Entire Q&A for printing // with links

Q&A for Book Study of

What the Buddha Taught by Rev. Dr. Walpola Rahula

Chapter 1

The Buddhist Attitude Of Mind

  1. Did The Buddha regard himself as a God?
  2. What did He attribute all his realizations, attainments and achievements to?

Extra reading:  Master Yin Shun explains why being born human is rare, best and the three supreme characteristics of humans.

The Sutra in Forty-two Sections Spoken by the Buddha Section 36 to 37 (difficulties of being born human and to hear the Dharma)

  1. What did the Buddha mean when he said “One is one’s own refuge, who else could be the refuge” ?
  2. How does one become his own ‘refuge’?

Sutta mentioned in book: The Kalama Sutta

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s commentary on common misunderstandings of The Kalama Sutta

  1. Even though doubt is one of the Five Hindrances how does it help us move forward in our understanding and practice of Buddhism?

Sutta mentioned in book: MN 47 Vimamsaka-sutta

  1. What is sympathetic understanding ?
  1. What is the author trying to convey with the question is “Buddhism a religion or philosophy”, “Truth” and “labels’?

Sutta mentioned in book: MN 140 Dhātuvibhanga Sutta – The Exposition of the Elements

  1. How does Buddhist faith ( saddha)  differ from other religion’s faith?
  2. What is the definition of faith/ saddha in Buddhism ?
  3.  What are the three aspects of saddha (according to Asanga )?
  4.  The Buddha didn’t want his disciples to follow his teachings by ‘blind faith’ he wanted you to ‘come and see’. What practices have you tried and developed conviction in because you diligently practiced? What practices do you think you should try that you haven’t already?
  5.  How does the Buddha say a wise man preserves the Truth?

Sutta mentioned in book : MN 95 Canki-sutta

  1. Explain  the ‘raft’ simile.
  2. Explain the ‘leaf and forest’ story.
  3. Note the 10 questions the Buddha would not answer. Why did He not answer those 10 questions?

Sutta mentioned in book: MN63 Cula-Malunkya-sutta

16. What does The Buddha say about metaphysical views?

17. At the end of the chapter, speaking with Malunkyputta, what is it that the Buddha says he teaches and Why does The Buddha teach what He teaches?

Chapter 2

The Four Noble Truths

The First Noble Truth : Dukkha


 1.What are the Four Noble Truths?

Sutta mentioned in book:  Dhammacakkappavatiana-sutta .The Buddha’s very first sermon ‘Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth’

2. Is Buddhism pessimistic? Why or why not?

3. What is ordinary definition in Pali for dukkha?

4. What is the full, complete, accurate definition of dukkha with regards to the First Noble Truth?

5. The Buddha does not deny happiness in life, what are the different forms of happiness?

6. Why does The Buddha say even the happiness of family life, recluse life, spiritual attainments are included in dukkha?

7. What are the three things one should clearly understand with regard to life and enjoyment of sense pleasures?

8. How is viewing life’s pleasures, happiness and sorrow objectively and with the understanding of dukkha, beneficial to you and others?

9. What are three aspects the conception of dukkha may be viewed from and what are some examples of these three aspects?

10. According to Buddhist philosophy, what is it that we call “a being’ , “Individual” and “I”?

11. Why are the Five Aggregates also called dukkha?

12. What are the names of the Five Aggregates?




Supplemental Information on The Five Aggregates

Buddhist doctrine describes five aggregates:[3]

  1. “form” or “matter”[4] (Skt., Pāli rūpa; Tib. gzugs):
    external and internal matter. Externally, rupa is the physical world. Internally, rupa includes the material body and the physical sense organs.[5]
  2. “sensation” or “feeling” (Skt., Pāli vedanā; Tib. tshor-ba):
    sensing an object[6] as either pleasant or unpleasant or neutral.[7][8]
  3. “perception”“conception”“apperception”“cognition”, or “discrimination” (Skt. samjñā, Pāli saññā, Tib. ‘du-shes):
    registers whether an object is recognized or not (for instance, the sound of a bell or the shape of a tree).
  4. “mental formations”“impulses”“volition”, or “compositional factors” (Skt. samskāra, Pāli saṅkhāra, Tib. ‘du-byed) :
    all types of mental habits, thoughts, ideas, opinions, prejudices, compulsions, and decisions triggered by an object.[9]
  5. “consciousness” or “discernment”[10] (Skt. vijñāna, Pāli viññāṇa[11], Tib. rnam-par-shes-pa):

Mahayana and Theravada perspective on the Five Aggregates from Wikipedia.

