Buddhism has been evolving dramatically since Buddha created it. Somehow it spawned into many different 'sects' across the world. There are numerous sutra and books on Buddhism. As a beginner, it's really hard to know what to start, but I had a feeling that I need to understand the original dogma/meaning of Buddhism when it was invented. However I heard that most sutra were written by Buddha's disciples, or disciples' disciples, or even laymen; Some of the recordings are contradict each other when interpreting Buddha's true meaning; Some original meaning was lost or probably altered since then.

Anyone has suggestion how I should start and what to read?


11 Answers 11


I like The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh as a beginning book on the core of the Buddhist teaching. It is well written and modern in style, and covers essentials such as the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path as well as slightly deeper topics. It will give you a grounding and a place from which to appreciate the sutra's.

There are various web based repositories of sutra's which you can explore, I found http://www.accesstoinsight.org to be pleasant and good. The book includes many references to sutra's which you can look up online.

One thing to be aware of in Buddhism is that the different schools hold differing opinions on the words of the Buddha. There is a doctrine called the Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma, which sets out the Mahayana view on the Buddha's teaching, while the Theravadan view is that the Pali Cannon which constitutes much of the Mahayana tradition's First Turning is authoritative by itself.

The Tibetan tradition has composed a series of texts called lamrims, of which there have been many following on from Atiśa's 11th-century original text A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. These aspire to order the sutra's in a logical order of progression for actual practice.


The Pali scriptures are mostly consistent; without contradiction. The primary themes are non-harming (morality), non-sensual happiness (concentration) & non-attachment (wisdom).

However, there are certainly some notable contradictions in them (for example, the Maha-Nidana Sutta), which I speculate were later attempts to introduce ideas about 'reincarnation' into the scriptures so a 'social religion' attracting a broader audience could be developed.

I would speculate this ultimately lead to the demise of Buddhism in India, making Buddhism indifferentiatible from Hinduism.

The foundation for a proper understanding of the Pali teachings is to embrace the principle that is chanted everyday in Theravada Buddhist countries about the Dhamma or Teachings, namely:

Svākkhāto Bhagavatā dhammo, sandiṭṭhiko, akāliko, ehipassiko, opaneyyiko paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhī ’ti.

Well taught is the Dhamma of the Blessed One, visible here and now, not involving time, inviting investigation, leading onwards, to be experienced by the wise.

If a doctrine is believed or adhered to that cannot be experienced in the here & now by an ordinary mind, this is not the original doctrine.

Therefore, any translations of the Pali Canon that do not make sense to the ordinary reader are not the original doctrine (since the Dhamma is 'well taught', plain & straightforward, as stated in the scriptures).

The greatest problem is that of language & translations. There are many crucial translated words, such as 'birth', 'death', 'cessation', 'body', etc, which are interpreted in ways that result in not being able to experience the interpretation in the here & now.

Fortunately, all of these crucial words are well-defined in the scriptures therefore those searching for a meaning that can be 'experienced in the here-&-now' can find it.

If you want to read something for beginners that accords with my explanation above, these links:

Two Kinds of Language

Buddha-Dhamma For Students

  • 1
    That's great input. I found the links are much useful. Last question: should I learn Pali or Sanskrit for Buddhism study? I asked several of my India friends, who told that even in nowadays India, not too many people can actually read and write in Sanskrit. Pali is kind a ancient language and now is only taught in advanced academy.
    – Dave Hwang
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 6:12

What Original Buddhist Sources say is very true.

”The Dhamma possesses multiple forms and levels. It is incumbent upon the interpreter to seek the internal coherence and consistency within a text in order to understand it. If the method of interpretation must be based on the inherent structure and intention of the Dhamma, interpretation must mirror the Dhamma itself. This means, for instance, that any interpretation that contradicts the three marks of existence (that is, all life is suffering, everything is impermanent, and non-self) is incorrect. The nature of the Dhamma necessarily requires interpreting the Dhamma in terms of itself. This suggests that the Buddha becomes the interpreter of his own teachings. More specifically, the meaning of the Dhamma points to the purpose or goal of Nibbana, and demonstrates the way that the teaching is interrelated with other parts.”

If you have an interest in learning the Dhamma, start with the Majjhima Nikaya. Reading Faithfully Building a relationship with the suttas tells you why.

