Judaism is the oldest monotheistic religion, and the history of Judaism cannot be separated
from the history of the Jewish people. Its foundation lies in the original covenant made
between Abraham and God, circa 1900 BCE, when Abraham was called to leave his home
in Ur and travel to Cannan (later known as Palestine and Israel), a land which God
promised to give to his descendants. The second and chief covenant was made 450 years
later when Moses led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt (the exodus) back to the lands of
Canaan. At Mt Horeb (Sinai), God gave the Jewish people the 10 Commandants and other
rules to live by (contained in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible), marking the
beginning of Judaism as a structured religion.
History and Spread
Jewish civilisation after the exodus prospered in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah,
originally headed by powerful kings like Saul, David and Solomon, who built the first great
temple in Jerusalem. In 586 BCE, the Babylonians overran Jerusalem, taking many
captives into exile and destroying the temple. A second temple was built when the Jews
returned about 538 BCE, to be destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. This destruction was
decisive for the future of Judaism, replacing a sacrificial religion based around a temple
with a tradition of studying and learning centred around local synagogues.
By around 100CE, the canon of the Hebrew Bible was fixed. Between 200 and 700 CE,
scholars compiled the Mishna, the definitive code of Jewish law. The Talmud (written
interpretation of the scriptures) was compiled and the rules for the Jewish calendar were
laid down. These scriptures and teachings were the basis of the religious worship that was
practised around the world during the Jewish diaspora (exile).
The two defining modern events for this community in exile were the Holocaust (1939-45),
in which over six million Jews were killed by the Nazis, and the creation of the Jewish state
of Israel in 1948.
Jewish people were among the very first convicts and free settlers, and the first permanent
synagogue opened in Sydney in 1844. During the 1930s, Australia’s Jewish population
grew with the influx of European Jewry fleeing Nazi persecution. The 2001 census showed
Australia has almost 84,000 Jews (ABS).
• Orthodox or traditional Judaism is Talmudic in belief and practices, and largest of
the modern sectarian groupings
• Hasidism was a mystical movement emphasising ecstatic communion with God,
which was developed in 18th Century Poland and central Europe
• Progressive Judaism is the term for liberal and reform movements which emerged in
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies
The NSWJBOD is the official body of the Jewish community in New South Wales.
Portal site for everything Jewish. As well as thousands of links to sites, Jewish.net also offers up-to-theminute rolling news headlines, opinion polls and online postcards.
News and resources from UK perspective. Strong emphasis on music and popular culture.
The international association of conservative rabbis.
World Union for Progressive Judaism
Umbrella site for the largest Jewish religious movement in the world with followers in nearly 40 countries on
6 continents, headquartered in Jerusalem.
Jewish Children International
Bright and colourful site for children with stories told in cartoon form.
Scrolls From The Dead Sea
Scrolls From the Dead Sea: The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Scholarship. Links to the
Smithsonian's collection online.
The National Institute of Judaism and Medicine
Founded in 1988, provides the opportunity for dialogue and assessment of the ever-expanding world of
possibilities opened by the advance of medical science in light of the millenniums-old Jewish ethical and
Jewish Ozzies' Inter.Net
Non-profit association which helps organisations and individuals to participate in the Jewish internet and
learn about matters of importance and interest to the Australian Jewish community.
Simon Wiesenthal Center
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is an international Jewish human rights organization dedicated to preserving
the memory of the Holocaust by fostering tolerance and understanding through community involvement,
educational outreach and social action.
A significant movement of followers of the late Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn
BBC Religion & Ethics
BBC Religion & Ethics – background on Judaism.
Global Jewish group fighting anti-Semitism.
Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth
Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth (Prof. Jonathan Sacks) – official web site.
