Book Summary: What the Buddha Taught

Title: What the Buddha Taught
Author: Walpola Rahula
Genre: Religion
Release Date: 1959


Why did you choose to read this particular book?

What peaks your interest? What is the book about? What does it promise to deliver?

To gain a deeper understanding of Buddhism by reading a book written by a devoted Buddhist that discusses its core beliefs and philosophy.

This book provides instances of key religious beliefs and addresses fundamental questions such as “Who is God?” and “Is there an afterlife?” This book offers to educate the reader on the foundations of the Buddhist path.

Summary of book

This book provides an introduction to Buddhism by contrasting it with other religions and the conventional ideas that people have about religious belief systems. After reading the first few chapters, I started considering Buddhism to be more of a philosophical tradition than a religion. However, as time went on, it became abundantly evident that this is a way of higher being or a way of life. Comparable to how we view Islam as a din, with the exception that it conforms to a different interpretation of the purpose of life.

Buddhists dislike the hypothetical and questions with no conclusive answers, such as “Is God real?” Who created God? These question convolute the human mind causing a stress that prevents man from reaching Nirvana.

Key topics the book covers:

  • The Buddhist Attitude of Mind
  • Four Noble Truths
  • Nirvana
  • Understanding God, the soul and death
  • Meditation
  • Selected excerpts from Buddhist texts

Key notes/points

The fact that they don’t believe or think about God, the ultimate creator, there is no soul and no afterlife.

What stood out for you

I like that it is written for someone who is new to the religion and that it includes summaries. It begins by requesting that the reader approach it with an open mind, putting aside whatever prior knowledge they may have.

What you dislike

It sometimes commends Buddhism by comparing it to the ideas of other religions; claiming that Buddhism doesn’t have erroneous belief other religions do, but it’s clear the Author has not studied Islamic philosophy. Our understanding of the world and human behaviour overlaps at times.

After reading the Buddhism Wikipedia page and flipping through other some books, I’ve realised that Buddhism has numerous different tenets/concepts and sects that were not included in the book. I suppose I have read a form of Buddhism, perhaps the Orthodox version or fundamental tenets to which all Buddhists adhere.


There are a few pictures of Buddha. It would be helpful to have more information than simply a caption; why is Buddha carved/depicted as he is in statues.

Has the book met its objective?

I would say that I am in a better position to explain the core concepts of Buddhism to a third party, but I still have a great deal to learn, particularly in terms of changes since the inception of the Buddhist path.

What would you change

It is tough to retain all the terminology, particularly if you are picking up the book intermittently so a glossary would be useful. There are also various numerical notions, such as the four noble truths, the five aggregates, the ten duties of a ruler, and the eightfold path, therefore a chart helps visualise some of this.

Also maybe a chart to highlight all the different categories of things.

What type of reader would enjoy this book

Anyone interested in religion and culture.

Would you recommend this book

Yes I would recommend it to anyone who wants an insight in to Buddhism.

Final Verdict:

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