1 of Buddhism in a Nutshell
© 1982 Buddhist Publication Society
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P.O. Box 61
54, Sangharaja Mawatha
Kandy, Sri Lanka
edition was transcribed from the print edition in 1995 by
Bradford Griffith under the auspices of the DharmaNet Dharma
Book Transcription Project, with the kind permission of the
Buddhist Publication Society.
Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma-Sambuddhassa
fullmoon day of May, in the year 623 B.C., there was born
in the district of Nepal an Indian Sakya Prince named Siddhattha
Gotama, who was destined to be the greatest religious teacher
in the world. Brought up in the lap of luxury, receiving an
education befitting a prince, he married and had a son.
nature and boundless compassion did not permit him to enjoy
the fleeting material pleasures of a Royal household. He knew
no woe, but he felt a deep pity for sorrowing humanity. Amidst
comfort and prosperity, he realized the universality of sorrow.
The palace, with all its worldly amusements, was no longer
a congenial place for the compassionate prince. The time was
ripe for him to depart. Realizing the vanity of sensual enjoyments,
in his twenty-ninth year, he renounced all worldly pleasures
and donning the simple yellow garb of an ascetic, alone, penniless,
wandered forth in search of Truth and Peace.
an unprecedented historic renunciation; for he renounced not
in his old age but in the prime of manhood, not in poverty
but in plenty. As it was the belief in the ancient days that
no deliverance could be gained unless one leads a life of
strict asceticism, he strenuously practiced all forms of severe
austerities. "Adding vigil after vigil, and penance after
penance," he made a superhuman effort for six long years.
was reduced to almost a skeleton. The more he tormented his
body, the farther his goal receded from him. The painful,
unsuccessful austerities which he strenuously practiced proved
absolutely futile. He was now fully convinced, through personal
experience, of the utter futility of self-mortification which
weakened his body and resulted in lassitude of spirit.
by this invaluable experience of his, he finally decided to
follow an independent course, avoiding the two extremes of
self-indulgence and self-mortification. The former retards
one's spiritual progress, and the latter weakens one's intellect.
The new way which he himself discovered was the Middle Path,
Majjhima Patipada, which subsequently became one of
the salient characteristics of his teaching.
morning, while He was deeply absorbed in meditation, unaided
and unguided by any supernatural power and solely relying
on His efforts and wisdom, He eradicated all defilements,
purified Himself, and, realizing things as they truly are,
attained Enlightenment (Buddhahood) at the age of 35. He was
not born a Buddha, but He became
a Buddha by His own striving. As the perfect embodiment of
all the virtues He preached, endowed with deep wisdom commensurate
with His boundless compassion. He devoted the remainder of
His precious life to serve humanity both by example and precept,
dominated by no personal motive whatever.
a very successful ministry of 45 long years the Buddha, as
every other human being, succumbed to the inexorable law of
change, and finally passed away in His 80th year, exhorting
His disciples to regard His doctrine as their teacher.
was a human being. As a man He was born, as a man He lived,
and as a man His life came to an end. Though a human being,
He became an extraordinary man (Acchariya Manussa),
but He never arrogated to Himself divinity. The Buddha laid
stress on this important point and left no room whatever for
anyone to fall into the error of thinking that He was an immortal
divine being. Fortunately there is no deification in the case
of the Buddha. It should, however, be remarked that there
was no Teacher, "ever so godless as the Buddha, yet none so
is neither an incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu, as is believed
by some, nor is He a savior who freely saves others by His
personal salvation. The Buddha exhorts His disciples to depend
on themselves for their deliverance, for both purity and defilement
depend on oneself. Clarifying His relationship with His followers
and emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and individual
striving, the Buddha plainly states: "You should exert yourselves,
the Tathagatas are only teachers."
point out the path, and it is left for us to follow that path
to obtain our purification.
on others for salvation is negative, but to depend on oneself
is positive." Dependence on others means a surrender of one's
His disciples to be self-dependent the Buddha says in the
Parinibbana Sutta: "Be ye islands unto yourselves,
be ye a refuge unto yourselves, seek not for refuge in others."
These significant words are self-elevating. They reveal how
vital is self-exertion to accomplish one's object and, how
superficial and futile it is to seek redemption through benignant
saviors and to crave for illusory happiness in an after life
through the propitiation of imaginary Gods or by irresponsive
prayers and meaningless sacrifices.
the Buddha does not claim the monopoly of Buddhahood which,
as a matter of fact, is not the prerogative of any specially
graced person. He reached the highest possible state of perfection
any person could aspire to, and without the close-fist of
a teacher he revealed the only straight path that leads thereto.
