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Buddha’s Teaching As It Is – Bhikkhu Bodhi

PowerPoint presentation on Bhikkhu Bodhi’s recorded lectures on

‘Buddha’s Teaching As It Is’.
Materials for the presentation are taken from the recorded
lectures (MP3) posted at the website of Bodhi Monastery and the
notes of the lectures posted at

Originally prepared to accompany the playing of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s

recorded lectures on ‘Buddha’s Teaching As It is’ in the Dharma Study
Class at PUTOSI Temple, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.
This series of weekly study begins in November, 2010.
Bhikkhu Bodhi
Lecture 9
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato
Is Renouncing the World the Only Way?
In the past, Buddhism has often been viewed as an exclusively
other-worldly religion, a doctrine directed solely to a
transcendental goal without any concern for this world other
than its abandonment. It is held by some writers that the only
authentic way to follow the teaching of the Buddha is to
renounce the world, become a monk, and retire to a forest in
order to practice meditation. In the view of these writers
Buddha does not offer any teaching that is of relevance to a
person in the world for resolving difficulties of the social,
economic and political life.
Theravada Buddhism in particular, has been depicted in this
distorted way, as a teaching of other-worldly nature, as an
austere monastic code which encourages each individual’s
private pursuit of his/her own salvation.
Is renouncing the World the Only Way?
All these charges involve serious misunderstandings and
misrepresentations. At the outset, we have to stress that the
ultimate aim of the Buddha's teaching underline the
transcending of the world. On this point there can be no
hedging or compromise, nor is there any need for apologetics.
The ultimate aim of the Dhamma is liberation from the realm
of birth and death, deliverance from samsara – impermanent,
suffering, without a substantial basis. Though the Buddha
teaches that the transcendence of the world is the ultimate
goal, he treats this goal in relation to the totality of human life
in all its manifold aspects. Every aspect of human life is
connected to the other aspects. No aspect can be treated in
isolation from the whole. Life in the world is not opposed or
unrelated to our spiritual quest. Life can become part of the
path which leads to achievement of deliverance.
Dhamma for the Ordained and Laity
The Dhamma has two dimensions, a dimension of depth and a
dimension of breadth. In its dimension of depth, the Dhamma
leads to the overcoming of the world. But in its dimension of
breadth, it embraces all facets of human existence and shows
how all these different sides of human life can be
transformed, elevated and ennobled, and finally absorbed
into the comprehensive path leading to liberation.
The life of Buddha illustrates important lessons. The quest for
enlightenment has priority over all mundane social and
political claims. It is the paramount duty of a man to seek and
achieve his own freedom. After he attained enlightenment,
the Buddha came back into the world to teach and proclaim
the doctrines, to show the way to happiness.
Dhamma for the Ordained and Laity
In the course of his teaching mission, the Buddha associated
with people from all walks of life. In his own words he said
"Very often I dwell surrounded by monks and nuns, by laymen
and laywomen, kings and princes, businessmen and
merchants, brahmins and recluses.“ He lived and worked for
the welfare and happiness of many folks, for the compassion
of the entire world.
Further the Buddha says: "If my teaching could only be
practiced by monks and nuns but could not be practiced by
laymen and laywomen, then my teaching would be defective
in these two respects, it would be an imperfect doctrine." But
then he adds: "My doctrine can be practiced by monks, by
nuns, by laymen and laywomen, therefore it is a completely
perfect and pure doctrine.”
Threefold Benefits of the Teaching
The teaching of the Buddha is traditionally said to lead to three
types of benefits:
1. the benefits in this present life;
2. the benefits in future lives; and
3. the ultimate good of human existence.

