This is a book on basic Buddhism with a difference, for it is written by a monk who was native of Ceylon, a scholar and a well-known preacher and broadcaster in Ceylon. He had the Pali canon and the commentaries at his fingertips, so that his book is full of apposite stories and quotations of what the Buddha said - many of them appearing in English for the first time.
In recent years a number of expositions of the Buddha's teachings have been published in English, but most of them lack authenticity and do not represent what the Buddha taught correctly. Hence the need for this authentic book based on the Four Noble Truths about suffering which are the central conception of Buddhism and on the Noble Eightfold Path which is Buddhism in Practice.
This should prove the standard textbook from which basic Buddhism of the Theravada is taught for many years to come. It cannot be stressed too strongly that the Mahayana Buddhism of Tibet, China and Japan is based on and developed out of this basic Buddhism of the Theravadins in Ceylon.
The Venerable Piyadassi Thera was born in Ceylon. He was educated at Nalanda College, one of the most important centres of Buddhist education in Ceylon. He then entered the Ceylon University on a scholarship and read philosophy, culture and civilization. After completing the course he left the university without sitting for his examination as it was not his intention to study for degrees.
At the age of twenty he joined the Order as pupil of the Venerable Vajiranana Sangha Nayaka. At the feet of this great authority on Buddhism he imbibed the knowledge of Buddhism. Having traveled widely as a Buddhist missionary both in the East and in the West, he was able to write in a manner that could appeal to both.
Two thousand five hundred years ago, in the Deer Park at Sarnath, India, close to the ancient city of Varanasi, was heard the Message of the Buddha which was to revolutionize the thoughts and life of the human race. Though this Message was first heard by just five ascetics, it has now penetrated peaceably to the remotest corners of the world, and the demand for better and deeper understanding of its meaning is great.
Many expositions of the Buddha's Teaching in English have appeared in recent years, but a great number of them lack authen- ticity and do not represent the Buddha-word correctly. I have in all humility undertaken to set out as accurately as possible the Teaching of the Buddha as it is found in the Pali Canon, the Tipitaka, of the Theravada which has preserved the oldest and most faithful tradition. This book, therefore, gives a comprehensive account of the central conception of Buddhism-the Four Noble Truths- with special emphasis on the Noble Eightfold Path which is Buddhism in practice. I have named the book The Ancient Path (puranamaggam), the very words used' by the Buddha in reference to the Eightfold Path.
As an introduction the first chapter gives a concise account of the life of the Buddha, while the second sets out the correct standpoint of Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path are discussed at full length in the following chapters. A good deal of space is devoted to Buddhist meditation, as found in the suttas or discourses of the Buddha, in chapters 12, 13 and 14.
I now express my sense of gratitude first to Nyanaponika Thera, who invited and encouraged me to write this book while I was staying at the Senanayaka (Forest) Hermitage, Kandy, Ceylon, for the many interesting discussions I had with him on the subject and for information on special points, and to Mr. Francis Story, the Anagarika Sugatananda, who with much kindliness read through the type-script and made useful and valuable suggestion. To Bhikku Jinaputta, Messrs. V.F. Gunaratna, the Public Trustee of Ceylon, R. Abeysekara and D. Munidasa, also, I am grateful for much help and encouragement. I would also like to record here my deep gratitude to four distinguished members of the Order, the Theras: Metteyya, Soma, kassapa and Nanamoli with whom I have been associated for more than a decade. Many a lively discussion that I have had with them on the Dhamma has inspired me. They are no more. Meeting end in partings (samyoga viyoganta). Last but far from least to Mr. K.G. Abeysingha, who so tirelessly typed the whole script, I am grateful.
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