What is Buddhism? This question has puzzled many people who often inquire if Buddhism is a philosophy, a religion, or a way of life. The answer …
Buddhism no doubt accords with science, but both should be treated as parallel teachings, since one deals mainly with material truths while the other confines itself to moral and spiritual truths. The subject matter of each is different.
The Dhamma taught is not merely to be preserved in books, nor is it a subject to be studied from a historical or literary standpoint. On the contrary it is to be learned and put into practice in the course of one’s daily life, for without practice one cannot appreciate the truth. The Dhamma is to be studied, and more to be practiced, and above all to be realized; immediate realization is its ultimate goal. As such the Dhamma is compared to a raft which is meant for the sole purpose of escaping from the ocean of birth and death (Samsara).
Buddhism, therefore, cannot strictly be called a mere philosophy because it is not merely the “love of, inducing the search after, wisdom.” Buddhism may approximate a philosophy, but it is very much more comprehensive.
Philosophy deals mainly with knowledge and is not concerned with practice; whereas Buddhism lays special emphasis on practice and realization.
In Buddhism there is not, as in most other religions, an Almighty God to be obeyed and feared. The Buddha does not believe in a cosmic potentate, omniscient and omnipresent. In Buddhism there are no divine revelations or divine messengers. A Buddhist is, therefore, not subservient to any higher supernatural power which controls his destinies and which arbitrarily rewards and punishes. Since Buddhists do not believe in revelations of a divine being Buddhism does not claim the monopoly of truth and does not condemn any other religion. But Buddhism recognizes the infinite latent possibilities of man and teaches that man can gain deliverance from suffering by his own efforts independent of divine help or mediating priests.
Buddhism cannot, therefore, strictly be called a religion because it is neither a system of faith and worship, nor “the outward act or form by which men indicate their recognition of the existence of a God or gods having power over their own destiny to whom obedience, service, and honor are due.”
If, by religion, is meant “a teaching which takes a view of life that is more than superficial, a teaching which looks into life and not merely at it, a teaching which furnishes men with a guide to conduct that is in accord with this its in-look, a teaching which enables those who give it heed to face life with fortitude and death with serenity,” or a system to get rid of the ills of life, then it is certainly a religion of religions.
Buddhism in a Nutshell
by Narada Mahathera
The Buddha’s Awakening sets the standards for judging the culture we were brought up in, and not the other way around. This is not a question of choosing Asian culture over American. The Buddha’s Awakening challenged many of the presuppositions of Indian culture in his day; and even in so-called Buddhist countries, the true practice of the Buddha’s teachings is always counter-cultural. It’s a question of evaluating our normal concerns — conditioned by time, space, and the limitations of aging, illness, and death — against the possibility of a timeless, spaceless, limitless happiness. All cultures are tied up in the limited, conditioned side of things, while the Buddha’s Awakening points beyond all cultures. It offers the challenge of the Deathless that his contemporaries found liberating and that we, if we are willing to accept the challenge, may find liberating ourselves.
An Introduction to the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Spiritual teachings of every description inundate the media and the marketplace today. Many of today’s popular spiritual teachings borrow liberally from the Buddha, though only rarely do they place the Buddha’s words in their true context. Earnest seekers of truth are therefore often faced with the unsavory task of wading through fragmentary teachings of dubious accuracy. How are we to make sense of it all?
Fortunately the Buddha left us with some simple guidelines to help us navigate through this bewildering flood. Whenever you find yourself questioning the authenticity of a particular teaching, heed well the Buddha’s advice to his stepmother:
[The teachings that promote] the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulating, not to shedding; to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to aroused persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome’: You may categorically hold, ‘This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher’s instruction.’
[As for the teachings that promote] the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome’: You may categorically hold, ‘This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher’s instruction.’
— AN 8.53
The truest test of these teachings, of course, is whether they yield the promised results in the crucible of your own heart. The Buddha presents the challenge; the rest is up to you.
What is Theravada Buddhism?
The Last Admonition
Thereupon the Blessed One entered the hall of audience, and taking the seat prepared for him, he exhorted the bhikkhus, saying: “Now, O bhikkhus, I say to you that these teachings of which I have direct knowledge and which I have made known to you — these you should thoroughly learn, cultivate, develop, and frequently practice, that the life of purity may be established and may long endure, for the welfare and happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, well being, and happiness of gods and men.
“And what, bhikkhus, are these teachings? They are the four foundations of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four constituents of psychic power, the five faculties, the five powers, the seven factors of enlightenment, and the Noble Eightfold Path. These, bhikkhus, are the teachings of which I have direct knowledge, which I have made known to you, and which you should thoroughly learn, cultivate, develop, and frequently practice, that the life of purity may be established and may long endure, for the welfare and happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, well being, and happiness of gods and men.”
Now the Blessed One spoke to the Venerable Ananda, saying: “It may be, Ananda, that to some among you the thought will come: ‘Ended is the word of the Master; we have a Master no longer.’ But it should not, Ananda, be so considered. For that which I have proclaimed and made known as the Dhamma and the Discipline, that shall be your Master when I am gone.
DN 16 Maha-parinibbana Sutta: Last Days of the Buddha
“Thus you should train yourselves: ‘We will listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — are being recited. We will lend ear, will set our hearts on knowing them, will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.”
— SN 20.7
In the suttas you’ll find a wealth of practical advice on a host of relevant real-world topics, such as: how children and parents can live happily together [DN 31], how to safeguard your material possessions [AN 4.255], what sorts of things are and are not worth talking about [AN 10.69], how to cope with grief [AN 5.49], how to train your mind even on your deathbed [SN 22.1], and much, much more. In short, they offer very practical and realistic advice on how to find happiness, no matter what your life-situation may be, no matter whether you call yourself “Buddhist” or not. And, of course, you’ll also find ample instructions on how to meditate [e.g., MN 118, DN 22].
As you explore the suttas you’ll come across things that you already know to be true from your own experience. Perhaps you’re already well acquainted with the hazards of alcoholism [DN 31], or perhaps you’ve already tasted the kind of refined pleasure that naturally arises in a concentrated mind [AN 5.28]. Seeing your own experience validated in the suttas — even in small ways — can make it easier to accept the possibility that the more refined or “advanced” experiences that the Buddha describes may not be so farfetched after all, and that some of the more counter-intuitive and difficult teachings may not, in fact, be so strange. This validation can inspire renewed confidence and energy that will help your meditation and your understanding forge ahead into new territory.
Befriending the Suttas
Sabbe satta sada hontu
Sabbe bhagi bhavantu te.
May all beings always live happily
Free from animosity
May all share in the blessings
Springing from the good I have done.
-Posted by Terence Seow