The Pali suttas, which form the heart of Theravada Buddhist teaching, were first written down about five hundred years after the death of the Buddha.* According to legend, Ananda, the cousin and personal attendant to the Buddha, recited all of the suttas to the First Council, the meeting of five hundred enlightened monks who gathered after the Buddha’s death. It is said that disciples of the Buddha, monks with extraordinary well-trained memories, recited the suttas orally for the centuries before they were written down.
Pali is an ancient Indian language, similar to Sanskrit, and the Pali suttas are thought to the earliest records of the Buddha’s teachings. Early suttas also exist in various other languages, including Sanskrit and Chinese. There are five major groupings of Pali suttas divided into sections by length, topic or occasion. Each of these groupings includes hundreds of discources by the Buddha, covering all aspects of dharma practice, from meditation to ethical conduct to community relations.
Inquiring Mind invited a number of vipassana teachers to choose passages from their favorite suttas and to comment briefly on why they find these passages particularly meaningful or personally significant. We also suggested that the teachers write about ways that, in their years of practice, they have “wrestled with the Buddha.” Some teachers responded to each of these invitations separately, some to one, while others addressed both topics in a single essay.
Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
Do not believe in anything because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
The Kalama Sutta, emphasizing, as it did, taking up a teaching, practicing it and then observing its beneficial or harmful effects, was a “skillful means” for me in much the same way as it served the Kalama people. Growing up with a devotional orthodox Jewish mother and a skeptical Marxist father left me with a polarization . . . [Continue Reading]
The Kalama Sutta has always been a special inspiration to me in that it is not an encouragement to doubt, but an encouragement to wise faith. In travelling our own spiritual paths we listen to a variety of teachers and teachings which are not always compatible . . . . [Continue Reading]
None of the various truths of the world can be separated from conception.
—Verse 886, “Chapter of the Eights,”
The teachings of the Buddha offer an ethical basis for the spiritual life, a range of tools for working with emotional and mental processes, the transforming resource of meditation and a profound philosophy applicable to daily life . . . . [Continue Reading]
Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, be a refuge unto yourselves with no other refuge. Let the dhamma be your island, let the dhamma be your refuge, with no other refuge.
Just before the death of the Buddha, Ananda, a monk who had been to almost every discourse the Buddha had given during the Buddha’s teaching life, asked the Buddha to give the Sangha (the community of monks and nuns) some last instructions before his final passing away . . . . [Continue Reading]
Cultivate what is wholesome, oh bhikkhus. One can cultivate the wholesome. If it were not feasible, I would not ask you to do it.
If this cultivation of the wholesome would bring harm and suffering, I would not ask you to cultivate it. But as the cultivation of the wholesome brings benefit and happiness, therefore, I say, “Cultivate what is wholesome!”
This is one of my favorite passages for many reasons. It beautifully exemplifies the extraordinary compassion of the Buddha. The mind of the Buddha sees only suffering and the end of suffering, and exhorts those heading toward suffering to take care, to pay attention, rather than condemning them . . . . [Continue Reading]
Vayadhamma sankhara. Appamadana sampadetha.
All conditional things are of a nature of decay. Strive on untiringly.
One of my favorite passages from the Pali Canon suttas comes from the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, the last teaching of the Buddha. It is his final utterance to the sangha, his death poem.
In his last moments, the Buddha, in this single phrase, expressed the essence of the entire teaching of his forty-five-year mission . . . . [Continue Reading]
He who does not grasp at a view, with what could he be identified in the world?
If, O monks, there were no enjoyment in the world, beings would not become attached to the world. But as there is enjoyment in the world, beings become attached to it.
The Paramatthaka Sutta from the Sutta Nipata cautions us not to hold to our views in such a way that other views are seen as less valid. I strongly resonate with this teaching. It’s so easy to get caught in our own “inner wisdom” or someone else’s interpretation of a spiritual idea . . . . [Continue Reading]
THUS HAVE I HEARD. Once the Lord was staying among the Kurus. There is a market-town of theirs called Kammasadhamma. And there the Lord addressed the monks: “Monks!” “Lord”, they replied, and the Lord said: “There is, monks, this one way* to the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and distress, for the disappearance of pain and sadness, for the gaining of the right path, for the realization of Nibbana:—that is to say the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.
My first introduction to practice came during my time in the Peace Corps when an English monk in Bangkok suggested I stop asking so many questions and try meditating instead. After giving some basic instruction for watching the breath, he asked me to read The Heart of Buddhist Meditation by Ven. Nyaniponika Thera, which contains the text and explanation of the Satipatthana Sutta. . . . [Continue Reading]
After investigation among all the spiritual doctrines, . . . and seeing misery in adopting any view, searching for truth I came to purity and inner peace. Not by spiritual view, not by tradition, not by knowledge, nor by virtue and good deeds can anyone say that purity exists; nor by absence of spiritual views, by absence of tradition, by absence of knowledge, by absence of virtue and good deeds either; having abandoned these without adopting anything else, let such a one live calm and independent, not led into any of the resting places of the mind.
Thus the purpose of the Holy life does not consist in acquiring benefits, honor or fame, nor in gaining virtue, states of concentration nor insight and the eye of knowledge. The unshakable deliverance of heart, the sure heart’s release; this and this alone is the object of the holy life, its essence, its true goal.
These passages go together for me because they both speak of the sure heart’s release—finding freedom in all realms, fearless and full freedom of being. . . . they inspire me to remember what all the practice, the blessings, the monasteries, the institutions and all the fuss—all of 2500 years of Buddhism—is really about. . . [Continue Reading]