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Sketch of Life and Teachings of the Buddha Gotama

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Sketch of the life of the Buddha Gotama

Dukkha, dissatisfaction

Causal origin, dependent origination

Anicca, impermanence

Mucalinda and anattā

The two merchants

Factors of Enlightenment

The foundations of mindfulness

The teaching is difficult to understand

The five ascetics and the usual conversation

The Middle Path, the Noble Eightfold Path

The Four Noble Truths

Anattā, the characteristic of non-self

Emptiness, suññatā


Spreading the Doctrine

The fire speech

Spreading the Doctrine 2


The Pali Canon

Start at the beginning

The Doctrine for Laymen

The rules of good conduct

Things  beneficial for lay followers

When is one a lay follower?

To avoid evil

To purify one's own mind

Bhikkhus and lay followers

Some Meditation Methods




Volitional actions and moral consequences


The worlds of existence

The stains of the mind

The levels of holiness

The example of the Arahant

The example of the Bodhisatta

The goal, Nibbana

Summary of the Dhamma

Various schools

Many Buddhas


Consulted literature


Some claim that the teaching of the Buddha has a secret part. This is not true. The teaching of the Buddha is open to everyone. But that teaching can be divided into two major parts, namely the part intended for lay people and the part mainly intended for monks and nuns. Much has been written about the life of the monks. But the Buddha advised that lay people should not follow the way of life of monks. Because the way of life of lay people is very different. The Buddha also gave many speeches to the laity. And even lay people can realize perfect holiness.

In this brief overview of the life and teaching of the Buddha Gotama, we have mainly dealt with that which is intended for the laity.

Sketch of the life of the Buddha Gotama


          The Buddha Gotama (Gautama in Sanskrit) was a human being and not a god. He was a peerless teacher. According to Theravada tradition, he was born in Lumbinī, in the Therai plain of Nepal, in the year 623 BC. He was given the name Siddhattha. His mother's name was Maha Maya. His father was Suddhodana Gotama, governor of the tribe of the Sakyas. The capital of the Sakyas was Kapilavatthu. Siddhattha spent his childhood in that city.

At the age of 16, he married his cousin Yasodhara. She was the only daughter of King Suppabuddha and Queen Pamita of the tribe of the Koliyas.

Sakyas                                            Koliyas

capital city                                        capital city

Kapilavatthu                                     Devadaha

          |                                        ________|_________                

Suddhodana Gotama      x     Maha Maya       Suppabuddha    x    Pamita

                                         |                                                          |

                             Siddhattha Gotama               x                Yasodhara



  Siddhattha lived in luxury and without worries. But during his trips in the area he saw that man is weighed down by old age, disease and death. He also met an ascetic who led his life for the good of the people. Siddhattha also wanted to live such a life. On the very day he resolved to give up his luxurious life, a son was born to him. Siddhattha realized that he could not easily leave home and wife now. But he had no desire to live the luxurious life of the head of a family. Nor did he desire to become a great man by killing others in war. His mind was determined and he gave up all wealth, throne and dominion and happiness with wife and child in search of the incomparable inner peace.

He left palace, city and country and began the homeless life of an ascetic. He went in search of the way that leads to the highest peace. First he went to famous teachers. But they could not teach him the way to that peace. Siddhattha then went on alone. In stages he arrived at Senanigama (now Buddhagaya) near Uruvela. There he stayed. Five other ascetics soon joined him.

Siddhattha thought that rigorous ascetic exercises would lead him to supreme peace. But it wasn't. Finally, he realized that self-torture and fasting were not getting any results. He remembered how in his youth he sat under a tree and reached a meditative absorption. And he realized that concentration guided by ordered reflections was the way to supreme peace.

He started eating solid food again. The five ascetics thought he had given up his pursuit and departed from him. Siddhattha sat down in a lovely grove at the foot of a fig tree. Concentrated he thought about old age, birth and death. He saw that everything is interdependent.

Dukkha, dissatisfaction

And he turned the mind to the understanding of the drying up of ignorance. He saw the mark of life, dukkha: everything that has entered into existence is unsatisfied, unfinished, imperfect. And thus it is a source of dukkha, distress, frustration. He saw not only what dukkha is, but also its origin and development, its abolition and how dukkha can be abolished.

Concentrated thinking brought a light to him and he saw clearly what had long been hidden from him. At the age of 35 he found the way that leads to the incomparable inner peace. He became the perfectly Awakened One, the Exalted One, the Enlightened One, the Buddha of this age.

Causal origin, dependent origination

After the Exalted One attained perfect Enlightenment, he thought again about causal origin. He had also thought about it before the Enlightenment. As a result of not understanding it, one remains in the cycle of rebirths. But the Buddha found a way out of that cycle, found liberation from dukkha, dissatisfaction, aging and dying.

Through the body and mind with the six senses, contact with sensory perceptible objects creates sensation, consciousness. Because of ignorance, possession creates an I-consciousness: I see, I hear, I smell, I taste, I touch, I think, I am. That I-consciousness arises depending on the rebirth-producing volitional actions, or kamma formations. It leads to rebirth. An I-consciousness arises again. From the I-awareness arises spiritual-corporeality.

Feeling, perception, intention, imagination, thinking, touch, attentiveness, consideration: that is called mind.

The four elements: earth, water, fire, air, and the form that depends on those elements is called body.

Through the senses there is contact with the sensory observable objects. Touch, contact creates feeling, sensation, perception. As a result there arises desire, covetousness, attachment, possession; an I-consciousness arises again. Then conception, birth, old age and death arise.

Through the abolition of ignorance there is no process of coming into existence as an embryo or egg. In this way the cessation of the whole mass of suffering is accomplished.

I.e. when possession is abolished, when nothing is appropriated anymore, when the opinion of “I am an immutable thing” has disappeared, then follows a “so-consciousness”, so it came to be, so it passed away.


  The realization that everything arises and passes away causally, that there is no abiding ego to govern everything, leads to Nibbana, the end of all suffering, a state free from worry and full of inner peace.

Anicca, impermanence

The understanding of causation and decay leads to the understanding of the hallmark of anicca, impermanence. Everything that is composed is unstable, changeable and perishable. Nothing that and no one who has entered into existence remains the same, lasts forever. Even the highest god will one day have to say goodbye to the divine life. Existence is only temporary. - This is the characteristic of aniccā (changeability, impermanence).

Mucalinda and anattā

In the fifth week after Enlightenment, the Blessed One went to the foot of the Mucalinda Tree. There was then a violent storm. But the Blessed One was protected there from rain and cold wind by the mighty Naga[1] Mucalinda. When the storm passed, the Buddha spoke to Mucalinda about anattā.

"Seclusion is happiness for the contented; and kindness to the world is happiness for the one who lives in forbearance. Not to please is happiness for the one who has transcended sense. But to be freed from the opinion 'I am', that is the greatest happiness of all.”

Elsewhere in the Pali canon, the lines in verse are the summary of what is taught in the prose. Presumably the Buddha spoke to Mucalinda at greater length than this verse about seclusion, forbearance, overcoming sensual desires, and about anattā, freedom from the belief that one is an abiding, unchanging being.

The two merchants

In the sixth week after Enlightenment, the Blessed One dwelt at the foot of a Rajayatana tree. At the end of that week, rice cakes with honey were offered to him by two merchants. They were called Tapussa and Bhalluka. They came with their caravan from the direction of Ukkala and were on their way to Madhyadesa.[2] 

At that time, ascetics were often invited for a meal by merchants who traveled with their caravan and were sometimes on the road for more than a year. In return for the support, the merchants were then taught in the teachings of those ascetics. The Buddha must also have spoken to them and have explained part of his doctrine.[3] Because they took refuge to the Buddha and to his teachings.[4] Presumably the Blessed One related part of the usual conversation: of the benefits of virtuous conduct, of generosity, and of salvation and blessing here and hereafter.

Factors of Enlightenment

From the Rājayatana tree, the Buddha went to the Ajapāla Nigrodha, the goatherd fig tree. The following consideration occurred to him: five faculties, unfolded and developed, have led to the Deathless, namely the faculties of confidence, energy, attentiveness, concentration and wisdom.

The foundations of mindfulness

 The following consideration also occurred to the Exalted One. The path of the four foundations of mindfulness is the straight path for purification of the beings, to overcome sorrow and lamentation, to end pain and sorrow; this is the straight path to the realization of Nibbana.

Those four foundations are: the contemplation of the body, the contemplation of the feelings, the contemplation of consciousness, and the contemplation of mental objects.

Brahmā Sahampati noticed in his mind these considerations of the Blessed One and immediately he disappeared from the Brahmā heaven and appeared before the Blessed One. Reverently, he affirmed the Buddha's deliberations.

