Authors born between 1000 and 500 BCE

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The Path to Enlightenment

The Fourfold Truth

The Eightfold Way

Dependent Origination

Five Elements of Existence



No Permanent Self

At the End of Life




The founder of Buddhism was the son of a prince of Shakyas, a principality located in the Himalayan foothills. He was born about 563 BCE with the family name of Gotama and the personal name of Siddhattha. He married at age 16 and had a son. Having lived in luxury until age 29, he then left home and family to take up rigorously ascetic religious practices and self-mortification over a period of six years.

The experience almost killed him. When he recovered, he concluded that the true way of life was found between the extremes of luxury and asceticism, and that even this middle way was inevitably characterized by impermanence, imperfection and suffering. He analyzed the origins of these sorrows on the basis of his own experience, and elaborated a prescription for their alleviation: the Eightfold Way: right belief, right thought, right speech, right behavior, right occupation, right effort, right attentiveness, right meditation.  For this he gained the name the Buddha, ‘the enlightened one’. He is also referred to as Tathagata, ‘he who has fully arrived at truth’. He died at the age of 80, after assembling a group of men and women disciples (the Sangha) who continued to spread his teaching by word of mouth.

It was not until about 29 BCE that his teaching was written down with any degree of completeness, in the Pali language, the predecessor of Sanskrit. The documents contain magical fables and supernatural assertions quite at odds with the original teaching, presumably added to impress the credulous. Consequently, when Gotama argues that there is no permanent self, and that questions of its existence after death or its rebirth are therefore meaningless, it suggests that any passages affirming reincarnation and eternal life are later additions. A narrow selection has therefore been made from what may be assumed to be the earliest accounts of his teachings, with a view to suggesting the kernel of the theory that he put forward.

Different Buddhist movements emerge by elaborating on the basic concepts put forward by Gotama. In some cases this involves grafting on other religions or philosophies, encouraged by Gotama’s view that individuals should find their own special paths to enlightenment. Brahmanic concepts such as rebirth are already in the Pali texts. Add Hindu Tantaric practices and the Bon spirit religion to the basic teachings and the result is Tibetan Buddhism; add Taoism and the result is Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism.

One of the first of the disciples to join Gotama, Ananda, used the phrase “This I have heard:”, so these words have been used as a means of introducing major sections. Vaccha was another disciple;  Malunkyaputta, somewhat dense, another.


The Path to Enlightenment


This I have heard:


1    To those who choose the path that leads to enlightenment, there are two extremes that should be carefully avoided. First, there is the extreme of indulgence in the desires of the body. Second, there is the opposite extreme of ascetic discipline, torturing one's body and mind unreasonably.

The Noble Path that transcends these two extremes and leads to enlightenment, wisdom and peace of mind, may be called the Middle Way.


2    I have not elucidated, Malunkyaputta, that the world is eternal; I have not elucidated that the world is not eternal; I have not elucidated that the world is finite; I have not elucidated that the world is infinite; I have not elucidated that the soul and the body are identical; I have not elucidated that the soul is one thing and the body another; I have not elucidated that the good person exists after death.


3    And why have I not elucidated this? Because this profits not, nor has to do with the fundamentals of the way of truth, nor tends to aversion, absence of passion, cessation, quiescence, the supreme faculties, supreme wisdom, and ultimate attainment of disinterested wisdom and compassion.

4    What, Malunkyaputta, have I elucidated? Suffering, impermanence, and imperfection: I have elucidated their existence, their origin, their vulnerability, and the path leading to their cessation. And why have I elucidated this? Because this does profit, has to do with the fundamentals of the way of truth, and tends to aversion, absence of passion, cessation, quiescence, knowledge, supreme wisdom, and imperturbable mental enlightenment; therefore I have elucidated it.

5    In this world are three wrong viewpoints. If one clings to these viewpoints, then all things in this world are but to be denied.

First, some say that all human experience is based on destiny; second, some hold that everything is created by God and controlled by His will; third, some say that everything happens by chance without having any cause or condition.

If all has been decided by destiny, both good deeds and evil deeds are predetermined, happiness and sorrow are predestined; nothing would exist that has not been fore­ordained. Then all human plans and efforts for improvement and progress would be in vain and humanity would be without hope.

The same is true of the other viewpoints; for, if everything in the last resort is in the hands of an unknowable God, or of blind chance, what hope has humanity except in submission? No wonder people holding these conceptions lose hope and neglect efforts to act wisely and to avoid evil.

