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What the Buddha Taught

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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 sifted. It is a model of what a book should be that is addressed first of all to ‘the educated and intelligent reader.’ Authoritative and clear, logical and sober, this study is as comprehensive as it is masterly.”

This edition contains a selection of illustrative texts from the Suttas and the Dhammapada (specially translated by the author), sixteen illustrations, and a bibliography, glossary and index.

151 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1959

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About the author

Walpola Rahula

21 books86 followers
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 as the University of Sri Jayewardenepura). He has written extensively about Buddhism in English, French and Sinhalese. His book, What the Buddha Taught, is considered by many to be one of the best books written about Theravada Buddhism.

(from Wikipedia)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 552 reviews
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
February 7, 2017
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 writers do- Rahula adheres as closely as possible to The Buddha’s actual words. He analyses the four noble truths, the crux of Buddhist teachings, in real detail. But there is not a sense of distance between the ideas and the man who formulated them; it does not sound like a vague philosophy that has been watered down over the years by constant re-writings: it sounds credible. I don’t feel like I have to read between the lines and do much of the work myself to understand them.


Thus, the very basics of Buddhism are laid down in a very accessible way. For the scholar of Buddhism, for he/she who is looking deep into the way of thought, may wish to look elsewhere, as this is a beginner’s manual-easily the best I’ve read to date. I wish I’d read this much sooner before attempting more complex and dense works. Some book I read earlier even gave me a false impression of Buddhism. Simplicity is best here. Though, as I’ve said before, I do highly recommend the novel Siddhartha for a good exploration of the introspective drive of the teachings.

Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
653 reviews7,017 followers
June 29, 2015

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 others to this sacred mystery?

Rahula has tried in this little book to address himself to the general reader interested in knowing what the Buddha ‘actually’ taught. This is done by adhering to a faithful and accurate presentation of the actual words used by the Buddha as they are to be found in the original Pali texts of the Tipitaka, universally accepted by scholars as the earliest extant records of the teachings of the Buddha. Almost all the material Rahula commands so effortlessly are taken directly from these originals. That way it must be admitted that only a scholar of his stature could have brought us so close to the original teachings.

However, Rahula’s book comes off as slightly evangelizing and despite all the cool wisdom as occasionally irritating in its complete confidence and conviction that Buddhism is the best in the world

A non-evangelical introduction/invitation should only be an invitation to come visit and appreciate the ancient house, not to come and reside. In that case, the real purpose of such a book would have to be to show the relevance of one religion to another, to the modern world and to show how its philosophy can make a difference to the visitor’s life even if he exits the next day not entirely convinced of the package deal. He/She should still be able to carry something away. What that something is has to be judged by the author. That is the only question in such an introductory/welcoming sermon. The rest can be kept for later, if the guest decides to stay awhile.

Now to return to our problem. Can an insider do this? After all, the insider is as much an alien to other religions as the visitor is to his own. So how can he write for the visitor? How can he inhabit his viewpoint and judge what would suit him best? Could it be that the one best placed to understand the house is not so well suited to understand the visitor?

So a Christian reader would need a christian author to interpret Buddhism for him? A 21st century reader would need a 21st century guide? Who else can understand the reader as well?

And in any case, since we are going down this road, who can understand both - the ancient house and the modern visitor?

I think the best compromise would be to allow the welcome sermon to be delivered by a scholar outside the tradition, but steeped in it. One who has stayed in the house long enough to feel at home there.

This is why every age needs to reinterpret its holy texts and greatest works. Every age and culture needs its own representatives to walk into those monuments, spend a while there and then walk out with a welcome sermon, which in turn would be relevant enough to his own culture’s or age’s readers. Only then would they take the trouble to go visit too. And maybe stay awhile.
Profile Image for Louise.
945 reviews291 followers
April 11, 2011
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 stars because I found some contradictions and inconsistencies. But then I realized it's an issue I have with philosophy itself and not with how the book is written or what the author is trying to explain.

I expected this book to answer a couple of questions I had about what happened after death, and if everyone really does have a soul (short answers: rebirth, and no, there's no such thing as a soul). While it did answer those questions, the book also opened a treasure trove of other questions that I don't even know where to begin seeking answers from.

I read this book after my cousin's death. Even though I vaguely believed in rebirth before, the way the book explained death and reincarnation did make me feel better about it.

Thanks to this book, my mind is full of questions like:

- If there is no soul or no 'self' what or who exactly is taking the Eightfold path?

- If there's no 'self' then what do you call this collection of experiences, senses, and ideas that gets reincarnated?

- If there's no reincarnation after nirvana is realized, then isn't the world population going to get smaller and smaller, since birth isn't creating something new and is just recycling something else for a new "cycle" ?

- If Buddhism is all about living in the present with no regrets of the past or worries about the future, then aren't all slackers excellent buddhists?

