Basic Principles of Buddhism

What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is a religion and dharma which encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs, and spiritual practices based on teachings of the Buddha.  Dharma has different meanings in various Eastern religions but refers to “cosmic law and order”, teachings of the Buddha, and phenomena in the Buddhism religion.  Although other smaller branches of Buddhism exist; there are two major branches of Buddhism: Theravada (Pali: The School of the Elders) and Mahayana (Sanskrit: The Great Vehicle).  These branches of Buddhism, known as schools, vary in thought in regards to the path of liberation; the importance of Buddhavacana (word of the Buddha), Sutras (texts), and Shastras (treaties) or Abhidharma (systematic lists); as well as in Buddhist practice.

Buddhist practices include taking refuge in:

  • the Buddha
  • the Dharma
  • the Sangha
  • study of scriptures
  • observance of moral precepts
  • renunciation of craving and attachment
  • the practice of meditation
  • the cultivation of wisdom
  • loving-kindness and compassion
  • the practice of bodhicitta (Mahayana)
  • the practices of generation stage and completion stage (Vajrayana, a branch of Mahayana)

In Theravada Buddhism, the goal is the attainment of Nirvana, achieved via the Noble Eightfold Path.  Once this is achieved, one escapes the endless cycle of suffering and rebirth.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the goal is Buddhahood (rank of Buddha), achieved via the bodhisattva path.  The bodhisattva path is a state in which one remains in the cycle of rebirth in order to assist other beings in reaching awakening.

In Vajrayana Buddhism, the goal is Buddhahood or rainbow body (a level of realization).  This knowledge (realization) is regarded as the absence of delusion regarding the display of the basis (primordial state).

What are the Four Noble Truths?

All branches of Buddhism typically adhere to belief in the Four Noble Truths in one way or another:

  • Dukkha: the inability to be satisfied
  • Samudaya: the arising of Dukkha
  • Nirodha: the cessation of Dukkha
  • Magga: the path to the cessation of Dukkha

According to Buddhism, everything is impermanent (annica) including the self or soul in all living beings (annattā).  In fact, the ignorance of this fact (avijjā) is the primary source of Dukkha.

What is Dukkha?

Dukkha is the insight that we crave and cling to impermanent states and things and are; therefore, unable to attain true happiness.  Dukkha is what keeps us stuck in a state of samsāra.  Samsāra is the endless cycle of rebirth, Dukkha, and death.  The clinging and craving is what produces karma, further connecting us to samsāra; however, by following the path to moksha (liberation) we can free ourselves from samsāra by achieving Nirvana via the Noble Eightfold Path.

What is the Noble Eightfold Path?

The central lesson of the Noble Eightfold Path is such that by restraining oneself, cultivating discipline, and practicing mindfulness and meditation one attains nirvana, which ends samsāra.  The Noble Eightfold Path consists of eight practices which are dived into three basic divisions:

Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā):

  • Right View: our actions have consequences during life as well as after death
  • Right Resolve: adopting the life of a religious mendicant in order to follow the path

Moral virtues (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla):

  • Right Speech: only speaking that which leads to salvation (no lying, rude speech, gossip etc)
  • Right Conduct: only acting in accordance with salvation (no killing, injuring, stealing, rape etc)
  • Right Livelihood: only possessing that which is essential to sustain life (no excess in materialistic things, food, drink etc)

Meditation (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi):

  • Right Effort: controlling thought (no sensual thoughts etc)
  • Right Mindfulness: always being conscious, never absent minded
  • Right Samadhi (meditative union): practicing four stages of dhyāya (meditation)

What are the three marks of existence?

The three marks of existence consist of:

  • annica: all saṅkhāras (conditioned things) are impermanent
  • Dukkha: all saṅkhāras are unsatisfactory
  • anattā: all dhammas (conditioned or unconditioned things) are not self

What is Karma?

Karma is considered to be produced through either good, skillful deeds (Pali: kusala) or bad, unskillful deeds (Pali: akusala) via seeds that are planted in the unconscious receptacle (ālaya) and which mature either later in this life, or in a subsequent life; however, everything that happens to a person is not caused by Karma.

What is Nirvana?

While nirvana is considered the ultimate spiritual goal, the primary focus of most Buddhists is to seek and accumulate merit via good deeds in order to gain better rebirths rather than nirvana.

What are the six paramitas?

The six paramitas (Mahayana) include:

  • Dāna pāramitā: perfection of giving
  • Śīla pāramitā: perfection of morality
  • Ksānti pāramitā: perfection of patience
  • Vīrya pāramitā: perfection of vigor
  • Dhyāna pāramitā: perfection of meditation
  • Prajñā pāramitā: perfection of insight (wisdom)

What are the Three Jewels?

Reciting the Three Jewels is believed to purify, uplift, and strengthen.  The Three Jewels (Sanskrit: triratna, Pali: tiratana) are:

  • The Buddha, the Gotama, the Blessed One, the Awakened with true knowledge
  • The Dharma, the precepts, the practice, the Four Truths, the Eightfold Path
  • The Sangha, order of monks, the community of Buddha’s disciples

What are the precepts?

The five precepts (panca-sila) are moral behavioral and ritual gudielines for Buddhist followers while those following a monastic life have rules of conduct (patimokkha).  The five precepts are:

  • Abstain from killing (Ahimsa)
  • Abstain from stealing
  • Abstain from sensual misconduct
  • Abstain from lying
  • Abstain from intoxicants

Monastic Buddhists have an additional four precepts which make up the eight rules of conduct (patimokha):

  • Abstain from sexual activity
  • Abstain from eating at wrong times
  • Abstain from jewelry, perfume, adornment, entertainment
  • Abstain from sleeping on high beds


Kung, C. (1996). To Understand Buddhism. Retrieved February 20, 2017, from

Santina, P. (2017). Fundamentals of Buddhism. Retrieved February 20, 2017, from

Wikipedia. (2017, February 15). Buddhism. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from

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