• What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is a religion to about 300 million people around the world. The word comes from 'budhi', 'to
awaken'. It has its origins about 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha,
was himself awakened (enlightened) at the age of 35.
• Is Buddhism a Religion?

To many, Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more of a philosophy or 'way of life'. It is a
philosophy because philosophy 'means love of wisdom' and the Buddhist path can be summed up as:
(1) to lead a moral life,
(2) to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and
(3) to develop wisdom and understanding.
• How Can Buddhism Help Me?

Buddhism explains a purpose to life, it explains apparent injustice and inequality around the world,
and it provides a code of practice or way of life that leads to true happiness.
• Why is Buddhism Becoming Popular?

Buddhism is becoming popular in western countries for a number of reasons, The first good reason is
Buddhism has answers to many of the problems in modern materialistic societies. It also includes (for
those who are interested) a deep understanding of the human mind (and natural therapies) which
prominent psychologists around the world are now discovering to be both very advanced and
• Who Was the Buddha?

Siddhartha Gotama was born into a royal family in Lumbini, now located in Nepal, in 563 BC. At 29,
he realised that wealth and luxury did not guarantee happiness, so he explored the different teachings
religions and philosophies of the day, to find the key to human happiness. After six years of study and
meditation he finally found 'the middle path' and was enlightened. After enlightenment, the Buddha
spent the rest of his life teaching the principles of Buddhism — called the Dhamma, or Truth — until
his death at the age of 80.
• Was the Buddha a God?

He was not, nor did he claim to be. He was a man who taught a path to enlightenment from his own
• Do Buddhists Worship Idols?

Buddhists sometimes pay respect to images of the Buddha, not in worship, nor to ask for favours. A
statue of the Buddha with hands rested gently in its lap and a compassionate smile reminds us to
strive to develop peace and love within ourselves. Bowing to the statue is an expression of gratitude
for the teaching.
• Why are so Many Buddhist Countries Poor?

One of the Buddhist teachings is that wealth does not guarantee happiness and also wealth is
impermanent. The people of every country suffer whether rich or poor, but those who understand
Buddhist teachings can find true happiness.
• Are There Different Types of Buddhism?

There are many different types of Buddhism, because the emphasis changes from country to country
due to customs and culture. What does not vary is the essence of the teaching — the Dhamma or
• Are Other Religions Wrong?

Buddhism is also a belief system which is tolerant of all other beliefs or religions. Buddhism agrees
with the moral teachings of other religions but Buddhism goes further by providing a long term
purpose within our existence, through wisdom and true understanding. Real Buddhism is very tolerant
and not concerned with labels like 'Christian', 'Moslem', 'Hindu' or 'Buddhist'; that is why there have
never been any wars fought in the name of Buddhism. That is why Buddhists do not preach and try to
convert, only explain if an explanation is sought.
• Is Buddhism Scientific?

Science is knowledge which can be made into a system, which depends upon seeing and testing
facts and stating general natural laws. The core of Buddhism fit into this definition, because the Four
Noble truths (see below) can be tested and proven by anyone in fact the Buddha himself asked his
followers to test the teaching rather than accept his word as true. Buddhism depends more on
understanding than faith.
• What did the Buddha Teach?

The Buddha taught many things, but the basic concepts in Buddhism can be summed up by the Four
Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
• What is the First Noble Truth?

The first truth is that life is suffering i.e., life includes pain, getting old, disease, and ultimately death.
We also endure psychological suffering like loneliness frustration, fear, embarrassment,
disappointment and anger. This is an irrefutable fact that cannot be denied. It is realistic rather than
pessimistic because pessimism is expecting things to be bad. lnstead, Buddhism explains how
suffering can be avoided and how we can be truly happy.
• What is the Second Noble Truth?

The second truth is that suffering is caused by craving and aversion. We will suffer if we expect other
people to conform to our expectation, if we want others to like us, if we do not get something we
want,etc. In other words, getting what you want does not guarantee happiness. Rather than
constantly struggling to get what you want, try to modify your wanting. Wanting deprives us of
contentment and happiness. A lifetime of wanting and craving and especially the craving to continue
to exist, creates a powerful energy which causes the individual to be born. So craving leads to
physical suffering because it causes us to be reborn.
• What is the Third Noble Truth?

The third truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained; that true happiness
and contentment are possible. lf we give up useless craving and learn to live each day at a time (not
dwelling in the past or the imagined future) then we can become happy and free. We then have more
time and energy to help others. This is Nirvana.
• What is the Fourth Noble Truth?

The fourth truth is that the Noble 8-fold Path is the path which leads to the end of suffering.
• What is the Noble 8-Fold Path?

In summary, the Noble 8-fold Path is being moral (through what we say, do and our livelihood),
focussing the mind on being fully aware of our thoughts and actions, and developing wisdom by
understanding the Four Noble Truths and by developing compassion for others.
• What are the 5 Precepts?

The moral code within Buddhism is the precepts, of which the main five are: not to take the life of
anything living, not to take anything not freely given, to abstain from sexual misconduct and sensual
overindulgence, to refrain from untrue speech, and to avoid intoxication, that is, losing mindfulness.
• What is Karma?

Karma is the law that every cause has an effect, i.e., our actions have results. This simple law
explains a number of things: inequality in the world, why some are born handicapped and some
gifted, why some live only a short life. Karma underlines the importance of all individuals being
responsible for their past and present actions. How can we test the karmic effect of our actions? The
answer is summed up by looking at (1) the intention behind the action, (2) effects of the action on
oneself, and (3) the effects on others.
• What is Wisdom?

Buddhism teaches that wisdom should be developed with compassion. At one extreme, you could be
a goodhearted fool and at the other extreme, you could attain knowledge without any emotion.
Buddhism uses the middle path to develop both. The highest wisdom is seeing that in reality, all
phenomena are incomplete, impermanent and do no constitute a fixed entity. True wisdom is not
simply believing what we are told but instead experiencing and understanding truth and reality.
Wisdom requires an open, objective, unbigoted mind. The Buddhist path requires courage, patience,
flexibility and intelligence.
• What is Compassion?

Compassion includes qualities of sharing, readiness to give comfort, sympathy, concern, caring. In
Buddhism, we can really understand others, when we can really understand ourselves, through
• How do I Become a Buddhist?

Buddhist teachings can be understood and tested by anyone. Buddhism teaches that the solutions to
our problems are within ourselves not outside. The Buddha asked all his followers not to take his word
as true, but rather to test the teachings for themselves. ln this way, each person decides for
themselves and takes responsibility for their own actions and understanding. This makes Buddhism
less of a fixed package of beliefs which is to be accepted in its entirety, and more of a teaching which
each person learns and uses in their own way.

This short essay is intended to give a brief introduction to Buddhism. It will discuss the way Buddhists
perceive the world, the four main teachings of the Buddha, the Buddhist view of the self, the
relationship between this self and the various ways in which it responds to the world, the Buddhist
path and the final goal. - Mike Butler

The Three Marks of Existence
Buddhism has been described as a very pragmatic religion. It does not indulge in metaphysical
speculation about first causes; there is no theology, no worship of a deity or deification of the Buddha.
Buddhism takes a very straightforward look at our human condition; nothing is based on wishful
thinking, at all. Everything that the Buddha taught was based on his own observation of the way
things are. Everything that he taught can be verified by our own observation of the way things are.
If we look at our life, very simply, in a straightforward way, we see that it is marked with frustration and
pain. This is because we attempt to secure our relationship with the "world out there", by solidifying
our experiences in some concrete way. For example, we might have dinner with someone we admire
very much, everything goes just right, and when we get home later we begin to fantasise about all the
things we can do with our new-found friend, places we can go etc. We are going through the process
of trying to cement our relationship. Perhaps, the next time we see our friend, she/he has a headache
and is curt with us; we feel snubbed, hurt, all our plans go out the window. The problem is that the
"world out there" is constantly changing, everything is impermanent and it is impossible to make a
permanent relationship with anything, at all.
If we examine the notion of impermanence closely and honestly, we see that it is all-pervading,
everything is marked by impermanence. We might posit an eternal consciousness principle, or higher
self, but if we examine our consciousness closely we see that it is made up of temporary mental
processes and events. We see that our "higher self" is speculative at best and imaginary to begin
with. We have invented the idea to secure ourselves, to cement our relationship, once again. Because
of this we feel uneasy and anxious, even at the best of times. It is only when we completely abandon
clinging that we feel any relief from our queasiness.
These three things: pain, impermanence and egolessness are known as the three marks of existence.
The Four Noble Truths
The first sermon that the Buddha preached after his enlightenment was about the four noble truths.
The first noble truth is that life is frustrating and painful. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, there
are times when it is downright miserable. Things may be fine with us, at the moment, but, if we look
around, we see other people in the most appalling condition, children starving, terrorism, hatred, wars,
intolerance, people being tortured and we get a sort of queasy feeling whenever we think about the
world situation in even the most casual way. We, ourselves, will some day grow old, get sick and
eventually die. No matter how we try to avoid it, some day we are going to die. Even though we try to
avoid thinking about it, there are constant reminders that it is true.
The second noble truth is that suffering has a cause. We suffer because we are constantly struggling
to survive. We are constantly trying to prove our existence. We may be extremely humble and self-
deprecating, but even that is an attempt to define ourselves. We are defined by our humility. The
harder we struggle to establish ourselves and our relationships, the more painful our experience
The third noble truth is that the cause of suffering can be ended. Our struggle to survive, our effort to
prove ourselves and solidify our relationships is unnecessary. We, and the world, can get along quite
comfortably without all our unnecessary posturing. We could just be a simple, direct and straight-
forward person. We could form a simple relationship with our world, our coffee, spouse and friend. We
do this by abandoning our expectations about how we think things should be.
This is the fourth noble truth: the way, or path to end the cause of suffering. The central theme of this
way is meditation. Meditation, here, means the practice of
mindfulness/awareness, shamata/vipashyana in Sanskrit. We practice being mindful of all the things
that we use to torture ourselves with. We become mindful by abandoning our expectations about the
way we think things should be and, out of our mindfulness, we begin to develop awareness about the
way things really are. We begin to develop the insight that things are really quite simple, that we can
handle ourselves, and our relationships, very well as soon as we stop being so manipulative and
The Five Skandhas
The Buddhist doctrine of egolessness seems to be a bit confusing to westerners. I think this is
because there is some confusion as to what is meant by ego. Ego, in the Buddhist sense, is quite
different from the Freudian ego. The Buddhist ego is a collection of mental events classified into five
categories, called skandhas, loosely translated as bundles, or heaps.
If we were to borrow a western expression, we could say that "in the beginning" things were going
along quite well. At some point, however, there was a loss of confidence in the way things were going.
There was a kind of primordial panic which produced confusion about what was happening. Rather
than acknowledging this loss of confidence, there was an identification with the panic and confusion.
Ego began to form. This is known as the first skandha, the skandha of form.
After the identification with confusion, ego begins to explore how it feels about the formation of this
experience. If we like the experience, we try to draw it in. If we dislike it, we try to push it away, or
destroy it. If we feel neutral about it, we just ignore it. The way we feel about the experience is called
the skandha of form; what we try to do about it is known as the skandha of impulse/perception.
The next stage is to try to identify, or label the experience. If we can put it into a category, we can
manipulate it better. Then we would have a whole bag of tricks to use on it. This is the skandha of
The final step in the birth of ego, is called the skandha of consciousness. Ego begins to churn
thoughts and emotions around and around. This makes ego feel solid and real. The churning around
and around is called samsara -- literally, to whirl about. The way ego feels about its situation (skandha
of feeling) determines which of the six realms of existence it creates for itself.
The Six Realms
If ego decides it likes the situation, it begins to churn up all sorts of ways to possess it. A craving to
consume the situation arises and we long to satisfy that craving. Once we do, a ghost of that craving
carries over and we look around for something else to consume. We get into the habitual pattern of
becoming consumer oriented. Perhaps we order a piece of software for our computer. We play with it
for awhile, until the novelty wears out, and then we look around for the next piece of software that has
the magic glow of not being possessed yet. Soon we haven't even got the shrink wrap off the current
package when we start looking for the next one. Owning the software and using it doesn't seem to be
as important as wanting it, looking forward to its arrival. This is known as the hungry ghost realm
where we have made an occupation out of craving. We can never find satisfaction, it is like drinking
salt water to quench our thirst.
Another realm is the animal realm, or having the mind like that of an animal. Here we find security by
making certain that everything is totally predictable. We only buy blue chip stock, never take a chance
and never look at new possibilities. The thought of new possibilities frightens us and we look with
scorn at anyone who suggests anything innovative. This realm is characterised by ignorance. We put
on blinders and only look straight ahead, never to the right or left.
The hell realm is characterised by acute aggression. We build a wall of anger between ourselves and
our experience. Everything irritates us, even the most innocuous, and innocent statement drives us
mad with anger. The heat of our anger is reflected back on us and sends us into a frenzy to escape
from our torture, which in turn causes us to fight even harder and get even angrier. The whole thing
builds on itself until we don't even know if we're fighting with someone else or ourselves. We are so
busy fighting that we can't find an alternative to fighting; the possibility of alternative never even
occurs to us.
These are the three lower realms. One of the three higher realms is called the jealous god realm. This
pattern of existence is characterised by acute paranoia. We are always concerned with "making it".
Everything is seen from a competitive point of view. We are always trying to score points, and trying
to prevent others from scoring on us. If someone achieves something special we become determined
to out do them. We never trust anyone; we "know" they're trying to slip one past us. If someone tries
to help us, we try to figure out their angle. If someone doesn't try to help us, they are being
uncooperative, and we make a note to ourselves that we will get even later. "Don't get mad, get
even," that's our motto.
At some point we might hear about spirituality. We might hear about the possibility of meditation
techniques, imported from some eastern religion, or mystical western one, that will make our minds
peaceful and absorb us into a universal harmony. We begin to meditate and perform certain rituals
and we find ourselves absorbed into infinite space and blissful states of existence. Everything
sparkles with love and light; we become godlike beings. We become proud of our godlike powers of
meditative absorption. We might even dwell in the realm of infinite space where thoughts seldom arise
to bother us. We ignore everything that doesn't confirm our godhood. We have manufactured the god
realm, the highest of the six realms of existence. The problem is, that we have manufactured it. We
begin to relax and no longer feel the need to maintain our exalted state. Eventually a small sliver of
doubt occurs. Have we really made it? At first we are able to smooth over the question, but eventually
the doubt begins to occur more and more frequently and soon we begin to struggle to regain our
supreme confidence. As soon as we begin to struggle, we fall back into the lower realms and begin
the whole process over and over; from god realm to jealous god realm to animal realm to hungry
ghost realm to hell realm. At some point we begin to wonder if there isn't some sort of alternative to
our habitual way of dealing with the world. This is the human realm.
The human realm is the only one in which liberation from the six states of existence is possible. The
human realm is characterised by doubt and inquisitiveness and the longing for something better. We
are not as absorbed by the all consuming preoccupations of the other states of being. We begin to
wonder whether it is possible to relate to the world as simple, dignified human beings.
The Eightfold Path
The path to liberation from these miserable states of being, as taught by the Buddha, has eight points
and is known as the eightfold path. The first point is called right view -- the right way to view the world.
Wrong view occurs when we impose our expectations onto things; expectations about how we hope
things will be, or about how we are afraid things might be. Right view occurs when we see things
simply, as they are. It is an open and accommodating attitude. We abandon hope and fear and take
joy in a simple straight-forward approach to life.
The second point of the path is called right intention. It proceeds from right view. If we are able to
abandon our expectations, our hopes and fears, we no longer need to be manipulative. We don't have
to try to con situations into our preconceived notions of how they should be. We work with what is.
Our intentions are pure.
The third aspect of the path is right speech. Once our intentions are pure, we no longer have to be
embarrassed about our speech. Since we aren't trying to manipulate people, we don't have to be
hesitant about what we say, nor do we need to try bluff our way through a conversation with any sort
of phoney confidence. We say what needs to be said, very simply in a genuine way.
The fourth point on the path, right discipline, involves a kind of renunciation. We need to give up our
tendency to complicate issues. We practice simplicity. We have a simple straight-forward relationship
with our dinner, our job, our house and our family. We give up all the unnecessary and frivolous
complications that we usually try to cloud our relationships with.
Right livelihood is the fifth step on the path. It is only natural and right that we should earn our living.
Often, many of us don't particularly enjoy our jobs. We can't wait to get home from work and begrudge
the amount of time that our job takes away from our enjoyment of the good life. Perhaps, we might
wish we had a more glamorous job. We don't feel that our job in a factory or office is in keeping with
the image we want to project. The truth is, that we should be glad of our job, whatever it is. We should
form a simple relationship with it. We need to perform it properly, with attention to detail.
The sixth aspect of the path is right effort. Wrong effort is struggle. We often approach a spiritual
discipline as though we need to conquer our evil side and promote our good side. We are locked in
combat with ourselves and try to obliterate the tiniest negative tendency. Right effort doesn't involve
struggle at all. When we see things as they are, we can work with them, gently and without any kind
of aggression whatsoever.
Right mindfulness, the seventh step, involves precision and clarity. We are mindful of the tiniest
details of our experience. We are mindful of the way we talk, the way we perform our jobs, our
posture, our attitude toward our friends and family, every detail.
Right concentration, or absorption is the eighth point of the path. Usually we are absorbed in
absentmindedness. Our minds are completely captivated by all sorts of entertainment and
speculations. Right absorption means that we are completely absorbed in nowness, in things as they
are. This can only happen if we have some sort of discipline, such as sitting meditation. We might
even say that without the discipline of sitting meditation, we can't walk the eightfold path at all. Sitting
meditation cuts through our absentmindedness. It provides a space or gap in our preoccupation with
The Goal
Most people have heard of nirvana. It has become equated with a sort of eastern version of heaven.
Actually, nirvana simply means cessation. It is the cessation of passion, aggression and ignorance;
the cessation of the struggle to prove our existence to the world, to survive. We don't have to struggle
to survive after all. We have already survived. We survive now; the struggle was just an extra
complication that we added to our lives because we had lost our confidence in the way things are. We
no longer need to manipulate things as they are into things as we would like them to be.

The Triple Gem

1. The Buddha — The self awakened one. The original nature of the Heart;
2. The Dhamma — The Teaching. The nature of reality;
3. The Sangha — a. The Awakened Community. b. Any harmonious assembly. c. All Beings.
The Four Noble Truths

1. The Noble Truth of Dukkha - stress, unsatisfactoriness, suffering;
2. The Noble Truth of the causal arising of Dukkha, which is grasping, clinging and wanting;
3. The Noble Truth of Nirvana, The ending of Dukkha. Awakening, Enlightenment. "Mind like fire
4. The Noble Truth of the Path leading to Nirvana or Awakening.
All Buddhist teachings flow from the Four Noble Truths. Particularly emphasised in the Theravada.
The Four Bodhisattva Vows
1. I vow to rescue the boundless living beings from suffering; (Link to 1st Truth)
2. I vow to put an end to the infinite afflictions of living beings; (Link to 2nd Truth)
3. I vow to learn the measureless Dharma-doors; (Link to 4th Truth)
4. I vow to realise the unsurpassed path of the Buddha. (Link to 3th Truth)
Foundation of the Mahayana Path, these vows say. 'Whatever the highest perfection of the human
heart-mind may I realise it for the benefit of all that lives!'
The Eight Fold-Path
Right, Integral, Complete, Perfected.
1. Right View, Understanding;
2. Right Attitude, Thought or Emotion;
3. Right Speech;
4. Right Action;
5. Right livelihood;
6. Right Effort, Energy, and Vitality;
7. Right Mindfulness or Awareness;
8. Right Samadhi "concentration", one-pointedness. Integration of, or establishment in, various levels
of consciousness.
Alternate meanings are given as the original Pali has shades of meaning not available in one English
The Five Precepts
I undertake to:
1. Abstain from killing living beings;
2. Abstain from taking that which not given;
3. Abstain from sexual misconduct;
4. Abstain from false speech;
5. Abstain from distilled substances that confuse the mind. (Alcohol and Drugs)
The underlying principle is non-exploitation of yourself or others. The precepts are the foundation of
all Buddhist training. With a developed ethical base, much of the emotional conflict and stress that we
experience is resolved, allowing commitment and more conscious choice. Free choice and intention is
important. It is "I undertake" not 'Thou Shalt". Choice, not command.
The Five Precepts in positive terms
I undertake the training precept to:
1. Act with Loving-kindness;
2. Be open hearted and generous;
3. Practice stillness, simplicity and contentment;
4. Speak with truth, clarity and peace;
5. Live with mindfulness.
The Ten Paramita
Paramita means gone to the other shore, it is the highest development of each of these qualities.
1. Giving or Generosity; *
2. Virtue, Ethics, Morality; *
3. Renunciation, letting go, not grasping;
4. Panna or Prajna "Wisdom" insight into the nature of reality; *
5. Energy, vigour, vitality, diligence; *
6. Patience or forbearance; *
7. Truthfulness;
8. Resolution, determination, intention;
9. Kindness, love, friendliness;
10. Equanimity.
* In Mahayana Buddhism, 6 are emphasised, they are, numbers l., 2., 4., 5., 6., Samadhi (see Path) &
The Four Sublime or Uplifted States
1. Metta — Friendliness, Loving-kindness;
2. Karuna — Compassion;
3. Mudita — Joy, Gladness. Appreciation of good qualities in people;
4. Upekkha — Equanimity, the peaceful unshaken mind.
Full development of these four states develops all of the Ten Paramita.
The Five Powers or Spiritual Faculties
1.Faith, Confidence;
2. Energy, Effort;
3. Mindfulness;
4. Samadhi;
5. Wisdom.
The Five Hindrances
1. Sense craving;
2. Ill-will;
3. Sloth and Torpor;
4, Restlessness and Worry;
5. Toxic doubt and the ruthless inner critic.
The Four bases or Frames of Reference of Mindfulness
1. Mindfulness of the Body — breath, postures, parts;
2. Mindfulness of Feelings, Sensations — pleasant, unpleasant and neutral;
3. Mindfulness of States of Consciousness;
4. Mindfulness of all Phenomena or Objects of Consciousness.
The Three Signs of Existence or Universal Properties
1. Anicca — Impermanent;
2. Dukkha — Unsatisfactory, stress inducing;
3. Anatta — Insubstantial or Not-self.

