Making Sense Of Buddhism

Monk (Unattributed - photographer unknown)
Making Sense of Buddhism

Today there is no shortage of Buddhist primers.  Unfortunately, the historical Buddha (‘Awakened One’) never did write a line of doctrine, and much of what passes for ‘Buddhism’ today he never actually spoke. To make sense of the religion attributed to him requires a lot of digging…






Buddhist Primers

Buddhist Primers

Today there is no shortage of Buddhist primers. With just a few clicks of a mouse button one is able to access an abundance of freely available online resources (scriptures, commentaries, videos, etc.). Unfortunately, the historical Buddha (‘Awakened One’) never did write a line of doctrine, and much of what passes for ‘Buddhism’ today he never actually spoke.  To make sense of the religion attributed to him requires a lot of digging. My aim in writing this review is to facilitate that task a little.

Early Buddhism and the Pali Canon

The vast body of Buddhist literature that we know today as the Pali canon (see diagram below) has a core of sutta (sermon) texts: Digha Nikaya (“long collection”), Majjhima Nikaya (“middle-length collection”), Samyutta Nikaya (“grouped collection”), Anguttara Nikaya (“further-factored collection”). [1] I will follow scholarly convention and refer to this sutta material as the Early Buddhist Texts (EBTs). [2] Many scholars of Early Buddhism consider it possible that the EBTs contain some authentic sayings of the Buddha. Some scholars well acquainted with the Pali language go further, arguing that all of this material is stylistically consistent and alike enough to have originated from a common source – most likely the Buddha himself. [3]

Pali Canon - Mazard

Pali Canon I

Evolution of Buddhism

The religion of Buddhism started as an ancient oral tradition around the fifth century BCE. During the Buddha’s life and after his death, his teachings were memorised and recited by his disciples. The patronage of generations of many followers ensured that this oral knowledge was preserved and eventually written down. These facts enabled the religion of Buddhism to spread around the world, but these very same facts are often cited as reasons for disputing the authenticity of the EBTs. [4]; [5] Actually, there is good evidence that the oral tradition of the Early Buddhists was highly reliable. Repetitions of words, phrases, passages, numbered lists and various other methods were employed to ensure that the texts would be preserved in exact form, for example. Without trivializing the difficulties involved, scholarly application of new technologies has the potential to further clarify what is and is not authentic about the EBTs. [6]

Buddhism has evolved over millennia from an ancient localised cult to a modern world-wide religion.  Among scholars and practitioners there is no firm consensus on the dates and details, but I will nevertheless attempt a brief summary of this long and complicated process –

500 BCE: The First Council was convened in Rajagaha, India, shortly after the Buddhas death. The business of the First Council was to recite the entire body of the Buddha’s Dhamma. The recitation of the monastic rules became accepted as the Vinaya Pitaka; the recitation of the sermons became established as the Sutta Pitaka. [7]

400 BCE: The Second Council was convened in Vesali, around 100 years after the Buddha’s passing. At stake was whether or not the Suttas and the Vinaya should be accepted as the final authority on the Buddha’s teachings. [8] The first schism occurred within the Sangha (the community of the Buddha’s followers) and it marked the beginnings of what later evolved into Theravada Buddhism [9]; [10] and Mahayana Buddhism. [11]; [12]

250 BCE: The Third Council was convened by King Ashoka at Pataliputra, India. Disputes on points of doctrine led to further schisms and new sects. The Abhidhamma Pitaka (“higher Dhamma basket”) was recited at the Council, along with additional sections of the Khuddaka Nikaya (“collection of little texts”). The modern Pali canon or Tipitaka (“three baskets”) was essentially completed. [13]

The Fourth Council in 100 BCE was convened by King Vattagamani in Sri Lanka. Theravadin reciters and scribes from the Mahavihara (Great Monastery) of Anuradhapura wrote down the Pali Tipitaka for the first time, on palm leaves. [14]

Subsequent events in Sri-Lanka, Thailand and Burma resulted in a vast body of post-canonical Pali literature. [15] Mahayana Sanskrit teachings (sutras) were translated as they spread Northwards from India into the Himalayan kingdoms (Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal), Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea, Japan and other parts of Asia. [16] Ironically, Buddhism in India was on the decline from around 600 CE and virtually extinct by the end of the 19th century. Among the factors cited by historians as having contributed to this decline are: the loss of Ashoka’s lavish patronage, the increasing popularity of Brahmanism within the political and spiritual arena, a philosophical convergence with Hinduism and conquests by Muslim invaders. [17]

