Thursday, July 10, 2008

Buddhism by Numbers

Mapping the Dharma: A Concise Guide
By Nancy Haught

Twenty-five centuries ago, the Buddha taught with lists. The Four Noble Truths. The Five Precepts. The Noble Eightfold Path. These numbered lists helped followers memorize and pass along his teachings orally for about 500 years before they were written down.
For the curious observer, a beginning Buddhist, or even an experienced one such as Paul Gerhards of Vancouver, Washington, the myriad lists often are confusing. Gerhards has practiced Buddhism for 12 years but still struggles to remember every concept on most of the lists and how one relates to another.He began to chart and list key parts of the Buddha's teachings, called the Dharma -- the Three Characteristics of Existence, the Seven Factors for Awakening, and so on. He kept his lists on a computer file he called "Buddhism by the Numbers."
Eventually, he printed them out and drew arrows to show related teachings. He says it helped. Now Gerhards, 57, wants to help others follow the Buddha's path. He's printed his chart as a thin paperback titled Mapping the Dharma: A Concise Guide to the Middle Way of the Buddha. Here's the story of his book, told in lists:
Six ways the book sheds light
1. Opens with a brief introduction to Buddhism.
2. Eases the sluggish mind that can't recall all Ten Perfections.
3. Shows how The Three Fires (greed, hatred, and delusion) connect to the Four Noble Truths (suffering, its cause, the end of it, and how to achieve that).
4. Uses terms from both of Buddhism's first languages, Sanskrit and Pali. What's called wisdom in one language may be called discernment in another, Gerhards says. A glossary defines key Buddhist terms.
5. Borrows from a popular book of street maps, with related page numbers printed at the top and bottom of each page. Go to those pages to see more of the big picture.
6. Fills in the gaps in an individual's practice. Buddhist teachings may read like step-by-step directions to enlightenment, but for most people they don't unfold that way.
Four qualifications of the author
1. An encounter with the concept of karma, the law of cause and effect, started him on the Buddhist path in 1996. He's since practiced with several groups.
2. He studies Theravada Buddhism, with its roots in Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. But the book focuses on Buddhist fundamentals that apply to all traditions.
3. He's written six woodworking books, specializing in the design and building of furniture, so diagrams are second nature to him.
4. He's lives and breathes connections. He teaches anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology at the Oregon School of Massage.
Three incarnations of the book
1. A lush, illuminated coffee table book. Gerhards dismissed that idea as too expensive to print.
2. A large, fold-out map that might fit in a pocket. That's a possibility if there's a second edition.
3. Published by Parami Press, $15.95, 114 pages. Parami is Pali for "perfection," a goal to strive for, says Gerhards, who owns the press.
Two stages of the book
1. Gerhards spent a year compiling the content.
2. He spent a year reviewing and revising it with Buddhist teachers. One thing to keep in mind is, "The Buddha said that a map is not the territory," Gerhards says. "It's merely a tool of discovery."
Original review appeared in The Oregonian (June 28, 2008) under the title Searching for Buddha by Blueprint.

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