The benefits in the present life are personal well-being,

happiness and peace of mind right here and now, and
economic, political and social justice; to conduce to friendly
and harmonious relations between people.
Threefold Benefits of the Teaching
The Dhamma conduces to future benefits because it shows us
the way we can cultivate our kamma, our actions in body,
speech and mind, while we are in samsara so that we will be
able to advance to our future lives taking favourable forms of
rebirth, forms which will aid us in our quest for final
The highest benefit is final deliverance, liberation from
The emphasis on one or the other, especially the last of these
benefits to the exclusion of the others leads to the distortions
and misunderstandings referred to earlier. The aspects on
present and future benefits are essential to the total structure
of the teaching, they form the basis for the attainment of the
ultimate aim.
Material Wellbeing – Foundation
The Buddha’s teaching leads to benefits here and now, to
material and social well-being. All the benefits from the
teaching are set out in graded order. Material and social well-
being is not the final goal of the Buddha's teaching. The final
and highest goal is the attainment of Nibbana.
From the Buddhist perspective, seeking material or economic
welfare alone degrades human life to the level of animal life.
To become concerned only with eating, sleeping, reproducing,
gaining pleasures, living, comfort, etc., is to degrade the
potential value of human life.
Material Wellbeing – Foundation
Therefore, the Buddha teaches that the economic and social
stability that come from the application of this teaching
should serve as the foundation for higher spiritual
development – moral, spiritual and intellectual spheres.
Though economic and social benefits are of secondary value,
they are nevertheless important for the practice of the path.
In order to practice the Dhamma properly, a secure material
foundation, a peaceful and beneficent government, and a free
society are required.
Therefore material well-being and the pursuit of the spiritual
goal are mutually supportive.
For the Good of Oneself and Others
Although Theravada Buddhism is often portrayed as a self-
centered doctrine, the Buddha teaches that there are two
types of good that we have to take into account, one's own
good and the good of others. He says that there are four
types of people:
1. There is the person concerned with neither his own good
nor the good of others. This is the worst of the four types.
2. The person concerned with the good of others but not with
his own good.
3. The person who is concerned with his own good but not
with the good of others.
4. The person who is concerned with both his own good and
the good of others. This fourth is the best.
For the Good of Oneself and Others
The Buddha pronounces the fourth person to be the most
excellent. But he goes further to say that concern for the
welfare of others has to be tempered by the recognition that
we can only benefit others truly to the extent that we have
benefited ourselves. A person who is himself stuck in the mud
cannot help others to get out of the mud. If he tries to do so,
both will sink down. Hence in order to assist others effectively
we first have to establish ourselves on firm ground; that is, we
have to first develop in ourselves pure spiritual qualities.
Buddhist Social Thought
In order to understand the social applications of Dhamma, we
should examine how they are directly grounded in the
Buddha's doctrine. The concepts for understanding the social
thought of Buddhism are as follows:-
I The Concept of Dhamma
The word Dhamma means "that which upholds, that which
sustains." In its broadest sense it signifies the cosmic law
which supports all phenomena, the law of dependent
origination; the Four Noble Truth; three characteristics of
existence, etc. The concept of Dhamma also has an ethical
dimension. It is the law of righteousness, the principle of
virtue, of moral truth. Dhamma here is the moral law which
protects us, which upholds and safeguards us against spiritual
Buddhist Social Thought
degeneration and from a fall into lower states of existence. It is the
path of mundane and supramundane development. So the word
Dhamma combines these two ideas, philosophical and ethical into
the law of reality and virtue. Later we will see the particular
applications of the concept of Dhamma to different types of human
relationships and domains of human life.

