Reviewed by LE - BICH – SON



       Today, there are many different religions in the world. Seven of the most important are: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and Shinto (神道). These religions have now spread far beyond the places where they began and their followers are to be found all over the world. With the number of more than 400 million Buddhists over the world, there is growing interest in studies of Buddhism.

       As studies of any religion, we usually begin with study of the founder of the faith and the fundamental doctrines of that religion. In Buddhism, there are many books, which have been written by Eastern and Western scholars to present the life and teachings of the Buddha to those who are interested in Buddhism. Those who are interested in learning the essentials of Buddhism are attracted by an easily read but authoritative book. For me, after several years of studying Buddhism, the most popular and readable account of the life and doctrine of the Buddha, in both of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism, is “The Buddha and His Teachings”, written by Narada Thera, an eminent Sri-Lankan monk.

       With forty-four chapters, “The Buddha and His Teachings” is divided into two parts. The first part of this book deals with the life of the Sakya Muni Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism, while the second part with the Dhamma, the Pali term for His doctrine.

       The first part of the work, written in fourteen chapters, is devoted to the life of the Buddha, from his birth to his passing away. It explains the main events of the Buddha’s life, in a very simple language. The first and second chapter follows the birth of the Buddha through his struggle to attain Enlightenment. The third chapter of the work, discussed the “Characteristics of the Buddha”, “Who is the Buddha?”, and about the Buddha’s greatness, with contributions by such well-known authors as, Sri Radhakrishnan, H. G. Wells, Tagore and Fausboll. The fourth to sixth chapters describes the period from the time after the Buddha Enlightenment to the first sermon at Sarnath in Benares, including the first five disciples, some reflections on the first discourse of the Great One, including a quotation of the “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta” and the “Anattalakkhana Sutta”. Chapter seven gives us some information about the beginnings of the Order of the Sangha, and the conversion of some chief disciples, such as, Uruvela Kassapa, Sariputta and Moggallana. Chapter eight and nine cover the connections between the Buddha and his relatives after his enlightenment, such as his father the King Suddhodana, Yasodhara, his spirit friend before his renunciation, Rahula, his son, Nanda, his step-brother, son of Queen Maha Pajapati Gotami, and Ananda, a cousin of Prince Siddhattha. In chapters ten and eleven, we come to know about the Buddha’s behaviors with his supporters and chief opponents. With his supporters, the Buddha acts without any distinction between the rich and poor, the high and the low, from the kings and nobles, millionaires and paupers, to pious folk and courtesans, men and women of all ranks. For example, Anathapindika was regard as the foremost alms-giver. Visakha was the devout and generous daughter of millionaire Dhananiaya. Jivika was the celebrated physician of the Buddha, and the Royal patrons, King Bimbisara, who ruled the Magadha kingdom, and King Pasenadi, who reigned in the Kingdom of Kosala. With perfect equanimity, the Lord Buddha accepted the gifts of the rich and the poor, showing no partiality to any – He accepted them all with perfect non-attachment. With opponents, the Buddha had to contend against strong opposition. The first part of chapter ten discusses the Buddha’s greatest personal enemy, Devadatta, who made a vain attempt to kill the Great One, along with the schism that occurred in the Order. Chapter twelve covers the first twenty years of the beneficent and successful ministry of the Buddha, from the first sermon in Sarnath, to how He had converted many thousands of hearers (listeners) to his path, expounded the Dhamma to the people and liberated them from the bonds of Samsara. The chapter ends with the story of Angulimala, who was regarded as a notorious murderer, and was converted by the Buddha, eventually attaining Arahantship. The Buddha’s daily routine was noted in chapter thirteen, with His day, in a methodical and systematic way being divided into five parts, namely, forenoon, afternoon, first watch, middle watch and last watch session. Chapter fourteen, the last chapter of the first part, described the passing away of the Buddha. Prior to his death, Buddha received one final convert into the community, preached a concluding sermon to his followers in which he instructed them one last time about the impermanence of all conditioned things, and suggested that all his disciples remember to work out their own salvation with diligence. He further advised his followers that they could abolish all the lesser and minor disciplinary precepts. Finally, he asked his assembled disciples if they had any final questions, but met with no response. Then, while in meditative repose, “The Teacher of Gods and Men” passed into final Nirvana.

       Throughout the first fourteen chapters of the first part, we can see that sometimes the author has written in the form of narrative, but also with the pen of a trenchant theoretician. It has design and shows to us the panoramic picture about the life of the Buddha.       

       The second part of the book explains in detail the Buddha's teachings. With the remaining thirty chapters of the work, the author introduces us to the fundamental teachings of Buddhism. He explains those doctrines and concepts, which form the common bedrock of all Buddhism as preserved in the Theravada Buddhism. In chapter fifteen, the author discusses about Buddhism, in the form of questions and answers. An introduction about the Tipitaka is also available in this chapter. Chapter sixteen discusses some salient characteristics of Buddhism, such as, Foundations of Buddhism, Buddhism and Caste, Buddhism and Woman, etc. Chapter seventeen reviews the four noble truths, one of the main doctrines of Buddhism. Another important teaching of Buddhism is Kamma (law of moral causation), discussed from chapter eighteen to chapter twenty-one. In chapter twenty-two, the author discusses about the origin of life in the way of Samsara. In chapter twenty-three, the author brings to us a very interesting problem - the Buddha on the so-called “Creator-God”. It is of interest to see the author covering the problems of birth and death, rebirth, wheel of life, planes of existence, etc., which is discussed from chapters twenty-four to thirty-two. According to Buddhism, “Nibbana is bliss supreme”. So, what is Nibbana? The definition of the term Nibbana, characteristics of Nibbana, and the way to Nibbana, are present from chapters thirty-three to thirty-eight. Chapter thirty-nine describes the peaceful and happy state of an Arahant, which is taken from the Dhammapada. In chapter forty and chapter forty-one, we can see the concept of Bodhisatta (bodhisattva), which later on become one of the main doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism; and Parami (paramita/perfections), the way that every bodhisatta practices in order to gain Supreme Enlightenment. In chapter forty-two, another important concept was also given, the Brahmaviharas (Metta, Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha), four sublime virtues, if anyone who wishes to be divine in this life must daily cultivate these four sublime virtues. The eight worldly conditions are shown to us by the author in chapter forty-three. The final chapters show the relevance of Buddhism to the problems of modern life.

       Throughout “The Buddha and His Teachings”, a comprehensive work, which is presented in a systematic and engaging manner, the author utilizes an expansive knowledge of Eastern and Western philosophical, literary, and religious traditions. In simple and lucid language, the author explains those doctrines and concepts, which form the common bedrock of all Buddhism as they have been preserved by the Theravada school. This is a highly dependable work that could be referred to whenever a question arises about the Life and the Teachings of the Buddha. This work is a reliable companion to every Buddhist and non-Buddhist with an inquiring mind.

       “The Buddha and His Teachings” is of immense value. It is one of the clearest and most detailed introductions to the fundamental teachings of Buddhism available in English. These forty-four chapters will be of interest either as an introduction to Buddhism or as a vehicle for deepening one's understanding. Among the many Buddhist subjects discussed are kamma, the Bodhisattva ideal, the paramitas, the Wheel of Life, Dependent Origination, blessings and distractions for the seeker, and the Eightfold Noble Path to Nirvana. The generous number of stories brings to light the many-faceted aspects of the teaching. The author cites ample sources for further study.

       If someone asks me how I would describe “The Buddha and His Teachings”, I would reply –  A very good read !



Delhi University, November 17th 2002 




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