The Eight-Fold Path is the fourth of the Four Noble Truths - the first of the Buddha's teachings. All the
teachings flow from this foundation.
The Four Noble Truths are
1. The Noble Truth of the reality of Dukkha as part of conditioned existence. Dukkha is a multi-
faceted word. Its literal meaning is "that which is difficult to bear". It can mean suffering, stress, pain,
anguish, affliction or unsatisfactoriness. Each of the English words is either too strong or too weak in
their meaning to be a universally successful translation. Dukkha can be gross or very subtle. From
extreme physical and mental pain and torment to subtle inner conflicts and existential malaise.
2. The Noble Truth that Dukkha has a causal arising. This cause is defined as grasping and
clinging or aversion. On one hand it is trying to control anything and everything by grabbing onto or
trying to pin them down, On the other hand it is control by pushing away or pushing down and running
away or flinching away from things. It is the process of identification through which we try to make
internal and external things and experiences into "me and mine" or wholly '"other" than Me. This flies
in the face of the three signs of existence - Anicca, Dukkha. Anatta - Impermanence. Stress or
Suffering and No-Self. Because all conditioned existence is impermanent it gives rise to Dukkha, and
this means that in conditioned existence there is no unchanging and permanent Self. There is nothing
to grasp onto and also in reality, nothing or no 'one' to do the grasping! We grab onto or try to push
away ever changing dynamic processes. These attempts to control, limit us to little definitions of who
we are.
3. The Noble Truth of the end of Dukkha, which is Nirvana or Nibbana. Beyond grasping and
control and conditional existence is Nirvana. "The mind like fire unbound." The realisation of Nirvana
is supreme Bodhi or Awakening. It is waking up to the true nature of reality. It is waking up to our true
nature. Buddha Nature. The Pali Canon of Theravada, the foundational Buddhist teachings, says little
about Nirvana, using terms like the Unconditioned the Deathless, and the Unborn. Mahayana
teachings speak more about the qualities of Nirvana and use terms like, True Nature, Original Mind,
Infinite light and Infinite life. Beyond space and time. Nirvana defies definition.
Nirvana literally means "unbound' as in "Mind like fire unbound". This beautiful image is of a flame
burning by itself. Just the flame, not something burning and giving off a flame. Picture a flame burning
on a wick or stick, it seems to hover around or just above the thing burning. The flame seems to be
independent of the thing burning but it clings to the stick and is bound to it. This sense of the flame
being unbound has often been misunderstood to mean the flame is extinguished or blown out. This is
completely opposite to the meaning of the symbol. The flame "burns" and gives light but is no longer
bound to any combustible material. The flame is not blown out - the clinging and the clung to is
extinguished. The flame of our true nature, which is awakening, burns independently. Ultimately
Nirvana is beyond conception and intellectual understanding. Full understanding only comes through
direct experience of this "state' which is beyond the limitations and definitions of space and time.
4. The Noble Truth of the Path that leads to Awakening. The path is a paradox. It is a conditioned
thing that is said to help you to the unconditioned. Awakening is not "made" by anything: it is not a
product of anything including the Buddha's teachings. Awakening, your true nature is already always
present. We are just not awake to this reality. Clinging to limitation, and attempts to control the
ceaseless flow of phenomena and process obscures our true nature.
The path is a process to help you remove or move beyond the conditioned responses that obscure
your true nature. In this sense the Path is ultimately about unlearning rather than learning - another
paradox. We learn so we can unlearn and uncover. The Buddha called his teaching a Raft. To cross a
turbulent river we may need to build a raft. When built, we single-mindedly and with great energy
make our way across. Once across we don't need to cart the raft around with us. In other words don't
cling to anything including the teachings. However, make sure you use them before you let them go.
It's no use knowing everything about the raft and not getting on. The teachings are tools not dogma.
The teachings are Upaya, which means skillful means or expedient method. It is fingers pointing at
the moon - don't confuse the finger for the moon.
The Path
1. * Samma-Ditthi — Complete or Perfect Vision, also translated as right view or understanding.
Vision of the nature of reality and the path of transformation.
2. Samma-Sankappa — Perfected Emotion or Aspiration, also translated as right thought or
attitude. Liberating emotional intelligence in your life and acting from love and compassion. An
informed heart and feeling mind that are free to practice letting go.
3. Samma-Vaca — Perfected or whole Speech. Also called right speech. Clear, truthful, uplifting
and non-harmful communication.
4. Samma-Kammanta — Integral Action. Also called right action. An ethical foundation for life
based on the principle of non-exploitation of oneself and others. The five precepts.
5. Samma-Ajiva — Proper Livelihood. Also called right livelihood. This is a livelihood based on
correct action the ethical principal of non-exploitation. The basis of an Ideal society.
6. Samma-Vayama — Complete or Full Effort, Energy or Vitality. Also called right effort or diligence.
Consciously directing our life energy to the transformative path of creative and healing action that
fosters wholeness. Conscious evolution.
7. Samma-Sati — Complete or Thorough Awareness. Also called "right mindfulness". Developing
awareness, "if you hold yourself dear watch yourself well". Levels of Awareness and mindfulness - of
things, oneself, feelings, thought, people and Reality.
8. Samma-Samadhi — Full, Integral or Holistic Samadhi. This is often translated as concentration,
meditation, absorption or one-pointedness of mind. None of these translations is adequate. Samadhi
literally means to be fixed, absorbed in or established at one point, thus the first level of meaning is
concentration when the mind is fixed on a single object. The second level of meaning goes further
and represents the establishment, not just of the mind, but also of the whole being in various levels or
modes of consciousness and awareness. This is Samadhi in the sense of enlightenment or
* The word Samma means 'proper', 'whole', 'thorough', 'integral', 'complete', and 'perfect' - related to
English 'summit' - It does not necessarily mean 'right', as opposed to 'wrong'. However it is often
translated as "right" which can send a less than accurate message. For instance the opposite of 'Right
Awareness' is not necessarily 'Wrong Awareness'. It may simply be incomplete. Use of the word 'right'
may make for a neat or consistent list of qualities in translations. The down side is that it can give the
impression that the Path is a narrow and moralistic approach to the spiritual life. I use variant
interpretations so you consider the depth of meanings. What do these things mean in your life right
- John Allan


Essentially, according to Buddhist teachings, the ethical and moral principles are governed by
examining whether a certain action, whether connected to body or speech is likely to be harmful to
one's self or to others and thereby avoiding any actions which are likely to be harmful. In Buddhism,
there is much talk of a skilled mind. A mind that is skilful avoids actions that are likely to cause
suffering or remorse.
Moral conduct for Buddhists differs according to whether it applies to the laity or to the Sangha or
clergy. A lay Buddhist should cultivate good conduct by training in what are known as the "Five
Precepts". These are not like, say, the ten commandments, which, if broken, entail punishment by
God. The five precepts are training rules, which, if one were to break any of them, one should be
aware of the breech and examine how such a breech may be avoided in the future. The resultant of
an action (often referred to as Karma) depends on the intention more than the action itself. It entails
less feelings of guilt than its Judeo-Christian counterpart. Buddhism places a great emphasis on
'mind' and it is mental anguish such as remorse, anxiety, guilt etc. which is to be avoided in order to
cultivate a calm and peaceful mind. The five precepts are:
1) To undertake the training to avoid taking the life of beings. This precept applies to all living
beings not just humans. All beings have a right to their lives and that right should be respected.
2) To undertake the training to avoid taking things not given. This precept goes further than mere
stealing. One should avoid taking anything unless one can be sure that is intended that it is for you.
3) To undertake the training to avoid sensual misconduct. This precept is often mistranslated or
misinterpreted as relating only to sexual misconduct but it covers any overindulgence in any sensual
pleasure such as gluttony as well as misconduct of a sexual nature.
4) To undertake the training to refrain from false speech. As well as avoiding lying and deceiving,
this precept covers slander as well as speech which is not beneficial to the welfare of others.
5) To undertake the training to abstain from substances which cause intoxication and
heedlessness.This precept is in a special category as it does not infer any intrinsic evil in, say,
alcohol itself but indulgence in such a substance could be the cause of breaking the other four
These are the basic precepts expected as a day to day training of any lay Buddhist. On special holy
days, many Buddhists, especially those following the Theravada tradition, would observe three
additional precepts with a strengthening of the third precept to be observing strict celibacy. The
additional precepts are:
6) To abstain from taking food at inappropriate times. This would mean following the tradition of
Theravadin monks and not eating from noon one day until sunrise the next.
7) To abstain from dancing, singing, music and entertainments as well as refraining from the
use of perfumes, ornaments and other items used to adorn or beautify the person. Again, this
and the next rule.
8) To undertake the training to abstain from using high or luxurious beds are rules regularly
adopted by members of the Sangha and are followed by the layperson on special occasions.
Laypersons following the Mahayana tradition, who have taken a Bodhisattva vow, will also follow a
strictly vegetarian diet. This is not so much an additional precept but a strengthening of the first
precept; To undertake the training to avoid taking the life of beings. The eating of meat would be
considered a contribution to the taking of life, indirect though it may be.
The Buddhist clergy, known as the Sangha, are governed by 227 to 253 rules depending on the
school or tradition for males or Bhikkhus and between 290 and 354 rules, depending on the school or
tradition for females or Bhikkhunis. These rules, contained in the Vinaya or first collection of the
Buddhist scriptures,, are divided into several groups, each entailing a penalty for their breech,
depending on the seriousness of that breech. The first four rules for males and the first eight for
females, known as Parajika or rules of defeat, entail expulsion from the Order immediately on their
breech. The four applying to both sexes are: Sexual intercourse, killing a human being, stealing to the
extent that it entails a gaol sentence and claiming miraculous or supernormal powers. Bhikkhunis'
additional rules relate to various physical contacts with males with one relating to concealing from the
order the defeat or parajika of another. Before his passing, the Buddha instructed that permission was
granted for the abandonment or adjustment of minor rules should prevailing conditions demand such
a change. These rules apply to all Sangha members irrespective of their Buddhist tradition.
The interpretation of the rules, however differs between the Mahayana and Theravada traditions. The
Theravadins, especially those from Thailand, claim to observe these rules to the letter of the law,
however, in many cases, the following is more in theory than in actual practice. The Mahayana
Sangha interprets the rule not to take food at an inappropriate time as not meaning fasting from noon
to sunrise but to refrain from eating between mealtimes. The fasting rule would be inappropriate, from
a health angle, for the Sangha living in cold climates such as China, Korea and Japan. When one
examines the reason that this rule was instituted initially, the conclusion may be reached that it is
currently redundant. It was the practice in the Buddha's time for the monks to go to the village with
their bowls to collect food. To avoid disturbing the villagers more than necessary, the Buddha ordered
his monks to make this visit once a day, in the early morning. This would allow the villagers to be free
to conduct their day to day affairs without being disturbed by the monks requiring food. Today, of
course, people bring food to the monasteries or prepare it on the premises so the original reason no
longer applies. As many of you would be aware, in some Theravadin countries, the monks still go on
their early morning alms round, but this is more a matter of maintaining a tradition than out of
necessity. Also, a rule prohibiting the handling of gold and silver, in other words - money, is
considered by the Mahayana Sangha a handicap were it to be observed strictly in today's world. They
interpret this rule as avoiding the accumulation of riches which leads to greed. Theravadin monks
tend to split hairs on this rule as, although most will not touch coins, many carry credit cards and
cheque books.
Let me now deal briefly with the Buddhist attitude to violence, war and peace. The Buddha said in the
*Victory breeds hatred. The defeated live in pain. Happily the peaceful live giving up victory and
defeat.(Dp.15,5) and
* Hatreds never cease by hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.
The first precept refers to the training to abstain from harming living beings. Although history records
conflicts involving the so-called Buddhist nations, these wars have been fought for economic or
similar reasons. However, history does not record wars fought in the name of propagating Buddhism.
Buddhism and, perhaps, Jainism are unique in this regard. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama has never
suggested armed conflict to overcome the persecution and cruelty perpetrated by the Communist
Chinese occupation forces. He has always advocated a peaceful and non-violent solution. Venerable
Maha Ghosananda, the Supreme Patriarch of Cambodia has urged Cambodians to put aside their
anger for the genocide of the Khmer Rouge and to unify to re-establish their nation. He has written:
The suffering of Cambodia has been deep. From this suffering comes great compassion. Great
compassion makes a peaceful heart. A peaceful heart makes a peaceful person. A peaceful person
makes a peaceful family. A peaceful family makes a peaceful community. A peaceful community
makes a peaceful nation. A peaceful nation makes a peaceful world.
Going back to the early history of Buddhism, Emperor Asoka, who, after a bloody but successful
military campaign, ruled over more than two thirds of the Indian subcontinent, suffered great remorse
for the suffering that he had caused, banned the killing of animals and exhorted his subjects to lead
kind and tolerant lives. He also promoted tolerance towards all religions which he supported
financially. The prevalent religions of that time were the sramanas or wandering ascetics, Brahmins,
Ajivakas and Jains. He recommended that all religions desist from self praise and condemnation of
others. His pronouncements were written on rocks at the periphery of his kingdom and on pillars
along the main roads and where pilgrims gathered. He also established many hospitals for both
humans and animals. Some of his important rock edicts stated:
1. Asoka ordered that banyan trees and mango groves be planted, rest houses built and wells dug
every half mile along the main roads.
2. He ordered the end to killing of any animal for use in the royal kitchens.
3. He ordered the provision of medical facilities for humans and beasts.
4. He commanded obedience to parents, generosity to priests and ascetics and frugality in spending.
5. All officers must work for the welfare of the poor and the aged.
6. He recorded his intention to promote the welfare of all beings in order to repay his debt to all
7. He honours men of all faiths.
Not all Buddhists follow the non-violent path, however. A Buddhist monk, Phra Kittiwutthi of the Phra
Chittipalwon College in Thailand, is noted for his extreme right-wing views. He said that it was not a
breech of the first precept to kill communists. He said that if Thailand were in danger of a communist
takeover, he would take up arms to protect Buddhism. Sulak Sivaraksa, a Thai peace activist, reports
in his book, "Seeds of Peace" that Phra Kittiwutthi has since modified his stance by declaring "to kill
communism or communist ideology is not a sin". Sulak adds that the monk confessed that his
nationalist feelings were more important than his Buddhist practice and that he would be willing to
abandon his yellow robes to take up arms against communist invaders from Laos, Cambodia or
Vietnam. By doing so, he said, he would be preserving the monarchy, the nation and the Buddhist
religion. In contrast to the views of Phra Kittiwutthi, Sulak Sivaraksa reports that the Vietnamese
monk, Thich Nhat Hanh is of the view that 'preserving Buddhism does not mean that we should
sacrifice people's lives in order to safeguard the Buddhist hierarchy, monasteries or rituals. Even if
Buddhism as such were extinguished, when human lives are preserved and when human dignity and
freedom are cultivated towards peace and loving kindness, Buddhism can be reborn in the hearts of
human beings.
In conclusion, I will briefly mention some other issues mentioned in the Syllabus.
The third precept on training in restraint of the senses includes sexuality. A Buddhist should be
mindful of the possible effects on themselves and on others of improper sexual activity. This precept
would include adultery because this also breeches the precept of not taking what does is not freely
given. A relationship with someone who is committed to another is stealing. Similarly in cases of rape
and child abuse, one is stealing the dignity and self respect of another. One is also the cause of
mental pain, not to mention physical pain so one is causing harm to another living being. Therefore,
such behaviour is breaking several precepts.
Marriage is not a sacrament in Buddhism as it is in other religions. Marriage is governed by civil law
and a Buddhist is expected to observe the prevailing law in whatever country they live. In the
Theravadin tradition, monks are prohibited by their Vinaya rules to encourage or perform a marriage
ceremony. The rule states:
Should a Bhikkhu engage to act as a go-between for a man's intentions to a woman or a woman's
intentions to a man, whether about marriage or paramourage, even for a temporary arrangement, this
entails initial and subsequent meeting of the Sangha.
In many Theravadin countries, the couple will, following their marriage in a civil ceremony, invite the
monks to their home to perform a blessing ceremony. They will offer food and other requisites to the
monks and invite their family and friends to participate. In the Mahayana tradition the same rule
conveys an entirely different meaning. It reads:
Should a Bhikkshu, seek to establish a conducive situation by means of which a man and a woman
engage in sexual misconduct, either by himself, by order, or by means of messages, and as a result
of his activities the man and woman should meet, he has committed an offence.
This rule does not preclude marriage but, rather, deals with the monk assuming the role of a procurer
for immoral purposes. In Western countries, following the Christian precedent, many Mahayana
monks become registered marriage celebrants so that, if called upon, a marriage ceremony can be
performed in the temple. Generally, in countries where the law allows, Buddhists accept de-facto
relationships. Promiscuity would be frowned upon as sexual misconduct but an ongoing relationship
between two people, either within or outside of marriage would be considered moral conduct. As one
of the essential Buddhist teachings is that everything is impermanent and subject to change, the
irrevocable breakdown of a relationship between a couple would be understood in this light, so
divorce would not be considered improper.
As far as bioethical questions are concerned, it is mainly a matter of the attitude of the different
traditions or schools of Buddhism. This is tied to the concept of rebirth and when it occurs. According
to the Theravadin tradition, rebirth occurs immediately upon death. The body of the deceased is no
longer considered as a part of the former being, so such things as autopsies, organ transplants
etcetera are allowable. In fact, many Theravadins, especially in Malaysia, encourage the donation of
human organs as being the highest form of giving. Often, especially at Vesak, the celebration of the
birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha, blood donations are performed in the temple
grounds. The Mahayana, on the other hand, believes that there is an intermediate state between
incarnations, known as Antarabhava. Most people following this tradition try to avoid touching or
moving the body for, at least eight hours after death. This, of course, means that the organs would by
then be useless for transfer to another human being.
The Buddhist work ethic and business and professional ethics would, ideally be closely tied to respect
for the environment. It is well described in E.F.Schumacher's book "Small is Beautiful":
"While the materialist is mainly interested in goods, the Buddhist is mainly interested in liberation. But
Buddhism is the Middle Way and therefore in no way antagonistic to physical well being. The keynote
of Buddhist economics is simplicity and non-violence. From an economist's point of view, the marvel
of the Buddhist way of life is the utter rationality of its pattern - amazingly small means leading to
extraordinarily satisfying results."
Ken Jones in a paper called "Buddhism and Social Action" comments: "Schumacher outlines a
'Buddhist economics' in which production would be based on a middle range of material goods (and
no more), and on the other a harmony with the natural environment and its resources.
The above principles suggest some kind of diverse and politically decentralised society, with co-
operative management and ownership of productive wealth. It would be conceived on a human scale,
whether in terms of size and complexity or organisation or of environmental planning, and would use
modern technology selectively rather than being used by it in the service of selfish interests. In
Schumacher's words, 'It is a question of finding the right path of development, the Middle Way,
between materialist heedlessness and traditionalist immobility, in short, of finding Right Livelihood'".
Despite the theory surrounding Buddhist business practice, greed still seems to be the order of the
day in many Buddhist countries. In Thailand, a monk in the north, Acharn Ponsektajadhammo, has
been leading a campaign against the environmental vandalism of the timber industry. Tree felling in
Northern Thailand has caused erosion, flooding and has economically ruined small farmers. For his
environmental efforts, Acharn Ponsektajadhammo has had death threats and was recently arrested.
In Japan, another country where the majority of the population is Buddhist, the killing of whales and
dolphins is still prevalent. Animals seem to find no place in the group culture of Japanese society.
As may be seen from the foregoing, Buddhist ethical principles are very noble and in an ideal world
their practice would lead to peace and harmony but, unfortunately, as the Buddha has taught, people
are motivated by greed hatred and delusion - even Buddhists.