II The Four Noble Truths

Another foundation for Buddhist social thought is the Four Noble
Truths, particularly the second noble truth, that craving becomes
the source of suffering and misery in our social existence. The
Buddha says that "Because of the craving for sense pleasures,
craving for sensual enjoyment, the father fights against the son, the
Buddhist Social Thought
son fights against the father, the mother fights against the
daughter, family fights with family, household with household,
social group with social group, nation with nation. Because of
desire and attachment for pleasures and for wealth, men put
on armour, they take up their swords, they wield their
weapons, they go into battle and fight each other, destroy and
kill each other.’
Again in explaining dependent arising, the Buddha gave an
interesting variation on the formula:
1. In dependence on craving, there arises search (object of
2. In dependence on search, there arises acquisition;
3. In dependence on acquisition, there arises discrimination
(notions of ‘mine, not yours’, etc)
Buddhist Social Thought
4. In dependence on discrimination, there arises attachment
and desires;
5. In dependence on attachment, there arises clinging and
selfishness (sense of protectiveness; paranoia)
6. In dependence on the sense of protectiveness, men take
up their swords, become involved in wrangling, quarrels,
disputes, false accusations, and all unwholesome states.
These are all traced to craving as the basic cause. When craving
is eliminated, then all the social problems are eliminated.
Buddhist Social Thought
III The Doctrine of Anatta
Buddhism teaches that the idea of self is the root of suffering, for it
lies at the base of all our selfish emotions and defilements.
Therefore to get free from the social turmoil that comes from the
defilements, we have to uproot this sense of selfhood. We uproot
this sense of selfhood by beginning to act in ways which contribute
to diminishing the grip of the self idea. Ultimately the eradication
of self comes through wisdom that arises out of meditation, but
meditation cannot be sealed off in a compartment of its own
separate from the rest of human life. True wisdom does not arise
when we are living outwardly in a selfish manner. To generate
wisdom in meditation, we have to cultivate selfless actions of body
and speech – by observing precepts, giving, helping and assisting
others and so forth. All these little acts will build up the momentum
to diminishing the clinging to selfhood and provide the foundation
for wisdom that realises the selflessness of all things to arise.
Buddhist Social Thought
IV The Four Divine Dwellings - Brahmaviharas
The four sublime states to be developed to immeasurable extent to
all sentient beings are as follows:
a) Loving kindness (Metta), the wish for the welfare and happiness
of others.
b) Compassion (Karuna), feeling of empathy with others, the quality
that makes the heart tremble with the suffering of others; a quality
that makes us identify with others and their sufferings, and it
arouses our desire to take away the sufferings of others.
c) Sympathetic joy (Mudita), rejoicing in the happiness and good
fortune of others; this quality removes envy and jealousy.
d) Equanimity (Upekkha), attitude of impartial neutrality extended
to all beings, non-discrimination between agreeable and
disagreeable situations and persons.
The Four Sublime Abodes
These are four ethical attitudes to be developed in meditation,
but which can come to expression in concrete action in the
social economic and political spheres.
So far we have explained the theoretical foundations of
Buddhist social thought. Now we will discuss the application
of these to different areas of social concern.
Economic Teachings
Certain modern schools of thought like Marxism regard the
economic domain as the primary determinant of social
existence and dismiss everything else as mere superstructure,
a secondary overlay resting on the material substratum.
Contrary to this view, the Buddha recognizes that there are
many interdependent spheres of human activity. These
cannot be subjected to any simplistic reduction, but must be
seen as interrelated and mutually efficacious. The Buddha
took note of the importance of economics in human life and
he held that for people to be capable of personal and spiritual
progress, the economic foundation has to be secure.
Economic Teachings
In many sutta’s the Buddha has pointed out that poverty can
lead to the decline of moral values, - to stealing, lying, murder,
etc., and eventually to complete social chaos. He teaches not
only that economics largely determines man’s moral
condition, but also that the government has a responsibility to
correct any extreme economic injustice. He advises the king
to look after the economic well being of his subjects. He says
that the king has to give seeds to the farmers for their crops
and feed for their cattle; capital to the merchants and
businessman to conduct their business; and jobs to the civil
servants, etc. There will then be peace and harmony.
Buddhism promotes economic well being in society by its stress
on the virtue of generosity. The Buddha teaches all his disciples,
whether monks or laymen, to practice giving, to be generous
and bountiful towards others. The wealthy in particular have an
obligation to give to the poor, to help and assist the poor.