In fact, these three conceptions or viewpoints are all wrong: everything is a succession of appearances whose source is the accumulation of causes and conditions.


The Fourfold Truth

  This I have heard:

6    What are the four noble truths? They are the truth concerning imperfection, impermanence, and suffering; the truth concerning their origin; the truth concerning their cessation; and the truth concerning the path leading to the cessation of imperfection, and impermanence, and suffering.

7    The First Truth. The world is full of impermanence, imperfection, and suffering. Birth, sickness, old age, and death reveal our impermanence and imperfection. Birth is suffering, odd age is suffering, sickness and death are suffering. Sorrow, grief, and despair are suffering; to wish for what one cannot have is suffering.

To beings subject to birth, old age, disease, death, sorrow, lamentation, suffering, grief, and despair there arises the wish that these might never come to us. But this cannot be obtained by wishing. This is what is meant by saying, " To wish for what one cannot have is suffering."

This is called the noble truth of suffering.

8    The Second Truth. The cause of human impermanence, imperfection, and suffering is undoubtedly found in the thirsts of the physical body and in the attachments and illusions of worldly passion. It is desire joining itself to pleasure and finding delight in every desire—namely, desire for sensual pleasure, desire for permanent existence, desire for transitory existence.

But where does this desire spring up and grow? Where does it settle and take root? Where anything is delightful and agreeable to a person, there desire springs up and grows, there it settles and takes root. The eye is delightful and agreeable to men; there desire springs up and grows, there it settles and takes root. The ear, the nose, the tongue, the body, the mind is delightful and agreeable to men; there desire springs up and grows, there it settles and takes root. Form, sounds, odors, tastes, things tangible, ideas are delightful and agreeable to men; there desire springs up and grows, there it settles and takes root.

This is called the noble truth of the origin of suffering.

9    The Third Truth. If desire, which lies at the root of all human passion, can be removed, then passion will die out and human suffering will be ended. The complete fading out and cessation of this desire is required, a giving up, a loosing hold, a relinquishment, the achievement of nonattachment.

But where can this desire be made to wane and disappear ? Where can it be broken up and destroyed? Where anything is delightful and agreeable to men; there desire can be made to wane and disappear, there it can be broken up and destroyed. The eye is delightful and agreeable to men; there desire can be made to wane and disappear, there it can be broken up and destroyed. So too with the other organs of sense, the objects of sense, sense-consciousness, contacts, sensations, perceptions, thoughts, desire, reasoning, and reflection. In all these desire can be made to wane and disappear, there it can be broken up and destroyed.

This is called the noble truth of the cessation of suffering.

10  The Fourth Truth. In order to enter into a state where there is no desire and no suffering, one must follow the true Way.


The Eightfold Way

This I have heard:

11  The guideposts for this Noble Eightfold Way are: right belief, right thought, right speech, right behavior, right occupation, right effort, right attentiveness, right meditation.

12  And what is right belief ? It is the knowledge of the existence of suffering, the knowledge of the origin of suffering, the knowledge of the cessation of suffering, and the knowledge of the path leading to the cessation of suffering.

13  And what is right thought? It is resolve to free one’s thoughts of delusion, greed, and anger, to renounce sensual pleasures, it is the effort and resolve to have malice towards none, and the effort and resolve to have compassion for all living creatures.

14  And what is right speech? To abstain from falsehood, to abstain from slander, to abstain from harsh language, and to abstain from malicious gossip.

15  And what is right behavior? To abstain from destroying life, to abstain from taking that which is not given one, and to abstain from immorality.

16  And what is right livelihood? It is abandoning an occupation that follows the wrong Way and keeping to an occupation that follows the true Way.

17  And what is right effort? It is present whenever a person purposes, resolves, strenuously endeavors, applies the mind, and exerts the will so that evil and censurable qualities not yet arisen may not arise, that those already arisen may be abandoned, that meritorious qualities not yet arisen may arise, and that meritorious qualities already arisen may be preserved, retained, increased and be perfected.

18  And what is right attentiveness? Whenever a person has got rid of lust and grief and lives, with respect to the body, observant of the body with strenuous, clearly conscious, attentive awareness; with respect to the sensations, observant of sensations, with strenuous, clearly conscious, attentive awareness; with respect to perceptions, observant of perceptions, with strenuous, clearly conscious, attentive awareness; with respect to the mind, observant of the activities of the mind with strenuous, clearly conscious, attentive awareness.