Hinduism was not originally a unified religious tradition. Rather, it consisted of a wide range of
practices and beliefs that were only loosely linked. There was from the beginning wide regional
variation. Local traditions existed almost independently, linked by some basic principles—karma, say,
or samsara—or a basic understanding of the power of the divine. But the Indian subcontinent is a huge
and diverse landmass, and the people who inhabit
India differ sometimes quite radically depending on
where they live. There are hundreds of languages, and
thousands of local cults and local traditions that may
be unknown outside of a particular region or even a
Early western scholars posited a geographical and
ideological divide in Hinduism, one that was
characterized as a split between the north and the
south. The north, these orientalist scholars argued,
was characterized by the religious ideas of the Vedas,
which were brought from outside of India by ancient
Europeans, the Aryans. These outsiders invaded
northern India and pushed the indigenous peoples to
the south. The northerners spoke variations of
Sanskrit. The southerners, this theory held, were
known as Dravidians, and spoke variations of Tamil.
The southerners were said to be darker than their
light-skinned Aryan neighbors, and were also less educated, less pure, and their religious traditions less
1. the Rigveda: hymns (for the chief priest to recite)
2. the Yajurveda: formulas (for the priest to recite)
3. the Samaveda: formulas (for the priest to chant)
4. the Atharvaveda: collection of stories, spells, and
This is a typically slanted and perniciously biased colonialist history. In fact, pre-Vedic religious
traditions mixed with Vedic ideas and practices from the beginning, and what emerged as
"classical" Hinduism is a complex intermingling of a whole range of local and pan-Indian
traditions. Some aspects of Hinduism are truly pan-Indian: the Vedas, for instance, are the basic
underlying foundation for virtually all forms of Hinduism; the great epics, the Mahabharata and
Ramayana, are mostly pan-Indian, although even they—particularly the Ramayana—have
regional variations. The great gods and goddesses—Shiva, Vishnu, Devi—are worshipped
everywhere, but regional variations are the norm rather than the exception.
Hinduism has historically been a non-missionizing religious tradition. This is specifically linked to the
fundamental theological worldview that all schools of Hinduism share. Human beings are reborn into
the world according to their past deeds in prior lifetimes. This is the basic law of karma. Thus being a
Hindu is not a matter of choice or cultural circumstance; it is a reflection of the workings of the
cosmos. Thus many (although not all) Hindus have held that one cannot convert to Hinduism. You are
either born a Hindu, or you are not. As a result, to be Hindu has traditionally meant to be a Hindu in
Hindu temples are broadly called mandira, or mandir, a Sanskrit word that means, essentially, "house."
A temple in the Hindu view is thus fundamentally the earthly abode of a god or goddess; it is sacred
space because the deity is present there.
There are thousands of Hindu temples in India and elsewhere, temples associated with the major "high"
gods and goddesses, but also local deities. Each temple is different, its style and structure dictated by
the region in which it is located, when it was constructed, and the deity to whom it is associated. Hindu
temples have been built for some 2,000 years. That said, there
are some general commonalities.
At the center of the temple complex is the main structure that
houses the main image, or murti—the physical image of the
deity, which, unlike in many other religions, is not merely a
symbolic representation. The murti is the deity; it is
considered to be the living god, and is treated as such. It is
often bathed, fed, and directly addressed by the god's
devotees. This main image is typically located within the
garbha griha (literally "womb chamber"), what in English
might be called the "sanctum sanctorum." This inner sanctum
is typically crowned with a tower, or shikhara. In some
temples, these towers are tall, magnificent structures, while in others
they are far more basic.
Around the central shrine area are often many other smaller shrines,
often with images of gods and goddesses associated with the main deity
of the temple, as well as meeting and worship halls, classrooms,
administrative offices, etc. Usually the temple complex is surrounded by
a wall, which is entered through a main gate. Often this gate is part of
what can be a very elaborate tower or spire, called a gopuram or gopura,
a sometimes very elaborate structure that is covered with sculptural
images of gods, goddesses, and other divine figures. In southern India,
in particular, major temples often feature elaborately decorated towering
gopurams that soar over both the temple itself and the city in which it is
A single deity, or multiple deities in many temples, is understood to be fully present in the temple.