Mahayanist perspectives

In one of Mahayana Buddhism’s most famous declarations, the aggregates are referenced:

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.[50

Theravada perspectives

Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000b, p. 840) states that an examination of the aggregates has a “critical role” in the Buddha’s teaching for multiple reasons, including:

Understanding the Four Noble Truths: The five aggregates are the “ultimate referent” in the Buddha’s elaboration on suffering (dukkha) in his First Noble Truth (see excerpted quote below) and “since all four truths revolve around suffering, understanding the aggregates is essential for understanding the Four Noble Truths as a whole.”

Future Suffering’s Cause: The five aggregates are the substrata for clinging and thus “contribute to the causal origination of future suffering.”

Release: Clinging to the five aggregates must be removed in order to achieve release.

Comparison to both Mahayana and Theravada teachings on the Five Aggregates:

The intrinsic emptiness of all things

The Sanskrit version[51] of the classic “Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra” (“Heart Sutra”) begins:

The noble Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva,

while practicing the deep practice of Prajnaparamita

looked upon the Five Skandhas,

…seeing they were empty of self-existence….[52]


In the Theravada canon,[54] when “emptiness of self” is mentioned, the English word “self” is a translation of the Pali word “atta” (Sanskrit, “atman”); in the Sanskrit-version of the Heart Sutra,[55] the English word “self-existence” is a translation of the Sanskrit word “sva-bhava”.[56]

In other words, whereas the Sutta Pitaka typically instructs one to apprehend the aggregates without clinging or self-identification, Prajnaparamita leads one to apprehend the aggregates themselves as having no intrinsic reality.[57]

In the Heart Sutra’s second verse, after rising from his aggregate meditation, Avalokiteshvara declares:

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form,

form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness.[50]

Thich Nhat Hanh interprets this statement as:

Form is the wave and emptiness is the water…. [W]ave is water, water is wave…. [T]hese five [aggregates] contain each other. Because one exists, everything exists.[58]

Red Pine comments:

That form is empty was one of the Buddha’s earliest and most frequent pronouncements. But in the light of Prajnaparamita, form is not simply empty, it is so completely empty, it is emptiness itself, which turns out to be the same as form itself…. All separations are delusions. But if each of the skandhas is one with emptiness, and emptiness is one with each of the skandhas, then everything occupies the same indivisible space, which is emptiness…. Everything is empty, and empty is everything.[59]

[edit]Tangibility and transcendence

Commenting on the Heart Sutra, D.T. Suzuki notes:

When the sutra says that the five Skandhas have the character of emptiness …, the sense is: no limiting qualities are to be attributed to the Absolute; while it is immanent in all concrete and particular objects, it is not in itself definable.[60]

That is, from the Mahayana perspective, the aggregates convey the relative (or conventional) experience of the world by an individual, although Absolute truth is realized through them.

The tathagatagarbha sutras, on occasion, speak of the ineffable skandhas of the Buddha (beyond the nature of worldly skandhas and beyond worldly understanding), and in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra the Buddha tells of how the Buddha’s skandhas are in fact eternal and unchanging. The Buddha’s skandhas are said to be incomprehensible to unawakened vision.

Source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skandha

A. The first Aggregate is the Aggregate of Matter (form )

1.What are the Four Great Elements included in the first Aggregate?

2.What are the Derivatives of the Four Great Elements?

B. The second Aggregate is the Aggregate of Sensation (feeling)

1. What are all our sensations, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral experienced through?

2.What are the six kinds of physical and mental organs ?

Mind ( manas)

According to Buddhist philosophy explain what is and is not ‘Mind’.

C. The third Aggregate is the Aggregate of Perceptions (conception,        apperception, cognition or discrimination)

1. How are the Aggregates of Perception produced?

2. How many kinds of Aggregates of Perception are there?

D. The fourth Aggregate is the Aggregate of Mental Formations (impulses, volition)

1. What is included in this group of the fourth Aggregates?


What is The Buddha’s definition of Karma?

