- The Buddha's Methodological Approaches
- for Teaching and Learning
- Dr. Siddhi B. Indr
In Propagating his religion, the Buddha adopted
various methodological approaches for teaching and learning, which may be summarized as
1. Gradual Approach.
For imparting instruction to beginners,
the Buddha, utilizing a psychological principle, was very careful to take into
consideration their particular background and not to peach to profound, detailed
principles of the subject all at once as that would scare them away. It were the more
elementary doctrine that were imparted to them at first. Those who intended to follow his
teachings were urged to accept at first the tenets and practices that were suitable to
their aptitudes, tendencies and interests, and then the more profound doctrines were
placed before them by stages. In this way too, the Buddha did not kernel of his teaching,
but he began by urging his listeners to the practice of virtues such as generosity and
rectitude to behaviour in their worldly vocation. He spoke of heaven with its rewards
awaiting those lead a life of earnest purpose here below; and as soon as he knew that his
hearers were fit to learn something deeper and higher, he proceeded to instruct them in
the higher doctrines of the Four Noble Truths, and so forth.
Even in teaching the Four Noble Truths, he proceeded n
stages, from the concrete to the abstract principle, from effect to cause, i.e. from the
phenomenal element of suffering as the obvious, to its causes, its cessation and the ways
leading to its cessation. This approach shows the Buddhas attitude: " I do not
maintain that the attainment of profound knowledge comes straightway; on the contrary , it
comes by gradual learning, practice and progressive operation."
2. Approach of
The present situation and circumstance where also used
by the Buddha to impart his ideals to people. In order to gain over the hearers or the
opponents to his view, the Buddha made use of a style which T.W.Rhys Davids characterized
as pouring new wine into the old bottles.
This consists in the Buddhas giving a
new meaning to words that were already current. He adapted traditional ideas and practices
and adjusted his sermons to suit the temperaments of his hearers, a method that came to be
known as upaaya-kosalla"m, i.e. the skilful policy (expedient
means) of converting people by which is
meant that the Buddha possessed as one of his intellectual faculties the ability to
comprehend the dispositions or tendencies of his fellow men (naanaadhimuttikataa). Here, he claimed to know Brahma-God and
also preached the path leading to companionship with Brahma-God, by
cultivating Brahmavihaaradhamma, i.e. the Four virtues for Excellent
Abiding. To mention another example, he also
gave a brahmin an instruction in the ritualistic tenet of washing away the
sin. Instead of going into the river and washing it away by bathing, the latter was
advised to take a bath in spiritual culture by harming no living beings, etc.
By the expression illustrative approach
is meant the use of analogy, simile, parable (upamaa), the use of fable and story
drawn from ordinary life, in the Buddhas speeches along with beautiful verses in
order to make them sweet, effective and attractive. It is often said in the texts: I
will give you an analogy, for by means of an analogy some people of intelligence (vi~n~nuupurisaa)
understand the meaning of what is said" and
a simile is employed in order to make the sense of a teaching clear.
Thus, to teach the meaning of the
Middle Way (Majjhimaapa.tipadaa) to the Venerable Sona Kolivisa who was
an expert in playing the lute in his earlier life, the Buddha made use of the analogy of
playing the lute and observed that only when the lute strings were neither
overstrung nor overlaxed, it was tuneful and playable. Similarly, the analogy of
lust, hatred and delusion (raaga, dosa, moha) with fiery flames (aggi) was
used to instruct the three brothers Jatilas, who, as the Buddha knew beforehand, believed
in the the Fire worship. He started: "Everything is in fiery flames: the
are all in fiery flames.. By the fiery flames of lust, of hatred and of
delusion by which all are kindled, produce and kindle the further fires of birth, etc. Here and there in the Pali canon,
especially in the Jaatakas, the Buddha is reported to teach his disciples by the
use of fables and stories, and he added at the end of every instruction the moral the
The analytical approach of teaching is one of the
most important characteristics found in the earlier texts. This is especially the case
when the doctrine was meant for the more intelligent hearers or followers. The entire
teaching of the Buddha is described as one which is of a critical outlook, to be verified
and realized by the intelligent (vi~n~nuu, prudent, wise), who represent for the
Buddha the impartial critic at the level of intellectual common sense. As a matter of fact, almost the whole dialogue of
the Buddha could possibly be included in this style of teaching. The Buddha himself
claimed to be an analyst (vibhajjavaada); when he was asked for his
explanation of the truth of the proposition: The householder is accomplishing the
.; the monk is not accomplishing the right path; he answered that one
could not make an absolute assertion as to the truth or falsity of some propositions, but
one should first analytically examine the nature of the subject of the subject of the
discussions; the proposition in question means that, if both the householder and the monk
were guilty of wrong conduct, them they are to be blamed, but if both of them conducted
themselves rightly, they are to be praised. The
Buddha analytically reasoned with those who, being dialectically minded, came to discuss
and debate with him. And this shows his
approach of teaching in what Oldenberg called Socratic fashion.