Devotees come to the temple and make ritual offerings to the deity, and take darshan, literally the
"sight" of the deity. Hinduism, however, also holds that the gods and goddesses are simultaneously
present in many, potentially infinite, different places. Thus
Shiva can be fully and completely present in a temple (or
many temples) in northern India and fully and completely
present in a temple (or many temples) in southern India and in
any other part of the world.
There are many other sorts of
sacred space in India, many of
them significant pilgrimage
destinations. These include
rivers, which are understood to
be goddesses. Of particular importance in this regard are special
"crossings," or tirthas, places where the gods and goddesses "cross" into
the human world.
There are, classically, seven particularly sacred places in India:
1. Benares, or Kashi, the
eternal city of Shiva.
2. Allahabad, where the
and mythical Sarasvati
3. Mathura, the
birthplace of Krishna.
4. Hardwar, where the
Ganges enters the plains
5. Ayodhya, the earthly
birthplace of the god
6. Dvaraka, Krishna's
7. Kanchipuram, the site
of several ancient
temples in southern
The word Buddha is derived from the Pali word ‘budh’ meaning to wake up, perceive, become aware.
The Buddha is one who has transcended attachment, ill will, and ignorance ( sometimes referred to as
greed, hatred and delusion ), who has perceived impermanence, dukkha, and selflessness, and attained
Enlightenment and realized Nibbana (Nirvana). It is a state of consciousness when the individual is
aware of absolute reality. It is a generic name and applies to all persons who have reached this stage.
The Buddha is not a Creator God, and he is not a saviour of human beings. He cannot punish or forgive
persons who act contrary to the teaching. The Buddhist teaching does not have the concept of sin.
Acting contrary to the teaching generates bad kamma, and retards the person’s progress as a Buddhist
Buddhism is the law of nature. What the Buddha perceived and taught is the law of nature.
There are three types of individuals who attain Enlightenment:
• Pacceka Buddhas
• Samma Sambuddhas, Universal Buddhas.
An Arahat attains Enlightenment at a time when the Buddhist teaching, Dhamma, is known in the
world, and with the guidance and benefit of the teaching of a Samma Sambuddha. An Arahat teaches
the Dhamma, but does not go on to establish a Buddha Sasana or Buddhist community.
A Pacceka Buddha attains Enlightenment by his own efforts, at a time when a Buddha’s teaching,
Dhamma, is not known in the world. He teaches the Dhamma, but, again, does not go on to establish a
Buddha Sasana or Community.
A Samma Sambuddha, or Universal Buddha, is the highest level of Buddhahood. He attains
Enlightenment, by his own efforts, at a time when the teaching is not known in the world. He has the
greatest and most extensive powers, teaches the Dhamma and goes on to establish a Buddha Sasana or
According to the teaching of the Southern Asian tradition, this Buddhist Community carries on for a
very long time. In the end it dies out and the teaching is not known in the world, though the teaching is
active and applies in the world. Then another Samma Sambuddha is Enlightened, teaches the Dhamma
and establishes a new Buddhist Community. In this way there is a series of Samma Sambuddhas.
The use of the word Buddha, by itself, refers to a self Enlightened Samma Sammabuddha or Universal
Buddha. Some Eastern traditions consider the teaching to be a living permanent spiritual force, in the
nature of a Buddha.
According to the teaching of the South Asian traditions there is a series of named Samma Sambuddhas.
The current teaching is that of Gotama (Sakyamuni) Buddha. Immediately before him was Kassapa
Buddha, and the next Buddha is Metteyya (Maitriya) Buddha, who lives now as Bodhisatta Maitriya in
the Tusita world.
The Historical Buddha
This expression refers to Gotama (Sakyamuni) Buddha who lived about 600 BCE and whose teaching
continues today. It is incorrect to refer to the Buddha as the founder of Buddhism. The Buddhist
teaching is the law of nature or absolute reality and all Buddhas give the same teaching. This teaching
applies to all living beings whether they know about it or not, and does not change by time or location.
It applies in all the worlds and planes of existence known in Buddhism.
Gotama Buddha, during his life, established the Order of the Sangha, for monks first, and then for the
nuns. The first two nuns were his stepmother Queen Maha Prajapati Gotami and his former wife
Princess Yasodhara. He predicted that both these nuns will in time become excellent teachers,
bodhisattvas and Buddhas.
