There are many schools of Buddhism. Although there is general agreement about Buddhist concepts, there are different names for concepts. So before sharing the concepts, it is useful to know that the following terms are from the Theravada tradition. Theravada means ‘teaching of the elders.’
The kind of meditation I teach is called Insight Meditation or Vipassana. The word Vipassana is Pali, the language of the earliest Buddhist scriptures, and comes from two roots — ‘vi’ means ‘in a special way’ and ‘passana’ means seeing or perceiving. So insight meditation is cultivating the mind to see the world around us in a clearer way. In English, this way of seeing is called mindfulness.
Four Noble Truths
1. There is suffering in life.
2. We can find the root of our suffering and identify its causes and how, through our habitual patterns, we create and enforce it.
3. We can be liberated from suffering through spacious attention to
our experience, both pleasant and unpleasant.
4. The means of liberation is The Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path is the tool we can use to understand the root of our suffering and transform it. On our first encounter with the idea of there being ‘right’ views, speech, etc., we may bristle. We don’t want to be forced into a particular way of speaking or thinking. We want to speak authentically and think for ourselves. But in fact, they are not rules of behavior but useful tools to explore the cause of our suffering. For example, if we are gossiping about someone and begin to feel bad, we can look to the Eightfold Path and see that it is in having done the opposite of ‘right’ or ‘wise’ speech that we created suffering. Quite naturally, through the greater spaciousness of meditative practice, our increased awareness helps us to live more fully in the moment, able to sense the onset of suffering and see its cause, so that we live with more wisdom and compassion.
The eight are divided into three categories of Wisdom, Morality, and Concentration.
• Understanding that any point of view is only that: a single point among many
possible views, and that perception is veiled with projections and therefore
• Seeing into the causes of suffering: what have we ingested into our minds to
bring about suffering?
• Distinguishing wholesome roots or seeds from unwholesome ones.
• Trying to see the whole picture in any situation. Trying to see what contributes to
other people’s behavior before reacting.
• Deeply understanding the Four Noble Truths and seeing the path of
– Reflecting the way things are rather than creating stories around it.
– Staying in touch with the body through the breath, allowing the mind-body to be
– Achieved through the following four practices:
– Question any thought that comes up – “Is this true?” “How do I know this is
– When doing an activity, ask yourself, “What am I doing?” to bring attention
back to the activity, which in turn enriches the experience by being fully
present for it. (Could also simply note, “eating,” “driving,” “listening,” etc., or by
saying, “In the precious moment, I am …”)
– Recognize the thinking that arises out of habit, embrace it as an old friend but
be aware of it. Eventually, with loving attention, it will lose its dominance. – Sense into your own desire to bring happiness to others. This is cultivating
‘Mind of Love’ or Bodhichitta.
– Mindful of its impact on others and the power of words to cause suffering or
bring joy and inspiration
– Speaking only the truth but only in a way that can be understood by the other.
– Arises from right thinking and right mindfulness
– Understanding that if we talk harshly to ourselves in our thoughts, we will speak
harshly to others, even if we are not aware of it.
– Arises out of deep compassionate listening
– Not harming any living being, protecting life
– Generosity and loving-kindness, giving time, energy & resources
– Respecting the property of others
– Helping to bring about justice and well being
– Sexual responsibility to maintain the integrity and well-being of individuals, couples,
families and society.
– Responsible eating, drinking, and consuming; avoiding ingesting toxins of all
– Work that doesn’t cause suffering to ourselves or others
– Doing nothing that would put others in the position of harmful livelihood (i.e.
eating meat causes another to slaughter.)
– Being mindful in our work, especially in our relations with others.
– If possible, help to create right-livelihood jobs for others.
– Being present, able to experience deeply
– Nourishing the object of your attention
– Relieving the suffering of others
– Having insight and understanding
– Allowing transformation and healing
Practicing without forcing, competing, or setting a goal. Tuning oneself like a guitar,
whose strings must be neither too tight nor too loose to play well. The Middle Way.
The practice of staying fully present, refining that focus to a fine point of stillness in the here and now, and letting go of all else.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana)
Vipassana meditation practice is based in developing a direct path to realization through:
- Awareness of the body, especially physical sensation
- Awareness of feeling tones
- Awareness of mental phenomena, thoughts, and emotions
- Awareness of Dharma, truth, or laws of experience
Regular practice leads to the understanding that none of these define us. This shifts our relationship with them, allowing us to hold them in an easy and open way. This is liberation.
The Five Precepts
Precepts are vows taken by Buddhist monks and nuns. These five are also taken by retreatants at the beginning of a retreat. They are:
1. To protect life and do no harm to self or others.
2. To take only what is freely given.
3. To protect relationships and avoid sexual misconduct.
4. To speak truthfully and kindly.
5. To protect the clarity of mind by avoiding intoxicants.
The Three Refuges
We can take refuge in these three supportive aspects that form the basis of Buddhist life:
The Buddha, both the historical Buddha and the story of his awakening, is an
inspiration and shining light to our own potential and our Buddha nature that resides in each of us.
The Dharma, the teachings and insights.
The Sangha is a community whose like-minded intention supports us in our practice.
Taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha gives a feeling of being fully supported in our intention to be fully present and kind.
The Three Poisons
Greed, aversion, and delusion cause suffering for ourselves and all beings. We learn to notice them in our thoughts, words, and actions.
The Four Bramaviharas
Bramavihara is a Pali word meaning ‘heavenly abode.’ An abode is a dwelling place, in this case, a dwelling place for our consciousness or a state of being.
The four bramaviharas are ‘heavenly’ because they are states of well-being. In these
states of being, we are able to see beyond the illusionary boundaries that seem to divide us, and we can feel held in the embrace of loving awareness.
The four brahmaviharas are:
Mudita, sympathetic joy
Many who have practiced some meditation are familiar with the term metta but may not know the others. And this is fine because the meditative practice of metta ultimately produces the other three states. They are the rich fruit of practice.
The Three Marks or Characteristics
Fundamental understandings that Buddhist practitioners come to through insight:
Anicca – all formations are impermanent, including our bodies, our relationships, and everything we care about.
Dukkha – suffering, especially that which we exacerbate by grasping, clinging, pushing away, or ignoring.
Anatta – Though it may seem that way, there is no separate singular isolated self – all life is intrinsically interconnected.
Through meditation and exploration, we come to understand these three marks of existence, and our deep understanding allows us to live with greater ease, joy, gratitude, compassion, and lovingkindness.
There are many more Buddhist concepts and many useful books to explore them all. But Buddhism is first and foremost experiential, so it is recommended that a budding Buddhist spend more time on the cushion meditating and less time in reading ‘about’ Buddhism.