During the 20th century, the spread of communism resulted in a vigorous suppression of Buddhism in countries like China, Tibet, Mongolia, Vietnam and Cambodia. Nowadays, there is a resurgence in these countries. Buddhism is gaining popularity in Europe and the Americas and thriving in countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Korea and Japan. [18]; [19]

Contemporary Buddhism

The above historical events are largely responsible for the numerous different schools that characterise modern-day Buddhism.  Among scholars the convention is to adopt a convenient threefold classification of these schools according to the ideals and practices they each emphasise – Theravada (“Way of the Elders”), found mainly in south Asia and relying exclusively on the Pali canon texts for authority and inspiration; Mahayana (“Great Vehicle.”), found mainly in East Asia and embracing additional sutras outside the Pali canon; Vajrayana (“Diamond Vehicle”), an esoteric version of Mahayana found mainly in Tibet, Bhutan and Mongolia. [20]

Although Mahayana and Vajrayana schools are commonly thought of as close cousins, so to speak, their rules and doctrines are in fact largely derived from the EBTs, as of course are those within Theravada schools.  The three traditions each have ideals and practices in common. [21] Unfortunately, a comparative analysis of the three main schools soon uncovers unedifying historical arguments and assertions aimed at demonstrating the superiority Mahayana teachings over Theravada teachings, and visa versa. [22]; [23]

As one might expect, the reality is a lot more complicated than is suggested by the above classification.  Buddhism continues to evolve and draw converts.  The modern world-wide Sangha (Buddhist Community) includes popular newer movements such as Soka Gakkai, New Kadampa, and the Triratna Buddhist Order, for example. [24] There are also signs of an emerging Secular Buddhism founded on rationalist humanist ideals. [25] Buddhism today is a diverse religion with aspects that include science, philosophy, fundamentalism, devotional practices, supplication to local spirits, and various other rituals. [26]

Characteristics of Early Buddhism

Despite the brevity of my potted history of Buddhism, it should now be clear why among the plethora of Buddhist literature available it is the core canonical Pali scriptures that are most likely to tell us what the Buddha and his contemporaries who founded the religion actually thought and taught. Let us move on now to consider some of the findings of scholars and translators who have studied the EBTs in their original language.

Brass Buddha

Brass Buddha

The following four observations – taught by all Buddhist traditions – are attributable to the historical Buddha:

Impermanence (Anicca)
“The three kinds of feelings, O monks, are impermanent, compounded, dependently arisen, liable to destruction, to evanescence, to fading away, to cessation — namely, pleasant feeling, painful feeling, and neutral feeling.” [27] Happiness, unhappiness and calmness are temporary states experienced by rich and poor alike. These feelings arise and cease in accordance with the changing causal conditions upon which they are dependent (sensory contact, awareness, volition, etc.).

Suffering (Dukkha).
“Monks, there are these three kinds of suffering. What three? Suffering caused by pain, suffering caused by the formations (or conditioned existence), suffering due to change. It is for the full comprehension, clear understanding, ending and abandonment of these three forms of suffering that the Noble Eightfold Path is to be cultivated…”  [28] The Buddha did not teach that life is all suffering, but he recognised life’s pleasures as transient and tainted by a sense of unease, dissatisfaction or stress whenever attachment is involved. The early Buddhists believed they had experienced grief, ageing, sickness and death – the ‘fruits’ of their wilful actions or kamma (Skt. karma) – in previous lives and would so again in countless future lives. [29] The only way to put an end to this unsatisfactory cycle of endless death and rebirth (samsara) was to practice the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path – a rigorous spiritual discipline, intended to develop superior virtue, concentration and wisdom sufficient enough to overcome the attachments to worldly pleasures. [30]

Not-self (Anatta).
“Any kind of form… feeling… perception… determination… consciousness whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near, must with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine, this is not I, this is not myself.’ [31] The law of impermanence means there is no fixed or permanent nature, and nothing stable for an everlasting ‘soul’ or ‘essence’ to reside in. What most of us see a human being is actually a collection of aggregates or khandhas (matter, sensations, perceptions, volitional mental activity and states of conscious) in constant flux. The person we think we are is not the same as the person we thought we were a decade ago, a year ago or even ten minutes ago. Our mistake is to assume permanency where none exists; we become attached to shifting views of ‘self’ and this unskillful behaviour leads to suffering.

