Fundamental Principles of Buddhism

Fundamental Principles of Buddhism

The Sutta and the Nikayas

The Pali `Pitakas‘ and ‘Nikayas’ are the earliest available sources for Buddha’s teachings (Dhamma). The Pitakas consist of three parts,

  • The Vinaya Pitaka
  • The Sutta Pitaka, and
  • the Avidhamma Pitaka.

The `Sutta Pitaka’ is the most important source for the study of Buddha’s teachings. It is divided into 5 Nikayas.

According to Rhys Davids, there have been great interpolations in Vinaya Pitaka.

The ‘Avidhamma Pitaka‘ contains the philosophical aspects of Buddhism. In any case the doctrines lay down in the Suttas suffered additions and alterations in the hand of Buddha are many disciples in later years. So what we get from the Suttas today may not be in totality original teachings of Buddha.

The Eight Fold Path

After explaining the chain of causes that lead to suffering, Buddha outlined the principles of  Eight Fold Paths (Astangika Marga) for deliverance from suffering. These Eight Fold Paths were as follows:

  • right speech,
  • right action,
  • right means of livelihood,
  • right exertion,
  • right mindedness,
  • right meditation,
  • right resolution and
  • right point of view.

The practice of the first three principles would lead to the attainment to physical control or Sila. That of the second three would lead to the attainment of mental control or Samadhi and the practice of the last two principles would lead to the development of insight or Prajna.

The Four Noble Truths

Buddha instructed his followers to observe practical methods to arrive at the Truth, to attain happiness and to overcome sufferings. He asked his disciples to comprehend the Four Noble Truths (Aryasatyani) viz.,

  1. That there is sorrow and suffering; this suffering is due to existence in this world. Man suffers from disease, old age and non-fulfillment of desire due to existence in this world;
  2. That there are causes of suffering like, desire, attachment which lead to worldly existence;
  3. That the suffering can be ended by the destruction of desire etc.;
  4. That there is a way (Marga or path) for the destruction of desire leading to suffering. Kosambi has tried to give a social explanation of the Four Truths. Every man seeks to overcome his sorrow and suffering and seeks for happiness. Those who are violent or crooked by nature seek to be happy by injuring the interests of others. But Buddha pointed out an entirely new path for deliverance from suffering. He said that desire is the root cause of Sorrow and suffering. To overcome desire is to overcome suffering.

Nirvana, the Ultimate Goal

The observance of the Silas and the attainments of the Samadhi and Prajna would lead to Nirvana or Salvation. The conception of Nirvana can never be fully explained. It is infinite and cannot be described by finite words.

Nirvana means extinction of the desire to exist and the extinction of the thirst for rebirth. It is an eternal state of peace and bliss, which is free from sorrow and desire, decay and disease. Therefore, it is free from the suffering connected with birth and death.

Nirvana is the highest goal that a man can aspire for his salvation. It is a state of Yogakshema. Earthly desires cannot spoil that state of salvation.

Buddha said that just as the taste of the sea water is perpetually saline, his Dhamma had only one constant goal i.e., deliverance of man from suffering and sorrow.

Moral Codes of Buddhism

The three Pitakas contain the moral codes prescribed by Buddha for the salvation of the soul. The central theme of his moral codes is Middle Path or Majjhima Patha. By this Buddha urged his followers to avoid extreme ways either of ease and luxury or of severe penance and hardship.

In addition to the ordinary codes of morality like truth, charity, purity, and control over passions, Buddha laid great stress on non-violence or Ahimsa; non-injury to living beings, in thought, word and deed. He also asked his followers not to covet others’ property, not to tell lies, not to keep money etc. He advocated kindness, love and generosity as great virtues.

Important aspect of Buddhism Principles

Buddha denied the authority of the Vedas and the utility of the Vedic and Brahmanical religious rites and rituals. He even denied or doubted the existence of God and the Svarga (Heaven). His conception was that man is the maker of his own destiny, not any god or gods. If he performs bad deeds he will be punished and undergo sufferings; if he performs good deeds he will be reborn in a higher life and will ultimately attain Nirvana. A man can only attain purification and upliftment towards better self by consistent observance of ethical and moral principles, not merely by performing useless rituals. He believed in the doctrine of Karma and the transmigration of the soul.

Dharmananda Kosambi has given a social interpretation of Buddha’s Eight Doctrines. According to him, Buddha expounded the Eight Paths with the view to prevent any violation to the social organization. His main aim was to restrain individual when it collided with collective interests of the society.

Hence by Right speech, he meant abstention from falsehood and telling lies as these harmed others in the society. By Right Action, Buddha meant abstention from stealing, and non-killing of men and animals, and non-injury to others.

By Right livelihood, it was meant a living without any harm to the society. Killing of animals, selling of meat and liquor were not regarded as Right livelihood.

Right Resolution meant in effort to augment one’s livelihood without harming others and work for happiness of others in the society. Buddha did not accept caste system and believed in the equality of man.

He said, One does not become a Brahmin by mere birth; one does not become an out-cast by mere birth. It is Karma or act that determines the fate of a man. Buddha did not preach his doctrines in Sanskrit. He preached in Magadhi i.e. the language of the people.

His teaching reached the lowest strata of the society. Buddha taught people the importance of social life. His teachings were simple, ethical and rational. By his kindness and humanism, Buddha touched the mind of the poor and the down-trodden. He showed them the way of salvation. He tried to destroy the social barriers and castes that divided the society. Such in brief are the fundamental principles of Buddhism.

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