• 1st link: Ignorance • 7th link: Feeling
• 2nd link: Volitional Formations • 8th link: Craving
• 3rd link: Consciousness • 9th link: Grasping
• 4th link: Mind - Body • 10th link: Becoming
• 5th link: Six Sense Spheres • 11th link: Birth
• 6th link: Contact • 12th link: Ageing & Death

Upon the Full Moon of the month of Visakha, now more than two thousand five hundred years ago,
the religious wanderer known as Gotama, formerly Prince Siddhartha and heir to the throne of the
Sakiyan peoples, by his full insight into the Truth called Dharma which is this mind and body, became
the One Perfectly Enlightened by himself.
His Enlightenment or Awakening, called Sambodhi, abolished in himself unknowing and craving,
destroyed greed, aversion and delusion in his heart, so that "vision arose, super-knowledge arose,
wisdom arose, discovery arose, light arose - a total penetration into the mind and body, its origin, its
cessation and the way to its cessation which was at the same time complete understanding of the
"world," its origin, its cessation and the way to its cessation. He penetrated to the Truth underlying all
existence. In meditative concentration throughout one night, but after years of striving, from being a
seeker, He became "the One-who-Knows, the One-who-Sees."
When He came to explain His great discovery to others, He did so in various ways suited to the
understanding of those who listened and suited to help relieve the problems with which they were
He knew with his Great Wisdom exactly what these were even if his listeners were not aware of them,
and out of His Great Compassion taught Dhamma for those who wished to lay down their burdens.
The burdens which men, indeed all beings, carry round with them are no different now from the
Buddha's time. For then as now men were burdened with unknowing and craving. They did not know
of the Four Noble Truths nor of Dependent Arising and they craved for fire and poison and were then
as now, consumed by fears. Lord Buddha, One attained to the Secure has said:
"Profound, Ananda, is this Dependent Arising, and it appears profound. It is through not
understanding, not penetrating this law that the world resembles a tangled skein of thread, a woven
nest of birds, a thicket of bamboo and reeds, that man does not escape from (birth in) the lower
realms of existence, from the states of woe and perdition, and suffers from the round of rebirth."
The not-understanding of Dependent Arising is the root of all sorrows experienced by all beings. It is
also the most important of the formulations of Lord Buddha’s Enlightenment. For a Buddhist it is
therefore most necessary to see into the heart of this for oneself. This is done not be reading about it
nor by becoming expert in scriptures, nor by speculations upon one’s own and others’ concepts but by
seeing Dependent Arising in one’s own life and by coming to grips with it through calm and insight in
one’s "own" mind and body.
"He who sees Dependent Arising, sees the Dharma."
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Ist Link: IGNORANCE (avijja)
Represented by an image of a blind woman who
blunders forward, unable to see where she is going. So
ignorance is blindness, not seeing. It is a lack of insight
into the reality of things.
This Pali word "avijja" is a negative term meaning "not
knowing completely" but it does not mean "knowing nothing
at all." This kind of unknowing is very special and not
concerned with ordinary ways or subjects of knowledge, for
here what one does not know are the Four Noble Truths,
one does not see them clearly in one’s own heart and one’s
own life. In past lives, we did not care to see 'dukkha' (1), so we could not destroy 'the cause of
dukkha' (2) or craving which has impelled us to seek more and more lives, more and more pleasures.
'The cessation of dukkha' (3) which perhaps could have been seen by us in past lives, was not
realised, so we come to the present existence inevitably burdened with dukkha. And in the past we
can hardly assume that we set our feet upon the 'practice-path leading to the cessation of dukkha' (4)
and we did not even discover Stream-entry. We are now paying for our own negligence in the past.
And this unknowing is not some kind of first cause in the past, for it dwells in our hearts now. But due
to this unknowing, as we shall see, we have set in motion this wheel bringing round old age and death
and all other sorts of dukkha. Those past "selves" in previous lives who are in the stream of my
individual continuity did not check their craving and so could not cut at the root of unknowing. On the
contrary they made kamma, some of the fruits of which in this present life I, as their causal resultant,
am receiving.
The picture helps us to understand this: a blind old woman (avijja is of feminine gender) with a stick
picks her way through a petrified forest strewn with bones. It is said that the original picture here
should be an old blind she-camel led by a driver, the beast being one accustomed to long and weary
journeys across inhospitable country, while its driver could be craving. Whichever simile is used, the
beginninglessness and the darkness of unknowing are well suggested. We are the blind ones who
have staggered from the past into the present— to what sort of future?
Depending on the existence of unknowing in the heart there was volitional action, kamma or
abhisankhara, made in those past lives.
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FORMATIONS (sankhara)
Represented by a potter. Just as a potter forms clay
into something new, an action begins a sequence that
leads to new consequences. Once put into motion, the
potter's wheel continues to spin without much effort.
Likewise, an action creates a predisposition in the
Intentional actions have the latent power within them to bear
fruit in the future - either in a later part of the life in which
they were performed, in the following life, or in some more
distant life, but their potency is not lost with even the
passing of aeons; and whenever the necessary conditions obtain that past kamma may bear fruit.
Now, in past lives we have made kamma, and due to our ignorance of the Four Noble Truths we have
been "world-upholders" and so making good and evil kamma we have ensured the continued
experience of this world.
Beings like this, obstructed by unknowing in their hearts have been compared to a potter making pots:
he makes successful and beautiful pottery (skillful kamma) and he is sometimes careless and his pots
crack and break up from various flaws (unskillful kamma). And he gets his clay fairly well smeared
over himself just as purity of heart is obscured by the mud of kamma. The simile of the potter is
particularly apt because the word 'Sankhara' means "forming," "shaping," and "compounding," and
therefore it has often been rendered in English as "Formations."
Depending on the existence of these volitions produced in past lives, there arises the
Consciousness called "relinking" which becomes the basis of this present life.
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3rd Link: CONSCIOUSNESS (vinnana)
The rebirth consciousness or "consciousness that links
on", is represented by a monkey going from window to
window. This represents a single consciousness
perceiving through the various sense organs. The
monkey represents the very primitive spark of sense-
consciousness which is the first moment in the mental
life of the new being.
This relinking consciousness may be of different qualities,
according to the kamma upon which it depends. In the case of all those who read this, the
consciousness "leaping" into a new birth at the time of conception, was a human relinking
consciousness arising as a result of having practiced at least the Five Precepts, the basis of
"humanness" in past lives. One should note that this relinking consciousness is a resultant, not
something which can be controlled by will. If one has not made kamma suitable for becoming a
human being, one cannot will, when the time of death comes round, "Now I shall become a man
again!" The time for intentional action was when one had the opportunity to practice Dhamma.
Although our relinking- consciousness in this birth is now behind us, it is now that we can practice
Dhamma and make more sure of a favourable relinking consciousness in future—that is, if we wish to
go on living in Samsara.
This relinking-consciousness is the third constituent necessary for conception, for even though it is
the mother’s period and sperm is deposited in the womb, if there is no "being" desiring to take rebirth
at that place and time there will be no fertilisation of the ovum.
Dependent upon relinking-consciousness there is the arising of Mind-body.
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4th Link: MIND - BODY (nama-rupa)
Depicted by people sitting in a boat with one
of them steering. The boat symbolises form,
and its occupants, the mental aggregates.
This is not a very accurate translation but gives
the general meaning. There is more included in
rupa that is usually thought of as body, while mind is a compound of feeling, perception, volition and
consciousness. This mind and body is two interactive continuities in which there is nothing stable.
Although in conventional speech we talk of "my mind" and "my body," implying that there is some sort
of owner lurking in the background, the wise understand that laws govern the workings of both mental
states and physical changes and mind cannot be ordered to be free of defilements, nor body told that
it must not grow old, become sick and die.
But it is in the mind that a change can be wrought instead of drifting through life at the mercy of the
inherent instability of mind and body. So in the illustration, mind is doing the work of punting the boat
of psycho-physical states on the river of cravings, while body is the passive passenger. The Tibetan
picture shows a coracle being rowed over swirling waters with three (? or four) other passengers, who
doubtless represent the other groups or aggregates (khandha).
With the coming into existence of mind-body, there is the arising of the Six Sense-spheres.
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5th Link: SIX SENSE - SPHERES (salayatana)
Depicted by a house with six windows and a door. The
senses are the 'portals' whereby we gain our
impression of the world. Each of the senses is the
manifestation of our desire to experience things in a
particular way.
A house with six windows is the usual symbol for this link. These six senses are eye, ear, nose,
tongue, touch and mind, and these are the bases for the reception of the various sorts of information
which each can gather in the presence of the correct conditions. This information falls under six
headings corresponding to the six spheres: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tangibles and thoughts.
Beyond these six spheres of sense and their corresponding six objective spheres, we know nothing.
All our experience is limited by the senses and their objects with the mind counted as the sixth. The
five outer senses collect data only in the present but mind, the sixth, where this information is
collected and processed, ranges through the three times adding memories from the past and hopes
and fears for the future, as well as thoughts of various kinds relating to the present. It may also add
information about the spheres of existence which are beyond the range of the five outer senses, such
as the various heavens, the ghosts and the hell-states. A mind developed through collectedness
(samadhi) is able to perceive these worlds and their inhabitants.
The six sense-spheres existing, there is Contact.
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6th Link: CONTACT (phassa)
A couple embracing depicts the contact of the sense organs
with there objects. With this link, the psychophysical organism
begins to interact with the world. The sensuous impression is
symbolised by a kiss. This indicates that there is a meeting with
an object and a distinguishing of it prior to the production of
This means the contact between the six senses and the respective objects. For instance, when the
necessary conditions are all fulfilled, there being an eye, a sight-object, light and the eye being
functional and the person awake and turned toward the object, there is likely to be eye-contact, the
striking of the object upon the sensitive eye-base. The same is true for each of the senses and their
type of contact. The traditional symbol for this link shows a man and a woman embracing.
In dependence on sensuous impressions, arises Feeling.
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7th Link: FEELING (vedana)
Symbolised by an eye pierced by an arrow. The
arrow represents sense data impinging on the
sense organs, in this case the eye. In a very vivid
way, the image suggests the strong feelings which
sensory experience evokes - although only painful
feeling is here implied, both painful and pleasant
are intended. Even a very small condition causes a
great deal of feeling in the eye. Likewise, no matter
what kind of feeling we experience, painful or
pleasurable, we are driven by it and conditioned
by it.
When there have been various sorts of contact through the six senses, feelings arise which are the
emotional response to those contacts. Feelings are of three sorts: pleasant, painful and neither
pleasant nor painful. The first are welcome and are the basis for happiness, the second are
unwelcome and are the basis for dukkha while the third are the neutral sort of feelings which we
experience so often but hardly notice.
But all feelings are unstable and liable to change, for no mental state can continue in equilibrium.
Even moments of the highest happiness whatever we consider this is, pass away and give place to
different ones. So even happiness which is impermanent based on pleasant feelings is really dukkha,
for how can the true unchanging happiness be found in the unstable? Thus the picture shows a man
with his eyes pierced by arrows, a strong enough illustration of this.
When feelings arise, Cravings are (usually) produced.
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8th Link: CRAVING (tanha)
Represented by a person drinking beer. Even though it
harms you, no matter how much you drink, you just
keep on drinking. Also known as attachment, it is a
mental factor that increases desire without any
Up to this point, the succession of events has been
determined by past kamma. Craving, however, leads to the
making of new kamma in the present and it is possible now,
and only now, to practice Dhamma. What is needed here is
mindfulness (sati), for without it no Dhamma at all can be practiced while one will be swept away by
the force of past habits and let craving and unknowing increase themselves within one’s heart. When
one does have mindfulness one may and can know "this is pleasant feeling," "this is unpleasant
feeling," "this is neither pleasant nor unpleasant feeling"—and such contemplation of feelings leads
one to understand and beware of greed, aversion and delusion, which are respectively associated
with the three feelings. With this knowledge one can break out of the Wheel of Birth and Death. But
without this Dhamma-practice it is certain that feelings will lead on to more cravings and whirl one
around this wheel full of dukkha. As Venerable Nagarjuna has said:
"Desires have only surface sweetness,
hardness within and bitterness deceptive as the kimpa-fruit.
Thus says the King of Conquerors.
Such links renounce they bind the world
Within samsara’s prison grid.
If your head or dress caught fire
in haste you would extinguish it.
Do likewise with desire.
Which whirls the wheel of wandering-on
and is the root of suffering.
No better thing to do!"
L.K. 23, 104
In Sanskrit, the word trisna (tanha) means thirst, and by extension implies "thirst for experience." For
this reason, craving is shown as a toper guzzling intoxicants and in the picture has been added more
bottles representing craving for sensual sphere existence and the craving for the higher heavens of
the Brahma-worlds which are either of subtle form, or formless.
Where the kamma of further craving is produced there arises Grasping.
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9th Link: GRASPING (upadana)
Represented by a monkey reaching for a fruit. Also known as
clinging, it means mentally grabbing at an object one
This is the mental state that clings to or grasps the object.
Because of this clinging which is described as craving in a high
degree, man becomes a slave to passion.
Upadana is fourfold: 1. Attachment to sensual pleasures; 2.
Attachment to wrong and evil views; 3. Attachment to mere
external observances, rites and rituals; and 4. Attachment to self,
an erroneous lasting soul entity. Man entertains thoughts of
craving, and in proportion as he fails to ignore them, they grow till they get intensified to the degree of
tenacious clinging.
This is an intensification and diversification of craving which is directed to four ends: sensual
pleasures, views which lead astray from Dhamma, external religious rites and vows, and attachment
to the view of soul or self as being permanent. When these become strong in people they cannot
even become interested in Dhamma, for their efforts are directed away from Dhamma and towards
dukkha. The common reaction is to redouble efforts to find peace and happiness among the objects
which are grasped at. Hence both pictures show a man reaching up to pick more fruit although his
basket is full already.
Where this grasping is found there Becoming is to be seen.
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10th Link: BECOMING (bhava)
Represented by a woman in late pregnancy. Just as she
is about to bring forth a fully developed child, the karma
that will produce the next lifetime is fully potentialized
though not yet manifest.
With hearts boiling with craving and grasping, people
ensure for themselves more and more of various sorts of
life, and pile up the fuel upon the fire of dukkha. The
ordinary person, not knowing about dukkha, wants to stoke
up the blaze, but the Buddhist way of doing things is to let the fires go out for want of fuel by stopping
the process of craving and grasping and thus cutting off Ignorance at its root. If we want to stay in
samsara we must be diligent and see that our 'becoming', which is happening all the time shaped by
our kamma, is 'becoming' in the right direction. This means 'becoming' in the direction of purity and
following the white path of Dhamma-practice. This will contribute to whatever we become, or do not
become, at the end of this life when the pathways to the various realms stand open and we 'become'
according to our practice and to our death-consciousness.
In the presence of Becoming there is arising in a new birth.
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11th Link: BIRTH (jati)
This link is represented by the very explicit image of a
woman giving birth to a child.
Birth means the appearance of the five aggregates (material
form, feeling, perception, formation and consciousness)in the mother’s womb.
Birth, as one might expect, is shown as a mother in the process of childbirth, a painful business and a
reminder of how dukkha cannot be avoided in any life. Whatever the future life is to be, if we are not
able to bring the wheel to a stop in this life, certainly that future will arise conditioned by the kamma
made in this life. But it is no use thinking that since there are going to be future births, one may as
well put off Dhamma practice until then—for it is not sure what those future births will be like. And
when they come around, they are just the present moment as well. So no use waiting!
Venerable Nagarjuna shows that it is better to extricate oneself:
"Where birth takes place,
quite naturally are fear,
old age and misery,
disease, desire and death,
As well a mass of other ills.
When birth’s no longer brought about.
All the links are ever stopped."
L.K. 111
Naturally where there is Birth, is also Old-age and Death.
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12th Link: AGEING AND DEATH (jara-marana)
The final link is represented by a dying person. Ageing
is both progressive, occurring every moment of our
lifetime, and degenerative which leads to death.
In future one is assured, given enough of Unknowing and
Craving, of lives without end but also of deaths with end.
The one appeals to greed but the other arouses aversion.
One without the other is impossible. But this is the path of heedlessness. The Dhamma-path leads
directly to Deathlessness, the going beyond birth and death, beyond all dukkha.
We are well exhorted by the words of Acharya Nagarjuna:
"Do you therefore exert yourself:
At all times try to penetrate Into the heart of these Four Truths;
For even those who dwell at home,
they will, by understanding them ford the river of (mental) floods."
L.K. 115
This is a very brief outline of the workings of this wheel which we cling to for our own harm
and the hurt of others. We are the makers of this wheel and the turners of this wheel, but if we
wish it and work for it, we are the ones who can stop this wheel.
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This Wheel of Life teaches us and reminds us of many important features of the Dhamma as it was
intended to by the teachers of old. Contemplating all its features frequently helps to give us true
insight into the nature of Samsara. With its help and our own practice we come to see Dependent
Arising in ourselves. When this has been done thoroughly all the riches of Dhamma will be available
to us, not from books or discussions, nor from listening to others’ explanations...
The Exalted Buddha has said:
"Whoever sees Dependent Arising, he sees Dhamma;
Whoever sees Dhamma, he sees Dependent Arising."
Anicca vata sankhara
uppada vayadammino
Uppajjitva nirujjhant
tesam vupasamo sukho.
Conditions truly they are transient
With the nature to arise and cease
Having arisen, then they pass away
Their calming, cessation is happiness.

Do you Buddhists believe in rebirth as an animal in the next life? Are you going to be a dog or a cow
in the future? Does the soul transmigrate into the body of another person or some animal? What is
the difference between transmigration and reincarnation? Is it the same as rebirth? Is karma the same
as fate? These and a hundred similar questions are often put to me.
A gross misunderstanding of about Buddhism exists today, especially in the notion of reincarnation.
The common misunderstanding is that a person has led countless previous lives, usually as an
animal, but somehow in this life he is born as a human being and in the next life he will be reborn as
an animal, depending on the kind of life he has lived.
This misunderstanding arises because people usually do not know-how to read the sutras or sacred
writings. It is said that the Buddha left 84,000 teachings; the symbolic figure represents the diverse
backgrounds characteristics, tastes, etc. of the people. The Buddha taught according to the mental
and spiritual capacity of each individual. For the simple village folks living during the time of the
Buddha, the doctrine of reincarnation was a powerful moral lesson. Fear of birth into the animal world
must have frightened many people from acting like animals in this life. If we take this teaching literally
today we are confused because we cannot understand it rationally.
Herein lies our problem. A parable, when taken literally, does not make sense to the modern mind.
Therefore we must learn to differentiate the parables and myths from actuality. However, if we learn to
go beyond or transcend the parables and myths, we will be able to understand the truth.
People will say "If such is the case why not speak directly so that we will be able to come to an
immediate grasp of the truth?" This statement is understandable, but truth is often inexpressible. [Ed
comment: we as human beings are limited in understanding "Buddha Knowledge". We cannot speak
TRUTH, only words ABOUT Truth] Thus, writers and teachers have often resorted to the language of
the imagination to lead the reader from a lower to a higher truth. The doctrine of reincarnation is often
understood in this light.
What Reincarnation is Not
Reincarnation is not a simple physical birth of a person; for instance, John being reborn as a cat in the
next life. In this case John possesses an immortal soul which transforms to the form of a cat after his
death. This cycle is repeated over and over again. Or if he is lucky, he will be reborn as a human
being. This notion of the transmigration of the soul definitely does not exist in Buddhism.
Karma is a Sanskrit word from the root "Kri" to do or to make and simply means "action." It operates in
the universe as the continuous chain reaction of cause and effect. It is not only confined to causation
in the physical sense but also it has moral implications. "A good cause, a good effect; a bad cause a
bad effect" is a common saying. In this sense karma is a moral law.
Now human beings are constantly giving off physical and spiritual forces in all directions. In physics
we learn that no energy is ever lost; only that it changes form. This is the common law of conservation
of energy. Similarly, spiritual and mental action is never lost. It is transformed. Thus Karma is the law
of the conservation of moral energy.
By actions, thoughts, and words, man is releasing spiritual energy to the universe and he is in turn
affected by influences coming in his direction. Man is therefore the sender and receiver of all these
influences. The entire circumstances surrounding him is his karma.
With each action-influence he sends out and at the same time, receives, he is changing. This
changing personality and the world he lives in, constitute the totality of his karma.
Karma should not be confused with fate. Fate is the notion that man's life is preplanned for him by
some external power, and he has no control over his destiny. Karma on the other hand, can be
changed. Because man is a conscious being he can be aware of his karma and thus strive to change
the course of events. In the Dhammapada we find the following words, "All that we are is a result of
what we have thought, it is founded on our thoughts and made up of our thoughts."
What we are, then, is entirely dependent on what we think. Therefore, the nobility of man's character
is dependent on his"good" thoughts, actions, and words. At the same time, if he embraces degrading
thoughts, those thoughts invariably influence him into negative words and actions.
The World
Traditionally, Buddhism teaches the existence of the ten realms of being. At the top is Buddha and the
scale descends as follows: Bodhisattva (an enlightened being destined to be a Buddha, but purposely
remaining on earth to teach others), Pratyeka Buddha (a Buddha for himself), Sravka (direct disciple
of Buddha), heavenly beings (superhuman [angels?]), human beings, Asura (fighting spirits), beasts,
Preta (hungry ghosts), and depraved men (hellish beings).
Now, these ten realms may be viewed as unfixed, nonobjective worlds, as mental and spiritual states
of mind. These states of mind are created by men's thoughts, actions, and words. In other words,
psychological states. These ten realms are "mutually immanent and mutually inclusive, each one
having in it the remaining nine realms." For example, the realm of human beings has all the other nine
states (from hell to Buddhahood). Man is at the same time capable of real selfishness, creating his
own hell, or is truly compassionate, reflecting the compassion of Amida Buddha. Buddhas too have
the other nine realms in their minds, for how can a Buddha possibly save those in hell if he himself
does not identify with their suffering and guide them to enlightenment.
The Lesson
We can learn a valuable lesson from the teaching of reincarnation.
In what realm do you now live? If you are hungry for power, love, and self-recognition, you live in the
Preta world, or hungry ghosts. If you are motivated only by thirsts of the human organism, you are
existing in the world of the beast.
Consider well then your motives and intentions. Remember that man is characteristically placed at the
midpoint of the ten stages; he can either lower himself abruptly or gradually into hell or through
discipline, cultivation and the awakening of faith rise to the Enlightened state of the Buddha.

