How do I be Buddhist?
May 17, 2016 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Where to start with Buddhism?

I don't want to become "a Buddhist", and will never be able to accept the more metaphysical stuff like "rebirth". But then, I come from a Catholic background and am probably wired to think of things of that nature in a very literal sense, where maybe they aren't.

I do, however, find that there is a great deal that appeals to me about Buddhism. Mindfulness and quietude (I have a very unquiet mind, to the extent that I sometimes cannot sleep because I cannot stop thinking), dealing with my emotions in a positive manner, bringing light into the world even if I may not always feel it within me. I'll never like people, but I feel it might be useful to at least look at them in a differently-rational way.

My knowledge of Buddhism is: that same knowledge that relatively astute and relatively well-read people have just as a result of existing in the world; some familiarity with some of the works of Thich Nhat Hanh; Siddhartha (I know, I know); and I just started reading The Cow In The Parking Lot.

Long story short, what is a good introduction to what I guess might be called the practical "tools" of Buddhism, rather than the "ceremony" of Buddhism?
posted by turbid dahlia to Religion & Philosophy (25 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Sorry, my Q seems a little tone-deaf. I understand that a lot of people, if not most of them, sometimes have trouble sleeping because they can't stop thinking about stuff. But those are the problems of other people, and not my own.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:14 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you might get a lot out of Brad Warner, a Zen monk and punk rocker who is very much not into the "ceremony" side of things but nonetheless practices from a very traditional Soto Zen perspective. Hardcore Zen would be a good place to start. Read his website, as well, to see if you enjoy his writing style and his perspective.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:23 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Buddhism is simple. At its core it's really just the four noble truths and the eightfold path. Everything else is "ceremony", as you put it. Of course, it's more complicated to actually walk the walk, so that's where ceremony comes in. But if all you want is an intro, it's pretty much as simple as that.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 3:23 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Around my hood, there are big B-Buddhist temples, and small b-buddhist temples. The big-B Buddhist temples are more traditional, tibetan style temples.

The small b-buddist temples are sometimes called 'meditation centers' are in more 'american' church buildings, and tend to be more secular. I've attended from time to time a center like this, and while I don't find the setting that comforting, the meditation and equivalent of their sermons are legit. They're pretty cool with atheists there. I would assume this is more secular-buddhism, but really don't know if thats the proper terminology for you to find what you're looking for. I would probably start searching for Meditation Centers, as they seem to be more secular-oriented. YMMV by a wide margin.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:26 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Join a community of some kind with an accredited teacher. This could be your local Zen meditation circle that is led by someone with formal training (the equivalent of a minister). There seem to be some Zen centers in Queensland.

(I too recommend Soto Zen and seated meditation).

Don't worry about the somewhat esoteric precepts of Buddhism: these are all distractions initially. It's more worthwhile learning how to sit.

The community aspect is important because you can't do it alone. Being guided by a teacher is also important, since you can't do it alone.

Unlike Christianity, Buddhism isn't really something that can be learned from a book, at least, not at first.
posted by My Dad at 3:36 PM on May 17, 2016

I came to Buddhism through Cheri Huber's books, and would recommend picking up pretty much any of them. Two that are good to start with are The Key: And the Name of the Key Is Willingness and There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate. If Cheri's work clicks with you, there are a wide range of other practice opportunities, both in-person and virtual, available.

Another book that might be in the neighborhood of what you're looking for is Stephen Batchelor's Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening.
posted by Lexica at 3:54 PM on May 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

I consider myself a secular Buddhist. Buddhism, like many things, comes in more than one flavor. I learned about meditation by joining a Vipassana (in English, Insight meditation) group in Europe and attended weekly meditation and dharma talks for a couple of years. After the first several sessions, I started leaving at the break because I wasn't interested in the dharma talks as much as I was in the meditation. That's changing for me now and I'm starting to get interested in actually learning about the four noble truths and the eightfold path in enough detail that I can remember them all. :-) There are Vipassana organizations in your neck of the woods, apparently. There's also Tibetan Buddhism and Zen groups. Check 'em out and see if any work for you.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:59 PM on May 17, 2016

I think you would get a lot out of Thich Nhat Hanh's The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching. The heavy reliance on numbered groupings (the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Three Doors of Liberation, the Three Dharma Seals, the Seven Factors of Awakening, etc.) as a way of conceptualizing these teachings was a little surprising to me, but if you stick with it it's really a wonderful and very appropriately introductory book.
posted by threeants at 4:15 PM on May 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

I get most of what I need from Buddhism just by doing a lot of meditation practice and really understanding some of the reasons it's called "practice" My uncle is a practicing high level Buddhist (a lama of some kind, not sure) and he also did the audio book for Zen Mind Beginner's Mind which I recommend as something nice to listen to when you are practicing your mindfulness. I've gotten SO much better at sleeping since I've been meditating daily, it's somewhat amazing. I wish you luck on your path.
posted by jessamyn at 4:15 PM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Books on Buddhism—Zen especially—tend to be full of admonishments that you can't learn anything about Buddhism from books ... but they keep publishing them! Zen Mind Beginner's Mind for sure. Right to the point with practical advice that can be applied as soon as you read it, no background needed.
posted by Lorin at 4:43 PM on May 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Since you're also Catholic, you may want to read some Thomas Merton. He was a Catholic monk who also studied Buddhism and incorporated a lot of its practices into his own Catholicism.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:50 PM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Shambhala is a pretty westernized/secular strain of Tibetan Buddhism. I got a lot out of Turning Your Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham. Pema Chödrön is another popular Shambhala teacher. You may be able to find a Shambhala group or center near you.
posted by BrashTech at 4:52 PM on May 17, 2016

