Digital Dharma

The Middle Path, One Day At A Time

Buddhist Bible Study


A young friend of mine over on FaceBook has started a group to discuss Buddhist scripture. I was asked to invite people. Here is my response.

Good Evening, (name witheld),

I would not, at this time, be comfortable inviting people to the group, although I joined myself in order to support you. There are two reasons for this.

  • Dharma is traditionally passed on through direct teaching rather than discussion (except, sometimes, moderated discussion among those who are being taught).
  • Neither do Buddhists proselytize. Seekers are free to find themselves in the Dharma if it seems right for them.

Personally, while I am in favor of providing information, both for the Sangha and for others who might be interested (as I attempt to do on my site) I am not in favor of the Barnes & Noble Buddhism that seems fashionable nowadays.
Attempting to understand a complex religious tradition of more than 3,000 volumes and nearly that many years, via discussions with beginners, are doomed to provide very little it seems to me. To the extent that a few are moved to serious study, I suppose it’s to the good.

As an example, there are today practicing Buddhists who deem themselves non-religious, and some who even prefer not to refer to themselves as Buddhists, as the Dharma teaches us not to label people and ideas. Others continue to follow their birth religion while practicing Buddhist tenets as a life philosophy. Others yet consider themselves deeply religious, identifying Buddhism as their belief system and themselves as Buddhists. Still others — like the Tibetans — have grafted Siddhartha’s teaching and that of his followers onto previous religious systems, which have themselves become known as Buddhism.

Some, like myself, are firmly agnostic in the literal sense. We freely admit that we know nothing about metaphysical matters and believe it is not possible for humans to know such things, trying instead to live our lives in such a way that — at the end of the day — the point is moot. “Live a good life and let God (if She exists) sort it out,” in a manner of speaking. For such, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path lead to being better integrated personalities and the ability (one hopes) to be of some help to others, and that is the whole point. The meandering thoughts of two millennia of sages only confuse the Buddha’s words.

That said, we have only the Tripitaka on which to draw, just as Western thought has only the Bible, flawed though it may be, and the Q’uran. It should come as no surprise — in fact, would amaze if it were otherwise — that there have been as many branches of Buddhism as of Jewry, Christianity and Islam.

This is a confusing issue, as are all belief systems that have evolved among millions of minds over centuries and in different parts of the world. Look at the People of the Book as perfect examples of that, and you will see why I question how a multi-“denominational” Buddhist “Bible study” will prosper.

That said, I will keep in touch and see how it goes. When it comes to expanding one’s knowledge and mind, little is wasted if the intent is good.


Your comments…?

Author: Bill

Stumbling down the Middle Path, one day at a time.

3 thoughts on “Buddhist Bible Study

  1. Thank you – your suggestions are very helpful. I’ve found a few places to go for meditation instruction and will check them out in the coming weeks. I’ve ordered the books from the library, too! Thanks for being so kind.

  2. How did you first learn about Buddhism – what teachings gave you the best understanding? I’m looking for a good start to serious study and understanding…


    Dear Linsey,

    I came to Buddhism by such a convoluted route that I’m not sure I could retrace it accurately, many “wrong” paths — wrong for me, anyway — that were principally chosen to satisfy my ego. I wasn’t going to settle for that old warmed-over stuff. What a surprise to discover that it’s old because it’s real and has thus lasted.

    The first book that I recommend for anyone is always the same: Buddhism Plain and Simple, by Steve Hagen. Steve is a Buddhist priest who teaches in Minneapolis. The book is a clean, simple exposition of the Four Noble Truths and Buddhist ethics, and is all one really needs to understand the essence of Dharma.

    Beyond that, I like Peace Is Every Step, by Thich Nhat Hahn (who should need no introduction) and Ethics for the New Millennium by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (ditto). Both HHDL and Thây tend to sort of write the same book over and over, so any of their books are good choices — clear, loving and concise.

    The truth is, Buddhism is so simple that teachers over the centuries have tended to complicate it in order to have something to teach (my opinion). It is about simplifying life, thought, and our concept of reality. How more than 4000 volumes could have been written about that over the centuries has always mystified me.

    The next step (preferably the first) is find a teacher and learn to meditate. Meditation is the essence of the Dharma. Here is an excellent resource to begin or, if you have a local temple or zendo, just walk in and ask someone what to do next. Humility is the key. As I recall, you live in the Northwest. There are sanghas thick on the ground out there. It’s a wonderful place to practice.

    Many blessings on your path.

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