The teaching is difficult to understand

The Buddha had not only recognized that there is dissatisfaction, unsatisfaction, frustration in the world. But he had also discovered the chain of causal origin. These themes are difficult to understand. That is why the Exalted One at first did not want to proclaim the whole teaching because it is deep and difficult to see, difficult to discover. "It is the most peaceful and is the supreme goal of all. This teaching is not attainable by mere reasoning, is subtle, experienced by the wise." He further thought that if he taught the doctrine and others did not understand him, then he would only have the trouble and the burden of it.

The Buddha therefore wanted to refrain from proclaiming the teachings. But because of Brahmā Sahampati he changed his mind and saw that there were also beings who wanted to listen to his teachings and who had faith in his teachings.

The five ascetics and the usual conversation

Thereupon the Blessed One continued on his way to Isipatana (Sarnath near Varanasi) until he came near the five ascetics who once accompanied him in his quest for supreme inner peace.

          In the Buddha's first address to those five ascetics, he did not speak directly to them of the higher teachings. But the Buddha first prepared the way for them to become receptive to the understanding of the higher teachings. So he addressed them first with the usual talk, namely, the talk of giving (generosity), of virtue, of a better world, and of the blessing of renunciation. This speech has not survived. It is only mentioned in Digha Nikaya 16, among the six predecessors of the Buddha Gotama. But its scope can be reconstructed. Many discourses have been given later on the merits of generosity. And virtue manifests itself in following the five rules of good conduct. In a better world one comes when one is virtuous and performs meritorious deeds.

          The second part of the usual discourse dealt with the misery, the emptiness and impurity of desire, and the blessing of renunciation.


          Desire, the lusts of the senses are indicated as a danger, as a fetter. And why?

          Sensual lust is like a danger and a fetter because one who is inflamed with sensual desires, entangled in his desires, is not free from the dangers and fetters of present existence, and does not become free from the dangers and fetters of future existence.

          As danger, as buoy, one indicates the sensual lusts on which the great multitude hangs. But whoever sees danger in attachment, possession, the origin of birth and death, is freed from all delusion without attachment.

           Those who are safe, the blessed, whose delusion has already been extinguished in life, they have escaped all evil and danger, all suffering.

          The five ascetics to whom this customary conversation was spoken were already well prepared and without many hindrances in their minds. After this discourse, the Buddha enunciated the four noble truths and the middle path: dukkha (dissatisfaction), its origin, its cessation, and the way to its cessation. He delivered the sermon on the Eightfold Path.


           And very likely the Buddha then also spoke to them about causation, depending origination. He had considered that subject before his Awakening and also immediately after the Enlightenment. And Kondañña, after all, achieved stream entry with the vision that everything that comes into existence also perishes.

The Middle Path, the Noble Eightfold Path

          "Two extremes should not be exercised by one who has taken upon himself the life of a monk or a nun. They are these two: a) taking pleasure in sense-pleasures, and b) self-torment." The middle path avoids these two extremes. They lead to suffering.

          Not exercising these extremes is not expressly prescribed for laymen. But a noble lay follower may, of course, avoid these extremes. He can, if he wants, follow the middle path. It gives vision, knowledge and it leads to peace, to direct insight, to Enlightenment and to Nibbana. And what is that middle path? It is none other than the Noble Eightfold Path, namely:

1. Correct insight, correct understanding; this is the understanding of the four noble truths.

2. Right thinking; this is having a remembering, peaceful, non-violent disposition.

3. Speaking correctly; this is using true, conciliatory, gentle and wise language (also in writing).

4. Acting correctly; this is refraining from killing, from stealing, and from illicit sexual conduct.

5. Proper livelihood; this is living in such a way that one does not cause damage or harm or injury to others.

6. Right effort; it consists herein that the unwholesome is not allowed to arise, that the unwholesome that has already arisen is conquered, that the wholesome that has already arisen is preserved, and that the wholesome is then developed.

7. Proper attention, which consists in the constant contemplation of the body, of the feelings, of the mind and of the spiritual objects.

8. Right development of mind or right concentration. This can be done through contemplation on the Buddha, Dhamma (the teachings) and Ariyasangha (the community of the saints), or on death, the body, metta, or other subjects.

     It is not required to practice all parts of the Eightfold Path exactly one after the other. Much depends on equity. The Eightfold Path is a systematic division. Thus, a certain amount of right understanding is necessary to enter the path of Buddhist teachings. But right understanding is also the result of the path.

The Four Noble Truths


          After the eightfold path followed the enumeration of the four noble truths, namely:

1. The truth of frustration, dukkha. In short, the five groups of clinging are dukkha, unsatisfying, frustrating.

the five groups of clinging:

A human being is a being, composed of five groups:

(a) The group of matter, namely solid, liquid and gaseous substances, heat and motion. It also includes the senses and their corresponding objects: eye with visible form, ear with sound, nose with smell, tongue with taste and body with touch. The mind and spirit with thoughts and ideas also belong to it.

(b) The group of feelings: the feelings experienced through the contact of physical and mental organs with the outside world.

(c) The group of sensations: There is recognition of objects by the sensation.

(d) The group of mental formations: to this belong all volitional activities (kamma). The volitional activities produce moral results. Voluntary actions include attention, trust, desire, concentration, energy, aversion. - In total there are 52 mental activities.

(e) The group of consciousness: consciousness is a reaction based on one of the six senses and with the corresponding external phenomenon as its object. For example, visual consciousness has the eye as its basis and the visible form as its object.


2. The truth of the origin of dukkha is as follows: it is the desire for sensual desires, the desire for existence, and the desire for non-existence.

  “There are attractive and pleasant things in the world; there desire arises and there it takes hold.

 Attractive and pleasant are the six senses (including the mind) and the objects of those senses. That's where desire arises and that's where it takes hold. The consciousness that arises in dependence on sense and object is likewise attractive and pleasurable; there desire arises and there it takes hold. Contact caused by the senses is attractive and pleasurable. There desire arises and there it takes hold. Feelings that arise dependent on contact of the senses with the sense objects are attractive and pleasurable. There desire arises and there it takes hold. Perception of shapes, sounds, smells, tastes, of things that can be touched, and of mental objects is attractive and pleasurable in the world. There the desire arises and there it takes hold. The will directed towards and the desire for forms, sounds, smells, tastes, things that can be touched and directed towards spiritual objects is attractive and pleasurable. There the desire arises and there it takes hold. Contemplating and exploring shapes, sounds, smells, tastes, touchable things, and mental objects is attractive and pleasurable. There the desire arises and there it takes hold.”

3. The truth of ending dukkha.

The noble truth of ending dukkha is the complete ebbing and extinction of that desire, its rejection, giving up and abandonment; it is liberation from it and detachment from it.

“There are attractive and pleasant things in the world, namely, forms, sounds, smells, tastes, things that can be touched, and objects of the mind. There that desire is abolished and there it is extinguished.

4. The truth of the path leading to the cessation of dukkha

          The noble truth of the path leading to the cessation of dukkha is none other than the aforementioned noble eightfold path. And that path must be developed.

          While listening to this discourse arose in the venerable Kondañña the passionless, unblemished vision of the truth: "Whatever nature hath from arising, also hath nature from passing away."

          Then the Blessed One uttered these words of joy: "Verily, Kondañña knows, Kondañña has realized the truth." And so this reverend was given the name: Añña-Kondañña: Kondañña who knows. He had reached the first level of holiness.


          After these speeches, all the deities cried out that the teaching of the Buddha had begun.

Anattā, the characteristic of non-self

After the discourse on the four truths, the Blessed One continued to instruct the five ascetics with the discourse on the characteristic of non-self (anattā). He had spoken briefly about it with Mucalinda earlier.


          "The body is no-self, has no enduring core, is lifeless. The senses have no permanent core, they are without life principle. The spiritual is without a permanent core, is without a vital principle.

           Form (the body) is non-permanent. And that which is non-permanent is grievous. That which is non-permanent, that which is grievous because it is subject to change, cannot be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self.'

           In the same way it is with feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. Of that also one cannot say, 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self.'

           When a noble follower who has learned the truth sees in this way, he no longer regards form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness as his self. He no longer considers them his own, no longer appropriates them. Then the passion fades away. And with the cessation of passion he is liberated."

          As mentioned before, Kondañña had already reached the first level of sanctity. Through the discourse on the mark of no-self, he and the other four ascetics were completely freed from the blemishes. Their hearts had been brought to the fourth and final level of holiness. They no longer attached themselves to anything. There were then six Arahants, perfect saints in the world, namely the Buddha and those five ascetics. This is also the beginning of the Sangha, the community of monks.

