Review: What the Buddha Taught.

“What I have taught and laid down, Ananda, as Doctrine (Dhamma) and Discipline (Vinaya), this will be your teacher when I am gone.”


What the Buddha Taught” by Walpola Rahula

My first introduction to Buddhism was at college, where I decided to take it as one of my Philosophy & Religion credits and had no idea it would awaken in me a deep spiritual connection that hit me in a way the Catholicism and Christianity of my youth didn’t. What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula is one of the many basic guides to Buddhism I’ve collected from that class, and it stands as a very good look at the very basics of Buddhist belief: the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, karma, dharma, you name it, this touches on it at least briefly, with a lot of discussion on refuting some of the popular misconceptions about Buddhism, such as impermanence being a negative thing or the debate on the concept of Self.

For someone new to Buddhism, some of the concepts can be a little overwhelming and confusing. I know they were to me back then, and some of them still are. For someone familiar, this book is a great primer for the basics and a good reminder of how to live by the Buddha’s teaching. It’s a reminder, too, of that classic Buddhist parable: the words of the Buddha are the boat we use to cross the river, but once we cross the river, we do not take the boat with us, but, instead, go our own way. I wouldn’t say there are any stark revelations in What the Buddha Taught, nor is there supposed to be. It’s intended to be a gateway for the Western reader and it serves that purpose very well.

I do feel, in a few instances, Rahula tends to get a little unnecessarily defensive when he’s trying to refute common misconceptions, which felt, to me, outside of the perception of Buddhism. While most of the book is presented in a very scholarly fashion, there are a few places where I feel he lets his emotions get the best of him in regards to translations or interpretations different from his own. To me, it pulled me out of the peaceful mindfulness that most of the words inspired in me, and I found it a little troubling in that respect. It just goes to show, I think, how even those of us who have been traveling the Eightfold Path for quite some time can still find a rock to trip on.

Books read: 008/100.

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