The Twelve Principles of Buddhism
1. Self-salvation is for any man the immediate task. If a man lay wounded by a poisoned
arrow he would not delay extraction by demanding details of the man who shot it, or
the length and make of the arrow. There will be time for ever-increasing understanding
of the Teaching during the treading of the Way. Meanwhile, begin now by facing life
as it is, learning always by direct and personal experience.
2. The first fact of existence is the law of change or impermanence. All that exists, from
a mole to a mountain, from a thought to an empire, passes through the same cycle of
existence - i.e., birth, growth, decay and death. Life alone is continous, ever seeking
self-expression in new forms. 'Life is a bridge; therefore build no house on it.' Life is
a process of flow, and he who clings to any form, however splendid, will suffer by
resisting the flow.
3. The law of change applies equally to the 'soul'. There is no principle in an individual
which is immortal and unchanging. Only the 'Namelessness', the ultimate Reality, is
beyond change, and all forms of life, including man, are manifestations of this Reality.
No one owns the life which flows in him any more than the electric light bulb owns the
current which gives it light.
4. The universe is the expression of law. All effects have causes, and man's soul or
character is the sum total of his previous thoughts and acts. Karma, meaning
action-reaction, governs all reaction to them, his future condition, and his final
destiny. By right thought and action he can gradually purify his inner nature, and
so by self-realisation attain in time liberation from rebirth. The process covers great
periods of time, involving life after life on earth, but ultimately every form of life will
5. Life is one and indivisble, though its everchaning forms are innumerable and
perishable. There is, in truth, no death, though every form must die. From an
understanding of life's unity arises compassion, a sense of identity with the
life in other forms. Compassion is described as 'the Law of laws - eternal
harmony', and he who breaks this harmony of life will suffer accordingly and
delay his own Enlightenment.
6. Life being One, the interests of the part should be those of the whole. In his
ignorance man thinks he can successfully strive for his own interests, and this
wrongly directed energy of selfishness produces suffering. He learns from his
suffering to reduce and finally eliminate its cause. The Buddha taught Four
(a) The omnipresence of suffering;
(b) its cause, wrongly directed
(c) its cure, the removal of the cause; and
(d) Noble Eightfold Path of
self-development which leads to the end of suffering.
7. The Eightfold Path consists in Right (or perfect) Views or preliminary understanding,
Right Aims or Motive, Right Speech, Right Acts, Right Livelihood, Right Effort,
Right Concentration or mind development, and finally, Right Samadhi, leading to
Full Enligtenment. As Buddhism is a way of living, not merely a theory of life, the
treading of this Path is essential to self-deliverance. 'Cease to do evil, learn to do
good, cleanse your own heart: this is the Teaching of the Buddhas.'
8. Reality is indescribable, and a God with attributes is not the final Reality. But the
Buddha, a human being, became the All-Enlightened One, and the purpose of life
is the attainment of Enlightenment. This state of Consciousness, Nirvana, the
extinction of the limitations of self-hood, is attainable on earth. All men and all
other forms of life contain the potentiality of Enlightenment, and the process
therefore consists in becoming what you are. 'Look withtin: thou art Buddha.'
9. From potential to actual Enligtenment there lies the Middle Way, the Eightfold
Way 'from desire to peace', a process of self-development between the 'opposites',
avoiding all extremes. The Buddha trod this Way to the end, and the only faith
required in Buddhism is the reasonable belief that where a Guide has trodden it is
worth our while to tread. The Way must be trodden by the whole man, not merely
the best of him, and heart and mind must be developed equally. The Buddha was the
All-Compassionate as well as the All-Enlightened One.
10. Buddhism lays great stress on the need of inward concentration and meditation,
which leads in time to the development of the inner spiritual faculties. The subjective
life is as important as the daily round, and periods of quietude for inner activity are
essential for a balanced life. The Buddhist should at all times be 'mindful and
self-possessed', refraining from mental and emotional attachment to 'the passing
show'. This increasingly watchful attitude to circumstances, which he knows to be his
own creation, helps him to keep his reaction to it always under control.
11. The Buddha said: 'Work out your own salvation with diligence.' Buddhism knows
no authority for truth save the intuition of the individual, and that is authority for
himself alone. Each man suffers the consequences of his own acts, and learns
thereby, while helping his fellow men to the same deliverance; nor will prayer to
the Buddha or to any God prevent an effect from following its cause. Buddhist
monks are teachers and exemplars, and in no sense intermediates between Reality
and the individual. The utmost tolerance is practised towards all other religions and
philosophies, for no man has the right to interfere in his neighbour's journey to the
12. Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor 'escapist', nor does it deny the existence of
God or soul, though it places its own meaning on these terms. It is, on the contrary,
a system of thought, a religion, a spiritual science and a way of life, which is
reasonable, practical, and all-embracing. For over two thousand years it has satisfied
the spiritual needs of nearly one-third of mankind. It appeals to the West because it
has no dogmas, satisfies the reason and the heart alike, insists on self-reliance
coupled with tolerance for other points of view, embraces science, religion, philosophy,
psychology, ethics and art, and points to man alone, as the creator of his present life
and sole designer of his destiny.
Drafted by Christmas Humphreys, The Buddhist Society, London, in 1945
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