Basic Buddhism

by Rev. Jo-Ren MacDonald


Over the 45 years that the historical Buddha Shakyamuni taught, each and every message contained, in part, reference to the 4 Noble Truths. Before he died, he stated that he had held nothing back, that he had revealed all, and we should rely on the Teachings to guide us.
Therefore, we are presenting simplified Teachings to aid in your understanding of Basic Dharma. This presentation is the work of Reverend Jo-Ren MacDonald and reflects her understanding of Basic Dharma.



The Buddha

refers to the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, who was born Prince Siddhartha in Northern India approximately 2,500 years ago. The word, “Buddha,” refers to “the Enlightened One.”

The Dharma

refers to the Teachings of the Buddha, Shakyamuni. As the Buddha was dying, he stated that we should let the Teachings be our guide and they would guide us all well.

The Sangha

refers to those who come together to learn the Teachings of the Buddha, Shakyamuni.


FIRST NOBLE TRUTH: All living things suffer.
All unenlightened beings experience suffering when they experience birth, illness, old age and death. They experience suffering when they do not get what they want. They experience suffering when they get what they do not want. They suffer when they have to be around disagreeable beings or situations.
SECOND NOBLE TRUTH: There is a state of mind free of suffering.
When one understands clearly that suffering is a result of ego-anguish, non-acceptance, or The Three Poisons, one begins to extinguish these impediments and, finally, over time, to extinguish them.
THIRD NOBLE TRUTH: The state of mind free of suffering is called, “Enlightenment.”
This state of mind is the ability to perceive without any ego distortion or fear because illusion has been extinguished and reality is perceived “as-it-is.”
FOURTH NOBLE TRUTH: The way to become enlightened is to follow 8 guidelines
Each of us needs guidelines and the eight means told by the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, are the basic ones leading toward Enlightenment. Other ways were told by him, also, but he stated that these four truths are the most basic.


THE EIGHT FOLD PATH (or circle or journey or means)

The Fourth Noble Truth IS the Eight Fold Path! This path unfolds into our understanding of Truth itself, like a bud that is tightly closed and then grandly opens for us to see (with all our senses). We can look or not. But, once we have chosen to “see”, the lesson has been understood and one becomes “on the path” and blends into Truth.
1) Right Understanding
2) Right Thought
Both lead to the development of real wisdom, which then allows us to understand life as it really is existing.
3) Right Speech
4) Right Conduct
5) Right Livelihood
These three aspects develop our true compassion and our virtues (wisdom and compassion need to be in balance.)
6) Right Effort
7) Right Mindfulness
8) Right Meditation
Our ability to concentrate develops with these aspects. Then, with clear concentration, we have the ability to develop a disciplined mind, which allows us to experience peacefulness.

The entrance point is Right Understanding so that we can clearly perceive all the other aspects. This is where we need to utilize our efforts so that the other aspects will unfold, in naturalness, like the flower bud. The flower so often referred to by the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, is the lotus because it blooms high above the water, reaching toward the sunlight from the waterbed of mud, so very beautiful to see.



Precepts are voluntary mental trainings which guide us. They are not laws or commandments as the individual must voluntarily undertake these mental trainings. Their purpose is to develop our humanness, which is the first level where true trust, understanding, and faith are possible.

1) Not to take life needlessly
As humans, we are consumers of life in order to exist. It then becomes voluntary mental training as we decide what life we will take for our own use. Breathing in, itself, consumes life. Walking, itself, consumes life. Thus, we realize that we have no control over much of our consumption. What we do have control over, then, becomes “not taking life needlessly.” Since all life, itself, has equal value, becoming a vegetarian is a choice and not a rule. Wasting life is the problem.
2) Not to steal
As humans, we become what we do, think, and experience. We will become a thief if we steal and we will become a better thief if we continue to steal. Even a thief does not like his/her things to be stolen!
3) Not to lie
As humans, lying is part of our growing up process. There reaches a point, however, when we can realize the harm in lying. Lying leads one away from Truth. Lying kills Truth.
4) Not to have sexual misconduct
Homosexuality is not sexual misconduct. Sex without marriage is not sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct is the performance of sex with selfish motives, lack of understanding of the other person’s willingness or unwillingness to participate, using the immaturity and innocence of another as a means to gain what one wants sexually from that individual, or countless other ways and means of obtaining sexual pleasure.
5) Not to use substances that cause heedlessness
There is no such thing as “recreational drug use,” for example This means that any drug or drink taken that changes how your mind perceives, except necessary prescription medications, is a cause of perceiving inaccurately and thus behaving inappropriately and with distortion becoming predictable. You become what you take into yourself with all of your senses.
The purpose of these Five Precepts is to lead to a clear understanding of the value, interdependency and impermanency (ever-changingness) of all things.



The historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, stated that there are five deeds we can do that may make it impossible for us to ever attain Enlightenment. This is because it takes a certain kind of mind to commit these deeds and that mind must be able to “turn” itself into Truth.
In order to attain true mental change, one has to develop true wisdom and compassion in balance. This may be beyond the ability of the individual or beyond the desire of an individual to enter the “Path.” Some persons cannot change without profound and perhaps prolonged guidance (of the Teachings).
There is no escape from karmic results, which are beyond knowing, but peace of mind is possible, then, as is Enlightenment, for that individual if true and real Right Understanding becomes part of the person.
These actions are:
1) Killing one’s Father
2) Killing one’s Mother
3) Killing an Arhat (one who is becoming Enlightened)
4) Causing a Buddha to shed blood
5) Causing disharmony in the Sangha as it causes the death of the environment needed to hear the Teachings.



Paramitas are a means to Enlightenment.
1) DANA (dah-nah) = Selfless Giving
2) SILA (she-lah) = Following the teachings of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni
3) KSANTI (ka-shan-tee) = Patience and Understanding
4) VIRYA (veer-ed-yah) = Doing one’s best at all times
5) DHYANA (dee-yha-nah) = Meditation reflecting on the Teachings of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni
6) PRAJNA (prawz-ny-ah) = as if there were a tilde above the “n”) = Seeking Wisdom
NOTE: These Six Paramitas will be more fully explained in upcoming weeks



1) Greed
2) Anger
3) Ignorance
These Three Poisons factor in with the Four Most Noble Truths (with its inclusive Eight Fold Path), the Five Deadly Evils, the Six Paramitas, and all other Teachings. These three ego-based blindednesses cause us not to be able to live in peace and harmony.
GREED means never being satisfied or sated. Greed also breeds greed. If a person has greed, that person also has anger and ignorance. Therefore, we must look back to the Teaching of Right Understanding being the opening of the flower of awareness.
ANGER has levels, just as greed does. Anger at its worst creates killing; at its least, passive-aggressive behavior. Even our own anger frightens us as well as others. It, like the other two poisons, can kill relationships. Right Understanding comes to the rescue and changes the way we reach to any situation if we have. COURAGE is the absolute, necessary ingredient for lasting change.
IGNORANCE has many forms. It can be blinding oneself to Truth. It can be ignoring Truth. It can be refusing to learn Truth. It can be a rigid holding on to an ignorant belief as if it were a gem worth countless millions. Whatever it is to each situation, it is an avoidance. This avoidance may be because of unwillingness, or a fear that we will suffer as we face reality, or that we will be empty if we give up a part of our personality (which is a wonderful emptiness wherein new awareness has room to develop), or that we may not be able to “keep” something. We cannot “keep” anything, not even youth or health.
Thus, GREED, ANGER, and IGNORANCE are like killers of WISDOM and COMPASSION!


Read More About Buddhism in our Dharma Notes Section