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Basic Buddhism
A Modern Introduction to the Buddha's Teaching
by Dr Victor A. Gunasekara


Preface to this Edition


On Becoming a Buddhist
The Five Precepts
Higher Precepts and Meditation
The Three Gems of Buddhism
Main Buddhist Tendencies in the West
Glossary of Pali Terms


First Published: Nov 1982
Second Edition: May 1992
Third Edition April 1997

Preface to the Third Edition

The first edition of this booklet appeared in November 1982 under the title Basic Buddhism: an Outline of the Buddha's Teaching. It was published by the Buddhist Society of Queensland to commemorate the centenary of the arrival of Theravada immigrants to Queensland. It grew out of a lecture given to teachers of religion in Secondary Schools in October 1980. The following is an extract from the original Preface:

"This introductory essay is confined to the basic doctrines propounded by the Buddha over 2500 years ago. This message is surprisingly modern, and more in keeping with the rational-scientific temper of our age than the various theistic systems to which most of the people of the world owe formal allegiance. A widespread interest in Buddhism in Australia is relatively recent. It is important that the original doctrine of the Buddha, divested of the cultural trappings and metaphysical speculations that has gathered around it during its long sojourn in a dozen Asian lands, is placed before the public. This booklet is written with that aim in mind."

A second edition of this publication appeared in 1994. It made no changes to the main text of the first edition, except for some minor corrections. However some new material, intended to amplify some of the comments in the original text, were added as footnotes. Two Appendices were also added. The first gave information for those who want to call themselves Buddhists, and gives the basic precepts lay Buddhists are expected to observe. The second identifies three main tendencies in Pali Buddhism in the West.

The present edition is a revision of the second edition. Some new sections have been added. Some of this material first appeared as articles published by the author in BSQ publications.

Since the first edition of this booklet in 1982 Buddhism has greatly expanded in Australia. However most of recent Buddhism has been ethnically oriented associated with the activity of migrants from Buddhist Asian countries. Much of the recent literature on Buddhism in Australia has also been from this perspective. The need for a statement of Buddhism divested of cultural trappings is thus still as urgent as it was in 1982. There is therefore a need for a publication like the present one giving access to the authentic message of the Buddha freed from cultural encumbrances and other innovations.

The objective of the present work is still to introduce the central principles of Buddhism to the modern reader in the Western world in a modern idiom. Buddhism has been well established in several Asian countries for many centuries, but its expansion to other parts of the world has been comparatively recent. As far as the West is concerned in the ancient Hellenic world there was some contact with Buddhist thinking mainly due to Alexander's expedition to Asia and Asoka's missions, some of which are said to have been to the West. It has even been speculated that the ethical teaching of Christianity may have some Buddhist links. But after the conversion of Constantine to Christianity the hitherto open attitude to religions was subverted and other religions like Buddhism were barred.

The relative isolation of Buddhism to specific cultures, with very little interaction even between countries which professed in varying ways the Buddha's message, has led to the development of particular ethnic traits in the national forms of Buddhism practised in these countries. It is true that for the most part these ethnic influences have affected only relative minor aspects of the practice of the Buddha's teaching, but it has nonetheless been an impediment to the expansion of Buddhism to new areas. It is important to divest Buddhism of its national peculiarities, and to seek the essence of Buddhism, which is a message for all people irrespective of time and place. It is this "original Buddhism" that we have termed Basic Buddhism. Chapter 1 looks at this concept in more detail, but it should be remembered that the term "basic" does not imply that Buddhism has been simplified in any way..

A restatement of Basic Buddhism is necessary if the Buddha's teaching is to be of use to those people who for historical reasons have not had access to it. Only a small proportion of the world's population are officially counted as professing Buddhism. This is partly due to the way in which people are classed into religious groupings. Buddhism in its original form does not fall into the conventional category of religion, and trying to count the number of Buddhists is somewhat futile. But it is true that a large number of people have scarcely heard of the Buddha, and many of those who have done so have a very incorrect view of Buddhism. This is very often deliberately propagated by the media and by other religions.

Even though the basic teaching of the Buddha has been known in the modern West for over a century, most of this knowledge was confined to academic circles. The widespread practice of Buddhism is relatively recent, and now several Buddhist centres have sprung up in the West. In the last three decades many traditional Buddhists from Asia have migrated to the West, bringing with them ethnic forms of Buddhism. This has made Buddhism more visible but it has also obscured to some extent the central message of the Buddha. All these reasons make it necessary to give a clear statement of the fundamental teaching of the Buddha to readers in the West. This is the task that is attempted in this short booklet.

It is not possible to avoid Pali terms in an exposition of Buddhism. A glossary of all Pali words used in this work is given in Appendix F. If the meaning of a Pali word used in the text is not given in the context the glossary should be consulted.

Dr V. A. Gunasekara


Updated: 1-2-2001

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