Understanding and practice

A clear understanding of the purpose of meditation is essential for the practice of Buddhist meditation to become an effective means to spiritual development. You can only grasp the purpose itself when you understand the framework of principles underpinning the practice. To follow the Dhamma correctly two things must go together hand in hand:

  • understanding
  • practice.

Understanding here means comprehending our experience correctly — the ability to distinguish the valid from the invalid, the true from the false, the wholesome from the unwholesome. Through thorough investigation you learn to reject what is detrimental to your growth and to apply yourself with confidence to cultivating what is truly beneficial. While meditation without understanding may bring the mundane benefits of greater calm, awareness and equanimity, without having reached a preliminary conceptual understanding it is questionable whether it can lead to the penetrative realization of the Dhamma, or to its final goal, the complete cessation of suffering.

When understanding and practice can be brought into unison, when they are made to compliment and support each other, the pursuit of the goal can be brought to a successful conclusion. But if we have only one without the other, then that can only lead perhaps to a futile end.

To have knowledge and understanding without practice might be compared to reading the menus in a restaurant without eating anything, Looking at all the menus of the fanciest restaurants in town won’t satisfy our own appetite.

On the other hand, to practice without having the prerequisite understanding as a grounding for the practice will not bring us to our desired destination.

Thus we need these two elements: understanding and practice —  pariyati and patipati  And these have to work together hand-in-hand to bring about the achievement of the goal of the Buddha’s teaching — enlightenment and liberation.

Think of learning as a part of practice not a supplement, for the entire Buddhist discipline aims at the growth of the wisdom or understanding. Wisdom is the key to realization.

The Buddha teaches that wisdom develops in three stages.

  • The wisdom born of learning
  • The wisdom born of reflection
  • The wisdom born of meditation

To actualize the teachings of the Buddha you pass through these three stages, one by one: first learning, then reflection, and then meditation.

It is meditation that transforms the content of learning and reflection into actual experience.

Studying the Dhamma

This course is not meant to give a thorough and scholarly account of the Buddha’s teaching. Rather the aim is to lay down the essential fundamentals of Buddhist teaching as a foundation for practice.

The teaching of the Buddha itself is called the Dhamma. The word Dharma comes from the root dhar, which means to uphold or sustain. Thus the word Dhamma means literally that which sustains.

The Dhamma as part of our spiritual quest

The word  Dhamma signifies the truth realized by the Buddha.  It is the truth which subsists by itself whether is understood or not, whether it is taught or not – the true nature of phenomena, the real mode of existence of things.

The word Dhamma also signifies the path that leads to the realization of the truth.

As well it signifies the doctrine which elucidates the truth and makes known the path.

The three jewels

Taking the Buddhist path implies that we have acknowledged our need for spiritual guidance and are looking to the Buddha’s teaching on the true nature of the human condition, a teaching designed to awaken in us a perception of this  truth as the means for reaching the full and final end of suffering.

The Buddha's teaching can be thought of as a kind of building with its own distinct foundation, stories, stairs, and roof. Like any other building the teaching also has a door, and in order to enter it we have to enter through this door. The door of entrance to the teaching of the Buddha is the Triple Gem:

  • The Buddha - the teacher (and the discoverer of the Dhamma)
  • The Dhamma – the Buddha’s teachings of the truth he discovered
  • The Sangha – the community of those who have realized the teaching and embody it in their lives

These are referred to as The Three Jewels (or Triple Gem) because for one who is seeking the way to liberation, they are the most precious things in the World.

Our organization of this course’s exploration of the Dhamma is organized according to the three jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.


The Buddha's Teaching as It Is

1 of 2
Qualities of the Dharma
The Four Noble Truths
The Noble Eightfold Path
The True Nature of Existence
  The Five Aggregates of Clinging
  Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta
  Dependent Arising
  Kamma, Nibbana and Rebirth


The Sangha
The Buddhist Sangha