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What the Buddha Taught

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  10,099 ratings  ·  468 reviews
This indispensable volume is a lucid and faithful account of the Buddha’s teachings. “For years,” says the Journal of the Buddhist Society, “the newcomer to Buddhism has lacked a simple and reliable introduction to the complexities of the subject. Dr. Rahula’s What the Buddha Taught fills the need as only could be done by one having a firm grasp of the vast material to be ...more
Paperback, Revised and Expanded Edition, 192 pages
Published January 11th 1994 by Grove Press (first published 1959)
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Francis Fish Questions are part of the tradition. Teachers are of course revered by their students but unquestioning faith is not expected. In the Tibetan traditio…moreQuestions are part of the tradition. Teachers are of course revered by their students but unquestioning faith is not expected. In the Tibetan tradition they say that faith eventually comes from understanding, not the other way round.(less)

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Sean Barrs
As strange as it may sound, many of the books I’ve read on Buddhism do not actually pay much attention to Siddhartha- the Gautama Buddha himself. Normally the prose is driven by explanations of the concepts behind the philosophy rather than delving into its origins. I’ve often relied on internet searches to supplement my readings.

So this book begins with the beginning, and expands outwards. But rather than trying to conceptualise ideas, and explain them in his own personal way- as many other wr
Riku Sayuj

Invitation Complications
Who is the Best Spokesperson for a Religion?

Who can write about a religion best? An insider or an outsider? Obviously it takes a lifetime’s learning to understand the religion, just to get a ‘feel’ for it. It might even need a lifetime's ‘practice’, and it could very well be that the first innocent impulses can only be absorbed at a very young age — like a language, a religion is also a mode of expression.

Then surely the insider is the one best placed to introduce
Apr 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Hai Quan
Mar 20, 2021 rated it did not like it
The brain of mankind, Einstein was quoted as the following : " If you couldn't explain it to a six year old, it was because you didn't understand it yourself "

( Not necessarily verbatim )

After many decades of my years believing in various religions, I finally realize the lamentable uselessness and falsehood of all of 'em beliefs .

All of 'em.It makes no mater which.

Why , you might ask.

Very simple : According to Einstein's quote above , TRUTH must be extremely simple and easy to understand to the
Erik Graff
Dec 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Bill Viall
Nov 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Nov 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
"the absolute truth is that there is nothing absolute in the world, that everything is relative, conditioned and impermanent." ...more
Jan 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing

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
Dec 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was recommended to me as an ideal book for a newcomer to Buddhism. It definitely lived up to its recommendation and then some. Very clear and concise descriptions from the author, which left me feeling very much comfortable with all of the topics included in the book.

Read this book if you wish to understand more clearly the basic concepts, principles and structure of Buddhism.
Edith Hope
Apr 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Frobeg Ochaeta
Although I liked this book at some points I felt Walpola Rahula Failed in writing without sharing too much of his point of view.
It is half "What the Buddha Taught" and half "What Walpola Rahula Thought".
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've always been curious about Buddhism as a non-violent religion that encourages questioning and does not expect the followers to believe in anything blindly, or really to "believe" in anything that can't be seen. I am curious to know if modern practice/teachings actually work like this.

The main 8 chapters of this book are truly fascinating, and I think many non-religious people and non-believers may find that they already relate to many of the ideas presented by the Buddha. I was very pleasant
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
For a long time whenever people ask me for something to read about basic Buddhist ideas, this has been the book I've recommended. It's not the most up-to-date scholarship and Rahula is a bit of a "Protestant Buddhist" (i.e., a movement in the 19-20th centuries to represent Buddhism as more secular, downplaying its religious aspects). But as a bibliophile, some books become friends, and this book is one of my good friends. Rahula explains complex topics of Buddhist philosophy in an elegant, thoug ...more
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I came across this book by accident, but now believe it to be a classic text as an introduction to Buddhism.

It is a short read, but very clear and the concise nature of the read allied to the very clear prose makes it essential.

Chapter VIII 'What the Buddha Taught and the World Today' was simply a revelation to me as this was one of the first books I bought after reading Gunaratana's "Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness".

Highly recommended.
200805: years (decades...) since first reading. this might be first buddhism book i read, very concise, great translations, clear and readable. after other buddhism and philosophy, read again with interest how nibbana can be misunderstood as 'extinction' and thus negative cast- where it is in fact 'extinction' of those 'aggregates' which create the being that 'thirsts' more, more, etc. well organised, this text addresses first the buddhist attitude to the mind, then the four noble truths in chap ...more
Aug 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Zachary Flessert
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
Arguably one of the shortest yet still complete texts explaining the core of Buddhist practice in a way that should be largely accessible to Western readers. However, I wonder if such a short treatment that uses a lot of text-based discourse is accessible, and how much space it gives a reader to allow their own misconceptions and misunderstandings to slip in. I found the chapter on meditation (mental culture) to be the most disappointing as it really did not reflect the discipline required to re ...more
Apr 28, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Apr 10, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: buddhism
There's a lot to like about this rather outdated classic introducing Buddhism to Westerners. There are also many better options these days for getting introduced to Buddhism (list below) but Rahula's book definitely covers the basics. As an introductory book on Buddhist basics for beginners, it's still one of the best.

First off it's important to know that Rahula was a scholar monk from Sri Lanka so his book introduces Buddhism from the Theravada "school of the elders" perspective. Every house n
Forest Tong
Jul 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Without any meditation experience, I think this book might be a bit too difficult to grasp; having taken a Vipassana course, I still found the concepts difficult to grasp but greatly appreciated the author's explanations. One of the big things I gained was a greater appreciation for the breadth and depth of Pali words used in Buddhism such as dukkha.

My main objection to this book is that the author sometimes editorializes and strays from a pure explanation of what the Buddha taught. For example
Craig Shoemake
Easily the best introductory text for Buddhism. This should be everyone's starting place... ...more
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it

The man who gathers only the flowers (of sense pleasures), whose mind is entangled, death carries him away as a great flood a sleeping village.

Libro serio, hermoso y brutal. Justo es leer sobre una visión de mundo que prende fuego los delirios narcisistas y dualistas de buena parte de 'Occidente'.
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 14, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This is exactly what it says it is -- a brief summary of what the Buddha taught. Unfortunately, it isn't very readable, and in that sense it's not a very practical or informative or realistic elucidation of the Buddha's teachings, which were always presented taking into account the audience's ability and capacity to understand. This is a pretty old volume (dating back to the 1950s) and I suspect that a lot of the heavy lifting this book was intended to do was to dispel racist/imperialist/nationa ...more
Oct 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddhism
This book is a little dated (originally published in 1959) and suffers somewhat from Buddhist Boosterism and Westernization but I found the four chapters devoted to the four noble truths very good. Everything starts with those four concepts. And probably ends.
Culadasa Yates)
Sep 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: buddhism
This is a classic. Easy to read, after all these decades, it is still the best introduction to the original teachings of the Buddha to be found. Very highly recommended.
Nov 19, 2015 rated it liked it

Nice introduction to Buddhism.
A little dense but okay.
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Clear, concise and easy to read. Would recommend to anyone willing to get to know what Buddhism is.
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Goodreads Librari...: The author is missing from.. his own book :-) 2 25 Jun 29, 2015 05:59PM  

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Walpola Rahula (1907–1997) was a Buddhist monk, scholar and writer. He is one of the 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 (currently known ...more

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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.” 44 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.” 32 likes
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