Monday, July 9, 2012

Buddhism by Numbers: 2 Fundamental Teachings

“The Doctrine & Discipline that I have set forth and laid down for you shall be your teacher after I am gone.” (Mahaparinibbana Sutta)

In the early Buddhist texts (Pali canon & Agamas), Buddha often referred to his teachings as the Doctrine & Discipline (Doctrine is Dhamma in Pali, Dharma in Sanskrit; Discipline is Vinaya in both languages). There are known as the Two Fundamental Teachings, or Pavacana. This divides the Buddhist Way into two main aspects: the teachings plus the rules and guidelines for Buddhist practice.

Regarding the Dharma, this covers a multitude of Buddhist teachings on the nature of existence, such as the Four Noble Truths and the Three Characteristics, along with more complicated teachings such as paticca-samuppada (dependent arising). In the Pali Tipitaka, the section called the Suttanta Pitaka mainly contains teachings (Doctrine), as above, as given by Buddha and his immediate disciples. Another section, the Abhidhamma Pitaka is a collection of highly systemised philosophical teachings elaborating on those found in the Suttas. Parallels are found in the Chinese Agama texts, and later sutras expand on these earlier teachings.

The first section of the Tipitaka, the Vinaya Pitaka, centers on those teachings of the Blessed One concerned with the discipline of the Sangha, the orders of monks and nuns – many nun orders, including those in Theravada Buddhism have long died out, although they are currently being reinstated in several countries as you read this. If you wish to find out how a particular rule for monastics is said to have come about, and what its purpose is, it is in the Vinaya Pitaka that you will find the answer.

There are many good translations of the major parts of the Tipitaka available in the English language nowadays, often in concise forms which organize them into subjects convenient to the reader. One such translation is “In the Buddha’s Words,” which has been translated by the highly respected American scholar monk Bhikkhu Bodhi, and is published by Wisdom Publications. For superb free online resources on the Tipitaka, as well as related teachings including those of the great Thai forest ajahns, you can go to: Access to Insight. Another excellent site that also includes translations of the Agama texts is Sutta Central.

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