We all have monkey mind. Really, we do. Practicing to quiet that is not easy. That is why they call it practice. And sitting and just being with your breath. If it were only that simple.
I strongly agree with reading Thomas Merton, given your background. And finding a low key center where you can learn and practice sitting. Here in Houston we have the Houston Zen Center. It is not a monastery. Perhaps there is something like that where you are. You might also be able to find a community (sangha) there.
But if you like to read I always recommend When Things Fall Apart. I read it about twice a month.
posted by jtexman1 at 5:40 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding threeants suggestion of Thich Nhat Hanh's The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching. I also second BrashTech's suggestion of anything - videos, books, audio - by Pema Chödrön. jtexman1 mentioned her book, When Things Fall Apart. There is something about the way that Pema Chödrön speaks that I find very calming and enjoyable to listen to. Her books are not long, but just enough to make you think. For me, she was a good intro to Buddhism because she explains how I can practice Buddhism in my daily life in a way that I can wrap my head around. You can watch a few of her videos at that link, one of my faves is the one for PBS with Bill Moyers.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:28 PM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've always liked the practice of walking meditation. It's using the techniques of sitting meditation while walking (I do it between destinations, but I live in a place conductive to long purposeful walks.) It may sound advanced but it's not. A lot of Buddist authors write about this practice, it's easy enough to find in books and online. Walking meditation is a good beginning step to mindfulness.
posted by nologo at 7:17 PM on May 17, 2016

The best introduction to the Buddhist path is here. This is a masterpiece of expository writing from one of the most respected contemporary monks and translators.
posted by little eiffel at 8:01 PM on May 17, 2016

Steve Hagen's Buddhism Plain and Simple is a very good book. It is not focused on the cultural aspects. I found it by searching prior questions about this topic here on the green and I re-read it frequently. Finding a good center is important.
posted by kerf at 9:42 PM on May 17, 2016

Thank you for this question.

I would suggest you look into Nichiren Buddhism which is based on the Lotus Sutra, the final and essential teachings of Buddha. This practice is based on Buddhism in daily life-which basically means that all obstacles, hardships and situations we face are overcome not by running away from them but by facing them and overcoming them through our own human revolution (changing ourselves from within). I am from India and have been practicing for over 11 years and have been amazed at the obstacles, myself and others, have overcome through this. What brought me to this Buddhism was that unlike other earlier teachings (Zen etc.) you do not retreat from life but bring Buddhism to your daily life. It is practical, there is no just sitting in a room and being lost in your own world but more on how powerful this Buddhism is to help give you insights on yourself and others around you. You can read experiences here
The practice is really simple, here is an introduction and other details.
posted by metajim at 10:07 PM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

A good practice is to set your intention each morning in a ritual of some kind(I use yoga) . Achieving a state where loving kindness is abiding, by bringing awareness into each moment through focusing on the breath may be helpful in embodying the Buddhist way. I am at my best when I am connected (in touch with) to my inner stillness, which has over time, reduced how much I say and increased how much I feel the essence of the other person(s) and that has been my biggest Buddhist challenge and best life altering outcome.
posted by RelaxingOne at 10:24 PM on May 17, 2016

I heartily recommend Thich Nhat Hanh's writings, especially Peace is Every Step and The Miracle of Mindfulness. Likewise, Audio Dharma offers outstanding podcasts. Both of these sources offer grounded, practical instruction for daily life (as opposed to rituals or abstractions).

Note also that not all Buddhists believe in 'rebirth' in the reincarnation sense. In my experience, that is a predominantly Tibetan belief. I personally find Buddhism to be a very satisfying philosophy as it correlates well with scientific thinking and an inquiring mind. You are not required to begin from an esoteric place of faith in some unseen entities or mysteries. Rather, you are encouraged to constantly question, revise, and refine your practice.
posted by ReginaHart at 9:29 AM on May 18, 2016

"I would suggest you look into Nichiren Buddhism which is based on the Lotus Sutra, the final and essential teachings of Buddha."

Just a sidenote; the particular denomination of Nichiren Buddhism that is mentioned here is focused on chanting. They do not practice the type of meditation that you are looking for necessarily.
posted by Hanuman1960 at 10:20 AM on May 18, 2016

I think What Makes You Not A Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse is a terrific introductory book and I'll just copy the Amazon blurb word for word:

So you think you're a Buddhist? Think again. Tibetan Buddhist master Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, one of the most creative and innovative lamas teaching today, throws down the gauntlet to the Buddhist world, challenging common misconceptions, stereotypes, and fantasies. With wit and irony, Khysentse urges readers to move beyond the superficial trappings of Buddhism—beyond the romance with beads, incense, or exotic robes—straight to the heart of what the Buddha taught.
posted by nanook at 10:31 AM on May 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Something to consider also-
Nichiren Buddhism chanting includes meditation -and is a very peaceful process not to mention the deep insights and sense of peace you get from it (another reason why many meditate). You can look it up here and also within your immediate community You can also visit their community center and see the practice as an observer yourself. Best wishes!
posted by metajim at 10:51 AM on May 18, 2016

I just read Into the Magic Shop which has a lot of aspects of things that are actually Buddhist but not presented in a religious way. Not sure if that was even what the author intended, but as a lifelong Buddhist after I read the book I really thought it was a great book to recommend to friends about the things in my religion I think can be really beneficial to people without the religious part that might scare them off.
posted by raw sugar at 11:33 AM on May 18, 2016

Buddhism and Modern Psychology, a coursera course, looks at Buddhism through a lens of psychology, the science. Is there a "self"? How is suffering advantageous from the point of view evolutionary biology and how it relates to the Buddha's lessons? Fantastic course and a great way to understand "practical" tools of Buddhism as they are examined by today's scientists.
posted by aeighty at 7:17 AM on May 19, 2016

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