I was surprised that my least favorite chapter was the one about applying buddhist practice to ordinary life for normal people who don't want to live in isolation from modern society. I expected it to be more helpful than it was, but I found a lot what I thought were contradictions between it and buddhist philosophy. I guess I'll need to re-read that part again.
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
5,005 reviews1,116 followers
June 6, 2015
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" formulation. Concurrently, again in this class, I was also learning to appreciate some forms of the Japanese appropriation of the teachings, particularly Rinzi and Soto Zen schools of thought.

Now, having had years of subsequent study of other religious traditions, I am more suspicious of such interpretations and of my own credulous disposition. It's much like the assumption that Jesus held to values evocative of one's own highest ideals. With Jesus, as with the biblical traditions as a whole, I know a lot more than I do about Buddhism or any other religion for that matter--enough to know that I don't know and probably cannot know what Jesus himself believed and taught. I can make educated estimates based on the evidence and qualified by a healthy caution in the recognition that I will ever tend to impose my own values and worldview on the past, but they are ultimately untestable hypotheses. By extension, and knowing that the earliest Pali texts were neither written by the Buddha himself or even during his lifetime, I am now more suspicious of such attractive formulations as that afforded by this author.
Profile Image for Ahmed Ibrahim.
1,196 reviews1,592 followers
September 11, 2019
هذه هي ميزة أن يكتب عن الشيء بشكل موضوعي شخص ينتمي إلى روح هذه الديانة.
الكتاب كنز حرفيا.. كنز يتجاوز عشرات الكتابات الغربية عن البوذية.
Profile Image for Bill Viall.
25 reviews7 followers
June 16, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Anh.
86 reviews
March 11, 2018
Quyển này mình đọc bản gốc tiếng Anh (What the Buddha taught) rồi quay sang đọc bản dịch tiếng Việt của sư cô Thích Nữ Trí Hải. Review dài tóm tắt nội dung có lẽ tạm thời cho vào kế hoạch mười năm lần thứ nhất, còn giờ thì mình chỉ muốn nói là nếu ai quan tâm đến cốt tủy của tư tưởng Phật học thì có lẽ nên bắt đầu với quyển này hoặc Phật học tinh hoa của Nguyễn Duy Cần. Không phải tự nhiên mà cụ Cần gần như dịch toàn bộ chương một của cuốn này để làm tài liệu viết chương hai cho sách của cụ. Nếu có thể nữa thì nên đọc bản gốc tiếng Anh. Không phải mình chê bản dịch tiếng Việt nhưng với những sách về triết học tư tưởng mình luôn thấy sự logic liên kết rõ ràng hơn khi đọc bằng tiếng Anh so với tiếng Việt. Sách viết rất mạch lạc, cô đọng súc tính, và đặc biệt phân tích rất tinh tế những khía cạnh không dễ tiếp thu của triết học Phật giáo, đặc biệt là sự thật về khổ (dukkha) của Tứ Diệu Đế. Theo tác giả thì dịch dukkha là khổ (suffering) là cách dịch dễ dãi, không hoàn toàn chính xác, và có thể gây hiểu nhầm. Dukkha trong tiếng Pali được dùng bởi kinh Phật bao hàm nghĩa khổ (suffering) thông thường nhưng còn có các hàm ý sâu sắc hơn như không toàn vẹn (imperfection), không trường tồn (impermanent), trống rỗng (emptiness), hay mong manh không thực chất (insubstantiality). Dựa vào đó mà tác giả phân tích để kết luận rằng đạo Phật không hề bi quan và lẩn tránh cuộc sống như nhiều người quan niệm. Một điều nữa là tác giả gần như luôn cố gắng chứng minh cho các luận điểm của mình bằng những tài liệu cổ xưa nhất có thể tìm thấy trong kinh Tạng Pali, tạo điều kiện cho độc giả tiếp xúc với các giáo lý được cho là trực tiếp truyền dạy từ chính Đức Phật.

Ngoài ra thì mình muốn copy ra đây một đoạn hội thoại làm mình cảm động, được nhắc đến trong sách giữa Đức Phật và người học trò tận tụy Ananđà, khi Đức Phật sắp nhập diệt. Một cuộc hội thoại rất đời thường, không có sự phân tích đạo lý hay triết lý siêu hình nào nhưng biết đâu có thể còn có ý nghĩa hơn gấp vạn lần các giáo lý.

