The Fundamentals of Buddhism

Updated on January 26, 2017

Separation of Self From Reality

Buddhism is a religion that requires the separation of self from reality.

The ego must be cast aside completely to achieve an escape from constant rebirth.

To do so, one must stop clinging to delusions, realize and accept life’s impermanence, and escape the sufferings in life that are self-inflicted [1].

The inability or refusal to understand and accept these changes create a cause and effect cycle that results in eternal rebirth based on the intentional acts of body, spirit, and mind—otherwise referred to as karma [1].

Karma is the fire that drives the rebirth of a being endlessly until he finds the truth to escape.

Samsara: A Cycle of Death and Rebirth

Just as seasons are in a constant state of change, so is the body, mind, and spirit.

Consider one’s state of mind from a decade ago, a year ago, even a week ago; it is likely different.

New experiences, sufferings, and choices have changed their thoughts, actions, and life.

Buddha’s teachings focus on the ripple effect of a being’s changing mind, body, and spiritual experience as well as the being’s chosen path to understanding that drives a cycle of rebirth one cannot escape from without being awakened.

This cycle is referred to as Samsara and is a compilation of three things: impermanence, suffering, and the self [1].


The fundamental focal point of Buddhism is that nothing is permanent.

In three stages Buddha taught elements come together, decay, and pass away.

To first realize this impermanence is key to overcoming dissatisfactions, or suffering in life, and lead to awakening [1].

It is a daunting realization to accept. One will not be here forever, and neither will the substance that person may think he consists of.

Our mothers, brothers, sisters, friends, and children change and die. They move on to a place we do not know. However, through this revelation beings can stop trying to cling to delusions of lasting happiness, the self, and the suffering that accompany these delusions.


Dissatisfactions, or sufferings, stem from the mind, body and soul.

They are physical sufferings such as illness, aging, and death due to physical impermanence.

They are soulful sufferings due to ignorance of impermanence and quest for lasting happiness or unchanging states.

Finally, they are mental sufferings from harmful states of mind created through unwholesome thought or perception [1].

These sufferings cause misery. However, we create it.

Misery is derived from self-centered desires to satisfy one’s needs that are fueled by the roots of evil [2].

Through the choices we make fueled by greed or lust, the delusions we choose to believe, or the focus on satisfying our desires, we create misery.

The pleasure we achieve through self-satisfaction is more fleeting than suffering. Humans have the ability to stop it through separation of self from reality and dissecting the underlying causes of one’s own suffering. It is through learning about one’s existence, sufferings, roots of suffering, and perception of self that can uncover the truth to escaping the cycle of rebirths.

The Self

The three characteristics of suffering hold a common thread of the lacking realization of the impermanence of life and self, and the delusion that selfhood has substance.

Many people are self-centered and driven by ego due to the delusion that the self has substance. As a being we refer to ourselves as our ‘self’.

The very descriptor used indicates it is something of material.

Ego-conscious people cling to permanence and the idea of soul having substance [2]. It is not unnatural given how one is taught to think and describe himself. However, when one realizes the term self is merely a name given to communicate a combination of things that we call our ‘self,’ the separation of self from reality in perception can commence.

Buddha taught that once a being understands no ‘self’ exists with permanent substance, he can be released from suffering through an awakening and live life more wholesomely, lovingly, and most importantly, selflessly.

To accept that there is no permanent self, one must understand of what the concept of self consists. Buddha coined these components as The Five Aggregates. They are human selfhood made up of impermanent material:

  • sensations
  • feelings
  • perception
  • mental formations
  • consciousness

Breaking down the self in this simplistic nature, one can see none of them are permanent.

When combined, they constitute what we refer to ourselves as the self.

It is a frightening breakdown when one realizes that what we believe we uniquely own, possess, and control is nothing more than a combination of things that we are referencing.

However, Buddha believed when one rejects the self as a permanent thing he begins the release of himself from the sufferings associated with the self-centered ego.

