The essence of Buddhism | Daniel Scharpenburg

At Rime Center we do a carol every sunday called Supplication to the Buddha. I believe in part of this chanting we really understand what the essence of Buddhism is. It is as follows:

“Do not commit any non-virtuous action.

Perform only perfect virtuous actions.

Completely subjugate your mind-

This is the teaching of the Blessed One”

In his book Buddhism for beginners Thubten Chodron echoes the same idea with slightly different wording.

She writes, “Abandon negative action; create perfect virtue; submit your own mind. This is the teaching of the Buddha.

I read “Buddhism for Beginners” recently. I have never read this book before and am helping to teach a course based on it. So I am reading it. Sometimes I think it’s good for us to go back to the basic teachings and just try to see them in a new way.

Stop doing bad things, do good things, take control of your mind.

If we can stop doing things that cause harm, then we can make the world a better place for ourselves and for others. We can work to cultivate virtue by learning to develop attitudes rooted in love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. When we surrender our mind, we can lay down our emotional baggage to see the world clearly and we can begin to make better choices. It can help us be calm and peaceful and also stop constantly making enemies.

Thubten Chodron says: “Disturbing attitudes and negative emotions, such as attachment, anger and ignorance are the real source of unhappiness. As these are based on misconceptions about the nature of reality, they can be removed from our mind stream.

Many things that make us unhappy come from ourselves. Our own self-obsession and emotional baggage are things that take great joy from us. But we can learn to let go of these things, or at least not hold them so tightly.

We practice Buddhism by working on the 3 higher formations. These are:

-Ethical discipline

– Meditative Stabilization


Live an ethical life, train your mind and learn to see things clearly. This is how I would describe these three formations. Each of these three is divided into what we call the Noble Eightfold Path.

Ethical discipline:

-Right speech: use words that are true, kind and appropriate

– Righteous activity: taking actions that do not harm others

-Right Livelihood: earning a living by honest and non-harmful means

Meditative Stabilization:

– Right effort: determination to counter disturbing and negative emotions

– Mindfulness: counteracting both laziness and excitement in our meditation

-Right Samadhi: training our mind to ostensibly fixate on an object


-Right view: the wisdom that realizes emptiness and connectedness

– Right thinking: the mind can clearly explain the path to others and is motivated by the desire to free itself from suffering.

The essence of Buddhism is also contained in a teaching called the 3 main aspects of the path.

3 Main Aspects of the Path:

-Determination to be free

– Altruistic Intent (aka Bodhicitta)

-Wisdom realizing reality

Thubten Chodron says, “Initially, we must have the determination to free ourselves from the confusion of our problems and their causes. Then, seeing that other people also have problems, with love and compassion, we will develop an altruistic intention to become a Buddha so that we will be able to help others as effectively as possible. To do this, we must develop the wisdom that understands the true nature of ourselves and other phenomena. This eliminates all false projections.

And, finally, the essence of Buddhism takes refuge in the three jewels. The three jewels are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Taking refuge means that we rely on these things to inspire us and guide us to a more enlightened life.

The Buddha is the historical figure who founded Buddhism but also the innate potential for awakening that is within us.

The Dharma represents the teachings of the Buddha and all the steps we take to continue to develop enlightened mind.

The Sangha is the community, those other people with whom we practice Buddhism.

We rely on these three things to keep us on the path and to keep us motivated to keep going.

Thubten Chodron says: “When people take refuge, they clarify for themselves the direction they are taking in life, who is guiding them and who are their companions on the way.

Who was the Buddha?

The Buddha is the historical figure credited with creating the religious tradition we call Buddhism. In Buddhism for beginners Thubten Chodron describes the Buddha as “A human being who lived 2500 years ago and purified his mind of all defilements and developed his full potential”.

It sounds really heavy. He completely cleared his mind and reached his full potential. It seems like a lot. But this fact is so important to the story. He was a person. He wasn’t a spirit, he wasn’t a god, he wasn’t an angel, he wasn’t a divine hero. He was a person. He was a very wise and determined person, but he was not fundamentally different from you or me. So we can all do what he did. It is something to which we can aspire.

We are encouraged to study the Buddha’s teachings and put them to the test. Then we can develop faith in them. We can clear our minds and reach our potential.

Thubten Chodron goes on to say, “All beings have the potential to become Buddhas, because all of our minds are naturally pure. Right now they are clouded by disruptive attitudes, negative emotions, and contaminated actions. Through consistent practice, we can remove these defilements from our mind streams and nurture the seeds of the beautiful potentials we have. So each of us can become a Buddha when this process of purification and growth is complete.

You get there by realizing that you are already there. Our minds are pure. We only have these things in our path, like clouds in the sky. And we strive to see through the clouds to manifest our true nature. Our path depends on the Buddha showing us the way, but also on our own efforts. Teachers show the way, but we have to walk the way ourselves.

That’s all for today. I hope exploring these core Buddhist teachings has been meaningful to you.

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if you would like to purchase Thubten Chodron’s book, you can do so here:

Buddhism for beginners