"Lúc ấy đức Phật đang nghỉ tại một khu làng gọi là Behuva, ba tháng trước khi Ngài mất. Bấy giờ Ngài đã 80 tuổi, và đang lâm bệnh nặng. Nhưng Ngài nghĩ không nên chết mà không từ giã những môn đệ vốn gần gũi yêu mến Ngài. Bởi thế, một cách can đảm, quả quyết, Ngài chịu đựng tất cả đau đớn, vượt qua cơn bệnh, và bình phục. Nhưng sức khỏe Ngài còn kém. Một ngày kia khi Ngài ngồi trong bóng mát chỗ Ngài lưu trú thì A Nan, vị thị giả tận tụy nhất của Phật, tiến đến bậc Đạo sư quý mến của mình, ngồi bên cạnh Ngài v�� bạch:
“Bạch Thế tôn, con đã săn sóc sức khỏe Thế tôn, con đã hầu hạ Ngài trong khi Ngài lâm bệnh. Nhưng khi thấy bệnh tình của Ngài, bầu trời đối với con trở nên mờ mịt, và các giác quan của con không còn sáng suốt nữa. Tuy nhiên con còn một điểu an ủi nhỏ này : con nghĩ r���ng Thế tôn sẽ không nhập Niết bàn mà không để lại những lời di giáo đề cập đến đoàn thể Tăng già”.
Khi ấy đức Phật đầy từ bi và nhân ái, đã khoan hòa nói với người thị giả tân tụy thân yêu : “A Nan, đoàn thể Tăng già còn chờ đợi gì nơi Ta nữa ? Ta đã nói pháp (Chân lý) không phân biệt cao thấp. Về phương diện chân lý, Như Lai không có gì như nắm tay khép chặt của một ông thầy (àcariya-mutthi). Dĩ nhiên, hỡi A Nan, nếu có một người nào nghĩ rằng họ muốn lãnh đạo Tăng già, và Tăng già phải tùy thuộc vào họ, thì người ấy hãy đặt ra những điều chỉ dẫn. Nhưng Như lai không có ý nghĩ ấy. Vậy thì sao Như lai phải lưu lại những lời chỉ dẫn thuộc về tổ chức Tăng già? Nay Ta đã già rồi, A Nan, đã 80 tuổi. Như một chiếc xe cũ cần phải sửa chữa mới chạy được, cũng thế, thân xác của Như lai bây giờ cũng chỉ có thể được tiếp tục nhờ sửa chữa. Bởi thế, này A Nan, hãy tự làm nơi nương cậy cho chính mình, hãy lấy chính mình mà không phải ai khác làm nơi trú ẩn, hãy lấy Pháp làm nơi nương tựa, lấy Pháp làm nơi trú ẩn, và không một ai khác có thể làm nơi trú ẩn cho ngươi”.
8 reviews
November 2, 2010
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 many words I haven’t seen before are there along with some usage I’m not familiar with. Reading the Chinese translation may give a Chinese reader more, IMHO, if he is familiar with those common Buddhist terms.

Maybe I should read it one more time in the future? Maybe, but not now, cuz I have a long bibliography to spend time with.

It’s worth to mention that this book “What the Buddha Taught” has helped me so much in understanding Buddhadharma, since Year 2001 when I obtained the Chinese version from a colleague who, a Taiwanese Chinese, is a devoted Theravada Buddhist and believes only Theravada Buddhism is authentic. This kind of folks tend to look at things in a scholastic way. One of things he said was given the resemblance of religious signs, images and status on two sides of the Himalayas, Tibetan Buddhism just copied from Hinduism. That is too bold an opinion which I would never agree upon. Buddhism has a single aim: removing suffering. Whatever can help reach that goal is considered Buddhism, even if it appears anti-Buddhist superficially, let alone a Buddhist school like Mahayana and Vajrayana who follow Buddha’s path.

Mahayana needs Therevada, and Vajrayana needs both Mahayana and Theravada. There’s NO ONE SINGLE Vajrayana practitioner who doesn’t consider himself a Mahayanist. Therefore, everything carried and taught by Theravada is honored by Vajrayana Buddhists. Actually, when asked where to start in learning Buddhism by a Chinese disciple, my root guru Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche referred to Theravada! (He did so when that student didn’t feel quite connected to Pure Land, the popular and predominant Mahayana school in China).

This book, written by a learned and reputable Sri Lankan master who spent many years studying and doing research in Western world, has served as one of my Buddhist bibles. Each time a friend showed me his/her interest in learning Buddhism, I recommended it to him/her. People with higher education background just can’t feel contented by the Pure land way of chanting Amitabha as the major practice. They want to and are able to learn more.

Buddhism is not a religion. It’s a philosophy. It doesn’t promote any superstition, but talks truth and way leading to ultimate truth. Bhante Walpola Rahula’s book of this introduces readers the core values of Buddhism in a way that suits those educated people. It reveals the true face of Buddhism. As a Theravada monk, he has successfully avoided putting too much mythology into the book, making it a book of rationality and reasoning.

I was so happy to know that my guru Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche included this book in this bibliography for his students. I believe EACH Buddhist MUST read this book.

Some more introduction about the Chinese translator Gu Fa-Yan (顧法嚴). He is a colleague of prominent Chinese Buddhist scholar Dr. Chang Cheng-Chi (張澄基), in Buddhist Translation Society founded by Mr. Chang. The society has translated quite some Buddhist works published in the West from original English version to Chinese. Actually Dr. Chang wrote the preface for the Chinese version of What the Buddha Taught.
Profile Image for Ahmed Faiq.
311 reviews81 followers
September 24, 2021

"One is one's own refuge, who else could be the refuge?
Mans position, according to Buddhism, is supreme. Man is his own master, and there is no higher being or power that sits in judgement over his destiny."

