Essay 3: South Asia Buddhism

The Impact of The Buddha's Teachings

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright April 2018


Anatta is a fundamental Buddhist concept, which means that there is no permanent self or soul within or without us. Describe how Buddhist teachings support this idea.

Use: the teachings of the Five Aggregates, the interdependent Origin and Nagarjuna's teaching of emptiness.


Buddhism evolved from Hinduism. The story of The Buddha's life tells that he spent the first part as a princely noble, then switched from that to pursuing a Janist lifestyle for a few years, and from the insights gained from having done both, came up with The Middle Way which are the teachings of The Buddha.

One of the things which has made Buddhism so popular and "exportable", as I call it, was it created a standardized form of Hinduism. It gave single answers to many questions which previously had many answers in the many forms of Hinduism that were popular in The Buddha's time.

The Standard Forms

Here are some examples of the standardizing.

One simple example of this the concept of Anatta. This is an alternative to the many forms of Atman. Anatta is deciding that there is no unchanging self. We live and learn and that's what living is all about, and that is our self. Other forms of Hinduism that embrace Atman argue that part of "us" is a part that is unchanging, and this is the part that moves from one incarnation to the next as we live, die and get reborn. How this works is subject to lots of lively debate. The Buddha solved this debating by saying, "No, Atman isn't how it works. Instead we have Anatta."

Another example is coming up with the Five Aggregates as a way of explaining how we humans experience our world around us. The Five Aggregates are:

o Physical processes -- these are the processes of actually being something.
o Processes of sensation -- these are the emotional feelings we have towards physical things happening. This is things such as touching something and experiencing the feeling of it being comfortable or icky.
o Perceptual processes -- these are the observations we experience about things which are not emotion based. Is something blue or red?
o Volitional processes -- these are observations which produce impulses to take action. If the water in the bath tub is too hot, I won't get in, instead I'll first add more cold water.
o The processes of consciousness -- this is our high level thinking about the world around us. This is the conscious level taking notice of something. It is the step that precedes much volitional process thinking.

In Buddhism this became a standard way of thinking about how we humans experience the world around us.

Dealing with inconsistencies

One of the people who helped make Buddhism popular was Nagarjuna. He did so by pointing out the many inconsistencies in the other forms of Hinduism what were popular in The Buddha's day. This made them less popular as competitors to The Buddha's teachings.


The great virtue of The Buddha's teachings was providing a simpler and standardized version of the teachings that were Hinduism in his day. This simplicity and standardization let it become popular locally, and let it spread throughout Asia.


Whoops! As I learn more about Buddhism I'm discovering that my premise of Buddhism being more standardized than the contemporary Hinduism surrounding it seems to be false. Even as Buddhism was being created it contained lots of variety. Beginning shortly after The Buddha's death there was a council that tried to standardize his teachings. It failed. It was followed three more times, roughly a century apart, by succeeding councils that also tried to standardize the teachings. None succeeded, there remained many variations on the teachings promoted by his many disciples.

So, what made Buddhism more popular and exportable than Hinduism? This goes back to being a mystery to me.



--The End--