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Basics of Buddhism

This material was originally compiled by Satipañña Insight Meditation Toronto for the Dharma Study Program.

Note: This material was gathered from translations of the suttas, Access to Insight and other Buddhist websites, and many other sources. Satipañña Insight Meditation Toronto would like to express its sincere and deepest gratitude to all those who made this booklet possible. May it inspire us to delve deeper into the Buddha’s Dhamma.

May all beings find Peace!

The Refuges and Precepts

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma-sambuddhassa

The Three Refuges

Buddham saranam gacchami
I take refuge in Buddha.
Dhammam saranam gacchami
I take refuge in Dhamma.
Sangham saranam gacchami
I take refuge in Sangha.

Dutiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami
For a second time, I take refuge in Buddha.
Dutiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami
For a second time, I take refuge in Dhamma.
Dutiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami
For a second time, I take refuge in Sangha.

Tatiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami
For a third time, I take refuge in Buddha.
Tatiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami
For a third time, I take refuge in Dhamma.
Tatiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami
For a third time, I take refuge in Sangha.

The Five Precepts

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from causing harm to living beings.

2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.

3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.

4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.

5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

The Three Resolutions
  • To do good.
  • To avoid evil.
  • To purify the mind.
The Four Noble Truths
  • Unsatisfactoriness (suffering) exists.
  • Unsatisfactoriness arises from attachment to desire.
  • Unsatisfactoriness ceases when attachment to desire ceases.
  • Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path.
Actualizing the path:
  • Suffering is to be understood.
  • Its causes are to be abandoned.
  • Freedom from suffering is to be realized.
  • The path is to be developed.
The Three Characteristics of Existence
  • Impermanence (anicca) — all conditioned phenomena are inconstant, unreliable
  • Suffering/Unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) — due to our tenacious desire for pleasure
  • No-self (anatta) — there is no fixed self in our experience
Factorial Analysis of the Noble Eightfold Path

Right view (Right understanding)

  • understanding suffering
  • understanding its origin
  • understanding its cessation
  • understanding the way leading to its cessation

Right intention

  • intention of renunciation
  • intention of good will
  • intention of harmlessness

Right speech

  • abstaining from false speech
  • abstaining from slanderous speech
  • abstaining from harsh speech
  • abstaining from idle chatter

Right action

  • abstaining from taking life
  • abstaining from stealing
  • abstaining from sexual misconduct

Right livelihood

  • abandon wrong livelihood
  • earn one’s living by a right form of livelihood

Right effort

  • the effort to restrain unwholesome states of mind from arising
  • the effort to abandon unwholesome states that have arisen
  • the effort to give rise to wholesome states (Brahma-viharas)
  • the effort to sustain wholesome states

Right mindfulness

  • mindful contemplation of the body
  • mindful contemplation of feelings/sensations
  • mindful contemplation of the mind/mental objects
  • mindful contemplation of phenomena (dhammas)

Right concentration (Keeping the mind on the object of meditation)

  • the first jhana (Delight)
  • the second jhana (Joy)
  • the third jhana (Peace)
  • the fourth jhana (Equanimity)
The Seven Sets

(This set of seven form the core teachings of the Buddha)

1. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness:

  1. Mindfulness of the body.
  2. Mindfulness of feelings (affective tone: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings).
  3. Mindfulness of mental objects (thinking, ordinary and higher states of mind).
  4. Mindfulness of the dhammas (the hindrances, the khandhas, the sense spheres, the awakening factors, and the four noble truths).

2. The Four Right Endeavors:

  1. To prevent the arising of un-arisen unwholesome states.
  2. To abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen.
  3. To arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen.
  4. To maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen.

3. The Four Bases for Power:

  1. Chanda — will or aspiration, satisfaction, and joy in learning.
  2. Virya — diligent energy, cultivating the effort and exertion required.
  3. Citta — attending wholeheartedly to learning with active thoughtfulness.
  4. Vimamsa — investigation and examination, reasoning, and testing for oneself the material being learned.

4. The Five Spiritual Faculties*:

  1. Confidence
  2. Energy
  3. Mindfulness
  4. Concentration
  5. Wisdom

5. The Five Spiritual Powers:

  1. Confidence
  2. Energy
  3. Mindfulness
  4. Concentration
  5. Wisdom

6. The Seven Factors of Enlightenment:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Investigation
  3. Energy
  4. Rapturous Joy
  5. Tranquility/Serenity
  6. Concentration
  7. Equanimity

7 . The Noble Eightfold Path:

  1. Right view (Right understanding)
  2. Right intention
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

*Note: The five spiritual faculties (indriya) become the five spiritual powers (bala) when they become unshakable, with this particular aspect distinguishing them from the corresponding five spiritual faculties. The five spiritual powers are unshakable by their opposites: (1) the power of confidence is unshakable by doubt; (2) energy, by laziness; (3) mindfulness, by forgetfulness; (4) concentration, by distractedness; and (5) wisdom, by delusion.