The Qualities of Gotama Buddha
These are set out in the words of worship: a worthy person who has transcended the cycle of rebirths,
realized the teaching of the Dhamma by his own efforts, perfect in knowledge and conduct, one who
has progressed along the path of a bodhisatta, who knows the nature of different worlds, an
incomparable teacher, a teacher of deities and human beings, who has become aware of absolute reality,
and a fortunate one.
Further qualities are given in the texts such as having a memory of former births of himself and others,
the knowledge how to eradicate unwholesome qualities of the mind, ability to read the minds of others,
complete knowledge of the detailed rules of kamma and rebirth, the nature of beings, the intricacies of
mindfulness and meditation, hindrances on the path to Enlightenment and so on.
The Development of the Buddha Concept
Gotama Buddha explained that his followers should focus on the Dhamma he taught, rather than him as
a person. He explained that the followers who honour him best were those who follow and practise his
teaching. At the end of his life he explained that when he was no more, the followers must accept the
Dhamma he taught as the teacher.
The Mahayana Tradition:
The Mahayana tradition developed the concept of the Buddha much further. Although still regarded as
a human being, this body was looked upon as the Nirmanakaya aspect – the Buddha purposefully
manifesting as a human being in order to teach the Dharma and bring others to enlightenment. Two
other bodies (or kayas) were envisioned. The Sambhogakaya, which only other highly realized beings
could perceive and gain teachings from, and the Dharmakaya, the emptiness body of enlightenment, the
ultimate nature of Buddhahood. Central to this idea was the concept of Buddha nature – that all beings
have the potential to become enlightened.
The most important focus in the Mahayana is the bodhisattva ideal, the path of the bodhisattva – one
who is altruistically dedicated to gaining enlightenment not just for one self, but for the sake of all
other sentient beings. With this as the motivation, profound practices aimed at developing the mind of
compassion were taught and expanded upon.
At the core of Mahayana philosophy is the concept of emptiness (Shunyata), based around the
Buddha’s teachings on anatman (no self). It does not mean nothingness, however, but an emptiness, or
lack of inherent existence. Buddhism is said to be free of the two extremes, nihilism and eternalism.
The development of Mahayana Buddhism also meant a new role of the laity, as this path made it more
open to them. Another central concept of the Mahayana was the idea of Skillful Means, that the Buddha
taught on many different levels according to the capacity of each person.
The commentaries developed the ideas of the Buddha nature, numerous Buddhas, simultaneous
existence of the Buddhas, that he must be a divine and spiritual being whose physical form did not
completely portray his nature, and that the real body was not a worldly but a cosmic body.
The Eastern Buddhist traditions reconciled these ideas in the concept of the Trikaya, the three bodies of
• Dharmakaya – a Dharma body
• Sambhogakaya – a manifestation of the Dharma body to teach bodhisattvas
• Nirmanakaya – a manifestation of the Dhamma body to teach human beings
Dharmakaya is the emptiness body of the teaching. It is the living teaching which operates permanently
and everywhere. It includes the other bodies.
Sambhogakaya is a manifestation of the Dharmakaya only perceivable by realized beings for the
purpose of teaching bodhisattvas.
Nirmanakaya is a mortal manifestation of the Dharmakaya for the purpose of teaching human beings,
for example Gotama Buddha.
There also developed, in all the traditions, the idea of the Buddha nature or bodhicitta (mind of
enlightenment).This is the potential of all living beings to become Enlightened. This is an active force
in the consciousness of all living beings which can be developed by transcending the various negative
qualities of the mind, such as attachment and ignorance.
An Arahat is one who has transcended attachment, ill will and ignorance; perceived impermanence,
dukkha and selflessness; and attained Enlightenment and realized Nibbana. The final aim of Buddhists
in South Asia is to become an Arahat. This is understood to take many lifetimes. Most of these
Buddhists have an intermediate aim of birth in good circumstances, meaning lives which will facilitate
their progress on the Buddhist path.
