We’re going back to the Buddhist basics with Dr. Alexander Berzin.
After receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1972, Dr. Berzin spent the next 29 years in India studying and translating for Tibetan Buddhist lamas from all four traditions, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his tutors. Berzin returned to the West in 1998 with a “treasure trove” of rare teachings that he wanted to share with the world. To do that, 15 years ago he launched a website called the Berzin Archives, a resource free to the public. Since then, Berzin’s project—now called Study Buddhism—has grown to include thousands of articles and audio and video materials translated into 21 languages.
Berzin’s four introductory videos below will discuss the historical beginnings of Buddhism and the modern benefits of following this traditional path. These videos, Berzin says, are a good place for a beginning Buddhist to start.
Below, Berzin talks more about what next steps beginners can take:
What next steps do you recommend for beginning Buddhists?
I would recommend to beginners that they simply keep on studying. This could mean working with a teacher in person if there are Buddhist centers around, as well as reading books and using websites like ours. His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says that education is the key to self-development, so try to get as much correct information and knowledge of the Buddhist teachings as possible. Then, as Buddha advised, don’t accept the teachings out of blind faith, but examine them critically to see if they make sense. See for yourself if they are of help, and if indeed they are, then try to apply them in daily life. Everything that Buddha taught was intended as practical advice to benefit our lives. Meditation is important but not as an end in itself; it is a disciplined method for building up beneficial habits to carry over into daily life.
The Tibetan tradition wisely provides a graded path with a time-tested order of study and practice. To attempt more advanced practices without first establishing a sound foundation is inviting trouble and confusion. With such a bewildering array of Buddhist material easily available nowadays, newcomers to Buddhism often have no idea where to begin. Lacking sufficient background, many find that even the graded path begins at too advanced a level. It is hard to fathom how to relate many of the teachings to modern life. To help deal with that problem, traditional presentations need to be supplemented.
To provide easier access to the teachings, we have designed Study Buddhism with three levels of material. “Buddhism in Daily Life” is for beginners and anyone seeking Buddhist tips for everyday life, “Tibetan Buddhism” is a sequence of study for learning the basics, and “Advanced Studies” provides a wide panorama of articles spanning the extraordinary world of Tibetan Buddhism for readers to freely explore and deepen their study. Although Buddha never taught in the manner of “one size fits all,” we hope in this way to help guide seekers through the maze of 21st-century Buddhism.
What books do you recommend for beginners?
There are many books by His Holiness the Dalai Lama especially suited for beginners, such as The Art of Happiness and An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life. By Western teachers, I would recommend Thubten Chodron’s Buddhism for Beginners, Jack Kornfeld’s A Path with a Heart, and Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.
What else do you want our readers to know about Study Buddhism and how the project can support their Buddhist studies?
In our busy world, people are often too exhausted after work to pay attention during evening classes at a dharma center. They want to be able to study in small chunks when it comfortably fits into their schedules—any time, any place—and be able to pursue their studies conveniently through their handheld devices. Because of that, online education has gained wide success in many fields. In keeping with this trend, Study Buddhism aims to provide a modern online educational platform for Buddhism as well.
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