The basic requisites that can Secondary objects:

be given: • Vehicles
• Food • Books
• Clothing • Utensils, lights, seats etc.
• Dwelling places
• Medicine
Generosity - Dana
The Buddha especially praises, the giving of food. He says that if
people knew the benefits of giving food, they would not sit down
to a single meal without sharing it with someone if there is an
opportunity for them to do so. He says one who gives food gives
the following five things and in return receives these five as its
karmic result in this or other life times.
He gives and obtains in return :
1. Life (long life )
2. Beauty (good complexion)
3. Happiness
4. Strength (physical health)
5. Intelligence (mind is able to function properly)
Specific Advice to Lay People
The Buddha gave the following advice to a group of lay people
as conducive to their happiness here and now.
(a) Energy and diligence
You have to be energetic and diligent in performing your job
whether it is farming, a trade, business or a profession.
(b) Security
You have to protect your wealth.
(c) Good friendship
Associate with true friends, with wise and virtuous people
who will help you and protect you, and guide you in Dhamma.
Specific Advice to Lay People

(d) Balanced livelihood

You should not be too bountiful, spending more than your
means allow, and you should not be niggardly, clinging to
your wealth. Avoid these extremes and spend in proportion
to your income.
Then he gave them advice for their long term benefit:
1. faith and confidence in spiritual values,
2. generosity,
3. moral discipline and
4. wisdom.
Right Livelihood Use of one’s wealth
The Buddha laid down four The Buddha says that having
standards of right livelihood acquired wealth by the
to which a lay follower proper means one should
spend it for five purposes.
should conform.
• To provide for one’s own
• He should acquire wealth household, one’s relatives
only by legal means. and children, and so on.
• He should acquire it without • To make gifts to friends, to
violence. entertain them, to give them
• He should acquire it presents.
honestly. • To protect and repair one’s
property and dwelling.
• He should require it in ways
which do not harm others. • To pay taxes and make
oblations to the deities.
• To offer alms and requisites
to the monks and brahmins.
Specific Social Teachings
These are teachings that are designed to mould and transform
society. From the Buddhist point of view society itself is an
abstraction, not a reality. Society is a collective whole made
up of individuals, and the quality of society reflect the
individuals who compose it. If the individuals are corrupt the
society will be corrupt and if the individuals are noble society
will be noble. Since society merely reflects individuals, the
Buddha aimed at transforming society by giving individuals
new standards of conduct, new ideals and patterns of
behaviour that can elevate and transform their conduct. Then
changes in the social order would follow as a matter of
The specific social teachings of Buddha are designed for
molding and transforming society. From the Buddhist
viewpoint, society itself is an abstraction, a collective whole
made up of individuals. The quality of the society reflects the
quality of the individuals who compose it. If the individual
members are corrupt, the society will be corrupt. If the
individuals are noble and pure, the society will be noble and
pure. Since society merely reflects its individual members, the
Buddha aimed at transforming society by giving individuals
new standard of conduct, new ideals and patterns of behavior
which will elevate their and transform their conduct. Then
changes in social order would follow as a matter of course.
Specific Social Teachings
There are various codes of conduct taught by the Buddha
which fulfil these requirements. These were originally
designed for individual observance. When put into practice,
they bring about far-reaching changes in the social order.
They are:
a) five precepts. - The abstinence from killing, stealing, sexual
misconduct, false speech and intoxications.
b) Ten courses of wholesome action.
c) Ten bases of merit.
d) The Noble Eightfold Path, etc
The unit of society upon which the Buddha places the greatest
emphasis is the family. He regards the family as especially
important because the family is the intermediary between the
individual and society. Therefore, sound relationships have to
be established between the members of the family in order
for those who are raised in that family to become responsible
members of society. The Buddha deals with family relations
under two major headings:
1. the relations of husband and wife, and
2. the relations of parent and child.
Husband and Wife
The Buddha emphasises that marriage is not only a means to