The Four Boundless States

The Four Boundless States (also called the four Brahma-viharas or the Four Boundless Abodes) are considered friends on the way to Nirvana. They help to dissolve the idea of a separate self. They are:

  1. Loving-kindness
  2. Compassion
  3. Sympathetic Joy
  4. Equanimity

The ‘near enemy’ is a quality that can masquerade as the original, but is not the original. The ‘far enemy’ is the clearly opposite quality. The boundless state serves as an antidote for the quality mentioned as the far enemy.

Pali English Description Near Enemy Far Enemy
metta loving- kindness good-will, friendship, unconditional love for all beings selfish love,
love with attachment
karuna compassion empathy, to feel with someone instead of for someone pity cruelty
mudita sympathetic joy spontaneous joy in response to another’s success hypocrisy envy
upekkha equanimity even-mindedness based on insight into the nature of things indifference anxiety
The Ten Perfections (Paramis)
  • Generosity (dana)
  • Morality (sila)
  • Renunciation (nekkhamma)
  • Wisdom (panna)
  • Energy (viriya)
  • Patience (khanti)
  • Truthfulness (sacca)
  • Resolution (adhitthana)
  • Loving-kindness (metta)
  • Equanimity (upekkha)
The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination

There is no existing phenomenon that is not the effect of dependent origination. All phenomena arise dependent upon a number of causal factors, called conditions. The basic principle of dependent origination is simplicity itself. The Buddha described it by saying:

When there is this, that is.
With the arising of this, that arises.
When this is not, neither is that.
With the cessation of this, that ceases.

Dependent origination is essentially and primarily a teaching to understand suffering and the cessation of suffering. The twelve links of dependent origination provide a detailed description of the causes of suffering and rebirth. They are:

  1. Ignorance is the condition for mental formations.
  2. Mental formations are the conditions for consciousness.
  3. Consciousness is the condition for name and form.
  4. Name and form are the conditions for the six senses.
  5. The six senses are the conditions for contact.
  6. Contact is the condition for feeling.
  7. Feeling (sensation) is the condition for craving.
  8. Craving is the condition for clinging.
  9. Clinging is the condition for becoming.
  10. Becoming is the condition for birth.
  11. Birth is the condition for aging and death.
  12. Aging and death are the conditions for ignorance.

All twelve links are interrelated and dependent on each other; thus, there is no beginning or ending point. They are cyclic phenomena. Each link is a cause on the one hand, and an effect on the other.

Ignorance: Ignorance means the lack of right understanding. One is ignorant and takes oneself as real, independent, and a permanent entity or “I.” We do not understand who and what we are or what the universe is. Right understanding allows us to live in accordance with the way things are. Then one can live harmoniously. Ignorance is the condition for mental formations.

Mental Formations: Mental formations arise from ignorance. Mental impurities (the result of past actions of body, speech, and mind) give rise to habitual actions in the present life, which conform to the patterns established in the past (karma). This is why some people are born into more fortunate conditions than others. Mental formations are the conditions for consciousness.

Consciousness: Consciousness arises from mental formations. Literally, it means perceiving, comprehending, recognizing, differentiating, etc. Usually it is interpreted to be our mind. Consciousness is the condition for name and form.

Name and Form: Name and form arise from consciousness. They are the combination of mentality and corporeality (mind and body). Name and form refer to the Five Aggregates (i.e., form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness). Name and form are the conditions for the six senses.

The Six Senses: The six senses arise from name and form. They are eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Through these six organs contact with external objects is possible. The six senses are the conditions for contact.

Contact: Contact arises from the six senses. It is the experience created by the six senses, sense objects, and consciousness. Therefore contact is the condition for feeling. Without contact, there is no feeling. Suffering is dependent upon contact because it gives rise to feeling.

Feeling: Feeling arises from contact. It is the affective tone. There are three kinds of feelings, namely: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Feeling is the condition for craving.

Craving: Craving arises from  feeling. Craving is sensuous desire, the pursuit of pleasure, and the identification with attachment to gain and the fear of loss. Craving is the condition for clinging.

Clinging: Clinging arises from craving. Clinging is an attachment to objects. We have the desire to keep something, to possess it permanently. However, all phenomena are impermanent. Therefore we are bound to suffer because of our ignorance. Clinging is the condition for becoming.

Becoming: Becoming arises from clinging/grasping. Becoming means to give birth, create, and exist. Because of attachment to phenomena we assume that there is a self. However, this ‘self’ is conditioned and impermanent. Becoming is the condition for birth.

Birth: Birth arises from becoming. Birth refers to either physical birth or the moment-to-moment arising of renewed consciousness. Birth is the condition for old age and death.

Old Age and Death: Old age and death arise out of birth. Death is one of the greatest afflictions and fears of the untrained, undisciplined worldling. Aging and death are the conditions for ignorance.