One of the most informative books about Buddhism, and its philosophy, by a great figure, one of its real people, a man who had given all his life to what he believed, as he clarifies a lot of misunderstandings, and tries to be original and the closest to the original text and what remains from the Buddha's teachings.

It is generally a beautiful book, may be not so easy to read, cause it needs contemplation and digestion, except the last part, that of the selected ancient texts, which was more difficult and repetitive, it is hard to accept that the Buddha talked that much when you imagine him from all his charming statues and paintings, where he looks very silent.....
Profile Image for Dini.
21 reviews6 followers
July 25, 2009
"the absolute truth is that there is nothing absolute in the world, that everything is relative, conditioned and impermanent."
Profile Image for A.
163 reviews26 followers
February 4, 2014
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 is probably more detailed and scholarly than some would prefer. Since I often take a scholarly approach to my spirituality, it does hold strong appeal for me personally.

The main selling point of this particular book is that Rahula works from the closest to firsthand sources we have in Buddhism. Also, while this book is more than 50 years old, the English translations are relatively new, still contemporary to the ones widely used today. Buddhism (and Eastern religion in general) have always suffered misunderstandings and confusion in a Western context, in large part due to the translations available prior to the 20th century. Rahula works to clarify the language and correct some misconceptions, something that is unbelievably helpful for those of us still trying to figure this stuff out. All that makes this an excellent resource for beginners, those still exploring Buddhism (like me), and also those studying comparative religions looking to learn more than just basics.

A lot of the information in this book was not new for me and just helped to reiterate/confirm some gained knowledge. By culling bits from the Dhammapada and Suttas, Rahula also helps guide you through some overwhelming (and highly repetitive) walls of text, directing you to the important bits that helps expand on the basics. Thinking back to this aspect actually makes me want to purchase a copy of this book, just to have that guide available when I need it. So excellent in that respect as well.

As much as I love this book, I'm not quite up to 5 stars. Mainly because its focus is more scholarly, all about principles and less about practice. Rahula's also not much of a poetic writer and, yes, has a tendency towards pedantry in the way that a very erudite person can be. Still, the book does what it says on the cover and I haven't yet found another book that so strongly and concisely gets to the point in covering the basics without all the confusion.
Profile Image for Celise.
497 reviews320 followers
April 5, 2018
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 pleasantly surprised to discover that I could. In fact, Buddha put into more eloquent and tolerant words the issues and questions I already had regarding the blind belief of other religions. I like that he compared religious views, even Buddhist views, to a raft. You should use the views and the path to get you to the other side of the river (happiness, safety, peace), but you wouldn't be expected to cling to the raft (these views) once you reach land. I like that Buddhism feels like more of a philosophy and way of life than a religion in that regard.

I'm not sure I entirely understood some of the sections, as some of the quotes from the Buddha are a little vague if repetitive, but I got much out of it. I'd be curious to visit a place of worship to have some of the other things more fully explained to me. I am not looking to adopt a religion or have it adopt me, but I am very interested in Buddha's practices in mindfulness and right of action, speech, thought etc. over belief.
Profile Image for Blaine Snow.
140 reviews98 followers
April 13, 2021
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 needs a foundation and that's about what Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism is - the foundation that all Buddhism is built on. The book covers the foundation stones of the Four Noble Truths, the Doctrine of No-Self, the central practice of meditation, opens with Buddhism's view of the mind, and ends with Buddha's teaching as it applies to the contemporary world (as of the late 1950s when it was published). Each chapter does an excellent job explaining these foundation stones of Buddhism referring often to stories and quotes from the Pali Suttas. One important thing you learn for example from the chapter on the First Noble Truth is that dukkha, commonly translated as "suffering," is a much richer concept than the common translation suggests. Rahula guides you into the metaphysics of Buddhist philosophy to reveal the deeper, more nuanced view of what is meant by the Buddhist idea of dukkha. The other chapters offer similar insights and details from Buddhist texts and teachings.

The book contains numerous B&W photos of classic Buddhist art and the latter part of the book is a collection of some important Buddhist foundational texts from the Pali Canon: Buddha's first Turning of the Wheel Sermon, the Fire Sermon, the teaching on Universal Love or Metta, the Foundations of Mindfulness teaching, the Last Words of the Buddha, and other core Buddhist teachings. It also contains a useful glossary, bibliography, and index.

The downsides of this book are 1) outdated gender language and references, 2) outdated chapter on applying Buddhism to the world, and most importantly, 3) it is missing the entire edifice of Buddhism that was subsequently built on this foundation - the vast multi-story complex of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism - basically all developments in Indian Buddhism after the 1st century CE, as well as all Buddhism from Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan. There's nothing in this book about Nagarjuna and the Madhyamaka school, Asanga/Vasubandhu and the Yogacara school - the two foundational schools of Mahayana Buddhism that later went to China, Korea, Tibet, Japan, Vietnam, and Mongolia. The house of Buddhism is a vast universe built over centuries by thousands of monks, scholars, practitioners, sages, poets, and lay persons from several of the world's greatest cultures comprising untold amounts of written works containing centuries of refinements and developments on the original Buddhism. Rahula's book covers none of this.

