Sunday, March 16, 2008

New to Buddhism?

If you are interested in learning about Buddhism, how do you begin? Most people begin by reading, and there's nothing wrong with this, especially if you know nothing about Buddhism. There is great benefit to learning the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold path, the Way of the Bodhisattva. One problem commonly arises with this method, however. Buddhism is not a noun; it's a verb.

I learning the following training from my teacher, Samu Sunim: Meditation is concentration; concentration is oneness; oneness is no self, no other; no self, no other is no birth, no death; no birth, no death is True Suchness. Our logical minds can only make sense of the first two of these trainings. But the last three transcend logic. The only way to understand these trainings is through practice. To be frank, the only way to truly grasp the first two is via practice as well -- while logic can give you a superficial understanding, Realization comes only from practice.

Treating the Buddhist teachings as philosophy, as a description of the way the world works, is a trap that many people fall into, and understandably so -- it's fun to philosophize and debate. But actual Buddhism is not like this. The Four Noble Truths are not to be taken as a description of the world. They are guides to practice. The Buddha once said that we should never accept a teaching based on the trust we hold in our teacher, or tradition, or mere logic. Rather, we should examine the teaching, practice it, and discover its truth for ourselves. Only then should we accept that teaching. Such is the only way to gain insight and wisdom. Remember: Buddhism is a verb!

So if you're new to Buddhism, what do you do? My recommendation is to go ahead and read a book or two -- you know you will anyway even if I were to tell you not to! :) And while you're reading, research the Buddhist temples in your area. Pay several of them a visit. There are many different types of Buddhism, with different emphases, and only by exploring different traditions can you find the one that best fits you as you are right now. Once you find a temple you like, begin to practice according to that tradition. Attend their services. Take their meditation classes. Go to their functions. Let this practice show you directly the value Buddhism holds for you.

Begin a daily meditation practice. Contemplate Buddhist ideas while on the train or bus. Train your mindfulness while you eat, cook, clean, shower, and garden. And see for yourself the truth of the trainings. Read more, if you like.

I suggest that of the time you spend on Buddhism, devote 80% to practice and 20% to study. Buddhism is a verb -- always ask yourself, "How can I put what I just read into practice?" "How can I realize the truth of this teaching for myself?"

Now, go meditate.