We have come to a couple of related ideas which are common in Buddhism and they are the ideas of
karma and rebirth. These ideas are closely inter-related, but because the subject is a fairly wide one,
we will begin to deal with the idea of karma todayand rebirth in another lecture.
We know that what binds us in samsara are the defilements — desire, ill-will and ignorance. We
spoke about this when we talked about the Second Noble Truth — the truth of the cause of suffering.
These defilements are something which every living being in samsara shares, whether we speak of
human beings or animals or beings who live in the other realms which we do not normally perceive. In
this, all living beings are alike and yet amongst all the living beings that we can normally perceive,
there are many differences. For instance, some of us are wealthy, some are less wealthy, some are
strong and healthy, others are disabled and so forth. There are many differences amongst living
beings and even more so there are differences between animals and human beings. These
differences are due to karma.
What we all share - desire, ill-will and ignorance - are common to all living beings, but the particular
condition in which we find ourselves is the result of our particular karma that conditions the situation in
which we find ourselves, the situation in which we may be wealthy, strong and so forth. These
circumstances are decided by karma. It is in this sense that karma explains the differences amongst
living beings. It explains why some beings are fortunate while others are less fortunate, some are
happy while others are less happy. The Buddha has specifically stated that karma explains the
differences between living beings. You might also recall that the understanding of how karma affects
the birth of living beings in happy or unhappy circumstances — the knowledge of how living beings
move from happy circumstances to unhappy circumstances, and vice versa, from unhappy to happy
circumstances as a result of their karma - was part of the Buddha’s experience on the night of His
enlightenment. It is karma that explains the circumstances that living beings find themselves in.
Having said this much about the function of karma, let us look more closely at what karma is. Let us
define karma. Maybe we can define karma best by first deciding what karma is not. It is quite often the
case that we find people misunderstanding the idea of karma. This is particularly true in our daily
casual use of the term. We find people saying that one cannot change one’s situation because of
one’s karma. In this sense, karma becomes a sort of escape. It becomes similar to predestination or
fatalism. This is emphatically not the correct understanding of karma. It is possible that this
misunderstanding of karma has come about because of the popular idea that we have about luck and
fate. It may be for this reason that our idea of karma has become overlaid in popular thought with the
notion of predestination. Karma is not fate or predestination.
If karma is not fate or predestination, then what is it? Let us look at the term itself. Karma means
action, means "to do". Immediately we have an indication that the real meaning of karma is not fate
because karma is action. It is dynamic. But it is more than simply action because it is not mechanical
action. It is not unconscious or involuntary action. It is intentional, conscious, deliberate, willful action.
How is it that this intentional, will action conditions or determines our situation? It is because every
action must have a reaction, an effect. This truth has been expressed in regard to the physical
universe by the great physicist Newton who formulated the law which states that every action must
have an equal and opposite reaction. In the moral sphere of conscious actions, we have a counterpart
to the physical law of action and reaction, the law that every intentional, will action must have its
effect. This is why we sometimes speak either of Karma-Vipaka, intentional action and its ripened
effect, or we speak of Karma-Phala, intentional action and its fruit. It is when we speak of intentional
action together with its effect or fruit that we speak of the Law of Karma.
In its most basic sense, the Law of Karma in the moral sphere teaches that similar actions will lead to
similar results. Let us take an example. If we plant a mango seed, the plant that springs up will be a
mango tree, and eventually it will bear a mango fruit. Alternatively, if we plant a Pong Pong seed, the
tree that will spring up will be a Pong Pong tree and the fruit a Pong Pong. As one sows, so shall one
reap. According to one’s action, so shall be the fruit. Similarly, in the Law of Karma, if we do a
wholesome action, eventually we will get a wholesome fruit, and if we do an unwholesome action
eventually we will get an unwholesome, painful result. This is what we mean when we say that causes
bring about effects that are similar to the causes. This we will see very clearly when we come to
specific examples of wholesome and unwholesome actions.
We can understand by means of this general introduction that karma can be of two varieties -
wholesome karma or good karma and unwholesome karma or bad karma. In order that we should not
misunderstand this description of karma, it is useful for us to look at the original term. In this case, it is
kushala or akushala karma, karma that is wholesome or unwholesome. In order that we understand
how these terms are being used, it is important that we know the real meaning of kushala and
akushala. Kushala means intelligent or skilful, whereas akushala means not intelligent, not skilful.
This helps us to understand how these terms are being used, not in terms of good and evil but in
terms of skilful and unskilful, in terms of intelligent and unintelligent, in terms of wholesome and
unwholesome. Now how wholesome and how unwholesome? Wholesome in the sense that those
actions which are beneficial to oneself and others, those actions that spring not out of desire, ill-will
and ignorance, but out of renunciation, loving-kindness and compassion, and wisdom.
One may ask how does one know whether an action that is wholesome or unwholesome will produce
happiness or unhappiness. The answer is time will tell. The Buddha Himself answered the question.
He has explained that so long as an unwholesome action does not bear its fruit of suffering, for so
long a foolish person will consider that action good. But when that unwholesome action bears its fruit
of suffering then he will realize that the action is unwholesome. Similarly, so long as a wholesome
action does not bear its fruit of happiness, a good person may consider that action unwholesome.
When it bears its fruit of happiness, then he will realize that the action is good. So one needs to judge
wholesome and unwholesome action from the point of view of long-term effect. Very simply,
wholesome actions result in eventual happiness for oneself and others, while unwholesome actions
have the opposite result, they result in suffering for oneself and others.
Specifically, the unwholesome actions which are to be avoided relate to the three doors or means of
action, and these are body, speech and mind. There are three unwholesome actions of the body, four
of speech and three of mind that are to be avoided. The three unwholesome actions of body that are
to be avoided are killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. The four unwholesome actions of speech
that are to be avoided are lying, slander, harsh speech and malicious gossip. The three unwholesome
actions of mind that are to be avoided are greed, anger and delusion. By avoiding these ten
unwholesome actions we will avoid their consequences. The unwholesome actions have suffering as
their fruit. The fruit of these unwholesome actions can take various forms. The fully ripened fruit of the
unwholesome actions consists of rebirth in the lower realms, in the realms of suffering — hell, hungry
ghosts and animals. If these unwholesome actions are not sufficient to result in rebirth in these lower
realms, they will result in unhappiness in this life as a human being. Here we can see at work the
principle of a cause resulting in a similar effect. For example, habitual killing which is motivated by ill-
will and anger and which results in the taking of the life of other beings will result in rebirth in the hells
where one’s experience is saturated by anger and ill-will and where one may be repeatedly killed. If
killing is not sufficiently habitual or weighty to result in rebirth in the hells, killing will result in shortened
life as a human being, separation from loved ones, fear or paranoia. Here too we can see how the
effect is similar to the cause. Killing shortens the life of others, deprives others of their loved ones and
so forth, and so if we kill we will be liable to experience these effects. Similarly, stealing which is
borne of the defilement of desire may lead to rebirth as a hungry ghost where one is totally destitute
of desired objects. If it does not result in rebirth as a ghost, it will result in poverty, dependence upon
others for one’s livelihood and so forth. Sexual misconduct results in martial distress or unhappy
While unwholesome actions produce unwholesome results - suffering, wholesome actions produce
wholesome results - happiness. One can interpret wholesome actions in two ways. One can simply
regard wholesome actions as avoiding the unwholesome actions, avoiding killing, stealing, sexual
misconduct and the rest. Or one can speak of wholesome actions in positive terms. Here one can
refer to the list of wholesome actions that includes generosity, good conduct, meditation, reverence,
service, transference of merits, rejoicing in the merit of others, hearing the Dharma, teaching the
Dharma and straightening of one’s own views. Just as unwholesome actions produce suffering, these
wholesome actions produce benefits. Again effects here are similar to the actions. For example,
generosity results in wealth. Hearing of the Dharma results in wisdom. The wholesome actions have
as their consequences similar wholesome effects just as unwholesome actions have similar
unwholesome effects.
Karma, be it wholesome or unwholesome, is modified by the conditions under which the actions are
performed. In other words, a wholesome or unwholesome action may be more or less strong
depending upon the conditions under which it is done. The conditions which determine the weight or
strength of karma may be divided into those which refer to the subject — the doer of the action — and
those which refer to the object — the being to whom the action is done. So the conditions that
determine the weight of karma apply to the subject and object of the action. Specifically, if we take the
example of killing, in order for the act of killing to have its complete and unmitigated power, five
conditions must be present — a living being, the awareness of the existence of a living being, the
intention to kill the living being, the effort or action of killing the living being, and the consequent death
of the living being. Here too, we can see the subjective and the objective conditions. The subjective
conditions are the awareness of the living being, the intention to kill and the action of killing. The
objective conditions are the presence of the living being and the consequent death of the living being.
Similarly, there are five conditions that modify the weight of karma and they are persistent, repeated
action; action done with great intention and determination; action done without regret; action done
towards those who possess extraordinary qualities; and action done towards those who have
benefited one in the past. Here too there are subjective and objective conditions. The subjective
conditions are persistent action; action done with intention; and action done without regret. If one
does an unwholesome action again and again with great intention and without regret, the weight of
the action will be enhanced. The objective conditions are the quality of the object to whom actions are
done and the nature of the relationship. In other words, if one does a wholesome or unwholesome
action towards living beings who possess extraordinary qualities such as the arhats, or the Buddha,
the wholesome or unwholesome action done will have greater weight. Finally the power of wholesome
or unwholesome action done towards those who have benefited one in the past, such as one’s
parents, teachers and friends, will be greater.
The objective and subjective conditions together determine the weight of karma. This is important
because understanding this will help us to understand that karma is not simply a matter of black and
white, or good and bad. Karma is moral action and moral responsibility. But the working of the Law of
Karma is very finely tuned and balanced so as to match effect with cause, so as to take into account
the subjective and objective conditions that determine the nature of an action. This ensures that the
effects of actions are equal to and similar to the nature of the causes.
The effects of karma may be evident either in the short term or in the long term. Traditionally we
divide karma into three varieties related to the amount of time that is required for the effects of these
actions to manifest themselves. Karma can either manifest its effects in this very life or in the next life
or only after several lives. When karma manifests its effects in this life, we can see the fruit of karma
within a relatively short length of time. This variety of karma is easily verifiable by any of us. For
instance, when someone refuses to study, when someone indulges in harmful distractions like alcohol
and drugs, when someone begins to steal to support his harmful habits; the effects will be evident
within a short time. They will be evident in loss of livelihood and friendship, health and so forth. We
cannot see the long-term effect of karma, but the Buddha and His prominent disciples who have
developed their minds are able to perceive directly the long-term effects. For instance, when
Maudgalyayana was beaten to death by bandits, the Buddha was able to tell that this event was the
effect of something Maudgalyayana had done in a previous life when he had taken his aged parents
to the forest and having beaten them to death, had then reported that they had been killed by bandits.
The effect of this unwholesome action done many lives before was manifested only in his last life. At
death we have to leave everything behind — our property and our loved ones, but our karma will
accompany us like a shadow. The Buddha has said that nowhere on earth or in heaven can one
escape one’s karma. So when the conditions are correct, dependent upon mind and body, the effects
of karma will manifest themselves just as dependent on certain conditions a mango will appear on a
mango tree. We can see that even in the world of nature certain effects take longer to appear than
others. If for instance, we plant the seed of a papaya, we will obtain the fruit in shorter period than if
we plant the seed of a durian. Similarly, the effects of karma manifest either in the short term or in the
long term.
Besides the two varieties of karma, wholesome and unwholesome karma, we should mention neutral
or ineffective karma. Neutral karma is karma that has no moral consequence either because the very
nature of the action is such as to have no moral consequence or because it is done involuntarily and
unintentionally. For example, sleeping, walking, breathing, eating, handicraft and so forth in
themselves have no moral consequence. Similarly, unintentional action is ineffective karma. In other
words, if one accidentally steps on an insect, being unconscious of its existence, this also constitutes
neutral karma because there is no intention - the intentional element is not there.
The benefits of understanding the Law of Karma are that this understanding discourages one from
performing unwholesome actions which have suffering as their fruit. Once we understand that in our
own life every action will have a similar and equal reaction, once we understand that we will
experience the effect of that action, wholesome or unwholesome, we will refrain from unwholesome
behavior, not wanting to experience the effects of these unwholesome actions. And similarly,
understanding that wholesome actions have happiness as their fruit, we will cultivate these
wholesome actions. Reflecting on the Law of Karma, of action and reaction in the moral sphere
encourages us to renounce unwholesome actions and cultivate wholesome actions. We will look more
closely at the specific effects of karma in future lives and how karma conditions and determines the
nature of rebirth in our lecture next week.
Extract from "Fundamentals of Buddhism", by Dr. Peter Della Santina.

When you read books about meditation, or often when meditation is is presented by different groups,
much of the emphasis falls on the techniques. In the West, people tend to be very interested in the
"technology" of meditation. However, by far the most important feature of meditation is not technique,
but the way of being, the spirit, which is called the "posture", a posture which is not so much physical,
but more to do with spirit or attitude.
It is well to recognize that when you start on a meditation practice, you are entering a totally different
dimension of reality. Normally in life we put a great deal of effort into achieving things, and there is a
lot of struggle involved, whereas meditation is just the opposite, it is a break from how we normally
Meditation is simply a question of being, of melting, like a piece of butter left in the sun. It has nothing
to do with whether or not you "know" anything about it, in fact, each time you practice meditation it
should be fresh, as if it were happening for the very first time. You just quietly sit, your body still, your
speech silent, your mind at ease, and allow thoughts to come and go, without letting them play havoc
on you. If you need something to do, then watch the breathing. This is a very simple process. When
you are breathing out, know that you are breathing out. When you breath in, know that you are
breathing in, without supplying any kind of extra commentary or internalized mental gossip, but just
identifying with the breath. That very simple process of mindfulness processes your thoughts and
emotions, and then, like an old skin being shed, something is peeled off and freed.
Usually people tend to relax the body by concentrating on different parts. Real relaxation comes when
you relax from within, for then everything else will ease itself out quite naturally.
When you begin to practice, you center yourself, in touch with your "soft spot", and just remain there.
You need not focus on anything in particular to begin with. Just be spacious, and allow thoughts and
emotions to settle. If you do so, then later, when you use a method such as watching the breath, your
attention will more easily be on your breathing. There is no particular point on the breath on which you
need to focus, it is simply the process of breathing. Twenty-five percent of your attention is on the
breath, and seventy-five percent is relaxed. Try to actually identify with the breathing, rather than just
watching it. You may choose an object, like a flower, for example, to focus upon. Sometimes you are
taught to visualize a light on the forehead, or in the heart. Sometimes a sound or a mantra can be
used. But at the beginning it is best to simply be spacious, like the sky. Think of yourself as the sky,
holding the whole universe.
When you sit, let things settle and allow all your discordant self with its ungenuineness and
unnaturalness to disolve, out of that rises your real being. You experience an aspect of yourself which
is more genuine and more authentic-the "real" you. As you go deeper, you begin to discover and
connect with your fundamental goodness.
The whole point of meditation is to get used to the that aspect which you have forgotten. In Tibetan
"meditation" means "getting used to". Getting used to what? to your true nature, your Buddha nature.
This is why, in the highest teaching of Buddhism, Dzogchen, you are told to "rest in the nature of
mind". You just quietly sit and let all thoughts and concepts dissolve. It is like when the clouds
dissolve or the mist evaporates, to reveal the clear sky and the sun shining down. When everything
dissolves like this, you begin to experience your true nature, to "live". Then you know it, and at that
moment, you feel really good. It is unlike any other feeling of well being that you might have
experienced. This is a real and genuine goodness, in which you feel a deep sense of peace,
contentment and confidence about yourself.
It is good to meditate when you feel inspired. Early mornings can bring that inspiration, as the best
moments of the mind are early in the day, when the mind is calmer and fresher (the time traditionally
recommended is before dawn). It is more appropriate to sit when you are inspired, for not only is it
easier then as you are in a better frame of mind for meditation, but you will also be more encouraged
by the very practice that you do. This in turn will bring more confidence in the practice, and later on
you will be able to practice when you are not inspired. There is no need to meditate for a long time:
just remain quietly until you are a little open and able to connect with your heart essence. That is the
main point.
After that, some integration, or meditation in action. Once your mindfulness has been awakened by
your meditation, your mind is calm and your perception a little more coherent. Then, whatever you do,
you are present, right there. As in the famous Zen master's saying: "When I eat, I eat; when I sleep, I
sleep". Whatever you do, you are fully present in the act. Even washing dishes, if it is done one-
pointedly, can be very energizing, freeing, cleansing. You are more peaceful, so you are more "you".
You assume the "Universal You".
One of the fundamental points of the spiritual journey is to persevere along the path. Though one's
meditation may be good one day and and not so good the next, like changes in scenery, essentially it
is not the experiences, good or bad which count so much, but rather that when you persevere, the
real practice rubs off on you and comes through both good and bad. Good and bad are simply
apparations, just as there may be good or bad weather, yet the sky is always unchanging. If you
persevere and have that sky like attitude of spaciousness, without being perturbed by emotions and
experiences, you will develop stability and the real profoundness of meditation will take effect. You will
find that gradually and almost unnoticed, your attitude begins to change. You do not hold on to things
as solidly as before, or grasp at them so strongly, and though crisis will still happen, you can handle
them a bit better with more humor and ease. You will even be able to laugh at difficulties a little, since
there is more space between you and them, and you are freer of yourself. Things become less solid,
slightly ridiculous, and you become more lighthearted.

Loving-kindness meditation can be brought in to support the practice of insight meditation to help
keep the mind open and sweet. It provides the essential balance to support Insight meditation
It is a fact of life that many people are troubled by difficult emotional states in the pressured societies
we live in, but do little in terms of developing skills to deal with them. Yet even when the mind goes
sour it is within most people's capacity to arouse positive feelings to sweeten it. Loving-kindness is a
meditation practice taught by the Buddha to develop the mental habit of selfless or altruistic love. In
the Dhammapada can be found the saying: "Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness, and
dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness."
Loving-kindness is a meditation practice, which brings about positive attitudinal changes as it
systematically develops the quality of 'loving-acceptance'. It acts, as it were, as a form of self-
psychotherapy, a way of healing the troubled mind to free it from its pain and confusion. Of all
Buddhist meditations, loving-kindness has the immediate benefit of sweetening and changing old
habituated negative patterns of mind.
To put it into its context, Loving-kindness is the first of a series of meditations that produce four
qualities of love: Friendliness (metta), Compassion (karuna), Appreciative Joy (mudita) and
Equanimity (upekkha). The quality of 'friendliness' is expressed as warmth that reaches out and
embraces others. When loving-kindness practice matures it naturally overflows into compassion, as
one empathises with other people's difficulties; on the other hand one needs to be wary of pity, as its
near enemy, as it merely mimics the quality of concern without empathy. The positive expression of
empathy is an appreciation of other people's good qualities or good fortune, or appreciative joy, rather
than feelings of jealousy towards them. This series of meditations comes to maturity as 'on-looking
equanimity'. This 'engaged equanimity' must be cultivated within the context of this series of
meditations, or there is a risk of it manifesting as its near enemy, indifference or aloofness. So,
ultimately you remain kindly disposed and caring toward everybody with an equal spread of loving
feelings and acceptance in all situations and relationships.
How to do it . . .
The practice always begins with developing a loving acceptance of yourself. If resistance is
experienced then it indicates that feelings of unworthiness are present. No matter, this means there is
work to be done, as the practice itself is designed to overcome any feelings of self-doubt or negativity.
Then you are ready to systematically develop loving-kindness towards others.
Four types of persons to develop loving-kindness towards:
o a respected, beloved person — such as a spiritual teacher;
o a dearly beloved — a close family member or friend;
o a neutral person — somebody you know, but have no special feelings towards,
e.g. person who serves you in a shop;
o a hostile person — someone you are currently having difficulty with.
Starting with yourself, then systematically sending loving-kindness from person to person in the above
order will have the effect of breaking down the barriers between the four types of people and yourself.
This will have the effect of breaking down the divisions within your own mind, the source of much of
the conflict we experience. Just a word of caution if you are practicing intensively. It is best if you
choose a member of the same sex or, if you have a sexual bias to your own sex, a person of the
opposite sex. This is because of the risk that the near enemy of loving-kindness, lust, can be aroused.
Try different people to practice on, as some people do not easily fit into the above categories, but do
try to keep to the prescribed order.
Ways of arousing feelings of loving-kindness:
1. Visualisation — Bring up a mental picture. See yourself or the person the feeling is directed at
smiling back at you or just being joyous.
2. By reflection — Reflect on the positive qualities of a person and the acts of kindness they
have done. And to yourself, making an affirmation, a positive statement about yourself, using
your own words.
3. Auditory — This is the simplest way but probably the most effective. Repeat an internalized
mantra or phrase such as 'loving-kindness'.
The visualisations, reflections and the repetition of loving-kindness are devices to help you arouse
positive feelings of loving-kindness. You can use all of them or one that works best for you. When the
positive feeling arise, switch from the devices to the feeling, as it is the feeling that is the primary
focus. Keep the mind fixed on the feeling, if it strays bring it back to the device, or if the feelings
weaken or are lost then return to the device, i.e. use the visualisation to bring back or strengthen the
The second stage is Directional Pervasion where you systematically project the aroused feeling of
loving-kindness to all points of the compass: north, south, east and west, up and down, and all
around. This directional pervasion will be enhanced by bringing to mind loving friends and like-minded
communities you know in the cities, towns and countries around the world.
Non-specific Pervasion tends to spontaneously happen as the practice matures. It is not
discriminating. It has no specific object and involves just naturally radiating feelings of universal love.
When it arises the practice has then come to maturity in that it has changed particular, preferential
love, which is an attached love, to an all-embracing unconditional love!
Loving-kindness is a heart meditation and should not to be seen as just a formal sitting practice
removed from everyday life. So take your good vibes outside into the streets, at home, at work and
into your relationships. Applying the practice to daily life is a matter of directing a friendly attitude and
having openness toward everybody you relate to, without discrimination.
There are as many different ways of doing it as there are levels of intensity in the practice. This
introduction is intended to help you familiarize yourself with the basic technique, so that you can
become established in the practice before going on, if you wish, to the deeper, systematic practice —
to the level of meditative absorption.