19 And what is right meditation? In meditation I have taught the gradual cessation of activity and attachment to the world. A person, achieving isolation from sensual pleasures and from censurable traits, and still exercising reasoning, still exercising reflection, enters upon the first level of meditation, which is produced by isolation and characterized by joy and happiness; for one who has entered the first level of meditation the voice has ceased.

Then, through the subsidence of reasoning and reflection, and still retaining joy and happiness, one enters upon the second level of meditation, which is an interior tranquilization and intentness of the thoughts, and is produced by concentration; for one who has entered the second level of meditation reasoning and reflection have ceased.

Then with the fading of joy to become indifferent and contemplative, conscious and in the experience of bodily happiness—that state which knowledgeable people describe when they say, “Indifferent, contemplative, and living happily”—one enters upon the third level of meditation; for one who has entered the third level of meditation joy has ceased.

Then, through the abandonment of happiness, through the abandonment of suffering, through the disappearance of all antecedent gladness and grief, one enters upon the fourth level of meditation, which has neither suffering nor happiness, but is contemplation as refined by indifference.

20  How does the disciple perform meditation on the body? To meditate on breathing one retires to the forest to the foot of a tree or a solitary place, sits with legs crossed, body erect, and with attentiveness fixed in the space immediately in front, attentively breathes in and attentively breathes out. When making a long inhalation one is aware of each part of the long inhalation. When making a long exhalation, one is aware of each part of the long exhalation. When making a short inhalation, one is aware of the short inhalation; when making a short exhalation one is aware of the short exhalation. To develop breathing meditation, a person clearly perceives the entire body as breath flows into it and clearly perceives the entire body as breath flows out of it. Calming bodily functions a person breathes in; calming bodily functions a person breathes out.

By this means a person dwells in contemplation of the body, either one’s own body or the body of other persons, or both. One beholds how the body arises and how it passes away. The body is presented in clear awareness to the extent necessary for knowledge and mindfulness, leading to independence and detachment from everything in the world. Thus does one meditate on the body.


Dependent Origination

This I have heard:

21  Blossoms come about because of a series of conditions that lead up to their blooming. Leaves are blown away because a series of conditions lead up to it. Blossoms do not appear independently, nor does a leaf fall of itself, out of its season. So everything has its coming forth and passing away; nothing can be independent without any change.

            It is the everlasting and unchanging rule of this world that everything is created by a series of causes and conditions and everything disappears by the same rule; everything changes, nothing remains constant.

22  The factors that constitute dependence originate in the elements of being and give rise to the theory of Dependent Origination. The word “dependent” as referring to a multiplicity of dependencies or conditions shows an avoidance of such mistaken ideas as that of the persistence of existences, of uncaused existences, of existences due to a supernatural power, or of self-determining existences. The word “origination” as exhibiting an origination of the elements by a multiplicity of dependencies, show a rejection of such mistaken ideas as that of the annihilation of existence, of nihilism, and of the inefficacy of the totality of a person's actions and conduct. By the complete phrase “Dependent Origination”, the concept that certain elements of being come into existence by means of an unbroken series of their multiplicity of dependencies, the truth, or middle course, is indicated.


Five Elements of Existence

This I have heard:

23 The elements of existence can be described by five categories.

All material phenomena whatsoever, past, future, or present, be it subjective or existing outside, gross or subtle, mean or exalted, far or near, belongs to the material phenomena category.

All sensations and feelings, pleasant, unpleasant, or neither, belong to the sensation category, all perception whatsoever belongs to the perception category. All mentation whatsoever (motives, ideas and cognition) belongs to the mentation category.

All consciousness whatsoever, past, future, or present, be it subjective or existing outside, gross or subtle, mean or exalted, far or near, belongs to the consciousness category.

24  The arising of consciousness is dependent on conditions; without these conditions, no consciousness arises. Consciousness is named according to whatever condition through which it arises: on account of the eye and visible forms arises visual consciousness; on account of the ear and sounds arises auditory consciousness; on account of the nose and odors arises olfactory consciousness; on account of the tongue and tastes arises gustatory consciousness; on account of the body and tangible objects arises tactile consciousness; on account of the mind and mentation arises mental consciousness.

25 Consciousness may exist having the material phenomena as its means, the material phenomena as its object, the material phenomena as its support, and seeking delight it may grow, increase and develop; or consciousness may exist having sensation as its means . . . or perception as its means . . . or mentation as its means, mentation as its object, mentation as its support, and seeking delight it may grow, increase and develop.

            Were a person to say: I shall show the coming, the going, the passing away, the arising, the growth, the increase or the development of consciousness apart from material phenomena, sensation, perception and mentations, that person would be speaking of something that does not exist.



