What the Buddha Taught

Siddhattha Gotama entered the ascetic life in search of a solution to the universal suffering, 6 years later at age 35 he found enlightenment while sitting under what is now known as the Tree of Wisdom (Bodhi or Bo-Tree). He then taught this to all kinds of men and women for 45 years. This all happened in the 6th century B.C. in North India. 

Buddhism today has over 500 million practitioners around the world (4th after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism). 

According to Buddhism, man’s position is supreme. Man is his own master and there is no higher being or power that sits in judgment over his destiny. 

The Buddha always claimed to be a normal human being, no more or less, and taught that enlightenment is within the grasp of every human being. 

Tathagatas, those who have come to the Truth (such as the Buddha) can only teach the way, but man most liberate himself from all bondage through his own personal effort and intelligence.

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 Kaalamas, 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 yourself 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.’

In Buddhism, there is no sin as other religions discuss sin. The root of all evil is ignorance (avijja) and false views (miccha ditthi). There must be doubt as long as one does not see clearly, but in order to progress you must get rid of the doubt, by seeing clearly. 

The Buddha encouraged people to honor other religions as well. 

To be attached to one thing (to a certain view) and to look down upon other things (views) as inferior — this the wise men call a fetter.

To the seeker after Truth it is immaterial from where an idea comes. 

Buddha said that the doctrine, the teachings from the Buddha, are like a raft which you can use to cross over from a dangerous land through a river onto a peaceful land. The raft is of great use to cross over, but it is not something to hold on to. Once you reach the other side, it is proper to tie it at shore and leave it behind. 


First noble truth: dukkha

Dukkha is often translated as suffering, but that is a disservice as it makes it seem that Buddhism is a pessimistic religion. Buddhism is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, it is simply realistic. It looks at life as it is and finds ways out of suffering. 

Dukha may be viewed from three aspects: 

  1. Dukkha as ordinary suffering: birth, old age, sickness, association with unpleasant persons, separation from loved ones, etc. 
  2. Dukkha as produced by change: when a happy feeling changes, producing pain, suffering and unhappiness.
  3. Dukkha as conditioned states: understanding this requires further understanding of what we consider as being, as an individual or I. Need to first discuss the five aggregates

The five aggregates

Aggregate of Matter: the whole realm of matter, internal and external. 

  • Four Great Elements: solidity, fluidity, heat and motion. 
  • Derivatives of the Four Great Elements: the material sense organs including the faculties of eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body. Also their corresponding objects in the external world, visible form, sound, odour, taste and tangible things. 
  • Some thoughts or ideas or conceptions which are in the sphere of the mind-objects. 

Aggregate of Sensations: all sensations experienced through the contact of physical and mental organs with the external world.

  • Eye with visible forms
  • Ear with sounds
  • Nose with odour
  • Tongue with taste
  • Body with tangible objects
  • Mind with mind-objects or thoughts or ideas.

Aggregate of Perceptions: perceptions recognize objects, whether physical or mental. 

Aggregate of Mental Formations: volitional activities, which is mental construction and mental activity. Directs the mind in the sphere of good, bad, or neutral activities. Sensations and perceptions are not volitional and don’t produce karmic effects. 

  • Attention
  • Will
  • Determination
  • Confidence
  • Concentration
  • Wisdom
  • Energy
  • Desire
  • Repugnance or hate
  • Ignorance
  • Conceit
  • Idea of self
  • + more (52 in total)

Aggregate of Consciousness: reaction or response which has one of the six faculties as its basis, and one of the six corresponding external phenomena as its object. Consciousness does not recognize an object, it’s just an awareness of the presence of an object. Consciousness is not “self” as there is no idea of an unchanging “self” or “soul” or “ego”.

Consciousness arises out of conditions, for example, if it arises on account of the eye and visible forms, it is called visual consciousness. 

In this way, consciousness is not constant. It arises based on a sense and its object and when that sense & its object are no longer there it dies down, like a fire made out of wood dissipates when the wood runs out. 

These five aggregates we conveniently call a being/individual/I, but that’s just a convenient name and label to the combination of the 5 aggregates. They are all impermanent and changing. Whatever is impermanent is dukkha. The five Aggregates of Attachment are dukkha. They are in a flux of momentary arising and disappearing. 

Second noble truth: Samudaya, “The Arising of Dukkha”

There is a thirst arising out of dukkha for continuity. 

Karma is simply action, and the result of karma is simply the reaction to that action. Karma only refers to volitional action. It is not a judgment system, it is simply a volitional action someone takes and the result is just the natural reaction. 

The four Nutriments

Necessary for the existence and continuity of beings:

  1. Ordinary material food
  2. Contact of our sense-organs, including mind, with the external world
  3. Consciousness
  4. Mental volition or will (a.k.a. thirst, karma, etc.)

Mental volition is the will to live, exist, to move forward and become more. 

Death and Rebirth

What we can death is the total non functioning of the physical body. However, according to Buddhism not all aggregates of a being stop altogether. 

