Buddhism for the Millions

A Primer on Buddhism, covering the main doctrinal teachings.

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Buddhism for the Millions (PDF)

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Buddhism for the Millions

Buddhism for the Millions


Buddhism is a religion with a difference and the difference is so much that some people think that it is not a religion at all. That depends on what you expect from religion.

If you seek security, safety, salvation, Buddhism is not for you. Don’t listen, don’t read further, for there is no salvation for your soul, no eternal rest, no security in God.

The only thing that Buddhism offers is understanding: understanding why there is conflict, understanding that I am in conflict just because I try to escape.

This needs some more elaboration, which has resulted in an institutional religion, called Buddhism.

Buddhism has become an institution, not unlike the structure of a building. There are the essential foundations, the protecting roof, the enclosing walls, the passages leading to various rooms each one with its assigned purpose. And the whole is intended to provide shelter and safety.

Thus we have the foundation of the four noble truths, the overhead protection of karma for a future life, the limitations of the human mind, the methods and practices leading with different approaches to tranquillity and insight, maybe to a happier rebirth or to the final rest of deliverance.

The institution as well as the institute will both have the ornamental decorations which are never essential, and which may vary in style according to the developed state of mind, its fancy and desire, imitation and convention. Those fanciful decorations are interesting, for they show not only the internal attitude towards beauty, but reflect the actual approach of the mind reacting to the environment of traditional development and the result of such search for truth and meaning.

In order to reach at the basic structure, or the essentials of the entire set-up, one has to ignore and overlook the various additions meant to beautify, but actually preventing any clear vision and understanding. One need not destroy such aids to living, as long as one is aware of their true significance: curtains in the windows, pictures on the walls, paint on the doors, polish on the floor. But if one is truly interested, architecturally and functionally, in the construction of the building, of the institution, these will have to be set aside, as a doctor will ask a patient to remove some of his clothing to enable him to examine his chest and listen to his heart-beat.

To understand through investigation the raison d’etre of Buddhism, one shall have to ignore the supernatural in order to be able to reach at the essential nature. My life is the institute I have been building all these years from the material available. And it is therefore, to these materials that I shall have to turn, to understand the nature of the building process. Hence, without denying the possibility of life in some conscious form outside this little satellite in the solar system, I meet life in its conscious reaction only in this mind of mine. And thus it is to this mind that I shall have to turn my attention from the moment I realise that “all things are made by mind” (Dhp 1) and of which the Bodhisatta on becoming enlightened said; “I know thee, builder of this house; but thou shall build no more.”

This shall be, then, my present attitude in trying to understand these reactions in the mind without allowing it to add more. Thus, I shall ignore the marvellous beauty of other lives, hoping to understand the present. I shall try to understand the ugly conflict in life which is so universal that I cannot hope to put a step to the insane cravings of power-blocks. But, in seeing the prototype of this insanity in the leanings of my own heart, I shall perhaps be able to understand my own conflict, as it is being made by my own misunderstanding.

Thus, there must be a constant reference to myself, for I am that reaction to that misunderstanding; I am at the bottom of this conflict. In fearlessness I must approach this “self” of mine to learn how it came about to understand its actions and reactions with no further purpose than the immediate understanding of what I have made of life.

As in discovering the false, I may learn the truth, so in seeing the conflict for what it is, I may be without conflict. That was the basic function of the teaching of Buddha:

“One thing only do I teach:
Woe and how its end to reach”.

Such end would be the ending of conflict. To reach that end, one has to go far, but I must begin very near, within myself.

It is not only in the teaching of the Buddha that the “I” is the focus of investigation. “Know thyself”, was the maxim of the old Greek philosopher, as it was the maxim of the saintly seer of Tiruvannamalai, Shri Ramana Mahārshi, who brought all inquiry down to the basic: “Who am I?”

The many systems of religious thought have provided various solutions and answers to this question. But I want to find the answer for myself, without quoting the authority of inspired saints, of developed thinkers, of religious leaders. They may be right, but it can be right for me, only if I can discover it for myself. What I can do, can be done by millions of others, for I do not want to rely on supernatural inspirations, revelation or spiritual authority. It is for that reason that I turn to the Buddha, for he was no divine person, but had to find the way through the jungle of thought, just as I have to do. I am that jungle and I must find out what it is about, if I ever hope to be free from its entanglement.

That is the work each one has to do for himself: to find out: Who am I? May be I am God, as some have said. May be I am not, as others have maintained. What I am does not depend on their sayings, and thus I set out as a fairly intelligent human being, bent upon understanding, not blinded by the prospects of a goal, but just exploring as others have done before me, to find out what is true and what is false. Then, perhaps, I may have to change my approach, my attitude to life. There may be no gain, no satisfaction in the end; but there will be truth.

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