18 highlights from What the Buddha Taught: “Transient are conditioned things. Try to accomplish your aim with diligence.”

I recently finished What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula, who according to Wikipedia is a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk scholar and writer. The book explains Buddhist doctrine and principles by referring directly to the words of the Buddha himself, and is a very accessible and thorough read for someone like me who is deeply interested in Buddhism but has no formal training and is in fact turned off by too much jargon.

Below are some of the highlights I found most interesting, particularly what Rahula says are the Buddha’s last words: Transient are conditioned things. Try to accomplish your aims with diligence.” That’s definitely going into my Anki deck 😃


Almost all religions are built on faith — rather ‘blind’ faith it would seem. But in Buddhism emphasis is laid on ‘seeing’, knowing, understanding, and not on faith, or belief.

‘In the same manner, O bhikkhus, I have taught a doctrine similar to a raft — it is for crossing over, and not for carrying. You, O bhikkhus, who understand that the teaching is similar to a raft, should give up even good things; how much more then should you give up evil things.’

The biographies of the saints testify unequivocally to the fact that spiritual training leads to a transcendence of personality, not merely in the special circumstances of battle, but in all circumstances and in relation to all creatures, so that the saint ‘loves his enemies’ or, if he is a Buddhist, does not even recognize the existence of enemies, but treats all sentient beings, sub-human as well as human, with the same compassion and disinterested goodwill.

The Buddha’s own definition of karma should be remembered here: ‘O bhikkhus, it is volition that I call karma. Having willed, one acts through body, speech and mind.’

These are the five Aggregates. What we call a ‘being’, or an ‘individual’, is only a convenient name or a label given to the combination of these five groups. They are all impermanent, all constantly changing. ‘Whatever is impermanent is dukkha’

…the terms ‘thirst’, ‘volition’, ‘mental volition’ and ‘karma’ all denote the same thing: they denote the desire, the will to be, to exist, to re-exist, to become more and more, to grow more and more, to accumulate more and more. This is the cause of the arising of dukkha

According to Buddhism for a man to be perfect there are two qualities that he should develop equally: compassion on one side, and wisdom on the other.

…the idea of an abiding, immortal substance in man or outside, whether it is called Atman, Soul, Self, or Ego, is considered only a false belief, a mental projection. This is the Buddhist doctrine of Anatta, No-Soul or No-Self.

The moment you think ‘I am doing this’, you become self-conscious, and then you do not live in the action, but you live in the idea ‘I am’

the Five Hindrances, namely: 1. lustful desires, 2. ill-will, hatred or anger, 3. torpor and languor, 4. restlessness and worry, 5. skeptical doubts

It may be agreeable for certain people to live a retired life in a quiet place away from noise and disturbance. But it is certainly more praiseworthy and courageous to practise Buddhism living among your fellow beings, helping them and being of service to them.

The relation between friends, relatives and neighbours: they should be hospitable and charitable to one another; should speak pleasantly and agreeably; should work for each other’s welfare; should be on equal terms with one another; should not quarrel among themselves; should help each other in need; and should not forsake each other in difficulty.

The teachings of the Buddha were committed to writing for the first time at a Council in the first century B.C.—held in Ceylon four centuries after his death. Up to that time, the whole of the Tipitaka had been handed down from generation to generation in this unbroken oral tradition.

Just as a mother would protect her only child even at the risk of her own life, even so let one cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings. Let one’s thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world — above, below and across — without any obstruction, without any hatred, without any enmity.

‘Ever mindful he breathes in, and ever mindful he breathes out. Breathing in a long breath, he knows “I am breathing in a long breath”; breathing out a long breath, he knows “I am breathing out a long breath”; breathing in a short breath, he knows “I am breathing in a short breath”; breathing out a short breath, he knows “I am breathing out a short breath”.

Few among men are they who cross to the further shore. The others merely run up and down the bank on this side. For him, who has completed the journey, who is sorrowless, wholly set free, and rid of all bonds, for such a one there is no burning (of the passions). He whose senses are mastered like horses well under the charioteer’s control, he who is purged of pride, free from passions, such a steadfast one even the gods envy.

The most excellent ascetic practice is patience and forbearance.

Buddhas last words: Transient are conditioned things. Try to accomplish your aim with diligence.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

22 highlights from The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle: “Most people are in love with their particular life drama”

The Power of Now was for me a slow book. I limited myself to reading just a few pages, say 5 or 10, each time I picked it up, even though the writing has an easy flow and Eckhart’s signature clear voice.

So it took many months to finish, but I’m glad I did. Its messages are timeless and deep yet practical, as I hope the snippets below will show. I felt like the book should be approached more like my personal bible, or like any healhty daily habit – something you do a little of each day because it’s good for you, but not something you want to do too much of for exactly the same reason. Like exercise. And prayer.

Other books that have had this kind of impact on my life include The Power of Habit (hmm, sensing a pattern in titles…), So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and The War of Art (see the books here).

I look forward to reading more of his work; The New Earth is already loaded on my iPad Kindle app.

Everyone can learn something from Eckhart, despite the easy criticism that is often leveled at messengers like him. I would put Alain de Botton and David Brooks into the same broad category.

His blend of modern faith, selected wisdom from mainstream traditions like Christianity and Buddhism, simple writing style, calm demeanor, and deep advice make him a potent messenger, and I am a fan.

If you read just one quote from below and try to remember it fully, simply this:

Give your fullest attention to whatever the moment presents. This implies that you also completely accept what is, because you cannot give your full attention to something and at the same time resist it.


