How to introduce Buddhism

There is the frequent question:
How to introduce Buddhism to someone?

There are plenty of suttas that explain a formula on how to introduce Buddhism in such a way that can convert someone or even lead to steam entry on the spot. The text call this formula “gradual instruction (anupubbi-katha).”

Of course there are many discussions, essays and explanations about it . But it is surprising that I haven’t found any book, Dhamma talk, or video, that simply apply it in a skillful manner.

So this is a challenge to all buddhist teachers and artists to test and apply this formula by drawing contents and inspiration related to these topics from the suttas, Jatakas, verses, etc. And expounding them in a manner that is relevant, appealing and attractive to modern day society.

The topics and secuens is as follows:
To start with the wonders of generosity (dana), then the benefits of virtues (sila), then the marvels of heavens (sagga), then pointing out the dangers of sensual desire (adinava) and the reward of renunciation (nekkhamma), and finaly clearly explain the 4 Noble Truths.

This can be done through books, movies, videos, Dhamma talks, courses, retreats, documentaries, apps, social media sites, photos, paintings, songs or any type of expression.

Let’s see how skilful we can be to really make the mind of our audiences ready, malleable, free from hindrances, elevated, & clear so it can easily absorb and understand the 4 Noble Truths. Just as a clean cloth, free of stains, would properly absorb a dye, in order that the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye arise in more and more people, “Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.” (Ud 5.3)

Therefore this is an invitation to make the gradual instruction (anupubbi-katha) the main theme of 21st century buddhist catechism and arts.

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I agree. That’s not unintentional, though. There are probably books in Asian languages that apply this scheme in a good manner, but I doubt that we can find that in English. I think this is because of why Westerners get interested in Buddhism: to learn how to meditate and how to enjoy sensual pleasures unattached, all of this without religious beliefs, moral standards, or renunciation.

As you pointed out, religious beliefs, moral standards, and renunciation are cornerstone of the Dhamma, but since there is unfortunately more aversion than interest for them in the West, It’s usually better not to introduce these ideas in the beginning. So I’m hopeless that we’re gonna see much more of them.

I’d love it if I were wrong and saw Buddhism as a religion become more popular, though.

You really can’t. If person does not seek anything more than pleasure it’s like trying to introduce Dhamma to animals. Why would you try to introduce Dhamma to people who are not really interested in it?

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From my perspective leading by example and maintaining an openhearted attitude of metta towards our friends and family is the best we can do to introduce Buddhism to them. I agree with @PureDhammianin that we can’t force anyone to learn Buddhism, but I think we can do our best to lay out an inviting welcome mat by cultivating goodness in our own hearts.

When people come to us and are interested in our practice we can use our intelligence to determine how to talk about Buddhism in a way that would make sense and benefit them. Maybe it would make sense to talk to them about generosity but it might make more sense to invite them to a meditation session.

I don’t believe there is a universal formula that applies in every situation but I do believe as we deepen our skills in compassion, love, and understanding of the dhamma it becomes easier to communicate our practice.

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The Dhamma should only be introduced at the appropriate time. A person is only prepared to make use of it when they have a reason to question beliefs they have taken for granted. Of course, we can do our best to induce that mindset in another, but it will not always work. (Light talk about generosity and virtue (mentioned above) is best in cases when the other person doesn’t yet have that mindset and hasn’t really expressed much prior interest.)

First off, we should always be asking ourselves why it matters that another even be introduced to Buddhism. Our motivation for sharing really matters and will affect what we decide to share and how we go about it. Are we sharing because we are super inspired and excited about the Dhamma, or are we sharing because we see a genuine need that the other may make use of? It matters. Is it vanity or concern? So, that needs to be thoroughly clarified prior to introducing anyone to it. Secondly, there needs to be indications that a person is prepared to listen or wants to listen. The wrong words at the the wrong time can bring about deep aversion on behalf of the listener, and you may then find yourself in a deep struggle to justify your own beliefs to someone who couldn’t care less about changing their own. That may incredibly unhelpful to the other person.