          Very little has been taught in the foregoing specifically for members of the Sangha. And also the discourse on anattā can be understood by lay followers. Attā, a self, was a concept and anattā is its negation.

The Pali word atta has, among other things, the meaning of self, soul. Atta is described as a small creature in the form of a man. That creature would live in the heart in ordinary times. At death it escapes from the body and then continues to live an eternal life of its own. A "soul," then, according to popular belief, was something permanent, unchanging, unaffected by grief. Atta was then understood to mean the thinking, feeling and willing part of man; the vital principle in man, soul. This part was thought to be imperishable, permanent.

The Buddha's teaching rejects such theories and thus differs from other religions and philosophies of life. According to the teachings of the Buddha, a living entity has no soul, no vital principle, no immutable center from which everything is governed. That is the teaching of anatta.

Anattā, the opposite of atta, is translated non-self, not a soul, without a soul, not belonging to anyone, impersonal, not I, being without life principle.

Understanding anattā is very important. It is the realization that there is no permanent core, that a person does not remain as he is, but that he is always changing. It is liberation from the belief that one is an abiding, unchanging being.

          The Buddha taught that all phenomena are without a self. There is no core, no self, nowhere, not somewhere inside and not somewhere outside. That was then and still is today very opposite to what is commonly thought. There is no soul that moves from one life to another. No composite thing and no one lasts forever. - This is called the characteristic of anattā (non-self).

          The concepts of emptiness and personality are associated with anattā.

Emptiness, suññatā


          By emptiness is meant the being empty of something, the non-existence of something. Emptiness is always known by the 'environment', by that which is present.

          Man (and every living being) has no inner permanent core, i.e. man is empty of individuality, empty of anything he can call his own.

           “The world is empty insofar as it is empty of an independent thing (attā) and empty of what belongs to an independent thing. The eye is empty of a self and of what belongs to a self. And likewise the visible object is empty of a self, and the eye contact is also empty of it. In the same way it is with the other senses, with the objects of those senses and with the contacts of those senses. So it is with the coordinating sense, recognizable objects, mental awareness and contact. All this is empty of an independent something and of what belongs to an independent something. And whatever pleasant, painful, or neutral feelings arise with regard to the senses and to the coordinating mind, they too are empty of a self and of what belongs to a self.”

          Forms, feelings, perceptions, mental formations (such as decision, will, attention, trust, thoughts), and consciousness are not themselves. They arise and decay again, depending on causes. Our bodies and our thoughts and feelings are not ours. We cannot say that they belong to us.


         The five groups of existence to which one attaches are called personality. They are also called attachment groups. Being:

1. the grouping of form, the existence-group of form to which one attaches;

2. the grouping of feeling, the existence-group of feeling to which one attaches;

3. the grouping of perception, the existence group of perception to which one attaches;

4. the grouping of the formations, the existence-group of the formations to which one attaches; and

5. the grouping of consciousness, the existence group of consciousness to which one attaches.

          These five groups of existence that are attached to are rooted in greed.

           The five khandhas, the bodily and mental components of personality, are neither individually nor as a whole the self. Neither a self nor an identity can be found anywhere in the heart and mind either. What is experienced as an abiding self is nothing more than a mock personality born of ignorance and illusion - impermanent, unstable, dukkha-filled.

          Man is empty of individuality, empty of an unchanging core. There is nothing of which man can say, "Behold, that is now the unchanging, abiding being within me: that am I, and so I remain."

           The Christ also pointed out that man is transitory and that this should not be forgotten. "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return." However, the death and perishability of the body and mind are very often forgotten.

          "To be or not to be," Shakespeare made Hamlet say. To be or not to be is what the masses think. But the Buddha discovered dependent (or causative) arising. He pointed out that the statement "to be or not to be" is not correct. "All is," that is the one ending. "All is not," that is the other ending. These two ends should be avoided.

          “By seeking, grasping, and holding, this world is largely bound. Now if one does not seek, grasp, and hold on to this seeking, grasping, and holding, and does not have the thought, 'there is in me an ego, a self ', - then if he does not doubt that dukkha is all that arises and that dukkha is all that passes away, - so far there is right understanding."

Spreading the Doctrine

          Many people took refuge in the Buddha and in his teachings. Many joined the Sangha, the community of monks. And when the rainy season drew to a close, the Buddha sent forth his immediate disciples - all of whom were fully qualified to teach others - to proclaim the teachings, for the benefit and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for good, wellbeing and happiness of gods and men. No two were allowed to go in the same direction. The Buddha asked them to proclaim the teaching in its own sense and in its own way; intent and to the letter. "For there are creatures with little dust in their eyes who will perish if they do not hear the teaching. They will understand the teaching." At the end of six years they would meet again to solemnly recite the Rules of Order. The Buddha himself went to Uruvela, to Senanigāma, to teach the doctrine.

The fire speech

From Uruvela the Blessed One went to Gayāsīsa, near Gayā. There he taught the Fire Speech.

"Everything is burning, everything is on fire. Now the meaning of this is as follows. The senses are on fire; sensory objects are on fire. The sense-consciousness is on fire; this is the consciousness that arises in dependence on sense and observable object. On fire is sense-contact; this is the convergence of sense, perceptible object and consciousness. Also on fire is everything that arises with sensory contact as a necessary condition and that is felt as pleasant or as painful or as neutral.

And with what is all this on fire, with what does it glow? It glows with the fire of desire, with the fire of aversion and with the fire of illusion. It glows with birth, old age and death, with sorrow, lamentation, pain, care and despair.

In seeing this truth, one turns away from the senses and sense-perceivable objects, from sense-awareness and sense-contact. Gradually the fire of passion dies down and thus one is liberated."

During this discourse the hearts of all human hearers were freed from the blemishes. They no longer attached themselves to anything. All had become saints. The fires of their passions, of desire, aversion and illusion were finally extinguished.

Spreading the Doctrine 2

          The three characteristics of life - namely, that all formations are perishable (anicca), that all formations are unsatisfactory, that they are subject to distress (dukkha), that all things are without a self (anattā) - those characteristics saw the Perfect, and he made them plain and public. They have been discussed and explained by the Buddha in many discourses. He also explained that there is a way to end dukkha, suffering. He spoke to scholars and kings, but also to beggars and not so bright people. And sometimes the less fortunate understood his teachings before the learned people.

The Buddha taught not only what and how to think and act in order to attain supreme freedom, but also the reasons why. Soon he had many followers, male and female lay followers, monks and nuns.

          With his disciples he traveled the highways and byways of northern India and southern Nepal. The Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching his teachings in all aspects. He made no distinction in person. He taught old and young people, rich and poor, sick and healthy. Anyone who wanted to listen to him could enjoy his wisdom.

The Order of Monks (bhikkhu sangha) soon grew to thousands and many monasteries sprang up.

During the first twenty years after the Enlightenment, the monks Nagasamala, Nagita, Upavana, Sunakkhatta, Sagata, Radha and Meghiya, and the novice Cunda cared for the Buddha, though not regularly. But after the twentieth year, the Exalted One desired to have a permanent attendant. The venerable Ananda was then appointed by the Buddha to look after him.

In the rainy season, the Buddha and his disciples did not move about, but stayed in one place. He stayed there in Rajagaha (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 17th, 20th rainy season), Kapilavatthu (5th, 15th rainy season), Savatthi (6th, 12th, 14th, 21st to 42nd rainy season), Kosambi (9th, 10th rainy season) , the village of Ekanala near Rajagaha (11th rainy season), Calika (13th, 18th, 19th rainy season), and Alavi (16th rainy season).

In the 43rd rainy season, the Blessed One again resided at Rajagaha. From there he went on an old trade route via Pataligama and Vesali to Kusinara. In the village of Beluva near Vesali he fell seriously ill. In Pava, the Buddha fell ill again after the meal at the goldsmith Cunda. And on the way from Pava to Kusinara - a short distance away - the Buddha had an attack of weakness. He died in Kusinara (now Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, India), in the year 543 BC, aged 80.

He has shown that every human being, everyone can achieve what he himself has achieved, namely the liberation from all dukkha, suffering.



The oldest known tradition of the Buddha's teachings is that of the Theravada school. It is preserved in the Pali Canon. In the past, the teachings were passed down orally. Entire groups of monks memorized certain parts and then recited those texts together. If someone did not remember a word or a sentence exactly, then others filled it in. That's how those texts were preserved until around 250 BC. they were brought to Sri Lanka. There they were written down.

