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Practical Buddhism

How can I find other people with whom to study Dhamma and practice meditation?

  • Ask around.
  • Browse through the listings of Dhamma centers and meditation groups that are published in magazines and websites.
  • Explore your local universities or community colleges.
  • Do they have any Buddhist groups or clubs? Visit the student lounges, cafeterias, libraries, campus bookstore, etc. - anywhere you might find bulletin boards with announcements of campus events.
  • Look for flyers posted at local bookstores, natural food stores, "New Age"-type shops, etc.
  • Start a meditation group or Dhamma study group in your own living room. Advertise it with a flyer posted at one of the places mentioned above (ask for permission first!). You may be the only one attending for awhile, but be patient.
  • Check the telephone book (Yellow Pages), and look under "Churches" (Thai temples? Vietnamese temples?) or "Meditation." Even if you don't see exactly what you're looking for, you may at least be able to contact someone who can give you some ideas of whom to call. Someone at a Hindu ashram or a Benedictine monastery may have some suggestions.
  • More and more hospitals and health clinics offer stress-reduction and pain-control programs that make use of simplified meditation techniques borrowed from Buddhist traditions. The person in charge of one of these programs may know of ongoing Buddhist meditation groups or Dhamma centers in your area.
  • Write to someone at a monastery or Dhamma center in a neighboring city, state, province, etc. and ask for his or her suggestions.
  • Ask around.

There are no meditation centers or other Dhamma students nearby. How should I study Dhamma on my own?

Are you sure there aren't any meditation groups or centers nearby? Even in areas dominated by other religious traditions there may be a few other people quietly and inconspicuously practicing Dhamma by themselves. With a little patient detective work you may be able to find them (see "How can I find other people with whom to study Dhamma and practice meditation?," above).

But if you really are alone, don't despair. Although having a supportive community of like-minded Dhamma friends can be a tremendous boon to your practice, you can still make headway on your own:

Observe the precepts.

Moral conduct - codified in Buddhism as the five precepts - is the absolute bedrock of spiritual progress. Get to know the five precepts well and make an effort to follow them. Learn which ones are most difficult for you to keep and what situations put you in danger of breaking them. Make adjustments in your behavior accordingly. When you break a precept, just pick yourself up, reflect on why you fell short, and make the determination not to let it happen again. Challenge yourself with the precepts, but be patient: perfecting one's morality is a lifelong practice.

Choose your company with care.

The Buddha pointed out that we tend to pick up the qualities - both good and bad - of the people with whom we associate (see Iti 76). If we care about developing good qualities in ourselves, it's therefore imperative that we associate as much as possible with good people and stay away from those who have little respect for the the precepts and wisdom. But remember that Buddhists don't have a monopoly on goodness of character; you'll find plenty of people from all walks of life who have admirable attributes such as generosity, patience, kindness, truthfulness, and so on. Get to know these people and see what you can learn from them about developing goodness in yourself.

Read, read, read.

Nowadays there are countless books and pamphlets on Buddhism, transcribed Dhamma talks, translated suttas, etc., available both in print and on the Internet. Some of them are wonderful, some are rubbish; developing the discernment to distinguish one from the other is itself a crucial aspect of learning Dhamma. The Buddha's own test of authenticity is invaluable in sorting the wheat from the chaff (see AN 8.53 and the Study Guide "Recognizing the Dhamma").

Take a class.

If at all possible, take part in an introductory meditation workshop or retreat conducted by an experienced teacher. Even if you have to travel a long distance in order to attend, you may be rewarded with enough helpful advice to nourish your meditation and your studies for a long time to come.

Even if you don't have a community of friends, you can still learn to ask yourself good questions - questions that will propel you deeper in your understanding of Dhamma (see "Questions of Skill"). Who was the Buddha? What did he accomplish? What is the goal of Buddhist practice? What is enlightenment? Why is morality the foundation of the Buddha's teachings? What is the purpose of meditation? What is wisdom? Am I honestly following the path that the Buddha laid out? What is the role of faith? If you can keep questions like these alive in your heart, you're bound to stay on track.

I want to become a Buddhist. How do I do that?

