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What the Buddha Taught

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  4,020 ratings  ·  167 reviews
A classic introductory book to Buddhism, What the Buddha Taught contains a selection of illustrative texts from the original Pali texts, including the Suttas and the Dhammapada. The author, himself a Buddhist monk and scholar, removes a number of common misconceptions about Buddhism, and provides a comprehensive, compact, lucid, and faithful account of the Buddha’s teachin
Paperback, Second and Enlarged Edition, 151 pages
Published July 1st 1974 by Grove/Atlantic (first published 1959)
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Everyone should read this at least once if they're even remotely interested in Buddhism. The first few chapters contain a straightforward introduction to Buddhism that's neither preachy nor touchy-feely. While it's not exactly straight from the horse's mouth because Buddha's teachings are still coming through a translator, I felt the principles of the book were as raw as one could get it without personally sitting under a bodhi tree with Buddha himself.

Originally, I was going to give this book 4
Bill Viall
This is the only worthwhile book on Buddhism I've come across. Other books I've read wallow in touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo. Rahula is straight forward, treating Buddhism not as witchcraft or God's thoughts, but as the best devised way of proceeding through this veil. He lays Buddhism out clearly & simply, making a sober & cogent argument for what it has to offer.
Erik Graff
Dec 26, 2011 Erik Graff rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: comparative religion/Buddhism fans
Recommended to Erik by: Harold Kasimow
Shelves: religion
This book, assigned for a class entitled "Introduction to Eastern Religions" at Grinnell College, was influential, along with Coomaraswamy's Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism, in first shaping my sense of what that "religion" was all about. Maintaining, as I recall, that the oldest Pali texts and the Theravada tradition were, if anything, practical and antimetaphysical--as opposed, say, to later Mahayana tendencies, these books disposed me favorably to Buddhism in its supposedly "original" formu ...more
Finished Reading What the Buddha Taught (Original English Version)

I read the Chinese version of Ven. Walpola Rahula’s What the Buddha Taught for several times. I have to say the translation is just perfect, by a Taiwan-based Chinese Buddhist scholar, Mr. Gu Fa-Yan. Today I just finished reading the book in its original English version for the first time. Nothing is like the original? I don’t know in this case, cuz it’s been really tough to me. It was written in a scholastic British style. Too ma
I wish I had read this book several years ago, when my interest in Buddhism was reignited and I began to study it seriously. While I have read a few good books and resources that outlined Buddhist practice and belief, none have encompassed quite so much in such a tight and direct manner. I think also that this book could have corrected some confusion and misunderstandings that took a while for me to get through. It is probably the best book for beginners I have encountered, though the approach i ...more
This book made clear to me how challenging it's going to be to get a true picture of the Buddha and Buddhism because I'll be reading everything in translation. (I think I may have only finished this book and only enjoyed it at the three-star level because I read much of it outside at night with a little booklight; the stars and animal singing definitely heightened the experience.) This translator spends many, many footnotes disagreeing with and correcting the translations of others. Which transl ...more
Edith Hope Bishop
The first book I've ever read about Buddhism. It feels strange to rate something like this, as I have nothing to compare it to. Still, I found it fascinating, clear and soothing. I am very interested in learning more.
"the absolute truth is that there is nothing absolute in the world, that everything is relative, conditioned and impermanent."
When I started reading this text, I honestly thought I had the wrong book, not the guide recommended by the local Zen master. It has the feel of a vague, open apologia for Buddhism, not the hardheaded brass-tacks guide for a believer that I was expecting. Then I looked up Walpola Rahula's credentials, discovering that he was the first Buddhist cleric to hold a chair at a major American University (in this case, Northwestern). You may call me on my ad hominem if you like, but that turned my head ...more
There's not much I can add to the general consensus about this book. It's a straightforward introductory text on the major tenants of Buddhism bundled together with highlights from a few important texts all Buddhist sects share in common. It's concise and effective, which is all that can be expected. No doubt there are rooms filled with detailed accounts of doctrinal disputes and the Religion (with a capital 'R') that sprung up around the figure of the Buddha. Rahula sidesteps these lesser schis ...more
Maggie Mollioris
This book was a great introduction to the basic principles of Buddhism. When I was done reading it I felt competent to discuss the basic ideas and interested in exploring further. It was very accessible, and also comfortably dispassionate, with a solid academic feel and format. The author is committed to dispelling misconceptions about Buddhism and does so in a way that is clear and concise without any finger-pointing. In other words, many of the things that make this a good book also reflect th ...more
I first became interested in Buddhism after reading Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach, which uses Zen Buddhism as an alternative to the yes-or-no logic that pervades western thought. I haven't read much else on the topic.