If you are interested in building a Sutta Library go to this link. It gives a list of Cannonical Collections, Sutta Anthologies, and Sources. Use this list to build a basic collection of the discourses of Gotama Buddha that is readable, accurate, and nearly complete. Use this list to build a basic collection of the discourses of Buddha.


First, your use of the term dogma indicates a profound ignorance of Buddhism. As Alan Watts (an adherent of the Zen Buddhist school(NOT sect http://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/sect-and-sects-etymology-and-meaning ) said, Buddhism is the religion of no religion. Buddhism shares a lot in common with clinical psychology. You learn best by direct face to face contact with a competent teacher. Rather than waste a lot of time trying to understand on your own with your head(left brain , language, analytic) I suggest you would benefit most from direct contact with a Buddhist teacher. Finding the right one for you is a lot like finding a potential mate or a clinical psychologist. I hope I haven't discouraged you by my blunt reference to your ignorance. A really good teacher is like a good psychotherapist who will be able to reach you where you are at now and help you on your self learning process. Buddhism is not dogma but a tool box for self exploration. The different schools vary on whether enlightenment is slow or sudden or another difference is how to understand consciousness(Madhyamika vs Yogacara). There is almost universal agreement on the non-concept of emptiness(Pure Land Buddhism is a school that abdicates responsibility of learning or teaching emptiness and instead advocates a life of chanting Amitabha Buddha in order to be reborn into a Pure Land similar to Christians' concept of heaven). A koan of sorts, for me, was the question "What is the difference between death and transformation?". A serious practice of Buddhism leads to a shedding of the false ego that might be perceived by the ego as no different than death but in actual fact it is through ego death that you can really begin to live life fully. Not only that, it is a lot more fun, kinda like what Tom Robbins says that it is never too late to have a happy childhood. Have fun!!! Oh, BTW, all I have said is a gross oversimplification and therefore false(partially). It is up to you to take responsibility for your search for truth. In this respect it might be worth your while to read the very short Kalama Sutta ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalama_Sutta ). As usual, Wikipedia is where you begin to search, not the end of your exploration. If you do a search on "find a good Buddhist teacher" (with or without the quotes) you should be able to find some good tips on locating a teacher.

  • Thanks Charlie for pointing out the wrong words :) If dogma is not a proper word, can I use doctrine? (guess no... as you said it's religion of no religion); Should I say Buddhism is a kind of way of living, like Hinduism?
    – Dave Hwang
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 6:17
  • Hi Dave, As I already mentioned,Buddhism is about finding a way to live, not a logical dissertation to justify one's choices. That said, it is true that there are incredibly complex arguments to defeat any attempts to do otherwise(than finding the Middle Way). Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika ( aaari.info/notes/03-06-06Tam2.pdf ) is like reading a graduate level text in logic. The aforementioned pdf is supplemented by Jay Garfield's excellent book "The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā" ISBN : 978-0195093360. Much more to say but only 1 chars left.
    – Charlie_Oh
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 21:43
  • May I suggest a better book, as Garfield massively complicates the issues. It is 'The Sun of Wisdom' by Kenpo Tsultrim Gyamptso. In passing I would also reiterate Kerome's note about the 'Three Turnings'. It would be necessary to understand this, and the reason for it, in order to disentangle the teachings. .
    – user14119
    Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 12:01
  • I was not aware of "The Sun of Wisdom" publication. It does look like it would be better than Jay Garfield's book which is a tough slog. BTW I have been recently advocating Iain McGilchrist and Alan Schore on the importance of right brain functionality. Alan Schore came out with two books this year on right brain psychotherapy allanschore.com and an ultra quick intro to the subject is youtube.com/watch?v=dFs9WO2B8uI RSA ANIMATE: The Divided Brain. I see their work as a major bridge between Asian philosophy(eg Buddhism) and Western Science.
    – Charlie_Oh
    Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 2:08

Buddhism has evolved indeed ever since it was created by Buddha Sakyamuni. Traditional Buddhism is the teachings of the Buddha who taught us the truth of life and the universe, and taught us how to acquire the ultimate and perfect wisdom that all of us sentient beings innately possess. This is the goal of Buddhism--to enable sentient beings to attain this same self-nature Buddhahood level of wisdom. In essence, Buddhism is an education of wisdom.

