*The Buddha did not teach 'Buddhism' * Why no fees charged for Vipassana *Application for Vipassana courses *Beneficial power of Metta *Anapana for children
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May 13, 2018

Why the Buddha was not a 'Buddhist'

An unique article by Principal Teacher of Vipassana Sayagyi U Goenka (1924-2013) explaining this most unfortunate misconception that has kept millions away from experiencing the self-dependent, universal path of Vipassana  - to directly experience truth of who we really are, and what is our real work in life. 

"That Vipassana is being practiced by people of all religions, in so many countries worldwide, proves that the original teaching of the Buddha is not meant to be confined to any particular religion. It is universal. People of all religions (including religious leaders), all races, castes and communities of the world are benefiting from it. With practice of Vipassana, violence, aversion and ill-will between different religions and communities will end.  "

The Buddha did not teach Buddhism. During his lifetime, he did not convert a single person to Buddhism. One may be surprised hearing this because we have been hearing, speaking, reading and writing contrary to this fact for such a long time. The mind is conditioned to believing this misconception. But the historical truth is that the Buddha neither taught 'Buddhism' nor converted anyone to being a 'Buddhist'.

The Buddha taught Vipassana, the universal, non-sectarian practice to remove self-generated suffering - by removing deep-rooted defilements in the mind. The Vipassana Research Institute (VRI) CD contains the entire teaching of the Buddha and related literature in Pali language - 146 volumes with 52,602 pages and 7,448,248 words. Using technology to search through this vast literature, this fact is established: in the entire teaching of the Buddha, as well as in related commentaries, sub-commentaries, the word "Buddhist" has not been used with regard to his universal teachings, or to those who walked on the path he taught.

Instead, the word used everywhere for the Buddha's teaching is "Dhamma", not "Buddhist Dhamma". Whenever any adjective precedes the word "Dhamma", it is qualitative, not sectarian. Like saddhamma (true Dhamma), ariyo dhammo (noble Dhamma), dhammo sanātano (eternal Dhamma), and so on. Those benefiting from practicing the Buddha's teaching have not been called Buddhists anywhere in the authentic texts, but these six words were used: dhammim, dhammiko, dhammattho, dhammacarim, dhammavihari, dhammanusari.

Not only during the lifetime of the Buddha but even in the next few centuries, we do not come across words like "Buddhist" or "Buddhism" anywhere. About 250 years after the Buddha, Emperor Ashoka, once an ambitious bloodthirsty war monger, came in contact with the true teaching of the Buddha (*1). He benefited from Dhamma and inspired others to walk on the path of Dhamma, and was therefore called "Dhamma Ashoka", not "Buddhist Ashoka".

Out of compassionate affection for his subjects, Emperor Ashoka encouraged the practice of Dhamma, not Buddhism. He did not send 'Buddhism' but the Dhamma ratana (the jewel of Dhamma),  to neighhbouring countries and to distant western countries as well, as a priceless gift from India. His envoys were called  Dhammadūtas (messengers of Dhamma), not "messengers of Buddhism". None of the edicts on rocks and columns of Emperor Ashoka that have come to light so far contain the word "Buddhist"; everywhere, the word "Dhamma" is used. Dhamma is universal, applicable for everyone.

Therefore  Emperor Ashoka, who walked on this path, exhorted  that people of one sect should never criticize or condemn another sect; there should be respect and goodwill for fellow beings. This is the distinguishing feature of the universal Dhamma - experienced with practice of Vipassana.

Dhamma Dharā Vipassana Centre, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. One of 188 Vipassana centres worldwide (139 in Asia, 23 Vipassana centres in the Americas, 17 in Europe, 8 in Australia, New Zealand). In keeping with the pure tradition across millennia, residential Vipassana courses - from beginners' 10-days to advanced 60-days - are fully free of cost

How and when this universal teaching of the Buddha became confined within narrow sectarian limits, is a subject for investigation. It is a research topic for linguistic and historical scholars to discover when and by whom these sectarian words like "Buddhist", "Buddhism" and "Buddhist philosophy" came into use. VRI will also conduct relevant research in this area.

One may rightly surmise that words like 'Buddhism' and 'Buddhist' may have come into use after India forgot the essence of the true practical teaching of the Buddha. Gradually this country also lost the entire original related literature and, worst of all, it lost Vipassana, the practical quintessence of the Buddha's teaching. This is the beneficial practice that breaks all artificial barriers of caste, race, class and religion. Vipassana is direct experiential proof that the Buddha's teaching is universal. When Vipassana was lost, the original teaching of the Buddha was lost, a very big loss not only for India but also for humanity.

The practical-oriented teaching of the Buddha became "Buddhism" and became limited to those people who called themselves "Buddhists". Because of the loss of Vipassana, most people forgot the universal and practical nature of the Buddha's teaching that is applicable to all. As long as it was "Dhamma" or 'Vipassana', people did not hesitate to practice it but as soon as it began to be called "Buddhism", the delusion naturally spread: "This is for Buddhists, not for us". That which the Buddha called appamano dhammo, (universal laws of nature) became confined by the narrow bounds of an organized religion, became pamanavatti (limited) and unfortunately was placed in the shallow row of the different religions of the world. Because of this, people remained ignorant of its universally beneficial nature, and were deprived of the benefits obtained from it.

