WHAT DID THE BUDDHA TEACH?
Eighty years before the commencement of the Buddhist Era, a great man was
born into the world. He was the son of King Suddhodana and Queen Siri Maha
Maya of Kapilavastu of the Sakka country, which is now within the
boundaries of Nepal. His name was Siddhattha. Thirty-five years later,
Prince Siddhattha attained Supreme Enlightenment and thereafter became
known as the Enlightened One or the Lord Buddha as he is called in
Thai. He proclaimed his Dhamma (ธรรมะ), or Universal Truth to the people; and,
thereafter, the Buddhist religion (the Teachings of the Buddha) and the
Buddhist community of disciples came into existence.
The community was composed of bhikkhus (ภิกษุ) or monks (including samaneras or
male novices), bhikkhunis (ภิกษุณี) or nuns (including samaneris or female novices),
upasakas (อุบาสก) or male lay followers and upasikas
(อุบาสิกา) or female lay followers. At
present, in Thailand, we have only monks and novices, upasakas or Buddhist
laymen and upisikas or Buddhist laywomen.
A monk is a man who been ordained and conducts himself in accordance with
the precepts laid down for a monk. A novice is a person under or over 20
years of age who has been ordained and conducts himself in accordance with
the precepts laid down for a novice. A Buddhist layman or laywoman is one
who has taken refuge in the Triple Gems (พระรัตนตรัย หรือ
พระไตรรัตน์), i.e. the Buddha (พระพุทธ),
Dhamma (พระธรรม) and the Sangha (พระสงฆ์), and observes the precepts applicable to laymen and laywomen.
At present we call laymen and laywomen, whether of age or underage, Buddhamamaka (พุทธมามกะ)
and Buddhamamika (พุทธมามิกะ) respectively, meaning "he or she who
believes in the Buddha."
Buddhism has spread from its place of birth into the various countries of
the world. The focal point of worship in Buddhism is the Tri-Ratana
Triple Gems), i.e. the Buddha who by himself
discovered, realized and
proclaimed the Dhamma, thereby establishing the Buddhist religion; the
Dhamma or the Universal Truth discovered, realized and proclaimed by the Buddha;
and the Sangha or community of those who hear, follow and realize the
Some members of the Sangha become monks and help in the dissemination of
Buddhism and the perpetuation of monkshood up to the present time.
Everyone who is initiated into the Buddhist religion, whether a layman, a
laywoman or a monk, ought to conform to a preliminary rule, namely one
must solemnly promise to take refuge in and accept the Triple Gems as one's
own refuge or, in other words to regard the Buddha as one's father who
gives birth to one's spiritual life.
A Buddhist may associate himself or herself with people of other faiths
and pay respect to objects of reverence of other religions in an
appropriate manner in the same way as he or she may pay respect to the
father, mother or elders of other people while having at the same time his
or her own father.
He will not lose his Buddhist religion as long as he believes in the
Triple Gems, just as he will remain the son of his own father as long as he
does not disown him and adopt someone else as his father instead, or just
as he will remain a Thai as long as he does not adopt another nationality.
Buddhism, therefore, is not intolerant. Its followers may at will
associate, with people of other nationalities and religions, Buddhism does
not teach disrespectfulness to anyone. On the contrary, it declares that
respect should be paid to all those to whom respect is due and that the
Dhamma should not be withheld from the knowledge of others and kept only
to oneself. Whoever desires to study and practice the Dhamma may do so
without having to profess first the Buddhist faith. The Dhamma as
proclaimed by Buddhist religion, will help to demonstrate that it is
"Truth" that will be beneficial and bring happiness in the present life.
The essence of the entire Buddhist teachings lies in the Four Noble
Truths. Noble Truth (Ariya-Sacca -- อริยสัจ ๔) is short for "truth of the noble ones
(or of those who have attained a high degree of advancement)," "truth
attainable by the noble ones," or "truth by which one is ennobled." It should
first be understood that it is not simply truth that is agreeable to the
world or to oneself, but truths that are directly born of wisdom.
The Four Noble Truths are:
Dukkha (ทุกข์) or suffering which means birth, decay and death, which are the
normal incidents of life. It also means sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief
and despair, which are at times experienced by our body and mind. To be
separated from the pleasant, to be disappointed, or to be in contact with
the unpleasant are also suffering. In short, our body and mind are subject
to suffering or, in other words, we may say that our existence is bound
Samudaya (สมุหทัย), which means the cause of suffering, which is desire. It is a
compelling urge of the mind, such as the longing to own what we desire to
be what we desire to be, or to avoid those states to which we feel
Nirodha (นิโรธ), which means cessation of suffering, which connotes extinction
of desire or such longings of the mind.
Magga (มรรค), which means the way to the cessation of suffering, which is the
Noble Eightfold Paths, namely: Right Understanding; Right
Intention; Right Speech; Right Action; Right Livelihood; Right Effort;
Right Mindfulness; and Right Concentration.
Some people believe that Buddhism is pessimistic in outlook because its
teachings deal only with suffering and are of so high a standard that
ordinary people are unable to practice, because it advocates extinction
of desire, which is very difficult to accomplish. Since such
misunderstanding exists, clarification is necessary before the Noble
Truths can be dealt with. The Buddhist, religion is neither wholly
pessimistic nor wholly optimistic. It derives its outlook from truth, i.e.
truth that can only be understood through a combination of insight and
purity of mind.