Enlightenment (Nibbana).
Enlightenment (Skt. nirvana) is permanent liberation from samsara but neither a doctrine of the everlasting soul (‘eternalism’) nor oblivion (‘annihilationism’). [32] In the Anguttara Nikaya the Buddha describes his own awakening thus: “This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Nibbana.” [33] We can infer from the Buddha’s responses to Vacchagotta’s questioning that he regarded the awakened experience as knowable (through practice of the Noble Eightfold Path) but indescribable to one whom had not awakened. [34]; [35] In other words, Enlightenment is beyond concepts. The awakened being is described metaphorically however as like a flame gone out – as warm embers in life and cold embers on dissolution of the body/mind, for example. [36] This is in stark contrast to the countless unenlightened beings who are said to be aflame with desires and fears and unable therefore to know true peace. [37]

I will now state some characteristics of Early Buddhism that are striking only in as much as one is unlikely to hear them being discussed seriously in the temples, centres and classes that are teaching Buddhism nowadays.

The Buddha believed in miracles.
“[T]here are these three miracles that I have declared, having directly known and realized them for myself. Which three? The miracle of psychic power, the miracle of telepathy, and the miracle of instruction.” [38] The miracle of psychic power was the ability to replicate oneself, to appear and disappear, to walk through walls and other solid matter, to walk on water, to fly through the air, to touch the sun and moon, and to influence events within the realms of the Gods. The miracle of telepathy was the ability to read the thought process of other individuals. The miracle of instruction was the ability to teach the dhamma (natural law / existential reality) rightly, giving conviction to listeners and inspiring them to abandon householder life for the holy life. [39]

The Buddha was critical of monks who profited from the ‘black arts’.
“[S]ome brahmans and contemplatives… maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such lowly arts as: reading marks on the limbs; reading omens and signs; interpreting celestial events; interpreting dreams; reading marks on the body… offering blood sacrifices… laying demons in a cemetery; placing spells on spirits; fortune telling based on visions; giving protective charms…” [40] These practices were regarded as ‘wrong livelihood’ presumably because they are imprecise, uncertain, and so likely to result in anxiety and unhappiness for all concerned. The  monks who refrained, on the other-hand, knowing that they were blameless, were blessed with the inner contentment of living rightly.

The Buddha believed he had lived many previous lives.
“I recollected my manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two…five, ten…fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, many eons of cosmic contraction, many eons of cosmic expansion, many eons of cosmic contraction and expansion: ‘There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.’ Thus I remembered my manifold past lives in their modes and details.” [41] There is tendency nowadays to regard the the Buddha’s concept of ‘rebirth’ as referring only to the arising and cessation of momentary mental states, [42] but while acknowledging his ability to teach expediently (upaya) I believe the most likely explanation for the above statement to be that the Buddha was saying it exactly as he saw it.

Buddha and Devas

Buddha and Devas

The Buddha believed in devas (supernatural beings).
“Monks, most of the devatas from ten world-systems have gathered in order to see the Tathagata and the Bhikkhu Sangha. Those who, in the past, were Pure Ones, Rightly Self-awakened, at most had their devata-gathering like mine at the present. Those who, in the future, will be Pure Ones, Rightly Self-awakened, will at most have their devata-gathering like mine at the present.” As Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu notes in his introduction to the Maha-samaya Sutta, it is a good introduction to the cosmology of Early Buddhism. [43] Of course, we will probably never know for certain if, in his ‘heart of hearts’, the Buddha truly believed in gods and ghosts. But like Richard Gombrich says, “He spoke about these categories of beings and did not demur when others spoke about them, even about interacting with them. The question of whether such beings exist is not among the ‘unanswered questions.'” [44]; [45]

The Buddha believed in hell and other-worldly realms.
“[M]onks, few are the beings who, on passing away from the human realm, are reborn among human beings. Far more are the beings who, on passing away from the human realm, are reborn in hell… the animal womb…  the domain of the hungry ghosts.” [46]  Such ideas were part of the Buddha’s rich cultural inheritance, as familiar to him as are ideas of inter-galactic space and the sub-atomic realm familiar to us today. I think the above quote most probably does therefore reflect the reality that the early Buddhists perceived. The issues of translator bias and establishment agendas certainly exist and are legitimate concerns, but to just point these out without examining what researchers in the field are saying neither disproves the textual evidence nor increases one’s understanding of the truth.