It begins with one deceptively simple act: making the inner commitment to "take refuge" in the Triple Gem, to accept the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha as your source of spiritual guidance.[1] This act is what makes one nominally "Buddhist." But going for refuge also implies a willingness - if only provisional, at first - to accept the cornerstone of the Buddha's teachings: the law of kamma. According to this universal principle, if you act unskillfully and make poor ethical choices, you are bound to suffer the consequences; if you choose wisely and act in line with the noblest ideals, you stand to benefit accordingly.[{32}2{33}] In other words, your happiness ultimately depends on the quality of your choices and actions; you alone are responsible for your happiness. Your first act after seeking refuge should therefore be to resolve to observe the five precepts - the five basic principles of living that can help prevent you from making grossly unskillful choices. This is where the practice of Buddhism begins.

You don't need a formal public ceremony or "initiation" to make any of this official. There are no equivalents in Buddhism to Christianity's "baptism" or "confirmation" rituals. You don't have to dress differently or wear a badge that says, "I am now a Buddhist." The practice of the Dhamma is a private matter and no one needs to know about it but you. Many Buddhists do, however, find it invaluable to renew their commitment to the Triple Gem and to the precepts from time to time in a more formal way, enlisting the help of a good friend, a respected meditation teacher, or a member of the monastic community (Sangha) as a witness. Administering the refuges and precepts to laypeople is a duty that Buddhist monks are glad to perform.

Many people find it difficult to sustain their commitment to the Dhamma on their own, without the support of like-minded friends and companions. (It can be hard to stick to the precepts if you're surrounded by people who see no harm in telling lies, or in having a secret romantic affair now and then, or in going out drinking all night.) You may have to do a little patient detective work to find this kind of support (see How can I find other people with whom to study Dhamma and practice meditation?, above).

Having taken these first steps, you can proceed along the Buddhist path in your own way and at your own pace. Although you can learn a great deal about Dhamma on your own, your understanding will grow by leaps and bounds once you find a good teacher - someone whom you trust and respect, who keeps to the precepts, and who understands the Dhamma and can communicate it clearly.{36}4{37} Other aids to progress in understanding the Dhamma are these: deepening your understanding of the precepts; studying the suttas; getting to know monks or nuns (the Sangha) and becoming acquainted with their traditions; developing a keen, discerning ear that can recognize which of today's popular spiritual teachings actually ring true to what the Buddha taught; and learning meditation. How you proceed is entirely up to you, but the bottom line is this: learn what the Buddha taught and put it into practice in your life as best you can.

If you ever decide that the Buddha's teachings aren't for you, you are free to walk away at any time and find your own way. There is no ceremony for renouncing the Buddha's teachings. Just remember: your happiness is in your own hands.

I'd like to have a Buddhist wedding. Any suggestions?

In the world of Theravada Buddhism marriage is regarded as a civil contract, not as a spiritual or religious union. Thus there is no standard Buddhist liturgy for marriage. You may simply include whatever texts or passages you and your spouse-to-be find inspiring.

A wedding is an excellent time to formally renew your commitment to both the Triple Gem and the five precepts. In Buddhist countries a couple might pay a visit to the local monastery shortly before or after their wedding to offer food to the monastic community, recite the refuges and precepts in a formal way, receive a little Dhamma instruction, and possibly receive a blessing or two from the monks. If such a visit isn't possible for you, you might put together your own refuges and precepts ceremony (use the formal ceremony as a guide). You might also consider reciting the "Five Subjects for Frequent Recollection," the Maha-mangala Sutta, or any other passages that inspire you.

What were the Buddha's views on divorce?

In Theravada Buddhism divorce (like marriage) is regarded as a civil matter, rather than a religious or spiritual one. I don't know of any suttas in which the Buddha expresses an opinion about divorce. The Buddha did, however, have some suggestions about how a couple should behave while they are married (see DN 31).

For some observations on how divorce is understood in Sri Lanka, see The Position of Women in Buddhism, by Dr. (Mrs.) L.S. Dewaraja. For more about marriage in general, see A Happy Married Life: A Buddhist Perspective, by K. Sri Dhammananda.

What were the Buddha's views on homosexuality?

From what I've read in the suttas, the Buddha gave no indication that one's sexual orientation has any bearing on one's spiritual practice. The five precepts, which form the most basic foundation of a moral life in Buddhism, encourage the abstention from "sexual misconduct," a term that generally refers to sexual activity between two people outside of a long-term committed relationship. It has nothing to do with "orientation."

