Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Discuss your personal experience with the Dharma here. How has it enriched your life? What challenges does it present?

Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby Vasana » Sun Mar 16, 2014 10:04 am

Hello :smile:

I was wondering what advice or experience people had when introducing Buddhist concepts, Dharma to people who aren't familiar with it?

I'm not trying to 'convert' or recruit so to speak, but i have a bunch of friends and family members who i know who would be very receptive, but only if it was presented from an angle appropriate to them. As we know, Buddha taught according to the capacity's and different dispositions of people. I know a lot of people who i suspect might actually show aversion if they were to be presented with general overviews or 'just' the 4 noble truths etc. A lot of people don't want to consider the relationship between pain and pleasure right away.

So yeah...Please share any methods and experience which you have found successful in redirecting minds to the Dharma, whether directly, or incredibly subtle. Also feel free to share any methods or approaches which have been or may be unskillful too.
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby muni » Sun Mar 16, 2014 10:30 am

Remaining open minded oneself, and be able to listen. Ouch...okay try.

We can share what is useful for all: care to not harm ( is harming own being), all beings wish to be happy and to wish that all of them is increasing own happiness. We are not without eachother, we cannot be on ourselves (gives examples by daily life), patience and all good qualities which are liberating painful grasping to the dependent self. All this need no any buddhist term.

I think our own attitude is introducing more then thousands words.
Buddha taught according to the capacity's and different dispositions of people.

Therefore it is said to first purify/transcendent or whatever own obscurations ( cognetive-emotional) in order to can help.

:namaste:
Last edited by muni on Sun Mar 16, 2014 10:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby smcj » Sun Mar 16, 2014 10:40 am

There's a recent thread called "Harold Ramis' 5 Minute Buddhist". He was an actor, writer (he wrote "Groundhog Day"), director, and comedian, but evidently he was something of a Buddhist as well. He wrote a little booklet that had the major points in it. Use the search field at the top right to look for it.

Or you could just tell your friends that a Buddhist wrote "Groundhog Day" and to watch it.
A human being has his limits. And thus, in every conceivable way, with every possible means, he tries to make the teaching enter into his own limits. ChNN
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby kirtu » Sun Mar 16, 2014 11:46 am

You could say that Buddhism is a teaching to maximize lovingkindness and compassion, first in ones life and then throughout the universe.

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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby odysseus » Sun Mar 16, 2014 2:04 pm

Just a side note, there seems to be a lot of ignorance about Buddha. I just went on a forum for a special perceptual mental condition (which I thought I had) and posted a short, good (I think) introduction to insight meditation by Sayadaw (I did´nt mention Buddha). Someone thought it unhealthy, leading to stress/mania/insanity. And he comes across as a scientifically minded intelligent well-educated on pharmacology. I´ve met others also with a hostile attitude. Not sure if the mindfulness of western psychologists is the same as insight meditation, but I thought most people heard of Buddha and especially mindfulness which seems so popular nowadays. Even the US Army teaches "mind-fitness" now, based on mindfulness.

Sorry, this may be off-topic but I find it strange that modern, educated westerners not have a clue and are so close-minded even if they live in a quite liberal society. Perplexing, even if I don´t expect everybody to want to listen to anything. On the positive side, e.g. on amazon.com the reviewers of Buddha books are more tolerant even if they´re not Buddhists.

I totally agree that it´s best to be a living example yourself before you start to instruct others.
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby Knotty Veneer » Sun Mar 16, 2014 2:15 pm

Vasana wrote:
I was wondering what advice or experience people had when introducing Buddhist concepts, Dharma to people who aren't familiar with it?



Be the best Buddhist you can be. Set a good a example. I think it's better to pass on Buddhist principles - honesty, compassion, good-heartedness etc. - than to try to teach doctrines.
Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it - Mark Twain.
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby Vasana » Sun Mar 16, 2014 6:06 pm

muni wrote:frst purify/transcendent or whatever own obscurations ( cognetive-emotional) in order to can help.

Knotty Veneer wrote:
Vasana wrote:
I was wondering what advice or experience people had when introducing Buddhist concepts, Dharma to people who aren't familiar with it?


Be the best Buddhist you can be. Set a good a example. I think it's better to pass on Buddhist principles - honesty, compassion, good-heartedness etc. - than to try to teach doctrines.


Yes, this i am working on :smile:

I just get the feeling every now and then to buy a book as a gift for some people i know based on their personality and varying lifestyles but i know that the choice of book can act as a 'deal or no-deal' kind of situation for certain people which makes me hesitant.

Some examples; I know some people that would benefit more from hearing about certain schools/approaches than others, some people would maybe resonate more with books exploring Buddhist psychology in relation to the western/Jungian concept of the shadow and some people who might be more receptive to some of the more down to earth approaches from Chogyam Trungpa.Others may be more receptive in relation to neurobiology and I also know some people who may be more receptive to Dharma concepts which give no glue as to their origins being Buddhist or anything misconceived as 'spiritual'.

If i was to give one of these types of books, to a person who would resonate more with the other styles, you could see how it might potentially put them off, or possibly delay the fruition of Dharma within them.

I guess it's not something i shouldn't fret about anyway . The more familiarwe are with the teachings, the more discernment we'll have when it comes to skillfylly knowing what Dharma approaches to share and when to share them :buddha1:
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sun Mar 16, 2014 8:14 pm

So far, I just try to take note of resources (meaning practices, books, meetings, whatever) that don't necessarily reflect my interests, but would be great for some people. I keep a small list going.

As an example, I read TNH's The Heart of The Buddha's Teachings, I didn't like it all that much, but I am dead certain that a couple "Buddhish" people I know would really resonate with it as an "intro to Buddhist thought" sort of book. If I know someone can only approach from a mindset of "secularity", then I try to direct them to resources like IMS, etc..where I know the message will be within the confines of what they are comfortable.

I tend to wonder if trying to convert people to "Buddhism" is difficult, and probably inappropriate, whereas directing people to access to teachings in a genuine way isn't.

I've found that actual conversation about worldview is for me way more difficult than recommending resources..so I usually stick to recommendations of resources and try to avoid in depth discussions of philosophy, YMMV if you have the gift of gab, I don't.

One of the hardest questions is when people have asked me if Buddhism is a religion.. it's usually a VERY loaded question when people ask it, to a degree that answering it is a bit of a trap. I usually end up saying that they should just learn more about Buddhism and decide for themselves what it is. In some cases I think they just get annoyed, and in some I think it was a decent answer for them. You can also just ask them what they think a religion is, and base your answer on that.
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby JamyangTashi » Sun Mar 16, 2014 8:55 pm

Two methods that work well are being an example and helping to solve problems.

Through personal practice, others may notice that your behavior in difficult situations is admirable. This might lead them to wish to emulate or start asking about how you handle the situation. This provides an opportunity to explain a perspective on that exact situation in a way that teaches some useful bits of Buddhism without needing to ask them to read a book or take a high level overview of the Buddhist path.

When others encounter difficulties in their life, you may be in a position to offer advice. Offering advice directly related to their situation without putting it in heavily Buddhist terms is a way to share some of the Dharma with them in a gentle way.

Eventually, someone may notice a trend after one or both of the above situations has happened repeatedly. They may take an interest in a more complete understanding of where all this wisdom comes from. That is a good time to present them with books on Buddhism or start talking about high level concepts that are more abstract but help to put the teachings in context and understand the bigger picture.

Basically, just share what they're actually interested in hearing when they're interested in hearing it. Be aware of any impulse towards sharing what you're interested in saying when you're interested in saying it. Acting on such an impulse could be harmful to their long term development if it's not something they're interested in hearing at that moment.
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby bryandavis » Mon Mar 17, 2014 4:47 am

Here is how I introduced my grandmother when she saw a chenrezig pendant hanging in my car:

Grandmother: Is that Buddha? Are you some kine of Buddhist? (in a sarcastic aggressive tone)
Me: No, it's a Chinese Jesus. (anything with asian flair to her was chinese)
Grandmother: (tone now changed to happy and excited) Really? I did'nt know chinese had jesus?
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby lobster » Mon Mar 17, 2014 11:38 am

I like to ask questions such as 'do you know what the Buddha said about bicycles'. They get excited, then disappointed to hear bicycles had not been invented. Makes for a more receptive mind when something real is asked such as 'do you know what the Buddha said about [insert appropriate and relevant saying]. Being irrelevant or evangelical is not recommended. :twothumbsup:
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby bryandavis » Mon Mar 17, 2014 3:38 pm

I would assume that a person would engage us with a question wether general or specific rather than preaching randomly on dharma to a non buddhist. That being said I find saying this has been a good conversation starter "there are a lot things with in dharma that have really impacted and benefitted my life, I really feel a sense of contentment that I didn't feel or recognize before I put some teachings into practice. If you want I would be happy to talk about them...."

That is sort of my general opening when a person ask about dharma. It usually leads to either a short quickly ended talk or something that is continued in more depth.
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby listening james » Tue Mar 18, 2014 6:36 am

We can agree that there is love in this life. Each person has loved someone, something. And may be enjoying that feeling still. Or we remember or long for that feeling again. We love what is beloved to us and are, for the most part, indifferent to the the loves of others. Our love calls to us and all of us try, with all our hearts, to answer. There is only one night. It begins when the sun goes beyond the place we are standing. There is only one day that begins as the sun comes back to where we are. The Dharma is love calling to us through a thousand doors and windows, in a thousand different ways. As many as there are millions of different experiences in the night or day. All are happening within the one night or the one day. We agree that there is love in this life. Could all love be coming from one love? Like rain from a cloud, from an ocean from a stream. By such and such the Dharma is perceived.
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby steveb1 » Wed Mar 19, 2014 6:39 am

odysseus wrote: ...
... I find it strange that modern, educated westerners not have a clue and are so close-minded even if they live in a quite liberal society. ...


One problem of some educated, liberal societies and people is that they have an inherent bias toward materialism, reductionism ...and a type of humanism severely restricted by those very principles.

Anti-theism, anti-religiousness, anti-spirituality, are attitudes fostered and encouraged in some highly educated sectors, including the educative sector itself. An adolesecent, bellicose form of the "new" atheism is quite popular in "sophisticated" society today.

So it is not all that surprising that, in certain quarters, anything to do with the Spirit is being dismissed as false, archaic, outmoded, stupid and outright dangerous. It's become "the thing to do"; the "correct" way of thinking.

This is why contemplative schools and practices are looked askance at - they "smell" of forbidden mysticism, spritual transformation (with its insistence that spirit is real) ... and of course, "God" in any of His/Her/Its various forms. The materialist intellect is aghast with horror at such developments.

This is why, in these circles, meditation - at most - might be acceptable, if divorced from its spiritual roots - as a means of mindfulness and relaxation, but certainly not as a means of experiencing a (non-existent) Transcendent.

This is why religious and other non-ordinary experiences get reduced to brain activity. I once read a materialist's statement that mapping a religious experience via brainscan imagery actually shows us the religious experience itself. My counter, that the map is not the territory - that the scan shows only the neural correlates of the experience, but not the experience itself, which is by nature only seen and perceived by the experiencer him/herself - fell on deaf ears.

Hence, the Buddha, Bodhi, Nirvana, Samadi, Satori, Gnosis, Jesus, God, the Spirit, the soul, and a plethora of other ideas, conceptions, terms, and/or compendia of experiences of the religious or non-ordinary type, make many "educated" people uncomfortable, to the point of anger and vicious mockery. They (rightly) take such things to be flags, as signposts that point away from brains and material interactions, and toward the Transcendent - and therefore feel irritated, if not threatened, when others sincerely bring up such subjects.
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby muni » Wed Mar 19, 2014 9:05 am

listen and respect then interaction can flow in the same sky. Or on the same floor so to speak.
Buddhas’ teachings are not mundain teachings by a historical teacher/person. At least not so for me. Rather it are awakening medicines to see the clinging/suffering cause. A separation is clinging to other.
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby Nighthawk » Wed Mar 19, 2014 1:46 pm

Most of the time I've tried introducing Buddhism to love friends or loved ones has ended up in zero interest on their part. I'm not very slick with it.
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby steveb1 » Wed Mar 19, 2014 11:22 pm

I prefer to allow people to find out about my Buddhism (Jodo Shinshu) "just whenever" ... which amounts to ... very rarely. It's such a private thing to begin with. That, plus the fact that I have no observable practices and no public sangha (I'm a solitary practitioner), makes it a non-issue. It would only come up in a direct question about my religious orientation, or (say) in a discussion about the afterlife, in which, if asked, I would describe Shin's "afterlife in the Pure Land" as the ultimate confirmation and flowering of the devotee's aspiration to Buddhahood ... that, is explaining that the PL is not the Christian Heaven, but rather a state of spiritual transformation in which Amida's grace brings us into our Buddhahood. Other than the rare personal encounter with a questioner, my individual "wish to share" only goes as far as activity in my blog -

http://rennyo01.wordpress.com/category/jodo-shinshu/

How to "skillfully introduce" others to Shin is a delicate issue, because, as transcendent categories, the essential Shin traits, claims, and attributes almost inevitably seem somewhat outlandish to outsiders. I mean, "some guy in a universe long ago and far away made a promise (the Eighteenth Vow) that guarantees that all beings become Buddhas in his Pure Land ? ... Gee, that's a nice sentiment, but how could such a thing - one man's (Darmakara's) 'Good Will Wish' - be real and efficacious?"

This question welcomes an introductory explanation of the Mahayana with its Bodhisattva concept, and to the specific point, that Darmakara-Amida is not "just some guy", but a Bodhisattava - and that a Bodhisattva's vow and "working" are not comparable to the vows and working of ordinary human beings. It is therefore not a matter of a sacharrine fantasy of "what a beautiful wish-fulfilling fairy-tale about a very nice legendary man blessing all creation with his good wishes". Rather, it is a strong "credal" statement that affirms the cosmic effects of a Great Resolution - and the eons-long struggle for its fulfillment, undertaken by a devoted monk who became a Bodhisattva who became Amida Buddha - that has salvific effects that have rippled through the universe to this day ... and will continue to roll on, into the indefinite future.

Such clarifications are an ideal opportunity to introduce Mahayana concepts to questioners. The intent is to share and, of course, to give the questioner a courteous, accurate reply. Instant conversion - or conversion at all - is not the issue. The issue is to convey, as best one is able, the facts about the kind of Buddhism to which one adheres.
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby Alfredo » Wed Mar 19, 2014 11:35 pm

When they ask you what your religion is, tell them you're Buddhist. If they ask anything else, answer that the best you can. Any hint of "patter" or conversion talk will turn more people off than on.

(Bryan Davis, you are a living bodhisattva! I am so sharing this story! Everyone else--be like Bryan Davis!)

Johnny Dangerous:
One of the hardest questions is when people have asked me if Buddhism is a religion.. it's usually a VERY loaded question when people ask it, to a degree that answering it is a bit of a trap.


My short answer: Yes.
My longer answer: The meaning and scope of the term "religion" is now the subject of much debate. Our concept may be inappropriately generalized from the example of Christianity, and less applicable to cultures very far removed from the West. There are many social phenomena which seem to belong on the borderline. That said, Buddhism is one of those things which pretty much everybody agrees is a religion.

On another note, some people have recently begun distinguishing between "religion" and "spirituality." But the things they mean by "spirituality" seem to belong to the realm of religion.
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby Vajraprajnakhadga » Thu Mar 20, 2014 12:06 am

Oddly enough I tend to think one of the best introductions to Buddhism (or most other eastern traditions) for the western mind is the Tao Te Ching. I say this because it is, strictly speaking, a non-religious and non-dogmatic presentation of non-dual view. Most westerners greatly struggle with non-dual view which really isn't as big an issue for many easterners. Now if the people you are talking to are past that issue, then I suggest trying to find the Dharma books that are appropriate for them. I would warn against actually trying to teach them directly however, unless you are actually very well-versed in a particular tradition. Certainly basic concepts and the like can be explained, but if they are really interested you should encourage them to find a qualified teacher (or teachers).
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Re: Skillfully introducing Dharma to "non-buddhists" ?

Postby kirtu » Thu Mar 20, 2014 6:20 am

Alfredo wrote:When they ask you what your religion is, tell them you're Buddhist. If they ask anything else, answer that the best you can. Any hint of "patter" or conversion talk will turn more people off than on.


The following took place in the early/mid-90's in a government building in DC. I had been working there for several years.
Co-worker: "What is your religion?"
Me: "I'm Buddhist."
Co-worker: "No you are not Buddhist!"

She then tried to convert me to Christianity for several years. I had to explicitly tell her to stop at one point.

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