2. What is the function of volition?

3.How many kinds of volition are there?

4.What are not volitional actions?

5. List a few volitional activities that can produce karmic effects.

E.  The fifth Aggregate is the Aggregate of Consciousness (discernment)

1. What is the definition of consciousness?

2. Is the function of consciousness to recognize an object? Why or why not?

3. Is the ‘Soul’ , ‘Self’ , ‘Ego’ synonymous with consciousness? Why or      why not?

4. How does The Buddha explain consciousness in detail to his disciple Sati?

5. Does or can consciousness exist independently?

          6. Why does the author say a true Buddhist is the happiest of beings ?


Supplemental Information on The Seven Factors of Enlightenment

Chapter 3

The Second Noble Truth : Samudaya ‘The Arising of Dukkha’


  1. What is the Second Noble Truth?
  2. What are the three ‘thirst’ ( cravings) that give rise to all forms of dukkha/suffering?
  3. Even though this ‘thirst’, desire, greed, craving manifests in various ways that give rise to all forms of suffering and the continuity of beings it should not be taken as the first cause. Why?

Conditioned Genesis ( paticca-samuppada) : Everything is interconnected. Everything affects everything else. Everything that is, is because other things are. This is the teaching of Dependent Origination.

This teaching has many names. It is called Interdependent Origination, or (Inter)dependent Arising, or Co-Arising, or variations thereof. It’s called Conditioned Genesis and Causal Nexus and many other things. It would be nice if English-speaking Buddhists could agree on a term, but so far we haven’t. The Sanskrit is Pratitya-samutpada. I’ve found the Pali name spelled Panicca-samuppada, Paticca-samuppada and Patichcha-samuppada.

Whatever it is called, Dependent Origination is a core teaching of all schools of Buddhism.

Also, things are the way they are because they are conditioned by other things. You are conditioned by other people and phenomena. Other people and phenomena are conditioned by you. Written by Barbara O’Brien

Brief description of the 12 links of Dependent Origination

The Buddha explained,

When this is, that is.

This arising, that arises.

When this is not, that is not.

This ceasing, that ceases.

  1. What does ‘thirst’ (craving) have at its centre?
  2. List desires that are included in the cause for ‘thirst’/craving.
  3. What are the four nutriments necessary as the cause for the existence and continuity of beings?
  4. What is ‘mental volition’?
  5. In your own words explain what is being said on page 31.
  6. What is the Buddhist definition of Karma?
  7.  Is there re-birth for an Arahant? Why or why not?
  8.  Explain the theory/law of Karma.
  9.   A being is nothing but a combination of physical and mental forces and energies. What we call death is the total non-functioning of the physical body.  Do all these forces and energies stop altogether with the non-functioning of the body?
  10.   What is it that takes some other shape and form, that is reborn, after the total non-functioning of the physical body?
  11.  What is it that conditions the so called next life’s first thought moment?

Chapter 4

The Third Noble Truth : Nirodha: ‘The Cessation of Dukkha’

  1. What is the Third Noble Truth?

Sutra mentioned in book:  The Lankavatara Sutra

  1. Because human language is poor and there is no such category to explain the supra-mundane experience of Nirvana. The Buddha has expressed Nirvana by skillful means in negative terms. What are a few examples the Buddha gives?
  2. Is Nirvana the annihilation of self? Why or why not?

Sutta mentioned in book: We can get  some idea of Nirvana as Absolute Truth from MN 140   Dhātuvibhanga Sutta

  1. What does it mean for the Bhikkhu in MN140 who knows “Finished is birth, lived is pure life, what should be done is done, nothing more is left to be done.” ?
  2. What is the Absolute Truth according to Buddhism?
  3. What is the realization of this Truth?
  4. What is the Mahayana view of Nirvana?
  5. Is Nirvana the result of the Path? Why or why not?
  6. What is an Arahant compared to after his death? Why?
  7.  How do we realize Nirvana for ourselves?

