The Long Discourses of the Buddha

How much do I want to read more? 7/10

Similar to the other book "The Middle Length Discourses Of The Buddha", those two complete each other. Similarly, the summary of the sutra is very handful to grasp the whole.
Those book seems like a life-time dogma to live-by.


Mr Walshe has consistently worked for nearly thirty years.
The Suttas need to be studied, reflected on, and practised in order to realise their true meaning.
They are ‘Dhamma discourses’, or contemplations on the ‘way things are’. They are not meant to be ‘sacred scriptures’ which tell us what to believe.
One should read them, listen to them, think about them, contemplate them, and investigate the present reality, the present experience with them. Then, and only then, can one insightfully know the Truth beyond words.

In this new translation of the long discourses Mr Walshe has kindly offered us another opportunity to read and reflect on the Buddha’s teachings.


The two main reasons for making this translation of some of the oldest Buddhist scriptures are:

The Relationship Between Sanskrit and Pali

It is helpful to have some knowledge of the relationship between Pali and Sanskrit. Pali, as explained in the Introduction on page 48, is a kind of simplified Sanskrit.


Siddhattha Gotama (in Sanskrit, Siddhartha Gautama), who became the Buddha, the Enlightened One, may have lived from about 563-483 B.C., through many modern scholars suggest a later dating.
his actual birthplace being a few miles north of the present-day Indian border, in Nepal. His father, Suddhodana, was in fact an elected chief of the clan rather than the king he was later made out to be.

Though brought up to a life of luxury, the young prince was overcome by a sense of the essentially sorrowful aspect of life, and he decided to seek the cause and cure of this state which he termed dukkha.
At the age of twenty-nine he renounced the world. joining the ranks of the wandering ascetics.
He went successively to two teachers, Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta, who taught him how to attain to high meditative states. Realising, however, that even the attainment of these states did not solve his problem, Gotama went off on his own and practised severe austerities for six years, gathering a little group of five ascetics around him. However, finding that even the most extreme forms of asceticism likewise did not lead to the goal, he abandoned these excesses, and sat down at the foot of a tree by the river Nerañjarā, at the place now known as Bodh Gaya, determined not to arise from the spot until enlightenment should dawn.
During that night he passed beyond the meditative stages he had previously reached, and attained to complete liberation as the Buddha-the Enlightened or Awakened One. He spent the remaining forty-five years of his life wandering up and down the Ganges Valley, expounding the doctrine that he had found and establishing the Sangha or Order of Buddhist monks and nuns, which still exists today.


‘Ascetics and Brahmins’

India in the Buddha’s day did not yet suffer from the grinding poverty of the present time.
The Brahmins were the guardians of the religious cult brought into India by the Aryans.

The religious situation in northern India around 500 B.C. is very interesting, and was undoubtedly exceptionally favourable to the development of the Buddhist and other faiths. Though the Brahmins formed an important and increasingly powerful hereditary priesthood, they were never, like their counterparts elsewhere, able to assert their undisputed authority by persecuting and perhaps exterminating other religious groups.

The wanderers (paribbājakas), some of whom were Brahmins, wore clothes (unlike many of the others, who went completely naked), and they led a less uncomfortable life. They were ‘philosophers’ who propounded many different theories about the world and nature, and delighted in disputation. The Pali Canon introduces us to six well-known teachers of the time, all of whom were older than Gotama.


the Buddha taught that there were two extremes to be avoided: over-indulgence in sensuality on the one hand, and self-torture on the other.
He had had personal experience of both. Buddhism is thus the middle way between these extremes, and also between some other pairs of opposites, such as eternalism and annihilationism.

The Four Noble Truths

The most succinct formulation of the teaching is in the form of the Four Noble Truths:

  1. Suffering (dukkha);
  2. The Origin of Suffering (dukkha-samudaya), which is craving (taṇhā);
  3. The Cessation of Suffering (dukkha-nirodha);
  4. The Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering (dukkha-nirodha-gamini-patipada), which is the Noble Eightfold Path (ariya-aṭṭhangika-magga).

This consists of:

  1. Right View (sammā-diṭṭhi) (N.B. singular, not Right Views!)
  2. Right Thought (sammā-sankappa)
  3. Right Speech (sammā-vacā)
  4. Right Action (sammā-kammanta)
  5. Right Livelihood (sammā-ājīva)
  6. Right Effort (sammā-vāyāma)
  7. Right Mindfulness (sammā-sati)
  8. Right Concentration (sammā-samādhi).

