There are so many Buddhist books and teachings to consume. Where do you start Here are some tips on how to tackle your reading list.
Many people think that Buddhism is about sitting in silence and finding inner wisdom. When you start practicing Buddhism, it is easy to transfer this stereotype onto your spiritual path. But any teacher will tell you: at some point along the way, it’s important to balance your practice with cold, hard study.
The Buddha emphasized the importance of studying – and even memorizing – Buddhist teachings. In practical terms, there is an abundance of misinformation about Buddhism in the modern world. Fake Buddha quotes are just as common as authentic ones. One of the core goals of Buddhist practice is the cultivation of wisdom or prajna, which, in addition to meditation practice, requires dedicated study.
Read more: Four teachers discuss the importance of studying
Here is a brief guide on working with Buddhist teachings to develop Prajna, along with other resources to deepen your study.
Choosing something to study
Sometimes the first step is the hardest. There are innumerable Buddhist teachings, books, classical texts, commentaries, memoirs and studies. Where do you start
If you have a teacher or a community, it is best to start with the teachings they recommend. If you are not sure, you can ask a teacher for suggestions. If you don’t get a recommendation, Zenkei Blanche Hartman suggests studying the teachings of contemporary teachers in your tradition.
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If you don’t have a specific tradition to immerse yourself in, don’t worry. Judy Lief suggests that you “notice what you are wearing to read and think.” See where these teachings come from. If you are committed to a Buddhist path, make sure that the teachings come from an authentic, unbroken Buddhist lineage. Discover the essential texts of this tradition.
Read more: Ten Buddhist Books Everyone Should Read
How Much Should You Study?
This is totally subjective. Some practitioners love to read Buddhist texts and neglect the practice in favor of reading. Others refuse to read and instead choose to sit in silent contemplation indefinitely.
Study and practice are important. As a simple rule of thumb, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal recommends:
Whatever meditation practice you engage in, your studies should support it so that you know what you are doing in your practice and have a reference for your experience. Your study guides your practice and your practice validates your study.
Judy Lief advises “study yourself”. Get an idea of where you are in your practice, what your challenges are, and how you feel while reading and meditating. Knowing that study and practice are mutually supportive, try to find your own balance. Lief writes:
No matter how much you read, how many lectures you listen to, or how many websites you visit, there is no guarantee of real benefit. It is good to accumulate knowledge, but it is better to let that knowledge transform you. The benefit comes at the meeting point between you and the Dharma, when an apparently external teaching hits a deep internal chord.
Read more: How should I reconcile practice and study?
Let wisdom penetrate
In general, teachers recommend that you take the time to absorb what you read or listen to. This means different things to different people. You could read a chapter and then meditate on what you read. You can read slowly and thoughtfully. Maybe you read a paragraph several times and then think about it for the rest of the day. Maybe you stick a favorite paragraph on the bathroom mirror and think about it regularly for years. “Every time you go through it,” writes Lief, “you ask what is really being said, its relevance, how it can be applied, and whether it corresponds to your own experience and observation of the world.”
Are you the kind of person who wakes up and immediately checks out Twitter, Instagram, and CNN? Bhante Gunaratana suggests replacing this morning routine and instead listening to a teaching from the Buddha and then keeping the wisdom with you all day.
Read more: How To Start Studying Buddhist Teachings
With the three prajnas. go deeper
Some Buddhist schools divide the development of wisdom into three steps, which are expertly described by Reggie Ray. These are: the first prajna, hearing; the second prajna, contemplation; and the third prajna, meditation.
The first prajna, listening, is literally concerned with the study of texts. This can mean reading a text repeatedly, memorizing it, or studying the meaning of the text in depth. In the second prajna, as Ray explains, as you reflect, you look at the teaching in the context of your own experience. How does it feel? The third prajna, meditation, follows the instruction in the unconditional experience of meditation on the ultimate truth.
Read more: How To Do The Dharma. educated
A selection of comments on texts and studies from different traditions:
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