All Buddhism however rests on the foundation presented in Rahula's book. Many people find that this foundation is enough and don't need or care for the subsequent developments that constitute Mahayana Buddhism. Others who have come to Buddhism first through a Zen or Tibetan teacher, book, or practice, will find this book lacking except for the fact that it presents the basics.

There are probably hundreds of starter books on Buddhism depending on how you come at it, from a teacher, a sect or school, a tradition, a culture. Many world class teachers have written their own books, Thich Nhat Hanh, Chogyam Trungpa, HH the Dalai Lama, Shunryu Suzuki, Pema Chodron, Alan Watts, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzburg, Joan Halifax, as well as many other Tibetan, Zen, Theravedin, and secular teachers. Here's a short list of a few I've found helpful:

1. What the Buddha Thought
2. The Foundations of Buddhism
3. Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations
4. Buddhism: A History
5. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
6. Mindfulness in Plain English
7. Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha
8. Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
9. The Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings
10. Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

May you find your own door into this unending treasure of life, awareness, wisdom, and compassion.
Profile Image for SHEREEN.
140 reviews6 followers
March 5, 2017
كان بوذا بين مؤسسى الديانات ( إذا جاز لنا أم نسمية مؤسس ديانة بـ المعنى الشعبى لـ المصطلح ) ، المعلم الوحيد الذي لم يدعى إنه شئ آخر غير كائن إنسانى خالص وبسيط ، المعلمون الآخرون كانو تجسيدات إلهية أو قالو عن أنفسهم إنهم ملهمون من الله .. أما بوذا فـ لم يكن كائناً بشرياً وحسب ، بل إنه لم يدعى بـ أنه ألهم من إله أو من قدرة خارجية ، فـ قد عزا إنجازة وما أكتسبة وأتمة إلى المجهود الإنساني وحده وإلى الذكاء الإنساني وحده ..
إن رجلاً ، رجلاً وحسب ، يمكنه أن يصبح بوذا .
بوذا فيلسوف بكل ما تحمله الكلمة من معانى والبوذية ليست ديانة وإنما هى فلسفة .
182 reviews100 followers
January 3, 2011

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 existence of the gods; perhaps even more radically - he ignores them. According to our author, Walpola Sri Rahula, the Buddha teaches that, "man's emancipation depends on his own realization of the truth, and not on the benevolent grace of a god or any external power..." This does indeed remind one of Kant's definition of Enlightenment as adulthood. In a nutshell, no one can grant adulthood to you - you must achieve it yourself. In fact, according to our author, the Buddha goes so far as to advise us to be, "not led by the authority of religious texts..." And he adds that the Buddha "discovered and showed the Path to Liberation, Nirvana. But we must tread the Path ourselves." Any modern philosopher (Kant, Hegel, e.g.) would say the same of his path (i.e., philosophy).

Our author quotes with approval the following remark of one Buddhist monk (or bhikkhu) to another:

"without devotion, faith or belief, without liking or inclination, without hearsay or tradition, without considering apparent reasons, without delight in the speculations of opinions, I know and see that the cessation of becoming is Nirvana."

What is required for Buddhistic Enlightenment is the modesty of reason, not the enthusiasm and hubris of speculation, which always brings in its wake the indignation of warring factions. Buddhists tell us with deserved pride that there are no Buddhist wars, crusades or jihads. One comes to Enlightenment not by reciting some articles of faith but by thinking things through on ones own. Our author correctly reminds us that with Buddhism it "is always a question of knowing and seeing, and not that of believing."

So, the Buddha, the Enlightened One, brings knowledge - not faith. It seems to follow that it is not necessary to be a 'Buddhist' to achieve salvation, i.e., enlightenment. Indeed, our author goes on to say that if "the medicine is good, the disease will be cured. It is not necessary to know who prepared it, or where it came from." The comparison of the Buddhist teaching to a type of medicine is very interesting. Medicine is a very practical discipline, concerned with alleviating the suffering (Dukkha, this term can also mean: conflict, unsatisfactoriness, unsubstantiality, emptiness) of those it treats. If a person is healthy he needs no medicine at all. Thus what shined through to me (a non-Buddhist) in reading this book is that the Buddha teaches a series of behaviors, or, if you prefer, a circle of practices, whose only purpose is to protect the individual from all suffering - whether the suffering is produced by will, desire or thought. The Buddha clearly judged his teachings not on their truth content but rather on their results; that is, on the type of lives his followers would live. So, one could perhaps infer that when a patient is cured he no longer has the slightest need for the medicine...

Rahula's recounting of a story about what the Buddha replied when asked by a young Brahmin to explain "the idea of maintaining or protecting the truth" might illustrate the point:

'A man has a faith. If he says "This is my faith", so far he maintains truth. But by that he cannot proceed to the absolute conclusion: "This alone is Truth, and everything else is false".'
Rahula immediately adds, in his own voice, "In other words, a man may believe what he likes, and he may say 'I believe this'. So far he respects truth. But because of his belief or faith, he should not say that what he believes is alone the Truth, and everything else is false.
The Buddha says: 'To be attached to one thing (to a certain view) and to look down upon other things (views) as inferior - this the wise men call a fetter'."

