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Buddhism in a nutshell

Introduction to Early Buddhism
Author: 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 enjoyable.

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.

Discipline

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 means.

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.

Truth

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.

Consequences

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.

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