This I have heard:


26  People grasp at things for their own imagined convenience and comfort; they grasp at wealth and treasure and honors; they cling desperately to mortal life.


27  They make arbitrary distinctions between existence and non-existence, good and bad, right and wrong. For such people life is a succession of graspings and attachments, and then, because of this, they must assume the illusions of pain and suffering.


28  Once there was a man on a long journey who came to a river. He said to himself: "This side of the river is very difficult and dangerous to walk on, and the other side seems easier and safer, but how shall I get across?" So he built a raft out of branches and reeds and safely crossed the river. Then he thought to himself: "This raft has been very useful to me in crossing the river; I will not abandon it to rot on the bank, but will carry it along with me.'' And thus he voluntarily assumed an unnecessary burden. Can this man be called a wise man? . . .  even a good thing, when it becomes an unnecessary burden, should be thrown away; much more so if it is a bad thing.


29  To avoid being caught in the current of desires, a person must learn at the very beginning not to grasp at things lest he or she should become accustomed to them and attached to them. A person must not become attached to existence nor to non-existence, to anything inside or outside, neither to good things nor to bad things, neither to right nor to wrong.



This I have heard:    

30  Enlightenment has no definite form or nature by which it can manifest itself; so in enlightenment itself there is nothing to be enlightened.

            Enlightenment exists solely because of delusion and ignorance; if they disappear, so will enlightenment. And the opposite is sure also: there is no enlightenment apart from delusion and ignorance; no delusion and ignorance apart from enlightenment.

            Therefore, be on guard against thinking of enlightenment as a "thing" to be grasped at, lest it, too, should become an obstruction. When the mind that was in darkness becomes enlightened, it passes away, and with its passing, the thing which we call enlightenment passes also.

            As long as people desire enlightenment and grasp at it, it means that delusion is still with them; therefore, those who are following the way to enlightenment must not grasp at it, and if they reach enlightenment they must not linger in it.

            When people attain enlightenment in this sense, it means that everything is enlightenment itself as it is; therefore, people should follow the path to enlightenment until in their thoughts, worldly passions and enlightenment become identical as they are.

No Permanent Self

This I have heard:

31 All of the five elements of existence are transient. All are subject to impermanence and imperfection; and all are without a separate permanent identity. Material phenomena are transient, feelings and sensations are transient, perceptions are transient, mental activities are transient, consciousness is transient.

And of that which is transient and imperfect one cannot rightly say “This is mine alone; this I am; this is myself.”

Therefore, whatever there be of material phenomena, sensations and feelings, perceptions, mentation, or consciousness, whether past, present, or future, of oneself or external, gross or subtle, lofty or low, far or near, one should understand according to reality and truth, “this does not belong to me; this I am not; this is not my self”.

32  To say that the mind, or mental phenomena, or mental consciousness, constitute the self, is an unfounded assertion. For an arising and passing away is seen there; and seeing the arising and passing away of these things, one would come to the conclusion that one’s self arises and passes away.

It would be better for the neophyte to regard the body, formed from material phenomena, as the self, rather than the mind. For it is evident that the body may last for a year or two, or for three, four, five or ten years, or even for a hundred years and more; but that which is called thought, or mind, or consciousness, arises continuously during day and night as one thing, and passes away as another.

Therefore, whatsoever there is of material phenomena, of sensation and feeling, of perceptions, of mentation, of consciousness, whether past, present or future, this one should understand: “This does not belong to me; this I am not; this is not my self”.


At the End of Life

This I have heard:

33  Vacha, suppose a fire burning in front of you were to die out, and some one were to ask, “In which direction has that fire gone—east, or west, or north, or south?” What would you say, Vaccha?

The question would not fit the case, Gotama. For when that fuel has all gone and there is no more, the fire which depended on fuel of grass and wood, being without nutriment, is said to be extinguished. To say that the fire has gone east or west would not fit the case. To say that the fire has not gone east or west but gone north or south would not fit the case.

 In exactly the same way, Vaccha, all the modalities by which one could have predicated the existence of a good person who has died, at death all those modalities have been abandoned, uprooted, pulled out of the ground like a palmyra tree, and become non-existent and not liable to spring up again in the future. The good person, Vaccha, who has been released from what is styled the modality of existence, is unfathomable, like the mighty ocean. To say that the person is reborn would not fit the case. To say that he or she is not reborn would not fit the case. To say that the person is both reborn and is not reborn would not fit the case. To say that he or she is neither reborn nor not reborn would not fit the case.

