Teachings of Buddha | Basic Teaching of Buddhism

Teachings of Gautam Buddha ( Lord Buddha)

The earliest source from which the teachings of Gautama Buddha or the contents of early Buddhist religion are available is the Buddhist ‘Pitaka.’

Pitaka is divided into three parts—

  • Sutta Pitaka,
  • Vinaya Pitaka and
  • Abhidhamma Pitaka.

The Sutta Pitaka

The Sutta Pitaka consists of five Nikayas or groups. In later periods, the Sutta incorporated various interpolations, and this had been introduced by Buddha’s disciples.

So what we derive from the Sutta may not be wholly the fundamental teachings of Buddha or his religion.

Four Noble Truths (Chatvari Arya Satyani)

Buddha advised his disciples to pursue some practical methods in order to arrive at truth and happiness. That is why he asked them to follow Four Noble Great Truths. These are known as ‘Chatvari Arya-Satyani’ :

  • Firstly, sorrows and sufferings afflict human soul. For his existence on earth man has to undergo these sufferings.
  • Secondly, thirst, desire and attachment make it possible for man to retain existence on earth, but these are the root causes of his sufferings.
  • Thirdly, the destruction of thirst and desire leads to the destruction of sorrows and sufferings.
  • Fourthly, there are ways to effect a destruction of sorrows.

Astangika Marga – The Eight Fold Path

Buddha explained properly the causes of human sufferings. He advocated ‘Astangika Marga’ or Eight-fold path to be followed by man if he was to be relieved of his sufferings. These are:

(1) Right Belief;

(2) Right Action;

(3) Right Speech;

(4) Right Thought;

(5) Right Living;

(6) Honest Efforts;

(7) Right Recollection; and

(8) Right Meditation.

The eight-fold path is also called the Middle Path (Majhjhim Patha), because, Buddha was on the one hand, opposed to living a life of pleasure by the Brahmins, while on the other hand, he disapproved the life of severe penance and self-chastisement lived by the Jains. He discarded the extremes of both religions and adopted the Middle Path.

Stress on Non-Voilence ( Ahimsa)

Like Mahavira, Buddha put great stress on non-violence (Ahimsa) in regard to living creatures. He believed in the purity of all living beings. He said that it was not man only, but the birds and beasts also that are to be loved. But unlike Mahavira, He ceased going too far with his doctrine of non-violence. He never preached that man to get deeply concerned over such things as trees, stones, etc.

Buddha kept silent over the existence of God, for he was averse to seeing his precept become the centre of much controversy. Buddha deemed it wise to keep silent over these issues. He did neither deny explicitly the existence of God, nor did he think that God was absolutely necessary for the attainment of Nirvana.

Buddha, like Mahavira, was opposed also to the performance of costly rites in which large number of animals was sacrificed. On the contrary, he condemned those ceremonies. He was opposed to the precedence of the Vedas and superiority of the Brahmins. He believed that for attainment of salvation (Nirvana) no arrangement for outward and ostentation rituals was necessary.

Caste System Condemned

Buddha was well aware of the fact that caste system was highly detrimental to the solidarity of Hindu society. He condemned the system. In his opinion, social discrimination should not apply to birth, but to ethical nature of job a person generally does in his life. A wicked man should stand condemned in spite of his being Brahmin by caste. On the other hand, a Sudra should be praised, for his noble deed. Buddha preached this teaching with avid interest.

Attainment of Nirvana

In Buddha’s opinion, the main goal of human life is the attainment of Nirvana, that is, complete emancipation of the individual soul. Nirvana is that stage where man emancipates himself from the regular cycle of life and death. Any man, irrespective of caste and creed, can attain this perfect bliss and happiness, provided that he leads an honest life and follows the ‘Astangika Marga’ or Eight-fold path.

Theory of Rebirth or Karma

Buddha believed in the theory of Rebirth and Karma. Good or evil consequence of an action builds or destroys future of a man. Our past action influences our present life which in rebirth casts its spell on the next birth. No man secures exemption from the consequences of his action. If a man sows the wind, be must reap the whirlwind. In this case, Buddha accepted the doctrine of Karma preached by the Hindus.

Code of Conduct

Buddha laid special stress upon pure moral life and honest dealing of a man. One should be sincere about one’s thought, speech and action. He prescribed for his disciples a code of conduct. His main instructions are:

(1)   Do not covet other’s property;

(2)   Do not tell a lie;

(3)   Do not kill any living being;

(4)   Refrain from drinking liquors;

(5)   Do not participate in singing and dancing;

(6)   Do not use flowers and perfumed goods;

(7)   Do not receive money and save it, etc.

Thus Buddha left instructions according to which his disciples would behave in practical life. He attached no importance at all to any doctrine or philosophical speculation. In his opinion, these are irrelevant to man’s spiritual upliftment.

Buddhism is not a New religion

Buddhism is not a new religion, but a new revelation which the great teacher was preaching. Buddha can hardly be said to have had or to have taught a religion properly so called. Buddha was not a messenger of God.  He only tendered certain moral instructions to his followers and disciples. These are right belief, righteous spending of life and honest deeds which are the ruling principles in all religions. He preached no new religious beliefs; no religious rites, no new philosophy. He advised pursuit of Eight-fold path so that man can get rid of all worldly sufferings and the desire for all worldly enjoyments. The implications that in here the `Astangika Marga’ or Eight-fold path is basically ethical. Other religious preachers who were Buddha’s contemporaries preached the similar moral teachings.

Protest against the rites and practices of Vedic Hindu Religion

Buddhism appeared as a protest against the rites and practices of Vedic Hindu religion. That is why some European scholars describe it as Protestant Hinduism. But Buddhism, despite its protestant character, denied the main principles of Hinduism. The non-human origin of the Vedas, the existence of gods and goddesses, and of heaven—all these are denied in Buddhist religion. Buddha organized Sangha and intended to keep his followers apart from the Hindus.

Influence of Upanishads on Buddhism

The influence of the Upanishads on the fundamental principles of Buddhism can not be denied:

The Upanishad doctrines relating to Re-birth and Karma such as – consequence of one’s own action, especially of a previous life, influenced deeply the Buddhists religious teaching.

Moreover, Buddhism, at the very beginning, preached the doctrine of the emancipation of individual soul from worldly sufferings. That is why Buddha had prescribed pursuit of Eight-fold path. He did not preach the doctrine of collective emancipation. This made the Hindu philosophers criticize Buddhism.

Mahayana School of Religion

In consequence, the Mahayana School of religion arose. The latter emphasized the liberation from worldly bondage of all human beings (Sarbastibad). It was described as Mayayanism as it attempted to reach a higher goal. In the original Buddhist thought, importance to the emancipation of individual soul was attached and, its aim, therefore, was narrower than that of Mahayanism. It is called Hinayanism. Besides, the followers of Mahayana school accepted, as naturally as the Hindus, Sanskrit as the medium of their religious teachings.


In Buddhist religion, much importance was attached to the doctrine of non-violence (Ahimsha). The Upanishadic literature although referring to the principle of non-violence, did not prescribe its wide-spread application. The Buddhist followers of Mahayana school, in later periods, introduced worship of Bodhisattva (Great Buddha) and his image. Nevertheless, they remained apart from the Hindus by their establishment and organization of the Sangha. But in course of time, Hinduism almost absorbed Buddhism.

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