Tuesday, 19 July 2016

A Unified View of Buddhist Teaching

When I first encountered Buddhism, I was euphoric to find the number of books available on the topic. There were bookshelves after bookshelves at the local bookstores. Just now, I did a search on Amazon, and it returned 197,008 items about Buddhism. I read several of them and found all of them helpful. But, in the process of reading all them,  I was also getting confused about the core message of Buddhism. Fortunately, I encountered teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and his approach helped me see the overall framework of Buddhist teachings. I was happy to discover that Buddha's teaching, contrary to my earlier impression, have a coherent structure,

What I found most comforting about Buddhism was the emphasis on the Four Noble Truths. Buddha's first teaching to his first five disciples, who were his erstwhile friends, was the Four Noble Truths. A long career spanning fifty years followed his first teaching; Lord Buddha was a prolific teacher. But he never veered from what he taught at his first sermon. That makes sense because the Four Noble Truths were the essence of Buddha's Enlightenment. And he set out to share that knowledge with the world. It would not have made sense to make changes to the ultimate wisdom he had already received.

It is important to all Buddhist practitioner to have a firm understanding of the framework, most importantly the Four Noble Truths. Without a good knowledge of this context, there is a danger that one may not gain all the benefits Buddhism has to offer. One may go to retreats here and there, attend classes on meditation, read books on compassion and so on. They are all good. But without the understanding where to locate those retreats, Dharma classes, and books on the framework, one's practice will remain incomplete.

I am an engineer by profession, and I learn by drawing pictures. I have created a diagram to depict the unified view of Buddhist practice.

The different bubbles on the map are not to be followed in sequence; rather one should be prepared to deal with several of them concurrently. For example, one may be working on the solution of one suffering while also analyzing another unrelated suffering.

You can download the original file http://thcal.us/sites/default/files/frarmework-of-buddhist-teaching.png.

Below is the outline of the information shown in the diagram. As I had mentioned earlier, the Four Noble Truths are the bedrock of Buddhist practice. One cannot claim to practice Buddhism without having the understanding of the Four Noble Truths.

The ordering of the Truths is scientific: We have the problem statement, its cause, the solution, and the path to the solution. First among the Four Noble Truths is the Truth of Suffering. One cannot make progress on the path without knowing his or her suffering first.

    1. The Truth of Suffering
      1. The Types of Suffering
      2. The Five Aggregates
    2. The Truth of Origin
      1. The 12 links of Dependent Origination, also known as the Law of Karma
    3. The Truth of Cessation
    4. The Truth of Path
      1. Ethics
        1. Balanced Speech
        2. Balanced Livelihood
        3. Balanced Action
      2. Meditation
        1. Balanced Effort
        2. Balanced Mindfulness
        3. Balanced Concentration
      3. Wisdom
        1. Balanced View
        2. Balanced Resolve
The members of the Eightfold Path are often called Right View, Right Resolve, etc. But I prefer to use the word Balanced instead of Right.
There is an enormous amount of text dealing with the Wisdom aspect of the Truth of the Path. The practitioner must keep in mind that alleviation of suffering is the ultimate goal. Keeping a keen eye on suffering also helps the practitioner gauge his or her practice. Every word of wisdom or advice must have a positive effect on the practitioner. If this information seems self-centered, please keep in mind that those who have achieved the highest level of compassion, suffer less, compared to those who have not.
If one feels that he or she has accumulated a large amount of wisdom and discovers that his or her suffering is not lessening, that person review the application of wisdom; there has to be something lacking in putting wisdom to practice. 


  1. What a balanced effort to summarise the Buddhism in a diagram, great.

  2. Thank you Rajesh ji for your kind words.