STUDY, REFLECTION AND MEDITATION
Buddhism can be confusing to begin with, especially if you
come from a Christian, Islamitic or Jewish background. You may be unfamiliar
with concepts such as karma, rebirth, 'emptiness' and the practice of meditation.
On top of that, the presentation of Buddhism in the various traditions can
vary quite a bit, so if you read materials from different traditions, it is
easy to lose track.
The idea behind this website is to introduce the most important
basics, as well as provide links for further study. It is important to realise
that it takes some time and effort to get a grip on all these subjects, and
to understand how they fit together. Buddhism is like a combination of philosophy,
religion, psychology and mental training - a vast area to cover.
As proven over the centuries, the best way to digest the
teachings would be to listen to teachings or read on a subject, and to spend
some time pondering over it before continuing to the next subject, because
unlike an academic study, all the subjects have direct implications for our
own lives. Study, reflection and meditation are essential, as we need to check
if these teachings are relevant to us. Buddhism should not be accepted
on the basis of blind faith, but rather because we find it sensible.
The Buddha put it this way: "Only when it agrees with your experience
and reason, and when it is conducive to the good and gain of oneself and all
others, then one should accept the teachings, and live up to them". (Free
from the Kalama Sutra.)
This will take time, so be a bit patient with yourself if you go through a
period where everything you read just seems to provoke more questions; that
is a really good sign! Most people take many months or years before gradually
the whole 'puzzle of Buddhism' begins to fit together.
Without some study, we don't know what we get involved
in. Chosing a spiritual path should not just be based on some vague feeling,
but on a critical evaluation of the teachings, its goals, and the example
of other practitioners.
Reflection and meditation on the various subjects is
essential. It is important to ask yourself regularly; 'does this make
sense, what does this mean for me and my life?'
Besides being critical, do not be afraid to open yourself
up, and give new ideas the chance to settle in. In other words, avoid
accepting things before you have taken time to 'sit on it' (meditate/reflect),
but also avoid rejecting things before you 'sat on them'.
Our prejudices often go deeper than we think!
Take enough time to digest one subject before going
over to the next. If you try to read this entire website in a day, you
will likely harvest confusioninstead of understanding... It probably works
best to take for example only one subject per day or per week.
- Several people wrote me that it works good for them to print one page
on a subject every day to read and reflect on it.
The most logical order for study would be to start
with The Three Jewels and Philosophy
(maybe initially without following all the suggested links to avoid confusion),
followed by Problematic Emotions. You could simultaneously
read some parts of Practice and Meditation.
Of course, it is advisable to read introductory books
from any tradition to get a closer idea of what Buddhism can mean for
you (see for example the recommended booklist
Try not to get confused with the various traditions:
just go for what feels right and ideally follow an organised course in
a center or monastery. The biggest differences between the Buddhist traditions
are usually more on the surface than in the ideas behind the appearances.
We know how to study, but what about meditation? Meditation
is the essential technique in Buddhism to figure out what is really going
on in our mind. Once we begin to understand how our mind functions, we can
move into the direction we want.
Very few people learn to meditate satisfactorily on the basis
of just reading instructions. It may feel like trying to learn playing the
piano by reading a manual.... The best and most efficient way would be to
find some spiritual friends (see below) and receive meditation instructions
from a teacher or experienced older student. If this is not possible, you
can try to follow the advice on the page How
to Meditate, and the suggestions of 58
Do not expect instant miracles from meditation - we cannot
learn to play the piano or tennis in just a few hours time. Instead, it may
work best to habituate yourself to some kind of daily meditation session (if
only 5 minutes) for maybe a month or so, and then decide if you want to continue.
The continuity of even a short daily meditation session is much more effective
than once a week trying to sit for two hours.
FINDING SPIRITUAL FRIENDS
Arguably, the best introduction is something
like a week-long introductory course; ideally in a center
where you would live in for the duration of the course. Such
a focussed environment, combining meditation, teachings and
discussions can really get you 'into it'. (Having been director
center in Dharamsala, India, where we concentrated on presenting
10-day intensive meditation courses, I dare say that most
people got much more out of such a course than they expected.)
It is highly likely that some kind of Buddhist center is not
very far away from your home - see the very good Buddhist
directory of BuddhaNet
or of Snowlion
Do 'shop around' to find a place that really suits you!