 The Pali Canon

The reliability of the written texts (the Pali Canon) has been questioned by several scholars from Europe. But oral tradition is very reliable. Anthropologists have demonstrated this, for example with folk tales. And especially when the narration is recited in groups, errors and mistakes will be avoided.


The Pali Canon is divided into three groups:

1. The Vinaya Pitaka. They are the rules of conduct for the monks and nuns.

2. The Sutta Pitaka. These are the speeches on various topics. There are sections that deal with the lives of holy monks and nuns. But they are not just for the monks and nuns. Many of its speeches are intended for lay people. They deal, among other things, with the economic and also the spiritual well-being of the layman.

3. The Abhidhamma Pitaka. This is the philosophical treatment of the subjects enunciated in the Sutta Pitaka.

Start at the beginning

The Buddha's teaching is a teaching of compassion and loving-kindness (metta), devotion or faith, trust (sadda), and wisdom (pañña). Usually the doctrine is considered pessimistic. But that is because almost nothing is known about that teaching. Pali or Sanskrit words are mistranslated or not explained correctly. The Pali word dukkha is usually translated as distress or pain or suffering. But it's much more; it means all that is unsatisfied, unsatisfactory, imperfect, incomplete. And precisely because something is imperfect, the shadow of stress, frustration, suffering clings to it.

          Many lay people try to follow the way of life that is actually intended for monks. They forget that the way of life for lay people is very different from that for members of the Sangha. The Buddha said about this: “When one follows the rules for the laity, one becomes a right follower. For it is not possible, when one has possessions, to fulfill the discipline of the monastic order.”

           It is easy today to study or read about the doctrine for yourself. But that also has a danger. Just as when reading an exciting story one is quickly inclined to look at the back of the book to see how the story ends, so many people when reading about the Dhamma tend to take a look at what follows. For example, some think that reading the Abhidhamma brings faster results. Others will delve into what has been written about what is considered an end goal. And because people forget to continue at the front, many people stumble or fall. Some talk about the end goal as if they know everything about it, but have not even reached the starting point, the refuge of the Triple Jewel.

          Whatever kind of education one follows or whatever kind of sport one practices, one must first learn the basics. And every skill requires practical experience in addition to theoretical knowledge. A cook with only theoretical knowledge will not make it to chef of a three-star restaurant. Professional knowledge must be accompanied by professionalism.

          So it is with the Dhamma. Well versed in theory, but without practice it is not possible to make progress. It is really necessary to take the Dhamma step by step, in stages. One cannot skip anything. And one should not stop training until the goal is fully achieved. Only then will the entire training come to an end.

          The Buddha has given many discourses to lay people. They are about a good life here in this world and a good life hereafter. And also the advanced layman can realize the supreme salvation, Nibbana. In the time of the Buddha, many lay people achieved the high goal. And that is still possible today.


The Doctrine for Laymen

          The teaching of the Buddha can be summed up in a few words:

                To do the right thing,

                to avoid evil,

                to cleanse one's own mind.

"Do good" for lay followers means, first of all, that they follow the rules of good conduct.

The rules of good conduct

          The five basic precepts for laymen are:

  1. I make a firm commitment not to kill.
  2. I make a firm commitment not to steal.
  3. I make a firm commitment to abstain from sexual misconduct.
  4. I make a firm commitment not to tell lies.
  5. I make a firm commitment to abstain from alcoholic beverages and drugs that cause inattention.

These precepts are not obligations. But they form the basis for a good life here and hereafter. They can be compared to the ten commandments of the Christian religion.

“Killing, stealing, illicit sexual conduct[5], lying, slandering, foul language, foolish gossip, all of which, if done often, lead to rebirth in hell, or among beasts, or in the world of unhappy spirits.”[6]

          Just practicing these virtues requires daily effort. Good results don't just happen. And one should not stop exerting oneself half way.

 The eight precepts

The basic precepts can be extended to eight precepts. These are especially followed during Buddhist holidays or during special periods of meditation. Those eight precepts consist of the five basic precepts plus:

  1. not eating after 12 noon;
  2. not participating in dances, competitions, inappropriate performances, etc.; not using perfumes and decorations;
  3. not using a comfortable bed or luxurious seat.

          In the early days of Buddhism, the teaching of the doctrine to the lay follower will have been mainly confined to what is beneficial and a blessing for the here and the hereafter. Devout lay followers, however, were also taught the higher teachings leading to Nibbana, that is, also about causal origin, about anattā and emptiness and the other characteristics of life, about the foundations of mindfulness and the four noble truths with the middle path.

Things  beneficial for lay followers

           What else did the Buddha teach for the layman? The layman enjoys the joys of the senses. He lives with his wife and children. He uses luxury items. So a very different life from that of a monk.

          The Buddha taught that four things are beneficial to the laity on this side, namely: diligence, watchfulness, noble association, and moderation of life.

          A layman is industrious if he is adept at earning his living by some kind of work, including agriculture, trade, or livestock, as a civil servant, soldier, or by some craft, handicraft.

          The layman is vigilant when he watches over his possessions which he has obtained with diligence and righteousness. He watches over them lest they be stolen, or fall prey to fire or water, or be claimed by unloving heirs.

          The layman has noble association when in the town or city where he lives he associates with other laymen of good character, who are virtuous, generous and wise. He pursues such persons.

          The layman has a moderate way of life when he knows his income and expenses and arranges his way of life accordingly, neither too lavish nor too shabby. He knows that in that way the income is more than the expenditure and not the other way around.

          And four things are for the benefit of the lay follower for the hereafter, namely, faith, virtue, generosity, and wisdom.

           The noble lay follower has faith in the Enlightenment of the Perfect One, thus: "Verily, the Exalted One is holy, fully enlightened, perfect in knowledge and perfect in conduct. He is blessed, a knower of the worlds. He is the incomparable leader of those to be subdued and of those who are obedient. He is the teacher of gods and of men. He is the Awakened and Exalted One.”

          The noble lay follower is virtuous when he follows the five rules of good behaviour. Virtue also includes taking care of one's parents and showing respect to the elderly.

           The noble lay follower is generous when he lives at home with a heart free from the vice of avarice. He gives with open hands, is devoted to the needy.

          The noble lay follower possesses wisdom when he understands the arising and passing away which leads to complete destruction of frustration, dukkha.

           Thus these eight things lead the man who dwells confidently at home to well-being in this world and to future bliss. And so from day to day in the lay follower merits and mild thoughts increase.

          Let one practice deeds of merit that bring lasting happiness: generosity, a balanced life, and the development of loving-kindness (metta). Cultivating these three things brings happiness.

          Cultivating metta not only brings happiness but leads to hatredlessness; and sympathy casts out jealousy.

          One of the disadvantages for a lay follower is when he neglects to listen to (or read about) the Good Teaching, when he is suspicious and reads the teaching with malice, looking for errors.

NB. This applies to lay followers of the Exalted One. It is not intended for followers of other religions or philosophies of life. They do not need to read or listen to the doctrine. It is better for them if they are not evil-minded towards the Dhamma.

          As mentioned earlier, many speeches have been made especially for lay people.

          The teachings of the Buddha are deep and hard to see, hard to understand. It is the most peaceful and is the supreme goal of all. That doctrine is not attainable by mere reasoning. It is experienced by the sage. But this generation seeks pleasures, rejoices in attachment. It is difficult for such a generation to see this truth, which is causal origin and the giving up of all attachments, detachment, cessation, Nibbāna.

          When one follows the rules and the layman's way of life, one becomes a proper follower. And then the ultimate goal, liberation from dukkha, can also be achieved.

When is one a lay follower?

          One is a lay follower of the Buddha if one has taken refuge in the Buddha, in the Dhamma and in the community of saints, the Ariyasangha.

          A worldling, one who does not follow the teachings of the Buddha and who has not been trained and educated in the Dhamma, that person does not know what things should be practiced and what things should not be practiced. Because he does not know that, he practices things that should not be practiced and does not practice things that should be practiced. He follows things that should not be followed, and he does not follow things that should be followed. Because he does that, unwelcome, unwanted, unpleasant things increase for him, and welcome, desired, and pleasant things decrease. That happens to someone who is unwise.

To avoid evil

Not to do evil means adherence to the five basic precepts. These precepts are not negative, but very positive. Whoever does not kill gives safety and security to others. Whoever does not lie, gives confidence. Whoever behaves well in the sexual field also gives security and confidence. Whoever does not steal gives security. The use of liquor and/or drugs intoxicates the mind. And in such a state one cannot see the truth properly.

To purify one's own mind

Purifying one's own mind is possible, among other things, by contemplating the Buddha, Dhamma and Ariyasangha. Or by reading something about these topics carefully. Furthermore, there are about 40 methods of meditation. They are elaborated for every type of person. But not everybody can or wants to deal with such methods. However, striving to preserve the good one already has by following closely the five precepts, and striving to avoid and overcome bad states of the mind, yields very good results.

Bhikkhus and lay followers


          Good lay followers ensure monks through friendly deeds, by keeping friendly words, by keeping open house for them, and by providing in their material needs. [D.31] They provide the monks with residence, food, clothing and medicines. In short, they raise any kind of support.

         The monks then show their condolences by preventing them from the evil by convincing them to do well. They are delighted with a friendly heart. They proclaim what they did not yet know and make clear what they already knew. And they show them the path to a heavenly state of existence. " [D.31]


          Due to generosity (dāna) in favor of monks, merits can acquire.

          Furthermore, eight points are important for a layman in terms of dealing with monks: he may not hinder a monk when going around for alms. He may not harm a monk. He may not hinder a monk when taking accommodation. He may not insult a monk. He may not start a monk to argue. He is not allowed to speak ill of the Buddha, Dhamma or Sangha.

Some Meditation Methods


          Very well suited for laypeople is the meditation on metta, loving kindness. This is based on the rule: what you do not want done to you, do not do to others. – As we are, so are the others. And as the others are, so are we ourselves. We must put ourselves on an equal footing with everyone and try not to hurt or harm anyone. The best way to do this is to shower someone with feelings of loving kindness. Love your neighbor as yourself.

          The method is simple, but difficult to put into practice. Start by loving yourself first, by wanting the best for yourself. For if we do not have loving kindness to ourselves, how can we have it to others? Having first showered ourselves with loving-kindness - to the brim, so to speak - we can also give loving-kindness to others, radiate to others. First come those we like: parents, friends, teachers, relatives. Then neutral persons come next, and only finally people we don't like and enemies. But before that happens, one must first practice very well. It should be remembered that one should be careful about radiating metta to persons of the opposite sex. Too much affection might arise in this way. And that is not the purpose of this meditation. And to the dead one should not develop any feelings of loving kindness at all. Insanity might ensue.

One can think like this:

"May I be happy. May I be free from desire, aversion and ignorance. May I be free from sickness and sorrow, free from pain and fear, free from worry and sorrow. May I be happy, free from suffering. May I be able to protect my happiness. May I be safe.

And like me, so too may:

my parents..., my teachers..., my relatives..., my friends and acquaintances...,[7] my colleagues..., my neighbours..., my fellow citizens …

… be happy, free from suffering. May they be able to protect their happiness. May they all be safe."

And one can then conclude with the words that the Buddha himself taught us:

"May all living beings be happy and full of peace. May their hearts be filled with happiness. May they be blissful in heart. Whatever living beings there be, whether weak or strong, all without exception, large or small or medium, thin or thick, creatures visible and invisible, the creatures far off or near, - may they all be blissful in heart."[8]


Another method of meditation consists of trust, faith (saddha). This is having faith in the Buddha, in his teachings and in the Order of the Saints, the Ariyasangha. Also through faith one can attain the highest salvation. Through faith, the thoughts are focused at one point. It seems as if several thoughts can exist at the same time. This is because they are so incredibly fast. However, only one thought can exist at any one time. And that is why thinking is good when we fix our thoughts on the Buddha, on his teaching or on the community of the saints.

You can also read daily an article about the Buddha or his teachings. This is also part of trust, faith.


Another common meditation is insight meditation. It may be practiced not only at home, but even while walking, waiting for the bus, on the train, etc. The purpose of this way of meditation is to gain direct insight, without detours. One must always be vigilant for this. That is not always possible as a layperson. But sometimes a few minutes a day are suitable to be attentive.

The insight meditation consists of contemplating the body, the feelings, the mind, and the spiritual objects.

To contemplate the body is to pay attention to breathing. This calms the body and also the mind. The breath is not held longer or shorter in a special way. But the breath is the point to which attention is drawn again and again. Whether we inhale and exhale short or quickly, or inhale and exhale slowly, we simply pay attention, without disturbing the natural breathing. And if the mind wanders, then the attentiveness has to bring those thoughts back to the breath.

One can also pay attention to the body postures, how they arise and decay.

Or one pays attention to the feelings. One is aware when they arise and when they pass away; one realizes when they are pleasant, or unpleasant, or neutral.

Or one pays attention to the mind. One knows when the mind is with or without desire. One knows when it is with or without aversion. One knows when it is with or without ignorance. One knows when it is narrow, absent-minded, educated, focused; and one knows when it is not.

Or one pays attention to the spiritual objects. One knows when sensuality is present or when it is absent. One knows when disgust, sloth, rigidity, restlessness, pangs of conscience, and doubt are present; and one knows when those factors are absent.

Daily practice of meditation - even if only 10 or 15 minutes - brings more progress than the occasional practice of meditating a whole or half day.

Volitional actions and moral consequences

Another aspect of Buddhism is the teaching of kamma-vipaka. Kamma (Karma in Sanskrit) means any action we want to perform. And vipaka is the result of such an action of will.

The Buddha recognized that moral actions have consequences, moral consequences. The teaching of kammavipaka can be briefly described as follows: whoever does good, meets good; and whoever does evil meets evil.

Someday our good deeds will have good consequences. And bad deeds will have non-good consequences. We may experience those consequences already in this life, but also in later lives. And not always the good result comes immediately after the good deed. It is possible that after a good deed first comes the result of a bad deed we have done before. It then seems as if the good deed has bad consequences. But that is a wrong opinion. We cannot predict the order in which the results of volitions will appear.

This law of cause and effect is neutral. It is the one who applies the law who uses this law for good or for evil.

Kamma is volitional action. The will must absolutely be involved in the act. Only then one speaks of kamma. The act is conditioned, is subject to conditions. It is always a consequence of wanting, but wanting depends on other circumstances. Willing only ends when the goal is reached.

Man is the creator of his own world, of the world in which he lives. There is no one else who determines our lives except our own will. The results of volitional actions, however, are inscrutable.

Actions of will distinguish between high and low. Because of an unvirtuous and wrong way of life, one appears in a lower sphere; because of a virtuous and right way of life one appears in a higher sphere.

The result of an action of will will be experienced in this life, or in the next life, or in a future existence. While one result may override another, one cannot escape the moral consequences.

Where is will action stored? This question was put to the Reverend Nagasena. The answer was: “Volitional action is not said to be accumulated in this stream of consciousness or in some part of the body. But according to mind and matter it rests and manifests itself at the appropriate time. It is just like with apples; they are not stored in the apple tree. But depending on the tree, they arise in the appropriate season.”

One reaps the fruits of volitional actions. But not all moral consequences are experienced in this cycle of existence. Otherwise a liberation from misery, birth and death would be impossible. Sometimes one can erase the effects of unwholesome acts of will by making strong wholesome acts of will.

It should be clear that our life is a mixture of joys and sorrows resulting from wholesome and unwholesome deeds.

The doctrine of volitional action and moral outcome is not a doctrine of fatalism. Man is a product of his past actions. And part of his future is also a result of the past. But man has free will. That's really important. With that free will he can now and here determine his life and his future. “The will I call action, for by will one does the deed with the body, by words or in thought. There are volitions that ripen in states of misery. There are acts of will maturing in the world of men. And there are acts of will that ripen in happy spheres.”

It should be emphasized that not everything is the result of volitional actions. Therefore, there should be no discrimination. And - if possible - help should always be provided everywhere. This is clearly taught by the Buddha. Once he spoke about the treatment and care of the sick. He describes three types of patients:

1. Those who no longer heal, whether they receive good medicine and good treatment or not.

2. Those who heal regardless of receiving medical care or not.

3. Those who heal only with proper care and proper medical treatment.

   Because we do not know what type the sick person belongs to, every sick person must receive good medicine and good treatment.


The foregoing doctrine of moral causes and moral consequences is closely related to the doctrine of being born again. The latter is not equivalent to reincarnation. Reincarnation means becoming embodied again, starts from a solid, permanent core. Buddhism has no such thing. Rebirth is based on a lifestream that produces new life after death.


          “It is impossible to explain the disappearance from one existence and the entry into a new existence, or to explain the growth, increase and development of consciousness independently of physicality, feelings, sensations and mental formations.”

Consciousness arises through body and mind. Conversely, consciousness is the condition for name and form. Consciousness is without essence, it is always consciousness of something. Consciousness depends on causal factors. There is no consciousness without content.

          The content of our consciousness is our world. The existence group of form to which one attaches includes not only one's own body, but any perceived form to which the illusion of "I" can attach itself: that belongs to me, or that does not belong to me, that I like, or that pleases not me.