Chapter 5

The Fourth Noble Truth : Magga: ‘The Path’


  1. What is the Fourth Noble Truth?
  2.  Why is it known as the Middle Path?
  3. What are the eight categories that constitutes the Noble Eightfold Path?
  4. How should the Path be followed and practices? Why?
  5. What are the three essentials of Buddhist training and discipline?
1. Right View


2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech

Ethical Conduct

4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort

Mental Development

7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration




Ethical Conduct / Sila

  1. On what is Ethical Conduct built?
  2. According to Buddhism what are the two qualities a man should develop equally to be perfect?
  3. What is compassion?
  4. What is wisdom?
  5. What are the three factors of the Noble Eightfold Path that fall under Ethical Conduct?
  6.  What is the practice of Right Speech?
  7.  What is the practice of Right Action?
  8.  What is the practice of Right Livelihood?
  9.  No spiritual development is possible without the moral basis of Ethical Conduct? TRUE or FALSE

Mental Dicipline / Samadhi

  1.  On what factors of the Noble Eightfold Path is Mental Discipline built?
  2.  What is the practice of Right Effort?
  3.  What is the practice of Right Mindfulness?

Suttas on Meditation mentioned in book: MN118 Anapanasati-sutta( Breathing Meditation), Satipatthana-sutta (Setting-up Mindfulness) 

  1.  What is the practice of Right Concentration?

Right concentration leads to the four stages of Dhyanas ( Jhanas) .

Dhyana- ‘trance’ , recueillement, a state of mind acheuved through higher meditation.

 Supplemental reading : Very Detailed information on the Four Dhyanas (Jhanas)

19. Explain the first stage of Dhyana.

20. Explain the second stage of Dhyana.

21. Explain the third stage of Dhyana.

22. Explain the fourth stage of Dhyana.

Wisdom / Panna

23. On what two factors of the Noble Eightfold Path is Wisdom developed?

24. What is the practice of Right Thought ( Right Intention ) ?

25. What is the practice of Right Understanding ( Right View)?

Supplemental reading:  Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh on RIGHT VIEW , more on  Right View ,The Noble Eightfold Path

  1. What are the two sorts of understanding according to Buddhism?
  2. What are the four functions with regard to the Four Noble Truths we need to perform?

Supplemental reading on The Four Noble Truths: Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi on The Four Noble Truths,

  The Four Noble Truths


Chapter 6

The Doctrine Of No-Soul: Anatta


  1. What is the non-Buddhist idea and definition of a conception called self?
  2. According to the teachings of The Buddha , what is the Buddhist thought of self?
  3. What did man create for self protection?
  4. Why did man create soul or Atman?
  5. How and why did man crate self protection and soul?
  6. Explain what the Buddha meant when he said that his teaching was ‘against the current’.
  7. The Buddha was hesitant to teach the Truth he had realized. What simile did he use to explain why he decided to teach it?
  8.  What is the Buddhist theory of relativity?
  9. What is the definition on Conditioned Genesis?

 Supplemental reading on Conditioned Genesis, Paticca-samuppada, ( Dependent Origination) : Charts and commentary on The 12 Links ,  Dependent Origination The Buddhist Law of Conditionality , Law of Dependent Origination 

This is how life arises, exists and continues. If we take this formula in it’s reverse order, we come to the cessation of the process. *Conditioned Genesis should be considered a circle and not a chain  p.54.

1. Ignorance is the condition for mental formation.
2. Mental formation is the condition for consciousness.
3. Consciousness is the condition for name and form.
4. Name and form is the condition for the six senses.
5. The six senses are the conditions for contact.
6. Contact is the condition for feeling.
7. Feeling is the condition for craving.
8. Craving is the condition for clinging.
9. Clinging is the condition for becoming.
10. Becoming is the condition for birth.
11. Birth is the condition for aging and death.
12. Aging and death is the condition for ignorance.
  1.  Is there “ Free Will” in Buddhist philosophy? Why or why not?
  2.  Those who want to find a “Self” in Buddhism argue as follows: It is true that the Buddha analyses being into matter, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness, and says that none of these things is self. But he does not say that there is no self at all in man or anywhere else, apart from the aggregates. What is this position untenable?

