I am attracted to Buddhist principles and would like to learn more. It seems there may be a prescribed path or course that is preferred, but I don't know what that is. What is a good place to begin? For instance, is there a "primer" book that should be read or should i visit a Temple, etc.
Welcome to the site.
"What is a good place to begin?"
That's a good question and a broad one. Perhaps I should start by saying that there are different schools of Buddhism (e.g. older and newer), perhaps as much variation in Buddhism as there is in Christianity.
One place to begin could be with a popular book by a modern author: for example something written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, or maybe by Thích Nhất Hạnh. I think you're likely to read, in such a book, that what's important is to be kind, etc.
Also all the books listed in Best Buddhist Books for Beginners: My Top 8 Picks are by modern authors (I haven't read all those books, but I have heard of or read other things by those authors).
Or you might like to read an account of the life of "the Buddha". Like the Christian Gospels (allegedly) include words spoken by Jesus, a biography of the Buddha includes (some of) the doctrine taught by the Buddha.
FYI when I was in a hotel in Singapore, they had in the night side-table: a Gideon's Bible; an English copy of the Koran; and a copy of a biography of the Buddha.
I think there isn't necessarily a single most-canonical biography, instead there are many. They're based on the same (not English) texts but translated differently, arranged differently, with different fragments selected. I don't remember which (edition/publisher/author) was the first biography I read.
A book that people on this site have recommended is In the Buddha’s Words by Bhikkhu Bodhi.
Another possibility might be the Dhammapada, for example Wikipedia says that it is, "one of the most widely read and best known Buddhist scriptures".
Actually I'm not sure that it's understandable if you know nothing else about Buddhism, but if you do know maybe something of Buddhism you might find it a great summary? Its contents are considered to be canonical, i.e. among "the words of the Buddha".
The Pāli Canon is maybe the best record we have of the early/earliest Buddhist scriptures.
The Pali canon includes the Suttas which I think of as '(biographical/doctrinal) stories'. I expect the Suttas are the most important part of the Canon for a beginner, even then there are a lot of suttas. Fortunately there's some repetition.
It's probably worth saying that there's one sutta which has the reputation of being the first thing which the Buddha taught after his enlightenment: you should probably read that:
I recommend you read the answers to this question: Chronological or other sequence for beginners
The "Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta" (referenced above) introduced items of doctrine named "Four Noble Truths" and "Noble Eightfold Way".
These are possibly (or arguably) the first (or the most central) tenets of early Buddhism, but there are others, for example:
Google, Wikipedia, and Access to Insight are all good places to search for further details on any topic.
I recommend this collection of Dhamma Lists:
- See what lists there are, to get an overview of what's seen as important
- See what lists there are, to investigate each one further
- These lists include the Pali words (a problem is that Pali words have several translations into English, so a search for "Three marks of existence" might not find articles which talk about the "three characteristics" or "three dharma seals" which are synonyms ... so it's sometime useful to know and search for the Pali word)
As a beginner or lay person, if there's one thing you should know/study it would perhaps be "the five precepts".
The "eightfold way" is sometimes categorized as a "threefold training" of which the first is virtue/morality. People say that morality is the first in the sense that it's a prerequisite for other training, e.g. that you can't practice mindfulness and wisdom without virtue.
See for example this description of Virtue or sila, e.g. where the first reward of virtue is described as "Freedom from remorse".
Alternatively see this article, Dhamma, which is introduced as,
An outline of the Buddha's teachings, organized according to his method of "gradual instruction" (anupubbi-katha). The Buddha frequently used this framework to guide his students from first principles through progressively more advanced teachings, all the way to the fulfillment of the Four Noble Truths and the realization of Nibbana.
According to this article the first training is Generosity (dana).
This too has a short biography of the Buddha that you could read before you read about the Dhamma.
If you want to read (investigate or study) any Pali word or any Pali sutta in more detail, you might find this answer helpful: English (or other European) translations of Pali Canon
So far I've mostly mentioned the Pali suttas which are associated with Theravada.
There are though several schools of Buddhism, perhaps for historical and geographical reasons.
Plus there's so-called modern Buddhism.
The different schools appear to have some doctrinal differences but much in common; see for example, What teachings do all schools of Buddhism share?
I don't want to be sectarian but I can't from my own experience recommend any Mahayana, Zen, or Vajrayana texts for beginners?
For example I read various Zen anthologies when I was young, and although they were appealing I couldn't really grasp/hold them, somehow?
Maybe it's just me but some of the (Zen and/or Tibetan) texts make more sense, are more understandable, to me now that I have an inkling of what's taught in the earliest/original suttas.
