Just like writing a paper, making a list, or cleaning, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. Beginning anything as big as learning a new religion is no exception. Buddhism has one of the largest collections of sutras (sacred texts) than any other religion. The texts are in the thousands, covering a myriad of topics and lessons. So of course it would be difficult to know where to start.
In most cases, simply diving in and starting somewhere is suitable. In Buddhism, not so much. In Buddhism, there are three main foundations a practitioner must fully understand before being able to move on to more advanced study. These foundations are: The Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, andInterdependent Origination. While practicing meditation, these foundations can lead the practitioner to the insight needed to understand them in order to better understand further topics.
It’s important to study each of these topics for a long period of time. For example, study and meditate on each of the Four Noble Truths for one week. After studying the Truths for a month, a greater understanding will be achieved. Continue studying each of the Eightfold Path and the Twelve Links of Interdependent Origination in the same way, one path and link a week. Meditate on each topic for at least 15 minutes a day; what have you learned, what does it mean to you, how does it work, how can you improve, how does it affect you and those around you – contemplate on questions like these to really penetrate each topic.
Read, read, read! The Internet is a universe of information and any Buddhism 101 book should have all the necessary, basic information needed to start you on the path. Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching is an excellent resource and place to begin.
If you are fortunate enough to live in a city where a Buddhist temple is available, go visit! One of the best ways to learn is amongst likeminded people who are trying to achieve the same thing you are; peace and happiness. Even if a temple is a city away, try to make some time to make a visit at least once a month. Being at a temple for a Dharma talk and chanting will only inspire you to further penetrating your studies.