Buddha’s Teachings | Overview


The Dhamma

After His enlightenment the Buddha pondered on how profound His Dhamma was and how difficult it would be for the people to understand.

Coincidentally Brahma Sahampati from the higher celestial plane appeared in front and invited Him to preach the Dhamma (true idea of the upliftment) for the benefit of the world.

The Buddha agreed to do this after surveying with His divine eye and found that there were some who could understand His teachings.

Thereupon Brahma Sahampati paid obeisance to the Buddha, keeping to His right side, walking a short distance, he straightaway disappeared, returning to the world of Brahmas.

Then the Buddha immediately thought of His first mundane ascetic teacher Āḷāra Kālāma but understood that he had died a week ago.

Next He thought of His second mundane ascetic teacher Uddaka Rāmaputta but unfortunately this teacher too had just died the day before.

Finally the Buddha thought of the 5 monks who had previously attended on Him and found that they were staying in the Deer Park at Isipatana in Benares.

Out of compassion the Buddha went to see them:

Even though they were reluctant to pay Him due homage at first, the Buddha eventually managed to influence them. When they were convinced and ready to hear the Dhamma, the Buddha preached the first sermon.

This epic historical event was of paramount importance because the expounding of the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta meant the setting in motion the Turning Wheel of the Law (Truth)

which no Brahma (higher god), no Deva (god/deity) and no Mara (evil one) could hinder or stop, signifying that the Buddha would preach His Dhamma non-stop throughout His life.

Briefly stated, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta is the avoidance of the 2 extremes:

One is the over-indulgence of Sensual Pleasures; which is base, vulgar, ignoble, while the other is the constant Self-Mortification which is painful, ignoble and profitless.

The Sutta explains the Four Noble Truths which are:-

1. Suffering
2. Cause of Suffering
3. End of Suffering; and
4. The Way to the End of Suffering (which is better known as the Noble Eightfold Path)

At the end of the preaching, Kondañña was the first among the five monks to attain the First Stage of Sainthood (Sotāpanna) amidst the thunderous applause of the multitude of the heavenly beings, joyously lighting up Isipatana specially and the whole world generally.

Later Kondañña and the other four monks became Arahants who were included in the Buddha’s first sixty missionary monks to spread the Dhamma with His exhortation:

Go forth, O Bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare and benefit of gods and men!

The first missionary monks to propagate the Dhamma could only be said to be fully established with the ordination of the rich man - Yasa and his 54 friends as monks. These additional monks made a total of 60 Arahant monks excluding the Buddha himself.

Led by the Buddha, they made up the world’s first missionary monks, sent out one in each different direction to propagate the Buddha's new found Dhamma, to deliver peace and truth to the world.

The Buddha Himself alone also went in another direction to preach the Dhamma.

From then onwards, the Buddha went on from place to place to preach the Dhamma which He also taught to His monks, especially the Chief Disciples and 80 Great Disciples, who were specially endowed with Dhamma talents.

Anyone who believes in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha can become a Buddhist. The name given to a Buddhist in Pāḷi language is “Upāsaka” for males and “Upāsikā” for females. This Buddhist name is also given to one who associates with the Triple Gem or the Three Refuges.

A Buddhist has to observe the Five Precepts. The Pāḷi word for precept is “Sikkhāpada” which means discipline or good behaviour.

The first of the Five Precepts is to refrain from killing:

Out of pity one does not kill and by being such, one can become kind and compassionate.

The second of the Five Precepts is to refrain from stealing:

No one has the right to take other’s things without being given and by being such, one can become honest

The third of the Five Precepts is to refrain from sexual misconduct:

Out of religious purity and conviction one does not commit Sexual Misconduct and as such, one can become pure and good

The fourth of the Five Precepts is to refrain from telling lies:

Out of self-respect one does not tell lies and as such, one can become honest and trustworthy.

The last and fifth of the Five Precepts is to refrain from taking Intoxicants:

Avoiding indecent and shameful behaviour, one does not take intoxicants and so can become an alert and mindful person.