Highlights from The Power of Now

Give your fullest attention to whatever the moment presents. This implies that you also completely accept what is, because you cannot give your full attention to something and at the same time resist it.

Thought alone, when it is no longer connected with the much vaster realm of consciousness, quickly becomes barren, insane, destructive.

Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body.

…the past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form. Both are illusions.

Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry all forms of fear are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.

Stress is caused by being “here” but wanting to be “there,” or being in the present but wanting to be in the future.

Your outer journey may contain a million steps; your inner journey only has one: the step you are taking right now. As you become more deeply aware of this one step, you realize that it already contains within itself all the other steps as well as the destination.

Already for most humans, the only respite they find from their own minds is to occasionally revert to a level of consciousness below thought. Everyone does that every night during sleep. But this also happens to some extent through sex, alcohol, and other drugs that suppress excessive mind activity. If it weren’t for alcohol, tranquilizers, antidepressants, as well as the illegal drugs, which are all consumed in vast quantities, the insanity of the human mind would become even more glaringly obvious than it is already.

Silence is an even more potent carrier of presence, so when you read this or listen to me speak, be aware of the silence between and underneath the words. Be aware of the gaps.

All spiritual teachings originate from the same Source. In that sense, there is and always has been only one master, who manifests in many different forms.

You see time as the means to salvation, whereas in truth it is the greatest obstacle to salvation.

The root of this physical urge is a spiritual one: the longing for an end to duality, a return to the state of wholeness. Sexual union is the closest you can get to this state on the physical level. This is why it is the most deeply satisfying experience the physical realm can offer.

You cannot love your partner one moment and attack him or her the next. True love has no opposite. If your “love” has an opposite, then it is not love but a strong ego-need for a more complete and deeper sense of self, a need that the other person temporarily meets.

First you stop judging yourself; then you stop judging your partner. The greatest catalyst for change in a relationship is complete acceptance of your partner as he or she is, without needing to judge or change them in any way.

As a general rule, the major obstacle for men tends to be the thinking mind, and the major obstacle for women the pain-body

“Accept whatever comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny, for what could more aptly fit your needs?” This was written 2,000 years ago by Marcus Aurelius, one of those exceedingly rare humans who possessed worldly power as well as wisdom.

Most people are in love with their particular life drama. Their story is their identity. The ego runs their life. They have their whole sense of self invested in it. Even their usually unsuccessful search for an answer, a solution, or for healing becomes part of it.

The down cycle is absolutely essential for spiritual realization. You must have failed deeply on some level or experienced some deep loss or pain to be drawn to the spiritual dimension. Or perhaps your very success became empty and meaningless and so turned out to be failure. Failure lies concealed in every success, and success in every failure.

Many people never realize that there can be no “salvation” in anything they do, possess, or attain.

Taoism, there is a term called wu wei, which is usually translated as “actionless activity” or “sitting quietly doing nothing.” In ancient China, this was regarded as one of the highest achievements or virtues.

God is Being itself, not a being.

The mind always adheres to the known. The unknown is dangerous because it has no control over it. Thats why the mind dislikes and ignores the present moment.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

The 3 ways in which religion tries to meet our deepest needs

Ok, technically, Professor Roberto Unger calls them “the 3 religious orientations to the world”.

In his view, the major religious traditions fall into one of 3 groups. These groups have separate and distinct ways to understand our world and our individual and collective purposes within.

I came upon his theory in the below YouTube video and had the proverbial mind-blown moment (actually, moments, very plural) and was compelled to share:

I can only give a very simple, laymen’s description of his system, but I think you’ll find it fascinating.

The 3 orientations are:

1. Overcoming the world = Buddhism
2. Humanizing the world = Confucianism
3. Struggling with the world = Christianity

Or as I think of them:

Buddhism = Air (floats away, detaches, avoids)
Confucianism = Water (works around, negotiates, softens)
Christianity = Fire (changes, transforms, engages)

Buddhism teaches you to overcome the world. Buddha thinks the ultimate goal of a person’s life is to go beyond the world, to detach and remove yourself and rise above the suffering, the emotions, the vicissitudes of daily existence. Through this process you will reach nirvana. That’s why I compared Buddhism to air. It floats, it’s there, but you can hardly feel it.

Confucianism humanizes the world. What matters to Confucius is our society and its system of roles and responsibilities, created and maintained by us. There are 5 big roles in Confucian thinking: parent-child, older sibling-younger sibling, ruler-subject, husband-wife, and older friend-younger friend. What gives life purpose and meaning is to perform our given roles as well as we can. In a sense, life is a play, and our job is to know our character’s responsibilities and perform them well. That’s why I see Confucianism as water. It’s about flow and harmony and respect.

Christianity struggles with the world. Professor Unger believes this orientation (if not Christianity itself) will grow in prominence relative to the previous two. Struggling with the world is about effort, engagement, and conflict. It says, life can be better, but it is up to us to make it so. That’s why I see this orientation as fire: fire transforms, fire burns hot, fire can destroy a forest but in so doing can also nurture life and provide warmth and cook food.

So if we think about the world’s enduring religions, where do Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism fit in? I didn’t even know people saw Confucianism as a religion or a spiritual orientation, but I’m sure Professor Unger has a good answer to that. I should ask him…

PS. An update on the above question, straight from Unger’s book draft: The struggle with the world has spoken in two voices. One voice is sacred: that of the Semitic salvation religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The other voice is profane: that of the secular projects of liberation. These projects have included the political programs of liberalism, socialism, and democracy as well as the romantic movement, especially the global popular romantic culture, with its message of the godlike dignity of ordinary men and women and the unfathomable depth and reach of their experience.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.