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Seventeen Basic Tenets of Buddhism

By: Am Koe Beighley Su, Abbot

White Sands Zen Center

There are seventeen basic tenets of Buddhism that are found in every school of Buddhist teachings worldwide. They are divided into three sections: The Buddha's Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, and the Five Precepts. Although they may be worded differently in different translations and texts, in meaning each is ultimately the same. Let's examine these tenets one section at a time.


  1. Life is Suffering: Yes, it's true...every aspect of life includes suffering. It is literally impossible to live without experiencing some kind of pain or distress. We have to endure physical suffering like sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and, eventually death (or the passing from this realm to the next). We will endure psychological suffering like loneliness, frustrations, fear, embarrassment, disappointment, anger, and...the list of potential suffering is endless.

  2. Our Suffering Is Caused By Craving: Our "always wanting" creates the "Three Poisons": Ignorance/Greed/Anger. When we want something and don't get it, we're disappointed. When we expect someone to live up to our expectations and they don't, we get frustrated or angry. When we see someone possessing something we want but can't have, we want it all the more. AND, even if we get it, we're soon bored by it and want something new and different. Such is the human condition.

  3. Our Suffering Can Be Overcome And Happiness Attained: True happiness and contentment are possible when we give up useless craving and learn to life IN THIS VERY MOMENT, seeing and experiencing only "what is" in the here and now.

  4. There Is A Path That Leads Out Of Suffering: This is known as the Noble Eightfold Path and, when practiced consistently and incorporated into our daily lives, is a process to alleviate much of the obvious suffering we bring upon ourselves, or interpret as being imposed on us, or that we advertently or inadvertently impose on others...all leading to Karma.

THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH: Interestingly enough, Buddhism does not have a deity. Buddha never claimed to be a god, or a prophet--only a teacher. Each one of these eight is prefaced with the word "right, "good", or "proper". Now, if there is no deity in Buddhism, who, then, becomes the arbiter of what defines right, good, or proper on the Path? Ultimately, it is YOU! When you search your heart-mind, you begin to formulate ideas is every decision before you regarding "what is the next right thing to do" and then you proceed in that direction. Remember, no one is coming to save you. You will either generate positive or negative Karma with each action. That is why the heart-mind connection is so very important on the Buddhist path!

  1. Right View: (Samma Ditthi) This is part of the Wisdom section of the Path. It is designed to aid us in developing the intellectual capacity to see things as they are...nothing more and nothing less, and to STOP before we begin creating stories in our heads that are part of our delusional nature.

  2. Right Intention: (Samma Sankappa) There are three categories of Right Intention, also called Right Thought: the Intention of Renunciation, the Intention of Good Will, and the Intention of Harmlessness. While it is easy to think about these things, the task at hand is to incorporate them into our very being.

  3. Right Speech: (Samma Vaca) This, along with the next two, make up the section of Moral Discipline on the Path. Abstaining from false speech, abstaining from slanderous speech, abstaining from harsh speech, and abstaining from idle chatter/gossip are included in Right Speech.

  4. Right Action: (Samma Kammanta) This refers to refraining from unwholesome deeds that occur with the body as their natural means of expression. The Buddha focuses on three of them specifically: abstaining from taking life, abstaining from taking what is not freely given, and abstaining from sexual misconduct.

  5. Right Livelihood: (Samma Ajiva) This is concerned with ensuring that one earns one's living in a wholesome and righteousness manner. On the particular no-no list are "dealing in weapons, in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter, as well as slave trade and prostitution), in meat production and butchery, in poisons, and in intoxicants.

  6. Right Effort: (Samma Vayama) This refers to the need for effort, diligence, exertion and unflagging perseveration. This is important because in Buddhism we are called upon to "work out our own salvation" one is coming to save us and the Buddhas throughout beginningless and endless time only point the way-they don't drive the bus! Being on the Path requires consistent and endless effort to achieve the goals.

  7. Right Mindfulness: (Samma Sati) The Dharma (teachings of the Buddha), the ultimate truth of reality, is ours to be approached and directly seen/experienced. What brings it all into focus and makes it accessible to insight is a mental faculty called mindfulness, and means presence of mind, attentiveness, or awareness. This is unique because in Right Mindfulness the awareness exists totally apart from any judgment or attachment (physical, mental, or emotional).

  8. Right Concentration: (Samma Samadhi) This represents an intensification of a mental factor present in every state of consciousness. This "one-pointedness" of mind has the function of unifying the other mental factors in the task of cognition. It is the factor responsible for the individuating aspect of consciousness, ensuring that every citta, or act of mind, remains centered on its object. One-pointedness of mind explains the fact that in any act of consciousness htere is a central point of focus towards which the entire objective datum points from its outer peripheries to its inner nucleus.

THE FIVE PRECEPTS: These are received as vows when an individual makes the conscijous decision to "become" a Buddhist and goes through the Preceptor Training.

  1. "I will avoid killing or harming living beings."

  2. "I will avoid stealing or taking what is not freely given me."

  3. "I will avoid sexual misconduct."

  4. "I will avoid lying."

  5. "I will avoid anything that dulls the mind, which could include alcohol, intoxicating substances, gambling, any type of addictive process."

THE ULTIMATE GOAL: "May all sentient beings be freed from their suffering."

May you ALL be well on your journey!

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