This is important because these components of ‘the self’ drive our decisions through intentional consciousness, and our intentional decisions create the resulting karma.

In turn, karma decides our future state.

In fact, it is the collective karma from the present life that is reincarnated into the next [1]. The reincarnated karmic results will determine how long and in what state a being will be reborn.

Like a flame, it will burn until it is used up at which point one will either be reborn again based on the new karma created, or he will find awakening [1].

Karma and Rebirth

Because Buddha believed our actions result in karma that decides our future lives, it is vital to understand how these aggregates work together to create suffering; it has a domino effect on our mental state, physical state, and actions which in turn creates the karma used in rebirth.

Buddha theorized there are twelve links of conditionality that produce suffering:

  1. ignorance
  2. mental formations
  3. consciousness
  4. mind and body
  5. senses
  6. contact
  7. sensation
  8. craving
  9. attachment
  10. becoming
  11. birth
  12. the mass of suffering

It is significant to note the order of these links, as they are considered the domino before the next that will cause the chain of falls.

This is coined as “dependent arising”.

Within these links, the past, present, and future is endless because they are mutually feeding off each other for existence, and their continued existence fuels one’s own continued existence [3].

Realizing how these twelve links of suffering is attached to the ego, and how the ego feeds suffering, which in turn fuels karmic actions is key. This self-centeredness is a barricade to awakening and creates an eternal sleep in the cycle of rebirth until one chooses to learn the truth in how to stop it.

The Four Noble Truths

Buddha stated there are four noble truths to stop suffering:

  • the nature of the suffering
  • the cause
  • the possible cessation of it
  • the spiritual path that leads one to the cessation of suffering.

The ignorance of any of these truths will cause suffering because that lack of knowledge impacts the twelve links that are dependent upon another.

In other words, ignorance of one truth is like a missing rung on a ladder; one cannot continue the consistent climb upward without it.

Therefore consciousness drives one’s decisions and actions which will lead to more or less suffering, which in turn, will impact karma and rebirth.

Mental formations mold the state of one’s consciousness and in turn produce intentional consciousness in thought, choice, and actions that produce karma [1].

Karma continues for a time after death, like a burning fuel, it will light the next life for a person until the fuel has been used. Thusly, it is important to produce karma that produces a good rebirth.

Buddha believed this karma would follow one through the Wheel of Life like one candle lighting the next [1].

The Wheel of Life

As shown in the image, The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising form the outer circle in the Wheel of Life.

Inside that ring lie the six realms of rebirth based on the karma produced by a being during their life.

The next ring shows two distinct ways, downward birth to lower realms and upward rebirth from taking the spiritual path.

At the center lies the Three Root Evils of green, hatred, and delusion depicted by a rooster, snake, and pig. These evils keep the Wheel of Life turning, and thus rebirths continual until one breaks free [1].

Consequently, the conditions of suffering a person creates for himself produces more ignorance or less, and as a result the person can continue an improved rebirth until awakening is reached, or simply repeat life through a rebirth until he overcomes the suffering his actions create. Until then, Karma creates his next life eternally.


[1] D. Mitchell and S. Jacoby, Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

[2] P. Ratanakul, "The Buddhist Concept of Life, Suffering and Death, and Related Bioethical Issues," Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics, pp. 1-10, 2004.

[3] W. King, "A BUDDHIST ETHIC WITHOUT KARMIC REBIRTH?," Journal of Buddhist Ethics, pp. 33-44, 1994.


Do You Believe in Karma and Rebirth

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      • profile image


        21 months ago

        ur cool

      • JEGillespie3 profile image

        Jim Gillespie 

        3 years ago from Kansas City, MO. 64126

        So many people in this day and age, are doomed to relive their "Negative" past through the "Camera" of their mind. When they should be focusing on the "Positive" aspects , And ridding the subconscious of the poison that is killing the "earthly body & mind." Enjoyed the article immensely.

      • Larry Rankin profile image

        Larry Rankin 

        3 years ago from Oklahoma

        Interesting overview.


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