With Buddhism trying to find its roots in the west, I believe we’re still in a heavy transition period. When Buddhism came to Tibet, they sent their best scholars to India to study with the Indian masters, and meticulously translated the texts from Sanskrit to Tibetan. It was a huge and comprehensive undertaking, maybe similar to how scientists in the west have tackled trying to deconstruct the human genom.
As Geshe Phelgye once said, the process of bringing Dharma to the west hasn’t been as organized. Teachers come and taught a little bit here, a little bit there, but it’s a big smorgasbord. For the most part, it has been really unorganized and practitioners are left floating around without real structure. He believes in order for Buddhism to establish in the west, there has to be a concentrated effort in implementing structure to studies.
How I Began My Studies
When I first started studying in a more structured way, I studied the lamrim at the local Dharma center. Lamrim comes from the Tibetan tradition, which step by step, shows the stages and paths to enlightenment. While I found this very useful, I also struggled with it. Basically I would study a section, and then go home and study by myself. I’ve noticed for many beginning western practitioners, this format is difficult because they need more structure. Especially if there aren’t enough senior students around to ask questions, this can be a tough task.
Studying Buddhism, Made Easier
The FPMT has put together an “Discovering Buddhism“ course that works really well in giving people a solid basis in the foundations of Buddhist practice. It’s based on the lamrim system, but put in a way that suits many westerners need for stucture. Since most westeners are well educated, they’re used to coming to a class room, getting assignments and having clear topics.
The “Discovering Buddhism” breaks Buddhist topics into 14 modules, which are accompanied with videos and reading material. People can go take these courses at a local FPMT center, or they can do it online or buy the modules individually for home use.
Studying “Discovering Buddhism” Doesn’t Commit You To a Tradition
The FPMT is primarily based on the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. However, studying this course doesn’t make someone a Gelug. Lamrim is common to all the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, even though the Gelugs emphasize it more. Studying this course doesn’t make someone a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner, either.
Find the Balance
I think meditation is good, but too much meditaiton without study is unbalanced. My teacher once said that meditating heavily without stuying enough beforehand, can “burn the seed.” And too much study, without enough mediation, can also be bad. Geshe Tashi was commented that “too much study and not enough meditation can lead to neurosis.”
The Discovering Buddhism”“ course also provides a structured balance between studies and meditation. At the end of the course, the recommendation is to do a retreat. If the course is being taken at a Dharma center, a retreat is often held during the summer.