          Consciousness is the connecting link. But nothing passes on to the next body, so not even consciousness.

           At the time of the Buddha, a monk had the mistaken understanding that after death, a person's consciousness comes out of the body and moves to another body where that person is then born. The Buddha explained to him that no factor moves from one body to another. Consciousness arises through causes. Consciousness cannot arise without causes. Seeing-consciousness arises in dependence on eye and form. Hearing consciousness develops in dependence on ear and sound. Smell consciousness arises in dependence on nose and smell. Taste consciousness arises in dependence on tongue and taste. Touch consciousness arises in dependence on body and touch object. Mind-consciousness arises in dependence on mind and mind-object.

           Right insight consists in an understanding of the process of causation (paticcasamuppāda).


The worlds of existence

Associated with rebirth is appearing in the various worlds of existence. Those worlds of existence can be subdivided as follows:

          a) There are four unhappy spheres (vinipāta), also called the four worlds of suffering (apāya) or the unhappy places (duggati). They are the world of hells, the animal world, the world of the unfortunate spirits (petas), the world of the demons (asuras). The life span in these spheres of misery is indefinite; it is not linked to a fixed term, but depends on the evil deeds one has done as a human being in past lives.

          b) After this come the seven happy states (sugati). These spheres are divided into the human world and the six worlds of the devas, literally, "the resplendent ones." The devas are celestial beings commonly called "gods" or "deities." But a deva is not a god in the usual sense. The devas are not immortal, nor are they omnipotent or omniscient.

           The six spheres of the gods are temporary happy abodes. The deities are usually invisible to the human eye. They have a spontaneous birth and appear as juveniles or as young girls of 15 or 16 years old.

          c) They are followed by the eleven worlds of the Brahmās. They are neither omnipotent nor omniscient. And they don't live forever. The life span of the Brahmas is limited, although it lasts a very long time.

           d) Furthermore, there are the five Pure Abodes (suddhavasa). In this only the non-returners are born again. They live there until their lifetime ends and then they attain Perfect Holiness.

          e) And finally there are the four worlds of the immaterial sphere. There is no matter in it at all. Only the four spiritual groups (feeling, sensation, mental formations and consciousness) are present, without a body. In these four formless spheres those are born again with experience in the four disembodied meditative levels.


           Few are born again in heaven or as human beings. Many more creatures are reborn as peta, as an animal or in the world of hells. The relationship between rebirth in a happy sphere and that in an unhappy sphere is like the dust on the nail of the finger of the Buddha and the great earth.

            Even those who dwell in the Brahmā world can be reborn as a peta, as an animal, or in a hell. Only the levels of holiness protect against rebirth in an unhappy atmosphere.

The stains of the mind

Before entering the path of holiness, as well as during the walking of that path, several hindrances, fetters, blemishes of the mind must be overcome.

The following four obstacles must first be partially removed. For they render understanding powerless; they hinder progress and concentration. Being:

1. sensual desires, sensual lust, desire; 2. hatred, aversion, malice; 3. inertia and laziness; 4. restlessness and worry, pangs of conscience.

And spiritual blemish number five is doubt about the Buddha, Dhamma and Ariyasangha. This blemish must be completely gone in order to progress on the path of holiness.

There are many other hindrances, blemishes of the mind to be overcome, such as: superstition, slander, belittle, despise, dominate, envy, jealousy, hypocrisy, deceive, lust for sensual pleasures, attachment to the body and to material objects, greed, aversion, anguish, uncertainty whether something is beneficial or not, doubt about the practice, indecision, anger, wrath, enmity, inattention, lack of confidence, shamelessness, unscrupulousness, unwise thinking, ignorance, belief in personality, desire for existence in the subtle spheres, desire for existence in the immaterial spheres, conceit, greed, stubbornness, presumptuousness, rivalry, tempestuousness, rivalry, pride, conceit, ostentation, vanity.

So one should make great efforts and not stop striving for perfect holiness until the goal is reached.


The levels of holiness

          In Buddhism, there are eleven kinds of people. Being:

(1) The worldlings. By them are denoted the monks, nuns, lay men and women who have not attained any of the levels of sanctity.

(2) Those who have faith. It will long benefit them to good and happiness; they are moving towards a heavenly sphere.

(3) Those who follow the teaching, who have faith, – they go to Enlightenment, they will arrive safely on the other shore.

(4-11) The eight worthy or noble people (ariya).

At each level of the path of holiness, a distinction is made between (a) entering the path at that level, and (b) realizing the fulfillment or fruition at that level. This is how you get:

(4) Those who have entered the stream [to Nibbana], the Sotapanna. They no longer have any doubts about the Buddha, Dhamma and Ariyasangha. They have unshakable confidence.

(5) Those who are on their way to realizing the goal of stream entry.

(6) The once-returners, the Sakadagami. They have trod the path of return once and have overcome three fetters; in them greed, hatred and ignorance are diminished. They come back to this world one more time to put an end to dukkha.

(7) Those who realize the fulfillment of once-return.

8. Anagami, those who have entered the path of no return.

9. Those who have realized the fulfillment of no more return.

10. Those who have entered the path of perfect holiness.

11. Those who have realized the fulfillment of perfect holiness.


          Through the path of perfect holiness, ignorance has been completely conquered. The opinion 'I am', the belief in personality has completely disappeared.

          And all kinds of desire, including the desire for existence in the subtle and immaterial spheres, have been destroyed. Also one is then free from the higher shackles of self-importance, conceit, and restlessness.


           There are no more than these eight kinds of saints. They are firm in wisdom and firm in virtue. Gifts given to these saints bring great reward.

 The example of the Arahant

The Arahant, the perfect saint, has attained perfect Enlightenment by following the teachings of the Buddha. The Arahant ideal is obtained by giving up all forms of egoism. In Majjhima Nikaya 27 (Cūlahatthipadopama Sutta) there is a description of one who pursues the arahant ideal. In short, it follows here.

"He gives up killing living creatures. Stick and sword he lays down, and he is humble and merciful, compassionate to all living things. He takes nothing that is not given and he lives separated, relinquishing lust. He does not tell lies any more, always speaks the truth and does not deceive. He gives up slander. What he has heard here he does not repeat elsewhere. He unites the divorced, encourages friends; he rejoices in concord, and he speaks words that promote unity. He avoids rude language; his words are pleasing to the ear, heart-warming. He gives up gossip. He speaks what is timely, true, and full of meaning. He refrains from harming seeds and plants. He refrains from accepting gold and silver (and money), women and girls, male and female slaves. He refrains from taking sheep and goats, fowls and pigs, cattle, fields and lands. He renounces the dishonest activities of bribery and deceit. He renounces knife-pulling, killing, imprisoning, robbing, plundering; he renounces all violence."[9]

The Arahant has given up all that and renounces everything mentioned above. Furthermore, the Arahant has conquered every form of pride and selfishness. The Arahant has practiced the four great virtues of loving kindness (mettā), compassion (karunā), compassion (muditā), and equanimity (upekkhā). These qualities are not selfish, but worth pursuing.

The example of the Bodhisatta

The Bodhisatta[10] can serve as an example to all of us. The pāramīs, the perfections that a Bodhisatta must fulfill, can be followed as a guideline by anyone. After all, they do not have to be fulfilled to the highest degree. The layman may take the Bodhisatta as an example by thinking:

1. May I be generous, noble of heart, and helpful.

2. May I be pure, virtuous and well-disciplined.

3. May I not be selfish and greedy, but unselfish and self-sacrificing.

4. May I be wise and may I be able to give the benefit of my knowledge to others.

5. May I be diligent, energetic and persevering.

6. May I be patient and forbearing; may I be able to bear and endure the wrongs of others.

7. May I be honest and truthful.

8. May I be steadfast and determined.

9. May I be benevolent, compassionate and kind.

10. May I be humble, calm, quiet, imperturbable and peaceful.

In this way, the way of the Bodhisatta can be followed by every layman.

The goal, Nibbana

That which is not permanent, which is frustrating and subject to change, of that it is not right to think, 'This is mine, this is me, this is my self. This applies not only to the senses, but also to sensory consciousness, awareness and sensory contact. Whoever recognizes this no longer appropriates the senses, sensory observable objects, sensory awareness, sensory contact. He no longer desires it. The result is an incomparable mental freedom and inner peace.

The aim of the Buddha's teaching is to attain that inner peace. The teaching is aimed at freeing us from everything that can bring frustration, suffering, is aimed at freeing us from the slavery brought about by desire, greed, by aversion, hatred, by wrong views and ignorance. The goal of Buddhism is Nibbana (Nirwana in Sanskrit). This term literally means: extinction. It's not an end to everything. But it is the extinction of the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion. Lay people can also obtain that freedom from slavery.