The eight steps can be subsumed under the three heads of:

while some preliminary wisdom is needed to start on the path, the final flowering of the higher wisdom follows after development of morality and concentration.

Stages on the Path

Progress on the path leading to the cessation of suffering, and hence to Nibbāna, is described in many places, notably in Sutta 2, in a long passage which is repeated verbatim in the following Suttas.
The most fundamental meditative exercise is set forth in Sutta 22. The breakthrough to the transcendental is achieved in four stages, each of which is subdivided into two:
path (magga) and fruition (phala).
By attaining the first of these stages one ceases to be a mere ‘worldling’ (puthujjana) and becomes a noble person (ariya-puggala).

having had a glimpse of reality and perceived the falsity of the self-belief, one is unshakeable and no more dependent on external aids. One who has gained this state can, it is said, no longer be born in ‘states of woe’ and is assured of attaining Nibbāna after, at the most, seven more lives.

At the second stage, one becomes a Once-Returner (sakadāgāmī), in whom the fourth and fifth lower fetters are greatly weakened: 4. sensual desire (kāma-rāga) and 5. ill-will (vyāpāda ). Such a person will attain to Nibbana after at most one further human rebirth.
It is interesting to note that sensuality and ill-will are so powerful that they persist, in however attenuated a form, for so long.

At the third stage, one becomes a Non-Returner (anāgāmī), in whom the fourth and fifth fetters are completely destroyed. In such a person all attachments to this world have ceased, and at death one will be reborn in a higher world, in one of the Pure Abodes, and will attain Nibbāna from there without returning to this world.

Finally, at the fourth stage, one becomes an Arahant (Sanskrit Arhat, literally ‘worthy one’), by the destruction of the five higher fetters: 6. craving for existence in the Form World (rūpa-rāga), 7. craving for existence in the Formless World (arūpa-rāga), 8. conceit (māna), 9. restlessness (uddhacca), 10. ignorance (avijjā). For such a one, the task has been completed, and that person will attain final Nibbana ‘without remainder’ at death.

Nibbāna or Nirvāṇa

We thus find two apparently contradictory meanings of Nibbana: 1. ‘extinction’, 2. ‘highest bliss’.
in order to ‘understand’ Nibbāna one should have ‘entered the Stream’ or gained First Path, and thus have got rid of the fetter of personality-belief.

The Three Marks (tilakkhaṇa)

  1. ‘All sankhāras (compounded things) are impermanent’: Sabbe sankhārā aniccā
  2. ‘All sankhāras are unsatisfactory’: Sabbe sankhārā dukkhā
  3. ‘All dhammas (all things including the unconditioned) are without self’: Sabbe dhammā anattā

The first and second of these marks apply to all mundane things, everything that ‘exists’
The third refers in addition to the unconditioned element. This does not ‘exist’ (relatively), but IS.

Thus, nothing lasts for ever, all things being subject to change and disappearance. Nothing is completely satisfactory: dukkha, conventionally rendered ‘suffering’, has the wide meaning of not satisfying, frustrating, painful in whatever degree. Even pleasant things come to an end or cease to attract, and the painful aspect of life is too well-known and ubiquitous to need discussion.

The five khandhas or aggregates, the various parts that make up our empirical personality (see Sutta 22, verse 14), do not constitute a self, either individually or collectively. Our so-called ‘self’, then, is something bogus. It is, however, a concept that we cling to with great tenacity.

Levels of Truth

An important and often overlooked aspect of the Buddhist teaching concerns the levels of truth, failure to appreciate which has led to many errors.
Very often the Buddha talks in the Suttas in terms of conventional or relative truth, according to which people and things exist just as they appear to the naive understanding.
Elsewhere, however, when addressing an audience capable of appreciating his meaning, he speaks in terms of ultimate truth (paramattha-sacca), according to which ‘existence is a mere process of physical and mental phenomena within which, or beyond which, no real ego-entity nor any abiding substance can ever be found’ (Buddhist Dictionary under Paramattha).

It may also be observed that many ‘Zen paradoxes’ and the like really owe their puzzling character to their being put in terms of ultimate, not of relative truth.
The full understanding of ultimate truth can, of course, only be gained by profound insight, but it is possible to become increasingly aware of the distinction.
hus, conventionally speaking, or according to the naive world-view, there are solid objects such as tables and chairs, whereas according to physics the alleged solidity is seen to be an illusion, and whatever might turn out to be the ultimate nature of matter, it is certainly something very different from that which presents itself to our senses.

