Buddhism 101

I recently went out to the University of New Mexico web site to see what they have in the way of resources for teaching Buddhism. The good news is that there are a number of professors who teach various aspects of Buddhism. From an academic standpoint it is a rich environment.

What is lacking, however, is anything related to the practice. There is quite a lot about “Buddhist philosophy”, but nothing about meditation or the training. As far as I can tell no one there teaches meditation.

I was particularly struck by the term “Buddhist philosophy”. The Buddha was clear about what he taught. He taught a training method that leads away from suffering and into greater happiness. The final goal is freedom from suffering, and the rounds of rebirth. To even have something called “Buddhist philosophy” is a little like having a philosophy about playing the piano.

The Buddha did not teach all that he knew. He did not describe everything about the ultimate reality that he found, only how to train the mind to come to an understanding of ultimate reality. In his discourse on the “Simsapa Leaves” [SN 56.31] he held up a handful of leaves and asked his monks, “which is greater, the number of leaves in my hand or the number of leaves in the forest.” The answer is, of course rhetorical. He finished this brief discourse by saying:

“In the same way, monks, those things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven’t I taught them? Because they are not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. That is why I have not taught them.”

It can be quite a long and winding road down the path to an academic understanding of a philosophy. But that does not get you very far. Cultivate a good heart. Be kind and generous. Train your mind to be wise, loving, compassionate, and equanimous. This is what the Buddha taught, and putting it into practice will be of great benefit to you and the world around you.

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