BuddhaNet's Loving-kindness Meditation Section
Venerable Sujiva's clear and comprehensive presentation in BuddhaNet of Metta Bhavana (which is
the Pali term for the cultivation of loving-kindness) is a step-by-step explanation of the systematic
practice. This section, based on the Visuddhimagga, The Path of Purification, is for meditators who
are prepared to develop loving-kindness meditation to its fullest and thereby experience the deeper
aspects of the practice.
A benefit of developing the five absorption factors of concentration through the systematic practice is
that it will counteract the Five Mental Hindrances of the meditator: Sensuality; that is, all forms of ill-
will, mental inertia; restlessness and skeptical doubt. When the meditator achieves full concentration,
five absorption factors are present: the first two are casual factors: Applied thought and Sustained
thought, followed by three effects: Rapture, Ease-of-mind and One-pointedness or unification of mind.
The five absorption factors have a one-to-one correspondence to the five mental hindrances, or
obstacles, to the meditator: Applied thought, by arousing energy and effort, overcomes the hindrance
of sloth and torpor; Sustained thought, by steadying the mind, overcomes skeptical doubt which has
the characteristic of wavering; Rapture with its uplifting effervescence, prevails over feelings of ill-will;
Ease-of-mind, by relieving accumulated stress, counteracts restlessness or agitation of mind; while
One-pointedness restrains the mind's wanderings in the sense-fields to inhibit sensuality. The benefit
of achieving deep concentration with this positive mind set is that it will tend to imprint the new
positive conditioning while overriding the old negative patterns. In this way, old negative habits are
changed, thereby freeing one to form new, positive ways of relating.
We also have, in BuddhaNet's Loving-Kindness Meditation section, inspiring instructions by Gregory
Kramer of the Metta Foundation on teaching loving-kindness to children within the family context.
Gregory gives practical advice to parents on how to bring the practice of loving-kindness within the
home. In this way, we can hope that loving-kindness meditation will become a natural part of the
Buddhist family's daily practice, and that one day it will be adopted universally as a practice to uplift
human hearts.
May you be happy hearted!

1. There is no almighty God in Buddhism. There is no one to hand out rewards or punishments on a
supposedly Judgement Day.

2. Buddhism is strictly not a religion in the context of being a faith and worship owing allegiance to a
supernatural being.

3. No saviour concept in Buddhism. A Buddha is not a saviour who saves others by his personal
salvation. Although a Buddhist seeks refuge in the Buddha as his incomparable guide who indicates
the path of purity, he makes no servile surrender. A Buddhist does not think that he can gain purity
merely by seeking refuge in the Buddha or by mere faith in Him. It is not within the power of a Buddha
to wash away the impurities of others

4. A Buddha is not an incarnation of a god/God (as claimed by some Hindu followers). The
relationship between a Buddha and his disciples and followers is that of a teacher and student.

5. The liberation of self is the responsibility of one's own self. Buddhism does not call for an
unquestionable blind faith by all Buddhist followers. It places heavy emphasis on self-reliance, self
discipline and individual striving.

6. Taking refuge in The Triple Gems i.e. the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha; does not mean
self-surrender or total reliance on an external force or third party for help or salvation.

7. Dharma (the teachings in Buddhism) exists regardless whether there is a Buddha. Sakyamuni
Buddha (as the historical Buddha) discovered and shared the teachings/ universal truths with all
sentient beings. He is neither the creator of such teachings nor the prophet of an almighty God to
transmit such teachings to others.

8. Especially emphasized in Mahayana Buddhism, all sentient beings have Buddha Nature/ Essence.
One can become a Buddha (a supreme enlightened being) in due course if one practises diligently
and attains purity of mind (ie absolutely no delusions or afflictions).

9. In Buddhism, the ultimate objective of followers/practitioners is enlightenment and/or liberation from
Samsara; rather than to go to a Heaven (or a deva realm in the context of Buddhist cosmology).

10. Karma and Karma Force are cornerstones in Buddhist doctrines. They are expounded very
thoroughly in Buddhism. Karma refers to an important metaphysical concept concerned with action
and its consequences. This law of karma explains the problem of sufferings, the mystery of the so-
called fate and predestination of some religions, and above all the apparent inequality of mankind.
11. Rebirth is another key doctrine in Buddhism and it goes hand in hand with karma. There is a
subtle difference between rebirth and reincarnation as expounded in Hinduism. Buddhism rejects the
theory of a transmigrating permanent soul, whether created by a god or emanating from a divine

12. Maitri or Metta in Pali (Loving Kindness) and Karuna (Compassion) to all living beings including
animals. Buddhism strictly forbids animal sacrifice for whatever reason. Vegetarianism is
recommended but not compulsory.

13. The importance of Non-attachment. Buddhism goes beyond doing good and being good. One
must not be attached to good deeds or the idea of doing good; otherwise it is just another form of

14. In Buddhism, there is consideration for all sentient beings (versus human beings, as in other
religions). Buddhists acknowledge/accept the existence of animals and beings in other realms in

15. No holy war concept in Buddhism. Killing is breaking a key moral precept in Buddhism. One is
strictly forbidden to kill another person in the name of religion, a religious leader or whatsoever
religious pretext or worldly excuse.

16. Suffering is another cornerstone in Buddhism. It is the first of the Four Noble Truths. Sufferings
are very well analysed and explained in Buddhism.

17. The idea of sin or original sin has no place in Buddhism. Also, sin should not be equated to

18. Buddhist teachings expound no beginning and no end to one's existence or life. There is virtually
no recognition of a first cause — e.g. how does human existence first come about?

19. The Dharma provides a very detailed explanation of the doctrine of anatman {anatta in Pali} or
soullessness , i.e. there is no soul entity (whether in one life of many lives).

20. The Buddha is omniscient but he is not omnipotent. He is capable of innumerable feats but there
are three things he cannot do. Also, a Buddha does not claim to be a creator of lives or the Universe.

21. Prajna [Panna in Pali] or Transcendent Wisdom occupies a paramount position in Buddhist
teachings. Sakyamuni Buddha expounded Prajna concepts for some 20 years of his ministry. One is
taught to balance compassion with prajna i.e.emotion (faith) with rationale (right understanding / truth
/ logic).

22. The tradition and practice of meditation in Buddhism are relatively important and strong. While all
religions teach some forms or variations of stabilising/single-pointedness meditation, only Buddhism
emphazises Vipassana (Insight) meditation as a powerful tool to assist one in seeking

23. The doctrine of Sunyata or Emptiness is unique to Buddhism and its many aspects are well
expounded in advanced Buddhist teachings. Briefly, this doctrine asserts the transcendental nature of
Ultimate Reality. It declares the phenomenal world to be void of all limitations of particularization and
that all concepts of dualism are abolished.

24. Conditioned Arising [Paticcasamuppada in Pali] or Dependent Origination is another key doctrine
in Buddhism. This doctrine explains that all psychological and physical phenomena constituting
individual existence are interdependent and mutually condition each other; this at the same time
describes what entangles sentient beings in samsara.

25. The concept of Hell(s) in Buddhism is very different from that of other religions. It is not a place for
eternal damnation as viewed by 'almighty creator' religions. In Buddhism, it is just one of the six
realms in Samsara [i.e. the worst of three undesirable realms]. Also, there are virtually unlimited
number of hells in the Buddhist cosmology as there are infinite number of Buddha worlds.

26. The Buddhist cosmology (or universe) is distinctly different from that of other religions which
usually recognise only this solar system (Earth) as the centre of the Universe and the only planet with
living beings. The Buddhist viewpoint of a Buddha world (also known as Three Thousand-Fold World
System) is that of one billion solar systems. Besides, the Mahayana Buddhist doctrines expound that
there are other contemporary Buddha worlds like Amitabha's Pure Land and Bhaisajyaguru's world

27. Samsara is a fundamental concept in Buddhism and it is simply the 'perpetual cycles of existence'
or endless rounds of rebirth among the six realms of existence. This cyclical rebirth pattern will only
end when a sentient being attains Nirvana, i.e. virtual exhaustion of karma, habitual traces,
defilements and delusions. All other religions preach one heaven, one earth and one hell, but this
perspective is very limited compared with Buddhist samsara where heaven is just one of the six
realms of existence and it has 28 levels/planes.

1. Sakayamuni Buddha is the original and historical founder of Buddhism.
2. The Three Universal Seals, Four Noble Truths, Eight Fold Paths and Twelve Links of Dependent
Origination are the basic foundation to all schools of Buddhism including the Tibetan schools of
3. Three-fold training of Precepts, Meditation and Wisdom is universal to all schools.
4. Organisation of the Buddhist teachings / Dharma into three classications (Sutra, Vinaya and Sastra)
is practised among the Buddhist Canons of various countries.
5. Mind over matter concept. Mind as the principal area of taming and control is fundamental to all

1 The Buddha
Only the historical Gautama
(Sakyamuni) Buddha and past
buddhas are accepted.
Besides Sakyamuni Buddha, other contemporary
buddhas like Amitabha and Medicine Buddha are
also very popular.
2 Bodhisattvas
Only Maitreya bodhisattva is
Avalokitesvara, Mansjuri, Ksitigarbha and
Samanthabadra are four very well known
bodhisattvas besides Maitreya.
3 Objective of training Arahant or pacceka-buddha. Buddhahood (via bodhisattva path).
Organisation of
Buddhist scriptures

The Pali Canon is divided into 3
baskets (Tipitaka): Vinaya Pitaka of
5 books, Sutta Pitaka of 5 collections
(many suttas) and Abhidhamma
Pitaka of 7 books.

The Mahayana Buddhist Canon also consists of
Tripitaka of disciplines, discourses (sutras) and
dharma analysis. It is usually organised in 12
divisions of topics like Cause and Conditions and
Verses. It contains virtually all the Theravada
Tipikata and many sutras that the latter does not
Concept of
Main emphasis is self liberation.
There is total reliance on one-self to
eradicate all defilements.
Besides self liberation, it is important for
Mahayana followers to help other sentient beings.
6 Trikaya concept
Very limited emphasis on the 3
bodies of a buddha. References are
mainly on nirmana-kaya and
Very well mentioned in Mahayana buddhism.
Samboga-kaya or reward/enjoyment body
completes the Trikaya concept.
7 Transmission route
Southern transmission: Sri Lanka,
Thailand, Burma, Laos and
Cambodia and parts of Southeast
Northern transmission: Tibet, China, Taiwan,
Japan, Korea, Mongolia and parts of Southeast
Language of dharma
Tipitaka is strictly in Pali. Dharma
teaching in Pali supplemented by
local language.
Buddhist canon is translated into the local
language (except for the 5 untranslatables), e.g.
Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese. Original
language of transmission is Sanskrit.
(Nibbana in Pali)
No distinction is made between
nirvana attained by a buddha and
Also known as 'liberation from Samsara,' there
are subtle distinctions in the level of attainment
that of an arahat or pacceka buddha. for the three situations.
Sakyamuni Buddha's
Basically historical disciples, whether
arahats or commoners.
A lot of bodhisattvas are introduced by
Sakyamuni Buddha. Most of these are not
historical figures.
11 Rituals and liturgy
There are some rituals but not
heavily emphasized as in Mahayana
Owing to local cultural influences, there is much
more emphais on the use of rituals; e.g. Rituals
for the deceased, feeding of Petas, tantric
formalities (in Vajrayana).
Use of Mantras and
Some equivalent in the use of
Heavily practised in the Vajrayana school of
Mahayana Buddhism. Other schools also have
included some mantras in their daily lithurgy.
Dying and death
Very little research and knowledge
on the process of dying and death.
Usually, the dying persons are
advised to meditate on
impermanence, suffering and
The Vajrayana school is particularly meticulous in
these areas. There are many inner and external
signs manifested by people before they die.
There is heavy stress in doing transference of
merit practices in the immediate few weeks
following death to assist in the deceased's next
14 Bardo
This in-between stage after death
and before rebirth is ignored in
Theravada school.
All Mahayana schools teach this after death
One meal a day
This the norm among Theravada
This is a highly respected practice but it is left to
the disposition of each individual in the various
16 Vegetarianism
This aspect is not necessary. In
places like Thailand where daily
morning rounds are still practised, it
is very difficult to insist on the type of
food to be donated
Very well observed in all Mahayana schools
(except the Tibetans due to the geographical
circumstances). However, this aspect is not
Focus of worship in
the temple
Simple layout with the image of
Sakyamuni Buddha the focus of
Can be quite elaborate; with a chamber/hall for
Sakyamuni Buddha and two disciples, one hall for
the 3 Buddhas (including Amitabha and Medicine
Buddha) and one hall for the 3 key bodhisattvas;
besides the protectors, etc.
Schools/Sects of the
One surviving major school following
years of attrition reducing the
number from as high as 18.
8 major (Chinese) schools based on the partial
doctrines (sutras, sastras or vinaya) of the
teachings. The four schools inclined towards
practices like Pure Land/Amitabha, Ch'an,
Vajrayana and Vinaya (not for lay people) are
more popular than the philosophy based schools
like Tien Tai, Avamtasaka, Yogacara and
Non Buddhist
Mainly pre-Buddhism Indian/Brahmin
influences. Many terms like karma,
sangha, etc were prevailing terms
during Sakyamuni Buddha's life time.
References were made from the
Vedas and Upanishads.
In the course of integration and adoption by the
people in other civilizations, there were heavy
mutual influences. In China, both Confucianism
and Taoism exerted some influence on Buddhism
which in turn had an impact on the indigenous
beliefs. This scenario was repeated in Japan and
20 Buddha nature

Absent from the teachings of
Theravada tradition.

Heavily stressed, particularly by schools inclined

In our daily lives we meet all kinds of people. Some are pleasant and some are ill-disposed. There are
also moments of anxiety, moments of stress, and circumstances which are perplexing. On
encountering unpleasant people, and in difficult times, a recital or perusal of the Sutta will produce
beneficial results. The practice of what is contained in it will induce a tranquil state of mind, give us
self-confidence, and help us to overcome difficulties.
This is a Sutta (a Discourse) that was delivered by the Buddha to a set of his disciples who had gone
to meditate in a forest close to the Himalayan mountain range. They complained that they were being
disturbed by some spirits of the forest. The Buddha exhorted them to follow this course of conduct.
They went back to the same abode, and putting the advice into practice, found that they were not
disturbed anymore.
Homage to Him, the Worthy One, the Exalted One, the Fully Enlightened One.
I go to the Buddha as my refuge
I go to the Dhamma as my refuge
I go to the Sangha as my refuge
The Five Precepts
1. I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from destroying the life of living beings.
2. I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from taking things not given to me.
3. I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from false speech.
5. I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from taking intoxicants - foundations of slothfulness.
Karaniya Metta Sutta
Universal Loving Kindness
This must be done to gain the State of Peace.
One must be able, upright and straightforward;
Pleasant in Speech, mild and not proud.
Easily contented and easily supportable;
Not caught up in too many "duties" and frugal in one's wants.
Calm in mind, discriminative and courteous;
Not closely attached to households.
Avoiding any mean deeds blameworthy by the wise.
Thinking always thus: "May all beings be happy and safe,
May they all have tranquil minds.
Whatsoever pulsates with the breath of life -
the frail or strong, without exception -
the long, the large, the medium-sized, the short, the thin or fat.
Those visible, and those invisible, those living far away or nearby;
Beings who are already born and those yet unborn.
May they all be happy!
May no-one deceive another, nor despise him in anyway anywhere.
Let no-one wish another ill, owing to anger or provocation.
Just as a mother would protect her son - her only son - with her life -
even so let him cultivate this boundless love to all living beings.
Radiating with a full heart loving thoughts of kindness towards all the world,
free from anger, malice or anxiety - above, below and in all directions.
And while standing, walking, sitting or reclining - still free from drowsiness -
let him maintain this state of mindfulness - termed the "Highest Living"
And living free from mere views, being virtuous, perfect in insight,
free from the lust of sexual desire,
never again shall he be entangled in the round of rebirth.
Hate is never overcome by hate
By love alone it is quelled.
This is a truth of ancient date.
Today still unexcelled.
Avoidance of evil,
Performance of good deeds,
Purification of one's thoughts.
This is the teaching of the Buddhas.
May all beings be happy hearted!

"Please put the attention on the breath.
Have forgiveness in your heart for anything you think you've done wrong . Forgive yourself for all the
past omissions and commissions. They are long gone. Understand that you were a different person
and this one is forgiving that one that you were. Feel that forgiveness filling you and enveloping you
with a sense of warmth and ease.
Think of your parents. Forgive them for anything you have ever blamed them for. Understand that
they too are different now. Let this forgiveness fill them, surround them, knowing in your heart that this
is your most wonderful way of togetherness.
Think of your nearest and dearest people . Forgive them for anything that you think they have done
wrong or are doing wrong at this time. Fill them with your forgiveness. Let them feel that you accept
them. Let that forgiveness fill them. Realizing that this is your expression of love.
Now think of your friends. Forgive them for anything you have disliked about them. Let your
forgiveness reach out to them, so that they can be filled with it, embraced by it.
Think of the people you know, whoever they might be, and forgive them all for whatever it is that you
have blamed them for, that you have judged them for, that you have disliked. Let your forgiveness fill
their hearts, surround them, envelope them, be your expression of love for them.
Now think of any special person whom you really need to forgive. Towards whom you still have
resentment, rejection, dislike. Forgive him or her fully. Remember that everyone has dukkha. Let this
forgiveness come from your heart. Reach out to that person, complete and total.
Think of any one person, or any situation, or any group of people whom you are condemning,
blaming, disliking. Forgive them, completely. Let your forgiveness be your expression of unconditional
love. They may not do the right things. Human beings have dukkha. And your heart needs the
forgiveness in order to have purity of love.
Have a look again and see whether there's anyone or anything, any where in the world, towards
whom you have blame or condemnation. And forgive the people or the person, so that there is no
separation your heart.
Now put your attention back on yourself. And recognize the goodness in you. The effort you are
making. Feel the warmth and ease that comes from forgiveness."
May all beings have forgiveness in their hearts!

What is Buddhism?

The name Buddhism comes from the word 'budhi' which means 'to wake up' and thus Buddhism is the
philosophy of awakening. This philosophy has its origins in the experience of the man Siddhata
Gotama, known as the Buddha, who was himself awakened at the age of 35. Buddhism is now 2,500
years old and has about 300 million followers world-wide. Until a hundred years ago, Buddhism was
mainly an Asian philosophy but increasingly it is gaining adherents in Europe and America.

So Buddhism is just a philosophy?

The word philosophy comes from two words 'philo' which means 'love' and 'sophia' which means
'wisdom'. So philosophy is the love of wisdom or love and wisdom, both meanings describing
Buddhism perfectly. Buddhism teaches that we should try to develop our intellectual capacity to the
fullest so that we can understand clearly. It also teaches us to develop love and kindness so that we
can be like a true friend to all beings. Thus Buddhism is a philosophy but not just a philosophy. It is
the supreme philosophy.

Who was the Buddha?

In the year 563 B.C. a baby was born into a royal family in northern India. He grew up in wealth and
luxury but eventually found that worldly comfort and security do not guarantee happiness. He was
deeply moved by the suffering he saw all around and resolved to find the key to human happiness.
When he was 29 he left his wife and child and set off to sit at the feet of the great religious teachers of
the day to learn from them. They taught him much but none really knew the cause of human suffering
or how it could be overcome. Eventually, after six years study and meditation he had an experience in
which all ignorance fell away and he suddenly understood. From that day onwards he was called the
Buddha, the Awakened One. He lived for another 45 years in which time he traveled all over northern
India teaching others what he had discovered. His compassion and patience were legendary and he
made thousands of followers. In his eightieth year, old and sick, but still happy and at peace, he finally

Wasn't it irresponsible for the Buddha to walk out on his wife and child?

It couldn't have been an easy thing for the Buddha to leave his family. He must have worried and
hesitated for a long time before finally leaving. But he had a choice, dedicating himself to his family or
dedicating himself to the whole world. In the end, his great compassion made him give himself to the
whole world. And the whole world still benefits from his sacrifice. This was not irresponsible. It was
perhaps the most significant sacrifice ever made.