In the same way, all such expressions as ‘I’, ‘self’ and so on are always in accordance with conventional truth, and the Buddha never hesitated to use the word attā ‘self’ (and also with plural meaning: ‘yourselves’
in its conventional and convenient sense. In fact, despite all that has been urged to the contrary, there is not the slightest evidence that he ever used it in any other sense except when critically quoting the views of others, as should clearly emerge from several of the Suttas here translated.

In point of fact, it should be stressed that conventional truth is sometimes extremely important. The whole doctrine of karma and rebirth has its validity only in the realm of conventional truth.
That is why, by liberating ourselves from the viewpoint of conventional truth we cease to be subject to karmic law.
As long as we are unenlightened ‘worldlings’, our minds habitually operate in terms of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, even if in theory we know better. It is not until this tendency has been completely eradicated that full enlightenment can dawn.

The Buddha, again, was the earliest thinker in history to recognise the fact that language tends to distort in certain respects the nature of reality and to stress the importance of not being misled by linguistic forms and conventions. In this respect, he foreshadowed the modem linguistic or analytical philosophers.

He was the first to distinguish meaningless questions and assertions from meaningful ones. As in science he recognised perception and inference as the twin sources of knowledge, but there was one difference. For perception, according to Buddhism, included extra-sensory forms as well, such as telepathy and clairvoyance. Science cannot ignore such phenomena and today there are Soviet as well as Western scientists, who have admitted the validity of extra-sensory perception in the light of experimental evidence.


The literal meaning of the word is ‘action’. any deliberate act, good or bad.
A good act will normally lead to pleasant results for the doer, and a bad act to unpleasant ones.
each karmic act is the exercise of a choice, good or bad. Thus though our actions are limited by conditions, they are not totally determined.

In this computerised age, it may be helpful to some to think of kamma as ‘programming’ our future.

The Twelve Links of the Chain of Dependent Origination

  1. Ignorance conditions the ‘Karma-formations’ (avijjāpaccayā sankhārā)
  2. The Karma-formations condition Consciousness (sankhārapaccayā viññāṇaṁ)
  3. Consciousness conditions Mind-and-Body (lit. ‘Name-and-Form’ : viññaṇa-paccayā nāma-rūpaṁ)
  4. Mind-and-Body conditions the Six Sense-Bases (nāmarūpa-paccayā saḷāyatanaṁ)
  5. The Six Sense-Bases condition Contact (saḷāyatana-paccayā phasso)
  6. Contact conditions Feeling (phassa-paccayā vedanā)
  7. Feeling conditions Craving (vedanā-paccayā taṇhā)
  8. Craving conditions Clinging (taṇhā-paccayā upādānaṁ)
  9. Clinging conditions Becoming (upādāna-paccayā bhavo)
  10. Becoming conditions Birth (bhava-paccayā jāti)
  11. Birth conditions
  12. Ageing-and-Death (jāti-paccayā jarāmaraṇaṁ).

‘If you are asked: “Has ageing-and-death a condition for its existence?” you should answer: “Yes.” If asked: “What conditions ageing-and-death?” you should answer: “Ageing-and-death is conditioned by birth’”, and so on. Thus, if there were no birth, there could be no ageing-and-death: birth is a necessary condition for their arising.


There are some people in the West who are attracted in many ways to Buddhism, but who find the idea of rebirth a stumbling-block, either because they find it distasteful and/or incredible in itself, or in some cases because they find it hard to reconcile with the ‘non-self’ idea.

It should be noted, incidentally, that Buddhists prefer to speak, not of reincarnation, but of rebirth. Reincarnation is the doctrine that there is a transmigrating soul or spirit that passes on from life to life.
In the Buddhist view we may say, to begin with, that that is merely what appears to happen, though in reality no such soul or spirit passes on in this way.
In Majjhima Nikāya 38 the monk Sāti was severely rebuked for declaring that ‘this very consciousness’ transmigrates, whereas in reality a new consciousness arises at rebirth dependent on the old.

Nevertheless there is an illusion of continuity in much the same way as there is within this life. Rebirth from life to life is in principle scarcely different from the rebirth from moment to moment that goes on in this life.
The point can be intellectually grasped, with a greater or less degree of difficulty, but it is only at the first path-moment, with the penetration of the spurious nature of what we call self, that it is clearly understood without a shadow of doubt remaining.


living beings are continually born, die and are reborn according to their karmic deserts. It is a grandiose, but ultimately frightening and horrifying vision. Deliverance from it is only possible through the insight engendered by following the path taught by one of the Buddhas who occasionally arise on the scene. For those who fail to gain this insight there can be a happy rebirth for a long time in one of the temporary heaven-worlds, but no permanent deliverance from the perils of birth-and-death.