So, pending all of that is sorted out, and the other person has displayed a real need for the direction of Dhamma themes and development, I would encourage them to reach out to local monastery, explore an anthology of suttas, Dhamma talks and books, which is precisely what most of us here did when we started out.

(On a side note, we shouldn’t be afraid to trust the newcomer to tend responsibly to their well-being. Most of us did just fine navigating through towards something beneficial. Those who easily get led astray often got involved with Buddhism for a sense of belonging, which is all well and good until they make unwholesome choices to keep belonging to whatever collective they are associated with. The choice to develop the Dhamma really must come from a need to face what is undeniably true and hopefully find a way to be free from it. We should really make sure that need is present and acknowledged when we introduce it others.)

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Hi. For me, the above question is difficult to answer because many Buddhist principles are very naturalistic; thus often do not even require referring to ‘Buddhism’ explicitly. For example, the principles in AN 4.55 I refer to often but these can be found in modern psychology.

While the above is certainly true, for me, I have not read many examples of the above in the suttas. For example, there is Upali in MN 56.

Sounds realistic; as witnessed on Buddhist internet forums merely among so-called ‘Buddhists’ who can’t even agree with each other & set their heads on fire over the meaning of the Teachings.

The idea of “undeniably true” seems to create more division than benefit.

My impression is the above applies as much to the so-called ‘teacher/preacher’ as it does to the prospective ‘student/listener’.

While I rarely have been able to introduce people to Dhamma merely on Buddhist forums, my experience of when when people post about their personal problems on Buddhist chatsites, the immediate reaction is “see a psychologist”, as though psychology contains a secret magic to solve problems that Buddhism lacks. I suppose what I am suggesting here is I think it is best for us individually to be comfortable with sharing the Dhamma ourselves. If we are not comfortable and continue to refer others to ‘authority figures/sources’ then we ourselves probably need to realize more. Yes, that is how most of us here started out, getting lost in the idiosyncrasies of ‘authority figures/sources’; not realizing insufficient understanding of sila is the primary cause of most people’s problems. When I try to help people in life, even though I rarely refer explicitly to Buddhism, it generally the sila principles of Dhamma I am sharing. The Higher Teachings actually won’t help resolve the problems of most people.

Kind regards :sunny:

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The Buddha was very much into extreme pleasure, I would even say pleasure was his drive and remembering sublime pleasure under the roseapple tree as a child set him back on the path, after a bout of extreme asceticism.

The mechanism that chases pleasure and runs away from pain, is the mechanism that ends suffering, it’s just not properly directed yet. I would say hedonists are more easily converted to the dhamma than masochists.

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@Thito As much as I respect your post here around (I think the only one I found close to the Buddha teachings and understanding) you tripping here. Besides a small digression of the topic, I wish you to try to contemplate different meanings of certain Pali words and certain ways to attain jhana as you may have enough wisdom and experience to get into the Path at this point.

Backing up to the topic, Buddha was never into extreme pleasure as a sense of pleasure but I do not think he was much against it concerning regular people, as regular people need it to not get depressed. Worldly humans do not realize that the same sense of pleasure that gives them happiness is the reason for being depressed in long run. Hedonist is not easily converted to Dhamma or masochist, whoever have seeds to learn Dhamma will react properly, the rest need to work their way up on their own to start it in future births which is the hardest phase I would say. I can not image people who are putting effort without having pretty much results. It’s like singing, you know you are a bad singer but anyway you are not giving up and keep trying, and you need to keep trying without many results to be reborn as a better singer and work again. It will be hard for most people who can not reach it and most would backpedal to the old ways of the world.

I wanted to add to my post: I try to keep in mind DN 31 says the primary task of a monk is to teach laypeople sila. :dizzy:

Reverend Gotama, pleasure is not gained through pleasure; pleasure is gained through pain. For if pleasure were to be gained through pleasure, King Seniya Bimbisāra of Māgadha would gain pleasure, since he lives in greater pleasure than Venerable Gotama.’

‘Clearly the venerables have spoken rashly, without reflection. Rather, I’m the one who should be asked about who lives in greater pleasure, King Bimbisāra or Venerable Gotama?’