The Buddha did, however, have strong words to say about sexuality/sensuality in general, as it is one of the most powerful expressions of human craving and attachment. And craving - the second Noble Truth - is a root cause of human suffering. The Buddha was very clear: if you're genuinely concerned about your long-term happiness, then it's worth reassessing the value of engaging in activities - be they heterosexual, homosexual, or non-sexual - that feed your cravings:

Even if it's with pain,
you should abandon
sensual desires
if you aspire
to future safety from bondage.
Alert, with a mind well-released,
touch release now here, now there.
An attainer-of-wisdom,
having fulfilled the holy life,
is said to have gone to the end of the world, gone

- Iti 109

It is worth noting that the Buddha explicitly discouraged his followers - men and women, alike - from dwelling on their sexual identity (AN 7.48). Although in this particular sutta he was describing heterosexuals, the message clearly applies to everyone.

What were the Buddha's views on abortion?

Practicing Buddhists observe the five precepts as a foundation for the moral life that spiritual progress requires. The first of these precepts is to "refrain from destroying living creatures." Because Theravada Buddhism regards human life as beginning at the moment of conception,{42}1{43} killing a fetus implies killing a human being, making abortion patently incompatible with the first precept.

One indication of the seriousness with which the Buddha regarded abortion is found in the Vinaya, the collection of texts that define the conduct and duties of Buddhist monastics. According to the Vinaya, if a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni should facilitate an abortion, or if a woman should get an abortion based on their recommendation, then that bhikkhu or bhikkhuni is immediately expelled from the Sangha, having broken one of the four cardinal rules of monastic conduct.{44}2{45}


1. According to the Pali texts, conception occurs when three things are simultaneously present: the mother (i.e., a fertile egg), the father (a sperm cell), and the gandhabba (the kammic energy of the being that is seeking rebirth). If all three successfully coincide, human consciousness arises in the fertilized ovum and rebirth occurs. For a description of this process, see the Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta (MN 38).

2. This rule (Parajika #3), which applies equally to bhikkhunis as well as bhikkhus, states:

Should any bhikkhu [or bhikkhuni] intentionally deprive a human being of life, or search for an assassin for him, or praise the advantages of death, or incite him to die (thus): "My good man, what use is this wretched, miserable life to you? Death would be better for you than life," or with such an idea in mind, such a purpose in mind, should in various ways praise the advantages of death or incite him to die, he [she] also is defeated and no longer in communion.

The word-commentary to this rule makes clear that abortion counts as "intentionally depriving a human being of life."

How should I teach Buddhism to my children?

The Buddha's advice to parents is straightforward: help your children become generous, virtuous, responsible, skilled, and self-sufficient adults [see DN 31 and Sn 2.4]. Teaching Buddhism to one's children does not mean giving them long lectures about dependent co-arising, or forcing them to memorize the Buddha's lists of the eightfold this, the ten such-and-suches, the seventeen so-and-sos. It simply means giving them the basic skills they'll need in order to find true happiness. The rest will take care of itself.

The single most important lesson parents can convey to their children is that every action has consequences. Each moment presents us with an opportunity, and it is up to us to choose how we want to think, speak, or act. It is these choices that eventually determine our happiness. This is the essence of kamma, the basic law of cause and effect that underlies the Dhamma. It also happens to be the message behind one of the few recorded teachings the Buddha gave to his only child, Rahula.{46}1{47} This sutta - the Ambalatthikarahulovada Sutta (MN 61) - offers parents some important clues about teaching Dhamma to young children - in terms of both the content of what to teach and the method to use.

In this sutta the Buddha reprimands the seven year old Rahula for telling a small lie. The content of the Buddha's lesson here is clear and simple: it concerns right speech, and helping Rahula keep himself true to the fundamental principles of virtue. There are several noteworthy aspects to the Buddha's method. First, by artfully drawing comparisons to an everyday utensil (in this case, a water dipper), the Buddha makes his point in vivid and age-appropriate language that Rahula can easily understand. Second, the Buddha doesn't launch into a long-winded abstract lecture on the nature of kamma, but instead keeps the lesson focused on the immediate issue at hand: choosing your actions carefully. Third, although the five precepts do indeed constitute the fundamental framework for moral conduct, the Buddha does not mention them here - presumably because some of the precepts (concerning sexuality and using intoxicants) are simply not relevant to most seven year olds. (Perhaps the Buddha had more to say about the precepts by the time Rahula was a teenager.) Fourth, the Buddha keeps Rahula engaged during the lesson by asking him simple questions; this is no dry, soporific lecture. And finally, the Buddha takes advantage of the opportunity presented by this "teaching moment" to expand into deeper territory, to explain to Rahula the importance of reflecting inwardly before, during, and after performing an action of any sort - whether of body, speech, or mind. The Buddha thus places Rahula's original small misdeed into a much broader context, transforming it into a lesson of deep and lasting significance.