A bodhisattva [Sanskrit] is one intent on full Enlightenment. In the South Asian traditions the
bodhisatta [Pali] is one intent on becoming a Samma Sambuddha. In the Eastern and Northern
(Mahayana) traditions a bodhisattva is one intent on becoming a Universal Buddha for the sake of all
beings. These latter traditions have a wider view of a bodhisattva as one who has;
1. Taken the Bodhisattva vow, or
2. Progressed on the Bodhisattva path to be free from compulsive rebirth as a human being, but may
voluntarily be born as a human being to help others on the path.
Before entering the path of a Buddhist pilgrim the individual is known as a worldling, because his mind
is focused on worldly matters. On entering the path he is known as a noble person.
There four stages on the path to become an Arahat.
The first is stream winner. The stream is the Noble Eightfold Path. The noble one has begun to practice
the elements of the Noble Eightfold path. He has overcome some obstacles, perfected some qualities,
and made some progress on the Buddhist path. He will be reborn at the most seven times in the human
When he has progressed further on the path and perfected more qualities, he becomes a once returner
and will be reborn only once more in the human world.
At the next stage, when he has perfected more qualities he becomes a never returner. After his life he is
reborn in heavenly worlds.
At the final stage of an Arahat he has perfected all the required qualities and achieved Enlightenment
and realized Nibbana. He creates no further Kamma, but may have to live through the bad Kamma of
his past lives.
Bodhisatta / Bodhisattva Path
According to the teaching of the Southern (Theravada) traditions the bodhisatta has to perfect the ten
Paramis (perfections) required for full Enlightenment as a Sam Sambuddha. This is not a graduated
path. The Jataka Stories illustrate how the bodhisatta perfected these qualities as he progressed to
becoming Gotama Buddha.
According to the teaching of the Eastern and Northern (Mahayana) traditions the bodhisattva has to
perfect the Paramitas (usually six perfections). These are the qualities required to be perfected to
achieve full Buddhahood. The Paramitas are similar to the Paramis of the Southern traditions.
Since the aim in the Eastern and Northern traditions is to become a Buddha, the Bodhisattva Path has a
special importance. In the ten graduated stages of the Bodhisattva Path along which the bodhisattva
progresses, he develops and perfects qualities such as generosity, morality, patience, energy, meditation,
wisdom and so on. These ten stages are related to the Paramitas.
The final aim in all the traditions is to become a Samma Sambuddha, a fully Enlightened Universal
he was naturally deeply shocked; so shocked that palace life was no longer pleasant or even bearable
for him. He became very concerned with the fact of suffering and with finding a way of ending it. On a
fourth trip to the town, he came upon a possible way of finding an answer to his problem. He met an
ascetic, a holy man: one who had given up everything to follow the religious life. Despite having
nothing, this man radiated a calmness that suggested to Gautama that he had somehow come to terms
with the unpleasant fact of suffering.
So Gautama decided to follow the example of the ascetic. He slipped out of the palace in the dead of
night, exchanged his splendid silken robes for the simple orange one of a holy man, and cut off all his
beautiful black hair. Then, carrying nothing but an alms bowl for people to put food in, he set off on his
Gautama went to all the most famous religious teachers of his day and learned all they had to teach. In
the process, he subjected his body to great hardship through fasting and ascetic practices. He lived in
terrifying forests, burning in the heat of the midday sun and freezing at night; he slept on beds of
thorns; sometimes he lived in cemeteries. He starved himself until he became so thin that if he touched
his stomach he could feel his backbone. But still he could not find an answer to his fundamental
question – which would be an insight into the cause of human suffering. He realised that if he kept on
that way he would probably die before finding the answer.
He therefore decided on a middle way between luxury and austerity. He took a little food much to the
disgust of his fellow ascetics, who promptly left him. Then he sat himself on the ‘immovable spot’
under a great Bodhi tree at a place nowadays called Bodh Gaya. He was determined to sit there until he
found an answer or die trying.
