Having the Right Approach to Buddhism


The Right Approach to Buddhism

When we pursue studies of Buddhism and Dharma, it is important to develop a correct motivation and also to aim at the correct goal. It is not exactly like when we study other things.


Since we study Dharma, the motivation must follow correspondingly. This is because Dharma is not just studied in order to know more, or to get more knowledge. Dharma is studied to obtain a concrete gain; and not just any gain, but a far-reaching gain from which we can profit from for all time.

How can we achieve such a far-reaching gain? 

We achieve this goal by understanding what the actual roots of our happiness and suffering are and by transforming them. On one hand, if we do not understand the actual causes for happiness and suffering, and on the other hand, if we understand them, but do not bring about the necessary transformation, then it will not be possible to achieve that far-reaching and lasting gain, despite whatever other means we may employ.

To pursue other kinds of studies does not have this effect. When we follow other studies, we learn all sorts of things. But the knowledge that we acquire does not have such a direct relation to the actual causes of happiness and suffering; it cannot bring any lasting gain. It is possible that through such knowledge we may gain something temporary, but to obtain an everlasting result is very difficult.

What are the actual causes for happiness and suffering? 

Suffering and Unhappiness

These are explained in the Dharma, and how we can directly deal with them and change them is the essence of Dharma. This is also the reason why the study of Dharma produces a tangible and lasting result.

Sometimes we think that our ordinary activities produce real, concrete results, while Dharma-activities are something rather abstract and have no concrete results. But the truth is that somebody who really understands Dharma and applies it correctly into practice does achieve the best tangible result for oneself.

However, if one considers Dharma activities as something that has little to do with real Dharma, or if one approaches Dharma wrongly, then there are risks and dangers that one’s efforts will be in vain. In this case, instead of bringing concrete, beneficial results, one will end up wasting much time and energy for nothing.

When we get involved with real Dharma in an unmistaken way, there is nothing that could produce greater results for oneself and for the sake of others.

We think that an activity makes sense if it improves our experience of happiness and prevents our suffering, and that something is worthless or no good if it worsens our situation. There is no other meaningful criteria to distinguish what is meaningful from what is meaningless, to distinguish what is useful from what is useless.

The experience of happiness and suffering is dependent upon the causes of happiness and suffering. That which directly connects us to the causes of happiness and suffering is Dharma. And by practicing Dharma, these causes of happiness and suffering can be directly influenced. Therefore, there is nothing more useful and effective than getting involved in Dharma.

Causes of Happiness and Suffering

The root philosophy of Buddhism, the teachings that Buddha gave, is the statement that the actual causes for happiness and suffering lie in one’s own mind, and that the outer objects may serve as conditions, but are not the actual cause for happiness and suffering. Other people, for example, are not the actual cause, nor are any other objects; gods or ghosts. There are, rather, causes in one’s own continuum that are responsible for all our suffering and happiness. This is a central point of Buddha’s teachings.

By understanding that the causes of happiness and suffering are to be found in our own mind, we make efforts to change these in order to accomplish the real benefit for ourselves and others. The teachings of Buddha have many aspects, but some are fundamental, and to understand them correctly is very important.

As already said before, the ultimate goal and central core point of the Buddha Dharma are the beings, and nothing else. Some people may think that the actual central point of Buddhism is Buddha or Nirvana, the freedom from cyclic existence, or the calmness of the mind. But this is not correct. All of these are surely very worthwhile achievements, but the central point of the Dharma is benefitting the sentient beings.

Explanation of Sentient Beings 

When we speak of “beings” we mean objects that are endowed with consciousness. Thanks to this, they are able to experience happiness and suffering. And it is because of the existence of beings that the teachings and the practice of Dharma are so relevant. Thus, Dharma exists only in relation to them.

The whole content of Dharma is a precise description of the situation of the beings, of their experience of happiness and suffering, and of the possibilities of changing their situation. It is only in relation to the beings that the explanations of Dharma have great significance. The explanations on the liberation from the cyclic conditioned existence and those on the state of Buddhahood and others are all descriptive of the various states in which beings are immersed. Without relation to the beings, they have no meaning whatsoever.

When we speak about conditioned existence or Samsara, this is a description of the current situation of the beings. When we speak about freedom or Nirvana, this is also a situation that is possible for beings to attain. All of these descriptions are nothing else than descriptions of states in which beings are found or that they can attain in the future.

The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths (Chatwari Aryasatyāni) are also exact descriptions of the situation of the beings. The Noble Truth of Suffering (Dukha Ārya Satya) is the description of the basic situation of the beings. The Noble Truth of the Origin (Samuda Ārya Satya) is a description of the cause of that situation of the beings. The Noble Truth of Cessation (Nirodha Ārya Satya) is a description of the liberated situation of the beings; and the Noble Truth of the Path (Mārga Ārya Satya) is a description of the valid method which enables the beings to attain the liberated state.

When we talk about the state of an Arhat, this describes a situation of the beings. When we speak of Bodhisattvas, this also describes a situation of the beings. When we speak about Shunyata, this is still a description of the situation of the beings in a deeper sense. Thus, there are many different terms in Dharma, and all of them have a direct relation to the sentient beings.

Dharma Practice

By “dharma practice” we mean the development of love (Maitri), compassion (Karūñā), patience (Shānti), giving (Dāna), ethics (Shila) and so forth. All of these practices have a direct relation to the beings: this can easily be understood. When compassion is developed, it is compassion towards beings. In the same way, developing love is only thinkable in relation to beings. Giving is also something that only has meaning in relation to others, as a direct help for them. Ethics only makes sense in relation to other beings, because ethics means avoiding destructive actions and practicing beneficial actions. When we say “destructive actions”, we mean to say actions that harm beings, and “beneficial actions” are actions that benefit beings. Thus, practicing ethics only makes sense in relation to the beings.

