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What the Buddha Taught

by Walpola Rahula

Buy the book: Walpola Rahula. What the Buddha Taught

Release Date: April, 1986

Edition: Paperback

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Buy the book: Walpola Rahula. What the Buddha Taught


A competent and brief introduction

It's difficult to think of a better brief introductory text to classical or Theravada Buddhism. The author gives a short introduction and then discusses the Four Noble Truths, the value of meditation, and some ideas on the modern relevance of Buddhism. The writing style is reasonably good, and the index and glossary are excellent if a bit out of date (one excellent source of modern text translations is accesstoinsight.org). This book can be recommended for beginners and to experienced meditators or Buddhists who would like a good "memory refresher."
One caveat: Mr Rahula seems to argue that the Buddha's views were atheistic. In my opinion, given the Buddha's admonition to investigate-for-yourself, his non-dogmatic statement that he had simply not seen a transcendent deity (rather than saying he knew there was no such deity), and his acceptance of some revelation and authority in addition to his reliance on analysis, I would argue the Buddha's views were probably agnostic rather than atheistic.

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Not "what the Buddha taught", but "What Theravada teaches"

Having read this book through, and being a translator of Pali (the language of the oldest texts of Buddhism), one can only conclude that the Author, now dead, did not read Buddhism's teachings, but rather the secular materials of his personal school, the Theravada and its Abhidhamma.
Mr. Rahulas claim, like that of Mr/Mrs. "Trinity" below is that, without evidences or citations from scripture, that Buddhism denied negated the Soul (attan/atman). This is however a baseless claim which cannot be substantiated in Sutra. In fact anatta is an adjective, not a noun. Buddhism says specifically: SN 3.196 "What does anatta mean Lord (Buddha)?...It means that form is non-self (anatta), feelings are non-self (anatta), and the other 3 aggregates.".
I'm afraid that anyone reading this book will confuse Mr. Rahula's personal views as expressed by and thru his school (Hinayana/Abhidhammism) and superimpose that belief system in his book upon Buddhism's doctrine. In fact, Buddhism says:The Soul is Charioteer"[Jataka-2-1341], "I leave you now, having made my Soul the refuge (saranamatta) DN 2.120 and "The Self (atman) as refuge, with nary another as refuge" DN 2.100.
I dare say that the claim by Rahula in his book that "anatta rejects the belief in a permanent unchanging Soul", is not scripturally verifiable in the least. Anatta is an adjective which refers to 22 things being devoid of Atman, "no-Soul" is specifically the Pali term: NATTHATTA' (literally "there is not/no[nattha]+atta'[Soul]), not anatta.
The claim below to the effect that: "The central message of Buddhism is that ALL things are empty and dependently arising", is correct, the all (sabbe) is phenomena (sankhara), and are devoid of (sunna) the Atman and are dependently arisen (paticcasamuppada), however both Buddhism and the Upanishads say the identically same thing, to conclude that ABCDEF is not X (atman/soul), therefore X does not exist, (the conclusion of Rahula and a reviewer below) is a fallacy of composition.
To parrot a reviewer below who said: "But don't believe either one of us just because we said so!" is true, which is why I have provided the scriptural evidences from Buddhist Sutta proving Rahula's "no-soul = Buddhist philosophy" claim to be groundless. I do not see the reviewer below refuting or upholding Rahula's claims by quoting Buddhism's sutras, hence it is ipso facto a "baseless claim composed entirely of conjecture". Mr. Rahula's book should correctly be titled "The secular opinions by and of Theravadins", it is incorrect and misleading to title this book "what the Buddha taught", since empirically the book contradicts Buddhism's main tenant to wit: "Dwell with the Soul as your Light, with the Soul as your refuge, with none other as refuge." [SN 5.154, DN 2.100, SN 3.42, DN 3.58, SN 5.163].

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