During the night of the full moon of May, Gautama passed into deep meditation and gained various
kinds of new knowledge. He saw into his past lives; and understood Karma (karma is a Sanskrit word
referring to an intentional action that produces an effect) and realized he was free from desire,
attachment to existence and clinging to false or fixed views. Finally, as the morning star rose, he
awakened as from a dream and could declare: ‘It is liberated . . . birth is exhausted, the Holy Life has
been lived out, what was to be done has been done, there is no more to come . . .’ He was Gautama no
more but The Buddha ‘The Awakened One’. He had seen things as they really are, attained
Enlightenment. Sometimes he is spoken of as having attained Nirvana. Nirvana is – the extinction of
greed, the extinction of hate, the extinction of delusion. Its true nature cannot be put into words; a
person must know it for himself in his own heart.
At first the Buddha was reluctant to tell other people about what he had discovered. He felt they would
not understand. He was persuaded, however, that there were some ‘with but a little dust in their eyes’
who might benefit from being told. He therefore went to Isipatana (modern Sarnath, near
Benares(Varanasi)) where he delivered his first sermon in a Deer Park to the five disciples that had
previously abandoned him. Thus began a forty-five year teaching career.
The Buddha taught all classes, conditions and types of men and women; and, indeed, all beings. He
first taught ‘The Middle Way’ the path that lies between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self
mortification that are both fruitless demeaning and unprofitable. He then went on to explain exactly
what that Middle Way was; namely the understanding of ‘The Four Noble Truths’ and how to put that
into practice by walking ‘The Noble Eightfold Path’ in order to, like him, find release from suffering.
Soon the Buddha gathered around himself a following ready to give up everything to hear his teachings
and put them into practice. Thus was born the Sangha: the community of Buddhist monks and nuns,
which from the start was supported by a large lay community.
As a man, the Buddha’s life had eventually to end. He died surrounded by disciples when he was about
eighty years old at Kushinara. Naturally, his followers were deeply grieved. His final words to them
Compassion and hence freedom from suffering may be achieved. Suffering may only be overcome,
however, by being confronted and lived through. In the Buddha’s words: ‘Suffering I teach and the way
out of suffering.’ Fundamental Buddhist doctrines include the following:
The Chain of Causation / The Twelve linked Chain of Causation
This important doctrine teaches the interconnectedness of all things and in particular the law of Karma
and the mechanism by which we create a world of suffering for ourselves and others, and the opposite;
the way to live that reduces suffering for all, and leads to liberation.
The Three Signs of Being
(1) Change (2) Suffering (3) no” I ”
The first, Change, points out the basic fact that nothing in the world is fixed or permanent. We
ourselves are not the same people, either physically, emotionally or mentally, that we were ten years –
or even ten minutes ago! Living as we do, then, as shifting beings upon shifting sands, it is not possible
for us to find lasting security.
As regards the second Sign, we have already seen how it was the experience of Suffering that sent the
Buddha off on his great spiritual quest, though suffering is not a very good translation of the original
word, dukkha. Dukkha implies the generally unsatisfactory and imperfect nature of life. However, it
does not follow that Buddhists believe that life is all suffering. Buddhists do believe that there is
happiness in life, but know that it does not last and that even in the most fortunate of lives there is
suffering. Happiness is subject to the law of change and impermanence.
No-I, the third Sign, is a little more difficult.
Buddhists do not believe that there is anything everlasting or unchangeable in human beings, no soul or
self in which a stable sense of ‘I’ might anchor itself. The whole idea of ‘I’ is in fact a basically false
one that tries to set itself up in an unstable and temporary collection of elements. Take the traditional
analogy of a cart. A cart may be broken down into its basic components -axle, wheels, shafts, sides, etc.
Then the cart is no more; all we have is a pile of components. In the same way ‘I’ am made up of
various elements or aggregates (khandhas): form (rupa-khandha), feeling-sensation (pleasant,
unpleasant, neutral), (vedana-khandha), perception (sanna-khandha), volitional mental activities
(sankhara-khandha), sense consciousness (vinnana-khandha).