Fortunately  a few wise people in the neighbouring country of Myanmar preserved this universal technique of Vipassana in its pure form for centuries, from generation to generation. With infinite gratitude to them, Vipassana has returned to India, and is being shared again around the world.

That Vipassana is being practiced by people of all religions, in so many countries worldwide, proves that the original teaching of the Buddha is not meant to be confined to any particular religion. It is universal. People of all religions (including religious leaders), all races, castes and communities of the world are benefiting from it. With practice of Vipassana, violence, aversion and ill-will between different religions and communities will end.

Vipassana is a very ancient meditation technique of India. Any person who becomes a Buddha attains enlightenment by rediscovering this lost technique. In the ancient Vedic literature of India before the lifetime of the Buddha, there is abundant praise for this technique. But it is only praise. India of that time, during the lifetime of Siddhhata Gotama, had completely forgotten the practical application of this technique. The prince turned ascetic Gotama rediscovered this technique by exerting much effort. Out of compassion, he shared the path for benefit of all. Unfortunately after a few centuries, India forgot this historical Buddha and once again lost the ancient practice of Vipassana - the very practice that led to the country being very prosperous and being recognized as a vishwa-guru (teacher of the world). Fortunately, practice of Vipassana is again reviving in India, and worldwide.

Gotama Buddha was neither a god, nor an incarnation of any god, nor a prophet of any god. He did not become the Buddha because of divine grace. By perfecting his paramitās (wholesome mental qualities that help to dissolve egoism, and leading to total purification of the mind), by exerting strenuous efforts and strong determination he attained full enlightenment. He was therefore called a sammāsambuddha (one who becomes fully enlightened by his own efforts). He was not a mythological being but a historical person.

A sammāsambuddha is the highest state that can be attained by any being. With infinite compassion, Sammāsambuddha Gotama taught Vipassana all his life. Because he discovered and taught the operation of the natural laws of kamma (law of cause and effect), he was called a supreme theist. In those days in India, this was the only acceptable definition of theism.

If the true nature of the historical Buddha comes to light, misconceptions about the Buddha will be removed. The importance of individual right effort to free oneself from suffering will replace blind beliefs, or blind dependence on some divine power.

Many historical incidents occurred during the long lifetime of Buddha to prove that he did not establish any religious sect. He never had any intention of converting anyone and confining them within the bounds of an organized religious sect. With infinite compassion he taught the pure universal Dhamma with only one objective: "bahujana hitāya, bahujana sukhāya" (for the good of many, for the happiness of many) and not for the good of any particular religion or sect.

The Buddha made successful efforts to stop cruel rituals like animal sacrifice. He uprooted the caste system by enabling people to realize that it is not birth but one's actions that define nobility. People stopped wasting time in rituals and blind beliefs, and started practicing Vipassana to purify their minds and live a life of sīla (wholesome life), samādhi (mastery of the mind) and paññā (wisdom).

Merely rote learning and reciting of any scriptures may offer some calm at surface level of the mind, but cannot remove deep-rooted negative habit patterns that cause suffering. The mind surgery of Vipassana is needed to free oneself from negativities, and to directly experience the law of cause and effect: our actions sow the seeds of our happiness or suffering.


*1) " Furious at its resistance to him, Asoka attacked Kalinga and subjugated it in a bloody war. Then, after the fighting was over, he saw how many innocent people had been killed and how terrible was the suffering of this once-prosperous land. Heartsick at his own actions, he resolved to abjure the sword.

"It was at this time that Asoka came to know about the teachings of the Buddha and was instantly attracted. He began by studying the words of the Enlightened One. Then someone told him that knowledge of the texts was not enough to give an understanding of the real meaning of the teachings; that can come only through the development of insight, that is, Vipassanā-bhāvanā, or Vipassana meditation.

"The best place then to learn Vipassana was at Bairath in the state of Rajasthan, where a monk named Upagupta taught. Handing over power to his subordinates, Asoka set out for Rajasthan. After 300 days he returned to his capital, a changed man. Now his volition was to share the teachings of the Buddha throughout his empire; he had been inspired by ehi passiko, the wholesome wish that others may come and see the Dhamma." - 'The Emperor Asoka and Sayagyi U Ba Khin', Vipassana Research Institute, Aug 13, 2011.
From the original article 'Why the Grand Vipassana Pagoda?' , Vipassana Research Institute, October, 1997. The Global Pagoda in Mumbai is to: a) enable thousands of Vipassana students to meditate together, in the world's largest stone dome without any supporting pillars; b) to remove misinformation that has kept millions away from experiencing a self-dependent, universal path - to directly experience truth of who we really are, and what is our real work in life.

The practice of Vipassana the Buddha shared is the highest practical science, a direct realization of the subtlest truths of nature -  to gain equanimity and wisdom to more effectively deal with problems of day to day life, and experience what is real happiness. This can be experienced by anyone willing to give a fair trial and invest ten days of time - to change a lifetime. Vipassana courses are offered worldwide free of cost.