I'm 22 years old and have been interested in Buddhism for a long time and consider myself Buddhist. I meditate 2 or 3 times a week and have read a few books on Buddhism. I am more interested in Theravada Buddhism and am not sure where to move forward from here. Should I read and study the Digha Nikaya? I should probably find a sangha near me and go to it, too. For starters, though, should I purchase and read the Digha Nikaya?
I would stick to the Majjhima Nikaya. The suttas are a bit shorter than the Diga and cover a very wide breadth of Buddhist concepts. In the past (and maybe even nowadays) it was usually the first text studied by new monks upon their ordination. Bhikkhu Bodhi did an incredible English translation that is amply footnoted (and yes, the notes are superstitious...but then again, the original texts were written 2,500 years ago. People believed different things back then.). Moreover, Bhikkhu Bodhi also did an indispensable introductory class series on the text which can be found here.
If you are interested in the teaching of the elders, you'd be hard pressed to find a better entry point.
"where to move forward from here" is actually all you need to fulfill the purpose of your quest, which is yourself, here and now, empty of conceiving, in the midst of profound objectivity and subjectivity.
To add to your experience by means of knowledge and study is merely a way to defer the simplest of insights from taking root in you. Experience alone is sovereign and complete, full and empty, blissfully replete, without implication.
This is already so, nothing further need be attained.
Consciousness confounds itself with ideation; as the separate self, ensconced in body, dwelling in a definable place, of the nature of time implying what is imagined of the past, the present, and the future. None of these are real or binding, they are apparitional.
So the question already has you convinced of that which is not true, and thus condemns you to find some remedy or path of action when there are none. This is cessation and nirvana, to see through the complex and richly adorned nature of samsaric implication, to be relieved of a codependent relationship with existence.
And here you are, thus relieved, no one possesses any knowledge that isn't yours already.
The starting point is Saddha. It is the first of the five Sekha Dhamma. What are these Sekha Dhamma? Saddha (Confidence), Hiri (shame), Ottappa (fear), Viriya (energy) and Panna (wisdom). A student of Dhamma would practise these five Sekha strengths. He would live in association with them. He would not abandon them. While cultivating the Sekha Dhammas he would then practise five types of meditation, once he gets a good grasp of the fundamentals of dhamma. All of us have six Indriyas. They are the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. In a true student of Dhamma, another five Indriyas arise and become strong. What are these five Indriyas? They are Saddha, Viriya, Sati, Samadhi and Panna. Such a person takes a lot of trouble, exerts immensely to live in Dhamma. For example in Chakku Sutta (Okkanthi Sanyutta – Sanyutta Nikaya.03) Buddha said:
“Oh monks, Eye is an impermanent object. A changing object. Something that transfers to another form. Ear is an impermanent object……. Nose…….. Tongue…….. Body……. Mind is an impermanent object. A changing object. Something that transfers to another form. Oh monks, if someone believes these principles in that way, gets immersed in Saddha he is referred to as Saddhanusari. He will not die until he attains the fruit of Sotapanna (the first stage on the path to deliverance)”
The Buddha has taught us the importance of Saddha. Saddha means having a pleasant mind towards, and confidence, in the Supreme Buddha. This confidence should be rooted (mulajata), and it should be well established (patitthita). To develop this kind of unshakeable confidence, it is important to know about the knowledge of The Buddha. By learning the Dhamma, The Buddha’s Teachings, we can learn about the knowledge of Tthe Buddha. The Noble Dhamma has a special quality. In Pali, it is ‘paññavantassa ayam dhammo; nayam dhammo duppaññassa’ which means, ‘this Dhamma is for the wise; not for the unwise’ (AN 8:30). If the listener is wise, then he will be able to cultivate a pleasant mind by hearing and learning the Dhamma. Therefore, when we talk about Saddha, confidence or pleasant mind, we are speaking about confidence in the knowledge of the Supreme Buddha.
Sometimes, it is useful to find your way by thinking all the way back from a certain point. Therefore:
Looking at aging, sorrow and death one has to find out what causes this. This can be understood by pratītyasamutpāda
Then to understand suffering, in its proper form, would be realizing the four noble truths. To understand this, one travels in the Noble Path which has eight components (note that its not a sequential path of 8 steps)
Reading Sutras to understand this would do good. You might also benefit from reading Sutras on Pancha upadanakkanda
I am more interested in Theravada Buddhism and am not sure where to move forward from here.
Buddhism does have some theory but this is about how to practice. As you lean do more and more meditation. A retreat at some point maybe valuable to boost your practice.
Should I read and study the Digha Nikaya?
Yes of course. But for starters the Middle Length Discourse may be more bite sized than the Long Disclosure.
I should probably find a sangha near me and go to it, too.
Yes why not. This is also a good idea.
For starters, though, should I purchase and read the Digha Nikaya?
If you want to. There are online resources also which might contain many of the Sutta.
In my opinion, after reading a few introductory books like Walpola Rahula's "What the Buddha Taught", one should start reading the Sutranga portion of the Samyutta Nikaya. It is the oldest part of the Pali canon. It is also the most systematic and comprehensive. If you want to find the original message of the Buddha, it is the place you should focus.
Now, what exactly is the Sutranga portion of SN? SN has in total 56 Samyuttas. The Taiwanese scholar monk Yin Shun has divided these 56 Samyuttas into three Angas: Sutra, Geya and Vyakarana. Sutra Anga was composed first, then Geya, and lastly Vyakarana. The other three major Nikayas, namely, Digha, Majjhima and Anguttara also fall under Vyakarana Anga. So you see, the Sutranga portion of the SN is the oldest part of the four Nikayas. Here is the list of Samyuttas that comprise the three Angas of SN:
Sutra: 12, 14, 22, 35, 36, 45-51, 54, 55, 56.
Geya: 1-11, 21.
Vyakarana: Rest 29 Samyuttas.
You can read SN from the excellent translation of Bhikkhu Bodhi though you will not find the Anga division there. You can find reference to the Anga division in Choong Mun-keat, "The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism" where the Sutranga portion of the SN is systematically compared with the corresponding Sutranga portion of the Chinese Samyukta Agama. This book can be of great help while you struggle with the numerous suttas of the Sutranga portion of SN.
Sounds like you've already started :)
Where to go from here:
- Have confidence in yourself
- Rejoice that you've set out on the spiritual path!
- Find a sangha or community of fellow spiritual friends
- But, don't worry about committing to any one community or tradition at first...
- Test out the various traditions and communities until you find the one for you...
- Once you do find what seems to be a good fit, rejoice!
- Test your understanding happily with dharma friends you make
- Work on abandoning non-virtuous habits of body, speech, and mind
If you are looking for good books to give a landscape of the Buddha's teachings and the various Buddhist traditions have a look here.
I personally would not recommend the Digha Nikaya because it is mostly a book of long-winded suttas, most of which were probably not spoken by the Buddha and was probably written at a later time for the purpose of propagating a hybrid form of Hindu-Buddhism to the general population at a time when Buddhism was attempting to expand its following. Scholar monks as diverse as the old Bhikkhu Buddhadasa and the new Bhikkhu Sujato have questioned & asserted the unauthenticity of much of the Digha Nikaya.
The Brahmajāla Sutta is a good & important sutta but its sounds more like a PhD dissertation than a sermon of the Buddha. The principles of the Brahmajāla Sutta are found throughout the other sutta collections.
The Mahaparinibbāna Sutta is good sutta story about the Buddha's last days.
The Sigalovada Sutta is a very important sutta about morality for laypeople.
Apart from those, in my opinion, most of the other Digha Nikaya suttas will lead you astray, being about creation stories & anti-Brahman rhetoric (see this topic), past Buddhas & other superstitious things. DN 15 (Mahanidana Sutta) is particularly bad, since it contradicts the many other suttas on Dependent Origination.
Generally, newcomers start with the Majjhima Nikaya and move on to the Samyutta Nikaya when serious. The scholar monk Bhikkhu Bodhi first translated the Majjhima, followed by the Samyutta. The small books of the Khuddaka Nikaya, such as the Dhammapada, Sutta Nipata, Udana and Itivuttaka are also popular & can be good for newcomers.
The Anguttara Nikaya is long, with many very good suttas but, similar to the Digha, has many suttas that seem composed with the aim of both debunking & converting Brahmans (Hindus).
Unfortunately, in the long run, all these Buddhist-Hindu suttas did was destroy Buddhism in India, making it the same as Hinduism & poisoning the pure teachings.
Bhikkhu Bodhi compiled a good selection from all of the suttas: "In the Buddha's Words". However, one must take care with Bhikkhu Bodhi's footnotes, which are often sectarian & superstitious.