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These short (1-3pp.) essays by Bhikkhu Bodhi offer crisp and illuminating reflections on a wide range of Dhamma topics of immediate relevance to Buddhist practitioners. Drawing on scholarship and scripture, each essay addresses a specific theme concerning basic Theravada Buddhist principles and concepts. Many of these essays serve to clarify and disentangle some crucial points of Dhamma that are frequently misunderstood within the world of popular Buddhism.

Most of these essays are eminently suitable for newcomers to Buddhism and to meditation. Those marked by an asterisk (*) will be primarily of interest to readers who are closely associated with the BPS and the Sri Lankan Buddhist community.

Note: The Buddhist Publication Society holds the copyright to these essays. The following statement applies to each of them:

For free distribution only.
You may print copies of this work for your personal use.
You may re-format and redistribute this work for use on computers and computer networks,
provided that you charge no fees for its distribution or use.
Otherwise, all rights reserved.

The descriptive blurbs below are my own and not Bhikkhu Bodhi's. If I've missed the point in any of these blurbs or otherwise led you astray, I ask for your -- and Bhikkhu Bodhi's -- forgiveness.

1. "A New Undertaking" (Summer 1985). The author inaugurates his series of essays by explaining their chief purpose: to advance an accurate understanding of the cornerstone of the Buddha's teachings -- right view.

2. "Two Faces of the Dhamma" (Autumn 1985). How do we reconcile the apparent contradiction that Buddhism is, on the one hand, a "religious" path calling for both faith and devotion and, on the other hand, a path of rational and critical inquiry?

3. "Vision and Routine" (Winter 1985). The key to keeping on-course on the Buddhist path lies in one's ability to persevere with the methodical and routine practice of meditation and mental cultivation, without losing sight of the ultimate, transcendent goal of the practice.

4. "Purification of Mind" (Summer 1986). What does it mean to "purify" the mind, and how is it accomplished?

5. "The Case for Study" (Winter 1986). What is the role of studying the Buddhist scriptures in pursuing the Buddha's path to Awakening? In fact, careful study of the suttas is essential if we are to develop a correct understanding of the Buddha's teachings.

6. "Dhamma Without Rebirth?" (Spring 1987). Some contemporary teachers have claimed that the question of rebirth is extraneous to the core teachings of Buddhism. In fact, the notion of kamma and rebirth forms a central defining principle at the very heart of all the Buddha's teachings.

7. "Taking Stock of Oneself" (Summer-Fall 1987). Among the most important -- and difficult -- challenges we face in our journey down the Buddhist path is a willingness to see ourselves as we truly are -- defilements and all. It is only with this kind of penetrating honesty about ourselves that we can begin to uproot the deep-seated habits of mind that lie at the root of our suffering.

8. "The Balanced Way" (Winter 1987). Our progress in the Dhamma depends in part on the degree to which we can develop within ourselves the twin virtues of renunciation and compassion.

9. "A Look at the Kalama Sutta" (Spring 1988). Some popular contemporary teachings claim that in this important sutta the Buddha advocates that we put our trust solely in what we can experience directly for ourselves. In fact, when we take into careful consideration the context of this sutta, it becomes clear that this interpretation altogether misses a much more important point.

10.* "A Statement of Conscience" (Summer-Fall 1988). In response to the growing threat of terrorism in Sri Lanka, the author offers a reminder of the Buddha's timeless advice: "Considering others as oneself, do not hurt them or cause them harm."

11.* "The Vital Link" (Winter 1988). Although Buddhism is beginning to take root in the West, it shows serious signs of decline in parts of Asia, largely because it is dismissed as irrelevant by many of the youth in Asian society, who regard it as merely a symbol of cultural and ethnic identity. Here the author reminds his Asian audience that in order for the Buddha's teachings to be passed on to the next generation, we must be willing to put them earnestly into practice ourselves, thus setting an example of kindness and compassion that society so sorely needs today.

12. "A Remedy for Despair" (Spring 1989). In a world full of such extraordinary suffering it becomes second-nature to many of us to turn aside from the pain of others, cast our gaze downward, and focus instead on our own immediate, private concerns. Equipped with an understanding of the workings of kamma, however, we can begin to see the world with more heartfelt clarity, with greater equanimity, free of paralyzing despair.

13. "The Problem of Conflict" (Summer-Fall 1989). We all yearn for happiness and concord, yet much of the world seems bound up in fear, aggression, and conflict. While we as individuals cannot hope to cure the world's problems overnight, there is still a great deal we can do that is of immediate help and immeasurably powerful: conduct our own lives with kindness and compassion.

14. "The Quest for Meaning" (Winter 1989). In a world that is increasingly dominated by the wonders of scientific progress and the lure of technological innovation, we can easily lose touch with that vital human drive to seek an ultimate, transcendent meaning to life. The Buddha's teachings offer both that transcendent goal towards which we can aim our lives, and a practical method of reaching it.

15. "The Search for Security" (Spring 1990). The search for happiness is one of our basic drives. Even more fundamental, however, is our yearning for genuine security -- security from the dangers and sorrows of life. The Buddha's teachings offers us precisely this -- in the unparalleled security of Nibbana -- as well as the practical means necessary to deliver us there.

16. "Self-transformation" (Summer-Fall 1990). Much of our unhappiness arises from a dissatisfaction with our sense of who we are, so we quite naturally seek remedies that attempt to fill the void. What the Dhamma offers is something more: the opportunity to transcend self altogether, thereby freeing ourselves once and for all from its constrictive tyranny.

17. "A Note on Openness" (Winter 1990-91). Some popular interpretations of Buddhism espouse the notion that our highest goal should be to expand our capacity to open ourselves to the full range of life's joys and sorrows, to shed our self-centered preferences, and merge at last with the unity of all beings and all things. Despite its pleasing sound, this teaching is far removed from Buddhism's real message of genuine freedom.