To better understand the Buddhist original dogma, one may start with reading the following 5 key guidelines that serve as the crucial foundation for practice:

  1. The Three Conditions

  2. The Six Principles of Harmony

  3. The Three Learnings

  4. The Six Paramitas

  5. The Ten Great Vows

More importantly, Buddhist practitioners strive to sever all afflictions and try to develop a pure and quiet heart. This is the first step in learning Buddhism. Once developed a pure and quiet mind and have attained wisdom, we learn to remain unmoved by surroundings which will enhance our deep concentration. Developing a clear and understanding mind will enhance wisdom.

In regards to the various sects of Buddhism around the world, they are all spawned from the teachings of Buddha Sakyamuni that arose from the self-nature. All methods are thus equal. Practitioners should choose a method that works well or suits himself or herself to focus in their daily lives. There is this one school, Pure Land Buddhism, that was particularly mentioned numerous times by the Buddha in various sutras throughout his teachings. The Buddha encouraged all in the Dharma-Ending Age (our present days) to understand and learn the Pure Land practice of Buddha-name Chanting (Chanting of "Namo Amitabha Buddha"). This would seem the most suitable for the majority of us for several reasons.

First, Buddha-name Chanting is relatively easy to practice in almost any environment: alone, with other practitioners, or even amid the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Second, there are no difficult prerequisites of one's capabilities. Even if one's abilities and knowledge are modest, one can achieve with belief, vows, and practice, and one will be reborn in the Pure Land at the end of one's lifetime. Therefore, the practice of Buddha-name Chanting is highly recommended for all of us to give it a try.

For more info on the Pure Land School, the Pure Land principles page explained well about the meaning of Amitabha, what the Western Pure Land is and why Amitabha Buddha created it.


There are different schools of Buddhism but virtually all subscribe to some notion of emptiness which Zen practitioners often refer to as "no mind" or "beginner's mind" and is echoed in Christianity in words ascribed to Christ as "unless you become as little children you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven" )http://biblehub.com/matthew/18-3.htm). Incidentally the capper follow up to that is "The kingdom of heaven is within you" ( http://biblehub.com/luke/17-21.htm ). Almost all religions mention the notion of transformation within but Buddhism is the only philosophy(I prefer to refer to Buddhism as a philosophy because it insists that you diligently verify all its claims yourself much in the spirit of philosophy.) that centers focus on self transformation in a practical how-to fashion. Buddhism is unlike almost all religions which insist you take most of their credo "on faith" until you die and then all will be revealed. Some of their credo is downright silly like virgin birth and walking on water. Buddhism does have some very hard to verify beliefs like rebirth. There has been a lot of work recently on near death experience(Pim van Lommel http://www.pimvanlommel.nl/home_eng ) and the earlier work of Ian Stevenson ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Stevenson ) on memories of prior lives(mostly among pre-school children). Stephen Batchelor says it is possible to be a "good Buddhist" while disavowing rebirth. The jury is out for me personally. I will need a bit more data in terms of tightly controlled studies. A note, the American Asociation for the Advancement of Science(AAAS) has the Parapsychological Association ( http://www.parapsych.org/home.aspx )as an associate organization. Conventional science is beginning to abandon the view that ultimate reality is mechanistic materialism. My personal focus is to work at a joining of East and West and I see the scientific study of consciousness as the first big step in that direction. Finally, as respects Hinduism, I was a student of Hinduism for a number of years(primarily Sri Aurobindo, whom I still venerate). Sri Aurobindo wrote "A Synthesis of Yoga" where he advocated that all kinds of Yoga(Hatha, Karma, Bhakti, Raja and Jnana) be united in a single practice with the proviso that Jnana should be avoided by all except those with an exceptional intellect (Nagarjuna would be an example of Buddhist Jnana Yoga). Sri Aurobindo taught Advaita Vedanta Hinduism which is nearly identical with Buddhism. So, finally, at the risk sounding like a broken record, Buddhism is about self transformation by non-attachment to all mental and material phenomena (to become as a little child or to have a beginner's mind). Buddhism can help you put your left brain analytical self in its proper role as a help in understanding conventional thought(each age has its own flavor..humans were once convinced that the Earth was flat and the center of the universe where all else revolves around the Earth). Giordano Bruno ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno ) advocated a remarkably modern view that resulted in the Catholic Church burning him at the stake. Buddhism always advocates that any and all mental constructs are provisional and NEVER final. In other words, the Buddhist claim is that there will never be a final theory of everything. The analytical mind is very useful in navigating through the conventional reality du jour but it is of paramount importance to keep in mind "this too shall pass", That is the Buddhist "doctrine" of impermanence (Buddhists also say that emptiness is empty). The study and practice of Buddhism has the potential to afford you the grandest adventure of any life you might hope for. A last note, my guess is that you might like to try Sokkai Gakkai International ( http://www.sgi.org/ ) it starts as a very simple practice of chanting and allows you to progress at your own pace. Many people consider it to be a cult but I have investigated it thoroughly and it is most definitely NOT a cult. It is true that there are a lot of ex-Catholics and ex-Mormons (I believe it is true that both the Catholic Church and the Church of LDS are most definitely cults(an organization whose leadership have direct contact with God and therefore are infallible)) members who fan the flames of the cult of personality surrounding Daisaku Ikeda. Regrettably there is a widespread cult of personality within the SGI surrounding Daisaku Ikeda but he disavows any association with such attitudes. The nice thing about SGI is that it is the fastest growing Buddhist group in the history of Buddhism and is spread widely on demographics factors( income, education, race, ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ, etc). Obviously, I respect your right to decide for yourself, but a word of warning, there are many practitioners of Buddhism who get all wrapped up in the intellectual side of Buddhism and fail to understand it is all about having a genuinely happy and joyful life. It was that tendency that led to a Daoist critique of Buddhism ( http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/daoism/ ). So follow your genuine concerns and maybe you will find a home in Buddhism. I have many homes, myself. There are versions of many of the great faiths (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Jainism, and Hinduism) that I call home but Buddhism and Daoism are the most homely for me.