Now, does this mean that all the ideologies and revelations that demand that everyone be an adherent of their particular view are, according to the Buddha, fetters? ...No? 'Oh, but the fetters are so sweet' we hear many replying, 'how could they be fetters?' Not only Christians and Liberals but also far too many Buddhists that one meets (at least here in the West) are very interested, if not obsessed, in what we in the West might call theology, ontology and metaphysics. That is, the Truth of what might be called the 'Whole' or the Cosmos. But did the Buddha share this obsession? Our author tells a wonderful story about what the Buddha knew and what he taught:

"He took a few leaves in his hand, and asked his disciples: 'What do you think? O bhikkhus? Which is more? These few leaves in my hand or the leaves in the forest over here?'
'Sir, very few are the leaves in the hand of the Blessed One, but indeed the leaves in the Simsapa forest over here are very much more abundant.'
'Even so, Bhikkhus, of what I have known I have told you only a little, what I have not told you is very much more. And why have I not told you (those things)? Because that is not useful... not leading to Nirvana. That is why I have not told you those things'."

Knowledge of the Whole, whatever it might be, does not lead to enlightenment! Today, we who are influenced by philosophy would, following the Buddha on this point, speak of the abyss that (seemingly) forever looms between theory and practice. But the 'mania' of theory nevertheless insists upon showing each leaf to every inhabitant in the forest in the name of some 'Truth', while the moderation of philosophical practice remains helpless when trying to control the strife that inevitably results between the various (Christianity, Socialism, Islam, and Fascism, e.g.) possessors of 'Truth'. We are now perhaps in a position to say that post-classical western philosophy (i.e., theory) has been the process of showing every leaf in the forest to everyone. - No matter what the consequences! One day it may well be said that western philosophy showed everything except the 'practical truths' that the Buddha held in his hand. ...One day.

Be that as it may, the "Buddha was not interested in discussing unnecessary metaphysical questions which are purely speculative and which create imaginary problems." In fact the Buddha compares teachings to a raft and then wonders at those that say, "This raft was a great help to me. With its aid I have crossed safely over [...] It would be good if I carry this raft on my head or my back wherever I go." Thus Man goes from the correct use of a raft (i.e., a teaching), to help one across a river, to the incorrect carrying of rafts when they are no longer needed. Note that these 'rafts' only have a practical value. What determines their value is purely the circumstances one happens to be in. But did the Buddha think of his own teachings in this manner? Our author tells a wonderful story of how the Buddha, in a debate with a representative of Jaina Mahavira, refused to allow the man to become a Buddhist! ("When Upali expressed his desire again, the Buddha requested him to continue to respect and support his old religious teachers as he used to.") Why? Well, Rahula says this is an instance demonstrating the Buddha's tolerance. In my opinion this explanation is incoherent; all of the Buddha's followers came from other religious traditions, was the Buddha being intolerant when he accepted them as his his followers? No, the reason the Buddha didn't let the Jain Upali convert was that he was sent to debate him by Jaina Mahavira himself and such a conversion could only lead to conflict. In other words, the Buddha looked at circumstances to evaluate this particular conversion and quite admirably concluded that circumstances trumped doctrine...

Another story told by Rahula shows the Buddha refusing to answer questions about the eternity and infinity of the universe, about the relation between soul and body, and existence after death put to him by Malunkyaputta, one of his own monks. Why doesn't the Buddha answer these questions?

"Because it is not useful, it is not fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is not conducive to aversion, detachment, cessation, tranquility, deep penetration, full realization, Nirvana. That is why I have not told you about them.
Then what, Malunkyaputta, have I explained? I have explained dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, and the way leading to the cessation of dukkha. Why, Malunkyaputta, have I explained them? Because it is useful, is fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is conducive to aversion, detachment, cessation tranquility, deep penetration, full realization, Nirvana. Therefore I have explained them."

So we see the overriding importance that the Buddha assigned to the practical and results. The Buddha did not preach some Truth, he presented a cure to suffering (dukkha). The Buddha laughed that people carry their rafts (ideologies and revelations) when they are no longer needed, but today, the various possessors of 'truth' even use the rafts as an excuse to hate and kill. In the Buddha the moderation inherent in philosophical practice triumphed, but in the world around us it is the mania of theory and speculation that has triumphed. If the moderation of practice triumphs in the future we can create a world in which all can live; if not, there is no future at all...

Rahula ends this book, fittingly, with the last words of the Buddha. "'Then, Bhikkhus, I address you now: Transient are conditioned things. Try to accomplish your aim with diligence." One stands in awe, and gratitude, of how one so dedicated to extinction (i.e., Nirvana) could so actively and tirelessly pursue his aim. Now, this book contains only a small selection (pp 92 - 138) of the sayings of the Buddha and it was from the last text in this section that this last quote comes from. There is also a very helpful, but still too brief, glossary with an even briefer bibliography also included. Rahula's study and the selected texts are based upon the earliest texts (the so-called Pali texts) of the Buddha's sayings that have come down to us.