The Buddha did not claim omniscience.
“[T]hose things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven’t I taught them? Because they are not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. That is why I have not taught them.” [47] I agree with Dharmacari Nagapriya’s opinion that the Buddha is not claiming to be a “transcendental know-all”, he is claiming to have had insights into the real nature of experience and phenomena. [48] Disputes over how much the Buddha knew have arisen from confusion as to what ‘knowledge’ and ‘omniscience’ mean. Moreover, several incidents recorded in the Pali Canon would appear to deny the possibility of omniscience as is traditionally ascribed to him. [49]  The ‘Kannakatthala Sutta’, for example, quotes the Buddha thus: “‘There is no recluse or brahmin who knows all, who sees all, simultaneously; that is not possible.’” [50]

Early Buddhism was not a ‘science of mind’.
Statements about the compatibility of Buddhism and science only started to appear during the Victorian period, as Buddhism became fashionable in European intellectual circles and Buddhist thinkers in Asia defended themselves against the attacks of Christian missionaries.  [51] The ‘Kalama Sutta’ [52] is often cited as evidence that Buddhism is a rational and non-dogmatic religion, but I would say this is a modern reinterpretation that certainly cannot be ascribed to Early Buddhism.  The early Buddhists were ‘scientific’ in as much as they were empirical – that is to say, they tried to ground knowledge in experience and they had less regard for knowledge derived mainly or solely from a priori reasoning and authority. [53] But whereas modern scientists indulge in theorizing about mechanisms and suggesting hypothetical entities (and are thus able to offer many causal explanations for much of what we experience), the empirical attitude of the Early Buddhists led them to eschew “speculative views” and to concentrate instead on the practicalities of attaining nibbana. The Early Buddhists often cited the conditions necessary for certain effects to arise but they did not – could not – offer many causal explanations. [54] Moreover, in my opinion, the cosmological and soteriological beliefs of the Early Buddhists are likely neither to be validated by modern science nor appeal to a secular mindset.

The Buddha preached celibacy.
This fact is stated unequivocally by the Buddha’s lifelong attendant, Ananda, in his sermon to an ailing nun – “This body comes into being through sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse is to be abandoned. With regard to sexual intercourse, the Buddha declares the cutting off of the bridge.” [55] In other words celibacy was a prerequisite for anyone wishing to escape samsara, the endless cycle of death and rebirth. The Buddha was realistic enough not to expect his lay followers to abstain, but he nonetheless regarded all sexual activities as very bad form and especially so for the monks and nuns. [56]

The Buddha preached abstinence from luxuries, entertainments, and other ‘addictions’.
[A virtuous monk] “eats only once a day…and… abstains from dancing, singing, instrumental music, and from watching shows… from wearing garlands… scents and cosmetics… from [using] high and luxurious beds and seats… from accepting gold and money…” Again, these early monastic training rules were not normally extended to the laity. [57]

Not all traditional Buddhist practices were endorsed by the Buddha.
In the Gopaka Moggallana Sutta, Ananda makes it clear that the Buddha regarded five mental defilements (obstacles to enlightenment) as improper subjects for meditative absorption – “There is the case where a certain person dwells with his awareness overcome by sensual passion… ill will… sloth and drowsiness… restlessness and anxiety… uncertainty… This is the sort of mental absorption that the Blessed One did not praise.” [58] Moreover, the Buddha neither appointed lineage holders nor did he hold elections to select ecclesiastical heads – “There isn’t any one monk appointed by the Blessed One [or] authorized by the Sangha and appointed by a large body of elder monks [with the words] ‘He will be your arbitrator after I am gone…’” [59] Such practices did not feature in Early Buddhism but were developed by later schools.

The Buddha’s lay followers did not meditate.
Historically, meditation was seen as a speciality of renunciate monks and nuns who were determined to escape samsara. The religious obligations and aspirations of the laity typically were more modest; meditation was rarely taught to them, and their practice focused instead upon the cultivation of generosity (dana) and attainment of a favourable rebirth in one of the heavens. [60] Only since the 20th century has meditation been widely regarded as central to Buddhism and practiced by laypeople, and it is often taught as a form of stress reduction rather than liberation. [61]; [62] I would expect to find only a relatively small number of contemporary meditators practicing with the same urgency and purpose of the early monastics.