According to the history of Buddhism, the Buddha did not enunciate the
Four Noble Truths to any one lightly. He would first feed the minds of his
listeners with other points of the Dhamma until they became pure enough to
be receptive to higher teachings. Then He would expose the Four Noble
Truths to them.
The other points of the Dhamma that are constantly stressed particularly
to laymen, are Dana (ทาน) or charity, Sila (ศีล) or morality, the natural and logical
result of charity and morality which is bliss (meaning happiness and
prosperity even in this life), the dangers of sensuality (anything that
binds one to love and desire) and the advantages to be derived from the
renunciation of sensuality.
This method of gradual teaching adopted by the Buddha is comparable to the
present-day method of education. We may say that the Four Noble Truths
were taught at university level; pupils at lower educational levels were
taught other points of the Dhamma suitable to their understanding. The
Buddha would never teach the Dhamma beyond the comprehension of his
listeners, for to do so would not have benefited anyone.
For those who are in search of knowledge, although they may not be able to
comply with the Four Noble Truths, study of this fundamental point of the
Dhamma would certainly advance their rational knowledge of truth and may
make them consider how much they can in practice comply with it, in spite
of the fact that they are still unable to rid themselves of desire.
Such considerable is possible as in the following instances:
- Every one wants to be happy and never wants to suffer. Yet, why are
people still suffering and unable to do away with their own sufferings
themselves? Sometimes, the more they try to get rid of them, the more they
suffer. This is because they do not know what the true cause of
suffering is and what the true cause of happiness is. If they knew, they
would be successful. They would eliminate the cause of suffering and
create the cause of happiness. One of the important obstacles to this
success is one's own heart. Because we comply too much with the dictates
of our hearts, we have to suffer.
- In saying that we comply with the dictates of our hearts, in fact, we
mean that we are gratifying desire or those compelling urges of the heart.
In worldly existence, it is not yet necessary to suppress desire totally,
because desire is the driving force that brings progress to the world and
to our selves. But desire must be under proper control and some limit
should be set for satisfying it. If desire could be thus restricted, the
probability of a happy life in this world would be much greater. Those who
start fires that burn themselves and the world are invariably people who
do not restrict the desires of their hearts within proper bounds. If we
wish to acquire knowledge, we should study hard. If we desire rank and
wealth, we should persevere in our duty to the best of our ability. This
is tantamount to observing the Noble Eightfold Path in relation to the
world, which is at the same time acting in accordance with the Dhamma.
- But human beings require some rest. Our bodies need rest and sleep. Our
minds also must be given time to be empty. If they are at work all the
time, we cannot sleep. Among those who take pleasure in forms and sounds,
there are--for example--some that are fond of good music; but if they were
compelled to listen to music too long, the lovely music constantly
sounding in their ears would become a torment. They would run away from it
and long for a return of silence or tranquility. Our mind requires such
tranquility for a considerable time every day. This is rest for the mind
or, in other words, the extinction of desire that, in fact, amounts to
elimination of suffering. Therefore, if one really understands that
elimination of suffering is nothing but keeping the mind at rest and that
rest is a mental nourishment, which is needed every day, then one will
begin to understand the meaning of Nirodha.
- We should go on to realize that when our mind is restless, it is because
of desire. The mind then causes us to act, speak and think in consonance
with its agitated state. When gratified, it may become peaceful--but only
momentarily--because action dictated by a restless mind may very soon
afterwards bring us intense pain and severe punishment or make us
conscience-stricken and cause us to regret it for a very long time. So let
it be known that a person with his mind in such a state is termed a "slave
Then is there a way to overcome desire or to master the desire in our own
hearts? Yes, there is the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to the
extinction of suffering, namely:
Samma-ditthi (สัมมาทิฐิ) or Right Understanding, meaning an intellectual grasp of
the Four Noble Truths or of the true nature of existence even in as
simplified form as outlined in the preceding paragraphs.
Samma-sankappa (สัมมาสังกัปปะ) or Right Intention, meaning intention to be free from all
bonds of Dukkha (suffering -- ทุกข์). Such intention should be free from revenge, hatred and
Samma-vaca (สัมมาวาจา) or Right Speech, meaning abstinence from lying; from
tale-bearing and vicious talk that cause discord; from harsh language; and
from vain, irresponsible and foolish talk.
Samma-kammanta (สัมมากัมมันตะ) or Right Action, meaning avoidance of killing and
torturing, of theft and misappropriation, and of adultery.
Samma-ajiva (สัมมาอาชีวะ) or Right Livelihood, meaning rejection or wrong means of
livelihood and living by right means.
Samma-vayama (สัมมาวายามะ) or Right Effort, meaning effort to avoid the arising of
evil; effort to overcome evil and demerit states that have already a
risen; effort to develop good and beneficial states of mind, and effort to
maintain them when they have arisen.
Samma-sati (สัมมาสติ) or Right Mindfulness, meaning dwelling in contemplation of
the true stations of the mind, for instance, the Satipatthana or four
Stations of Mindfulness which are the Body, Sensation, Mind and Dhamma.
Samma-samadhi (สัมมาสมาธิ) or Right Concentration, meaning the fixing of the mind
upon a single deed that we wish to performs along the right path.