For over one hundred years, Buddhism has been making its way into North American culture. The majority of people interested in this teaching has not read the Buddhist scriptures and probably never will. Instead, they rely on approaches and overviews presented by popular teachers from various cultures. In this situation, the precision of the original teaching is often lost.
Two examples immediately come to mind. First, the Buddha's teaching is frequently summarized as "Life is suffering." This is different from his version, which states, "The five focuses of clinging are suffering."
The second example involves the underlying reason for this affliction. It is often stated that "desire is the cause." The original instruction states, "The cause of suffering is the desire which arises when things have the appearance of being enjoyable and [ultimately] fulfilling."
In addition to these misrepresentations, some aspects of the teaching are being ignored altogether. As a result, we hear that the doctrine consists of the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Five Hindrances, the Five Precepts, and so on. While these are wonderful summaries, there are threads of thought running throughout the scriptures that offer a more cohesive analysis. This book presents those essential teachings in a clear and accessible way while retaining their detail, their subtlety, and their depth.
The translations I have used are a combination of works from The Buddhist Publication Society, The Pali Text Society, and a few others. These are reliable interpretations, but are often stilted in their phrasing. I have adjusted the quotations without changing the meaning, making them easier to read. I have removed unnecessary repetition and added bracketed notes to clarify certain points or to paraphrase a long piece.
The passages chosen are not esoteric; they are very much part of the recorded teaching and their translation is not in question. My choices and comments are based on thirty-six years of exploring the meditative process.
The Buddha often referred to himself as the Tathagata, which, nine-hundred years later, had about eight different translations. I have chosen to use "one who knows the truth." Though not literal, it encompasses the general meaning of all of them. A more exact translation would be "one who is to thusness come" or "one who is to thusness gone."
For those wishing to read the suttas (scriptures), I would suggest beginning with a reliable anthology such as The Life of the Buddha by Bhikkhu Nanamoli. Within the scriptures, some portions are more accessible than others; I recommend the Majjhima-Nikaya or the Sutta-Nipata.
Much of the information presented in this book is a reworking of articles I first presented in the newsletters of Amaravati Buddhist Monastery, Hertfordshire, England, while living there as a monk.