To tell you @#ATLBarb63, this path depends 100% on the association with ‘Kalyana Mittas’ (people of integrity in the Dahmma Path). But it is very difficult for most of us to meet in person such Kalyana-Mitta (‘Noble or good Friends’). So you are very fortunate to have found this site - Buddhism Stack Exchange. In this site you have the good fortune of finding the first of the four factors that the Buddha once told us, in SN 55:5.
One day, the Venerable Sariputta came to see The Blessed One, gave him homage and sat to one side. Once he was seated, the Blessed one said to him,
Sariputta, people say, "the factors of Stream Entry, the factors of Stream Entry". So what are, Sariputta, the factors of Stream Entry?
The association with men of worth/virtue, venerable one, is a factor of Stream Entry; listening to the teaching / the authentic Dhamma is a factor of Stream Entry; wise considerations are a factor of Stream Entry; practicing the teaching (at the level of phenomena | in all its parts / in its totality | in accordance with the Dhamma) is a factor of Stream Entry.
Excellent, Sariputta, excellent. Friendship with virtuous people is a factor of Stream Entry; listening to the authentic Dhamma is a factor of Stream Entry; wise reflection is a factor of Stream Entry; and practicing the teaching is a factor of Stream Entry.
Sariputta, one hears being said, "The current. The current." So what, Sariputta, is the current?
It is the Noble Eightfold Way, venerable one, which is to say: correct view, correct aspiration, correct speech, correct action, correct means of subsistence (a.k.a. livelihood), correct effort, correct presence of mind (a.k.a. presence of spirit, or correct mindfulness), and correct concentration.
Excellent, Sariputta, excellent. It is this Noble Eightfold Way, which is to say: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
Sariputta, one hears people say: "A stream-enterer. A stream-enterer." What then, Sariputta, is someone who has entered into the stream?
Whoever, venerable one, is gifted with this Noble Eightfold Way, is called someone who is entered into the stream, such a venerable carrying such-and-such a name, issued from such-and-such a family.
Excellent, Sariputta, excellent. Whoever is gifted with this Noble Eightfold Way is called someone who is entered into the stream, such a venerable carrying such-and-such a name, issued from such-and-such a family.
Those four factors that he mentioned was Association with people of integrity, Listening to the true Dhamma, Appropriate attention to what is heard or read, and Practice in accordance with the Dhamma.
If I am to elaborate on the second factor, the true Dhamma is found in the Sutta Pitaka (the Scriptures). Another such name the Buddha used to describe the Sutta Pitaka is the “the Order of the Buddha with Nine Distinct Parts (Navānga Sāstru Sāsana).” That is because it contains discourses that can be categorized into nine parts. Each Buddhist needs to have the knowledge of these nine parts. Once you obtain the knowledge about these nine parts, you can do many things in meditation and in this path.
The third factor is appropriate attention to what is heard or read. Here my advice to you is, no matter how much you learn of the dhamma, how deep you go into it over the years to come, to always have the mind-set of a learner. You always think that ‘you do not know’. Then you will not be in the position of “I know”. When you think that way the idea “I know” will wear off, no matter how far you go in this path. Then association with sincere friends will become delightful for you. You will not be able to be without sincere friends. You will get the opportunity to listen to Dhamma. Yonisomanasikara (thinking wisely as mentioned in Dhamma) will arise in you. Then slowly but surely you will develop the Noble Eight Fold path. This happens solely due to association with sincere friends. So do not be in a hurry.
Buddhist practice can be divided into theory/study (in Pali, the language of the original texts: pariyatti) and practice (patipati). You learn the teachings and then try to follow it.
Teaching of the Buddha (= dhamma)
First you should know who Buddha was, who he claimed to be and what he taught. Buddha is not a name, it means awakened. So reading about the historical person Sidarta Gautama would be a good start.
There are more than 10,000 discourses (suttas). It's not recommended to read as many teachings as you can, but to get familiar with the core teaching, the Four Noble Truths. All teachings are within this teaching. I recommend to listen to this talk from Ajahn Sumedho. It's a really good and profound talk about Buddhism and the teaching.
The Four Noble Truths
- dukkha (= suffering, illness, death, stress, sorrow, lamentation, being unsatisfied ...) exists
- The cause of dukkha is taṇhā (means thirst for sensual pleasure, attachement to self and aversion)
- There is the cessation of dukkha (nibbana, means not burning anymore, enlightement, awakening)
- There is a path leading to the cessation of dukkha, the Noble Eightfold Path (Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration)
Knowing the Four Noble Truths, if anyone should be interested in the cessation of suffering, he/she should practice the Noble Eightfold Path (and test if it works).
Buddhist practice has 3 aspects:
Whether you are familiar with Buddhism or not, you should try to keep the 5 precepts.
samādhi (calmness of mind, 'concentration') & paññā (wisdom)
Concentration & Wisdom come from meditation and practice of mindfulness. See answer from Sankha.