Therefore as such, if one observes and practises the Five Precepts sincerely, one can become a very good and trustworthy Buddhist.

As Buddhists, we do not worship statues and trees but we pay respect to the Buddha image for what it stands for. By paying homage to the Bodhi tree we pay respect to Buddhahood.

Any devoted Buddhist can think of the Buddha and recite His virtues. Before the Buddha image, a Buddhist can offer incense, flowers, candles and fruits out of devotion and honour to Him.

At the end of the devotional service we usually exclaim “Sadhu” which means “excellent rejoicing’’.

The best way to respect and honour the Buddha is to follow His advice expressed thus in the Pāḷi language:-

Sabba pāpassa akarana
Kusalassa upasampad
Sacitta pariyod
ṁ Buddhāna Sāsana

which means

Not to do evil
Only to do good, and
To purify one’s mind
Thus is the advice of all Buddhas

When one follows and practises the Buddha’s advice then one can have the noble and pure mind which leads to enlightenment.

But if one follows the evil and performs unwholesome activities then one will experience suffering and sorrow.

The Pāḷi word for evil is “Pāpa” and for unwholesome is “Akuśala”- both of these defile the mind.

The 10 kinds of unwholesome actions are as follows

a) caused by deeds:-

1. Killing
2. Stealing; and
3. Adultery (Sexual Misconduct)

b) caused by speech:-

4. Lying
5. Slandering
6. Harsh or abusive words, and
7. Frivolous words or idle Gossip

c) caused by thoughts:

8. Covetousness
9. Ill-will, and
10. Wrong View/Delusion

Thus they make up the total of 10 unwholesome or demeritorious actions enumerated in Buddhism.

Knowing this, one should make every endeavour to avoid them, so as to be free from sorrow and suffering which is the outcome of performing the unwholesome actions.

There are also the Ten Wholesome Actions which are opposite to the Ten Unwholesome Actions.

Antidotes to the Ten unwholesome actions are the 10 Beneficial Actions; also known as the Ten Meritorious Actions which are as follows:-

1) Dāna means Charity or Generosity
2) Śīla means Morality
3) Bhāvana means Meditation or Concentration of the Mind;
4) Apacayana means Reverence or Respecting the respectable (usually the elders)
5) Veyyāvacca means Service or Volunteer to help
6) Pattidāna means Sharing of merits
7) Pattānumodana means Rejoicing or Gladness in other’s merits
8) Dhammasavana means Hearing or studying the Doctrine
9) Dhammadesana means Expounding or propagating the Doctrine
10) Ditthijjukamma means Straightening of one’s own views

The Pāḷi word for good is “Kuśala” which also means wholesome.

Another Pāḷi word, “Puñña” means merit which is included in the good deeds as well.

There are 3 kinds of merit:-

1) Dāna means generous giving or charity which helps to eradicate selfishness and greed.

2) Śīla means morality or virtuous conduct which helps to eradicate ill-will or hatred

3) Bhāvana means meditation or development of mental culture which helps to eradicate ignorance or wrong view

Children can also be taught to perform charity to the poor and the needy as well as to the respectable ones worthy of honour such as parents, elders and virtuous ones.

Children can also be taught to observe the precepts thereby practising morality.

Children can also be taught to practise certain meditation, suitable to them, like meditating on Loving-kindness (Metta) and Compassion (Karuṇā). The children should practise Loving-kindness and Compassion respectively by repeating every morning and night,

May all beings be well and happy!
May all beings be free from sufferings!

In another form: “May all beings be free from sufferings!

In another form:

Creatures all beneath the sun
Two feet, four feet, more or none
How I love you one and all!