This book is a straightforward introduction to Buddhist thought. The main ideas are presented and explained clearly. Without anything else for comparison I can't comment on the accuracy of the descriptions, but I definitely feel more knowledgeable now than I did before I
Nandasiri Wanninayaka
I read the book “What the Buddha Taught” by Reverand Walpola Rahula last year. It is a book that explains the core of the Buddhism in a simple language. The Reverand Rahula discusses The Buddhist Attitude of Mind, The First Noble Truth: Dukkha, The Second Noble Truth: Samudaya, The Third Noble Truth: Nirodha, The Fourth Noble Truth: Magga, The Doctrine of No Soul: Anatta, Meditation or Mental Culture: Bhāvanā, What the Buddha Taught and the World Today respectively.

There is a growing interest ab
This book is a solid and straightforward overview of the basic philosophic tenets of Buddhism. The text itself is relatively short (less than 100 pages), but it is not simplistic. Rahula explains the main points and directs the reader to the sources for these ideas. For the most part, it doesn’t get into more esoteric details or points of dispute between different branches of Buddhism. He does indicate a few points of disagreement over interpretations, but leaves that more for the reader to go a ...more
The best "beyond-beginner" book on the subject. Though several decades old, it's a great summary of the basics, as well as a good summary of applicability to the layperson and the modern world.
The author traces back to actual words used by the Buddha found in the original Pali texts of the Tipitaka, i.e. a universally accepted record of the teachings of the Buddha. Giving a concise, yet vivid translation, the author goes from introducing 'The Buddhist attitude of mind' to penetrating into specific facets of the so-called 'The four Noble Truths,' i.e. Dukkha, Samudaya, Nirodha and Magga. Furthermore, the author clarifies some misunderstandings regarding 'The doctrine of No-Soul' (Anatt ...more
Bill Mannle
Jun 02, 2010 Bill Mannle is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Here it is in plain speak about the man and his message: Simple
David Harrison
As a non-Buddhist, I found this book to be an informative and no-nonsense introduction to Buddhism. It is written in a rather scholarly, dry manner which may not appeal to some, but for me it is a positive when compared to other books on Buddhism which tend to patronise or oversimplify.

Although I enjoy many aspects of Buddhist philosophy, I find some aspects rather confusing or contradictory; I did not read this book with the aim to be converted and I found it was a good start to gain an unders
What you should read instead of the Karen Armstrong.
Well, I just read this again. This book was my introduction into Buddhism, and even to Indian metaphysics when I read it around 4 years back. I've always remembered it to be the best source book for Buddhism. I wanted to see what Id found then, so I read this again, only this time I'm not as much a beginner as I was then.
Much has been said about the book's achievements which, in fact, are a lot. But the first thing I noticed when I was reading it was the author's style. He seems to take lots o
Nathaniel. Nathaniel.
I enjoyed this summary. There is much more to read and understand about the Buddha. What captured me most was the example on pages 86 through 89 of the great Buddhist emperor of India, Asoka, who was completely changed and transformed by the Buddhist teachings. page 88, "Buddhism aims at creating a society where the ruinous struggle for power is renounced; where calm and peace prevail away from conquest and defeat; where the persecution of the innocent is vehemently denounced; where one who conq ...more
I really liked this book. It is a great, relatively straightforward, clear and concise introduction to Buddhist teachings. Despite its relative accessibility, it is of a slightly more learned/academic bent - which I appreciate. I also liked that it doesn't read like a self-help book, which you see in some of the more contemporary books on Buddhism.