Will, volition, desire, thirst to exist, to continue, to become more and more, is a tremendous force that moves while lives, whole existences, that even moves the whole world. This force continues manifesting itself in another form after death, which is called rebirth. 

The third Noble Truth: nirodha, the cessation of dukkha

Aka Nirvana, it is the elimination of this thirst, thus also eliminating dukkha.

“The extinction of desire, the extinction of hatred, the extinction of illusion.”

Dukkha arises because of thirst, and it ceases because of wisdom. 

The fourth Noble Truth: magga, the path

Path leading to the cessation of dukkha, the middle path. AKA the Noble Eightfold Path.

  1. Right understanding
  2. Right thought
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

All of these should be developed simultaneously, to the capacity of each individual. 

There are three essentials of Buddhist training and discipline: 

  • Ethical conduct
  • Mental discipline
  • Wisdom

Ethical conduct

Built on the vast conception of universal love and compassion for all living beings.

For a man to be perfect he must develop equally: compassion and wisdom. 

Compassion represents love, charity, kindness, tolerance, etc.

Wisdom stands for the intellectual side of the qualities of the mind. 

Developing one without the other results in undesirable end states, a good hearted fool or a hard hearted intellect without feelings. 

Ethical conduct encompasses 3 factors of the Noble Eightfold Path: Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. 

Right Speech: abstain from:

  1. lying
  2. backbiting, slander, talk that brings about hatred, enmity, disunity, etc. 
  3. Harsh, rude, impolite, malicious, abusive language
  4. Idle, useless and foolish babble and gossip.

Right Action: abstain from destroying life, stealing, dishonest dealings, illegitimate sexual intercourse. Help others lead a peaceful and honorable life.

Right Livelihood: abstain from making living thought a profession that harms others. 

Ethical Conduct aims at promoting a happy and harmonious life both for the individual and for society. This is the basis, foundation for all other spiritual attainment.

Mental Discipline

Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.

Right Effort 

  1. Prevent evil and unwholesome states of mind from arising
  2. Get rid of evil and unwholesome states that have already arisen
  3. Produce, cause to arise, good and wholesome states of mind not yet arisen
  4. Develop and bring to perfection the good and wholesome states of mind already present.

Right Mindfulness

Be diligently aware, mindful and attentive to:

  1. Activities of the body
  2. Sensations or feelings
  3. Activities of the mind
  4. Ideas, thoughts, conceptions and things

Right Concentration

Four stages of Dhyāna

  1. Passionate desires and certain unwholesome thoughts like sensuous lust, ill-will, languor, worry, restlessness, and sceptical doubt are discarded and feelings of joy and happiness are maintained, along with certain mental activities. 
  2. All intellectual activities are suppressed, tranquility and ‘one-pointedness’ of mind developed, feelings of joy and happiness retained.
  3. Feeling of joy also disappears, happiness remains in addition to mindful equanimity.
  4. All sensations disappear, only pure equanimity and awareness remain.


Right Thought and Right Understanding

Right Thought selfless renunciation, love, and non-violence.

Right Understanding, ultimately reduced to the Four Noble Truths. You must know it intellectually ‘knowing accordingly’ and later on ’penetration’ which is possible only when the mind is free from impurities and developed through mediation.

The Doctrine of No-Soul, Anatta

Man has a need for self preservation and self protection. He thus created the concept of the soul as preservation beyond this life, and God for protection. 

Buddhism doesn’t teach either of these concepts. In particular, the Buddha taught that the idea of self is imaginary and it produces harmful thoughts of “me” and “mine” which is then the source of conflicts from personal to wars between nations. 

Analytically, you can arrive at this conclusion by looking at the Five Aggregates and realizing that there is nothing behind them that can be taken as “I”. 

Conditioned Genesis is a doctrine that arrives at the same conclusion. The principle of this doctrine is given in a short formula: 

  • When this is, that is
  • This arising, that arises
  • When this is not, that is not
  • This ceasing, that ceases. 

Which then is used to say: 

  1. Through ignorance are conditioned volitional actions or karma-formations
  2. Through volitional actions is conditioned consciousness
  3. Through consciousness are conditioned mental and physical phenomena
  4. Through mental and physical phenomena are conditioned the six faculties
  5. Through the six faculties is condiitioned contact
  6. Through contact is conditioned sensation
  7. Through sensation is conditioned desire, thirst. 
  8. Through desire is conditioned clinging
  9. Through clinging is conditioned the process of becoming
  10. Through the process of becoming is conditioned birth
  11. Through birth are conditioned: 
  12. Decay, death, lamentation, pain, etc. 

All of these are conditioning and conditioned, Buddhism doesn’t acknowledge a absolute or independent, or as a first cause. It’s a circle, cycle, not a chain. 

If there is no Atman or Self, who gets the results of karma (actions)? … When this question was raised by a bhikkhu the Budda said: “I have taught you, O bhikkhus, to see conditionality everywhere in all things.”