Desire for something implies that frustration will follow later. Because if we do get what we want, it will soon change, it will perish. And that is a source of suffering. Or our interest changes and then we have something that we wanted at first and then no longer. That, too, is a source of frustration. And if we do not get what we desire, then that fact alone is a cause of distress (dukkha). Dislike is actually the flip side of the coin. If we covet something, if we desire something, it automatically means that we do not want something else. If we dislike something, it automatically means that we prefer something else. Delusion, ignorance is not understanding that everything that is composed is impermanent, that nothing is independent.

If we see the relativity of everything, then we become less involved. We no longer take it personally. And then we become more free in acting and thinking.

To put it in the words of Mr. Paul van Hooydonck (Ehipassiko Buddhist Center, Antwerp, Belgium):

         If you let go a little bit

         you experience a little peace.

         If you let go a lot

         you experience a lot of peace.

         If you let go completely

         you experience complete peace.

"Complete freedom from desire does not make thinking and acting impossible. On the contrary, one then stands victorious over things. Nothing and no one can then disturb us. That is true happiness." (Buddhadasa Bhikkhu)

Nibbana is not a disappearing into nothingness. Nibbana is mental solitude, being without desire for anything, without aversion to anything. When one is attached to something or someone, it soon causes worry, distress, frustration. Whoever is free from appropriating something, has no worries.

Everything that is composed, formed, has three characteristics, namely: origin, decay, and change.

But Nibbana does not have those features. There is no origin, no decay, and no change. Nibbana is the drying up of desire, the drying up of aversion, the drying up of ignorance; that is called the unformed, that is Nibbana.

Nibbana is not created, it is not caused, it is permanent. Whoever has realized Nibbana remains in that blissful, peaceful state.

         The cessation, the extinction, the termination of physicality, that is Nibbana. It is also the cessation, the extinction, the termination of feeling, of perception, of thinking and of consciousness.

That cessation of physicality, feeling, perception, thought and consciousness is freedom from desire or aversion to it, freedom from attachment to it.

So body and mind do not disappear, but only the attachment to them.

It was said, "One of singular consciousness finds the other shore." What is meant by “this shore and the other shore” the Buddha explained.

     Wrong view, wrong disposition, wrong thinking, wrong language, wrong way of action, wrong livelihood, wrong striving, wrong attentiveness, wrong concentration, wrong knowledge, wrong liberation, that is the shore on this side.

          Right view, right disposition, right thought, right speech, right way of action, right livelihood, right striving, right attentiveness, right concentration, right knowledge, right liberation, that is the shore on the other side.

  Those who live in harmony with the doctrine correctly taught will reach the other shore.

          And what is a singular consciousness? - When one does not add one's own visions, opinions and concepts to seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and mental activities, no personal likes and dislikes, then there is only seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, perceiving what is and as it really is. The consciousness, citta, is then truly alone, singular.

          The multiple consciousness goes together with something else, with desire for something, with aversion to something, with ignorance.

          The singular consciousness does not attach itself to anything; and because it has no covetousness, aversion, ignorance as its "companion," it is free. And the consciousness that calls nothing its own is infinite and brightly radiant.

          One with such a singular consciousness does not regard the feeling, the perception, the formations, the consciousness as the self, as an ego. He is not captivated by the bonds of feeling, of perception, of formations, of consciousness; he is unfettered inwardly and outwardly.

          When the compound consciousness is free from the companions greed, hatred and ignorance, only the boundless consciousness, the singular consciousness, remains. Then "everything" disappears.

         This does not mean that Nibbana is disappearing into nothingness. But when Nibbana is realized, then the elements can no longer take up residence in consciousness. The elements have no hold in the mind when one realizes that there is no self, no ego, no I. The I-consciousness disappears, gives way to a so-consciousness: this is how it came to be; that's how it went. And one no longer appropriates anything. (Nyanaponika).

          The peace of Nibbana is beyond words. But how one attains Nibbana can be explained, namely, by the cessation of desire, aversion and ignorance.

          Once the Buddha said: “The Deathless, Nibbana, the unformed is the drying up of desire, liking, the drying up of aversion, the drying up of ignorance. It is the destruction of all appetites, aversions and ignorance; it is completely calm. The inclinations and urges have dried up. The desires are extinguished; one no longer attaches to anything, one no longer calls anything his or her own. The battle is then over; he or she has transcended all forms of existence."


          Purity of conduct, purity of mind, purification of vision, purification of overcoming doubt, purification by knowing and seeing path and non-path, purification from knowing and seeing the way of practice, purification by knowing and seeing - all these are several stops on the sevenfold road to nibbāna. Those places should be crossed one by one until the goal, nibbāna, is reached.

Summary of the Dhamma

Venerable Ratthapāla once summarized the Dhamma taught by the Exalted One as follows:

“Life in any world does not last, it is wiped out.” (We are all subject to old age and death).

“Life in any world is without protection and without protector.” (We are all subject to sickness and disease).

“Life in any world has nothing of real property; one must leave everything behind and move on.” (Sensory pleasures and possessions are not permanent, they cannot be carried over to another life.)

“Life in any world is incomplete, unsatisfying, subject to desire.”[11] (If the desire has not calmed down, one remains unsatisfied in the world.)

Various schools

During the life of the Buddha and for several centuries afterwards nothing was written about the teachings. That was not common at the time. At that time, writing was used for trade and administration, but not for education. Teachings were then put into verses that could be more easily memorized and passed on from one person to another and from one generation to another. The Buddha himself, therefore, left no written texts.

After the Buddha's Parinibbāna, his teaching was the only guide. False doctrines had already arisen by then. Hence the idea of purifying the teachings arose. Three months after the death of the Buddha, a council of many Arahants (perfect saints) was convened under the leadership of the venerable Mahā Kassapa to establish the proper teachings (sutta pitaka) and discipline for monks and nuns (vinaya pitaka) and to remove false teachings from it.

However, the texts as we have them today were not recited then. Later additions and changes were made.

Elder Upāli was the recognized authority on the Vinaya, the rules of conduct for the Order. He was assigned to recite the Vinaya rules along with the circumstances that led to their adoption.

Elder Ānanda was asked to recite the sermons (suttas). He had an extraordinary memory and knew many things by heart. Almost the entire Sutta Pitaka was recited by him with the background and/or occasion.

Venerable Upāli and his pupils were requested to preserve the Vinaya Pitaka. Venerable Ānanda was ordered to preserve the Digha Nikāya with his disciples. The pupils of the venerable Sariputta - who himself had died before the Buddha - were asked to take care of the Majjhima Nikāya. The Samyutta Nikāya was for the Venerable Mahā Kassapa and his disciples; and the Anguttara Nikāya was for the venerable Anuruddha and his pupils.

So groups of reciters (bhānakas) then formed. Each group had its own views on certain matters. And the historical events were remembered differently in each group. Even then the foundations for later schools were laid.

Not everyone agreed with the agreements of the first Council. There were monks who continued to recite the teachings as they memorized them. After all, the Buddha had said that the teachings should be memorized and learned in one's own language or dialect.[12] So there were already different texts, and probably also different schools.

Due to the great distance in India, there was little or no contact between the groups. Communication was difficult. About 100 years after the death of the Buddha, there were several regional organizations, each with its own characteristics. 

A separate school then emerged, the Mahāsanghikas. The orthodox group was called the Theravādins or the Sthavīravādins (the group of the Elders or Seniors).

Theravāda (Sthaviravada) was very strongly represented in the western part of North India. The Mahāsanghika school was mainly established in its eastern part.

The Mahāsanghikas developed new teachings. This gradually led to Mahāyāna.

About 200 years after the Parinibbāna of the Buddha, there were several divisions within Theravāda. Each school had its own version of the Canon of sacred texts and had its own opinions about its interpretation.

Almost nothing has survived of those other movements. We only know a few names (about 15-30 schools from the early period). Several of its texts have survived in Chinese or Tibetan translations.

Towards the end of the first century of the Christian Era, there was a split of the Buddha's teachings into a southern and a northern school. The southern school was named Hinayana, the little vehicle. It pursued the salvation of the believer and kept itself free from the influences of Brahmanism and Hinduism as much as possible. It is representative of the original teachings of the Buddha. The northern school is called Mahayana, the great vehicle. It primarily strives to contribute to the salvation and redemption of all living beings.

The Mahayana gave rise to two important schools, namely the Madhyamika and the Yogacara. Over time, it conquered Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea and Japan. In Northwest India, Mahāyāna developed into a concept of divine or transcendent wisdom: Prajnā-pāramitā.

