Quick question: Would you recommend the above link to someone interested in learning about Buddhism on the whole (i.e., starting from the general to the specific)? Or is there another reference that might be a good start?
The reason I ask is this: I know virtually nothing about it, but what little I've seen here and there gives me the sense there may be something worth investigating for myself. I'd rather not start at the specific; rather gather an overall sense of it - then move towards the nuts and bolts.
Thanks (and really hoping this question is coherent).
[SIZE="3"]I"d like to offer a slightly different opinion than what's been expressed thus far. I don't believe "Buddhism" is what the Buddha taught, or that "Buddhists" are the best people to listen to. It might be that people prefer Buddhism over the Buddha's teaching, and that's perfectly fine. But if you are after what was really going on 2500 years ago with the Buddha (and his students), the first and primary place to look is Pali canon. Tipitaka: The Pali Canon
because there you can read what's been preserved of the Buddha's words, instead of relying on the later interpretations and emphases that Buddhism has added.
When I say "Buddhism," I mean religion; and by "religion" I mean a type of interpretation humans do with someone having the experience the Buddha was having. If you notice what most Buddhist writers talk about, it the Buddha's ideas and associated spiritual concepts that have been developed over the centuries. You can literally read a library of books by Buddhists and never find out that what the Buddha actually taught was how to attain a type of experience that can only
be regularly accessed through successful meditation. Because that means if someone really wants to follow the Buddha he/she has to do many years of work meditatlng daily, most Buddhists I've run across prefer to practice what one might call "Buddhist psychology."
Buddhist psychology is a way of thinking, of believing, and moral behaviors etc. A typical practice has one trying not to lust (desire) after stuff, and understand a huge number of Buddhist concepts. Google Buddhist websites (such as: SGI-USA: Member Resources: Resources: Buddhist Concepts for Today's Living
) and it is common to find a list of topics like these to explore:
Buddhist Concepts For Todays Living
The Four Virtues Of The Buddha
Earthly Desires are Enlightenment
What is Karma?
The Oneness of Life and the Environment
Treasures of the Heart
The Teachings of Sunyata: Non-Substantiality
To Open, Show, Awaken, and Induce to Enter
The Latter Day of the Law
The Three Realms of Existence
Happiness in this World
The Three Powerful Enemies
Gratitude: A Hallmark of Humanity
Making the Best of Everything: The Ten Factors of Life
How to Live as Humans: The Six Paths and The Four Noble Worlds
The Oneness of Body and Mind
Perfect Imperfection: Aspiration for Buddhahood
Practicing for Oneself, Practicing for Others
Positive and Negative Relationship with the Law
Good Friends and Bad Friends
Peace and Security in the Here and Now
Cherry, Plum, Peach and Damson: We are all unique!
The Three Existences
Bodhisattva Never Disparaging
The Saha World is the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light
The Five Impurities
Deliberately Creating the Appropriate Karma
Devils and Demons in the Lotus Sutra
The Eternity of Life
The Wisdom of Tathata: Making the Most of our Changing World
The Oneness of Good and Evil
The Four Universal Vows
The Precept of Adapting to Local Customs
The Buddha's Three Rules for Improving Dialogue
The Buddha Nature is Inherent in All People
Be Free to Control Yourself
King Wonderful Adornment
Now, was any of that "Buddhist" teaching the main thrust of the Buddha's teaching? I say it seriously misses the mark. Let me try an analogy to expand on what I mean. Let's say you lived on a planet where everybody is clumsy, and you wanted to teach interested students how to balance. When someone commits to practice, you agree to guide them.
thing you teach is that they must spend two hours per day mastering walking on a narrow beam; that's the primary practice, that's what your teaching is all about. But you also know students believe and do things that interfere with practicing the balance beam, so you develop secondary
aids to help them when it's time to practice.
They believe, for example, in the "clumsy way," so you develop set of ideas meant to show how the clumsy way leads to suffering; this is how you communicate to everyone so you can get to the point where you can teach them the balance beam practice. But also, students are so weak it interferes with practice, so you have a rule that they eat better; you know they walk with terrible posture, so you have a rule they walk straight; you know they mindlessly run around, so you have rule they have to carefully run around . . . you call those rules the "three-fold balance path."
One of the most important things you offer as a teacher is yourself because you do all things perfectly balanced, and so students have a constant example to intuitively pick up clues from. But one day you are swept into a quantum vortex where time stands still; when it finally spits you out, 2500 years have gone by. You look up students of balancing and find the only thing anybody does is theorize about the perils of the "clumsy way," eat better, walk straight, and try to carefully run around. Almost nobody knows that all those activities were intended to help a person practice the balance beam (because few practice). They actually believe the secondary
stuff is the main practice, and the main
practice is a secondary (or even optional) thing.
That's the situation today with Buddhism as well. It's all been reduced to a philosophy and a way of life, which you can tell by merely participating in the thousands of discussions going on on the internet. The experienced samadhi meditator is a rare bird, and it's even rarer to hear someone who does have some experience place samadhi in the primary, main, chief, key, principle, foremost place of importance in discussions. Usually I am the only one making the case for samadhi as the way.
It's just as bad with Zen, which originally (as Ch'an . . . which literally means "meditation") was purely a meditation practice, just like the Buddha taught; now it is Koans and psychology, very little meditation. Check out this quote by Japanese Zen master Dogen's words (who had traveled to China to study Ch'an), "In the study of the Way, the prime essential is sitting meditation. The attainment of the way by many people in China is due in each case to the power of sitting meditation. Even ignorant people with no talent, who do not understand a single letter, if they sit whole-heartedly in meditation, then by the accomplishment of meditative stability, they will surpass even brilliant people who have studied for a long time. Thus students . . . do not get involved with other things."
I have offered the above explanation to suggest there is an alternative to taking the Buddhist religion route. I am not saying religion doesn't offer people something of value, but I am say that it isn't what the Buddha (or Jesus et al) taught. Master a very specific inner experience was the focus, and through a strong, daily samadhi practice, aided by an understanding (the Four Noble Truths) and a way of living (the Eightfold Path) that made samadhi easier to practice, was the way taught by true masters . . . not merely understandings and a way of life as religion seems to suggest.
It is for that reason I suggest the Pali canon, because who better to teach what the Buddha was about than the Buddha himself? Eliminate the middle man and go to the source![/SIZE]