Fundamental Structures of Buddhism: Law of Change and Principle of Self-Reliance


Buddhism is one of the foremost religious-spiritual, social, and indeed, political philosophies of the world. As is well-known, Gautama Buddha, the “Light of Asia,” not only brought about a revolution in religious-spiritual thinking, but also divulged the reality of existence for all forms of life on this planet.

Through a systematic study and analysis of the simple subject of life – of grief or suffering, its cause, cessation and means of cessation, Gautama Buddha advised the people to make life meaningful by adopting the Arya -Ashtangika Marga [the Noble Eightfold- Middle path] in daily routines, which, as per the mention in the Dharmachakra Pravartana -Sutra itself, “opens the eyes, and bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to the higher wisdom, to full enlightenment…”

Gautama Buddha desired and expected every human being to reach the heights of life on the basis of harmony of deeds and knowledge. Not only this, as is clear from the Dhammapada [an anthology of four hundred twenty-three verses that is regarded as the most succinct expression of Gautama Buddha’s teachings], he taught the humanity the simple lesson of the Dharma*


Buddhism minutely analyzes vital subjects like birth-rebirth, karma[deed], phala [fruit or consequence] and Nirvana [liberation]. It presents a sound critical analysis on issues like that of existence and its manifestations, and the state of mind. Yoga, devotion and concentration are also studied and discussed in Buddhism.

The teachings of Gautama Buddha, in particular, became part and parcel of a layman’s life. Buddhism brought about a social revolution in India during the life time of Gautama Buddha himself. It significantly contributed towards the establishment of a society based on equality and equability to a great extent. Along with this, Buddhism made a clarion call to the rulers to follow morality, honesty and ethics, and thus contributed to cleanse the political field.

Furthermore, Gautama Buddha, himself born in a republic, hailed democracy as the best form of governance. In this context his advice to the Lichchhavi rulers of Vaishali, ‘to sit together and take decisions collectively and having once arrived at a decision, to act upon it in unison’, remained significant.

Simultaneously, through its activities and practices, the Buddhist Samgha [organization] emerged as an epitome of democracy in Shakyamuni Gautama’s own lifetime and after his Mahaparinirvana. For this fact, Marquess of Zetland, a former Viceroy of India, in Legacy of India, has rightly gone to the extent of saying that the democratic order then found in the assemblies [Samghas] of Buddhists may be well compared to the parliamentary practices of the present times.

Urging the people to adopt Karuna or compassion [amalgamation of piety and friendliness] as the basis of their day-to-day individual practices and also in their dealing with other living beings, Gautama Buddha, in fact, accorded the best dimension to Ahimsa [non-violence], the supreme human value. By himself practicing Karuna Gautama Buddha set a unique and unprecedented example to be followed by his disciples and generations to come, in various parts of the world.

Along with India, Buddhism became the basis of life of millions of people all over the world, taking roots in Sri Lanka and spreading to the Far East up to China and Japan. In fact, even after nearly two thousand six hundred years of Gautama Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana it is still the core of daily practices of millions of followers of Buddhism around the globe.

The Buddhist philosophy has contributed exceptionally to humanity. In this context I repeat my words mentioned in one of my articles written a few years back, “Gautama Buddha brought all movable-immovable objects, views and creation within the scope of Law of Change.’Purification as per the demand of time and space’ is an indivisible part of this very Law. His call to accept this Law for all-round progress is, in fact, his long memorable contribution for humanity.”

Gautama Buddha himself declared that the law of change is our ruler and development is possible only through the natural law of change.

In this very context, Gautama Buddha stressed on comprehending the reality of the law of change and called for careful inspection and investigation of things and said, “*Nothing is permanent … Everything [generally] is subject to change.” And, “Nothing is infallible … Nothing is binding forever. Everything is subject to inquiry and examination.”

