I'm New: Where do I Start?


Question: How do I choose a school in Buddhism? What criteria should I use?

Response: All the 84,000 (a number symbolizing uncountable) methods taught by the Buddha are equally good. We just need to find the one that is most suitable for our capabilities and the way we live. 

Initially, most people listen to different teachers, read various books, and check out Buddhist web sites to see what resonates with them. If you live where there is a Buddhist center, you can visit it to get a better feeling for the practice and teachings. If you are not near a center, you could attend a weekend retreat to see if the practice and teachings feel right for you.

Deciding on the right method is largely intuitive. When you find what is right for you everything feels right: the practice, the teachings, the people—everything. A comment I have heard from so many people, and the feeling that I experienced myself, is that "it felt like I was coming home."

Giver or Receiver?

Compassion is not feeling pity for someone. It is the understanding that the other person wants the same things we do—to be free of suffering and to find genuine happiness. Our compassion is our wish and intention for them to attain this. It is to regard the other with respect and gratitude for the gift they are giving us.

What gift? They are helping us to open up to another being, to not judge or dismiss, but to selflessly want to help. They are teaching us to not impose conditions, but to give selflessly of ourselves.

The result? We have gotten just a little bit better at perfecting our compassion and have moved just a little bit further along the Path. So actually, we are not helping the other. They are helping us.



Don't Wait


If you think you have enough time, that some day you will tell the person you love how grateful you are for having them in your life, how you wish they would forgive you for all the times you were impatient and thoughtless and inattentive, the perfect time to say this may never come.

As Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said: "What I try to teach people is to live in such a way that you say those things while the other person can still hear it."



Karmic Chain Reaction

The nature of samsaric evolution is not such that death is followed by nothingness, nor that humans are always reborn as humans and insects as insects. On the contrary, we all carry within us the karmic potencies of all realms of cyclic existence. Many beings transmigrate from higher to lower realms, others from lower to higher. The selection of a place of rebirth is not directly in our own hands but is conditioned by our karma and delusions. They who possess spiritual understanding can control their destiny at the time of death, but for ordinary beings the process is very much an automatic chain reaction of karmic seeds and habitual psychic response patterns....

Our repeated experience of frustration, dissatisfaction and misery does not have external conditions as its root cause. The problem is mainly our lack of spiritual development. As a result of this handicap, the mind is controlled principally by afflicted emotions and illusions. Attachment, aversion and ignorance rather than a free spirit, love and wisdom are the guiding forces. Recognizing this simple truth is the beginning of the spiritual path.

~ by H.H. the Dalai Lama, translated and edited by Glenn Mullin, from The Path to Enlightenment, published by Snow Lion Publications



One Method or Do It Yourself?

956849-690488-thumbnail.jpgQuestion: There are so many different schools of Buddhism, is it necessary to choose one school, or can I just accept an umbrella of them and call myself a Buddhist?

Response: If I lived in New York and had a goal of visiting San Diego, there would be many ways to accomplish my goal. I could fly, drive, ride a train, or take a bus to California. I could even walk if I wasn't in a hurry. Once I chose my means of transportation, I would then need to decide on a specific route. There are lots of options here as well.

In Buddhism, our goal is enlightenment. Our means of transportation is like a specific school. Our route is like a specific teacher.

As for my San Diego trip, if I decide to fly, book my flights in a single package through a travel service, and stick to my itinerary, I'll arrive in San Diego pretty much as planned. But if I try to combine flying, driving a car, and riding a train, and want to make all the arrangements myself, it's going to take a lot longer and be much more difficult.

It's the same in Buddhism. The Buddha taught many different ways to reach the goal. All the practice methods he taught are equally good. We just need to find the one that is most suitable for us. But if we try to take a little from here and a little from there, it will be sort of like listening to the airline ticket agent saying we need to go board the plane while the train conductor is directing us to the train. Very confusing and stressful, and who knows when we'll finally make it to San Diego. Choosing one travel package would be much easier.

In the same way, choosing one school in Buddhism makes reaching the goal much easier and will save us a lot of time.