Buddhism in a nutshell
Introduction to Early Buddhism
Frank J. Hoffman
Research Centre for Buddhist Studies, Kandy
Buddhism is not just a religion, it's a philosophy as well. The
Buddhists around the world believe that The Buddha is the greatest
philosopher who showed the truth and reality of life. In his teachings,
he has stated that it is useless to get attached to anything, because it
only gives suffering and pain.
This is clearly highlighted when we take a look at the world around
us, for we can see so many crimes being committed and there is not a day
we see some news of some murder, kidnapping or theft. All these are
being committed mostly because of attachment to something or someone.
Maybe one is attached to another person because of love or some other
reason. Or else, one needs to steal another person's belongings or
property because he wants to have it for himself.
Peace of mind
Most crimes are being committed because of a person's warped
mentality or mental instability. All these are done due to attachment
and jealousy, hatred or spitefulness. The Buddha has said not to be
attached to anything, and live a life according to the Dhamma. In that
way one can be free of all worries, problems and anxiety.
Introduction to Early Buddhism by Frank J. Hoffman, who is a
Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies and also the Associate
Director of Ethnic studies, West Chester University, Pennsylvania, has
given a clear introduction to the Buddhist doctrines.
In the modern world, we can see people beginning to follow the path
of Buddhism. In foreign countries, they find their lives rather hectic
and stressed out so they search for some way of relaxation and peace of
mind. Therefore, they consider Buddhism as one of the most suitable ways
of gaining peace.
These days, we see many foreigners embracing Buddhism and also
engaged in meditation in places of worship. It is interesting to know
that they have understood the reality, value and the true meaning of
Buddhism. Dr. Hoffman has done extensive research on Buddhist
Philosophy. It is an ideal book for any beginner to study Buddhism. The
book is written in a very simple language and it is readable and
The book introduces Buddhism using primary texts of the Theravada
traditions of South East Asia. It contains an analysis of early Buddhist
tradition drawn from the Pali Suttas.
According to the first chapter, the discipline traditionally
associated with wisdom is philosophy. One cannot gain wisdom through
data, facts and information.
Philosophy is a self-reflective discipline. Buddhism, however, makes
wisdom (panna) central.
Wisdom, along with morality (Sila) and concentration (Samadhi) is one
of the three main concepts to understand the Buddhist way found in the
Noble Eightfold Path (Arya Ashtangika Margha).
Buddhism itself is a difficult philosophy to explain for it is
complex. But if one understands at least the five precepts of Buddhism
and leads a religious life then it is not difficult to see what it
The luxurious lifestyle he led in the palace did not allow him to
know about the world surrounding him. He found it by himself, studying
about it and also going to various teachers.
Aalara Kalama and Uddhaka Ramapuththa were the earliest teachers to
give him some idea about the Dhamma. But according to their knowledge it
was not a spiritual achievement. Prince Siddhartha saw an old man, a
patient, a corpse and a monk. (Sathara Pera Nimithi). Before he saw them
he did not know that he lived in a world of suffering.
Due to his confusion and anguish, he wanted to find the truth. But
his teachers did not teach him what he desired. When prince Siddhartha
became enlightened he lived in a society where the people believed in
worshipping the sun, trees and stones.
When he realised the truth he made them to see that they were going
behind a mirage. He enabled them to follow the Dhamma. It can be seen as
a “blind faith” turning into an initial faith” .
In the Theravada tradition one finds that “faith” is more like
“confidence”. One should have faith and confidence to believe in
something. And that is what the Buddha did. He attained enlightenment by
going through many obstacles, and also giving pain to himself by not
consuming food or water.(Dushkara kriya) but finally he found that he
could not learn the Dhamma or attain enlightenment by doing so.
The author has also given a clear view of Buddhism and also of the
Buddha's life in two chapters. He mentions the three important items in
Buddhism, the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.In Buddhism, the Buddha says
that nothing is permanent.
Your good or bad deeds will have their consequences. When he attained
enlightenment, the Buddha taught the Dhamma to the five ascetics,
Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Wappa, Mahanama and Assaji.
The author describes how Buddhist texts were developed by successive
Councils. The Pali texts include the Sutta Pitaka, one of the three
baskets or Pitakas – Sutta, Vinaya and Abhidhamma.The Sutta Pitaka
narrates the life and the teachings of the Buddha, the Vinaya Pitaka
provides the rules of conduct for Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis.
The Abhidhamma Pitaka systematises the doctrine. As soon as the
Buddha attained enlightenment he paid tribute to the Bodhi tree which
gave him shelter through Animisa Lochana Pooja.
Each chapter describes a sutta related to some story and gives the
reader something to think about. The author has also described the
epistemology, ethics and metaphysics, giving the reader a thorough
knowledge of the Buddhist doctrine. It is a useful book for anyone
interested in Buddhism.