By Thich nu Minh Tam
Brief introduction to Buddhism
the founder of
the true meaning of
the title ‘Buddha’
Buddhist concept about
life and world
d) Buddhist path and final goal
Buddhist monastic order
Buddhist scriptures or Buddha’s Teachings
towards scriptures and its function in Buddhism
Theravada scriptures (Pali
(Sanskrit& various common languages)
Penguin Books Ltd. 1969
Brief introduction to Buddhism
The founder of
Buddhism was founded by an Indian prince, Siddhartha, also known as
Sakyamuni, the son of a ruler of a small state in what is now Nepal.
He is said to have lived during the years 560-480 B.C.
Tradition has it that at the age of twenty-nine he left the royal
life to seek a solution to the human’s suffering. Five
years practicing under the guidance of some spiritual teachers and
ascetics, He soon founded their knowledge to be either imperfect or
knew that such knowledge could not lead him to the Ultimate Truth.
He therefore began to make experiments on his own. Later
on, after six years practicing alone, He finally developed the
supernormal knowledge that ultimately destroyed all kinds of passion and
mental defilements in him and gave him penetrative insight into all
phenomena in their true state. He
had become the Supreme Lord Buddha at the age of thirty-five.’
this momentous event the Buddha spent the next forty-five years of his
life wandering up and down the Ganges Valley, preaching his message to
ascetics and lay persons alike. ‘For
this long period of his life no connected account exists, with the only
indication of his travels
being the names of cities and towns mentioned in the scriptural
discourses. The cities most often mentioned were the capitals of the important states of the
period.’ At age eighty He passed
away into great Nirvana, the state of extinguishing all attachments and
The true meaning of the word ‘Buddha’
term ‘Buddha’ is participle of the Sanskrit verbal root ‘budh,’
which means ‘to awaken,’ and is employed as a title, ‘The Awakened
One’ or ‘The Enlightened One.’ It is applied to Siddhartha Gautama,
a human being who attained enlightenment, founded an order and spent his
life teaching the Dharma.
had the Buddha claimed that He was the son or a messenger of God and
none of the Buddhist followers regarded Him as an incarnation of God.
The Buddhist disciples believe that anyone can become a Buddha if
he develops his qualities to perfection and is able to remove his
ignorance completely through his own efforts.
‘In the Buddhist view each of us is a potential Buddha obscured in karmic
ignorance but with the possibility for enlightenment in us.’
Buddhist basic concept about life and world
has been described as a very pragmatic religion. It does not indulge in metaphysical speculation about first
causes; there is no theology, no worship of a deity or deification of
the Buddha. Buddhism takes
a very straightforward look at our human condition; nothing is based on
wishful thinking, at all. Everything
that the Buddha taught was based on his own observation of the way
things are. Everything that
He taught can be verified by our own observation of the way things
at life, we realize that how it changes and how it continually moves
between extremes and contrasts: young and old, healthy and sick, success
and failure, rise and fall, etc. The
Buddha described the world as an unending flux of becoming.
Nothing lasts long, everything is changing and transforming. Everything exists from moment to moment.
Everything in this universe as well as human life is changing
from birth to death. The
law of Impermanence of
everything is one of the main pivots of Buddhism. Whatever is subject to origination is subject also to
destruction. Change is the
very constituent of reality.
mark in Buddhism is the Anatta
(No self) doctrine which has been unbeatable over 2, 550 years old. Anatta
is translated under various names: No
Soul, No Self, egonessless, soullessness.
‘The Buddha taught that
man is merely a combination of physical and mental aggregates or forces
made up of body or matter, sensation, perception, mental formations and
consciousness. These forces
are working together in a flux of momentary change; they are never the
same for two consecutive moments. When
the Buddha analyzed these forces, He did not find any eternal soul.
Today the scientists find that man is merely a bundle of
ever-changing sensations and the apparently solid universe is actually a
flux of energy.’
conditioned things are impermanent,
conditioned things are Dukkha – Suffering,
conditioned or unconditioned things are soulless or selfless.
Dhammapada 277, 278, 279
Buddha was the first to realize that.
Buddhist path and final goal
and realizing with wisdom the reality of life which is impermanent,
selfless and full of suffering, Buddhist followers hope to set free from
repeated rebirths (Samsara) and achieve emancipation, freedom (Moksa) or
Nirvana, the final goal by
practicing the Buddha’s Teachings which is based on The Four Noble
First Noble Truth is Dukkha that means suffering, impermanence,
unsatisfactoriness, disharmony, pain, etc.
Second Noble Truth is the Cause of Dukkha which is craving linked to
Third Noble Truth is the Cessation of Dukkha or the state of Nirvana
where craving ceases and
Fourth Noble Truth is the path leading to the cessation of suffering
concluding of the Noble Eightfold Path: right speech, right action,
right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration,
right understanding, and right thoughts.