Once you decide to get involved with a specific tradition,
make sure you are not dealing with a controversial/dubious teacher or
school; although someone may wear Buddhist robes or calls him/herself
a lama, guru or even Acharya, that does not make him or her a saint....
Unfortunately, there are questionable teachers, traditions and centers
in the Buddhist world. Bad enough, the only website that simply listed
them was pestered out of existence, so please, do use your critical
intellect to analyse and test them as the Buddha advised, before you get
seriously involved. Putting your trust in a spiritual teacher is not a
small matter, see also the pages on a Spiritual
, and Controversy
- If you cannot visit a center occasionally, but still like to seriously
study Buddhism, there are some good correspondence courses these days. Probably
the best ones work by sending you recordings of teachings and a course-book,
and you are guided by tutors. In Tibetan Buddhism, for exampe the FPMT
has some very good correspondence courses.
HOW DO I TELL MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS?
Perhaps it is not needed or even well-advised to make a public
statement when you study Buddhism or have taken refuge.
Instead, try to study and practice what you learn in everyday life; it is
likely that people around you will begin to notice changes for the better
and when they begin inquiring, you can try to answer honestly and modestly.
If people react on your positive changes you already made a very valid point
why you practice. No philosophical discussion can ever beat your positive
example. Try to avoid a heavy yes/no discussion, but show what you mean with
your attitude by remaining calm, and not over-enthousiastic. When people notice
too great excitement about your new discovery, they may fear you lost it a
bit and will now shave your head, wear robes and wander off to some strange
sect etc. Remember that Buddhism should be taught only when others ask for
it, so don't be too over-enthousiastic by throwing "the Buddhist view
of the world" to everyone who comes near you.
When people ask about your changes and Buddhism, it is good
to reflect on below questions a bit. I have tried to give some simple answers
that may be suitable for Christians (as this was my own background).
What about the changes we see in you?
I am learning about Buddhism, and I am trying to put some of their philosophy
into practice. I hope the changes you see are not negative?
Do you believe in God?
That depends on how you define 'God'. I don't really believe in
a God who created the universe, or who is 'all-poweful' (omnipotent).
Instead, I think it is possible to develop our mind so far in
a positive direction that we can become omniscient like a Buddha,
become really happy, and teach others to be happy.
Where did the universe come from if not from God?
In Buddhism, the universe is a cyclic process, like life,
it arises and ends, only to arise again. But in a philosophical
sense, we cannot answer this question easily; a philosopher could
also ask a Christian, "Even if God created the universe,
where did God come from?".
Do you believe in rebirth/reincarnation?
I think we will not completely stop at the time of death, but
our mind continues to experience a hellish or heavenly state,
as a human, or as animal. Of course, even in most traditions of
Christianity, people believe in going to heaven or hell etc. in
the 'afterlife', so also there something appears to continue after
If we all come back, where do all the
new people come from; human population on the earth keeps growing?
We can be reborn in may other places in the universe, or even as animals as
well. If you look at how many species of animals are dying out, just these
numbers easily make up for the extra humans.
Will you shave your head and wear robes now?
Just like most Christians do not become monks or nuns,
only people who like may chose to become Buddhist monks or nuns,
lay-persons do not wear robes or need to shave their heads or
What about this altar thing with an image of the
I do not worship the Buddha like the Christians worship God, but
it is a way to remind myself of and show respect to the Buddha
and his teachings.
What is karma?
In Christianity, God punishes us for a negative, selfish life
and rewards us for a positive life lived for others. Similarly
in Buddhism, we think that positive actions will result in happiness
and negative actions (like killing, stealing and lying etc.) will
result in problems for ourselves. However, these good and bad
results are not handed out by a God, but it functions like a law
of nature. The deciding factor in karma is the motivation we have
for doing an action.
What do Buddhists believe in?
The Buddha explained that life inevitably means problems, frustration
and pain (latest at death). These problems are caused by
our ignorance, confused emotions and negative actions. As we decide
everything with our own minds and we can all change our minds,
it is possible to end problems and pain by changing our own minds
and leading a wiser and more positive life. Once we completely
understand the world, we can make an end to all our suffering
and go to Nirvana, not unlike the permanent Christian heaven or
even become a Buddha.
Just for fun:
Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.
Carl Gustav Jung
Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.
If you believe everything you read, better not read.
The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that
it has never tried to contact us.
Avoid fruits and nuts. You are what you eat.
January 20, 2012