Summary of the Buddha's Teachings
Shortly after his Awakening, the Buddha ("the
Awakened One") delivered his first sermon, in which he laid out the essential
framework upon which all his later teachings were based. This framework consists
of the Four Noble Truths, four fundamental principles of nature (Dhamma) that
emerged from the Buddha's honest and penetrating assessment of the human condition
and that serve to define the entire scope of Buddhist practice. These truths are
not statements of belief. Rather, they are categories by which we can frame our
direct experience in a way that is conducive to Awakening:
suffering, unsatisfactoriness, discontent, stress;
cause of dukkha: the cause of this dissatisfaction is craving (tanha)
for sensuality, for states of becoming, and states of no becoming;
The cessation of dukkha: the relinquishment of that craving;
The path of practice leading to the cessation of dukkha:
the Noble Eightfold Path of right view, right resolve, right speech, right
action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
To each of these Noble Truths the Buddha assigned a specific task which the practitioner
is to carry out: the first Noble Truth is to be comprehended; the second is to
be abandoned; the third is to be realized; the fourth is to be developed. The
full realization of the third Noble Truth paves the way for the direct penetration
of Nibbana (Sanskrit: Nirvana), the transcendent freedom that stands as the final
goal of all the Buddha's teachings.
Path The last of the Noble Truths
eightfold path -- contains a prescription for the relief of our unhappiness
and for our eventual release, once and for all, from the painful and wearisome
cycle of birth and death (samsara) to which, thanks to our own ignorance (avijja)
of the Four Noble Truths, we have been bound for countless aeons.
eightfold path offers a comprehensive practical guide to the development of those
wholesome qualities and skills in the human heart that must be cultivated in order
to bring the practitioner to the final goal, the supreme freedom and happiness
The Buddha taught the eightfold path to his followers according
to a "gradual" system of training, beginning with the development of
- sila, or virtue (right
speech, right action, and right livelihood, which are summarized in
practical form by the five precepts), followed by the development of
samadhi, or concentration and mental cultivation (right
effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration),
in the full development of
- pañña, or
wisdom (right view and right resolve).
the stepwise structure of the eightfold path, progress along the path does not
follow a simple linear trajectory. Rather, development of each aspect of the eightfold
path fosters the refinement and strengthening of the others, leading the practitioner
ever upward in a continuing spiral of spiritual maturity that leads, step by patient
step, towards Awakening.
Seen from another point of view, the long journey
on the path to Awakening begins in earnest with the first tentative stirrings
of right view, the first flickerings of wisdom by which one recognizes both the
validity of the first Noble Truth and the inevitability of the law of kamma (Sanskrit:
karma), the universal law of cause and effect.
Once one begins to see
that harmful actions inevitably bring about harmful results, and that wholesome
actions ultimately bring about wholesome results, the desire naturally grows to
live a skillful, morally upright life, to take seriously the practice of sila.
The confidence built from this preliminary understanding inclines the follower
to place an even greater trust in the teachings.
The follower becomes
a "Buddhist" upon expressing an inner resolve to "take refuge" in the Triple Gem:
the Buddha (both the historical Buddha and one's own innate potential for Awakening),
the Dhamma (both the teachings of the historical Buddha and the ultimate Truth
towards which they point), and the Sangha (both the monastic community that has
protected the teachings and put them into practice since the Buddha's day, and
all those who have achieved at least some degree of Awakening).
feet thus firmly planted on the ground by taking refuge, and with the help of
an admirable friend or teacher (kalyanamitta) to help show the way, one can set
out along the Path, confident that one is indeed following in the footsteps left
by the Buddha himself.