Did you know that the Buddha almost didn’t teach the Dharma?

Steve Goodheart Essay

According to the Pali canon, not long after the Buddha attained enlightenment, he mused to himself:

“This Dhamma that I have realized is profound, hard to see and hard to understand, peaceful and sublime, unattainable by mere reasoning, subtle, to be experienced only by the wise.”

The Buddha then apparently seriously questioned whether he could teach others what he had seen. Better than anyone, he knew the supreme effort and perseverance it took to Awaken and to totally let go of self and the clinging that causes suffering. Understanding how unaware human beings are about the true nature of things, he reasoned to himself:

“But this generation delights in worldliness (âlaya), takes delight in worldliness, rejoices in worldliness. It is hard for such a generation to see this truth, namely, specific conditionality (idapaccayatâ), dependent origination (paticca-samuppâda). And it is hard to see this truth, namely, the stilling of all formations, the relinquishing of all attachments (upadhi), the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nibbâna. If I were to teach the Dhamma, others would not understand me, and that would be wearying and troublesome for me.”

This passage always makes me laugh! So often, the Buddha is made into a veritable god or some superhuman being (he wasn’t, as he himself said) and yet here, Shakyamuni sounds so very human! (“Teach this worldly generation about stilling cravings and attachments? You’ve got to be kidding!)

And yet, he is a Buddha! He’s realized the Deathless. He’s attained Nibbâna and is mentally free in a way that is virtually indescribable. But, when he thinks of trying to teach “this generation” the dhamma, the way to Awakening, it really gives him (a Buddha!) pause! He knows that, by and large, he will not be understood; he knows people will not want to give up their attachment to the causes of their suffering, and so he knows that trying to teach the dhamma will be “wearying and troublesome” for him.  Dear Buddha!

Again, isn’t it interesting that an enlightened being talks about some effort or goal as being “wearying and troublesome?” We like to think of the Buddha as somehow beyond such things, but in fact, we know from the the Pali canon writings that he got tired, hungry, weary, even sick, and often he needed to retire from his teaching efforts to refresh and renew himself.

Nibbâna, the “end of suffering,” even for a Buddha, is not, it would seem, the end of the pains and difficulties of being human! Rather, a Buddha feels and encounters these very human conditions and feelings but does not get caught by them, does not fall into mental suffering over what arises, does not lose inner peace and equanimity.  He is free and unshakeable, his victory complete.

As a Budhda who understand fully the nature of dhukka (stress and suffering), anicca (the impermanence of all conditional things) and anatta ( the not- self nature of all things) Shakyamuni is anchored in the happiness and bliss that is not created by any cause or any condition. He is an island unto himself, a lamp unto himself; he may experience pains and pleasures, but he is not caught by them. He is free in a way almost impossible to conceive of. Only by self-liberation can we know such freedom, and the Buddha taught that there is a Path to the Deathless.

Happily for us, Shakyamuni listened to his great compassionate hear, to his “better angels,” so to speak. The story is that the head Hindu god, Brahma himself, comes to earth and pleads with the Buddha to teach the dhamma to those with only “a little dust” in their eyes.

And so, out of limitless love and compassion for the suffering of all beings, the Buddha takes on the great task and burden of setting the Wheel of the Dhamma in motion, as his teaching ministry is often called. For the rest of his life, this remarkable, supremely unselfish man shared with the world the dhamma—his profound insight into how one can completely unbind oneself from the causes of suffering and come to know the end of suffering.

Like millions before me, my gratitude to the Buddha has no end, and I sure am glad he didn’t give up on teaching us!

How can we ever repay those all those wonderful men and women who have faithfully learned, practiced, and transmitted the Buddha’s teachings for over 2500 years?  Surely the only way is to live and practice this path, becoming ourselves living dhamma!


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

4 Responses to “Did you know that the Buddha almost didn’t teach the Dharma?”

  1. this is an exciting blog. I love the photos.
    Did you take them yourself? I shall be passing on the blog to my friend in Sri Lanka. So professional. A work of love


    • Hello Eve! I appreciate your kind words. It’s great to hear that all the thought and effort I put into the layout and images speaks sparks a response in the heart.
      As for the images, only a few are ones’ I’ve taken; most are public domain and “fair use” images I’ve collected over several decades in my work as a science and history writer and editor. It’s a joy to use these beautiful images to grace the beautiful dharma messages of the blog.

      Thanks for stopping by,

  2. wonderful information and message!

    • A (much) belated “thank you” for your kind words! I hope you’ve found more to help and inspire since you so graciously took the time to comment here.

      With warm metta,

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