Can start with teachings generally presented by Tathagata to his students and pondering the implications.

The general presentated part of the Dhamma is something like this; 'All things are impermanent. What is impermanent is subject to change, what is subject to change is unreliable; is to be parted with and is to that extent stressful and unfit to regard as me, mine or myself.'

When you have an idea of what has been said you examine those teachings to see if it is agreeable and keep developing your understanding in detail.

In general one should be extremely skeptical to any teacher and not take their word for things until you know how their understanding was formed; is it based on commentaries; is it a personal interpretation based on views; what are the subjects of controversy regarding those teachings etc. In general you will want to become skilled at discerning wrong views and not become fixated in wrong view.

In general a well learned person who has done his work in regards to this is incredibly hard to find.


Though may sects agree, the core teaching attributed the Buddha are the same. E.g. the Theravada Suttas and Mahayana Agamas are nearly the same.

In the Theravada tradition also there are many Tripitakas which are near identical.

So the original teachings at large are still well preserved.

Anyone has suggestion how I should start and what to read?

To learn about the philosophy you can start with In The Buddha's Words by Bhikkhu Bodhi. To learn the praticle aspects you can try a course:


For a classic introduction to the Buddha's teachings, I recommend the book "What the Buddha Taught" by Walpola Rahula. You can find the PDF version here. There is also a very short collection of the suttas at the back of the book.

The ebook "Without and Within" by Ajahn Jayasaro, available in PDF and epub formats, is 127-pages long and is meant to be a collection of questions and answers on Buddhism for beginners.

I think these sources should suffice as a closest introduction to the original teachings and "dogma" of the Buddha.


Start with original Theravada suttas. You can find them on accesstinsight. Use a good dictionary in your studies and go through all the terms, until you're perfectly clear about the meaning of the suttas. This part of the studies is called duplication. Before you can even start to understand the suttas, you must have in your mind a perfect duplication of the original material. To do that, you must duplicate the original meaning of the suttas. This is only possible with the use of good dictionary.

Once you complete duplication, you can start to understand them. In this process of understanding you make connections between all the concepts of Theravada suttas. Now things are getting exciting because you're getting the understanding of the original disciples of Buddha!

The end of the process of understanding is marked by having a complete working mental model of the original suttas. Now the contemplation follows. In contemplation, you admire the beauty of riginal teachings of Buddha. After prolonged contemplation follows the realization of the original teachings of Buddha. This means you become Buddha.


Dwight Goddard's a Buddhist bible is a free download on the app store. 3 pillars of Zen is really good. Sutra and "dogmatic" structure will get you a feel for it. A book about knights of the round table isn't the same as dying of smallpox. Sometimes a Roshi makes it work. Sometimes visiting temples. Zanzen meditation was a must for me and took years. It's also what worked for Buddha. That's the point. The schools are trying to teach what Buddha found but it's not recorded in words. It's definitely there because how could there be so much life devoted to obtaining. Once you have it what will you do with it?

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