Pali Canon II

Pali Canon II

Although the Early Buddhist Texts (EBTs) most probably do contain some authentic words of the Buddha, much of what passes for Buddhism nowadays is unlikely to have been spoken by him. In saying that I am making no judgment about the superiority or otherwise of Early Buddhism when compared with later developments. As the Buddha himself might say, it is for each sincere practitioner to test the teachings of their chosen tradition by observing the absence or presence of mental stress.

The EBTs have long challenged people’s idealistic expectations and assumptions about the Buddha and his disciples. They paint a vivid picture of a bustling, religiously diverse ancient world with a leading cast of monastic superheros able to perform miracles and converse with gods, ghosts, animals and demons. Early Buddhism was never rational or scientific in the way that we understand these terms to mean today; the ‘magical thinking’ of the Buddha and his contemporaries does not sit comfortably with the findings of modern science. Nevertheless, the EBTs are historical evidence and they give perspective to later developments within the religion.

If we acquaint ourselves with the EBTs (or reliable translations of) we can be reasonably confident in our knowledge of the historical Buddha and his contemporaries, how they thought and lived around 600-500 BCE. The ancient suttas are not a verbatim record of the Buddha’s utterances, however it is in the details of editing and arrangement and not in doctrine or substance where research has uncovered the most obvious changes. [63] Arguments to the effect that the Buddha’s original message has been lost in translation hold little water unless those making them are actually able read the Pali texts in their original language. [64] And it is unreasonable, in my opinion, for anyone to dismiss primary source material as inferior, irrelevant or contrary to the established orthodoxies (traditional and secular) within contemporary Buddhism.  In fact, I would like to see more being done by academia and Buddhist clergy world-wide to encourage study of the Pali scriptures and to guarantee the reliability of translations.


Notes & References

[1]  ‘Problems of “Canon” & “Reason” in Theravada Studies: Cultural Anthropology Encounters the Pali Canon (巴利文大藏經), From Cambodia to Yunnan’ by Eisel Mazard, a bas le ciel (blog), 4 March 2014. Accessed 11 March 2015. (Part 6)

[2] Although the EBTs might reasonably be thought to contain additional canonical material, as Eisel Mazard points out it is a matter of some debate. Ibid.

[3] ‘The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts’, Supplement to the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies Volume 5′ by Bhikkhu Sujato & Bhikkhu Brahmali, November 2013. PDF version accessed 11 March 2015. (p. 4)

[4] Ibid. (p. 145-150.)

[5] As illustrated by this quote from the blog of Vexen Crabtree: “Everything we know about the religion comes from fallible human sources, and, the earliest collections of writings on the religion have profoundly contradicted each other… The founders of major sects are given much credibility and all of this lasts on one big claim: that the teacher passes on the religion as he himself received it. But this model never works. In all instances, Buddhist doctrine and practice vary greatly.” – ‘Criticisms of Buddhism: Its History, Doctrine and Common Practices’ by Vexen Crabtree, 2011. Human Religions.Info. Accessed 20 March 2015.

[6] ‘The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts’ by Bhikkhu Sujato & Bhikkhu Brahmali. (pp. 50-52 and 149.)

[7] ‘Theravada Buddhism: A Chronology’, Access to Insight (Legacy Edition). 30 November 2013. Accessed 11 March 2015.

[8] Ibid.

[9] According to most scholars, the root schism was between the Sthaviras and the Mahasanghikas; the Sthaviras gave rise to several schools, one of which was the Theravada school. ‘Buddhism’, Wikipedia. Last modified 28 February 2015. Accessed  14 March 2015.
< >

[10] See also ‘Theravada’, Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 2015. Accessed 14 March 2015.

[11] The earliest textual evidence of ‘Mahayana’ comes from Sanskrit sutras originating around the beginning of the common era – ‘Mahayana’, Wikipedia. Last modified 2 February 2015. Accessed 11 March 2015.

[12] See also ‘Mahayana’, Encyclopedia Britannica Online,  2015. Accessed 14 March 2015.

[13] ‘Theravada Buddhism: A Chronology’, Access to Insight (Legacy Edition).

[14] Ibid.

[15] ‘Beyond the Tipitaka: A Field Guide to Post-canonical Pali Literature’, edited by Access to Insight. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition). 1 December 2013. Accessed 11 March 2015.

