The Buddha is neither a god nor a prophet nor the incarnation of a god, but a human being who achieved perfect wisdom and discovered the path to go out of suffering, through his own effort.
The heart of his teaching is contained in the Four Noble Truths:
- suffering (birth, decay, death, sorrow, pain)
- the cause of suffering (desire)
- the ending of suffering
- the path leading to the ending of suffering. This path, known as the Noble Eightfold Path, consists in cultivating the following eight qualities:
- Right Understanding
- Right Thought
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
Anicca (impermanence, changing), Dukkha (suffering), Anata (non-self, no soul), are the three fundamental teachings of the Buddha.
The Law of Karma means that every action has a reaction. In other words,
“Do good – you receive good (with interest). Do bad – you receive bad (with interest).”
Every single action that we do – including thinking, speaking, and acting physically – creates karma; either good, bad or neither good nor bad.
We inherit our own actions.
To avoid blind belief and rites and rituals for the future, the Buddha gave the guidance recorded in the Kalama Sutta:
- Be not led by reports
- Be not led by traditions
- Be not led by hearsay
- Be not led by authority of texts
- Be not led by mere logic
- Be not led by mere reasoning
- Be not led by a trustworthy appearance
- Be not led by agreement with a familiar theory
- Be not led by an initial impression of good sense
- Be not led by the thought “This is our teacher.”
Instead, all faith should be based on what you can see for yourself. The teaching of the Buddha is like a book of mechanics that shows you how to open up a machine and understand how it works – it is only when you have the engine open and you see everything inside it for yourself that you can believe what is written in the book of mechanics. Believe in what you see.
Anyone wishing to have peace of mind should observe the five precepts at all times:
- abstain from killing any living being
- abstain from stealing
- abstain from sexual misconduct
- abstain from telling lies
- abstain from intoxication
For a more detailed explanation of this code of morality, see this article.
The Buddha teaches the way to go out of Samsara, which is system within which beings continue to be born and to die through countless cycles of life after life.
It’s important to understand that this cycle of birth and death is not the same as Reincarnation. Reincarnation implies that each being has a soul: an essential, permanent self, which is carried over from one life to the next, always staying the same. Rebirth is different: both mind and body die, and what is carried from one life to the next is one’s karma, one’s good and bad qualities, and the spark of consciousness, which is carried from one body and mind to another in the same way that as a candle burns very low, you can transfer its flame to a new one; such that while both wax and wick are lost and gone, the flame continues.
Body and Mind – the Five Aggregates
What we call “I”, or the Self, can be divided into these five parts:
- Rupa (Body)
- Vedana (Feeling of agreeable/disagreeable, the mother of all emotions)
- Sanña (Memory, that is the “memory card” as well as the “files of memory)
- Sankhara (Intention of action, including thoughts, speech, and physical action.)
- Vinñana (Knowing or awareness of senses – eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind.)