To abstain from killing, stealing, adultery, lying, and toxicants are the core messages of the Buddha. Other important messages are the eight-fold path, i.e, right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right efforts, right mindfulness and meditation. In other words, he wanted us to lead a simple life for peace and happiness.
Adding further to these advices, Buddha further says, “giving, generosity, liberality, virtuous conduct, morality, righteousness, patience, energy, renunciation, selflessness, wisdom, insight, intuition, truthfulness, honesty, aspiration or resolution/determination, love, kindness, compassion, equanimity, calmness, serenity, unruffled and peacefulness” are some of the qualities to be cultivated by the aspirant for right living.
All other “-isms,” are intellectual exercises by his disciples on what the Buddha really wanted to say, rather than the direct teachings of the Buddha. If people simply follow these messages of Lord Buddha, they will attain peace and happiness in their daily life.
The Buddha never said he would help people to attain “nirvana”. By nirvana he meant the state of “tranquility, peace and happiness”. He further postulated, if people choose the middle path, they will easily attain tranquility which is the basis for peace and happiness. He never talked about the after-life. He was concerned with the present sufferings of human beings rather than what could be achieved after death.
Today, people are awed by the word “nirvana” because they are always allured by mystery. If something is kept a mystery it will attract a bigger crowd. It has a simple meaning as “an ideal condition of rest, harmony, stability, or joy,” in other words, the state of peace and happiness. How is it attained? By practicing pañca-sila (the five precepts), and by adhering to the eight-fold path. These are the core teachings of Buddha.
Today, I am struck by the simplicity of the message. I have come to realize that whatever I have read so far was about Buddhism, but not about the Buddha and his messages to the common people.
The common people like me are so overwhelmed by the beauty of these teachings that we easily tend to ignore the direct message of the Buddha and look for hidden meanings. In this way, we actually never reach the core and lose ourselves in the periphery. As such, once we come across the five precepts and eight-fold path, we need not look for voluminous books of interpretations. Attainment is through practice not through knowledge.