Although most of us who are parents can only dream of teaching our children as consciously and effectively as the Buddha did, we can still learn from his example. But before we can translate his example into action, there is one crucial point to recognize: the Buddha's instructions to his son were given by someone who really knew what he was talking about; Rahula's teacher was someone who truly practiced what he preached, a role model par excellence. So the message is clear: if we hope to instruct our children about matters concerning the path of Dhamma, we had better be sure that we ourselves are practicing on that path. If you extol the virtues of skillful qualities such as generosity, truthfulness, and patience, but your children only see you being stingy, overhear you telling lies, or see you losing your temper, then your message will be lost. Of course, you need not have perfected the Dhamma in order to instruct your children, but for your instruction to carry any weight your children must be able to witness firsthand that you are earnestly striving to put these same teachings into practice yourself. And if you can inspire them by your example and give them the skills they need to know to live in tune with the Dhamma, then you've given them a rare gift indeed:

The wise hope for a child
of heightened or similar birth,
not for one of lowered birth, a disgrace to the family.
These children in the world,
lay followers,
consummate in virtue, conviction;
generous, free from stinginess,
shine forth in any gathering
like the moon
when freed from a cloud.

- Iti 74

If you're looking for books to read to (or with) a younger child, I recommend the series of colorfully illustrated Jataka{48}2{49} story books and coloring books available from Dharma Publishing. These books (in the "Jataka Tales Series") recount stories of the Buddha's former lives and provide many opportunities for discussion of basic moral principles with children. They are most appropriate for children under 10.


1. Seven years after leaving his home and family to begin his spiritual quest, Siddhattha Gotama - now the Buddha - returned on the first of several visits to his family to teach them Dhamma. The only suttas that record the Buddha's instructions to his son Rahula are these: MN 61 (Rahula is 7 years old), in which the Buddha explains the importance of self-reflection before, during, and after performing any action; MN 62 (age 18), in which the Buddha teaches him breath meditation; MN 147 (age 20, just after his ordination as a bhikkhu), in which the Buddha queries him about impermanence, and Rahula thereby becomes an arahant (this sutta is identical to SN 35.121); SN 22.91 (= SN 18.21) and SN 22.92 (= SN 18.22), in which the Buddha answers his questions about uprooting I-making and conceit; and Sn 2.11, in which the Buddha praises to him the virtues of the homeless life.

2. The Jataka, or "Birth Stories," is a book in the Khuddaka Nikaya that recounts tales of the Buddha's former lives prior to his final rebirth as Siddhattha Gotama. In previous lives he was born a human, or a bird, or a monkey, etc.; in each life he dedicated himself to developing and strengthening a wholesome quality of mind (parami). One Jataka story might be about developing patience, the next about developing generosity, and so on.

Are Buddhists vegetarian?

Some are, some aren't. From the Theravada perspective, the choice of whether or not to eat meat is purely a matter of personal preference. Many Buddhists (and, of course, non-Buddhists) do eventually lose their appetite for meat out of compassion for the welfare of other living creatures. But vegetarianism is not required in order to follow the Buddha's path.

Although the first of the five precepts, the basic code of ethical conduct for all practicing Buddhists, calls upon followers to refrain from intentional acts of killing, it does not address the consumption of flesh from animals that are already dead. Theravada monks, however, are clearly forbidden to eat meat from a few specific kinds of animals, but for reasons not directly related to the ethics of killing.{50}1{51} Monks are free to pursue vegetarianism by leaving uneaten any meat that may have been placed in the alms bowl, but because they depend on the open-handed generosity of lay supporters{52}2{53} (who may or may not themselves be vegetarian) it is considered unseemly for them to make special food requests. In those parts of the world (including wide areas of south Asia) where vegetarianism is uncommon and many dishes are prepared in a meat or fish broth, vegetarian monks would soon face a simple choice: eat meat or starve.{54}3{55}

Taking part in killing for food is definitely incompatible with the first precept, and should be avoided. This includes hunting, fishing, trapping, butchering, steaming live clams, eating live raw oysters, etc.

And what about asking someone else to catch and kill the animal for me? On this point the teachings are also unambiguous: we should never intentionally ask someone to kill on our behalf. We should not, for example, order a fresh steamed lobster from the restaurant menu. The Dhammapada expresses this sentiment succinctly:

All tremble at the rod,
all hold their life dear.
Drawing the parallel to yourself,
neither kill nor get others to kill.