The above message of the Shakyamuni could also be well understood from the following meaning of a verse in the *Kalama-Sutra:

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it [from your elders or ancestors]. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

This could categorically be noticed and viewed from one of the discussions between the Tathagata Gautama and his known disciple Sariputra. In this regards, as per the mention in the Mahaparinirvana -Sutra [1/16], “Soon after the arrival of the Blessed One, Gautama Buddha, along with the great company of Bhikshukas to the Pavarika Amravana [mango garden] of Nalanda, his known disciple Sariputra came to the place, and having saluted him took his seat respectfully at his side and said that he thought there never had been, nor would there be, nor was there then that any other if Shramana or Brahman, who was greater and wise than he, the Blessed one, Gautama Buddha, to say as regard to higher wisdom.”

Replying to this Shakyamuni Gautama said, “You have not known all the Blessed Ones who in the long ages of the past have been Arahat Buddhas, comprehending their minds with yours, and aware what their conduct was, what their doctrine, what their wisdom, what their mode of life [in their respective times], *and what Nirvana they attained to”; and *”You have not perceived all the Blessed Ones who in the long ages of the future shall be Arahat Buddhas comprehending in the same manner …”

Undoubtedly, Buddha’s words dismissing the notion of status quo reflected the continuity of the process; hence, stressed on accepting the reality of the law of change.

Simultaneously, his call for the refinement as per the demand of time and space remains extraordinary. He was in fact a great Guru with a great mind, an acme of wisdom and knowledge. He was the Buddha, very well explained by a young Brahmin Vasettha to another young *Brahmin* and his colleague Bhardwaja, and also declared by the Sakyamuni Gautama himself by using the word Tathagata in course of his lesson to Vasettha, “a fully enlightened one, blessed and worthy, abounding in wisdom and goodness, happy, with knowledge of the world, unsurpassed as a guide to erring mortals, a teacher of gods and men, a blessed Buddha.”

Therefore, he, the Buddha, the *Tathagata* called upon the people to acquaint themselves with reality so that they could march forward on the path of progress and finally open the door of success.

Reality always remains in accepting the dynamism and continuity of the process enduring in accepting the truth of the constantly changing process of continuity. Therefore, on the basis of this wisdom, experience the prevailing circumstances so that the pathway to progress becomes feasible. This is the real way to achieve success in one’s life, and also for the larger welfare of the people.

The fundamentals of each and every major religious-community of the world, more or less and directly or indirectly, accept the reality of the law of change; they, in one way or the other recognizing this inevitable and unavoidable law, call for making conducive state for the sake of progress. The Bhagavad-Gita, one of the chief scriptures of the Vedic-Hinduism, which is also considered as the essence all of the Vedas, admits, “Change is the law of the universe.” However, in this regard the straightforward call of Gautama Buddha is exemplary, unique and extraordinary. Thereby, Buddhism becomes matchless.

An indifferent attitude towards the law of change and not accepting it as the nucleus in different walks of life has resulted in numerous difficulties and problems from time-to-time at regional, national and international levels. This very ignorance caused many confrontations, struggles and wars. Indifference towards the law of change and its consequences can also be well observed by us even today at various levels in social life. Under such scenario the call of Gautama Buddha and Buddhism, not to ignore the law of change, becomes more relevant and significant than ever before.

This indeed urges man to ponder over it, and to move forward accordingly. Moreover, this call is not confined to a particular field. Rather, it equally applies to all walks of life including the religious-spiritual sphere. Manmade traditions, customs and fashions, though welfaristic at certain point of history, cannot be applicable in all times.

In this context even the eternal values, particularly *Ahimsa* and its close supplement morality, are also subject to refinement and conduciveness under prevailing circumstances of space. Gautama Buddha had himself refined them, and as mentioned above he had, by transforming it in the form of Karuna[compassion], the abridgement of piety and friendliness, propagated it among the people. It is well known that Karuna is the best revelation of Ahimsa and was made the basis of human equanimity by Sakyamuni Gautama. Besides emerging as the supreme accepted human value Karuna had played a vital role in socio-religious spheres, particularly in day-to-day practices during the time of the Tathagata Gautama. Thus, through this the following two facts become quite apparent:

1. Eternal values, despite maintaining their originality and staying within the ambit of their basic spirit, are undoubtedly subject of refinement as per the demand of time; and

2. Eternal values cannot turn into benefit and also cannot contribute to the welfare of the people if they are not refined in prevailing situation.

