Tuesday, July 1, 2014

How to enter Buddhism

Ashley Wells, CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly; Bhikkhu Khantipalo (Sydney, Australia), Lay Buddhist Practice: The Shrine Room, Uposatha Day, Rains Residence (BPS.lk/Access to Insight.org)
If one were to read only one book on Buddhism, it might be What the Buddha Taught
The Big Buddha, Lantau Island, Hong Kong, China (Clicksnap/flickr.com)
I just want Truth! Me, too! Me, too!
What can a lay Western Buddhist can do even though home is far from Buddhist lands, temples, and societies?
There are various daily and periodic events on the Buddhist calendar. But which items can be practiced by lay Buddhists without access to monastics, monasteries, temples, relic shrines (stupas), and so on?
Out of the rich traditions available in Buddhist countries, let's look at only three: the daily service chanted in honor of the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha) with some recollections and meditation; the lunar observance (uposatha) days with the Eight Precepts; and the Rains-Residence period of three months intensive practice. What is important is having some daily Dharma-practice.
Even where isolated Buddhists are fortunate enough to be near some Buddhist center, they will still benefit from these Buddhist practices, all of which are based on similar methods used in the East.
Meditation is hard to begin in isolation because there are many hindrances and sharks around, subtle and overt dangers to derail one's sincere efforts (National Geographic).
These days there are many books on Buddhism, some reliable, some speculative, so that a Buddhist living in a country where the religion is newly introduced is likely to have some difficulty in discerning what is really the teaching of the Buddha.

However, this difficulty can be overcome by the study of the original sources, the Pali canon. Of course, if the student can gain the help of some well learned and practiced Buddhist, one will understand Dharma more quickly and thoroughly.
One will also be able to practice more easily. For it is a great difficulty, even if one has a good acquaintance with the sutras (the discourses of the Buddha), to know how to practice their teaching.

Finding the heart of wisdom (Horus2004)
This is more a problem for Buddhists who have to acquire all of their knowledge of the Dharma from books. One hears people like this say, "I am a Buddhist, but what should I practice?" [Buddhism is a practice, not a "belief" system.]

Is it enough to answer this question with more or less abstract categories, saying for instance, "Well, I can practice the Noble Eightfold Path!"?

Journey to the Buddha (Cliksnap)
After all, what does it mean to practice it, and how? It is not easy to practice the Dharma in an alien environment where Buddhist monastics, residences (temple-monasteries called viharas), and monuments containing relics (also called stupas, cetiyas, pagodas, or dagobas) are absent.

In Buddhist lands where these and other signs of the Dharma are to be seen, the lay person has many aids to practice and has access to help when difficulties arise.

But elsewhere the layperson must rely on books. Leaving aside those that are misleading (frequently written by Western people who have never thoroughly trained themselves in any Buddhist tradition), which even if the most authentic sources are studied, still tend to be selective of the materials available so that it is possible to get one-sided views.

We made it to the top (Clicksnap)
Now it can be a good corrective to stay in a Buddhist country for some time and get to know how things are done, but not everyone has the opportunity to do this. Here then let's touch upon a few common Buddhist practices being as general as possible so that descriptions are not peculiar to the Buddhist country I know best, Thailand, but may be common to many Buddhist traditions:

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