Key Buddhist Teachings

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What follows are brief explanations of some key Buddhist teachings.  If you have any questions then feel free to contact us.

The Four Noble Truths

  1.  All sentient beings (not just humans) are afflicted with feelings of dissatisfaction, sadness, discomfort, anxiety…  They are subject to suffering. This is called Dukkha.
  2. The cause of this Dukkha (suffering) is craving, born of the illusion of a permanent, fixed identity called a “self” or soul.
  3. Dukkha (suffering) is finally ended with the attainment of Enlightenment (Nirvana), which is the complete letting go of the illusion of “self,” and the consequent ending of craving and hatred.
  4. Enlightenment is achieved through a gradual training in what is called the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path

1. Right Understanding,  2. Right Intention.

Right Understanding and Intention are the manifestations of Buddha-like Wisdom, which ends all suffering, transforming the personality, producing unshakeable calm and tireless compassion.

3. Right Speech,  4. Right Action,  5. Right Livelihood.

Right Speech, Action, and Livelihood constitute the training in virtue or morality.  For a practising lay Buddhist it consists of maintaining the Five Precepts, which are to refrain from: 1. Intentionally causing the death of any living being;  2. Intentionally stealing;  3.Sexual conduct that is harmful to ourself and others;  4. Lying and breaking promises;  5. Consuming alcohol and stupefying drugs which lead to a weakening of mindfulness and moral judgement.

6. Right Effort,  7. Right Mindfulness,  8. Right Concentration.

Right Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration refer to the practice of meditation, which purifies the mind through the experience of blissful states of inner calm, and empowers the mind to realize the meaning of life through profound moments of insight.


Anatta means “Not-self.” There is no essential, independent, permanent identity that can be called a “Self” or “Soul.” Anatta is also sometimes translated as Selflessness.


Impermanence (Anicca in Pali) is a universal natural law, that all things born/created are subject to change.


Karma means “action.”  According to the law of karma there are inescapable results of our intentional actions.  The seeds of karma are produced by deeds of body, speech, and mind that cause harm to ourself, others, or to both.  Such deeds cause “bad” or “unwholesome” karma.  They are motivated by craving, hatred, and ignorance, and because they bring painful results they should not be done.

There are also deeds of body, speech, and mind that lead to our own own well-being, to the well-being of others, or to the well-being of both.  Such deeds cause “good” or “wholesome” karma.  They are motivated by generosity, compassion, or wisdom, and because they bring pleasant results they should be done as often as possible.

Much of what we experience is the result of our own previous karma.  It has both potential and actual aspects. Karmic seeds that reside in our consciousness represent the potential for our subsequent existence in the realm of Samsara (realm of birth, death, and rebirth). Karma is the fuel that energizes the Samsaric process.  Thus, the cultivation and practice of morality, compassion, and wisdom is an essential part of Buddhist life.


BuddhaG (copy)Nirvana (Nibbana in Pali) means “extinction” or “blowing out,” as if a candle was being blown out.  Extinction here refers to the complete end of craving, hatred, and ignorance which leads to perfect bliss and peace.  Nirvana is also known as the “unconditioned state,” as opposed to the conditioned state of existence in which we find ourselves.

Nirvana is the transcendence of the cycle of Samsara, which is what the Third Noble Truth is pointing to.  But the deluded Samsaric mind cannot truly understand this truth, as it tries to use the sense organs and intellect to grasp at Ultimate Reality.  It can only be experienced directly through diligent and skilful practice of the Eightfold Path, which leads to happiness and liberation. 

12 Links of Interdependent Origination

All phenomena arise as the result of causes, conditions, and results.  That means, all things in this world are interdependent and interconnected in myriad ways.  The Twelve Links represent one complete cycle of life:

  • Ignorance of the true nature of reality.  The mind dissolving into its own fundamental state of unconsciousness.  Can be overcome by cultivating Buddha-like wisdom.
  • Mental Formations: The gradual stirring of mental activity caused by karmic energy.  This activity begins the active phase of the pre-rebirth process. 
  • Consciousness: The ability of the mind to recognize something other than itself as an object.  A sense of self arises, and phenomena are perceived as being separate from this self (self-and-other, or subject-object).
  • Name and Form: The manifestation of the rising sense of self. “Some-thing” is perceived by “some-one.”
  • The Six Sense Bases: consist of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking; and also the objects of those senses.
  • Contact with the phenomenal world; the contact between sensory subjects and sensory objects.
  • Sensation: The value judgement (or naming) of the actual experience of contact.
  • Craving: A tremendous desire for experience.
  • Grasping: A tremendous desire to achieve  physical rebirth, to manifest into some form that can have experiences.
  • Becoming: The culmination of the will to exist.  Abandonment of the timeless nature of mind in order to give rise to the birth process.
  • Rebirth: The physical process of birth.
  • Old Age and Death: The consequences of rebirth into Samsara are to experience the suffering of illness, old age, and death.  Attainment of Nirvana is complete liberation from Samsara.

The Five Aggregates

There are five causally conditioned elements of existence that produce the deluded sense of a separate self, permanent and fixed, which appears to exist apart from all other phenomena.  However, this “I” is still subject to the Three Characteristics of Existence, namely Impermanence, Suffering, and No-Self (Selflessness). The Five Aggregates are:

  • Form: The physical form experienced through the senses, which is everything that is not thought.
  • Feeling: A sensation of form which may be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
  • Perception: Identifying this “object” as being some kind of “thing” that is different from some other “thing.”
  • Mental Formations: 52 separate impulses including emotions, mental states or intentions which come before an action.  They can include Feeling, and Perception, but in any case are usually manifested through bodily actions, speech, or thought.
  • Consciousness: An awareness of both an experience and something that is experienced. This is ordinary consciousness, such as the sensory and mental consciousnesses.  In effect, the Five Aggregates are the process of our samsaric life.


This commonly misunderstood term refers to the fact that all phenomena are “empty of” (do not have) a completely separate existence apart from all other phenomena.  This is the teaching of interdependence, and interconnectedness.

Four Foundations of Mindfulness

  1. Awareness of the Body.
  2. Awareness of Feelings.
  3. Awareness of Mind.
  4. Awareness of the Objects of Mind.

Seven Factors of Awakening

  1. Full Attention (mindfulness).
  2. Full Inquiry (investigation of phenomena).
  3. Tireless Energy.
  4. Unworldly Joy.
  5. Tranquility (lightness and peacefulness).
  6. Stillness.
  7. Equanimity.

Copyright © 2013-2023 – Venerable Shih Jingang


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