"What the Buddha Taught" by Bethany Recto
Defining a new religious tradition to a person who has had no previous background can be very difficult to do in confines of a book. However, this is the aim of Walpola Rahula in his book What the Buddha Taught. In this book he is trying to describe the Buddhist tradition to an audience who has for the most part no idea what the religious tradition is about. He outlines the book in a careful manner as to lay the foundation of basics in order for the reader to understand more complex topics that come later in the book.
The book starts out with a very brief account to the Buddha's life and how the religious tradition started. After this breif introduction about the Buddha's life history, he goes on the briefly state the Buddhist attutudeof mind. This is important to the whole concept of Buddhism and important for the reader to understand the Buddhist worldview and where different doctrines come from. The main attitude of Buddhism is that man's position is supreme. That is, the traditional Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, claims no divind inspiration nor does he claim to be of divine nature. The Buddh says that all of his attainments and realizations are due to human endeavor and intelligence. There is no higher being than man according to Buddhism. This is important to start out with because this statement seperates Buddhism from most other religious traditions. Another attitud of mind that is important to Buddhism is that the whole problem that humans are dealing with in their life is directly related to suffering. People suffer because things are impermanent. The goal of Buddhism is to reach a point where there is no more suffering, this being called Nirvana.
After that attitude of mind in Buddhism is laid out, Rahula goes on to explain in the next few chapters, some of the most basic ideas of Buddhism. The goal in Buddhism is to reach Nirvana and the first step in doing this are to understand the four Noble Truths. These four Noble truths are Dukkha, Samudaya, Nirodha, and Magga. These Noble truths can be explained brefly as suffering, the arising of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path leading to the cessation of suffering, respectively. These are levels of understanding the people mush reach in order to realize Nirvana. One must understand that issue of suffering and why it arises. The only way to stop suffering is to know how it starts it and why it arises.
Rahula then goes on to a little more complicated of an idea. With these basics in mind, he talks about the doctrine of No-self, or Anatman. In the Buddhist tradition , there is not corresponding reality to what we call the self. He argues that humans make a concet of self and soul in order for the protection and safety of him/herself. 'In his ignorance, weakness, fear and desire, man needs these two things (soul and self) to console himself. He clings to them deeply and frantically ' (Rahula, 51). Buddhism says that this idea of a soul and the thing called self is realy empty and false. This idea may seem a little strange to the outsider trying to learn Buddhism, but for such a complicated topic, Rahula does a good job in relaying that idea to the person reading, and most likely making the person think.
After describing the doctrine of Anatman, Rahula goes on to explain some common meditational practices and practical applications of Buddhism. In order to reach Nirvana one must meditate to be enlightened by these Buddhist ideas, as meditation serves as a path to reach Nirvana. Finally, Rahula concludes the book with discussions about modern Buddhism and the way in which Buddhism has shaped the realm of religion particularly inthe Asian countries.
The chapter on No-self, or Anatman, is a really well presented topic. Rahula gets to the very core of a person by hitting on things that are the root of almost every human's psyche. He uses such word as ignorance, weakness, fear, and desire to reach the depths of the human mind. he also says that humans are clinging to the things deeply and frantically. These words are very attacking and will hit most people at soft spot. That is, that statement would offend most people because there is an inner striving within humans to be strong and self-sufficient. If a reader new to the tradition reads this and doesn't think anything good about it, then there is something wrong. The worlds may seem harsh, but this is Rahula's way of getting at the core of the human psyche. He does a good job at making people really think about the topic and making it really sink in. It is very useful method in conveying a topic that can be quite difficult.
It is very difficult to try to explain to a person without any background a new religious tradition within the confines of a 100-page book. However, Rahula does a job that makes it easier for the reader. He starts out with the basic frame of mind the basic beliefs. From there he goes on to tell things are more complex. By explaining the general attitude of mind and worldview of the Buddhist thinker, these more complex ideas can be better understood. He then goes on to explain the goal and practical implications of Buddhism in the modern world. The basic foundation is laid and then slowly the reader works his/her way up a stepladder of ideas until one can grab the general idea of Buddhism. The way he writes the Anatman chapter in particular is good for a new reader to understand the concept. His choice of words and phrasing reaches to the depths of the human, which is the goal when you are trying to explain a religious tradition with words.
Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. New York: Grove Press, Inc. 1959