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What the Buddha Taught

by Walpola Rahula

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Discussion Guide Price: $7.00
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Especially in the realm of worldviews, there’s nothing like hearing it from the horse’s mouth. Most people—even Christians—have a tendency to caricature the doctrines of rival faiths, so that any representation of other faiths comes under suspicion. In such a skeptical atmosphere, it’s always helpful to find a book that provides a frank and straightforward description of a non-Christian worldview written by a devotee of that worldview.

Happily, that’s what students will discover in What the Buddha Taught. The author, Dr. Walpola Rahula, is a Buddhist who received the traditional monastic training and served as a monk at Pirivena, a leading Buddhist monastery. As C.S. Lewis focuses on “mere Christianity,” Rahula focuses on “mere Buddhism,” describing only the “most important teachings of the Buddha,” upon which both major schools of Buddhism, “Theravada and Mahayana are unanimously agreed.”

Some of these teachings will sound quite palatable to Western ears, especially to those who have rejected belief in a god. “Man’s position, according to Buddhism,” says Rahula, “is supreme. Man is his own master, and there is no higher being or power that sits in judgment over his destiny.” This is coupled with an optimism that sounds positively American: “man has the power to liberate himself from all bondage through his own personal effort and intelligence.”

But other teachings of the Buddha sound quite unlikely to Western ears. For example, the Buddhist rejects the idea that you possess a soul, or self. Thus, the goal of the Buddhist, Nirvana, is “definitely no annihilation of self, because there is no self to annihilate. If at all, it is the annihilation of the illusion, of the false idea of self.”

My students are somewhat skeptical when I explain this particular doctrine. Is it possible that people really believe what I’m describing? This is where Rahula comes in. While a teacher might unintentionally misrepresent a rival faith, the faithful themselves can be trusted to describe it accurately. And as remarkable as it may be, people really do believe the doctrines described in What the Buddha Taught.

by Jeff Baldwin