What the Buddha Taught – Walpola Rahula Thero


I read the book “What the Buddha Taught” by Reverand Walpola Rahula last year. It is a book that explains the core of the Buddhism in a simple language. The Reverand Rahula discusses The Buddhist Attitude of Mind, The First Noble Truth: Dukkha, The Second Noble Truth: Samudaya, The Third Noble Truth: Nirodha, The Fourth Noble Truth: Magga, The Doctrine of No Soul: Anatta, Meditation or Mental Culture: Bhāvanā, What the Buddha Taught and the World Today respectively.

There is a growing interest about Buddhism all over the world. But, due to political reasons, more (especially Americans) are attracted to the Dalai Lama and the Mahayana Buddhism. So, Dr. Rahula Thero’s book is an eye opener for those who seek the Theravada Buddhism. Dr. Rahula thero is highly qualified to write this book.

It has been discussed in this book almost everything which is commonly accepted as the essential and fundamental teaching of Buddha. These are the doctrines of the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Five Aggregates, Karma, Rebirth, Conditioned Genesis (Paticcasamuppāda), the doctrine of No-Soul (Anatta), Satipatthāna (the Setting-up of Mindfulness). The Western reader will find it difficult to read the books and comprehend it at the beginning but the reader is expected to go through the book once or twice to understand it fully. There are Pali terms and their English translations but it is difficult to translate some concepts such as “praying” as the Buddhists don’t find praying that is similar to Christianity or Islam.

Theravāda, which is regarded as the original orthodox Buddhism, is followed in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Chittagong in Bangladesh. Mahāyāna, which developed relatively later, is followed in other Buddhist countries like China, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, etc. There are certain differences, mainly with regard to some beliefs, practices and observances between these two schools, but on the most important teachings of the Buddha, such as those discussed here, Theravāda and Mahāyāna are unanimously agreed.

The Buddha, whose personal name was Siddhattha (Siddhārtha in Sanskrit), and family name Gotama (Sanskrit: Gautama), lived in North India in the 6th century B.C. His father, Suddhodana, was the ruler of the kingdom, of the Sākyas (in modern Nepal). His mother was queen Māyā. According to the custom of the time, he was married quite young, at the age sixteen, to a beautiful and devoted young princess named Yasodharā. The young prince lived in his palace with every luxury at his command. But all of a sudden, confronted with the reality of life and the suffering of mankind, he decided to find the solution – the way out of this universal suffering. At the age of 29, soon after birth of his only child, Rāhula, he left his kingdom and became an ascetic in search of this solution.

For six years the ascetic Gotama wandered about the valley of the Ganges, meeting famous religious teachers, studying and following their systems and methods, and submitting himself to rigorous ascetic practices. They did not satisfy him. So he abandoned all traditional religions and their methods and went his own way. It was thus that one evening, seated under a tree (since then known as the Bodhi-or-Bo-tree, ‘the Tree of Wisdom’). On the bank of the river Neranjarā at Buddha-Gaya (near Gaya in modern Bihar), at the age of 35, Gotama attained Enlightenment, after which he was known as the Buddha, ‘The Enlightened One’.

After his Enlightenment, Gotama the Buddha delivered his first sermon to a group of five ascetics, his old colleagues, in the Deer Park at Isipatana (modern Sarnath) near Benares. From that day, for 45 years, he taught all classes of men and women-kings and peasants, Brahmins and outcasts, bankers and beggars, holy men and robbers – without making slightest distinction between them. He recognized no differences of caste or social groupings, and the Way he preached was open to all men and women who were ready to understand and to follow it.

At the age of 80, the Buddha passed away at Kusinārā (in modern Uttar Pradesh in India).

Today Buddhism is found in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Tibet, China, Japan, Mongolia, Korea, Taiwan, in some parts of India, Pakistan and Nepal, and also in the Soviet Union. The Buddhist population of the world is over 500 million.

The Rev. Dr. W. Rahula received the traditional training and education of a Buddhist monk in Ceylon, and held eminent positions in one of the leading monastic institutes (Pirivena) in that island, where the Law of the Buddha flourishes from the time of Asoka and has preserved all its vitality up to this day. Thus brought up in ancient tradition, he decided, at this time when all traditions are called in questions, to face the spirit and the methods of international scientific learning. He entered the Ceylon University, obtained the B.A. Honours degree (London), and then won the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the Ceylon University on a highly learned thesis on the History of Buddhism in Ceylon. Having worked with distinguished professors at the University of Calcutta and come in contact with adepts of Mahāyāna (the Great Vehicle), that form of Buddhism which reigns from Tibet to the Far East, he decided to go into the Tibetan and Chinese texts in order to widen his ecumenism, and he has honoured us by coming to the University of Paris (Sorbonne) to prepare a study of Asanga, the illustrious philosopher of Mahāyāna, whose principal works in the original Sanskrit are lost, and can only be read in their Tibetan and Chinese translations. It is now eight years since Dr. Rahula is among us, wearing yellow robe, breathing the air of the Occident, searching perhaps in our old troubled mirror a universalized reflection of the religion which is his. (From http://buddhasociety.com/online-books/what-buddha-taught-walpola-rahula-9)

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