economic security, companionship and sensual gratification.
While all these things enter into the marriage relationship,
they do not exhaust it. Ideally the relationship of marriage
should promote the moral and spiritual development of both
husband and wife. Therefore husband and wife, while
performing their respective duties towards each other, should
be generous towards others, should observe the precepts,
should support religious teachers and monks, and should
cultivate their own spiritual practice.
Parents and Children
The Buddha emphasizes the reciprocal duties of both. The
parents have the duty to educate their children, to bring them
up properly and to steer them away from wrong, to guide
them towards what is right etc. The children also have a duty
to respect their parents and to attend to their needs. The
Buddha says: "There are two people that you can never repay
- your mother and your father. They give birth to you, nourish
you, bring you up, teach you, educate you, introduce you to
the world, etc. Therefore you can never repay them even if
you carry them on your shoulder for the rest of their life."
Parents and Children
However, the Buddha says, "There is one way to repay your
mother and father. If they don't have faith in Dhamma,
establish them in faith. If they don't observe the precepts,
teach them the precepts: If they are stingy, teach them to be
generous. If they are deluded and lack wisdom, help them to
develop their wisdom. This way you can repay your parents."
Monk and Layman
Turning to society at large, the Buddha sets out basic social
relationships in terms of different classes of people, such as
between friends, between employer and employee, teacher
and pupil, and monk and layman.
The Buddha places special emphasis on the relationship
between the Buddhist monk and householder. The bhikkhu or
the Buddhist monk is not an intermediary between the laity
and a higher spiritual being such as a god or a deity. The monk
is a person who has left the household life to practice the
teaching of the Buddha and to help to sustain the teaching, to
keep it alive in the world.
Monk and Layman
The Buddhist community consists of the monastic order
(sangha) and the householders. The Buddha teaches that
these two have to co-operate to preserve and to propagate
the Dhamma, to make the liberating truth available in the
world. For this, each has a set of obligations to the other.
The laity should provide the material needs of the Sangha.
The monks do not work at a secular job; they are not
expected to be earning money and buying things. They live
in dependence on others for their material requisites.
Hence the householders are advised to provide them with
their material needs, to show them respect and encourage
them in their effort to practice and teach Dhamma.
Monk and Layman
The monks in turn, on the basis of their knowledge and
experience, should teach the laity, guide them and advise
them to practice the Dhamma in their day-to-day life. The
monk also has a duty to give the lay people opportunities
for more intensive practice of Dhamma, e.g. meditation
The Buddha says that the two divisions of the Buddhist
community, the monks and the laity, should help each other
so that both will be able to cross Samsara and reach the safe
shore of Nibbana.
Political Teachings of Buddha
According to traditional account, the Buddha was originally
destined to be a king. He renounced his right to the throne to
become a spiritual seeker, and eventually became a spiritual
teacher. He had many kings who were his disciples, King
Bimbisara of Magadha, King Pasenadi of Kosala, King
Ajatasattu of Magadha, King Udena and others. Also at the
time of Buddha there were a number of republican states in
northern India in which the Buddha taught. He gave counsel
and advice to these leaders, especially the Licchavis who lived
in the area of Vesali. The Buddha had disciples from both
types of political rule, the republicans and the monarchical.
Buddha did not advocate one form of government over
Political Teachings
For whatever form of government, the Buddha taught that the
guiding principle of the state should be Dhamma, the law of
righteousness. To rule in accordance with the Dhamma, the
government must provide for the material welfare of its
citizens and establish conditions that promote their moral and
spiritual development.
The Buddha laid down specific ways for the ruling powers to
substantiate Dhamma in the administration. One formula is
the avoidance of four evil motives: Partiality or favoritism;
anger or hatred; delusion; and fear. The other formula on the
positive side, Buddhism teaches the king or government
should observe ten royal virtues. These ten are as follows:
Political Teachings – Ten Royal Virtues