All existence in the various realms of saṁsāra is in one of the three worlds: the World of Sense-Desires (kāma-loka), the World of Form (or the ‘fine-material world’: rūpa-loka) and the Formless (or ‘immaterial’) World (arūpa-loka).
Beyond all this lies the realm of the Supramundane (lokuttara) or Nibbāna — the ‘other shore’, the only secure haven. And this, though it can be experienced, cannot be described.

There are thirty-one states in which, it is said, one can be reborn, distributed over the three worlds. The lowest of the three, the World of Sense-Desires, consists of the first eleven states, of which human rebirth is the fifth.
Below this are the fourfold ‘states of woe’: hells, the world of asuras (sometimes rendered ‘titans’), of hungry ghosts (petas), and of animals, while above it are the six lowest heavens.
Above these are the sixteen heavens of the World of Form, and above these again the four heavens of the Formless World.

Special importance attaches to the human condition, since it is next to impossible to gain enlightenment from any other sphere than this: the realms below the human are too miserable, and those above it too happy and carefree for the necessary effort to be easily made.


The World of Sense-Desires

  1. Hells
  2. The asuras (‘titans’)
  3. The world of hungry ghosts
  4. The animal world
  6. Devas of the Four Great Kings
  7. The Thirty-Three Gods
  8. Yama devas
  9. Contented devas
  10. Devas Delighting in Crea tion
  11. Devas Wielding Power over Others’ Creations

The Formless World

  1. Retinue of Brahma
  2. Ministers of Brahma
  3. Great Brahmās
  4. Devas of Limited Radiance
  5. Devas of Unbounded Radiance
  6. Devas of Streaming Radiance
  7. Devas of Limited Glory
  8. Devas of Unbounded Glory
  9. Devas of Refulgent Glory
  10. Very Fruitful devas
  11. Unconscious beings
  12. Devas not Falling Away
  13. Untroubled devas
  14. Beautiful (or Clearly Visi ble) devas
  15. Clear-Sighted devas
  16. Peerless devas
  17. Sphere of Infinity of Space (devas of)
  18. Sphere of Infinity of Con sciousness (devas of)
  19. Sphere of No-Thingness (devas of)
  20. Sphere of Neither- Perception-Nor-Non- Perception (devas of)


The World of Sense Desires

1/ The word ‘hell’ is a term for painful bodily sensations.

4/ The animal world. The animal kingdom, together with the human realm, constitutes the only realm of beings normally visible to human sight and therefore indisputably existing

5/ The human world.
Rebirth as a human being is regarded as a great opportunity which should be seized, since it may not easily recur, and it is almost impossible to ‘enter the Stream’ and so start on the path to Nibbāna from any other condition.
In the human world we encounter both joy and sorrow, often very evenly balanced, and it is also possible to attain to a state of equanimity which is favourable to progress. Nevertheless, most human beings are very much under the sway of sense-desires, as indeed are the inhabitants of the worlds immediately above this one.

6/ The Realm of the Four Great Kings.
Since the inhabitants of this sphere are still addicted to sense-pleasures, it is considered disgraceful for a monk to be reborn there.

7/ The Thirty-Three Gods.
Many good people were reborn in this realm.

8/ Yāma devas.
The name is said to mean ‘those who have attained to divine bliss’, but may also relate to Yama, king of the dead.

9/ Contented devas.
It is in their heaven that Bodhisattas reside before their last birth, and Once-Returners are also sometimes born here.

10/ Devas Delighting in Creation.
can create any shape they like

11/ devas Wielding Power over Others’ Creations.
delight in things created by others, to get them in their power.

The World of Form (Fine-Material World)

Those who live in them are free from sensual desire.

23-27/ These are the Pure Abodes in which Non-Returners are reborn, and whence they gain Nibbāna without returning to earth.

The Formless World (Immaterial World)

28-31/ the four higher jhānas of the Formless World, and rebirth in these realms depends on the attainment of these jhānas.
Gotama attained to the Sphere of No-Thingness under his first teacher, Aḷārā Kālāma, and to the Sphere of Neither-Perception-Nor-Non-Perception under his second teacher Uddaka Rāmaputta.
He thus reached the highest state attainable without breaking through to the Supramundane (lokuttara) which is ‘beyond the Three Worlds’.