The Buddha is dead so how can he help us?

Faraday, who discovered electricity, is dead but what he discovered still helps us. Luis Pasteur who
discovered the cures for so many diseases is dead but his medical discoveries still save lives. The
great artist Leonardo da Vinci is dead but what he created can still uplift and give joy. Noble men and
heroes may have been dead for centuries but when we read of their deeds and achievements we can
still be inspired to act as they did. Yes, the Buddha is dead but 2500 years later his teachings still help
people, his example still inspires people, his words still change lives. Only a Buddha could have such
power centuries after his death.

Was the Buddha a god?

No, he was not. He did not claim that he was a god, the child of a god or even the messenger from a
god. He was a human being who perfected himself and taught that if we followed his example, we
could perfect ourselves also.

If the Buddha is not a god, then why do people worship him?

There are different types of worship. When someone worships a god, they praise and honor him or
her, make offerings and ask for favors, believing that the god will hear their praise, receive their
offerings and answer their prayers. Buddhists do not indulge in this kind of worship. The other kind of
worship is when we show respect to someone or something we admire. When a teacher walks into
the room we stand up, when we meet a dignitary we shake their hand, when the national anthem is
played we salute. These are all gestures of respect and worship and indicate our admiration for
certain persons or things. This is the type of worship Buddhists practice. A statue of the Buddha with
its hands rested gently in its lap and its compassionate smile reminds us to strive to develop peace
and love within ourselves. The perfume of incense reminds us of the pervading influence of virtue, the
lamp reminds us of the light of knowledge and the flowers which soon fade and die, remind us of
impermanence. When we bow, we express outwardly what we feel inwardly; our gratitude to the
Buddha for what his teachings have given us. This is the nature of Buddhist worship.

But I have heard people say that Buddhists worship idols.

Such statements only reflect the misunderstanding of the persons who make them. The dictionary
defines an idol as "an image or statue worshipped as a god". As we have seen, Buddhists do not
believe that the Buddha was a god, so how could they possibly believe that a piece of wood or metal
is a god? All religions use symbols to express various concepts. In Taoism, the ying-yang is used to
symbolize the harmony between opposites. In Sikhism, the sword is used to symbolize spiritual
struggle. In Christianity, the fish is used to symbolize Christ's presence while the cross is used to
symbolize his sacrifice. And in Buddhism, the statue of the Buddha is used to symbolize human
perfection. The statue of the Buddha also reminds us of the human dimension in Buddhist teaching,
the fact that Buddhism is human-centered, rather than god-centered, that we must look within not
without to find perfection and understanding. So to say that Buddhists worship idols is not correct.

Why do people do all kinds of strange things in Buddhist temples?

Many things seem strange to us when we don't understand them. Rather than dismiss such things as
strange, we should try to find out what they mean. However, it is true that Buddhist practices
sometimes have their origins in popular superstition and misunderstanding rather than the teachings
of the Buddha. And such misunderstandings are not found in Buddhism alone but arise in all religions
from time to time. The Buddha taught with clarity and in detail and if some fail to understand fully, the
Buddha cannot be blamed. There is a saying;
If a person suffering from a disease does not seek treatment even when there is a physician at hand,
it is not the fault of that physician. In the same way, if a person is oppressed and tormented by the
disease of the defilements but does not seek the help of the Buddha, that is not the Buddha's fault.
JN 28-9
Nor should Buddhism or any religion be judged by those who don't practice it properly. If you wish to
know the true teachings of Buddhism, read the Buddha's words or speak to those who understand
them properly.

If Buddhism is so good why are some Buddhist countries poor?

If by poor you mean economically poor, then it is true that some Buddhist countries are poor. But if by
poor you mean a poor quality of life, then perhaps some Buddhist countries are quite rich. America for
example, is an economically rich and powerful country but the crime rate is one of the highest in the
world, millions of old people are neglected by their children and die of loneliness in old people's
homes, domestic violence and child abuse are major problems. One in three marriages end in divorce
and pornography is a major industry. Rich in terms of money but perhaps poor in terms of the quality
of life. Now take traditional Buddhist countries. Some are economically backward but parents are
honored and respected by their children, their crime rates are relatively low, divorce and suicide are
almost unheard of, domestic violence and child abuse, pornography and sexual license are not
common. Economically backward but perhaps a higher quality of life than in a country like America.
But even if we judge Buddhist countries in terms of economics alone, one of the wealthiest and most
economically dynamic countries in the world today is Japan where a large percentage of the
population call themselves Buddhists.

Why is it that you don't often hear of charitable work being done by Buddhists?

Perhaps it is because Buddhists don't feel the need to advertise about the good they do. Several
years ago the Japanese Buddhist leader Nikkho Niwano received the Templeton Prize for his work in
promoting inter-religious harmony. Likewise a Thai Buddhist monk was recently awarded the
prestigious Magsaysay Prize for his excellent work among drug addicts. In 1987 another Thai monk,
Ven. Kantayapiwat was awarded the Norwegian Children's Peace Prize for his many years of work
helping homeless children in rural areas. And what about the large scale social work being done
among the poor in India by the Western Buddhist Order? They have built schools, child minding
centres, dispensaries and small scale industries for selfsufficiency. Buddhists see help given to others
as an expression of their religious practice just as other religions do but they believe that it should be
done quietly and without self-promotion. Thus you don't hear so much about their charitable work.

Why are there so many different types of Buddhism?

There are many different types of sugar: brown sugar, white sugar, granulated sugar, rock sugar,
syrup and icing sugar but it is all sugar and it all tastes sweet. It is produced in different forms so that
it can be used in different ways. Buddhism is the same. There is Theravada Buddhism, Zen
Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, Yogacara Buddhism and Vajrayana but they are all Buddhism and
they all has the same taste - the state of freedom. Buddhism has evolved into different forms so that it
can be relevant to the different cultures in which it exists. It has been reinterpreted over the centuries
so that it can remain relevant to each new generation. Outwardly, the types of Buddhism may seem
very different but at the center of all of them is the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. All major
religions, Buddhism included, have split into schools and sects. But the different sects of Buddhism
have never gone to war with each other, they have never been towards each other and to this day,
they go to each other's temples and worship together. Such tolerance and understanding are certainly

Buddhism started in India but it eventually died out there. Why?

The Buddha's teachings grew to become one of India's major religions but gradually it went into
decline and finally disappeared just as Christianity started in Palestine but eventually died out there.
No one really knows why this happened. Perhaps a combination of political and social changes
combined with wars and invasions made it difficult such a gentle and peaceful religion to survive.
However long before it disappeared in India is spread from there to the furthermost corner of Asia.

You certainly think highly of Buddhism. I suppose you think your religion is right and all the others are

No Buddhist who understands the Buddha's teaching thinks that other religions are wrong. No one
who, has made a genuine effort to examine other religions with an open mind could think like that
either. The first thing you notice when you study the different religions is just how much they have in
common. All religions acknowledge that mankind's present state is unsatisfactory. All believe that a
change of attitude and behavior is needed if the human situation is to improve. All teach an ethics that
includes love, kindness, patience, generosity and social responsibility and all accept the existence of
some form of Absolute. They use different languages, different names and different symbols to
describe and explain these things; and it is only when they narrow-mindedly cling to their one way of
seeing things that religious intolerance, pride and self-righteousness arise. Imagine an Englishman, a
Frenchman, a Chinese and an Indonesian all looking at a cup. The Englishman says, "That's a cup."
The Frenchman answers, "No it's not. It's a tasse." The Chinese comments, "You're both wrong. It's a
pet." And the Indonesian laughs at the others and says "What fools you are. It's a cawan." The
Englishman gets a dictionary and shows it to the others saying, "I can prove that it is a cup. My
dictionary says so." "Then your dictionary is wrong," says the French- man "Because my dictionary
clearly says it is a tasse." The Chinese scoffs at them. "My dictionary is thousands of years older than
yours, so my dictionary must be right. And besides, more people speak Chinese than any other
language, so it must be a pet." While they are squabbling and arguing with each other, a Buddhist
comes up and drinks from the cup. After he has drunk, he says to the others, "Whether you call it a
cup, a tasse, a pet or a cawan, a cup is meant to be used. Stop arguing and drink, stop squabbling
and refresh your thirst." This is the Buddhist attitude to other religions.

I have read that Buddhism is just a type of reformed Hinduism.

One sometimes hears uninformed people saying this. But we read in the Buddhist scriptures that the
Hindu priests, the Brahmins, were strongly opposed to the Buddha. This is because he criticized the
Hindu caste system and the practice animal sacrifice, he denied the existence of a supreme god and
he rejected the authority of the Hindu scriptures. Buddhism and Hinduism have things in commons
but they also have enough important differences to make them two distinct religions.

Is Buddhism scientific?

Before we answer that question it would be best to define the word 'science'. Science, according to
the dictionary is "knowledge which can be made into a system, which depends upon seeing and
testing facts and stating general natural laws, a branch of such knowledge, anything that can be
studied exactly." There are aspects of Buddhism that would not fit into this definition but the central
teachings of Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths, most certainly would. Suffering, the First Noble Truth
is an experience that can be defined, experienced and measured. The Second Noble Truth states that
suffering has a natural cause, craving, which likewise can be defined, experienced and measured. No
attempt is made to explain suffering in terms of a metaphysical concept or myths. Suffering is ended,
according to the Third Noble Truth, not by relying upon a Supreme Being, by faith or by prayers but
simply by removing its cause. This is axiomatic. The Fourth Noble Truth, the way to end suffering,
once again, has nothing to do with metaphysics but depends on behaving in specific ways. And once
again behavior is open to testing. Buddhism dispenses with the concept of a Supreme Being, as does
science, and explains the origins and workings of the universe in terms of natural laws. All of this
certainly exhibits a scientific spirit. Once again, the Buddha's constant advice that we should not
blindly believe but rather question, examine, inquire and rely on our own experience, has a definite
scientific ring to it. He says:
"Do not go by revelation or tradition, do not go by rumor, or the sacred scriptures, do not go by
hearsay or mere logic, do not go by bias towards a notion or by another person's seeming ability and
do not go by the idea 'He is our teacher'. But when you yourself know that a thing is good, that it is not
blamable, that it is praised by the wise and when practiced and observed that it leads to happiness,
then follow that thing."
A.I, 188
So we could say that although Buddhism is not entirely scientific, it certainly has a strong scientific
overtone and is certainly more scientific then any other religion. It is significant that Albert Einstein,
the greatest scientist of the twentieth century said of Buddhism:
"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid
dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious
sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity. Buddhism
answers this description. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would
be Buddhism.

What are the main teachings of the Buddha?

All of the many teachings of the Buddha center on the Four Noble Truths just as the rim and spokes
of a wheel center on the hub. They are called 'Four' because there are four of them. They are called
'Noble' because they ennoble one who understands them and they are called 'Truths' because,
corresponding with reality, they are true.

What is the First Noble Truth?

The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering. To live, you must suffer. It is impossible to live without
experiencing some kind of suffering. We have to endure physical suffering like sickness, injury,
tiredness, old age and eventually death and we have to endure psychological suffering like loneliness,
frustrations, fear, embarrassment, disappointment, anger, etc.

Isn't this a bit pessimistic?

The dictionary defines pessimism as 'the habit of thinking that whatever will happen will be bad,' or
'The belief that evil is more powerful than good.' Buddhism teaches neither of these ideas. Nor does it
deny that happiness exists. It simply says that to live is to experience physical and psychological
suffering which is a statement so true and so obvious that it cannot be denied. The central concept of
most religions is a myth, a legend or a belief that is difficult or impossible to verify. Buddhism starts
with an experience, an irrefutable fact, a thing that all know, that all have experienced and that all are
striving to overcome. Thus Buddhism is the only truly universal religion because it goes right to the
core of every individual human being's concern - suffering and how to avoid it.

What is the Second Noble truth?

The Second Noble Truth is that all suffering is caused by craving. When we look at psychological
suffering, it is easy to see how it is caused by craving. When we want something but are unable to get
it, we feel frustrated. When we expect someone to live up to our expectation and they do not, we feel
let down and disappointed. When we want others to like us and they don't, we feel hurt. Even when
we want something and are able to get it, this does not often lead to happiness either because it is not
long before we feel bored with that thing, lose interest in it and commence to want something else.
Put simply, the Second Noble Truth says that getting what you want does not guarantee happiness.
Rather than constantly struggling to get what you want, try to modify your wanting. Wanting deprives
us of contentment and happiness.

But how does wanting and craving lead to physical suffering?

A lifetime wanting and craving for this and that and especially the craving to continue to exist creates
a powerful energy that causes the individual to be reborn. When we are reborn, we have a body and,
as we said before, the body is susceptible to injury and disease; it can be exhausted by work; it ages
and eventually dies. Thus, craving leads to physical suffering because it causes us to be reborn.

That's all very well. But if we stopped wanting altogether, we would never get or achieve anything.

True. But what the Buddha says is that when our desires, our craving, our constant discontent with
what we have, and our continual longing for more and more does cause us suffering, then we should
stop doing it. He asks us to make a difference between what we need and what we want and to strive
for our needs and modify our wants. He tells us that our needs can be fulfilled but that our wants are
endless - a bottomless pit. There are needs that are essential, fundamental and that can be obtained
and this we should work towards. Desires beyond this should be gradually lessened. After all, what is
the purpose of life? To get or to be content and happy.

You have talked about rebirth, but is there any proof that such a thing happens?

There is ample evidence that such a thing happens, but we will look at this in more detail later on.

What is the Third Noble Truth?

The Third Noble Truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness attained. This is perhaps the
most important of the Four Noble Truths because in it the Buddha reassures us that true happiness
and contentment are possible. When we give up useless craving and learn to live each day at a time,
enjoying without restless wanting the experiences that life offers us, patiently enduring the problems
that life involves without fear, hatred and anger, then we become happy and free. Then, and only
then, do we being to live fully. Because we are no longer obsessed with satisfying our own selfish
wants, we find we have so much time to help others fulfil their needs. This state is called Nirvana. We
are free from all psychological suffering as well. This is called Final Nirvana.

What or where is Nirvana?

It is a dimension transcending time and space and thus is difficult to talk about or even to think about.
Words and thoughts being only suited to describe the time-space dimension. But because Nirvana is
beyond time, there is no movement and so no aging or dying. Thus Nirvana is eternal. Because it is
beyond space, there is no causation, no boundary, no concept of self and not-self and thus Nirvana is
infinite. The Buddha also assures us that Nirvana is an experience of profound happiness. He says:
Nirvana is the highest happiness.
Dp 204

But is there any proof that such a dimension exists?

No, there is not. But its existence can be inferred. If there is a dimension where time and space do
operate and there is such a dimension - the world we experience, then we can infer that there is a
dimension where time and space do not operate - Nirvana. Again, even though we cannot prove
Nirvana exists, we have the Buddha's word that it does exist. He tells us:
"There is an. Unborn, a Not-become, a Not-made, a Not-compounded. If there were not, this Unborn,
Not become, Not-made, Not-compounded, there could not be made any escape from what is born,
become, made, and compounded. But since there is this Unborn, Not become, Not-made, Not-
compounded, therefore is there made known an escape from what is born, become, made, and
Ud. 80
We will know it when we attain it. Until that time, we can still practice.

What is the Fourth Noble Truth?

The Fourth Noble Truth is the Path leading to the overcoming of suffering. This path is called the
Noble Eightfold Path and consists of Perfect Understanding, Perfect Thought, Perfect Speech, Perfect
Action, Perfect Livelihood, Perfect Effort, Perfect Mindfulness and Perfect Concentration. Being a
Buddhist practice consists of practicing these eight things until they become more complete. You will
notice that the steps on the Noble Eightfold Path cover every aspect of life: the intellectual, the ethical,
the social and economic and the psychological and therefore contain everything a person needs to
lead a good life and to develop spiritually.

Do Buddhists believe in a god?

No, we do not. There are several reasons for this. The Buddha, like modern sociologists and
psychologists, believed that religious ideas and especially the god idea have their origins in fear. The
Buddha says:
Gripped by fear people go to sacred mountains, sacred groves, sacred trees and shrines.
Dp. 188
Primitive humans found selves in a dangerous and hostile world, the fear of wild animals, of not being
able to find enough food, of injury or disease, and of natural phenomena like thunder, lightning and
volcanoes were constantly with them. Finding no security, they created the idea of gods in order to
give them comfort in good times, courage in times of danger and consolation when things went
wrong. To this day, you will notice that people become more religious at times of crises, you will hear
them say that the belief in a god or gods gives them the strength they need to deal with life. You will
hear them explain that they believe in a particular god because they prayed in time of need and their
prayer was answered. All this seems to support the Buddha's teaching that the god-idea is a response
to fear and frustration. The Buddha taught us to try to understand our fears, to lessen our desires and
to calmly and courageously accept the things we cannot change. He replaced fear, not with irrational
belief but with rational understanding.
The second reason the Buddha did not believe in a god is because there does not seem to be any
evidence to support this idea. There are numerous religions, all claiming that they alone have god's
words preserved in their holy book, that they alone understand god's nature, that their god exists and
that the gods of other religions do not. Some claim that god is masculine, some that she is feminine
and others that it is neuter. They are all satisfied that there is ample evidence to prove the existence
of their god but they laugh in disbelief at the evidence other religions use to prove the existence of
another god. It is not surprising that with so many different religions spending so many centuries
trying to prove the existence of their gods that still no real, concrete, substantial or irrefutable
evidence has been found. Buddhists suspend judgement until such evidence is forthcoming.
The third reason the Buddha did not believe in a god is that the belief is not necessary. Some claim
that the belief in a god is necessary in order to explain the origin of the universe. But this is not so.
Science has very convincingly explained how the universe came into being without having to
introduce the god-idea. Some claim that belief in god is necessary to have a happy, meaningful life.
Again we can see that this is not so. There are millions of atheists and free-thinkers, not to mention
many Buddhists, who live useful, happy and meaningful lives without belief in a god. Some claim that
belief in god's power is necessary because humans, being weak, do not have the strength to help
themselves. Once again, the evidence indicates the opposite. One often hears of people who have
overcome great disabilities and handicaps, enormous odds and difficulties through their own inner
resources, through their own efforts and without belief in a god. Some claim that god is necessary in
order to give man salvation. But this argument only holds good if you accept the theological concept
of salvation and Buddhists do not accept such a concept. Based on his own experience, the Buddha
saw that each human being had the capacity to purify the mind, develop infinite love and compassion
and perfect understanding. He shifted attention from the heavens to the heart and encouraged us to
find solutions to our problems through self-understanding.

But if there are no gods how did the universe get here?

All religions have myths and stories which attempt to answer this question. In ancient times, when
humankind simply did not know, such myths were adequate, but in the 20th century, in the age of
physics, astronomy and geology, such myths have been superseded by scientific fact. Science has
explained the origin of the universe without recourse to the god-idea.

What does the Buddha say about the origin of the universe?

It is interesting that the Buddha's explanation of the origin of the universe corresponds very closely to
the scientific view. In the Aganna Sutta, the Buddha describes the universe being destroyed and then
re-evolving into its present form over a period of countless millions of years. The first life formed on
the surface of the water and again, over countless millions of years, evolved from simple into complex
organisms. All these processes are without beginning or end and are set in motion by natural causes.

You say there is no evidence for the existence of a god. But what about miracles?

There are many who believe that miracles are proof of god's existence. We hear wild claims that a
healing has taken place but we never get an independent testimony from a medical office or a
surgeon. We hear second-hand reports that someone was miraculously saved from disaster but we
never get an eyewitness account of what is supposed to have happened. We hear rumors that prayer
straightened a diseased body or strengthened a withered limb, but we never see X-rays or get
comments from doctors or nurses. Wild claims, second-hand reports and rumors are no substitute for
solid evidence and solid evidence of miracles is very rare. However, sometimes unexplained things
do happen, unexpected events do occur. But our inability to explain such things does not prove the
existence of gods. It only proves that our knowledge is as yet incomplete. Before the development of
modern medicine, when people didn't know what caused sickness people believed that god or the
gods sent diseases as a punishment. Now we know what causes such things and when we get sick,
we take medicine. In time when our knowledge of the world is more complete, we will be able to
understand what causes unexplained phenomena, just as we can now understand what causes

But so many people believe in some form of god, it must be true.

Not so. There was a time when everyone believed that the world was flat, but they were all wrong.
The number of people who believe in an idea is no measure of the truth or falsehood of that idea. The
only way we can tell whether an idea is true or not is by looking at the facts and examining the

So if Buddhists don't believe in gods, what do you believe in?

We don't believe in a god because we believe in humanity. We believe that each human being is
precious and important, that all have the potential to develop into a Buddha - a perfected human
being. We believe that humans can outgrow ignorance and irrationality and see things as they really
are. We believe that hatred, anger, spite and jealousy can be replaced by love, patience, generosity
and kindness. We believe that all this is within the grasp of each person if they make the effort, guided
and supported by fellow Buddhists and inspired by the example of the Buddha. As the Buddha says:
No one saves us but ourselves, No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path, but
Buddhas clearly show the way.
Dp. 165

Other religions derive their ideas of right and wrong from the commandments of their god or gods.
You Buddhists don't believe in a god, so how do you know what is right and wrong?

