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What the Buddha Taught: Revised and Expanded Edition with Texts from Suttas and Dhammapada

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  6,355 Ratings  ·  277 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 si ...more
Paperback, revised & expanded, 192 pages
Published January 11th 1994 by Grove Press, Inc. (NYC) (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…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)

Community Reviews

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Bookdragon Sean
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 ot
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
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.
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 م
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
Steven Galley
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.
Khaldun Chaloob
Aug 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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 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
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
"the absolute truth is that there is nothing absolute in the world, that everything is relative, conditioned and impermanent."
Craig Shoemake
Easily the best introductory text for Buddhism. This should be everyone's starting place...
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.
Dec 13, 2016 rated it liked it
It's been awhile since I've read about Buddhism and this was a nice, short, unchallenging but detailed read about the more important tenants of Buddhism. Good fit for someone who knows the basics but wants refined details and specifics without being inundated. But note that the author paints a purely positive view of Buddhism and does not discuss some of the negatives (treatment and view of women) at all.
Things I enjoyed:
I practice both mindfulness and detachment, and it was discussed in some d
Dec 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: midd-sophomore
I read this for my Philosophy class and ended up choosing the Buddhist idea of self for a paper I just finished last night. The book is a wonderful, straightforward guide to Buddhism that is accessible to anyone and provides for excellent classroom discussion, as well as a great way to begin a knowledge base of Buddhism. Bear in mind that because of the time and place it was written (Paris, mid-20th century) it has been said to veer into ideas of existentialism. Overall though, the book seems to ...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
Apr 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Taylor Trauger
This was a cool, somewhat academic, introduction to the foundations of Buddhism and what the Buddha himself taught. I'm glad I read it, but I'm also looking forward to reading something more recent and more applicable to my life and how I see Buddhist principles fitting in. Still worth the read!
Jun 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
This book was beautiful. It changed the way I think about the world and my place in it. I loved it. Highly recommended.
Dec 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everything you need to know about Buddhism ... Simple and satisfying, I may read it again in the future
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Goodreads Librari...: The author is missing from.. his own book :-) 2 22 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
More about 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.” 32 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.” 25 likes
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