According to the Buddha, a teacher who is
possessed of the four analytical powers will be not at a loss as regards both the meaning
and the letter or theory of what he teaches. The
refers to the teachers capacity for the analysis of meanings (attha) of
reason or conditions (dhamma), of educational medium (nirutti), and of
intellectual mastership (or, rather, presence of mind, self-confidence- pa.tibhaana): that
is, he is capable of grasping the analysis of meaning, specifically and
according to the letter, to explain the lesson in various ways, to teach it, expound it,
lay it down, open it up, classify it and make it clear, and the same with the rest.
The Buddha did not want any body to accept his teachings
without ones critical spirit of experimentation. Since it is generally regarded as
pragmatism and rationalism in the sense of utilitarian
pragmatism, canonical Buddhism is a verifiable
system of philosophy experimentally discovered by the Buddha in the light of both failure
and success in his experimental quest for the truth, which
is synthesized on scientific principles regardless of past traditions: observation of
actual life, experiments asceticism, final deduction of a way to end ills, seeking the
knowledge of nature-the knowledge which may be characterized as scientific on account of
its basis of verification, etc. The Buddha
showed the disciples the example, by having tried the various methods practised by various
systems prevalent in his time. Therefore, his
success in achieving enlightenment is not considered to be a mysterious single act, but an
achievement through the development of natural faculties. Even knowledge of salvation is
achieved only as the final phase of a gradual process of practice. He also identified
himself as one of the Experimentalists (di.t.thadhammaa-bhi~n~naavosaanapaaramippatta) i.e. those who have a personal knowledge of the
truth through their own experience. He closed his discourses tot he Kalamas, and to Bhaddiya, the Licchave,
with the remark that one should accept a doctrine as true only when one had
experimentally realized by oneself its practical validity. "Let an intelligent person
come to me, sincere, honest and straightforward; I shall instruct him in the doctrine so
that on my instruction he could practise by himself in such a way that before long he
would himself know and himself realize
The Buddha did not want his own statements
easily accepted on his authority nor easily rejected but he rather demanded that they
should be tested and worked out in the light of ones own experience, otherwise such
statements would be fruitless. "Like a beautiful flower that possesses colour, but
lacks perfume, so well-spoken words are fruitless to him who does not work them out:, the
Buddha suggested: "on the other hand, well- spoken words are fruitful to him who
sincerely practises them, like a beautiful flower that possesses both colour and perfume. When asked to what extent one attained truth, he
replied; "There is an attainment of the truth only by gradually following,
developing, practising and experiencing the doctrines themselves" practising, trying and experimenting with it, they
may come to realize through their experience here and now the truth.
Monks, what should be done by the Teacher
for his disciples, seeking their good, out of compassion, that has been done by me for
. concentrate on it and be not careless; do not reproach yourself afterwards.
This is our command to you.
When Ganaka-Maggallaana put a question to
him: "Sir, what is the cause and reason why, though Nibbaana does exist, and
even though you exist as adviser, some of your disciples on being exhorted and instructed
thus by you, attain the goal, Nibbaana, but some do not,"
the Buddha replied: "
What can I do, brahmin, in this matter? (It
must be always remembered that) a Tathaagata (only) shows the way."
Notes and References
 This method comes
in close relation to the gradual course of training.'
 Cp. M. I. 379f.; D. I. 148; Commentary of the Dhammapada, p. 4f.
 M. I. 479f; S. II, p 28f.; A. I, p. 50f.; see also above not
 Cp. Rhys Davids, DB.I, p. 142
 D. III. 220.
 M. I. 70f.
 For more details, see M. II, p. 206ff.
 M. I, p. 39f.
 S.II. 114; M. I. 148.
 M. I. 155; III, p. 275; It., p. 114.
 Vin. I. 34f.
 Cp. D. I. 161ff.; II. 290ff.,; M. I. 400ff., 515f. A. II. 56.
 M. II. 197ff. cp. The similar approach with the same context, S. I. 80f.
 Cp. M. I. 376ff., 396ff.; D. I. 120ff; A. II. 190ff.
 Cp. Oldenberg, Buddha, p. 189
 A. II. 139.
 A. II. 160f.; cp. GS. II. 167
 See also A.C. Ewing, The Fundamental Questions of Philosophy, p. 56; De la
Vallee Poussin, Bouddhisme, p. 129; S. Radhakrishanan, India Philosophy, I,
p. 359; K.N. Jayatilleke: Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, p. 357
 Cp. Jayatilleke, op.cit., p. 464
 A.K. Warder, Early Buddhism and other contemporary System, Vol. 18, p. 57
 Cp. M. I. 77f., 81, 163f., 241f.
 M. II . 211f. This term is employed by Jayatilleke, op. cit., p. 172, 416
 A. I. 189ff.
 A. II. 190ff.
 M. II. 44; cp. MLS. II. 238
 Commentary of the Dhammapada. I. 383.
 M. II. 174; cp. MLS. II. 363
 M. II.22; III. 8f
 A. III. 87, 89; cp. GS. III. 72
 M. III. 4; cp. MLS. III. 53
 M. III. 6.
[Taken from Siddhi Butr-Indr,. The Social Philosophy
of Buddhism. (Bangkok: Mahamakut Buddhist University, 1st ed. 1973), pp.
Special thanks to Phramaha Somnuek Saksree for
transcription of this article.