18. "Laying Down the Rod" (Spring 1991). In a world fraught with violence, the Buddha's ancient advice is just as relevant today: "Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not slay or incite others to slay."

19. * "An Auspicious Month" (Summer-Fall 1991). An acknowledgement of two noteworthy events concerning the BPS: Nyanaponika Mahathera (founder of the BPS) celebrated his 90th birthday, and Ven. Piyadassi Mahathera (editor of the BPS's Sinhala language publications) was elected to the position of leading elder in the Sangha of the Amarapura Nikaya (Sri Lanka).

20. "The Nobility of the Truths" (Winter 1991-92). What is "noble" about the Four Noble Truths?

21. "Refuge in the Buddha" (Spring 1992). What does it mean to seek refuge in the Buddha?

22. "The Five Spiritual Faculties" (Winter 1992-93). An introduction to the five indriya, or spiritual faculties (faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom), and their role in the practice of Dhamma.

23. "The Guardians of the World" (Spring 1993). An introduction to the two mental qualities that serve as safeguards of our morality, protecting both ourselves and the world around us from harm: hiri, an innate conscience or sense of shame over doing wrong, and ottappa, a fear of the consequences of wrongdoing.

24. "Tolerance and Diversity" (Summer-Fall 1993). An urgent question for the world today is how followers of one religious tradition can live in harmony with those who practice another, without compromising the integrity of their own tradition. The Buddha's teachings of tolerance strike a delicate and wise balance that avoid the perilous extremes of intolerant fundamentalism on the one hand, and an "all-roads-lead-up-the-same-mountain" universalism on the other.

25. "From Views to Vision" (Winter 1993-94). Although the Buddha teaches that clinging leads to suffering, there are some things -- most significantly, Right View -- that he insists are worth holding onto until we reach the end of the path.

26. "Association with the Wise" (1st mailing, 1994). The friends and associations we make in life play a crucial role in our progress along the path, as we inevitably absorb some of their qualities -- be they good or bad. How do we learn to recognize and seek out the wise companion, the truly good friend?

27 & 29. "Dhamma and Non-duality" (2nd mailing, 1994 & 1st mailing, 1995). Contrary to the stated goal of some other currently popular eastern religions and practices, the Dhamma is not concerned with the attainment of a state of "non-dualism," a condition in which the barriers between "self" and "other," or samsara and nibbana, finally dissolve. Nor do the teachings espouse "dualism" -- or, for that matter, any ism whatsoever. Rather, the teachings concern only suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path leading to its cessation.

28. * "For the Welfare of Many" (3rd mailing, 1994). A personal appreciation for the life and work of the late Ven. Nyanaponika Mahathera (1901-1994), who served as founder, editor, president and, most recently, Patron of the BPS.

30 & 31 "Towards a Threshold of Understanding" (2nd & 3rd mailings, 1995). A Theravada Buddhist response to Pope John Paul II's 1994 book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, which was unabashedly critical of -- and remarkably ill-informed about -- the Buddhist religion. Bhikkhu Bodhi here skillfully avoids any discussion of possible motives for the Pope's demeaning treatment of Buddhism, and instead addresses the specific doctrinal points that were raised in the book.

32. "Meeting the Divine Messengers" (1st mailing, 1996). It was the sight of the four "divine messegers" -- an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a wandering ascetic -- that propelled the young Bodhisatta from his complacent and luxurious princely life into the homeless life of a serious seeker of spiritual freedom. Then as now, these messengers appear all around us, not merely to incite us to discover how to cope with life's difficulties and dangers, but to inspire us to transcend them once and for all.

33. "Walking Even Amidst the Uneven" (2nd mailing, 1996). Where can we find encouragement to progress towards our spiritual goals when we live immersed in a consumer-driven world that places such high value on material achievement? The Buddha's teachings here come to our aid, with advice ranging from how laypeople can live in harmony with their wealth, to his encouragement that we at least consider making the great renunciation that monastics have found to be of such incalculable support.

34. "Message for a Globalized World" (3rd mailing, 1996). Despite the glowing promises and forecasts of technologists, economists, and business leaders, we inhabitants of the emerging global marketplace have not yet found in technology any relief from our most basic ills: greed, violence, and meaninglessness. The only possible remedy to these ancient problems lies in our individual capacity to transform ourselves, to uproot the causes of our suffering once and for all.

35. * "Aims of Buddhist Education" (1st mailing, 1997). In Sri Lanka, as throughout much of the world, the quality of formal education is deteriorating, as the schools largely fail to instill in their students an appreciation for either learning, moral decency, or wisdom. By reintroducing basic Buddhist principles into the educational system it may be possible to restore some nobility to the schools and thus to the students they serve.

36. "A Discipline of Sobriety" (2nd mailing, 1997). A reminder that the five precepts -- the most elementary guidelines of moral conduct offered by the Buddha -- enjoin us not merely from drinking alcohol to excess, but from drinking any amount of alchohol. Clarity of mind and moral judgment are fundamental to the practice of Dhamma; alcohol easily undermines both.

37. "Subrahma's Problem" (3rd mailing, 1997). Where is genuine security to be found? How can we be freed, at last, from fear? A deva once asked the Buddha these questions; the Buddha's answer rings just as true today.

38. "Giving Dignity to Life" (1st mailing, 1998). The Buddha's teachings offer a profound hope that can help erase the despair and cynicism that are rampant in today's world. For Buddhism teaches that each of us is personally responsible for the moral choices we make; by those choices each of us is capable of bringing to our lives unsurpassed dignity, autonomy, and freedom.

Revised: 10 November 1999