The Canon was preserved in oral form until the first century B.C., when it became apparent that the sacred texts might vanish from the earth if they were not recorded in writing.
The feat of memory involved in preserving such an extensive body of text orally for so long may seem extraordinary to us, but was quite usual in ancient India. Writing was certainly known in India in the Buddha’s time, but was not used for such purposes.


The Pali Canon is divided into three main sections (Tipitaka: the Three Baskets).

  1. Vinaya Pitaka. monastic discipline, for monks and nuns.
  2. Sutta Pitaka. The ‘Discourses’ (Suttas): the portion of the Canon of most interest to lay Buddhists.
  3. Abhidhamma Piṭaka. The ‘further doctrine’, a highly schematised philosophical compendium in seven books.

A Summary of the Thirty-Four Suttas


1. Brahmajāla Sutta

The Supreme Net (What the Teaching is Not).
The monks observe the wanderer Suppiya arguing with his pupil about the merits of the Buddha, his doctrine (Dhamma ) and the order (Sangha).
The Buddha tells them not to be affected by either praise or blame of the teaching, and declares that the ‘worldling’ will praise him for superficial reasons and not for the essence of his teaching.
He lists sixty-two different types of wrong view, all of which are based on contact of the six sense-bases and their objects.
Contact conditions craving, which in turn leads to clinging, to (re)becoming, to birth, to ageing and death and all manner of suffering. But the Tathāgata (the Buddha) has gone beyond these things, and all sixty-two wrong views are trapped in his net.

2. Sāmaññaphala Sutta

The Fruits of the Homeless Life.
King Ajātasattu of Magadha, who gained the throne by parricide, comes to the Buddha with a question he has already posed in vain to six rival ‘philosophers’: What are the fruits, visible here and now (in this life) of the life of renunciation? The Buddha tells him, and then goes on to speak of the higher benefits, the various meditative states, and finally true liberation (this section recurs in the next eleven Suttas).
The King, deeply impressed, declares himself a lay-follower. The Buddha later tells his disciples that but for his crime Ajātasattu would have become a Stream-winner by the ‘opening of the Dhamma-eye’.

3. Ambaṭṭha Sutta

About Ambattha (Pride Humbled).
Pokkharasati, a famous Brahmin teacher, sends his pupil Ambattha (supposedly fully trained in Brahmin lore) to find out if the ‘ascetic Gotama’ is the great man he is alleged to be (and if, therefore, he bears the ‘thirty-two marks of a Great Man’), Ambattha, proud of his Brahmin birth, behaves stupidly and arrogantly towards the Buddha, and thereupon learns a thing or two about his own ancestry, besides being made to realise that the Khattiyas (the warrior-noble caste) are superior to the Brahmins.
Humbled, he returns to Pokkharasati, who is furious at his conduct, hastens to see the Buddha, learns that he does indeed bear the thirty-two marks, and becomes a convert.

4. Sonadaṇḍa Sutta

About Sonadanda (Qualities of a True Brahmin).
The Brahmin Sonadanda of Campa learns of the ascetic Gotama’s arrival and goes to see him, against the advice of other Brahmins who think it beneath his dignity. The Buddha asks him about the qualities of a true Brahmin. He mentions five, but at the Buddha’s instance admits that these can be reduced to two: wisdom and morality. He becomes a convert but does not experience the ‘opening of the Dhamma-eye’.

5. Kūṭadanta Sutta

About Kūṭadanta (A Bloodless Sacrifice).
The Brahmin Kūṭadanta wants to hold a great sacrifice with the slaughter of many hundreds of beasts. He appeals (improbably, as Rhys Davids points out!) to the Buddha for advice on how to do this. The Buddha tells him the story of an ancient king and his Brahmin chaplain, who performed a purely symbolic, bloodless sacrifice. Kūṭadanta sits in silence at the end of this narrative, having realised that the Buddha did not say: ‘I have heard this’, and the Buddha confirms that it is a story from one of his past lives, thus technically a ‘birth-story’ (Jātaka).

The Buddha then tells of ‘sacrifices more profitable’, that is, the higher benefits as in Sutta 2. Kūṭadanta liberates the hundreds of animals he had destined for slaughter, saying: ‘Let them be fed with green grass and given cool water to drink, and let cool breezes play upon them’. He becomes a lay-follower, and the ‘pure and spotless Dhamma-eye’ opens in him.