‘Clearly we spoke rashly and without reflection. But forget about that. Now we ask Venerable Gotama: “Who lives in greater pleasure, King Bimbisāra or Venerable Gotama?”’

‘Well then, reverends, I’ll ask you about this in return, and you can answer as you like. What do you think, reverends? Is King Bimbisāra capable of experiencing perfect happiness for seven days and nights without moving his body or speaking?’

‘No he is not, reverend.’

‘What do you think, reverends? Is King Bimbisāra capable of experiencing perfect happiness for six days … five days … four days … three days … two days … one day?’

‘No he is not, reverend.’

‘But I am capable of experiencing perfect happiness for one day and night without moving my body or speaking. I am capable of experiencing perfect happiness for two days … three days … four days … five days … six days … seven days. What do you think, reverends? This being so, who lives in greater pleasure, King Bimbisāra or I?’

‘This being so, Venerable Gotama lives in greater pleasure than King Bimbisāra.’”

There’s also a sutta where the Buddha says nibbana is a type of pleasure, perhaps even the ultimate pleasure.

As I said, it’s my opinion that people who are masochistic, driven by pain, are more likely to argue on the internet about the dhamma rather than hedonists, driven by pleasure, who when the dhamma clicks in their mind, couldn’t care less about arguing about the dhamma.

But that’s just my opinion and interpretation, not saying you should believe it.

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When this was said, Ven. Udayin said to Ven. Sariputta, “But what is the pleasure here, my friend, where there is nothing felt?”

Furthermore, there is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters & remains in the cessation of perception & feeling. And, having seen [that] with discernment, his mental fermentations are completely ended. So by this line of reasoning it may be known how Unbinding is pleasant."

  • AN 9.34

Though there are those who say, ‘They [i.e., beings] experience this as the highest existing pleasure & joy,’3 I do not grant them that. Why is that? Because there is another pleasure more excellent than that pleasure and more sublime.

And which, Ānanda, is the other pleasure more excellent than that pleasure and more sublime? There is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters & remains in the cessation of perception & feeling.7 This is the other pleasure more excellent than that pleasure and more sublime.

“Now, it’s possible, Ānanda, that some wanderers of other persuasions might say, ‘Gotama the contemplative speaks of the cessation of perception & feeling and yet describes it as pleasure. What is this? How is this?’ When they say that, they are to be told, ‘It’s not the case, friends, that the Blessed One describes only pleasant feeling as included under pleasure. Wherever pleasure is found, in whatever terms, the Blessed One describes it as pleasure.’”

  • MN 59

It’s important to understand how pleasure arises within oneself, and that it can be obtained without sensual objects.

The Buddha was never anti pleasure, only anti sensual pleasure, because it’s a lower quality pleasure filled with many drawbacks that prevents and distracts people from reaching higher quality pleasures.

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There are many good points here.

Maybe putting a side the masses or to introduce to someone from 0.
The main concern is about the newbie stage. For beginners that want to know the fundamentals of Buddhism.
The appropriate question would be more like:

How to welcome someone to Buddhism?

Someone who already started to meditate, maybe even take some retreats, have enough hiri ottappa to agree with the 5 precepts, experience some degree of disenchantment towards sensual pleasures, and might be already inspired by our metta and example. Someone who’s faith have sprout and needs to be nurture.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a clear, beautiful and motivational material for that crucial stage? That can present generosity, sila and renunciation in a very positive light.

There is a tendency to pass this stage without setting the proper foundation of those basic qualities. We tend to rush straight to the deep topics and debates, overestimating our capacity to understand without first making the mind ready, malleable, elevated, & clear. Resulting in a shallow understanding.

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I think a brief anthology of sutta quotes using modern translations, and just enough text from an emotionally intelligent editor who “gets” modern audiences would be the way to go. A modern “Word Of The Buddha”. In the editor’s text should be descriptions of meditation methods and how those methods along with sila & panna can make an ordinary person’s life happier.

Such a book might avoid the “expectations vs reality” shock that people get when they finally read the suttas. More importantly answer “what is in it for me?” in a compelling way for an average person.

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