Yet another verse to recite is,

All ye creatures that have birth
Breathe and move upon the earth
Happy be ye one and all
Never into mischief fall

At this juncture, for those who like to keep a very strict disciplinary practise to augment their normal precepts observance, there are 13 ascetic practises (Dhūtāṅgas) enumerated as follows:-

1) wearing robes made of rag cloths from the rubbish heap
2) wearing only three robes
3) living on food received by going on alms-round
4) begging food straight from house to house
5) eating only once a day at one sitting
6) eating from one vessel
7) refusing (eating) of food in excess of the regulations
8) dwelling in the woods
9) dwelling at the root of a tree
10) dwelling in the open air
11) dwelling in or near a cemetery
12) not altering the mat or bed when it has been spread out for sleeping on
13) sleeping in a sitting position

With avid practise of the above thirteen ascetic vows, they would acquire the peace and bliss as their very own.

Although the Buddha apparently catered only for the monks there were however several Discourses He preached for the guidance of family duties and social obligations to the people living at home:

The Singalovāda Sutta is perhaps the most popular and outstanding, featuring ideal home advice given by the Buddha to a young man named Siṅgāla.

Singalovāda Sutta

The Singalovāda Sutta highlights the specific duties the various people have to perform.

The 5 types of Family Duty for Sons and Daughters:

1) Sons and daughters must attend caringly to their parents so as to provide them with all the requisites in life.

2) They must carry out the family affairs, such as the business matters of their parents.

3) They must maintain their parents’ properties, their parents’ clan name, their parents’ religious duties, to try and straighten their parents’ religious view if they have a wrong view. They must also maintain the good name of their parents and their lineage.

4) They must obey their parents and make themselves worthy of the parents’ heritage.

5) On their parents’ death they should do good deeds in dedication to them and share the merits with them.

5 Types of Family Duty for Parents

1) Parents must prevent their sons and daughters from misconduct.
2) They must show their sons and daughters the way to good conduct.
3) They must make their sons and daughters learn the arts and sciences.
4) They must give them in marriage to suitable persons.
5) They must give them their inheritance at the proper time.

5 Types of Student’s Duty for a Pupil

1) He must stand up and welcome his teacher when he sees the teacher coming.
2) He must attend and wait upon his teacher.
3) He must obey the words of the teacher with confidence and devotion.
4) He must serve his teacher and supply his needs
5) He must learn carefully and respectfully what is taught or instructed by his teacher.

5 Types of Teacher’s Duty for a Teacher

1) A teacher must teach his pupils good behaviour.
2) He must impart knowledge to him in such a manner that the pupil may thoroughly grasp the subject.
3) He must train his pupil without any discrimination.
4) He must speak well of his pupil’s virtues and attainments to his friends.
5) He must prevent his pupils from danger.

5 Types of Duty for a Husband

1) A husband must be kind to and adore his wife
2) He must not treat his wife in an insolent manner.
3) He must not engage in sexual misconduct with other women.
4) He must give her control and authority over domestic matter.
5) He must provide his wife with garments and ornaments.

5 Types of Duty for a Wife

1) A wife must arrange chores of the household well and run it smoothly.
2) She must distribute gifts fairly between her relatives and her husband’s relatives.
3) She must not engage in sexual misconduct with other men.
4) She must keep and maintain all things orderly that are handed over by her husband.
5) She must be skilful and diligent in all her house works.

5 Types of Fraternal Duty for a Good Friend

1) A man must give his friends all necessary things as much as possible.
2) He must use affectionate words towards them.
3) He must do his best for the benefit of his friends.
4) He must think of them as himself.
5) He must be true to his words and promises.

5 Types of Obligation for a Beneficiary

1) A beneficiary should protect his friend when his friend is inebriated.
2) He should guard over his friend’s properties when he is inebriated.
3) He should be a refuge for his friend when the latter is in trouble.
4) He should not desert his friend when and who is in distress.
5) He should help his descendants.

5 Types of Duty for a Master (or an Employer)

1) A master should make his employees work in accordance with their capability and strength.
2) He must provide his employees with food and pay them sufficiently.
3) He must give them medical treatment when they arc ill and sick.
4) On receiving delicious food, he must share it with his employees.
5) He must allow them to work at appointed times and let them enjoy leisure at other times for rest and relaxation.

5 Types of Duty for a Servant

1) A servant must be awake from sleep before his master.
2) He must sleep after his master.
3) He must take only what is given to him by his master.
4) He must try his best in his work for his master.
5) He must always speak of the virtues of his master.

5 Types of Duty for Devotees

1) A devotee must minister to the religious teachers with affection in action.
2) He must minister to the religious teachers with affection in speech.
3) He must show them affection in thought, wishing them well at all times.
4) He must always keep his house open to the religious teachers.
5) He must provide them with material requisites.

6 Types of Duty for religious Teacher

1) A religious teacher must restrain his devotees from doing evil deeds.
2) He must exhort them to do good deeds.
3) He must protect them with loving-kindness.
4) He must preach to them what they have never heard before.
5) He must explain to them what they have already heard.
6) He must show them the way to the realm of devas.

6 Types of Duty for a Leader

1) He must be more industrious than others.
2) He must be vigilant in order to lead others.
3) He must be kind to his subordinates.
4) He must forebear and forgive others.
5) He must be considerate and reasonable in whatever he does.

The 4 Factors of Endowments (Sampada)

Once, during the Buddha’s time, a young Koliyan named Dīghajanu (which means Long Knee) said to the Buddha (who was dwelling at Koliya market town),

that as worldlings, living together with their families, they suffered the use of perfumes and unguents and took delight in various ornaments, like jewellery, gold and silver.

He humbly requested the Buddha to deliver a discourse, pointing to a way whereby the ordinary people could gain wealth and happiness in their present lives, as well as in the future.

There at the Buddha expounded a discourse on “Sampada” which means the qualities which one must possess so as to gain wealth and happiness.

This “Sampada” contained the four capabilities as enumerated in the following passages:-

1. Uṭṭhānasaṁpada: active and diligent exertion in any business undertaking.

2. Ārakkhasaṁpada: the ability to manage wisely what one has earned.

3. Kalyāṇamitta saṁpada: the ability to associate with a wide circle of good friends.

4. Samajivita saṁpada: the ability to live within one’ means, i.e. sampada not spending more than what one has earned by lawful means.

The further detail explanations are appended as follows:

1. Uṭṭhānasaṁpada: In the world everyone has to make a living by finding any suitable means of livelihood.

Only a down and out person should be a beggar without working in any occupation. A beggar is despised as a social pest and is outlawed in many countries.

One must be skilful, diligent and wise in making decisions and in the administration of the business one is undertaking. These 3 qualities: skill, diligence and wisdom make up the endowment Uṭṭhānasaṁpada.

2. Ārakkhasaṁpada : The wealth and properties, that one has acquired accordingly by active and diligent exertion in business undertaking, must be managed wisely and protected from 5 kinds of danger: floods, conflagrations, bad rulers, thieves and robbers as well as from bad sons and daughters who are unworthy heirs.

The wise management and protection of the wealth and properties that one has acquired justly is call the endowment Ārakkhasaṁpada.

3. Kalyāṇamitta saṁpada: One must associate with good friends possessing the good qualities such as conviction and morality. One must also associate with those who have achieved success in their business.

Only when one associate with such good companions can one emulate them and strive to achieve the good qualities that they possess in order to attain good morality, conviction, business management, etc. This is called the endowment of Kalyāṇamitta saṁpada.

4. Samajivita-saṁpada: One must keep a systematic account reflecting the income, the expenditure, the receipts and payments.

One should divide the net income into 4 portions:

A person should use 2 portions for family consumption, 1 portion for saving, and the remaining portion for investment.

The ability to live within one’s means and not spending more than what one has earned by lawful means is called the endowment Samajivita saṁpada.

With the expounding of the Four Endowments (Sampada) by the Buddha for the prosperity and happiness of the householders now and the future, this overview of Buddha Dhamma in brief comes to an end.