- Dhp 130

And what about purchasing meat of an animal that someone else killed? Is this consistent with the Buddhist principles of compassion and non-harming, a cornerstone of right resolve? This is where things get tricky, and where the suttas offer only spotty guidance. In the Buddha's definition of right livelihood for a lay person, one of the five prohibited occupations is "business in meat" [AN 5.177]. Although he does not explicitly state whether this prohibition also extends to us, the butcher's clients and customers, it does place us uncomfortably close to a field of unskillful action.

To summarize what the suttas tell us: it appears that one may, with a clear conscience, receive, cook, and eat meat that either was freely offered by someone else, or that came from an animal who died of natural causes. But as to purchasing meat, I am just not sure. There are no clear-cut answers here.

We are all guilty of complicity, in one way or another and to varying degrees, in the harming and death of other creatures. Whether we are carnivore, vegan, or something in between, no matter how carefully we choose our food, somewhere back along the long chain of food production and preparation, killing took place. No matter how carefully we trod, with every step countless insects, mites, and other creatures inadvertently perish under our feet. This is just the nature of our world. It is only when we escape altogether from the round of birth and death, when we enter into the final liberation of nibbana - the Deathless - can we wash our hearts clean, once and for all, of killing and death. To steer us towards that lofty goal, the Buddha gave us very realistic advice: he didn't ask us to become vegetarian; he asked us to observe the precepts. For many of us, this is challenge enough. This is where we begin.


1. Theravada monks are forbidden to eat raw meat or fish, as well as the flesh of humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, leopards, bears, hyenas, and panthers. A monk who eats any of those kinds of meat commits an offense that he must confess to his fellow monks.

3. Monastics within some schools of Mahayana Buddhism do practice vegetarianism.

Are there any enlightened people in the world nowadays? How can I tell who's really enlightened?

I wouldn't be a Buddhist if I didn't think enlightenment were possible. The Buddha himself observed that as long there are people practicing correctly in line with the noble eightfold path, there will continue to be enlightened beings in the world (DN 16). Even better evidence of the reality of enlightenment lies in the "gradual" nature of the Buddha's teachings. In the suttas, the Buddha speaks again and again of the many rewards awaiting those who follow the Path, long before they reach nibbana: the happiness that comes from developing generosity; the happiness that comes from living according to principles of virtue; the happiness that comes from developing loving-kindness (metta); the happiness that comes from practicing meditation and discovering the exquisite bliss of a quiet mind; the happiness that comes from abandoning painful states of mind; and so on. These can be tasted for yourself, to varying degrees, through Dhamma practice. Once you've personally verified a few of the Buddha's teachings, it becomes ever-easier to accept the possibility that the rest of his teachings are plausible - including his extraordinary claim that enlightenment is accessible to us.

It's probably best not to spend too much time speculating on someone else's degree of enlightenment, simply because our own delusion and defilements are bound to cloud our vision and distort our assessment of others' attainments or lack thereof. Our time is far better spent looking inwards and asking of ourselves: "Am I enlightened? Have I made an end of suffering and stress?" If the answer is negative, then we have more work to do.

Some lines of questioning regarding someone else's purity are, however, well worth pursuing - especially when deciding whether or not to accept that person as your teacher: "Does this person seem to be truly happy? Does he live by the precepts? Is her interpretation of Dhamma a valid one? Can I learn something of real value from him?" It can take a long and close association with someone before you can begin to answer these questions with any confidence (AN 4.192). But if you do find someone possessing this rare constellation of good qualities, stay with that person: he or she probably has something of lasting value to teach you.

Finally, one rule of thumb that I've found helpful: someone who goes around claiming to be enlightened (or dropping hints to that effect) probably isn't - at least not in the sense the Buddha had in mind.

Where can I find a copy of the complete Pali canon (Tipitaka)?

Print editions:

If you're thinking of purchasing your own printed copy of the Tipitaka, be forewarned: the Pali canon is huge; owning a complete set is a serious commitment. The Pali Text Society's edition of the Tipitaka (English translation) fills over 12,000 pages in approximately fifty hardbound volumes, taking up about five linear feet of shelf space, and costing about US$2,000. Moreover, a few of the more obscure books in the Tipitaka are simply unavailable in English translation, so if you really must read the entire Tipitaka, you'll just have to learn Pali. The PTS has for over a century been the leading publisher of the Tipitaka, both in romanized Pali and in English translation, but many of their translations are now badly out of date. Much better translations of several portions of the Canon are now available from other publishers.

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Редакция перевода от 03.02.2021 18:39