Buddhist monastic schools
the Buddha’s passing away, there arose eighteen different schools due
to various interpretations of the Buddha’s Teachings but over a period
of time, these schools gradually merged into three main schools:
Buddhists follow orthodox religious traditions that had prevailed in
India more than 2, 550 years ago. They
perform their religious services in the Pali language and also expect to
attain Nirvana by becoming a supreme Enlightened Buddha, Pacceka Buddha
or an Arhant. The majority
of them prefer to attain Arhanthood.
Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, etc. belong to
are the radical ones and they have changed the old religious customs to
be in accordance with the customs and traditions of the countries where
they arrive to propagate efficiently Buddhism.
Moreover, they perform their religious practices along with the
mother tongue of the countries in order to help native speakers
understand much more such profound and subtle doctrine as Buddhism.
Mahayanists expect to attain the final goal ‘Nirvana’ by
becoming Buddhas and the ideal image of a Bodhisattva becomes a standard
practice of Mahayana Buddhism to reach enlightenment and help others to
set free from suffering also. Mahayana
Buddhism spreads largely in China, Japan, Mongolia, Korea, Viet Nam, and
nowadays some Western countries as America, United Kingdom, Australia
Tantric School sometimes called ‘Lamaism’ has been the dominant
religion of Tibet from the 18th century A.D. until now.
It is founded on the Four Noble Truths and seeks the ultimate
release of all sentient beings from the suffering of the endless cycle
of reincarnation. Enlightenment
is found through bodhisattvas and they are not only found in great
saints from the past but have contemporary expression in lamas who are
themselves incarnations of the power of enlightenment.
Besides it, Tantric school focuses also on the Vajrayana (Diamond
Vehicle), way of salvation. The Vajrayana introduced male and female deities, whose union
was the triumph over the duality characteristic of Samsara.
It also taught the efficacy of magic formula to give initiates
sudden enlightenment along ‘the direct path to Nirvana.’
Buddhist Scriptures or Buddha’s Teachings
Definition of scriptures
scriptures are oral or written traditions which tend to be concerned
with 1) the expression and transmission of spoken and written sounds and
words as holy or sacred power; 2) the meaning, value, ideals,
cohesiveness, and self-identity of a people in their environment
together with the standards of normal and ideal behavior for
individuals; 3) orienting and relating the people toward reality, the
transcendent or the divine; 4) diagnosing and resolving human concerns,
hopes, and anxieties by transforming human existence into desired
practical and ideal forms, and 5) depicting and exhorting a holy way or
path authenticated, revealed, or discovered through
a holy person or religious community.’
Buddhist concept towards scriptures and its function in Buddhism
is one of the few world religions to reject the notion of ‘revealed
scriptures,’ the foregoing quotation makes clear that the Buddhist
life is lived from within the Buddhist texts.
Perhaps Buddhists have more scriptures than other religions but
to them, words, even most scriptural words, are not divine but merely
conventional – created by humans for the purpose of solving practical
problems in everyday life.’
emphasis in Buddhism is on the teachings of the Buddha and the awakening
of human personality that these are seen to lead to. Nevertheless, Buddhists do show great reverence to the Buddha
as a supreme teacher and an example of the ultimate goal that all strive
for, so that maybe more images of Him exists of any other historical
figure. In its long
history, Buddhism has used a variety of teachings and means to help
people first develop a calmer, more integrated and compassionate
personality and then wake up from restricting delusions.
The guide for this process of transformation consists of
understanding, practicing and realizing Dharmas (teachings).’
Buddhist followers never worship blindly those scriptures as a
supernatural power that can take them to Nirvana but they show respect
and study scriptures with the understanding that they will be able to
release suffering if they follow and practice correctly what the Buddha
Buddhist’ definition, scriptures consist of four meanings: 1) contemplation,
2) penetrating through, going through, 3) collecting, gathering together
and 4) maintaining, practicing, keeping or following.
Contemplation can be used to dispel distractions and defilements. There are two kinds of contemplation: a) contemplation or
meditation on the external forms of the phenomenon, b) contemplation or
meditation on the real or underlying nature.
Penetrating into the profound meaning of scriptures not relying
Collecting, gathering together the mind, the attention,
controlling the mind
Maintaining, practicing morality, keeping the rules or
commandments. There are two
kinds of maintaining: 1) prohibitive or restraining from evils; 2)
constructive or constraining to goodness.
short, the Buddhists see scriptures merely as a thread on which jewels
are strung together, a means to reach salvation and perfect wisdom.
‘The worth of scriptural words is instrumental not intrinsic; if not
words can easily get in the way and be more of a hindrance or an
obstruction than a help.’
Theravada scriptures (Pali canon)
is divided into numerous traditional schools, each with its own set of
scriptures. ‘Our knowledge of
Buddha’s teachings is based on several canons of scriptures which
derive from the early Sangha’s oral transmission of bodies of
teachings agreed on at several councils.
The Theravada canon is preserved in the Pali language which is
known as the Tripitaka.’
Tripitaka consists of three sections of the Buddha’s Teachings.
