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This has been called the 'Discourse on the Turning of the Wheel of Law', which was the nucleus of the Buddha's teaching. It incorporated the Four Noble Truths: the world is full of suffering; suffering is caused by human desires; the renunciation of desire is the path tonirvanaor liberation from rebirth; and this can be achieved through the Eightfold Path. The latter consisted of eight principles of action, leading to a balanced, moderate life: right views, resolves, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, recollection, and meditation, the combination of which was described as the Middle Way. To understand this discourse did not call for complicated metaphysical thinking, nor did it require complex rituals. It required a commitment to ethical behaviour, a central feature of which was that it was not based on the privileges and disabilities of caste identity but on a concern for the welfare of humanity. Such an approach suggests a degree of sensitivity to the social mores becoming current in urban living. The rational undertone of the argument was characteristic of the Buddhist emphasis on causality and logic as the basis of analysis, particularly in a system where little is left either to divine intervention or else to the kind of metaphysics that the Buddha described as splitting hairs. The Buddha did not see his teaching as a divine revelation, but rather as an attempt to reveal the truths that were apparent to him and required to be stated. To the extent that a deity was not essential to the creation and preservation of the universe, Buddhism was atheistic, arguing for a natural cosmic rise and decline. Originally a place of bliss, the world had been reduced to a place of suffering by human capitulation to desire. The authority of the Vedaswas questioned, particularly as revealed texts associated with deity, and this was not specific only to Buddhism. Brahmanical ritual, especially the sacrificing of animals, was unacceptable. There was a closer association with popular, more unassertive forms of worship at funerary tumuli and sacred enclosures. Doubtless this relieved the austerity of an otherwise rather abstract system of thought. Independence from deities was also evident in Buddhist ideas about the origin of government and the state. Whereas Vedic Brahmanism invoked the gods in association with the origin of government, Buddhism described it as a process of gradual social change in which the instituting of the family and the ownership of fields led to civil strife. Such strife could only be controlled by people electing a person to govern them and to establish laws for their protection: an eminently logical way of explaining the origins of civil strife and the need for law. In underlining elements of logic and rationality, the Buddha was reflecting 168
STATES AND CITIES OF THE INDO-GANGETIC PLAIN some of the philosophical interests of his day. Freedom from the cycle of rebirth led tonirvana, interpreted either as bliss through enlightenment, or extinction. Thus the doctrine ofkarmaand