Handbook for a Buddhist Life
The Practices of Refuge and Precepts.
The Practice of Merit Making.
Working with the Mind’s Impulses.
Simplifying One’s Life.
The Transcendent Path.
These pages are intended as a comprehensive overview of the various practices and relations that constitute the life of the Buddhist practitioner to serve as a guide for Buddhists at all levels of involvement. I decided to offer this to counter the common tendency in the West of defining the scope of Buddhist practice too narrowly at the cost of much of its efficacy. My original intention was to provide a handbook for my own students so that they might give appropriate attention to the full scope of Buddhist practice, but I offer it as well to a wider group of potential beneficiaries.
These pages are actually take the form of a kind of annotated reading list, with references to my own essays and books on various aspects of its scope, as well as to other sources that I think the serious student of Buddhism should look at. It will also evolve over time, I suspect taking on much of the nature of a scrap book, as I paste in new material, revise old and spin off new essays to reference as I engage with this content myself. I would like to invite those who are likewise actively engaged to contribute your own material. Your experiences with these practices will often be of great value to others. Just contact me as editor-in-chief.
The structure loosely follows an outline of the gradual path taught by the Buddha, but is intent on making these practices viable and relevant in the context of the modern world, and to modern children as well as adults. The gradual path is lists areas of practice in roughly in the order in which each should be initially pursued:1
The drawbacks, degradation and corruption of sensual passions,
The rewards of renunciation.
When, from the pursuit of the foregoing, the mind is ready, malleable, free from hindrances, elated and bright, the following should be taken up:
The Four Noble Truths.
The Fourth Noble Truth is the Eightfold Noble Path, the higher path to liberation:
The Path is the purest Buddha-Dharma, the primary concern of the Buddha’s teaching, to which the individual of high aspiration devotes himself relentlessly.
Doctrinally the advice offered here is for the most part Suttantist, that is relying on the early discourses of the Buddha, along with the Vinaya, essentially the common presectarian source of all of Buddhism. I do sometimes advocate practices or understandings that developed in later Buddhist schools, such as Zen, where I feel these are effective, and others that are particularly relevant to the modern context. In general my approach is fairly conservative and skeptical with regard to new-fangled understandings and practices.
My advice is also what might be seen as unfashionably religious as opposed to spiritual or secular, insofar as it is very much concerned with the community and institutional aspects of Buddhism, with the Sasana and the Sangha, with robes, ritual and sacred objects. There are two reasons for this inclination. First, these were some of the Buddha’s concerns. He founded, after all, what has proven to be the most durable human institution on the planet, the monastic Sangha. Second, the “spiritual but not religious” life ends up, in my experience, as the refuge of dabblers in almost every case, and I suspect that in many it may actually encourage rather than discourage self-centeredness. Human are social animals and a religious community along with its customs can be uplifting and in itself a source of spiritual development. This is true of conventional religions as well as Buddhism. In the end a spiritual path is a solitary effort, and certainly this is in a long and penetrating path in Buddhism and the main concern of the Buddha’s teachings, but embarking on that solitary effort requires the support of communities and spiritual friends for all but the most exceptional individualist. Certainly a community environment is the ideal way to involve children.
1Kuṭṭhi Sutta, Udāna 5.3.
2This can be understood metaphorically as standing for the accrued personal benefits of practice, or karma.