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.