The Buddha's teaching is called the Dhamma. Dhamma comes
from the Pali root dar, which means to support,
to sustain, to hold up. In this lesson we look at the various
shades of meaning in this word.
You may see
this word referred to in its Sanskrit form, Dharma, or
in the Pali we use in this course, Dhamma.
The canonical texts and commentaries of the Theravada tradition are preserved
in the ancient Middle Indo-Aryan (MIA) language known as Pali. The MIA languages
are descended from Vedic Sanskrit but older than classical Sanskrit. Since the
Buddha traveled through many regions in northeast India, it is likely that he
spoke in the dialect appropriate to the region in which he was teaching. The
earliest Buddhist texts were probably recorded in the language of the state of
Magadha (present-day Bihar), in northeast India. Pali belongs to this same family
of languages, but is probably a hybrid combining features of several MIA dialects,
with a dominance of west Indian features.
The true nature of things In the most basic sense, Dhamma is the fundamental
element of lawfulness operating in the universe, structuring
all events, all experience and all phenomena. All actual
things, all phenomena are called dhammas in the plural
because all of them embody the true nature of things.
Ethical law Dhamma also means the fundamental principle
of righteousness, the cosmic law of virtue and goodness.
The path Dhamma also has a practical
sense, something applicable to our own life. Dhamma is
that which sustains us,
which supports us, or which upholds our own
effort to live in virtue and goodness. In this sense
Dhamma is the path. It is both the lower path of virtue
and the supramundane path, the higher path that leads
to realization of the true nature of things, that brings
the attainment of truth.
The Buddha’s teaching The Buddha's teaching
is called the Dhamma, because this teaching makes known
the true nature of things, disclosing the true nature
of all existence.
Dhamma — a path and the truth to be realized
In approaching Dhamma it is necessary to come to it with
the right attitude, right understanding and right intention.
By way of understanding the Dhamma, we should not take
it to be something that demands to be accepted on faith.
As well Dhamma should not be taken to be a set of doctrines
to be played with intellectually.
Dhamma is a path, a way that leads to the realization
of truth, and Dhamma is also the truth to be realized,
realized in immediate experience.
is called opanayaka because it leads
onwards step by step to a deepening realization of
The Dhamma is the true nature of things. the truth that’s
written into our own experience. And this truth has to
be realized with the same immediacy as that with which
we can see an object held in our hands. To realize this
truth we have to travel a path, the path of Dhamma.
There is no one else who can walk it for us, but the Dhamma
taught by the Buddha guides us in our effort to walk the
path. It enables us to see, pointing out what needs
to be understood.
is called niyanaka, emancipating —
to take place within ourselves.
The Dhamma isn't meant to be approached as a neat system
of ideas to be admired and discussed. it doesn’t
let us off with easy answers to the ultimate questions.
What it gives us is basically the methods, the way to find
the answers for ourselves, make our own discovery of truth
through the immediacy of our own life.
Beginning with an observation Rather than starting off with theoretical
dogmas or beliefs, the Buddha's
teaching begins with a simple observation,
but one very profound, the gateway to all wisdom: that
human life is essentially problematic, beset
with problems, difficulties, inadequacies — what
the Buddha called Dukkha (usually translated as suffering).
The value of the Dhamma is pragmatic and instrumental.
It offers to show us the way out of our problematic situations
and the way to attain inner freedom, to realize the highest
and truest (in the true) happiness.
entire doctrine of the Buddha flows between the two
points of suffering and the end of suffering.
The entire doctrine of the Buddha flows between the two
points of suffering and the end of suffering. Every other
consideration — of all the speculations, the metaphysical
concerns, the dogmatic subtleties that often infest
religion — all of these are set aside as irrelevant.
And not only does the Buddha make suffering and its cessation the
focal point of his teaching, but he deals with the problem
in a very realistic way – a way that is personal
and immediate, a way that can be verified in our own experience.
And the Buddha presents the Dhamma as the means to this
goal, as a method.
A raft to the shore of freedom
Speculative concerns are irrelevant Because of this practical bent, the Buddha dismisses all
speculative concerns as irrelevant. He says that he teaches
only suffering and the cessation of suffering. All other
philosophical pursuits are futile, misleading and even
A teaching to be examined not believed The Buddha’s teaching is offered solely
as the way to liberation. As the way
to freedom he holds up purified conduct and correct understanding.
And even the Buddha functions simply as a teacher of the
path, not as a savior who grants salvation. The Buddha
points out that the path to the end of suffering has to
be followed each for himself. The Buddha can show the path,
but each person has to follow it according to his own energy
and his own understanding. For this reason the Buddha rejects
the call for blind faith and belief, discouraging those
who might merely believe in him or accept his
doctrine out of respect or through faith.
He asks his followers
to examine his teaching, to investigate it, until they
become convinced of it themselves. He says that just
as a goldsmith, when he is given a lump of metal and told
it’s gold. doesn’t
accept this through belief but he tests and examines
it by burning, cutting and scraping until he’s
convinced that it’s gold, so in the same way he
tells his disciples, “Accept my doctrine
only after examining and scrutinizing it, not merely
out of respect for me.”
Features of the Dhamma
In the following lessons we explore the essential ingredients
of the Buddha’s Dhamma: