I am not entirely new to Buddhism, but I am new to it from a perspective of an academic path. I have an academic background in another field (Ph.d level) and where I live there is zero buddhists within a 100 miles of the theravada tradition which interest me both. I have begun a practice in insight and concentration meditation, but my skill is relatively weak. While I am building up my practice I wish to study the theoretical background of the Theravada system. I have access to many of the major treatises of the Pali canon, but since none of this is organized in a linear fashion it is quite a complicated matter to dig into these texts. Where should one begin, so far I pick up a book on the Noble eightfold path by Bikkhu Bodi, and its great but I am finding myself stopping frequently to look up many of the topics there in this little text alone. Is there anything straight forward, linear that deals with the theoretical topics for a beginner who wishes to expand into a higher level understanding? Thank You, jwe
For a classic introduction to the Buddha's teachings, I recommend the book "What the Buddha Taught" by Ven. Walpola Rahula. You can find the PDF version here. There is also a very short collection of suttas at the back of the book.
The ebook "Without and Within" by Ven. 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.
Both of these authors are monks in the Theravada tradition.
Other topics (with answers) on this site:
- Introductory books to Buddhism
- Chronological or other sequence for beginners
- What are the Core Teachings of Buddhism?
- Looking for a book that covers the biography of the Buddha's life
- Recommendation - Book for beginner
- Getting Started
- Starting Buddhism
- Recommendation for Suttas
- Can anyone give me a suggestion of a good monk to learn Buddhism?
- Introductory/Beginner books on Buddhism, but for children
where I live there is zero buddhists within a 100 miles of the theravada tradition which interest me both
Well, the pandemic changes everything. Even folks within close physical distance of any community no longer interact physically, but already switched to virtual interactions. The upside is everyone, even one living Antarctica could pick any Buddhist lineage of his interest and start practicing with good support from virtual Sanghas and various resources.
I have access to many of the major treatises of the Pali canon, but since none of this is organized in a linear fashion it is quite a complicated matter to dig into these texts.
Ven. Bodhi wrote his book "In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon" to address many common issues, including the systematic suttas orginization issue mentioned above. Definitely recommend this book if you haven't owned one. Also take advantage of the many high quality Dhamma web sites out there, like accesstoinsight.org, suttacentral.net, budsas.org/ebud/ebidx.htm, etc..
The is no health way to learn the walk without a teacher (who walk, walked), good householder. And it's because people are different in their Kamma, thinking. A book can not point out good householders defilments, so a worldling could not as well. Good to seek refuge at first place. No refuge in the Gems, no relation, no success, like most googlers.
'Theravada' is not necessarily the Buddha's Teaching. For example, the Buddha never used the term 'Theravada'. 'Theravada' is the 'Doctrine of the (self-proclaimed) Elders' rather than the Doctrine of the Buddha. I suppose 'Theravada', a doctrine created by later-day high priests, could be compared to 'Catholicism'.
One can make Theravada very complicated because Theravada is very complicated, namely:
the Suttas (purported words of the Buddha) contain two types of Dhamma (mundane & supramundane);
inserted at a later time into the Suttas is a dodgy commentary called The Patisambhidamagga
the later-day Abhidhamma, particularly in its Sacca Vibhanga and Paṭiccasamuppāda Vibhaṅga, including with reference to The Patisambhidamagga, at times crucially revised/changes the meaning of certain Sutta teachings;
these Abhidhamma changes, including novel terminology created in The Patisambhidamagga (such as 'patisandhi-vinnana', 'kamma-bhava' and 'upapatti-bhava'), find their way into Theravada Commentaries, including the famed Visuddhimagga, which the major translators, such as Bhikkhu Bodhi, follow.
In short, Theravada is largely a doctrine of the Abhidhamma and Commentaries rather than implicitly the doctrine of the Buddha.
For example, the Suttas (DN 1; Iti 149; etc) define the word 'annihilationism' to mean 'the view a self or real being dies at death'. Yet the Theravdada Commentaries say 'annihilationism' is the view there is no 'rebirth' or 'reincarnation' after death.
For example, the Suttas say the arising of suffering is when craving leads to new becoming. But the Sacca Vibhanga of the Abhidhamma says craving alone is the arising of suffering.
In short, one can simply read in the Paṭiccasamuppāda Vibhaṅga how the Abhidhamma itself lists the definitions of terms found in the Suttas then, later, brazenly & shamelessly gives its own meaning to the very same terms, calling this 'The Section Derived from the Abstract Teaching'.
If you wish to study convoluted Theravada, simply study Theravada gurus, such as Bhikkhu Bodhi.