How do I get started with Buddhism?
Buddhism is not so much a religion as it is a comprehensive philosophy and psychology. Buddhism offers answers to many of life's questions and problems.
Within Buddhism there is a lot of emphasis on a better understanding of our own mind and how it works: how do we think and feel? How do our thoughts and habits make us happy or unhappy?
Meditation is an important tool for getting to know our own mind and it helps us when confusion or negative habits get in the way of our own happiness.
It is not easy to summarize Buddhism briefly: for example, think of concepts such as karma and rebirth (reincarnation). These concepts are part of everyday culture in India (where Buddhism originated) and in the Far East. In the West these concepts are less well known and some explanation is needed.
In addition, different traditions have emerged within Buddhism over the centuries, all with their own approaches and particularities. It can be confusing to study the different traditions together. Studying with a qualified teacher can help you to avoid confusion and misunderstandings.
In short: if you are interested in Buddhism as a philosophy of life, it takes some time and effort to get an effective overview.
In Buddhism, meditation is considered an important method when we want to examine our own thinking and emotions. By meditating you can find answers to personal life questions and you can achieve inner peace.
You don't have to be a Buddhist to meditate.
You can look at meditation as a journey of discovery that takes place within your own mind. While Buddhist meditation can help you find a place of inner peace, it is not just about calming your mind. Buddhist meditation guides us to increasing levels of clarity in our busy minds and lives. We constantly worry about all kinds of things, but what really makes us happy? We understand that our body needs to recover after a strenuous effort, but what about our mind? Frustration and anger don't make us happy, but how can we effectively deal with these unwanted intruders?
Just thinking about your problems usually doesn't permanently solve the problem. This requires rest, time and focus. It is through the peace and concentration that you achieve through meditation that you will begin to look at problems differently. It is a conscious choice to put more energy into the things that matter to you most. You can develop genuine wisdom from peace and clarity of mind. For the advanced practitioner it is even possible to leave behind all experiences of problems and suffering and reach a state of complete happiness, or enlightenment.
Why take a course?
Sure, you can read books about Buddhism, or even read more on this website, but written stories or videos of lessons rarely answer all the questions that can arise. It is precisely because in Buddhism there is a lot of emphasis on the functioning of the mind, that it can be nice to be able to talk informally with others about your own experiences and those of others.
Meditation is an important way to create calmness in your own mind. You can also use specific meditation techniques to process and absorb theoretical knowledge and wisdom more deeply. Many people find it difficult to teach themselves to meditate. Guidance is often needed, especially in the beginning. The discipline of a group environment can help in meeting inner challenges.
Most courses at the Maitreya Institute consist of a combination of theoretical lessons, discussion, meditation and (informal) exchanges with other students. The Maitreya Institute offers several study programs at different levels: these programs can vary in length from a few evenings to years of study.
For an overview of entry options at the Maitreya Institute, see: Startersprogram.