Buddhism in Brief

Buddhism in Brief

I’ve given some thought to how to present Buddhism from my perspective with some accuracy to other people and have arrived at an answer which seems like a good one to me.

First, locate a copy of the Buddhist book Dhammapada. It is the most translated and circulated book of Buddhism in the world. Some people dismiss it as a collection of sayings made by a Buddhist which doesn’t necessarily only have Buddhist sayings in it. In fact some may just be old folk tales sayings. To that I answered that it’s also the most translated and circulated book of Buddhism by Buddhists for Buddhists in the world. And my using this book as a source for presenting Buddhism to people should tell you that I think it is a Buddhist enough to be used to present Buddhism.

There are three sections of verses, numbering 15 in all, that comprise the texts for my presentation.

They are an Admonishment, What Buddhism Is and Precepts.

The first 10 verses of the Dhammapada or what I call the Admonishment.

Verses 183, 184 and 185 present What Buddhism is.

And verses 246 and 247 are a concluding presentation of the Precepts for lay men and women and apply also to ordained Buddhists.

A quick reading of these 15 verses and you will be able to hold a basic grasp of Buddhism in your mind to consider it as a flower in the palm of your hand. In this way you can go a long way on the Buddhist path with very little luggage

The suttas speak at two different levels without obvious indication*; Difference between mundane and transcendent right view (Majjhima Nikaya 117):

"The teachings of the Buddha, viewed in their completeness, all link together into a single perfectly coherent system of thought and practice which gains its unity from its final goal, the attainment of deliverance from suffering. But the teachings inevitably emerge from the human condition as their matrix and starting point, and thus must be expressed in such a way as to reach human beings standing at different levels of spiritual development, with their highly diverse problems, ends, and concerns and with their very different capacities for understanding. Thence, just as water, though one in essence assumes different shapes due to the vessels into which it is poured, so the Dhamma of liberation takes on different forms in response to the needs of the beings to be taught. This diversity, evident enough already in the prose discourses, becomes even more conspicuous in the highly condensed, spontaneous and intuitively charged medium of verse used in the Dhammapada. The intensified power of delivery can result in apparent inconsistencies which may perplex the unwary. For example, in many verses the Buddha commends certain practices on the grounds that they lead to a heavenly birth, but in others he discourages disciples from aspiring for heaven and extols the one who takes no delight in celestial pleasures (187, 417) [Unless chapter numbers are indicated, all figures enclosed in parenthesis refer to verse numbers of the Dhammapada.]

Often he enjoins works of merit, yet elsewhere he praises the one who has gone beyond both merit and demerit (39, 412). Without a grasp of the underlying structure of the Dhamma, such statements viewed side by side will appear incompatible and may even elicit the judgment that the teaching is self-contradictory.

The key to resolving these apparent discrepancies is the recognition that the Dhamma assumes its formulation from the needs of the diverse persons to whom it is addressed, as well as from the diversity of needs that may co-exist even in a single individual. To make sense of the various utterances found in the Dhammapada, we will suggest a schematism of four levels to be used for ascertaining the intention behind any particular verse found in the work, and thus for understanding its proper place in the total systematic vision of the Dhamma. This fourfold schematism develops out of an ancient interpretive maxim which holds that the Buddha’s teaching is designed to meet three primary aims: human welfare here and now, a favorable rebirth in the next life, and the attainment of the ultimate good. The four levels are arrived at by distinguishing the last aim into two stages: path and fruit."

—Bikkhu Bodhi

These categories are enlarged upon in the book “In the Buddha’s Words.”

*The level can be ascertained by the personnel involved, for example lay persons are usually connected with mundane right view, senior monks with ultimate release.

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