Buddhism 101

Posted by on Feb 26, 2013 in Buddhism | 594 Comments

Feeling overwhelmed when first getting interested in Buddhist ideas is a common problem.

We have 2500 years worth of Buddhist thought so far. There are currently an estimated 500 million Buddhists on the planet.

They’re not all as mouthy as me, but most of them have an opinion.

One of the downsides of there being no revealed text in Buddhism (no Bible, Qur’an or other ‘word of God’) is you get a lot of commentaries. And I mean a lot.

Even if you just limit yourself to the supposed word of the Buddha you have books and books filled with the stuff. Books and books and books.

Where *not* to start

I can remember my first attempts to engage with Buddhism. I got hold of a book on ‘Mahayana Buddhism’. I had no idea what that meant. After reading it I was pretty much none the wiser.

What the hell is a ‘skandha’ and why should I care?

Then later I decided I’d try to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, so I bought the White Lotus Sutra.

Talk about a bad place to start!

It’s a hugely important text (for example, ‘Nam-myoho-renge-kyo’ – one of the few Buddhist chants that have so far made it to Hollywood and therefore to the wider world – is in praise of that sutra).

But it does kind of make you think some of those early yogis experimented with psychedelics!

It’s a far-out read, for sure. But I didn’t end up knowing anything really about how to practice Buddhism.

Where to start

If I had to recommend one specific point of entry into all this Buddhist stuff, I’d say start where the Buddha started.

His first teaching after enlightenment was that of the Four Noble Truths.

The fourth truth is the Noble Eightfold Path.

That path, in itself, is a full path to awakening (apparently – I haven’t got to the end of it yet so I’m going on hearsay right now).

It’s not as easy as that though

You can get these teachings easily from one quick search on Google.

But you kind of need the context.

You need to know how Buddhists have extrapolated from these teachings to develop philosophical positions and practical tools and techniques.

And you need someone to help you see how it applies to contemporary life.

That’s the reason for this blog.

I try to keep it fairly ‘street level’. By that I don’t mean it’s overly simplistic, and I’m certainly not dumbing it down.

But my focus here is definitely to keep it relevant to everyday life for ordinary people. I make the assumption that you aren’t ordained into a Buddhist sangha and you aren’t well versed in the intricacies of Buddhist thought.

And you probably don’t want to be! You just want to grab the good stuff, apply it in your life, and get on with it. Leave it to Buddhist geeks like me to get into all the nitty gritty – life’s too short! :-)



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