The Life of the Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama was born in the sixth century BCE in what is now Nepal. His father, Suddhodana, was the ruler of the Sakya people. Siddhartha grew up living the extravagant life of a young prince. Tradition tells us that Suddhodana had feared that the prince might leave the palace to take up the life of a religious wanderer. So he arranged for his son to be sheltered from all the harsh realities of life. When the prince reached the age of sixteen, Suddhodana arranged for him to be married to his cousin, a charming princess named Yasodhara.

One day, however, Siddhartha ventured out into the world and was confronted with the inevitability of aging, illness, and death. Overcome by dismay, the young prince wondered if there might be a happiness that was not subject to change and decay. Then, seeing a forest wanderer, he decided that only by taking up the life of a spiritual seeker could he find the answer to his question. That night, at the age of twenty-nine, he left his kingdom and newborn son and entered the wilderness.

For six years, Siddhartha submitted himself to rigorous ascetic practices. First he studied with different religious teachers, but, dissatisfied with what they saw as being their highest goal, he set out to practice extreme physical austerities on his own. Yet even through such self-denial, he did not reach his goal. Then one day he remembered a state of calm mental absorption that he had experienced while sitting under a tree as a child, and realized that only through such a state of calm could liberation be found. And yet the strength of that calm could not be reached when the body was weak from practicing austerities. The path to true happiness required balance—or the middle way—rather than the extremes of self-indulgence or self-denial. So on that day he ended his severe austerities and accepted a gift of rice-milk offered to him by a young woman.

That night Siddhartha sat under the bodhi tree and meditated until dawn. In the first watch of the night he remembered his past lives; in the second watch, around midnight, he saw how beings die and are reborn through the power of their karma, which in turn was shaped by the skilfulness of their intentions; in the third watch, toward dawn, he purified his mind of all cravings, attachments, and defilements, and finally of all intentions, both skilful and not. With that, he attained awakening at the age of thirty-five, thus earning the title of Buddha, or “Awakened One.”

For the remainder of his life, the Buddha taught the dharma to others: men, women, and children; rich and poor; people from all walks of life and all levels of society—so that they, too, might attain awakening. He established a sangha, or community of monks and nuns, to maintain his teachings after his death. Then, one full-moon night in May when he had reached the age of eighty, he lay down between two trees in a forest park and gave his last teachings to the assembled followers, counseling them to be heedful in completing their practice of the dharma. With that, he entered total Nirvana .

And when the Buddha had passed away, Sakka, the chief of the deities, uttered the following:

Impermanent are all conditioned things,
They arise and cease, that is their nature.

They come into being and pass away.

Release from them is bliss supreme.

The Five Subjects for Daily Recollection

There are other recollections which one can make and which help one to understand the human condition. People tend to be in denial about decay, disease, and death while remaining greatly attached to sentient beings and insentient objects. Some people try also to neglect moral responsibility for their actions. The recollections below bring these subjects to light and make us face them squarely. Thus, the Buddha has said we should reflect daily upon these five recollections.

  1. I am of the nature to age.
    I have not gone beyond aging.
  2. I am of the nature to sicken.
    I have not gone beyond sickness.
  3. I am of the nature to die.
    I have not gone beyond dying.
  4. All that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will become otherwise, will become separated from me.
  5. I am the owner of my karma,
    Heir to my karma,
    Born of my karma,
    Related to my karma,
    Abide supported by my karma.
    Whatever karma I shall do, for good or for ill, of that I will be the heir.

Reading List

Introduction to Practice

“Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana
“Eight Mindful Steps To Happiness” by Bhante Gunaratana
“The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering” by Bhikkhu Bodhi
“Insight Meditation” by Joseph Goldstein
“Lovingkindness” by Sharon Salzberg
“Seeking the Heart of Wisdom” by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield

The Life of The Buddha

“Old Path White Clouds” by Thich Nhat Hanh

Dharma Study

“What the Buddha Taught” by Walpola Rahula
“Basic Teachings of the Buddha” by Glenn Wallis
“Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana
“Satipatthana” by Analayo
“On The Path To Freedom” by Sayadaw U Pandita
“The Dhammapada” with commentary by Glenn Wallis
“In the Buddha’s Words” edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi
“The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha” translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi
“Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening” by Joseph Goldstein
“Parami: Ways to Cross Life’s Floods” by Ajahn Sucitto
“Turning the Wheel of Truth: Commentary on the Buddha’s First Teaching” by Ajahn Sucitto


“Lotus in the Fire” by Jim Bedard
“Who Is My Self?” by Ayya Khema
“Landscapes of Wonder” by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano
“The Stillness of Being” by Viradhammo Bhikkhu
“Gone Forth, Going Beyond” by Ayya Medhanandi
“Food for the Heart” by Ajahn Chah

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