I’ve been thinking about the best way to respond to this question as it comes up a lot.
When my interest in Buddhism first piqued, I remember being overwhelmed by all the resources and lists. A common recommendation was to find a reputable teacher, but few were close to where I lived at the time, travelling wasn’t easy without a car, and I still had a lot of social anxiety. After several trials and errors, and some guidance from the community, I eventually found my place on the path.
Taking my own experiences into account, I’d recommend starting simply. Understand the training rules, practice general mindfulness in everyday life, and study a short discourse—perhaps the Buddha’s teachings on metta. To have success with a meditation object—especially one as subtle as the breath—it helps to build a foundation in the basics. Further, I’d suggest not feeling discouraged if having a teacher isn’t possible for you. There’s certainly a benefit to having a teacher, but progress can be made without one.
What advice would you give?
One of the most fascinating, vexing, confusing, liberating concepts is “this is not mine, etc.” This assertion of non-identity view is easily understood and yet is quite hard to realize. In the West, materialism is taken as an axiom, an “obvious necessity.” Materialism, “mine-ness” is cultivated and celebrated. If, instead, one considers that there may be an alternative, a relinquishing, then possibilities open up. Doubting materialism begins, and that is a good start.
Interesting question. I suppose it depends how new they are and what their disposition is. I learned about Buddhism by meditating and reading the teachings so I guess that’s what I would recommend. I would also mention the 5 precepts because not following those are what stifled my practice for years.
why not start with the Four noble truths. Thats how buddha himself introduced his teaching to his first ever disciples.
The following book by ajahn Sumedho is a wonderful introduction to the Four noble truths.
The Four Noble Truths are a great starting point. But some people might be put off by the tone? This is why I like recommending Sn 1.8 first to dispel the myth that Buddhism is pessimistic. The Dhamma is in fact a balance between being realistic and compassionate.
Don’t drink the fruit punch.
I’d probably say don’t take everything you read online seriously. Connect with flesh bodies who practise dharma before sailing the scary digital seas.
There’s an abundance of misinformation about Buddhism online? I’ve come across information that biases some practices over others—and teachers who’ve done similar—but it’s rare to find information that flat-out can’t be taken seriously.
Perhaps I should have said “don’t believe everything you read” moreso than “…you read online”
After all, “Greek Buddha” is a thing.
This is my standard recommendation.
a)Read BuddhismCourse. (Take about 12 hours to read and give you a good idea about the teaching)
b)Print a copy of this Dhamma Chart and refer to it while studding Buddhism.
c) Read Buddha’s Teaching by Narada. Start from chapter 15.
d) While you reading above texts please listen to the following Dhamma Talk by Joseph Goldstein.
e) Start reading Sutta.
Good starting point would be to read Bikkhu Bodhi’s “In the Buddha’s Word”
Then read Sutta Central. Start from Majjhima Nikaya. SuttaCentral
Most importantly practice what you learn.
You are ready to (let) go!
I would recommend the Access to Insight site. Most of the important suttas, a good glossary and a bunch of good essays.
I always recommend In the Buddha’s Words by Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi. It’s a great start to developing a foundation of knowledge of the Buddha’s teachings. That knowledge guides you on the Path, preventing you from being led astray.
I personally refrain from trying to steer others to Buddhism. I have done this with exactly one person in my life, when I was asking him to look a bit deeper into the Buddha’s Teaching, and even that didn’t sit right with me and I ended up apologizing recently. The main thing which makes me reticent is the fact that there are things in the path which I take on faith at this point and they cannot be explained or defended without resorting to authority-based arguments. The other benefits of the path like attaining quietude, reduction of negative pollutants in the mind, development of virtue etc. are easily explained but they are just stepping stones (as explained in MN24). The goal of final extinction and liberation is the nucleus of the teaching and it doesn’t lie within the domain of conventional argumentative logic or discourse. And moreover, since the foundation is renunciation and asceticism, it’s hard to not get frustrated trying to explain something that goes against all conventional thoughts, views and perspectives.
But, this is just me - others will probably be better equipped to deal with this subject…
Many people, even established Buddhists, often ask if there’s a “Buddhist bible”, a single book with the core teachings since trying to navigate five massive nikayas can be a little intimidating. In the Buddha’s Words certainly fulfils this need.
Bhikkhu Bodhi recently published a kind of sequel to that book titled The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but the reviews are very positive.
I am lucky enough to have a teacher and center nearby… but three books had a tremendous impact on me and furthered my practice. One is In the Buddha’s Words that was already mentioned. Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana is such a clear explanation of meditation. 8 Mindful Steps to Happiness also by Bhante G outlines the Noble Eightfold Path in a way that makes it very accessible to a beginner.
I found these talks fantastic, and recommend them to friends who want an overview of Buddhism.
The talk on the core teachings of Buddhism by Ajahn Vayama, (talk 3/4) is just fantastic. She so clearly summarises the core teachings, and presents them so clearly, that one gets a very good appreciation of the individual parts and how each is integral to the whole! Highly recommended.
Below is the link to all of the introduction series at BSWA
I personally like the Digha as a starting point. Quite dense reading but very much worth it.
For those interested:
I do suppose this isn’t a great starting point for “newcomers” but wanted to share anyways.