They are the Discipline (Vinaya Pitaka) mainly deals with the rules and
regulations of the Order of monks and nuns; the Discourse (Sutta Pitaka) consists chiefly of discourses delivered by
the Buddha Himself on various occasions or by some of His famous
disciples as Venerable Sariputta, Venerable Ananda or Venerable
Moggallana, etc; and Ultimate
Doctrine (Abhidamma Pitaka) is the most important and interesting
Pitaka because it contains the profound philosophy of the Buddha’s
Vinaya Pitaka consists of the five books:
‘Parajika Pali (Major offenses)
Pacittiya Pali (Minor offenses)
Mahavagga Pali (Greater section)
Cullavagga Pali (Smaller section)
Parivara Pali (Epitome of the Vinaya)
Sutta Pitaka is divided into five Nikayas or collections:
Digha Nikaya (Collection of Long Discourses)
Majjhima Nikaya (Collection of Middle Length Discourses)
Samyutta Nikaya (Collection of Kindred Sayings)
Anguttara Nikaya (Collection od Discourses arranged in
accordance with number)
Khuddaka Nikaya (Smaller Collection)
Abhidamma Pitaka is composed of the following works:
Dhamma Sangani (Enumeration of Phenomena)
Vibhanga (The Book of the Treatises)
Katha Vatthu (Point of Controversy)
Puggala Pannatti (Descrition of Individuals)
Dhatu Katha (Discussion with reference to elements)
Yamaka (The Book of Pairs)
Patthana (The Book of Relations)’
Mahayana Buddhism arose in the first century C.E., it had a new concern
for liberation through the Bodhisattva, one who postpones his own full
enlightenment in order to help
The other ideal image required a new concept of scriptures and that is
the birth of Mahayana canon.
is really no Mahayana canon, only a collection of separate texts written
in Sanskrit. Many of these
Sanskrit original texts are no longer extant, but before they were lost,
they were translated into Chinese and Tibetan and are now preserved in
those languages. The
Tibetan scriptures are most faithful to the Sanskrit original than the
Chinese ones which are not really translations but free renditions of
the meaning of the original texts.’
the Pali and Mahayana canons share such important works as the Jatakas,
the Maha-Parinibbana, Vinaya texts on monastic discipline, Abhidamma
texts, etc,’ Mahayana
literature is characterized by diversity, extravagant imagination,
colorful personalities and inordinate repetitions.
One of the most influential texts, the Heart Sutra (Prajna
Paramita) discussed philosophically the denial of the reality of
existence and nonexistence, consists of only about seven hundred Chinese
characters while the Garland Sutra consists of eighty chapters.
The other text is Lotus Sutra elaborates on the eternal Buddha,
universal salvation, and the Bodhisattva.’
the flourishing of Buddhism in Tibet in the 7th century C.E.,
the Tibetans followers focus mainly on two collections known as the
Kanjur (Translation of the Ordinances) and the Tanjur (Translation of
Kanjur contains 689 books of
various lengths in 100 or 108 volumes.
The first main division is the Discipline for monks; the
second is the Prajnaparamita; the third deals with the Buddha
community; the fourth is the Heap of Jewels; the fifth is the
Teaching lectures; the sixth is Nirvana; and the last is
the Tantra. The Tanjur
contains 225 volumes in two main sections: Sutra and Tantra.
Unlike other Mahayanists in East Asia, the Tibetans worship these
sutras and preserved them in the monasteries with great care.
the Buddha taught:
on the teaching, not on the person,
Rely on the meaning, not just on the words,
Rely on the definitive meaning, not on the
Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary
also said: ‘My teaching is not a philosophy. It
is the result of a direct experience. My teaching is a means of practice, not something to hold
onto or worship. My
teaching is like a raft used to cross the river.
Only a fool would carry the raft around after he had already
reached the other shore of salvation.’
sum, the aim of Buddhist scriptures is to help the followers develop
radically, practically, and wisely the Buddha’s Teachings in order to
live rightly and happily, be free from all sufferings and release from
 Basic Buddhism Course by Phara Sunthorn Plamintr, page 19.
 Dictionary of World religions by Keith Crim, page 120.
 Scripture in Buddism by Harold Coward, page 140.
 An introduction to Buddhism by Mike Butler : www.quangduchomepage.net
 What the Buddhist believe by K. Sri Dhammananda, page 119.
 Dictionary of world religions by Keith Crim, page 149.
 Ibid. page 665.
 Scriptures in Buddhism (selection) by Harold Coward, page 139.
 An introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and practices by Peter Harvey, page 1-3.
 Scripture in Buddhism (selection) by Harold Coward, page 139.
 Buddhist Scriptures by Thomas Wyatt page 11.
 An Introduction to Buddhism by Peter Harvey, page 3.
 What the Buddhists believe by K. Sri Dhammananda, page 65.
 Ibid page 66-67.
 Scriptures in world’s religions by Van Voorst, page 72.
 World’s Religions dictionary by Keith Crim, page 134.
 Scriptures in world’s religions by Van Voorst, page 72.
 World’s religions dictionary by Keith Crim, page 134.
 Scriptures in world’s religions by Van Voorst, page 74.