Hence, laying stress on the law of change and calling the people to accept the reality of this law, Gautama Buddha and Buddhism became exemplary and thus contributed unprecedentedly to humanity.

Self-Reliance by Self-Efforts

Another landmark contribution of Buddhism and Shakyamuni Gautama towards humanity is emphasis upon self-sufficiency of man and making one’s life meaningful through one’s own efforts. More specifically Gautama Buddha’s call,

“Appo Deepo Bhav” [Be a light unto yourself] could be well understood in this context. This emphasis on self-sufficiency of man is, in fact, the second foremost and unique characteristic of Buddhism, accepting law of change being the first prime fundamental.

Be it the grasping of the reality of the Four Noble Truths [Arya -Satya] or after freeing from the Dukhas to taking the pathway to Nirvana, or to live well in the world, or to make life meaningful and worthy, self-efforts of man according to Buddhism play the most important or the ultimate role in the whole process. In other words, Buddhism declares self-efforts of individual to be its foremost basis.

However, by this stress on achieving through self-efforts or by the call of “Appo Deepo Bhav” neither Buddhism nor the Shakyamuni supported individualism or encouraged the welfare of a particular community. Rather, they both remained dedicated to the welfare of the whole of humanity.

Moreover, compassion [Karuna] towards all living beings is the clarion call of Buddhism. This is entirely devoted to socio-religious harmony and concord among all. Buddhist people living in different countries, particularly where they constitute majorities of the inhabitants, are before us as the best example to prove this fact. Quite interestingly, in these countries, there are no communal riots or struggles of fierce nature as seen from time-to-time in other countries. The number of such clashes in the name of religious-communities is negligible.

Well! The Buddhist call of becoming self-sufficient through individual efforts and making one’s life meaningful is rooted in a broader concept, which eventually leads to the larger welfare of humankind.

Buddhism, in fact, accepts and recognizes the principle of Karma -Phala [enjoying or suffering the consequences of one’s actions]. Like Vedic [Hindu], Jain or other branches of Indian philosophies, Buddhism is also dedicated to this unique and extraordinary principle of life. Undoubtedly, man is in the centre of this principle. This principle opens the door for making one’s life free of difficulties and sorrows if he, through self-discipline, devotion and wisdom, passes through the natural process of deeds, which is in a broad sense, the universal principle of cause-effect, action-reaction, and that which governs all life.

Furthermore, this very principle also exists even in the root of Hiinayaana, one of the prominent branches of Buddhism. Hiinayaana, stems from the word ‘hiina’ itself, or as efforts are made to analyze it in terms of ‘lesser’, ‘small’ or ‘low’, is in fact the process of making one’s own life meaningful, first through his individual efforts. It is the process of beginning from own self, to awake oneself first.

Despite this, like the stress on accepting the inevitable law of change in life, the straightforward call of Buddhism to attain self-sufficiency by understanding the reality of the Four Noble Truths [Arya -Satya] and that too without any mediator or embracing to thousands of impractical rules framed for selfish motives or indulging in old and useless rituals by one’s own efforts, makes this philosophy practical, exemplary and adaptable. Hence, the principle of self-reliance of man becomes the second foremost fundamental of Buddhism itself.


Hence, inevitable Sanatana law of change and the principle of self-reliance are the two foremost fundamentals of Buddhism. The structure of Buddhism, one of the foremost philosophies of life as well as one of the major dharmas [religions] of the world is principally based on these two. For, this philosophy of life becomes more important than the past. The relevance and significance of Buddhism multiplies many folds in the current perspectives when in the constantly increasing development at all levels and in all walks of life, there is a scorching need of accepting the inevitability and reality of the law of change by all on this planet with the purpose of self-sufficiency by self-efforts, for individual welfare on the one hand and to contribute to the larger well-being of humankind on the other.

Dr. Ravindra Kumar is an eminent writer, Indologist, political scientist and a former vice chancellor of Meerut University, India, who authored and edited over 100 works on great personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and on various social-cultural issues.