Any thoughts, speech or actions that are rooted in greed, hatred and delusion and thus lead us away
from Nirvana are bad and any thoughts, speech or actions that are rooted in giving, love and wisdom
and thus help clear the way to Nirvana are good. To know what is right and wrong in god-centered
religions, all that is needed is to do as you are told. But in a human-centered religion like Buddhism, to
know what is right or wrong, you have to develop a deep self-awareness and self-understanding. And
ethics based on understanding are always stronger than those that are a response to a command. So
to know what is right and wrong, the Buddhist looks at three things - the intention, the effect the act
will have upon oneself and the effect it will have upon others. If the intention is good (rooted in giving,
love and wisdom), if it helps myself (helps me to be more giving, more loving and wiser) and help
others (helps them to be more giving, more loving and wiser), then my deeds and actions are
wholesome, good and moral. Of course, there are many variations of this. Sometimes I act with the
best of intentions but it may not benefit either myself or others. Sometimes my intentions are far from
good, but my action helps others nonetheless. Sometimes I act out of good intentions and my acts
help me but perhaps cause some distress to others. In such cases, my actions are mixed - a mixture
of good and not-so-good. When intentions are bad and the action helps neither myself nor others,
such an action is bad. And when my intention is good and my action benefits both myself and others,
then the deed is wholly good.

So does Buddhism have a code of morality?

Yes, it does. The Five Precepts are the basis of Buddhist morality. The first precept is to avoid killing
or harming living beings. The second is to avoid stealing, the third is to avoid sexual misconduct, the
fourth is to avoid lying and the fifth is to avoid alcohol and other intoxicating drugs.

But surely it is good to kill sometimes. To kill disease-spreading insects, for example, or someone
who is going to kill you?

It might be good for you but what about that thing or that person? They wish to live just as you do.
When you decide to kill a disease-spreading insect, your intention is perhaps a mixture of self-
concern (good) and revulsion (bad). The act will benefit yourself (good) but obviously it will not benefit
that creature (bad). So at times it may be necessary to kill but it is never wholly good.

You Buddhists are too concerned about ants and bugs.

Buddhists strive to develop a compassion that is undiscriminating and all-embracing. They see the
world as a unified whole where each thing or creature has its place and function. They believe that
before we destroy or upset nature's delicate balance, we should be very careful. Just look at those
cultures where emphasis is on exploiting nature to the full, squeezing every last drop out of it without
putting anything back, on conquering and subduing it. Nature has revolted. The very air is becoming
poisoned, the rivers are polluted and dead, so many beautiful animal species are extinct, the slopes of
the mountains are barren and eroded. Even the climate is changing. If people were a little less
anxious to crush, destroy and kill, this terrible situation may not have arisen. We should all strive to
develop a little more respect for life. And this is what the first precept is saying.

The Third Precept says we should avoid sexual misconduct. What is sexual misconduct?

If we use trickery, emotional blackmail or force to compel someone to have sex with us, then this is
sexual misconduct. Adultery is also a form of sexual misconduct because when we marry we promise
our spouse we will be loyal to them. When we commit adultery we break that promise and betray their
trust. Sex should be an expression of love and intimacy between two people and when it is it
contributes to our mental and emotional well-being.

Is sex before marriage a type of sexual misconduct?

Not if there is love and mutual agreement between the two people. However it should never be
forgotten that the biological function of sex is to reproduce and if an unmarried woman becomes
pregnant it can cause a great deal of problems. Many mature and thoughtful people think it is far
better to leave sex until after marriage.

But what about lying? Is it possible to live without telling lies?

If it is really impossible to get by in society or business without lying, such a shocking and corrupt
state of affairs should be changed. The Buddhist is someone who resolves to do something practical
about the problem by trying to be more truthful and honest.

Well, what about alcohol? Surely a little drink doesn't hurt.

People don't drink for the taste. When they drink alone it is in order to seek release from tension and
when they drink socially, it is usually to conform. Even a small amount of alcohol distorts
consciousness and disrupts self-awareness. Taken in large quantities, its effect can be devastating.

But drinking just a small amount wouldn't be really breaking the precept, would it? It's only a small

Yes, it is only a small thing and if you can't practice even a small thing, your commitment and
resolution isn't very strong, is it?

The five precepts are negative. They tell you what not to do. They don't tell you what to do.

The Five Precepts are the basis of Buddhist morality. They are not all of it. We start by recognizing
our bad behavior and striving to stop doing it. That is what the Five Precepts are for. After we have
stopped doing bad, we then commence to do good. Take for example, speech. The Buddha says we
should start by refraining from telling lies. After that, we should speak the truth, speak gently and
politely and speak at the right time. He says:
"Giving up false speech he becomes a speaker of truth, reliable, trustworthy, dependable, he does not
deceive the world. Giving up malicious speech he does not repeat there what he has heard here nor
does he repeat here what he has heard there in order to cause variance between people. He
reconciles those who are divided and brings closer together those who are already friends. Harmony
is his joy, harmony is his delight, harmony is his love; it is the motive of his speech. Giving up harsh
speech his speech is blameless, pleasing to the ear, agreeable, going to the heart, urbane, liked by
most. Giving up idle chatter he speaks at the right time, what is correct, to the point, about Dhamma
and about discipline. He speaks words worth being treasured up, seasonable, reasonable, well
defined and to the point."
M. I, 179

Where do we come from and where are we going?

There are three possible answers to this question. Those who believe in a god or gods usually claim
that before an individual is created, he does not exist, then he comes into being through the will of a
god. He lives his life and then, according to what he believes or does during his life, he either goes to
eternal heaven or eternal hell. There are others, humanists and scientists, who claim that the
individual comes into being at conception due to natural causes, lives and then at death, ceases to
exist. Buddhism does not accept either of these explanations. The first gives rise to many ethical
problems. If a good god really creates each of us, it is difficult to explain why so many people are born
with the most dreadful deformities, or why so many children are miscarried just before birth or are still-
born. Another problem with the theistic explanation is that it seems very unjust that a person should
suffer eternal pain in hell for what he did in just 60 or 70 years on earth. Sixty or seventy years of non-
belief or immoral living does not deserve eternal torture. Likewise, 60 or 70 years of good living
seems a very small outlay for eternal bliss in heaven. The second explanation is better than the first
and has more scientific evidence to support it but still leaves several important questions unanswered.
How can a phenomenon so amazingly complex as consciousness develop from the simple meeting of
two cells, the sperm and the egg? And now that parapsychology is a recognized branch of science,
phenomena like telepathy are increasingly difficult to fit into the materialistic model of the mind.
Buddhism offers the most satisfactory explanation of where man came from and where he is going.
When we die, the mind, with all the tendencies, preferences, abilities and characteristics that have
been developed and conditioned in this life, re-establishes itself in a fertilized egg. Thus the individual
grows, is re-born and develops a personality conditioned both by the mental characteristics that have
been carried over and by the new environment. The personality will change and be modified by
conscious effort and conditioning factors like education, parental influence and society and once
again at death, re-establish itself in a new fertilized egg. This process of dying and being reborn will
continue until the conditions that cause it, craving and ignorance, cease. When they do, instead of
being reborn, the mind attains a state called Nirvana and this is the ultimate goal of Buddhism and the
purpose of life.

How does the mind go from one body to another?

Think of it being like radio waves. The radio waves, which are not made up of words and music but
energy at different frequencies, are transmitted, travel through space, are attracted to and picked up
by the receiver from where they are broadcast as words and music. It is the same with the mind. At
death, mental energy travels through space, is attracted to and picked up by the fertilized egg. As the
embryo grows, it centers itself in the brain from where it later "broadcasts" itself as the new

Is one always reborn as a human being?

No, there are several realms into which one can be reborn. Some people are reborn in heaven, some
are reborn in hell, some are reborn as hungry ghosts and so on. Heaven is not a place but a state of
existence where one has a subtle body and where the mind experiences mainly pleasure. Some
religions strive very hard to be reborn in a heavenly existence mistakenly believing it to be a
permanent state. But it is not. Like all conditioned states, heaven is impermanent and when one's life
span there is finished, one could well be reborn again as a human. Hell, likewise, is not a place but a
state of existence where one has a subtle body and where the mind experiences mainly anxiety and
distress. Being a hungry ghost, again, is a state of existence where the body is subtle and where the
mind is continually plagued by longing and dissatisfaction. So heavenly beings experience mainly
pleasure, hell beings and ghosts experience mainly pain and human beings experience usually a
mixture of both. So the main difference between the human realm and other realms is the body type
and the quality of experience.

What decides where will be reborn?

The most important factor, but not the only one, influencing where we will be reborn and what sort of
life we shall have, is kamma. The word kamma means 'action' and refers to our intentional mental
actions. In other words, what we are is determined very much by how we have thought and acted in
the past. Likewise, how we think and act now will influence how we will be in the future. The gentle,
loving type of person tends to be reborn in a heaven realm or as a human being who has a
predominance of pleasant experiences. the anxious, worried or extremely cruel type of person tends
to be reborn in a hell realm or as a human being who has a predominance of painful experiences. The
person who develops obsessive craving, fierce longings, and burning ambitions that can never be
satisfied tends to be reborn as a hungry ghost or as a human being frustrated by longing and wanting.
Whatever mental habits are strongly developed in this life will continue in the next life. Most people,
however, are reborn as human beings.

So we are not determined by our kamma. We can change it.

Of course we can. That is why one of the steps on the Noble Eightfold Path is Perfect Effort. If
depends on our sincerity, how much energy we exert and how strong the habit is. But it is true that
some people simply go through life under the influence of their past habits, without making an effort to
change them and falling victim to these unpleasant results. Such people will continue to suffer unless
they change their negative habits. The longer the negative habits remain, the more difficult they are to
change. The Buddhist understands this and takes advantage of each and every opportunity to break
mental habits that have unpleasant results and to develop mental habits that have a pleasant and
happy result. Meditation is one of the techniques used to modify the habit patterns of the mind as
does speaking or refraining to speak, acting or refraining to act m certain ways, The whole of the
Buddhist life is a training to purify and free the mind. For example, if being patient and kind was a
pronounced part of your character in your last life, such tendencies will re-emerge in the present life. If
they are strengthened and developed in the present life, they will re-emerge even stronger and more
pronounced in the future life. This is based upon the simple and observable fact that long established
habits tend to be difficult to break. Now, when you are patient and kind, it tends to happen that you
are not so easily ruffled by others, you don't hold grudges, people like you and thus your experiences
tends to be happier. Now, let us take another example. Let us say that you came into life with a
tendency to be patient and kind due to your mental habits in the past life. But in the present life, you
neglect to strengthen and develop such tendencies. They would gradually weaken and die out and
perhaps be completely absent in the future life. Patience and kindness being weak in this case, there
is a possibility that in either this life or in the next life, a short temper, anger and cruelty could grow
and develop, bringing with them all the unpleasant experiences that such attitudes create. We will
take one last example. Let us say that due to your mental habits in the last life, you came into the
present life with the tendency to be short-tempered and angry, and you realize that such habits only
cause you unpleasantness and so you make an effort to change them. You replace them with positive
emotions. If you are able to eliminate them completely, which is possible if you make an effort, you
become free from the unpleasantness caused by being short tempered and angry. If you are only able
to weaken such tendencies, they would re-emerge in the next life where with a bit more effort, they
could be eliminated completely and you could be free from their unpleasant effects.

You have talked a lot about rebirth but is there any proof that we are reborn when we die?

Not only is there scientific evidence to support the Buddhist belief in rebirth, it is the only after-life
theory that has any evidence to support it. There is not a scrap of evidence to prove the existence of
heaven and of course evidence of annihilation at death must be lacking. But during the last 30 years
parapsychologists have been studying reports that some people have vivid memories of their former
lives. For example, in England, a 5 year-old girl said she could remember her "other mother and
father" and she talked vividly about what sounded like the events in the life of another person.
Parapsychologists were called in and they asked her hundreds of questions to which she gave
answers. She spoke of living in a particular village in what appeared to be Spain, she gave the name
of the village, the name of the street she lived in, her neighbors' names and details about her
everyday life there. She also fearfully spoke of how she had been struck by a car and died of her
injuries two days later. When these details were checked, they were found to be accurate. There was
a village in Spain with the name the five-year-old girl had given. There was a house of the type she
had described in the street she had named. What is more, it was found that a 23-year-old woman
living in the house had been killed in a car accident five years before. Now how is it possible for a five
year- old girl living in England and who had never been to Spain to know all these details? And of
course, this is not the only case of this type. Professor Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia's
Department of Psychology has described dozens of cases of this type in his books. He is an
accredited scientist whose 25 year study of people who remember former lives is very strong
evidence for the Buddhist teaching of rebirth.

Some people might say that the supposed ability to remember former lives is the work of devils.

You simply cannot dismiss everything that doesn't fit into your belief as being the work of devils.
When cold, hard facts are produced to support an idea, you must use rational and logical arguments if
you wish to counter them -not irrational and superstitious talk about devils.

You say that talk about devils is superstition but isn't talk about rebirth a bit superstitious also?

The dictionary defines 'superstition' as 'a belief which is not based on reason or fact but on an
association of ideas, as in magic'. If you can show me a careful study of the existence of devils written
by a scientist I will concede that belief in devils is not superstition. But I have never heard of any
research into devils; scientists simply wouldn't bother to study such things, so I say there is no
evidence for the existence of devils. But as we have just seen, there is evidence which seems to
suggest that rebirth does take place. So if belief in rebirth is based on at least some facts, it cannot be
a superstition.

Well, have there been any scientists who believe in rebirth?

Yes. Thomas Huxley, who was responsible for having science introduced into the 19th century British
school system and who was the first scientist to defend Darwin's theories, believed that reincarnation
was a very plausible idea. In his famous book 'Evolution and Ethics and other Essays', he says:
In the doctrine of transmigration, whatever its origin, Brahmanical and Buddhist speculation found,
ready to hand, the means of constructing a plausible vindication of the ways of the Cosmos to man...
Yet this plea of justification is not less plausible than others; and none but very hasty thinkers will
reject it on the ground of inherent absurdity. Like the doctrine of evolution itself, that of transmigration
has its roots in the world of reality; and it may claim such support as the great argument from analogy
is capable of supplying.
Then, Professor Gustaf Stromberg, the famous Swedish astronomer, physicist and friend of Einstein
also found the idea of rebirth appealing. Opinions differ whether human souls can be reincarnated on
the earth or not. In 1936 a very interesting case was thoroughly investigated and reported by the
government authorities in India. A girl (Shanti Devi from Delhi) could accurately describe her previous
life (at Muttra, five hundred miles from Delhi) which ended about a year before her "second birth." She
gave the name of her husband and child and described her home and life history. The investigating
commission brought her to her former relatives, who verified all her statements. Among the people of
India reincarnations are regarded as commonplace; the astonishing thing for them in this case was
the great number of facts the girl remembered. This and similar cases can be regarded as additional
evidence for the theory of the indestructibility of memory. Professor Julian Huxley, the distinguished
British scientist who was Director General of UNESCO believed that rebirth was quite in harmony with
scientific thinking. There is nothing against a permanently surviving spirit-individuality being in some
way given off at death, as a definite wireless message is given off by a sending apparatus working in
a particular way. But it must be remembered that the wireless message only becomes a message
again when it comes in contact with a new, material structure - the receiver. So with our possible
spirit-emanation. It... would never think or feel unless again 'embodied' in some way. Our per
venalities are so based on body that it is really impossible to think of survival which would be in any
true sense personal without a body of sorts... I can think of something being given off which would
bear the same relation to men and women as a wireless message to the transmitting apparatus; but in
that case 'the dead' would, so far as one can see, be nothing but disturbances of different patterns
wandering through the universe until... they... came back to actuality of consciousness by making
contact with something which could work as a receiving apparatus for mind. Even very practical and
down-to-earth people like the American industrialist Henry Ford found the idea or rebirth acceptable.
Ford was attracted to the idea of rebirth because, unlike the theistic idea or the materialistic idea,
rebirth gives you a second chance to develop yourself. Henry Ford says: I adopted the theory of
Reincarnation when I was twenty-six. Religion offered nothing to the point.. Even work could not give
me complete satisfaction. Work is fume if we cannot utilize the experience we collect in one life in the
next. When I discovered Reincarnation it was as if I had found a universal plan. I realized that there
was a chance to work out my ideas. Time was no longer limited. I was no longer a slave to the hands
of the clock... Genius is experience. Some seem to think that it is a gift or talent, but it is the fruit of
long experience in many lives. Some are older souls than others, and so they know more... The
discovery of Reincarnation put my mind at ease... If you preserve a record of this conversation, write it
so that it puts men's minds at ease. I would like to communicate to others the calmness that the long
view of life gives to us.
So the Buddhist teachings of rebirth does have some scientific evidence to support it. It is logically
consistent and it goes a long way to answering questions that theistic and the materialistic theories
fail to do. But it is also very comforting. What can be worse than a theory of life that gives you no
second chance, no opportunity to amend the mistakes you have made in this life and no time to
further develop the skills and abilities you have nurtured in this life. But according to the Buddha, if
you fail to attain Nirvana in this life, you will have the opportunity to try again next time. If you have
made mistakes in this life, you will be able to correct yourself in the next life. You will truly be able to
learn from your mistakes. Things you were unable to do or achieve in this life may well become
possible in the next life. What a wonderful teaching!

I often hear Buddhists talk about wisdom and compassion. What do these two terms mean?

Some religions believe that compassion or love (the two are very similar) is the most important
spiritual quality but they fail to develop any wisdom. The result is that you end up being a good-
hearted fool, a very kind person but with little or no understanding. Other systems of thought, like
science, believe that wisdom can best be developed when all emotions, including compassion, are
kept out of the way. The outcome of this is that science has tended to become preoccupied with
results and has forgotten that science is to serve man not to control and dominate him. How,
otherwise could scientists have lent their skills to develop the nuclear bomb, germ warfare, and the
like. Religion has always seen reason and wisdom as the enemy of emotions like love and faith.
Science has always seen emotions like love and faith as being enemies of reason and objectivity. And
of course, as science progresses, religion declines. Buddhism, on the other hand, teaches that to be a
truly balanced and complete individual, you must develop both wisdom and compassion. And
because it is not dogmatic but based on experience, Buddhism has nothing to fear from science.

So what, according to Buddhism, is wisdom?

The highest wisdom is seeing that in reality all phenomena are incomplete, impermanent, and not
self. This understanding is totally freeing and leads to the great security and happiness which is called
Nirvana. However, the Buddha doesn't speak too much about this level of wisdom. It is not wisdom if
we simply believe what we are told. True wisdom is to directly see and understand for ourselves. At
this level then, wisdom is to keep an open mind rather than being closed-minded, listening to other
points of view rather than being bigoted; to carefully examine facts that contradict our beliefs, rather
than burying our heads in the sand; to be objective rather than prejudiced and partisan; to take time
about forming our opinions and beliefs rather than just accepting the first or most emotional thing that
is offered to us; and to always be ready to change our beliefs when facts that contradict them are
presented to us. A person who does this is certainly wise and is certain to eventually arrive at true
understanding. The path of just believing what you are told is easy. The Buddhist path requires
courage, patience, flexibility and intelligence.

I think few people could do this. So what is the point of Buddhism if only a few can practice it?

It is true that not everyone is ready for Buddhism yet. But to say that therefore we should teach a
religion that is false but easily understandable just so that everyone can practice it is ridiculous.
Buddhism aims at the truth and if not everyone has the capacity to understand it yet, they perhaps will
be ready for it in their next life. However, there are many who, with just the right words or
encouragement, are able to increase their understanding. And it is for this reason that Buddhists
gently and quietly strive to share the insights of Buddhism with others. The Buddha taught us out of
compassion and we teach others out of compassion.

So we arrive at compassion. What, according to Buddhism, is compassion?

Just as wisdom covers the intellectual or comprehending side of our nature, compassion covers the
emotional or feeling side of our nature. Like wisdom, compassion is a uniquely human quality.
Compassion is made up of two words, 'co' meaning together and 'passion' meaning a strong feeling.
And this is what compassion is. When we see someone in distress and we feel their pain as if it were
our own, and strive to eliminate or lessen their pain, then this is compassion. So all the best in human
beings, all the Buddha-like qualities like sharing, readiness to give comfort, sympathy, concern and
caring - all are manifestations of compassion. You will notice also that in the compassionate person,
care and love towards others has its origins in care and love for oneself. We can really understand
others when we really understand ourselves. We will know what's best for others when we know
what's best for ourselves. We can feel for others when we feel for ourselves. So in Buddhism, one's
own spiritual development blossoms quite naturally into concern for the welfare of others. The
Buddha's life illustrates this very well. He spent six years struggling for his own welfare, after which,
he was able to be of benefit to the whole of mankind.

So you are saying that we are best able to help others after we have helped ourselves. Isn't that a bit

We usually see altruism, concern for others before oneself, as being the opposite of selfishness,
concern for oneself before others. Buddhism does not see it as either one or the other but rather as a
blending of the two. Genuine self-concern will gradually mature into concern for others as one sees
that others are really the same as oneself. This is genuine compassion and it is the most beautiful
jewel in the crown of the Buddha's teaching.

Buddhists should be vegetarians, shouldn't they?

Not necessarily. The Buddha was not a vegetarian. He did not teach his disciples to be vegetarians
and even today, there are many good Buddhists who are not vegetarians.

But if you eat meat you are indirectly responsible for the death of a creature. Isn't that breaking the
first precept?

