As the Buddha-to-be, Siddhartha Gautama, was sitting under a tree in deep meditation, he had a series of profound realisations which changed his life - and with it the life of all followers of Buddhism, past and present - for ever. The scriptures relate that he hesitated for a while before starting to spread the word simply because what he had realised was so profound that it seemed to him that no-one would understand. Fortunately for us, however, he saw that there were some beings with "but little dust" on their eyes who would be receptive enough to his teachings to able to attain the same realisations as he had, so he embarked on a career of teaching which was to take him the length and breadth of northern India over the course of the remaining forty or so years of his life.

Both the truth that he had realised and the teachings are referred to by the same Sanskrit word: "Dharma" (the Pali equivalent, more commonly used by practitioners in the old schools of Buddhism, is "Dhamma"). It is in the former sense that Buddhists view the Dharma as the second of the Three Jewels to which they commit themselves. The teachings form a path from the unenlightened state to the state of perfect Enlightenment, or Buddhahood. As Buddhism has spread and developed, the teachings have likewise spread and developed, but what they have in common is that all of them, when practised seriously, lead to freedom from suffering, severing the bonds of craving, aversion and spiritual ignorance. Some of the better known teachings are those which the Buddha is said to have given in his very first discourse to his former friends in the ascetic life in the Deer Park at Benares (modern-day Varanasi): they include the Four Noble Truths of suffering, its cause, its cessation with the attainment of Nirvana, or Enlightenment, and the path which can be followed to lead there, commonly known as the Noble Eightfold Path.

This is not the place to go into detail. However, in the Triratna Community we teach the Dharma as interpreted by our own teacher, Urgyen Sangharakshita, who has studied the Buddha's teachings very deeply over very many years and created a synthesis that we believe is appropriate for the particular needs and conditioning of people in the modern west. But this is for you to judge - why not come along and participate in one of our ongoing courses? Please refer to the "What's coming up?" section for more information.

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