[16] ‘Mahayana’, Wikipedia.

[17] ‘Decline of Buddhism in India’, Wikipedia. Last modified 12 February 2015. Accessed 11 March 2015.<>

[18] ‘The Spread Of Buddhism’, Budhhist Society, 2015. Accessed 11 March 2015. <>

[19] See also ‘Expansion of Buddhism’, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015. Accessed 14 March 2015. <>

[20] ‘The Major Systems and Their Literature’, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015. Accessed 14 March 2015.
(Esoteric & Vajrayana)

[21] It is widely understood, for example, that the bodhisattva ideal is a distinctly Mahayana invention and central to Vajrayana also. However, the bodhisattva ideal also appears in Pali canonical literature and is recognized within Theravada circles as a legitimate aspiration – “For the Theravadins, the life story of Gautama Buddha, and his bodhisattva career, serves as the best example of sacrificing one’s own enlightenment to save others… the Cariyapitaka is a Bodhisattva-Pitaka in the Theravada Tripitaka.” – ‘The Bodhisattva Ideal of Theravada’ by Shanta Ratnayaka in The Journal Of The International Association Of Buddhist Studies: Vol 8 No 2, 1985. PDF Version accessed 12 March 2015.  (pp. 88-89.)

[22] Ibid. (pp.105-106.)

[23] See also ‘Mahayana versus Theravada’ by Dr. W. Rahula, Wisdom Quarterly: American Buddhist Journal, 2008. Accessed 20 March 2015.

[24] Whilst concerned primarily with the situation in Britain, worth reading nonetheless for its comprehensive account of the origins, development and characteristics of these newer developments (and several of the more traditional Buddhist schools) is British Buddhism: Teachings, Practice and Development by Robert Bluck, Routledge, 2006. PDF version accessed 15 March 2015 (A Handful of Leaves>Library>Indigenous Buddhism)

[25] ‘Secular Buddhism’, Wikipedia. Last modified 20 February 2015. Accessed 13 March 2015.

[26] ‘Buddhism and Science’, Wikipedia. Last modified 26 February 2015. Accessed 12 March 2015.<>

[27] ‘Anicca Sutta: Impermanent’ (SN 36.9), translated from the Pali by Nyanaponika Thera. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 June 2010. Accessed 12 March 2015. <>

[28] ‘Dukkhata Sutta: Suffering’ (SN 45.165), translated from the Pali by Maurice O’Connell Walshe. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. <>

[29] ‘Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta: The Shorter Exposition of Kamma’ (MN 135), translated from the Pali by Ñanamoli Thera. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. Accessed 15 March 2014.<>

[30] ‘Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion’ (SN 56.11), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. Accessed 15 March 2014.<>

[31] ‘Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic’ (SN 22.59), translated from the Pali by Nanamoli Thera. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 13 June 2010. Accessed 12 March 2015. <>

[32] ‘Kaccaayanagotto Sutta: Kaccaayana’ (SN 12.15), translated from the Pali by Maurice O’Connell Walshe. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. Accessed 12 March 2015. <>]

[33] ‘Nibbana: nibbana’, edited by Access to Insight. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. Accessed 12 March 2015.
< >

[34] ‘Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire’ (MN 72), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. Accessed 12 March 2015.<>

[35] See also ‘Early Buddhism: Some Recent Misconceptions’ by Henry Cruise, ‘Philosophy East and West
Volume 33 No.2, April, 1983 (pp. 162-164). Website version accessed 12 March 2015.

[36] ‘Nibbana’, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 8 March 2011. Accessed 12 March 2015. <>

[37] ‘Adittapariyaya Sutta: The Fire Sermon’ (SN 35.28), translated from the Pali by Nanamoli Thera. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 13 June 2010. Accessed 12 March 2015.<>

[38] ‘Kevatta (Kevaddha) Sutta: To Kevatta’ (DN 11), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. Accessed 12 March 2015.<>

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] ‘Maha-Saccaka Sutta: The Longer Discourse to Saccaka’ (MN 36), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. Accessed 12 March 2015. <>

[42] See for example the paragraphs headed ‘Birth’, ‘Death’ and ‘Life’ in ‘Two Kinds Of Language’ by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. DhammaTalks.Net. Accessed 15 March 2015.<>

[43] ‘Maha-samaya Sutta: The Great Meeting’ (DN 20), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. Accessed 12 March 2015.<>

[44] What The Buddha Thought by Richard Gommbrich, Equinox, 2009. (pp. 72-73.)