According to the Teaching of the Buddha anybody may aspire
to that supreme state of perfection if he makes the necessary
exertion. The Buddha does not condemn men by calling them
wretched sinners, but, on the contrary, He gladdens them by
saying that they are pure in heart at conception. In His opinion
the world is not wicked but is deluded by ignorance. Instead
of disheartening His followers and reserving that exalted
state only to Himself, He encourages and induces them to emulate
Him, for Buddhahood is latent in all. In one sense all are
aspires to become a Buddha is called a Bodhisatta, which,
literally, means a wisdom-being. This Bodhisatta ideal is
the most beautiful and the most refined course of life that
has ever been presented to this ego-centric world, for what
is nobler than a life of service and purity?
Man He attained Buddhahood and proclaimed to the world the
latent inconceivable possibilities and the creative power
of man. Instead of placing an unseen Almighty God over man
who arbitrarily controls the destinies of mankind, and making
him subservient to a supreme power, He raised the worth of
mankind. It was He who taught that man can gain his deliverance
and purification by his own exertion without depending on
an external God or mediating priests. It was he who taught
the ego-centric world the noble ideal of selfless service.
It was He who revolted against the degrading caste system
and taught equality of mankind and gave equal opportunities
for all to distinguish themselves in every walk of life.
that the gates of success and prosperity were open to all
in every condition of life, high or low, saint or criminal,
who would care to turn a new leaf and aspire to perfection.
of caste, color or rank He established for both deserving
men and women a democratically constituted celibate Order.
He did not force His followers to be slaves either to His
Teachings or to Himself but granted complete freedom of thought.
the bereaved by His consoling words. He ministered to the
sick that were deserted. He helped the poor that were neglected.
He ennobled the lives of the deluded, purified the corrupted
lives of criminals. He encouraged the feeble, united the divided,
enlightened the ignorant, clarified the mystic, guided the
benighted, elevated the base, dignified the noble. Both rich
and poor, saints and criminals loved Him alike. Despotic and
righteous kings, famous and obscure princes and nobles, generous
and stingy millionaires, haughty and humble scholars, destitute
paupers, down-trodden scavengers, wicked murderers, despised
courtesans -- all benefited by His words of wisdom and compassion.
example was a source of inspiration to all. His serene and
peaceful countenance was a soothing sight to the pious eyes.
His message of Peace and Tolerance was welcomed by all with
indescribable joy and was of eternal benefit to every one
who had the fortune to hear and practice it.
His teachings penetrated it left an indelible impression upon
the character of the respective peoples. The cultural advancement
of all the Buddhist nations was mainly due to His sublime
Teachings. In fact all Buddhist countries like Ceylon, Burma,
Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Nepal, Tibet, China, Mongolia,
Korea, Japan, etc., grew up in the cradle of Buddhism. Though
more than 2500 years have elapsed since the passing away of
this greatest Teacher, yet his unique personality exerts a
great influence on all who come to know Him.
will, profound wisdom, universal love, boundless compassion,
selfless service, historic renunciation, perfect purity, magnetic
personality, exemplary methods employed to propagate the Teachings,
and his final success -- all these factors have compelled
about one-fifth of the population of the world today to hail
the Buddha as their supreme Teacher.
a glowing tribute to the Buddha Sri Radhakrishnan states:
"In Gautama the Buddha we have a master-mind from the East
second to none so far as the influence on the thought and
life of the human race is concerned, and, sacred to all as
the founder of a religious tradition whose hold is hardly
less wide and deep than any other. He belongs to the history
of the world's thought, to the general inheritance of all
cultivated men, for, judged by intellectual integrity, moral
earnestness, and spiritual insight, He is undoubtedly one
of the greatest figures in history.
Three Greatest Men in History H.G. Wells writes: "In the
Buddha you see clearly a man, simple, devout, lonely, battling
for light -- a vivid human personality, not a myth. He too
gave a message to mankind universal in character. Many of
our best modern ideas are in closest harmony with it. All
the miseries and discontents are due, he taught, to selfishness.
Before a man can become serene he must cease to live for his
senses or himself. Then he merges into a great being. Buddha
in different language called men to self-forgetfulness 500
years before Christ. In some ways he is nearer to us and our
needs. He was more lucid upon our individual importance and
service than Christ and less ambiguous upon the question of
remarks "The perfect model of all the virtues He preaches.
His life has not a stain upon it."
says -- "The more I know of Him, the more I love Him."
follower of his would say -- "The more I know Him, the more
I love Him; the more I love Him, the more I know Him."
An Awakened or Enlightened One.
Lit., Thus who hath come.