The Four Noble Truths
(1) The Noble Truth of Suffering (2) The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering (3) The Noble Truth of
Cessation of Suffering (4) The Noble Truth of the Way leading to the Cessation of Suffering: The
Noble Eightfold Path.
Buddhism begins with the fact of suffering. However, before we can do anything about it, we must
know its cause, which is the deeply-rooted sense of ‘I’ that we all have. Because of this we are always
struggling to get things that are pleasurable and avoid things that are painful to find ease and security,
and generally to manipulate people and situations to be the way “I” want them. And because the rest of
the world does not necessarily fit in with what I want, we often find ourselves cutting against the
general flow of things, and getting hurt and disappointed in the process. Suffering may be therefore
brought to an end by transcending this strong sense of ‘I’ so that we come into greater harmony with
things in general. The means of doing this is The Noble Eightfold Path.
The Noble Eightfold Path
(1) Right View. (2) Right Thought. (3) Right Speech. (4) Right Action. (5) Right Livelihood. (6) Right
Effort (7) Right Mindfulness. (8) Right Concentration.
The Wheel is the symbol of the Dharma and is shown with eight spokes which represent the Noble
Eightfold Path. Right View is important at the start because if we cannot see the truth of the Four Noble
Truths then we can’t make any sort of beginning. Right Thought follows naturally from this. ‘Right’
here means in accordance with the facts: with the way things are – which may be different from how I
would like them to be. Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood involve moral
restraint refraining from lying, stealing, committing violent acts, and earning one’s living in a way
harmful to others. Moral restraint not only helps bring about general social harmony but also helps us
control and diminish the sense of ‘I’. Like a greedy child, ‘I’ grows big and unruly the more we let it
have its own way. Next, Right Effort is important because ‘I’ thrives on idleness and wrong effort;
some of the greatest criminals are the most energetic people, so effort must be appropriate to the
diminution of I, and in any case if we are not prepared to exert ourselves we cannot hope to achieve
anything at all in either the spiritual sense nor in life. The last two steps of the Path, Right Mindfulness
or awareness and Right Concentration or absorption, represent the first stage toward liberation from
suffering. To be aware and at one with what we are doing is fundamental to proper living, this practice
takes many forms but in the West the formal practice is called meditation. In the most basic form of
Buddhist meditation, a person sits cross-legged on a cushion on the floor or upright in a chair. He/she
quietly watches the rise and fall of the breath. If thoughts, emotions or impulses arise, he/she just
observes them come up and go like clouds in a blue sky, without rejecting them on the one hand or
being carried away into daydreaming or restlessness on the other. It should be learnt under the guidance
of a teacher just as the Buddha too learnt meditation.
The Three Fires
(1) Desire/Thirst, (2) Anger (3) Delusion
‘Your house is on fire, burns with the Three Fires; there is no dwelling in it’ – thus spoke the Buddha in
his great Fire Sermon. The house he speaks of here is the human body; the three fires that burn it are
(1) Desire/Thirst, (2) Anger and (3) Delusion. They are all kinds of energy and are called ‘fires’
because, untamed, they can rage through us and hurt us and other people too! Properly calmed through
spiritual training, however, they can be transformed into the genuine warmth of real humanity.
‘Not to do any evil; to cultivate good; to purify one’s heart – this is the teaching of all the Buddha’s.’
Although Buddhists value highly such virtues as loving kindness, humanity, patience and giving,
perhaps they value wisdom and compassion most of all. The idea of ahimsa or harmlessness is very
closely connected with compassion. The compassionate desire to cause no harm to all beings including
animals, plants, and the world in general. In all things Buddhism places great stress on self-reliance and
the Buddha himself told his followers not to believe without questioning, but to test it for themselves.
Buddhism is also a very practical religion and aims at helping people to live their lives peacefully.
Buddhists also try to practice the Buddhist virtues actively in their everyday lives. The final goal of all
Buddhist practice is to bring about that same awakening that the Buddha himself achieved through an
active transformation of the heart and passions and the letting go of I.
ist Society, 58 Eccleston Square, London, SW1V 1PH