Therefore, all the teachings and practices of Dharma are directly related to the situation of the beings. Since there are beings, there is Dharma, and for them it is useful and necessary that Dharma exists. If there were no beings, there would also be no need for the Dharma; the Dharma would have no use. 

In this way, we see that the central point of Dharma is neither a god nor nirvana; rather, it is just the beings. Even Buddha is not the central point. This is because Buddha is something that is born out of a sentient being and not vice versa. 

Buddhahood is also attainable only by the beings and in dependence upon the beings. The beings do not come into existence in dependence upon Buddha, but Buddha comes into existence in dependence upon the beings. Thus, they are the central point of Dharma. This is one of the most important points of the Buddhist view, and it is essential to understand it correctly.

When we are asked what the central core of Buddhism is, we should be able to give a direct answer. On one hand, the answer is that the beings are the central point, and on the other hand, the causes for happiness and suffering can be found in one’s own mind and these causes have to be transformed. That is another essential point of Dharma.

As long as the mistakes in the mind, such as greed (Rāga), hatred (Dvesha), and confusion (Moha) are present in oneself, we speak about the state of conditioned cyclic existence, in which there are all the manifestations of suffering. When the mind is liberated from mistakes such as greed, hatred and ignorance, then we speak about liberation, about a state that is free from all suffering and characterised by lasting peace. It is wrong not to see things that way and to think that we are in Samsara as long as we are in this world, and in Nirvana when we go to another world. To be of the opinion that we are in Samsara as long as we exist and we are in Nirvana when we cease to exist is also wrong.

As long as the delusions are present in our mind, we are a typical samsaric being of cyclic existence. As soon as we have removed delusion from our minds, we get freedom from the chain of Karma, Klesha, and suffering, thus attaining Nirvana: the state beyond sorrow. This does not at all mean that we stop existing. We continue to exist but in a state of full freedom and lasting peace. In addition to that, when even the subtlest imprint that the delusions left on the mind are completely removed and all the qualities of the mind such as wisdom, compassion, abilities, and actions have been fully perfected, we speak about the attainment of Buddhahood. It is also important to understand the fact that Buddhahood is a state of mind and not something like another world, or a state somewhere high up in space. Although we use the English word “enlightenment”, it is not something that necessarily has to consist of light or be luminous. None of these are the meaning of Buddhahood.



Buddhahood is the state of a being when all the obstacles from the largest up to the smallest have been brought to a total end and all virtues or wholesome qualities have been developed to the level of perfection, infinity, and spontaneity. That is also shown by the very Sanskrit word “Buddha”, which means “fully awakened” or “fully blossomed”.

Another essential point in the view of Buddhism is that the mistakes of the mind are not in the essential nature of the mind and therefore, the mind can be freed from its mistakes and obstacles; thus, it is possible to remove all faults and obstacles, because they are not the very nature of the mind.

Additionally, we have to understand that the teachings given by the Buddha have various aspects. There is not just one Dharma that exists regardless of its being suitable for the beings or not; rather, according to the various capacities, characteristics, and needs of the beings, there are corresponding teachings of the Buddhas. A person who understands this point correctly cannot become fanatic about one specific form of Dharma. When this point is not understood, the ignorance in one’s mind creates a sense of strong attachment and of fanatic adherence to a certain aspect. Due to such a view, there is the danger to develop fanatic sectarian views. Such false views will be the source of disputes and conflicts.

Beings have different conditions, capacities and inclinations. Buddha, out of his great compassion, wisdom, and skilfulness gave a great variety of teachings that are suitable to all.

Another special quality of the teaching of Buddha is that the validity of his teaching and the worthiness of its practice are established on the ground of a sound logical basis and personal experience. It is not judged in terms of a teacher’s status such as racial origin, physical shape or colour, age, social rank, titles, popularity, etc., but rather on the basis of the accuracy of the meaning, of the correspondence to reality and of the positive effects on the minds of the seekers. When the meaning is illogical and lacking real essence, it doesn’t matter who teaches it and in what eloquent or poetical manner it is taught; it is of little use for a Dharma-learner and practitioner. Therefore, blindly believing and following anything that is taught is not the right approach. 

The Enlightened One has pointed this out very clearly when he said: “Oh monks and wise men: just as a gold seeker examines the gold through burning, cutting, and rubbing, likewise evaluate my teachings and then accept them, but not just out of your respect to me”.

The right approach to Dharma for a true practitioner should be like that of a sick man seeking treatment. For the cure of a sick person three things are indispensable: a qualified doctor, the right medical treatment and medical assistance such as nurses. What a patient should have as a motivation or impulse is knowing oneself to be sick, and aspiring to full recovery. One is determined to seek the necessary help to get well. This quest is also not because it is a tradition, not because it is fun, nor because one will gain fame, reputation, wealth and so on; rather, it is simply because one can’t live as an ailing person and good health is aspired to from the depth of one’s heart.

Sincere in Motivation

Exactly in that way should we also be sincere in our motivation for the Dharma, seeing the roots of all our suffering within ourselves and Dharma as the only treatment to cure us. Thus, one seeks Buddha as the perfect qualified physician, Dharma as the perfect valid treatment, and Sangha as the perfect, most helpful team.

This heartfelt seeking of these indispensable teachings helps in what is called TAKING REFUGE (Triratna Sharañā Gaman) in the THREE JEWELS! With this pure attitude all practice of Dharma begins.

Buddham sharanam gacchaami
Dharmam sharanam gacchaami
Sangham sharanam gacchaami


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