana not affected by earthly existence.. and the insight now as the thing seen arose in me. My emancipation is won, this is my last birth and there is no more becoming for me.”

        From the above quote it appears clear that the goal of Buddhism, like Vedanta, is to escape from the Wheel of Rebirth. However, it has come to pass that one of the popular Buddhist teachings is that of the Compassionate Bodhisattva who has attained Enlightenment, yet chooses to reincarnate on Earth for the benefit of the fellow beings. If there were many such Enlightened and Compassionate Bodhisattvas returning to earthly existence and residing among us, one might expect to notice them here. Perhaps their quiet work gets obscured by the prevailing atmosphere of craving and cruelty.

        Regards, Gregory Fegel

  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 18, 2015 at 6:03 am

    Shree Rao
    I am very sincere when I say that when one reads your blogs, one feels that he / she is seated under the Only Bhodhi tree in Sulekha.
    Read this twice.
    But for me Budhdha and Shree Ramana Maharishi are unreachable..and I seek simple means to attain moksha by worshipping the Gods whom I relate to in the Temples. Meditation, I do. But the few moments spent in a power-packed vibrant ancient temple gets me to experience something more thrilling . Ah !! I know I am far far away…
    I love reading your enlightening blogs


  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 18, 2015 at 6:04 am

    a truly enlightening post – how Dhamma wheel was set in,
    and the doctrines, cyclical path

    Yajnavalkya’s teachings i always like,

    priciples of Buddhism and other paths are more or less the same – but hv diffeent forms of articulation is what i feel – wrote asmall one before on BUddha,

    lied this post of urs, wud hv read agai, later – wud keep it saved now,
    best wishes,kk

  4. sreenivasaraos

    March 18, 2015 at 6:06 am

    middle path
    four truths
    and the eight fold action path..
    seems to define Budhism..
    when he talked of middle path
    he went beyod the three known metaphors for resolving conflicts
    the either-or
    parellelism and
    he was in my opinion talking about- simultaneity
    which is a new fourth metaphor of thought..


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 18, 2015 at 6:06 am

      Dear Shri Sampath, Your comments are always truly valuable. You said: he (The Buddha) went beyond the three known metaphors for resolving conflicts the either-or parallelism and holism he was in my opinion talking about- simultaneity which is a new fourth metaphor of thought.

      Your observation illumines The Buddha’s conception of aneka-amsika the multi pointed view that takes in to account not merely the whole but also its specific variations.

      Thank you and Warm Regards

  5. sreenivasaraos

    March 18, 2015 at 6:06 am

    Dear Gregory,

    Well, escape from suffering was the aim of not merely Vedanta and Buddhism but also of several other streams of thought e.g. Samkhya etc).

    Regarding the Bodhisattva concept this appears to be position. I could be wrong.

    At some point of time, it was thought that the way of the Arhant meant complete detachment from the world. It was considered desirable that one should remain in the world out of compassion for the benefit of all beings striving to attain enlightenment (Bodhichitta) , to become a Buddha.

    Let me add; The Buddha was never looked upon as unique: there had been many other Buddhas in the past ages.

    The status of the Buddha was an ideal one. Anyone could strive to reach there. The conduct through which Gautama had become the Buddha was described in ancient texts. Therefore every ardent seeker motivated by compassion for all beings ( as did the Gautama) is a Bodhisattva, the Buddha in making.

    The progress was partly through practices, and partly through right-understanding (prajna); the latter being more important. After some early Mahayana Sutras furthered the concept of Bodhisattva many more Sutras elaborated on the theme.



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