[45] ‘Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire’ (MN 72).

[46] ‘Pansu Suttas: Dust’ (SN 56.102-113)’, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 10 December 2011. Accessed 15 March 2015.

[47] ‘Simsapa Sutta: The Simsapa Leaves” (SN 56.31), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. Accessed 21 March 2015.

[48] ‘Was the Buddha Omnicient?’ by Dharmacari Nagapriya, Western Buddhist Review: Vol 4. Accessed 21 March 2015.

[49] Ibid.

[50] ‘Kaṇṇakatthala Sutta – At Kaṇṇakatthala’ (MN 90), Translated by Bhikkhu Naṇamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi, 1995, and published in Yellow Robe (website). Accessed 21 March 2015.<>

[51] ‘The Scientific Buddha: Why do we ask that Buddhism be compatible with science?’ by Donald S. Lopez Jr., Tricycle Magazine, Winter 2012 (website version accessed 12 March 2015.

[52] When members of the Kalama clan asked skeptically whose teachings should they believe, the Buddha famously replied: “When there are reasons for doubt, uncertainty is born. So in this case… don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted and carried out, lead to harm and to suffering’ – then you should abandon them.” – ‘Kalama Sutta: To the Kalamas’ (AN 3.65), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. Accessed 12 March 2015.

[53] ‘Early Buddhism: Some Recent Misconceptions’ by Henry Cruise. (p. 156.)

[54] Ibid.

[55] ‘Bhikkhuni Sutta: The Nun’ (AN 4.159), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. Accessed 12 March 2015 <>

[56] I believe this quote from the Suttavibhanga (“rule analysis”) most likely does illustrate the Buddha’s attitude to sex – “Better for you, foolish man, that your male organ should enter a charcoal pit, burning, ablaze, afire, than that it should enter a woman… For that reason, foolish man, you would go to death, or to suffering like unto death, but not on that account would you pass at the breaking up of the body after death to the waste, the bad born, the abyss, hell. But for this reason, foolish man, at the breaking up of the body after death, you would pass to the waste, the bad born, the abyss, hell… it is to the detriment of both unbelievers and believers, and it causes wavering in some.” – ‘Suttavibhanga: Parajika (“Defeat”)’, as translated by I. B. Horner, M.A. and published for the Pali Text Society by Luzac and Co Ltd, 1949. (pp. 36-37.) <>

[57] ‘Samannaphala Sutta: The Fruits of the Contemplative Life’ (DN 2), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. Accessed 23 March 2015.

[58] ‘Gopaka Moggallana Sutta: Moggallana the Guardsman’ (MN 108), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013. Accessed 12 March 2015. <>

[59] Ibid.

[60] ‘10 Misconceptions about Buddhism’ by Robert E. Buswell Jr. and Donald S. Lopez Jr., Tricycle Magazine, November 18, 2013. Website version accessed 12 March 2015. (Misconception 1)

[61] Ibid.

[62] See also ‘Anathapindikovada Sutta: Advice to A Dying Man’ (MN 143), translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 2 November  2013. Accessed 23 March 2015.

[63] ‘The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts’ by Bhikkhu Sujato & Bhikkhu Brahmali. (p. 10)

[64] While firmly of the opinion that the EBTs do tell us what the Buddha taught, Eisel Mazard offers this cautionary note to those of us who rely upon translations: “Although I sympathize with the general complaint that European interpreters have been biased and have misrepresented the canon…  my response to this problem has been to study the ancient primary sources in their original language myself (i.e., I taught myself to read Pali, 巴利语); this overcomes the bias of secondary sources and enables me to challenge established assumptions when I differ from them.” –  ‘Problems of “Canon” & “Reason” in Theravada Studies’ by Eisel Mazard. (Part 3)

Image Credits

‘Theravada Monk’ (thumbnail) – photographer unknown.

‘Buddhist Primers’ – PJL 2015.

‘Pali Canon I’ – Eisel Mazard.

‘Brass Buddha’ – PJL 2014.

‘Buddha and Devas’ – artist unknown.

‘Pali Canon II’ – Encyclopedia Britannica.



One thought on “Making Sense Of Buddhism

  1. Pingback: Does Buddhism Have A Future? | Trusting in Buddha

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *