Good beginner's overview

General forum on the teachings of all schools of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Topics specific to one school are best posted in the appropriate sub-forum.
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Paul2020
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Good beginner's overview

Post by Paul2020 »

Hello all! I am new here. I have been along a long path (via MBSR, Insight Timer and some other things) that has led me here. I would now like to learn about Buddhism correctly from the beginning. I see on some older posts that this book is recommended:

The Foundations of Buddhism by Rupert Gethin

I have put on my amazon.co.uk wishlist. Before I place the order, do people still think this is a good first resource?

Many thanks in advance for your insight.
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jake
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by jake »

Welcome Paul2020. Are you looking for a general introduction to the history and general development of Buddhism? Or are you interesting in something more specific, a tradition or teaching?
GrapeLover
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by GrapeLover »

I found “Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth” by Tulku Thondup to be an excellent overview of Mahayana Buddhist principles in general. It’s very approachable but full of great information. However, it has a Tibetan Buddhist slant. It’s largely about the death process, but explanation of how to have a “peaceful death” basically involves an explanation of the whole path.

A heavier read—practical but also a lot more academic—would be volume 1 of Treasury of Precious Qualities by Jigme Lingpa, with the commentary by Kangyur Rinpoche. It’s an overview of Mahayana, while volume 2 goes further into Vajrayana. But it is Tibetan Buddhist again.
avatamsaka3
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by avatamsaka3 »

I haven't read Gethin's work, but it seems good, and I know a lot of people started with that book. I read parts of "An Introduction to Buddhism" by Peter Harvey a while ago. I think it's a great resource. Another one that people find valuable is "What the Buddha Taught" by Rahula. All of these introductions will have their strengths and weaknesses. It's very hard to describe all of the different flavors of Buddhism accurately in one book without cherry-picking or misinterpreting something. And generally it's better to read original sources ASAP in a particular tradition rather than spending too much time on Western academic approaches. Which tradition do you plan to practice in? Once you know that, then it will be easier to advise.
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Kim O'Hara
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by Kim O'Hara »

avatamsaka3 wrote: Wed Aug 12, 2020 12:45 pm ... Another one that people find valuable is "What the Buddha Taught" by Rahula. ...
That is good, as you say, but it's narrowly Theravadin, which may or may not be a problem for the OP.

There's a compilation known as the Buddhist Gideon Bible because it is left in hotel rooms in the same way, which I came across a few years ago. It's a well edited selection of excerpts from the sutras and I thought it was a very good intro to the Mahayana traditions in general although its focus is Pure Land.

But really, there is no simple introduction to all of the traditions as far as I know. You either have to browse the articles on Wikipedia or get a rather academic book like Gethin's.

:namaste:
Kim
SilenceMonkey
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by SilenceMonkey »

I like Kalu Rinpoche’s “Luminous Mind.”

It’s not academic... but it presents all of the vehicles in context with each other, giving good foundational explanations of all the teachings underlying each “level” of dharma, so to speak. I found it immensely helpful when I was first trying to put the pieces together, understanding the diversity of traditions.

Another one I think is great for basic Mahayana teachings is Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Heart of Buddha’s Teachings.”
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Dan74
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by Dan74 »

Peter Della Santina's Tree of Enlightenment is a pretty good overview of various Buddhist schools.

One big but though.... reading is very different to doing. Best way to learn about a practice is to do it - find a centre, then go there.
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Paul2020
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by Paul2020 »

Many thanks everyone for your replies. I guess my problem (or opportunity??) is really that I don't know enough about any of the various traditions to make an educated decision. I am very open at the moment and would prefer to know a little about everything so I don't close myself before I even start... so something generalist and easy to read by a newbie would be what I'm after. :) And yes, I would prefer something practical rather than a dense theological study.

I just finished The Art of Happiness and found that very easy to read and comprehend.

I'm looking around for actual centers I can visit but sadly there really is not very much choice at all around here, so I'm reasonably certain I will have to start out on my own. Sort of why I joined this forum. Hope that makes sense?
avatamsaka3
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by avatamsaka3 »

I just finished The Art of Happiness and found that very easy to read and comprehend.
I skimmed it a while ago and found it was too watered down and way too westernized. If you respect His Holiness, I'd recommend "Ethics for the New Millennium". It makes a lot of important concepts approachable to Westerners without turning them into mush. I'd also highly recommend "An Introduction to Buddhism" by His Holiness in the Core Teachings series from Shambhala, and the edition of his Harvard Talks in the same series, which is much more in-depth, but it could serve as a wonderful resource for someone who's brand new.
I guess my problem (or opportunity??) is really that I don't know enough about any of the various traditions to make an educated decision. I am very open at the moment and would prefer to know a little about everything so I don't close myself before I even start
It's an opportunity. I'd recommend Harvey's book I mentioned before. After something like that, you want to start reading original materials from whatever tradition you're interested in. If it's Soto Zen, read Dogen. If it's the Tibetan tradition, try Shantideva and Tsonghkapa and lojong texts. If it's Theravada, you can read from the Pali Canon, and from modern and ancient commentaries. If it's Pure Land, then try one of the sutras. For all of these, it's good to get teachings from a master who can guide you in your studies. Buddhism is all about practice. So make sure to think along the way "How can I use these teachings to develop as a person? What do I intend to practice here?"
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Kim O'Hara
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by Kim O'Hara »

Dan74 wrote: Wed Aug 12, 2020 1:54 pm Peter Della Santina's Tree of Enlightenment is a pretty good overview of various Buddhist schools.
+1

I forgot that one - it's a long time since I read it.

:reading:
Kim
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Paul2020
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by Paul2020 »

Ok, great! Thanks for all the insight. I am going to start with HArvey's book - "An Introduction to Buddhism" by Peter Harvey - and see where that takes me, as you suggest.

This seems to be the nearest center to me:

https://www.tibinst.be/

I suppose the best is to go along and see for myself...?
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Ayu
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by Ayu »

Paul2020 wrote: Thu Aug 13, 2020 7:45 am ...
This seems to be the nearest center to me:

https://www.tibinst.be/

I suppose the best is to go along and see for myself...?
Best idea. The lineage of that center seems to be good.
For the benefit and ease of all sentient beings. :heart:
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Paul2020
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by Paul2020 »

Ok! It has nice to have some concrete steps to get going. I will order the Harvey book and go along to that center in Huy, Belgium. I will have to have a look what the current rules are around social distancing. I will let you know how I get on at the center since it could be a helpful resource for other people living in Wallonia, Belgium.
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by Crazywisdom »

Paul2020 wrote: Wed Aug 12, 2020 10:30 am Hello all! I am new here. I have been along a long path (via MBSR, Insight Timer and some other things) that has led me here. I would now like to learn about Buddhism correctly from the beginning. I see on some older posts that this book is recommended:

The Foundations of Buddhism by Rupert Gethin

I have put on my amazon.co.uk wishlist. Before I place the order, do people still think this is a good first resource?

Many thanks in advance for your insight.
Jewel Ornament of Liberation, Gampopa
Fortyeightvows
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by Fortyeightvows »

Paul2020 wrote: Wed Aug 12, 2020 9:25 pm I'm looking around for actual centers I can visit but sadly there really is not very much choice at all around here, so I'm reasonably certain I will have to start out on my own. Sort of why I joined this forum. Hope that makes sense?
It makes sense. But it's probably not a great idea.

Ask some questions once in a while, but seriously scrutinize the responses. (including mine)
avatamsaka3
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by avatamsaka3 »

Jewel Ornament of Liberation, Gampopa
I second this. It's a great resource. And used a lot in the Kagyu tradition (the tradition of the center you are focusing on).

When you go there or anywhere else, don't expect people to be perfect. They're there because they're not. Don't make any commitments upfront, whether that's taking empowerments or becoming a paying member of something. You should be there to learn, not to talk over everyone. And don't rush to judgment about anyone (see first point). Don't destroy your ability to connect with the community later. Some things we encounter later on are more useful than when we first encountered them. Be respectful toward monks, but don't expect them to reciprocate, and don't expect them to be friends and deal with all your problems, unless there's good reason to think they would. (Usually they don't want to.) That's my experience.
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Paul2020
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by Paul2020 »

Thanks again for the help. I will try to keep a questioning and open mind on this forum and when I visit the center in Huy.
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Re: Good beginner's overview

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'This book offers a selection from a broad range of Buddhist texts. You will find here passages that may inspire, guide and challenge you. Overall, they give a picture of this great tradition as it has been lived down the centuries.'

'This book is divided into three main parts: i) the life and nature of the Buddha ii) the Dhamma/Dharma, or Buddhist teachings, and iii) the Sangha or spiritual community. Each chapter except the first is divided into three sections, containing selected passages from the texts of the three main Buddhist traditions: Theravāda, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna.'

'Through this, its objectives are to increase awareness among Buddhists of their own rich heritage of religious and ethical thinking as well as to increase understanding among non-Buddhists of the fundamental values and principles of Buddhism. It seeks to strike a balance between what is common to the Buddhist traditions and the diversity of perspectives among them. The book consists of selected translations from Pāli, Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan, using a common terminology in English of key Buddhist terms, and maintaining strict scholarly standards.'

Common Buddhist Text: Guidance and Insight from the Buddha
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"
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Matt J
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by Matt J »

With COVID, many many teachers are going online. You may wish to check them out. I would recommend checking out several and seeing what you like. You may want to check out some videos and podcasts as well.

Just as a warning, most overview books are very academic. Which is fine if that is what you like.
Paul2020 wrote: Thu Aug 13, 2020 7:45 am Ok, great! Thanks for all the insight. I am going to start with HArvey's book - "An Introduction to Buddhism" by Peter Harvey - and see where that takes me, as you suggest.

This seems to be the nearest center to me:

https://www.tibinst.be/

I suppose the best is to go along and see for myself...?
"The essence of meditation practice is to let go of all your expectations about meditation. All the qualities of your natural mind -- peace, openness, relaxation, and clarity -- are present in your mind just as it is. You don't have to do anything different. You don't have to shift or change your awareness. All you have to do while observing your mind is to recognize the qualities it already has."
--- Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
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Kim O'Hara
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Re: Good beginner's overview

Post by Kim O'Hara »

Astus wrote: Thu Aug 13, 2020 9:43 pm 'This book offers a selection from a broad range of Buddhist texts. You will find here passages that may inspire, guide and challenge you. Overall, they give a picture of this great tradition as it has been lived down the centuries.'

'This book is divided into three main parts: i) the life and nature of the Buddha ii) the Dhamma/Dharma, or Buddhist teachings, and iii) the Sangha or spiritual community. Each chapter except the first is divided into three sections, containing selected passages from the texts of the three main Buddhist traditions: Theravāda, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna.'

'Through this, its objectives are to increase awareness among Buddhists of their own rich heritage of religious and ethical thinking as well as to increase understanding among non-Buddhists of the fundamental values and principles of Buddhism. It seeks to strike a balance between what is common to the Buddhist traditions and the diversity of perspectives among them. The book consists of selected translations from Pāli, Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan, using a common terminology in English of key Buddhist terms, and maintaining strict scholarly standards.'

Common Buddhist Text: Guidance and Insight from the Buddha
This looks very good but it's not the one I was talking about before.
This one is a lot longer, more detailed, broader in its approach to the different traditions.

:coffee:
Kim
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