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Shakyamuni's Teachings

Buddhism In A Nutsell: Shakyamuni’s Life | Shakyamuni’s Teachings

The information on these pages is excerpted from Ken McLeod’s book, Wake Up To Your Life.

After his awakening, Buddha Shakyamuni spent the next seven weeks quietly digesting what had happened. His initial assessment was that no one else could possibly understand what he had discovered. Eventually, however, the Buddha decided he had a responsibility to try to communicate his understanding to others. He set off for Benares, a major city a few miles away.

When we see how things actually are, our whole system experiences a profound shock. We are not what we thought we were. All our struggles to define who and what we are are revealed as pointless, fruitless, and self-defeating. At first, we have no idea what to do or how to function, but we are still breathing. Life goes on, but now what? Our natural human impulse is to share our knowledge and understanding with others. This impulse manifests in life as compassion, which is a response to the circumstances of the moment.

In the village of Sarnath, a suburb of Benares, Buddha encountered his companions in asceticism. At first, they didn’t want to have anything to do with him and resolved to ignore him. As Buddha approached, however, they felt an extraordinary presence and spontaneously rose to greet him. They were so awed by his presence that they asked him to explain what had happened. Buddha Shakyamuni started with the existence of suffering and explained what he now knew.

For Buddha, the circumstance of the moment was this chance meeting with his former companions. All of them had been motivated originally by the question of suffering, so he gave his first teaching, the four noble truths.

The Four Noble Truths

Buddha Shakyamuni’s way to presence was through the question of suffering. What is it? How does it arise? Can it be ended? How do we end it? When other spiritual teachers and philosophers asked Buddha Shakyamuni to describe his teaching, he usually answered, “I teach one thing and one thing only, suffering and the end of suffering.” In his first teaching, he formulated his understanding as the four noble truths:

  1. Suffering
  2. The origin of suffering
  3. The cessation of suffering
  4. The path to cessation

Stated baldly, the four truths seem a bit enigmatic. They are, in fact, based on a simple problem-solving model, a model that dates far back in Indian philosophy and medicine.

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What is the root of the problem?
  3. Is there a solution?
  4. How do you put the solution into effect?

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