The moderation, care and single-minded pursuit of his goal by the Buddha are what we should perhaps be most grateful for...
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 3 books338 followers
November 16, 2021
if you like this review, i now have website: www.michaelkamakana.com

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 chapters each, then doctrine of no-soul, then mediation, then in the contemporary world (1959)...

nothing i had not read before, possibly first time here, but he does clarify some readings through more exact translations, and this created some wistfulness in recalling how very excited i was when first introduced to this way of thought. was never drawn to become monk or even serious practitioner, this reading must face all the philosophy read since, all the life lived. do not know if i can overcome hindrances of doubt to fully 'see' this wisdom, but still find it more attractive than say christian 'blind faith'. when i am able to, i might just go to that buddhist temple downtown...

??? 90s?: those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know? well, he does an excellent impression he knows...

Buddhism: A Philosophical Approach
Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment
What the Buddha Thought
Nietzsche and Buddhist Philosophy
Buddhist Philosophy: A Historical Analysis
Empty Words: Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation
Buddhism as Philosophy: An Introduction
The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā
Ethics Embodied: Rethinking Selfhood Through Continental, Japanese, and Feminist Philosophies
Self, No Self?: Perspectives from Analytical, Phenomenological, and Indian Traditions
After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age
Profile Image for Zachary Flessert.
175 reviews3 followers
February 1, 2019
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 realize the conditioned states or insights described.

The book is also a product of its sexist time (1994). The author could not be bothered to write about humans, people, but rather seems to only be able to use the word "men" to refer to people in general. This usage extends beyond the universal pronoun to the personal: "These ideas are so deep-rooted in man, and so near and dear to him." I think this only reflects some of the implicit sexist/homophobic ideas that arise out of the suttas that often are directed towards those who held power during the Buddha's time. One sutta quoted in the book is a question from Buddha to a group of young bachelors: "What do you think, young men? Which is better for you? To search after a woman, or to search after yourselves?"

Or there are the "recommendations" that the Buddha gave for how different people in society should treat one another, including what it is that husbands do for their wives(it includes buying jewelry...), and conversely, a different list of what wives should do for their husbands.

Then there is the treatment of traditional and cultural Buddhists:

"In Buddhist countries there are simple and beautiful customs and ceremonies on religious occasions. They have little to do with the real Path. But they have their value in satisfying certain religious emotions and needs of those who are less advanced, and helping them gradually along the Path"


"These traditional observances, though inessential, have their value in satisfying the religious emotions and needs of those who are less advanced intellectually and spiritually, and helping them gradually along the Path."

Say what you want about rites and rituals and their place in Buddhist practice, but this type of speech about others is unacceptable.

Recommended for: the shelf, or, those established in their practice and looking for a quick review of the principles.
16 reviews11 followers
January 11, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Ethan.
Author 2 books57 followers
April 9, 2020
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, thought-provoking way. The one drawback is that Rahula spends less time than I would like on Buddhist philosophers' arguments in favor of these views, although when it comes to describing the views themselves he is unsurpassed. I've assigned this in several philosophy courses, and if I supplement it with a few arguments from other sources (like Steven Collins's Selfless Persons or Mark Siderits's Buddhism as Philosophy), it does the job admirably.

(see my blog for more: http://examinedworlds.blogspot.com/20...)
Profile Image for Cynthia.
287 reviews2 followers
April 14, 2020
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/nationalist assumptions. But this book meets the needs of neither bhikkhus nor curious laypeople at this moment. Go elsewhere for an intro: there are lots of clergy out there fulfilling their obligation to teach in more relatable ways.
Profile Image for Fraser.
331 reviews10 followers
April 14, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Edith Hope.
Author 8 books5 followers
April 22, 2010
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.
Profile Image for Wt.
37 reviews18 followers
August 19, 2013
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. With regards to the clarification of Pali terms such as Nibbana, Anatta and Bhavana, and his discussion of Doctrine, Dr. Rahula's discussion of the teaching is penetrative and insightful.

However, with regards to the presentation of the Discipline or Training, such as the Noble Eightfold Path and the cultivation of the mind (bhavana), Dr Rahula sometimes relies overmuch on standard approaches instead of offering up more penetrative ways of understanding. For example, he interprets the Noble Eightfold path according to the 3-fold training in sila (morality), samadhi (concentration) and panna (wisdom). Though this approach is a standard one accepted by tradition, it ignores the fact that the Noble Eightfold Path actually starts with Panna first. The Buddha places Panna first and at the very beginning of the Noble Eightfold Path not without reason. Unfortunately, Dr Rahula does not go deeper in this book to consider what the reason might be. As a result, his discussion of the Noble Eightfold Path lacks the kind of truly original insight and contribution that can illuminate and deepen practice. This is the reason why I only give this book 4 stars instead of 5.

