Recently I have been soul-searching and looking for a missing spiritual aspect of my life.
In my caseI couldn't believe that Christian doctrine is the only truth, and with my father's help I began to read the (translated) texts and descriptions of other religions.
I found others good in their own way. Buddhism seemed perhaps unusually among the sanest, complete and with the least fanciful premises (like, "God says"), which appealed to my sense of logic -- its axioms being humane and conventional.
A lot of the books I found were people writing about Buddhism, rather than Buddhist canonical texts themselves. One (famous) canonical text is the Dhammapada. That may be a good introduction. It may be even better as a summary or conclusion, after you get the doctrine in more detail from another source.
This site was started about a month before my wife died, as it happens -- the first topics are currently on this page -- then I used this site to get started with studying it in more detail and with more certainty.
In my book, I find myself reading some of what Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says and then wanting to know more, but being at the mercy of what is said later in the book to explain it.
When I was about 12 I got a copy of the ARRL's Radio Amateur's Handbook from the library, which explained electronics and how to build and operate radios (using vacuum tubes or transistors). I read it and understood about 5% of it. I read it again, and understood a bit more this time ... and so on.
I don't know the book you're reading (i.e. Introduction to Buddhism by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso).
In my experience I find other Tibetan Buddhist books easier to read and understand than I used to, now that I know more about some of the earlier canonical texts of Buddhism. I suppose that some Tibetan Buddhist texts are by and for people who may already be Tibetan Buddhists! And so they're talking about and may presume you know something about doctrine, use vocabulary without defining it, etc.
I understand that there are several schools of Buddhism and that has added to my confusion. I think that my book is related to Mahayana, but I could be mistaken.
I think so yes -- but also no :-) in that someone once commented on this site, to the effect of, "Academics make the distinction (between different schools), but to us it's all one".
The canon of even one school is kind of vast (but that's so for anything, including e.g. "Christian literature").
Here's a map: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Buddhist_sects.png
One way to read this might be:
- There's Theravada and the rest (Mahayana)
- Mahayana may be subdivided into Eastern (Zen) and Northern (Tibetan)
- Each has its own history, people and places
This map ignores the modern world, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_in_the_West
I think the Buddha taught in about 450 BC, which was prehistory by definition i.e. the teachings were transmitted by oral tradition (and still are though they're also recorded in writing now).
I live in the Southern United States and so I have come up short on finding local resources.
I don't know, this might be useful:
Also I'll mention, one of the books I found interesting was The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity -- it's a summary of doctrine in the Pali suttas for laypeople, written by a bhikkhu in Texas
Bhikkhu Basnagoda Rahula, PhD, was born in Sri Lanka and became a Buddhist monk in childhood. He holds a Master's Degree in literature, and a doctorate in English. He serves the congregation at the Houston Buddhist Vihara, and teaches English at the University of Houston. He lives in Texas.
Being "for laypeople" it's both more and less interesting than other anthologies, he is in Texas and a teacher.
One of the issues is that all the canonical literature is non-English-language, so reliant on translators. That's more-or-less true of the Christian canon too though, so maybe that's not a big issue.
How can I study more Dharma teachings?
Maybe any of several ways:
- Read books
- Watch dhamma talks on video
- Talk with Buddhists, listen to them in person
- Ask questions (perhaps on this site) about topics you don't understand
Re. how I studied it, when this site started I was out in the French countryside. I'd read "introductions", I wanted to read some "canon", the suttas including the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, and so I asked these questions which people kindly answered for me:
I won't try to list all similar topics on this site, perhaps there are many, here's one at random:
There are several topics where people ask for book recommendations: see books.
are there books specifically for Dharma teachings from Buddha in one book?
I've seen people recommend What the Buddha Taught (by Ven. Walpola Rahula):
I have tried in this little book to address myself first of all to the
educated and intelligent general reader, uninstructed in the
subject, who would like to know what the Buddha actually
Its first four chapters introduce the four noble truths, and so on.
There's also In the Buddha's Words, edited and introduced by Bhikkhu Bodhi. This is mostly translated extracts from the suttas themselves, sorted by topic.
The book I mentioned previously i.e. The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity is not so famous as these -- it consists of paraphrased (in the author's words), not translated, extracts from the suttas.
The book mentions offerings on occasion. I'm unsure of what this means exactly or how to make offerings.
I don't know that book, nor Tibetan doctrines.
One meaning is that Buddhist monks and nuns don't own money. They subsist by laypeople giving them 'requisites' e.g. (daily) food and (occasionally) robes.
The word is Dāna -- knowing the word for it lets you "study" or read about it e.g. https://www.google.com/search?q=buddhist+dana -- conversely many of the topics on this site are questions about the meaning of a word like this one.
I assume there's a different, Tibetan word for it.
Personally, i.e. what it means to me, is I'm quite taken with this sutta:
Kimattha Sutta: What is the Purpose? (AN 11.1)
I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi in Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's monastery. Then Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: "What is the purpose of skillful virtues? What is their reward?"
"Skillful virtues have freedom from remorse as their purpose, Ananda, and freedom from remorse as their reward."
"And what is the purpose of freedom from remorse? What is its reward?"
"Freedom from remorse has joy as its purpose, joy as its reward."
"And what is the purpose of joy? What is its reward?"
There have been sometimes in my life when I was "generous" or gift-giving, and which I absolutely don't regret: i.e. for which I feel "no remorse".
Can you take refuge alone?
Yes and no? You said earlier, in the OP,
There seems to be discourse on whether or not this is something that can be done alone or needs to be done at an official venue.
I guess my feeling is that, the way it worked originally (as described in the suttas) was that
The Buddha (or someone else) would say something to someone
The person would hear and reply like, Magnificent!, for example:
Magnificent, Master Kaccana! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has Master Kaccana — through many lines of reasoning — made the Dhamma clear. I go to Master Gotama for refuge, to the Dhamma, & to the community of monks. May Master Kaccana remember me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge from this day forward, for life.
I feel that saying "I go for refuge" isn't it, their saying it is an expression of their already having gone for refuge or taken refuge, on hearing the Dhamma.
Assuming further that it's the Dhamma that's important (SN 22.87) then perhaps you can "hear" that when alone e.g. from a book as well as (perhaps even better than) "at an official venue".
On the other hand many suttas say (e.g. in SN 45.2 for monks and DN 31 for laypeople) that companions are important, role-models, teachers -- to that extent it could be impractical to "do alone".
Perhaps the "ritualistic" aspect of an "official venue" isn't what's important (or perhaps that's just my ill-informed opinion).
If you do something against the five precepts, do you repent? Or do you just continue living up to the five precepts as well as you can.
Yes both, what's the difference, why do you say "or" as if it's one or the other?
I think that "repent" means "recognise unfortunate consequences of misbehaviour and resolve to avoid it in future".
Is the Buddhist stack exchange part of Sangha?
Ah. Correct me if I'm wrong, I think the word "Sangha" has three meanings:
- It's the community of monastics, the ordained monks and nuns
- The "Ariya Sangha" is the enlightened or semi-enlightened community (perhaps analogous to "the community of Saints" in Christianity)
- More broadly it's sometimes used to mean "all Buddhists"
I'd say that the Buddhist stack exchange is, not part of the Sangha. Some of the people who post or who have posted here, and/or who agreed it would be good to start this site, are.