How do I get started with Buddhism?
Do Not Believe It!
In Buddhism, blind faith is not valued or recommended.
The Buddha advised:
"Do not accept any of my words on faith just because I have said them.
Be like an examiner of gold who cuts, burns and critically examines the product for authenticity.
Accept only what after examination is useful and beneficial in your life."
So be critical, but at the same time try to open up to a different view of life.
Buddhism is Not Simple
At the time of the Buddha, some 2,500 years ago, India already had an advanced culture with all kinds of early forms of what we now call Hinduism. Some people believed in one God, others in many Gods, and there were atheists too. In that culture, words like karma, rebirth, and enlightenment were (and are) everyday concepts. However, these kinds of concepts are less well known in our traditional Judeo/Christian culture in the Netherlands. For most Dutch people it will therefore take some time and energy to delve into these kinds of basic concepts, before the Buddhist approach to life becomes relevant and useful.
The Buddha himself called his teachings "profound, hard to see and hard to understand, unattainable by logic alone, peaceful, subtle and experienced by the sages."
In Buddhism it is mainly about learning to understand our own mind and how to positively develop it. Getting to know your own mind is already a big challenge, but breaking bad habits, including negative thoughts, and replacing them with good ones is not easy.
Then Why Start?
The Buddha's spiritual quest began with the question of how to stop the problems and pain (suffering) he saw all around him. That quest ended after years of hard training. After his enlightenment he gained insight into how to stop suffering completely. He then spent the next 40 years teaching others what he had learned.
Please take a moment to consider the following questions:
Do you know someone who has never experienced problems, illness, frustration or pain in their life?
Do you like to be in pain, or do you like to be frustrated, dissatisfied or lonely?
Do you think that being sick and dying are pleasant experiences?
If you answered no to the above questions, it may be worth taking a closer look at the Buddha's advice.
How Can You Start?
There are basically three options:
- Start with meditation
- Start gaining knowledge
- Combine knowledge and meditation
1. You can start by learning how to meditate. Not very difficult in itself, but because you actually have to do it yourself with your own mind, questions often arise in the beginning. Most people don't get very far by just reading a book. You can try to download and follow guided meditations on the internet, but no one is there to answer questions when they arise.
The general advice about how to quickly and efficiently learn what meditation is all about and how it works is therefore to follow a guided meditation with a qualified teacher. You can ask the teacher questions beforehand or afterwards, and you can exchange your experiences with other students.
2. You can gain knowledge through books or reading or listening to lessons on the internet (such as this website), but it is important to understand that there are many different traditions and methods in Buddhism. It can quickly seem to a novice that there are many contradictions. To really learn something, there is nothing like direct contact with an experienced teacher to whom you can ask questions.
If you really want to understand something about Buddhism, an introductory lesson is probably insufficient. Buddhism's extensive philosophy of life and psychology are simply very vast subjects. A course of several evenings/days is therefore strongly recommended. Of course, it doesn't mean you ever have to become a Buddhist. It's just that it usually just takes time to see if it's for you. No one will ever ask you to become a Buddhist.
3. Meditation helps you to get to know your own mind, and to give it a positive direction. But what is a positive direction? In the first instance, you need knowledge and understanding for this to take place. When you acquire knowledge and also apply it in your meditation, you can increasingly develop insight and wisdom in a targeted manner.
For the above reasons, the Maitreya Institute organizes all kinds of courses at different levels that combine knowledge and meditation with discussion and a well-trained teacher.
Especially for beginners, see the Starter Program page.
See next: Buddhism in one page.