The different movements that can be found in Buddhism today have arisen both because of differences in language and culture and because of the different emphasis on some of the teachings. These schools of thought differ in the practice of the doctrine; but all of them are based on the original words of the Buddha Gotama.

Many Buddhas

Besides the historical Buddha Gotama (Gautama), many other Buddhas are known. They lived many eras before this time. The name Buddha means: Enlightened One. And all those who by their own power have recognized the perfect truth, and then taught them, are called Buddhas. And in the future, many Buddhas too will appear.


The Buddha taught that one should avoid extremes. By neither leaning too much to one side nor too much to the other side, one remains in balance.

The Buddha discovered that everything is interdependent. When this is, that follows. When this is not, that will not follow.

He also discovered that there is dukkha, stress, frustration in the world. He discovered the cause of dukkha. He discovered that dukkha can be destroyed. And he discovered the way to end dukkha.

Change and death are unstoppable. Dukkha, frustration is caused by being attached to something or to someone, is caused by the fact that one likes something or that one dislikes something. It is a form of desire; and that desire cannot be fulfilled because everything here is imperfect.

The desire or aversion arises upon contact of a sense organ with a corresponding object. When we see something, desire for the visual object (or a person) can arise. When we hear something, a desire or aversion to the sound (music, noise) can arise. When we smell something, a desire or aversion to the pleasant or unpleasant odor may arise. When we taste something, craving or aversion to the taste may arise. When we touch something, desire or aversion to the touched may arise. When we think something, attachment to thoughts or ideas may arise.

But when there is no more desire, there is no more dukkha, no more frustration. Not clinging anymore, one is free. And how is that desire abolished? By recognizing causation and non-self, and by the path of right understanding, right thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right development of mind. Or in other words:

»Develop virtue and noble behavior. Train the mind to be calm, steady, and focused, so that it is docile and can be worked with. Develop wisdom and insight into the true nature of things. They are then no longer the cause of suffering.«[13]

Everything in this life is unsatisfied, unfinished, imperfect. Attaching to something that is imperfect creates suffering, frustration.

There is nothing to find independently in this life. Nothing is an independent, self-existing entity. Attaching to something that is not independent is the cause of suffering, frustration.

Everything in this life is subject to change, is impermanent. When one is attached to something that is changeable, suffering, frustration arises.

By actually understanding these three aspects of life one comes to rest. The emergence of desire for something or the emergence of aversion to something, attachment to something then becomes less and less. People no longer consider things as property, as belonging to themselves. They are no longer attached to it. They are released, they are no longer touched. And finally, desire no longer arises at all. One is without desire. When one is completely detached, then one is free.


Many have preceded us. And they still acted in this life. The Buddha himself and the perfect saints did not vanish into nothingness, but they remained active in this life. They taught the doctrine in word and in deed.

“Whoever is completely free from desire, who is no longer attracted to anything or disliked by anything, he or she has attained Nibbana. His or her mind has gained lasting freedom and independence.« (Gnanarama)[14]

The teachings of the Buddha should not be accepted blindly. The Buddha taught: “Once you have examined the teachings and found them to be good, then you should accept them. You shouldn't do that because someone in authority has taught them. Even if someone speaks nice words, that is no reason to accept the doctrine. But one must be convinced that it is worth following that teaching.”

Investigating something yourself is more important than accepting something and continuing to believe it.


Consulted literature

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu: Handbuch für die Menschheit zum Verständnis des Buddhismus. s.a.

Geiger, Wilhelm (tr.): The Mahāvamsa or the Great Chronicle of Ceylon, (repr.), London 1980.

Conze, Edward: A short History of Buddhism. London (etc) 1986.

Gnanarama, Ven. Pategama: The Mission Accomplished : A historical analysis of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta of the Digha Nikaya of the Pali Canon. Singapore 1997.

Horner, I.B. (Transl.): The Collection of the Middle length Sayings (Majjhima-Nikāya), Vol. I. : The first fifty discourses (Mūlapannāsa). Oxford 2000.

Ikeda, Daisaku: Buddhism, the First Millennium, Transl. By Burton Watson, Tokyo 1977.

Katz, Nathan: Buddhist Images of Human Perfection. The Arahant of the Sutta Pitaka Compared with the Bodhisattva and the Mahâsiddha. Delhi, 1989 [1982]

Lamotte, Étienne: Histoire du Bouddhisme indien. Des origines à l'ère Shaka, Louvain-la-Neuve 1976


Ling, Trevor: A Dictionary of Buddhism. Indian and South-East Asian, Calcutta/New Delhi 1981.

Maurice, David: The Greatest Adventure : A Presentation of the Buddha's Teaching to the Youth of the World. Kandy 1961. The Wheel No. 4.

Neumann, Karl Eugen (Übers.): Die Reden Gotamo Buddhos. Aus der mittleren Sammlung Majjhimanikāyo des Pālo-Kanons, Wien 1956.

Norman, K.R.: Pâli Literature, including the Canonical Literature in Prakrit and Sanskrit of all the Hînayâna Schools of Buddhism. Wiesbaden 1983.

Nyanamoli, Bhikkhu: The Life of the Buddha according to the Pali Canon. (2nd ed.), Kandy 1978.

Nyanatiloka (comp., tr. & expl.): The Buddha's Path to Deliverance, in its threefold division and seven stages of purity. (repr.). Kandy 1982.

Nyanatiloka (Übers.) Die Lehrreden des Buddha aus der Angereihten Sammlung Anguttara-Nikâya. Übers. von Nyanatiloka; hrsg. von Nyanaponika. Köln : DuMont Schauberg, 1969. Neue Gesamtausgabe in fünf Bänden. 3. revid. Neuauflage.

Pandit, Moti Lal: Being as becoming: Studies in Early Buddhism. New Delhi 1993.

Points of Controversy, Oxford 1993.

Rahula, Ven. Walpola Sri : 'Validity and Vitality of the Theravada Tradition,' in: Voice of Buddhism, Dec. 1990, Vol. 28, No. 2,

Sangharatana Thero, Ven. Talawe: A Critical Study of Provincial Gods in Sri Lanka, Delhi 1996.

Soma Thera (tr.): The Lesser Discourse of the Buddha on the Elephant-footprint Simile, Kandy 1960, Bodhi Leaves No. B. 5, p. 20-26.

Thomas, Edward J.: The History of Buddhist Thought. London 1933.

Walshe, Maurice  (tr.): The Long Discourses of the Buddha. A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya. Kandy : BPS, 1996. (The Teachings of the Buddha).

Warder, A.K.: Indian Buddhism, (2nd revised ed.), Delhi 1980.

[1]  Nāga literally means "snake", "dragon", but is also used for male elephants and powerful beings (including humans).

The Nāga spirits are considered water spirits to a sphere of experience superhuman, but close to human sphere, with power and delicacy under the rule of the "Four Great Kings". Their proper home is Pātāla, a region below Mount Meru.

Deities of the western quarter in the sky of the Four Great Kings are also called nagas. Their king is Virūpakkha. They are carried by harpies called garula or supanna.

[2] Ukkala = part of Orissa. Madhyadesa = the middle land, the land between the Himālayas and the Vinhyas. It is bounded on the east by Prayāga (= Allahabad) and on the west by Vinasana (in Rajastan). Its eastern border extended to the border of Bangladesh and encompassed Magadha and Anga (in Monghyr and Bhagalpur districts, Bihar state).

[3] Those merchants will have told about their meeting with the Buddha and about what he told about his teachings on their way and when they returned home. Thus, the teachings of the Buddha were already partially known far from Buddhagaya.

[4] The Sangha, the community of the monks, did not yet exist at that time; therefore only two refuges.

[5] According to Buddhism, sexual misconduct is sexual intercourse with someone under the care of parent(s), brother, sister, relatives, or with persons belonging to a religious order. Also wrong is sexual intercourse with those who have a spouse, with those who are betrothed, or with people who are in prison. The latter include prisoners of war, slaves, hostages and dependents.

[6] A.III.40.

[7] State by name if necessary.

[8] Karaniya Metta Sutta, Sn. I.8, 143-152.

[9] See: M.27.

[10] Bodhisatta: one who is destined to become a Buddha. See: The Bodhisatta in Theravada.

[11] Maj.Nik.82

[12] Vin.Cv.Kh.5.

[13] Rahula, Ven. Walpola Sri : 'Validity and Vitality of the Theravada Tradition,' in: Voice of Buddhism, Dec. 1990, Vol. 28.

[14] Gnanarama, Ven. Pategama: The Mission Accomplished. Singapore 1997, p. 108-128.