34  I am now grown old, Ananda, and full of years; my journey is drawing to a close, I have reached the sum of my days, I am turning eighty years of age. Just as a worn-out cart can only with much difficulty be made to move along, so the body of the Tathagata can only be kept going with much additional care. It is only, Ananda, when the Tathagata, ceasing to attend to any outward being, becomes plunged in that devout meditation of the heart which is concerned with no bodily object that the body of the Tathagata is at ease.

35  Enough, Ananda, do not grieve, nor weep. Have I not already told you, Ananda, that it is in the very nature of all things near and dear to us that we must divide ourselves from them, leave them, sever ourselves from them? How is it possible, Ananda, that whatever has been born, has come into being, is organized and perishable, should not perish? That condition is not possible.

36  Therefore, Ananda, take the self as a lamp; take the self as a refuge. My friends, commit yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to your self as a refuge to the truth. Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves. Work out your own salvation with diligence.

      Copyright © Rex Pay 2000


The extracts rely on translations of Theravada Buddhism (the Doctrine of the Elders) from texts in Pali. These texts are extensive—perhaps twice as large as the Christian Bible. Furthermore, the oral tradition that sustained these teachings over 500 years depended heavily on repetition and formulaic question and answer. In transferring the text to the printed page, these features are not needed if one is simply seeking the ideas put forward by Gotama. The material presented here therefore represents a compression of the original text. Word changes to render a consistent text from a variety of translations mean that in many cases the text departs from the original translator's text or combines texts from different translators. Departures from original translations also occur because  the text has been put into the neuter gender, as the words of Gotama were addressed to all people. For the same reason, the indication has been removed that in many instances the words were addressed specifically to his group of followers, who became known as monks or nuns. It was of course these followers who passed on the teachings by word of mouth for centuries.

     The important term “dukkha” has been rendered as impermanence, imperfection, or suffering—separately or in combination— because several translators make the point that this broader meaning is more appropriate than a single word such as “misery” or “suffering” used in the many translations.

The following books were consulted.

The Teaching of Buddha. Bukkyo Yo Dendo Kyokai (Buddhist Promoting Foundation), Tokyo, 1986 (Four hundred & sixty eighth revised edition). The text is based on  a revised and compiled original Japanese edition of Newly Translated Buddhist Text published in 1925. A very readable rendering of Japanese Buddhist religion covering a broad scope. The English text has facing Japanese text and there is an excellent index.

The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, Edited by E. A. Burtt. Published by Mentor, an imprint of Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc. 1955. (Bibliography revised 1982). This relies on a variety of translation sources for a summary of  the religious aspects of Theravada Buddhism and its successor Mahayana Buddhism in India and of devotional and institutional Buddhism in China and Japan

A Buddhist Bible, by Dwight Goddard, Beacon Press, Boston, 1938. First published in 1932, revised in 1938 issued as a Beacon Paperback in 1970. Beacon Press Books are published under the auspices of the Unitarian Universalist Association. This is a broad ranging selection of translations from Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, and modern sources, with excellent references to the original source documents.

Buddhism, by Christmas Humphreys. Pelican Books: London, 1951. A very readable account of the main features of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism and other branches such as Tibetan and Zen Buddhism.

The Word of The Buddha, by Nyanatiloka, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Ceylon, 1967. This selection is a compact and highly useful reference, covering the essential points of Buddhist teachings in the Pali Theravada text.The author, Venerable Nyanatiloka, was the German Abbot of a monastery in Ceylon.

What The Buddha Taught, by Walpola Rahula. Grove Weidenfeld: New York, 1959. A modern exposition of Buddhist thought first published in 1959 and revised in 1974. Dr. Rahula was trained as a Buddhist monk in Ceylon, a recognized center for Theravada Buddhism, and subsequently studied Mahayana Buddhism in Calcutta.

Old Path White Clouds, by Thich Nat Hanh, translated by Mobi Ho. Parallax Press: Berkeley, California: 1991. The author, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, provides story of the life of Siddhartha Gautama. Skillfully written and translated, it relies primarily on the Pali Text, but supplements this with Chinese sources, and avoids inclusion of the many miracles used, as the author puts it,  “to embellish the Buddha’s life.

Buddhism in Translations, by Henry Clarke Warren. First published in 1896, republished as a college edition by Atheneum, New York, 1962. This volume of nearly 500 pages contains one of the most comprehensive translations of the Pali texts in paperback.

  Web Site

Buddhist Studies WWW Virtual Library, edited by Dr. T. Matthew Ciolek, et al.