This revised and expanded 1974 version is better than the original 1959 version, as it removes the one bewildering section in the original version, namely a 19-point "Instruction for Life" which contains homespun advice not formulated according to the dhamma, and in the context of which can sound truly bizarre ("19. Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon." If the Buddha were to review that section, he would have said to Rahula "When, oh fool, did I teach about love and cooking, or to approach anything with reckless abandon?") That section of homespun advice was the only one in which idiosyncratic views of the personality marred the otherwise sound teaching of the Dhamma, and it was wise of the eminent author to remove it. Wisely, the author also added to this edition useful translations of some well-chosen suttas and excerpts from the Dhammapada, making the book into a fantastic resource, a complete introduction - setting right misconceptions, living up to the title, sans folk wisdom.
Profile Image for Suzy.
72 reviews
June 9, 2008
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 translation IS the best? How will I know? Perhaps this one was technically well done, but it felt stilted at times and there were hints that the original texts were poetic. The commentary was also challenging at times--at one point Rahula rejoices in the religious tolerance of the Buddha, and then goes on to judge other religions to be less tolerant (true, perhaps, but ah, the irony). It was like seeing glimpses of a glorious person through a veil. I think I learned from it, and there were wonderful moments, but the Great Courses audio lectures by Eckel gave me a much more in-depth introduction, and Siddhartha by Hesse was far more beautiful (and a work of art, so perhaps it's unfair to compare them). Perhaps art is the way to go; I'm in the middle of a collection of Zen poetry and so far these poems (again, translations, argh!) seem, in their indirect, glancing, metaphoric way, to get more at the heart of the teachings. That's the thing, maybe I shouldn't worry about the fact that I'll be getting everything through a third party's translation because WORDS, for the Buddha, couldn't convey the full truth (well, I've been taught something so far anyway). Still, I want to know more about what the Buddha himself said so I think I'll turn to the wonderful Thich Nhat Hanh and put his The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching on my to-read list. And to my friends who may be wondering, no, I'm not a convert (and I doubt I ever will be)--but I do find the Buddha's teachings to be both beautiful and full of common sense. Living in the now, living with compassion and loving kindness--I don't need to believe in every tenet of Buddhism to appreciate the universality and beauty of these ideals.
Profile Image for Forest Tong.
98 reviews3 followers
July 12, 2016
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, my trust was eroded by the author's statement "That is why there is not a single example of persecution or the shedding of a drop of blood in converting people to Buddhism." This is simply incorrect. Like all religions, Buddhism has had extremist followers, some of whom have been violent. At other times, it sounds like the author is singing the praises of Buddhism instead of letting it speak for itself.
Profile Image for Khaldun Chaloob.
113 reviews10 followers
September 6, 2016
خمس نجوم و من الكتب الي تگدر تقرا مرة ثانية و ما راح تشعر بالملل.
من الكتب الي راح تترك أثر بيك و تضل تسولف بيها و تمدح، كتاب لازم الكل تقرا و تعرف شنو و منو هو بوذا بدل ما تگول "يعبدون ربهم السمين".
ملاحظة: اذا قريته و ما حسيت شي تغيّر بطريقة تفكيرك او شلون تشوف الناس و الالم و السعادة و الخ، انت تعاني من مشكلة و لازم تتعالج.
Profile Image for Simpus5.
8 reviews
December 15, 2022
4.5 (exakt)

Jag tyckte verkligen om den här boken, den var begriplig och intressant. En bra introdutionsbok för Buddhism som fått mig reflektera en del. Ser framemot att läsa mer!
Profile Image for d.
219 reviews161 followers
June 4, 2017

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'.
Profile Image for Jack.
457 reviews48 followers
May 16, 2021
Wading into Eastern tradition reminds one to be thankful of a history of translation. It is easier for the spiritually vacillating Western youth such as myself to get into, say, Christianity, not only because of its coda and teachings being so thoroughly dyed into "secular" culture, but due to the accessibility of excellent material. There's the King James Bible, and hundreds of commentators and apologists and this and that. It's easy to get into in that sense.

It's impossible not to do any basic research on Buddhism without getting a headache. The history of Buddhism is not simple and coming to grips with it in English is especially difficult as strong academic, reliable canons don't really exist. Perhaps because of the lack of bloodshed between them (as far as I'm aware) the differences between Theraveda and Mahayana Buddhism are not as clear as Catholic and Protestant...not yet, anyway. I am still a beginner to this.

This book partially addresses and solves that struggle. It's clear. It goes into the major aspects of what Buddhism is without leaning too heavily into the kind of Western quasi-secular Buddhism I dislike without being forbiddingly alien. I know what a bhikku is now. And then there's extracts from the major texts. It does everything it needs to do. I guess I'm a Buddhist now, though I don't know how that will develop, how that sense of identity will solidify with studying and practice. The thought remains that this religion has been in my experience the most persuasive, powerful, likely to be "true", whatever that means.
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