Supplemental reading mentioned in this chapter: The Dhammapada The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom

translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita with an introduction by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi


12.  What is the definition of the term dhamma ?

13. Theravada and Mahayana agree on the teachings of no self either in the individual or in dhammas. TRUE or FALSE

Sutta mentioned: MN 22 Alagaddupama-sutta


14. What did The Buddha say to Ananda to give him consolation, courage and confidence?

  1.  How does one make one’s own island or refuge?

Supplemental reading mentioned in this chapter: The Way of Mindfulness The Satipatthana Sutta and Its Commentary by Soma Thera


  1.  According to the Buddha there are four ways of treating questions? What are the four ways and why does the Buddha answer questions in these different ways?
  2.  According to the Buddha’s teaching, what are the two wrong opinions to hold of ‘the self’ and why?
  3.  What is the correct position to take with regard to Anatta?
  4.  Explain or put into your own words why The Buddha said “ I have taught you , O bhikkhus, to see conditionality everywhere in all things.”

Chapter 7

‘Meditation’ Or Mental Culture : Bhavana


  1. What did The Buddha say the two kinds of illnesses are?
  2. What is the Definition of Buddhist bhavana?
  3. What is the aim of Buddhist bhavana?

4. What are the two forms meditations are their descriptions?

 Supplemental reading and suttas on meditation: Two styles of insight meditation by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi MN 10 Satipatthana-sutta , MN 118Anapanasati Sutta: Mindfulness of Breathing translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu ,   DN22 Maha-satipatthana Sutta: The Great Frames of Reference  ,    


5. What are the five hindrances to meditate, study and deliberate on?

6. What are the Seven Factors of Illumination (Seven Factors of Enlightenment)?

           7. What other subjects are mentioned as good to ‘meditate’ on?

Chapter 8

What The Buddha Taught and The World Today


  1. What misconception about Buddhist practice does the author dispel? Why?

Supplemental suttas: MN 131 Bhaddekaratta Sutta: An Auspicious Day ( or also known as A Better Way To  Live Alone Sutta)translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

  1. Why was the Sangha established by The Buddha ?
  2. What are the labels of the six directions of worship for a layperson’s noble discipline?

Supplemental suttas: DN 31Sigalovada Sutta The Discourse to Sigala –The Layperson’s Code of Discipline Translated from the Pali by Narada Thera

  1. While one is considered a Buddhist by the authors account if one understands the Buddha’s teaching, and if one is convinced that his teaching is the right Path and if one tries to follow it, then one is a Buddhist. Tradition also has it that one is a Buddhist when one takes refuge in The Buddha, The Dharma and The Sangha ( The Triple Gem) and observes the Five Precepts.  What are the Five Precepts?

Supplemental reading and suttas on The Five Precepts and Going For Refuge : Going for Refuge & Taking the Precepts by Bhikkhu Bodhi , Refuge in the Buddha by Bhikkhu Bodhi


  1. What are the four things conducive to a layman’s happiness in this world?
  2. What are the four virtues conducive to a layman’s happiness hereafter?

Supplemental reading and suttas on Social, Economic and Political matters: Kutadantta Sutta , DN 26 Cakkavatti Sutta: The Wheel-turning Emperor translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu


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August 2019
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"The gift of Dharma surpasses all gifts."
Dhammapada 354

"Giving, a Dharma life, caring for relatives, and blameless deeds: this is the greatest fortune."
Sn 263

"There are two kinds of gifts: a gift of material things and a gift of the Dharma. Of the two, the gift of Dharma is supreme."
Itivuttaka 98

"Directing one's mind to the states of faith, learning, generosity, and wisdom, one has a comfortable abiding.
Majjhima Nikaya 68.10

“Furthermore, Subhuti, in the practice of compassion and charity a disciple should be detached. That is to say, he should practice compassion and charity without regard to appearances, without regard to form, without regard to sound, smell, taste, touch, or any quality of any kind. Subhuti, this is how the disciple should practice compassion and charity. Why? Because practicing compassion and charity without attachment is the way to reaching the Highest Perfect Wisdom, it is the way to becoming a living Buddha”
-The Diamond Sutra

'What the Buddha Taught' by Rev. Dr. Walpola Rahula pdf

Bodhi Monastery's Webpage

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