Welcome, and blessings on your path.
This is a syllabus for an online introduction to Buddhist thought and practice. The word Dhamma refers to the specific teachings of the Buddha, both those given by the historical Buddha in 500 BCE, and those developed by successive generations of practitioners. But it also can mean, simply, “natural law,” or “the way things are,” and refer to the truths of existence beyond any particular tradition or perspective. Dhamma is one of the 3 Refuges, along with Buddha and Saṅgha (teacher and community), revered by Buddhists as reliable guides through the difficulties of life.
This course is designed to introduce dedicated students to the beauty and richness of the Pāli Canon, the body of early Buddhist texts preserved by the Theravāda cultures in Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Malaysia — and now the basis of many forms of Buddhist practice worldwide. It is intended primarily for students of Insight Meditation, the convert-oriented Western lineage of Buddhist practice based in the Thai Forest and Burmese satipaṭṭhāna/vipassanā traditions, but may be of interest and benefit to spiritual seekers of any kind.
Practitioners of meditation, Yoga, and other south Asian contemplative systems will find guidance and encouragement of many kinds in this body of literature. Devoted Buddhists of any lineage will deepen in their understanding of the roots of the tradition, and find their practice profoundly enriched. And believers in any religion or philosophical system may find inspiration for their own forms of practice, and grow in understanding and appreciation of Buddhist culture and spirituality.
The course begins with a short historical overview of Buddhism, and an orientation to the primary text resource we will use: the free website SuttaCentral.net, where nearly the entire Pāli Canon, along with many of its parallels in Chinese, Tibetan, and other languages are gathered and translated.
Following the introduction, we will begin to read a selection of discourses that lay out the Buddha’s path, interwoven with instruction on basic practices, and culminating in an exploration of the ritual of going for refuge that traditionally marks the turning of one’s life toward liberation and the specific path described by the Buddha and developed by his disciples.
The course will be initially released as a series of videos for our Facebook group, In It To End It. Based on the questions and discussion that unfold as we release the course, this syllabus may change. Our aim is that the group may become a virtual Saṅgha, a community of practitioners coming together to support each other to deepen in practice through these times of great trouble. After sections of the course are complete, we’ll transition them to our online course platform.
May our work be for the sustaining of the Dhamma (the teachings of the Buddha, and the universal truths they point to), and the conditions necessary for goodness and liberation to flourish, for the benefit of all beings everywhere.
namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammā-sambuddhasa
Homage to the Blessed One, the Perfected One, the Fully Self-Awakened One
Part 1: Orientation
Intro & welcome to the course
Why study the texts of the Buddha?
Overview of Buddhist history and lineages
What is the Pāli Canon?
A favorite discourse
Free thinkers love this path
A personal note
Why I love the Theravāda and the suttas
Opening ritual: A poem I wrote in gratitude for these texts