It is true that when you eat meat, you are indirectly and partially responsible for killing a creature but
the same is true when you eat vegetables. The farmer has to spray his crop with insecticides and
poisons so that the vegetables arrive on your dinner plates without holes in them. And once again,
animals have been killed to provide the leather for your belt or handbag, oil for the soap you use and
a thousand other products as well. It is impossible to live without, in some way, being indirectly
responsible for the death of some other beings, and this is just another example of the First Noble
Truth, ordinary existence is suffering and unsatisfactory. When you take the First Precept, you try to
avoid being directly responsible for killing beings.

Mahayana Buddhists don't eat meat.

That is not correct. Mahayana Buddhism in China laid great stress on being vegetarian but both the
monks and laymen/laywomen of the Mahayana tradition in Japan and Tibet usually eat meat.

But I still think that a Buddhist should be vegetarian.

If there was a person who was a very strict vegetarian but who was selfish, dishonest and mean, and
another person who was not a vegetarian but who was thoughtful to others, honest, generous and
kind, which of these two would be the better Buddhist?

The person who was honest and kind.


Because such a person obviously has a good heart.

Exactly. One who eats meat can have a pure heart just as one who does not eat meat can have an
impure heart. In the Buddha's teachings, the important thing is the quality of your heart, not the
contents of your diet. Many Buddhists take great care never to eat meat but they are not concerned
about being selfish, dishonest, cruel or jealous. They change their diet which is easy to do, while
neglecting to change their hearts which is a difficult thing to do. So whether you are a vegetarian or
not, remember that the purification of the mind is the most important thing in Buddhism.

What did the Buddha teach about magic and fortune telling?

The Buddha considered such practices as fortune telling, wearing magic charms for protection, fixing
lucky sites for building, prophesizing and fixing lucky days to be useless superstitions and he
expressly forbids his disciples to practice such things. He calls all these things 'low arts.'
"Whereas some religious men, while living of food provided by the faithful make their living by such
low arts, such wrong means of livelihood as palmistry, divining by signs, interpreting dreams...
bringing good or bad luck... invoking the goodness of luck... picking the lucky site for a building, the
monk Gotama refrains from such low arts, such wrong means of livelihood."
D.I, 9-12

Then why do people sometimes practice such things and believe in them?

Because of greed, fear and ignorance. As soon as people understand the Buddha's teachings, they
realize that a pure heart can protect them much better than bits of paper, bits of metal and a few
chanted words and they no longer rely on such things. In the teachings of the Buddha, it is honesty,
kindness, understanding, patience, forgiveness, generosity, loyalty and other good qualities that truly
protect you and give you true prosperity.

But some lucky charms do work, don't they?

I know a person who makes a living selling lucky charms. He claims that his charms can give good
luck, prosperity and he guarantees that you will be able to pick three numbers. But if what he says is
true then why isn't he himself a multi-millionaire? If his lucky charms really work, then why doesn't he
win the lottery week after week? The only luck he has is that there are people silly enough to buy his
magic charms.

Then is there such a thing as luck?

The dictionary defines luck as 'believing that whatever happens, either good or bad, to a person in the
course of events is due to chance, fate or fortune.' The Buddha denied this belief completely.
Everything that happens has a specific cause or causes and there must be some relationships
between the cause and the effect. Becoming sick, for example, has specific causes. One must come
into contact with germs and one's body must be weak enough for the germs to establish themselves.
There is a definite relationship between the cause (germs and a weakened body) and the effect
(sickness) because we know that germs attack the organisms and give rise to sickness. But no
relationship can be found wearing a piece of paper with words written on it and being rich or passing
examinations. Buddhism teaches that whatever happens does so because of a cause or causes and
not due to luck, chance or fate. People who are interested in luck are always trying to get something -
usually more money and wealth. The Buddha teaches us that it is far more important to develop our
hearts and minds. He says:
Being deeply learned and skilled. Being well-trained and using well-spoken words; this is the best
good luck. To support mother and father, to cherish wife and child and to have a simple livelihood; this
is the best good luck. Being generous, just, helping one's relatives and being blameless in one's
actions; this is the best good luck. To refrain from evil and from strong drink, and to be always
steadfast in virtue; this is the best good luck. Reverence, humility, contentment, gratitude and hearing
the good Dhamma; this is the best good luck.
Sn. 261-265

What you said so far is very interesting to me. How do I become a Buddhist?

Once there was a man called Upali. He was the follower of another religion and he went to the
Buddha in order to argue with him and try to convert him. But after talking to the Buddha, he was so
impressed that he decided to become a follower of the Buddha. But the Buddha said:
"Make a proper investigation first. Proper investigation is good for a well-known person like yourself."
"Now I am even more pleased and satisfied when the Lord says to me: 'Make a proper investigation
first.' For if members of another religion had secured me as a disciple they would have paraded a
banner all around the town saying: 'Upali has joined our religion.' But the Lord says to me: 'Make a
proper investigation first. Proper investigation is good for a well known person like yourself."
MII 379
In Buddhism, understanding is the most important thing and understanding takes time. So do not
impulsively rush into Buddhism. Take your time, ask questions, consider carefully, and then make
your decision. The Buddha was not interested in having large numbers of disciples. He was
concerned that people should follow his teachings as a result of a careful investigation and
consideration of facts.

If I have done this and I find the Buddha's teaching acceptable, what would I do then if I wanted to
become a Buddhist?

It would be best to join a good temple or Buddhist group, support them, be supported by them and
continue to learn more about the Buddha's teachings. Then, when you are ready, you would formally
become a Buddhist by taking the Three Refuges.

What are the Three Refuges?

A refuge is a place where people go when they are distressed or when they need safety and security.
There are many types of refuge. When people are unhappy, they take refuge with their friends, when
they are worried and frightened, they might take refuge in false hopes and beliefs. As they approach
death, they might take refuge in the belief in an eternal heaven. But, as the Buddha says, none of
these are true refuges because they do not give comfort and security based on reality.
Truly these are not safe refuges, not the refuge supreme. Not the refuge whereby one is freed from all
sorrow But to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha and to see with real
understanding the Four Noble Truths, Suffering, the cause of suffering, the transcending of suffering
and the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to the transcending of suffering, This indeed is a safe refuge,
it is the refuge supreme. It is the refuge whereby one is freed from all suffering.
Dp. 189-192
Taking Refuge in the Buddha is a confident acceptance of the fact that one can become fully
enlightened and perfected just as the Buddha was. Taking Refuge in the Dhamma means
understanding the Four Noble Truths and basing one's life on the Noble Eightfold Path. Taking
Refuge in the Sangha means looking for support, inspiration and guidance from all who walk the
Noble Eightfold Path. Doing this one becomes a Buddhist and thus takes the first step on the path
towards Nirvana.

What changes have taken place in your life since you first took the three refuges?

Like countless millions of others over the last 2500 years, I have found that the Buddha's teachings
have made sense out of a difficult world, they have given meaning to what was a meaningless life,
they have given me a humane and compassionate ethics with which to lead my life and they have
shown me how I can attain a state of purity and perfection in the next life. A poet in ancient India once
wrote of the Buddha:
To go to him for refuge, to sing his praise, to do him honor and to abide in his Dhamma is to act with
understanding. I agree with these words completely.

I have a friend who is always trying to convert me to his religion. I am not really interested in his
religion and I have told him so but he won't leave me alone. What can I do?

The first thing you must understand is that this person is not really your friend. A true friend accepts
you as you are and respects your wishes. I suspect that this person is merely pretending to be your
friend so he can convert you. When people try to impose their will on you they are certainly not

But he says he wants to share his religion with me.

Sharing your religion with others is a good thing. But I suggest that your friend doesn't know the
difference between sharing and imposing. If I have an apple, I offer you half and you accept my offer,
then I have shared with you. But if you say to me "Thank you, but I have already eaten" and I keep
insisting that you take half the apple until you finally give in to my pressure, this can hardly be called
sharing. People like your 'friend' try to disguise their bad behavior by calling it 'sharing', 'love' or
'generosity' but by what- ever name they call it, their behavior is still just rude, bad manners and

So how can I stop him?

It is simple. Firstly, be clear in your mind what you want. Secondly, clearly and briefly tell him so.
Thirdly, when he asks you questions like "What is your belief on this matter" or "Why don't you wish to
come to the meeting with me", clearly, politely and persistently repeat your first statement. "Thank you
for the invitation but I would rather not come". "Why not?" "That is really my business. I would rather
not come." "But there will be many interesting people there." "I am sure there will be but I would rather
not come." "I am inviting you because I care about you." "I am glad you care about me but I would
rather not come." If you clearly, patiently and persistently repeat yourself and refuse to allow him to
get you involved in a discussion he will eventually give up. It is a shame that you have to do this, but it
is very important for people to learn that they cannot impose their beliefs or wishes upon others.

Should Buddhists try to share the Dhamma with others?

Yes, they should. And I think most Buddhists understand the difference between sharing and
imposing. If people ask you about Buddhism, tell them. You can even tell them about the Buddha's
teachings without their asking. But if, by either their words or their actions, they let you know that they
are not interested, accept that and respect their wishes. It is also important to remember that you let
people know about the Dhamma far more effectively through your actions than through preaching to
them. Show people the Dhamma by always being considerate, kind, tolerant, upright and honest. Let
the Dhamma shine forth through your speech and actions. If each of us, you and I, know the Dhamma
thoroughly, practice it fully and share it generously with others, we can be of great benefit to ourselves
and others also.

What is Meditation?

Meditation is a conscious effort to change how the mind works. The Pali word for meditation is
'bhavana' which means 'to make grow' or 'to develop'.

Is meditation important?

Yes, it is. No matter how much we may wish to be good, if we cannot change the desires that make
us act the way we do, change will be difficult. For example, a person may realize that he is impatient
with his wife and he may promise himself: "From now on I am not going to be so impatient." But an
hour later he may be shouting at his wife simply because, not being aware of himself, impatience has
arisen without him knowing. Meditation helps to develop the awareness and the energy needed to
transform ingrained mental habit patterns.

I have heard that meditation can be dangerous. Is this true?

To live, we need salt. But if you were to eat a kilogram of salt it would kill you. To live in the modern
world you need a car but if you don't follow the traffic rules or if you drive while you are drunk, a car
becomes a dangerous machine. Meditation is like this, it is essential for our mental health and well-
being but if you practice in a stupid way, it could cause problems. Some people have problems like
depression, irrational fears or schizophrenia, they think meditation is an instant cure for their problem,
they start meditating and sometimes their problem gets worse. If you have such a problem, you
should seek professional help and after you are better then take up meditation. Other people over
reach themselves, they take up meditation and instead of going gradually, step by step, they meditate
with too much energy for too long and soon they are exhausted. But perhaps most problems in
meditation are caused by ''kangaroo meditation'. Some people go to one teacher and do his
meditation technique for a while, then they read something in a book and decide to try that technique,
then a week later a famous meditation teacher visits town and so they decide to incorporate some of
his ideas into their practice and before long they are hopelessly confused. Jumping like a kangaroo
from one teacher to another or from one meditation technique to another is a mistake. But if you don't
have any severe mental problem and you take up meditation and practice sensibly it is one of the best
things you can do for yourself.

How many types of meditation are there?

The Buddha taught many different types of meditation, each designed to overcome a particular
problem or to develop a particular psychological state. But the two most common and useful types of
meditation are Mindfulness of Breathing (anapana sati) and Loving Kindness Meditation (metta

If I wanted to practice Mindfulness of Breathing, how would I do it?

You would follows these easy steps: the four Ps place, posture, practice and problems. First, find a
suitable place, perhaps a room that is not too noisy and where you are not likely to do disturbed.
Second, sit in a comfortable posture. A good posture is to sit with your legs folded, a pillow under your
buttocks, your back straight, the hands nestled in the lap and the eyes closed. Alternatively, you can
sit in a chair as long as you keep your back straight. Next comes the actual practice itself. As you sit
quietly with your eyes closed you focus your attention on the in and out movement of the breath. This
can be done by counting the breaths or watching the rise and fall of the abdomen. When this is done,
certain problems and difficulties will arise. You might experience irritating itches on the body or
discomfort in the knees. If this happens, try to keep the body relaxed without moving and keep
focusing on the breath. You will probably have many intruding thoughts coming into your mind and
distracting your attention from the breath. The only way you can deal with this problem is to patiently
keep returning your attention to the breath. If you keep doing this, eventually thoughts will weaken,
your concentration will become stronger and you will have moments of deep mental calm and inner

How long should I meditate for?

It is good to do meditation for 15 minutes every day for a week and then extend the time by 5 minutes
each week until you are meditating for 45 minutes. After a few weeks of regular daily meditation you
will start to notice that your concentration gets better, there are less thoughts, and you have moments
of real peace and stillness.

What about Loving Kindness Meditation? How is that practiced?

Once you are familiar with Mindfulness of Breathing and are practicing it regularly you can start
practicing Loving Kindness Meditation. It should be done two or three times each week after you have
done Mindfulness of Breathing. First, you turn your attention to yourself and say to yourself words like
"May I be well and happy. May I be peaceful and calm. May I be protected from dangers. May my
mind be free from hatred. May my heart be filled with love. May I be well and happy." Then one by
one you think of a loved person, a neutral person, that is, someone you neither like nor dislike, and
finally a disliked person, wishing each of them well as you do so.

What is the benefit of doing this type of meditation?

If you do Loving Kindness Meditation regularly and with the right attitude, you will find very positive
changes taking place within yourself. You will find that you are able to be more accepting and
forgiving towards yourself. You will find that the feelings you have towards your loved ones will
increase. You will find yourself making friends with people you used to be indifferent and uncaring
towards, and you will find the ill-will or resentment you have towards some people will lessen and
eventually be dissolved. Sometimes if you know of someone who is sick, unhappy or encountering
difficulties you can include them in your meditation and very often you will find their situation

How is that possible?

The mind, when properly developed, is a very powerful instrument. If we can learn to focus our mental
energy and project it towards others, it can have an effect upon them. You may have had an
experience like this. Perhaps you are in a crowded room and you get this feeling that someone is
watching you. You turn around and, sure enough, someone is staring at you. What has happened is
that you have picked up that other person's mental energy. Loving Kindness Meditation is like this.
We project positive mental energy towards others and it gradually transforms them.

Do I need a teacher to teach me meditation?

A teacher is not absolutely necessary but personal guidance from someone who is familiar with
meditation is certainly helpful. Unfortunately, some monks and laymen set themselves up as
meditation teachers when they simply don't know what they are doing. Try to pick a teacher who has
a good reputation, a balanced personality and who adheres closely to the Buddha's teachings.

I have heard that meditation is widely used today by psychiatrists and psychologists. Is this true?

Yes, it is. Meditation is now accepted as having a highly therapeutic effect upon the mind and is used
by many professional mental health workers to help induce relaxation, overcome phobias and bring
about self-awareness. The Buddha's insights into the human mind are helping people as much today
as they did in ancient times.

Some FAQ's (frequently asked questions) we regularly get asked about on BuddhaNet.

Do Buddhists pray?

Buddhists don’t pray to a Creator God, but they do have devotional meditation
practices which could be compared to praying. Radiating loving-kindness to all living
beings is a practice which is believed to benefit those beings. The sharing of merit is a
practice where one dedicates the goodness of one’s life to the benefit of all living
beings as well as praying for a particular person.
For further information on the nature of Buddhist devotion and faith:

See DEVOTION.ZIP in BuddhaNet’s File Library
In Tibet prayer is going on most of the time. Tibetans pray in a special way. They
believe that when certain sounds and words, called mantras, are said many times,
they arouse good vibrations within the person. If a mantra is repeated often enough it
can open up the mind to a consciousness which is beyond words and thoughts.
In Japan millions of Buddhists pray to Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light.
They believe that Amida has created a Pure Land in the west and that those who
have faith and repeat Amida’s name in prayer will go there. Yet they also believe that
Amida is really within them

How do you become a Buddhist?

In one way being a Buddhist means belonging to a particular community of people
and following a path of life taught by the Buddhas (enlightened beings). Members of
the Buddhist community are formally joined by taking refuge in the Buddha, the
Dharma (the teaching) and the Sangha (the community of noble disciples).

When visiting Centres and Temples - what is expected?

Many people are shy of visiting centres or temples because they think that:
1. They will be asked for money
2. They will be harassed about converting and followed up by
calls, spam email, and stuff like that.
First: the teaching of Buddhism is always free. Going along to a temple is free and
meditation teaching is usually free. The Buddhist belief is that religion should be free,
open and truthful. It is a custom, if you go to a temple, to take a small offering such as
flowers or food. If you talk to a master for long periods, you may wish to leave a small
For some activities - public talks, meditation courses, retreats - a charge is made,
because the expenses involved in organising them can be substantial. If you have a
strong interest and are sincere but have a financial problem, this can be discussed
with the organisers. The teaching is not supposed to be denied to people who lack
financial accumulation.
It is very, very rare for anyone to have people try to convert them and almost unknown
to have any sort of mail or email solicitation (and I would stay away from any such
temple). New students who have only just discovered Buddhism tend to want to tell all
their friends how wonderful it is. Older students know everyone has their own path
and their own pace.
Buddhists are human. There are a few bad organisations. It is obligatory to answer
truthfully questions concerning one's teachers and lineage. The teachers one finds in
Buddhist temples, especially if they have been trained traditionally, overseas, are
incredibly qualified, with decades of experience. If a temple is open and honest, if it is
connected to the mainstream of Buddhist tradition, then it is almost certainly okay.
Cults are closed and secretive. Trust your own judgment.

Why do Buddhists chant?

It reminds one of the Dharma so that it is not forgotten; when meditation is not
possible and when bare mindfulness does not give much consolation, it can be used
to great advantage as an extension of meditation into words to produce calm, some
peace within; and certainly, it expresses one’s strong confidence in the Dharma.
Reciting the same chants day after day also has an advantage - the making of
wholesome repetitive karma which of course will bear very good fruit.

What about Buddhist shrines and images?

The shrine found in Buddhist homes or temples is a focal point of Buddhist
observances. At the centre of the shrine, there is usually an image of the Buddha.
This image may be made of a variety of materials such as marble, gold, wood or even
clay. The image is a symbol that helps people to recall the qualities of the Buddha.
The shrine may also have such objects as a volume of Buddhist scriptures to
represent the Dharma. Some shrines may include other items such as images,
pictures or photographs of Buddhist monks and masters to represent the Sangha.
When a Buddhist stands before a shrine, the objects he sees on it help him to recall
the qualities that are found in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. This inspires him to
work towards cultivating these qualities in himself.

Why do Buddhists bow?

In Buddhism, the traditional gesture of reverence to the Triple Gem is to place the
palms of both hands together and raise them high in front, usually up to the level of
the forehead. In order to express deep veneration, a Buddhist may bow or prostrate
before the image of the Buddha, members of the Sangha and the masters of the
Teaching. When a Buddhist prostrates before an image, he acknowledges the fact
that the Buddha has attained the perfect and supreme Enlightenment. Such an act
helps the Buddhist to overcome egoistic feelings and he becomes more ready to
listen to the Teaching of the Buddha.

Are there Buddhist holy places?

The four holy sites as places of pilgrimage for Buddhists are Lumbini, where the
Buddha was born, Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha was enlightened under the Bodhi
tree; Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first teaching of the Dharma; and
Kusinagara, where the Buddha passed away. See BuddhaNet's "In Search of the

What about Buddhist festivals?

Buddhist festivals are always joyful occasions. Every May, on the night of the full
moon, Buddhists all over the world celebrate Vesak for the birth, enlightenment and
death of the Buddha such a long time ago.
In the Theravada tradition, practices observed by laypeople at Vesak include the
observance of eight precepts (the regular five plus not taking food after midday and
celibacy and not over indulging in sleep). Also the laypeople may participate in
chanting and meditation and listening to sermons.
In Thai villages people get ready during the day. They clean their houses and hang up
garlands of flowers. The men take clean sand from the river bank and spread it over
the temple courtyard, where everyone walks with bare feet. Statues of the Buddha are
brought out of the temple to be washed and polished and all the books come out to be
dusted. When it is dark, the villagers gather with candles or small oil lamps. The
biggest Buddha statue is put on a platform outside the temple and lights shine all
round it. Scented water is thrown onto it. Holding their lights, everyone starts to move
round the Buddha statue so that in the end it is encircled with light.

Can a non-Buddhist attend a Buddhist service?

Many, perhaps even most, Buddhist temples welcome non-Buddhists. Larger, more
well-established temples often post announcements in local newspapers as to their
schedules of services. It is appropriate to call ahead to ask whether visitors are
welcome at a given religious observance. Visitors are free to participate in communal
ritual as the wish. Major ritual activities include offering incense, chanting texts from
the Sutras or singing hymns, and quiet meditation. Guests who choose not to
participate should observe in silence from the back or side of the temple.

What about Buddhist marriage ceremonies?

Monks are prohibited from being marriage celebrants but they can "bless" the couple
by reciting the Dharma (chanting) after the secular ceremony.

What is a Buddhist funeral like?

A simple ceremony where the good deeds of the departed are remembered, a Loving-
kindness meditation can be done and a sharing of merits.

What is a Stupa?

When the person who has died is a Buddha (enlightened one) or an Arhant (saint) or
an especially great teacher, relics are collected after the cremation. These may be
placed in a stupa or pagoda (burial mound) or in a Buddha-rupa (image of the
Buddha). Whenever the Buddhist sees a stupa in the countryside or a Buddha-rupa in
a shrine room it is a reminder of the Dharma (teaching) and it is honoured because of