I did not give the book 5 stars, however, for the simple reason that it would have benefited a little bit from more straightforwardness/clarity about
I have been interested in Buddhism for the past couple of years. My interest was kindled by a brief explication in a Teaching Company course on the meaning of life. The Buddhist "eightfold path" (a guide for living the good life by having the right view, aspiration, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and meditation) appealed to me as an interesting combination of virtue ethics, awareness and seeing the world as it is. I bought this book to continue learning more about Buddhism.

In a
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Dr Rahula is very clear about what the Buddha taught and what he did not teach - he clarifies many misunderstandings of the teaching and, like the Buddha whom he quotes liberally, does not mince his words and does not hesitate to call a fool a fool. I benefited especially from his clarification of the meaning of Nibbaana, as well as his exposition of Anatta or Non-Self - his exposition of these difficult-to-grasp doctrines is one of the clearer and more understandable attempts I have come across ...more
Chris Lemig
Jan 27, 2008 Chris Lemig rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone intested in Buddhism
I just began this study of Buddhism a few months ago, so I'm no expert. Still, this book was amazing. Walpola Rahula's book is clear, concise (the book is only 137 pages), illuminating and, above all, readable. He takes you step by step through the essential Buddhist teachings, expounding on them just enough to give you a little firm ground to stand on.

One of the coolest things in the book was the reiteration of the idea that Buddhism is not really a religion. There are no official cermemonies,
This book was informative and pleasurable to read. When I first picked this book up, I was concerned that it would be a difficult read. Not only is a subject with which I am not familiar, but it was written in 1959--I've noticed the writing style for some books written a while back can we formal and difficult. Additionally, I suspect that English is not the author's first language. These factors combined to made me a little leery. However, my fears were completely unfounded. The book is simple, ...more

January 2007

The Practice of Buddhism is the Heart of Buddhism

The first thing that strikes one upon reading this text is the entirely this-worldly character of Buddhist thought. Like the philosophers that we are familiar with in the West the Buddha ("The Enlightened One") does not claim to be other than a man or posses other than human knowledge. That is, the Buddha is not a god or a recipient of a god's revelation. Now, unlike our modern philosophers, the Buddha does not deny the existenc
Amanda (Mandy)
Armstrong's book presents an excellent overview of Buddhism and a biography of the Buddha's life. It is not a religious sermon, an advocacy voice for or against Buddhist teaching, nor an opinionated diatribe about the Dharma - the book is simply an objective, historical narrative of the real man behind Buddha and his search for spiritual enlightenment. It is also a compelling interpretation of parts of the Sutta and Dhammapada. While at times Armstrong's words can be a bit repetitive and dry, it ...more
This book is one of the best for those who seek an unbiased read on Buddhism. It tells you all about Buddhism without trying to convert you and the author does a great job explaining the concepts so that beginners can understand it.
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Walpola Rahula was a Buddhist monk, scholar and writer. He is considered to be one of the top Sri Lankan intellectuals of the 20th century. In 1964, he became the Professor of History and Religions at Northwestern University, thus becoming the first bhikkhu to hold a professorial chair in the Western world. He also once held the position of Vice-Chancellor at the then Vidyodaya University (current ...more
More about Walpola Rahula...
What the Buddha Taught: Revised and Expanded Edition with Texts from Suttas and Dhammapada The Heritage of the Bhikkhu: The Buddhist Tradition of Service Humour in Pali Literature and Other Essays What the Buddha Taught Buddhist Studies In Honour Of Walpola Rahula

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“First of all, Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic. If anything at all, it is realistic, for it takes a realistic view of life and the world. It looks at things objectively (yathābhūtam). It does not falsely lull you into living in a fool's paradise, nor does it frighten and agonize you with all kinds of imaginary fears and sins. It tells you exactly and objectively what you are and what the world around you is, and shows you the way to perfect freedom, peace, tranquility and happiness.” 21 likes
“The question has often been asked; Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy? It does not matter what you call it. Buddhism remains what it is whatever label you may put on it. The label is immaterial. Even the label 'Buddhism' which we give to the teachings of the Buddha is of little importance. The name one gives is inessential.... In the same way Truth needs no label: it is neither Buddhist, Christian, Hindu nor Moslem. It is not the monopoly of anybody. Sectarian labels are a hindrance to the independent understanding of Truth, and they produce harmful prejudices in men's minds.” 16 likes
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