1. generosity, distribute wealth and make sure the citizens have the
basic necessities of life – foods, clothings, shelter, etc;
2. Well disciplined in conduct – observe the five precepts;
3. Self-sacrifice for the good of the kingdom, for the benefits of the
4. Justice – administer with equality and justice
5. Gentleness – rule with gentleness and kindness
6. Austerity – rulers should be austere and simple in livelihood
7. Free from enmity, hatred and illwill
8. Rule with non-violence
9. Patience
10. Non-opposition to the will of the people when in accords with
what is right
Political Teachings
The four bases of popularity are generosity; kind speech;
benevolent conduct; and impartial conduct and treatment of
Beyond these the Buddha also mentioned some uncodified
obligations of the rulers/governments/kings:
1. protect all habitants of the land, human and animals (rulers
of Buddhist countries in the past built animal hospitals and
2. Inspire people in virtue
3. Provide wealth to the poor;
4. Learn from the wise or sages – monks, recluses, Brahmins,
and sages distinguished by their wisdom.
Political Teachings
On the problem of war, the Buddha teaches to rule in
accordance with Dhamma, the rulers have to avoid
aggressiveness and conquer by violence. The Buddha once
prevented a war over water (river) between the Koliya and
the Sakyan.
Buddha teaches time and again that violence must be avoided,
that peace can never be established by force and conquest.
The conqueror only breeds resentment in those conquered
while he himself has to live in constant anxiety worrying that
he himself will be defeated in turn.
The Buddha says that peace can only be found outside the
vicious circle of conquest and violence.
Political Teachings
For the Buddha, the real conqueror is not the one who conquers
other men, other nations or other society, but one who conquers
himself. If there is a warrior who conquers 1000 men 1000 times, his
conquest is very slight compared to the conquest of a man who
conquers one man, himself. The man who conquers himself, his
desires, cravings, anger and delusion, he is the supreme victor in
The Buddha teaches that there are four kids of conquests his
followers should make:
1. Conquer the evil person by means of goodness;
2. Conquer the liar by truth
3. Conquer the stingy by giving generously
4. conquer the hostile person by love and goodness.
Political Teachings
The Buddha taught:
For it is only by love, never by violence that hatred can be
brought to cease;
For it is only by peace, by patience, by kindness and
compassion that the cycle of violence and revenge can be
brought to a stop.
Husband towards wife Wife towards husband
1. Be courteous towards her. 1. Perform her duties well.
2. Respect her. 2. Be cordial to husband's
3. Be faithful to her. relations.
4. Give her authority in 3. Be faithful to him.
management of 4. Protect his earnings.
household. 5. Be skilful and diligent in
5. Provide her with gifts. management of
Parent towards child Child towards parent
1. Restrain them from evil. 1. Support them in old age.
2. Encourage them to do 2. Do their duties.
3. Keep the family tradition.
3. Train them for a
profession. 4. Be worthy of their
4. Arrange a suitable inheritance.
marriage for them. 5. Offer alms in honour of
5. Hand over their them when they depart.
inheritance to them at
proper time.
Monk towards layman Layman towards monk
1. Restrain him from evil. 1. Do lovable deeds.
2. Persuade him to do good. 2. Speak lovable words.
3. Love him with a kind 3. Think lovable thoughts.
4. Be hospitable towards
4. Teach him what he has
not learned before. them.
5. Clarify what is not clear to 5. Supply their material
him. needs.
6. Point out the path to a
heavenly state.
Pupil towards Teacher Teacher towards Pupil
1. Rise politely from seat. 1. Train them in their
2. Attend on him. discipline.
2. See that they understand
3. Be eager to learn. the lessons.
4. Render him personal 3. Instruct them in arts &
service. sciences
5. Listen respectfully when 4. Introduce them to their
receiving instructions. friends
5. Provide for their safety in
all quarters.
You towards Friend Friend towards you
1. Protect him when he is 1. Be generous towards
heedless. them.
2. Protect his property. 2. Be courteous in speech.
3. Be a refuge for him when 3. Be helpful.
he is in danger. 4. Be impartial.
4. Do not forsake him in time 5. Be sincere.
of trouble.
5. Show consideration for his
Employer towards employee Employee towards employer
1. Assign work according to 1. Rise before him.
ability. 2. Go to bed after him.
2. Supply them with food 3. Take only what is given.
and wages. 4. Perform their duties well.
3. Tend them in sickness.
5. Spread his good name
4. Share delicacies with and fame..
5. Grant them periodic