The Refuge of Dhamma: A Pāli Canon study series

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

About Dr. Oakes
About Gift Economy

Why study the texts of the Buddha?

“A Little Learning” (AN 4.6)
“Times” (AN 4.147)
“One Who Lives by the Teaching” (AN 5.73)

Overview of Buddhist history and lineages

What is the Pāli Canon?

Our primary text resource: SuttaCentral.net
Sutta Central intro page

A favorite discourse

“The Longer Discourse at Gosiṅga” (MN 32)

Free thinkers love this path

“The Kāḷāma Sutta” (AN 3.65)

A personal note

Why I love the Theravāda and the suttas
Opening ritual: A poem I wrote in gratitude for these texts

Part 2: Setting Out


“The Simile of the Cloth” (MN 7)

Practice: Loving-Kindness


“Beautification” (AN 4.7)

Practice: Reflecting on community

The bases of merit

“Grounds for Making Merit” (AN 8.36)

Generosity & giving (dāna)

“Giving” (Iti 26)

Practice: Giving (dāna)

Ethics, virtue, morality (sīla)

“A Layperson” (AN 5.179)
“What’s the Purpose?” (AN 10.1)
“The Results of Misconduct” (AN 8.40)

Practice: Ethics (sīla)

Cultivation, development (bhavanā)

“The Development of Loving-Kindness” (Iti 27)
“The Adze” (SN 22.101)
“Paṭācārā” (Thīg 5.10)

Practice: Cultivation (bhavana)


“The People of Sālā” (MN 41)

The 5 Recollections

“Subjects for Regular Reviewing” (AN 5.57)

Practice: Reciting the 5 Recollections

Part 3: The Hard Part

Pain and feelings

“An Arrow” (SN 36.6)

Practice: Stabilizing attention

The senses are burning

“Burning” (SN 35.28)
“Giving up Ignorance” (SN 35.53)

Practice: Addictions & painful habits

Gratification, danger, and escape

“Gratification” (SN 22.26)
“With Māgaṇḍiya” (MN 75)

Practice: Discernment of wholesome and unwholesome

The importance of pleasure

“The Shorter Discourse on the Mass of Suffering” (MN 14)

Practice: Pleasure, & better pleasure

“The Great Discourse on Taking Up Practices” (MN 46)

Practice: Stabilizing ease

Example: The poet Vaṅgīsa struggles with lust

Linked discourses about Vaṅgīsa (SN 8)

Part 4: The Historical & Mythical Buddha

The Buddha tells his story

“The Noble Search” (MN 26)

Practice: Purpose

The Buddha describes his ascetic practice

“The Longer Discourse With Saccaka” (MN 36)

Practice: Discernment of skillful practice

Miracles at the Buddha’s birth

“Incredible and Amazing” (MN 123)

Practice: Knowing feelings

Part 5: The Teachings

The Buddha turns the Wheel

“Rolling Forth the Wheel of Dhamma” (SN 56.11)

Practice: Reading “Rolling Forth the Wheel of Dhamma”

Framework: 5 Grasping Aggregates

“Aggregates” (SN 22.48)

Framework: 4 Noble Truths

“Immersion” (SN 56.1)
“In a Rosewood Forest” (SN 56.13)
“A Yoke With a Hole” (SN 56.47)

Practice: Understanding dissatisfaction

Framework: The 8 Fold Path

“Analysis” (SN 45.8)
“Meditation” (SN 45.11)

Turning the Wheel: Koṇḍañña understands

Aññakoṇḍañña’s poem (Tha Ap 9)

Practice: Arising and passing

What did Koṇḍañña understand?

“That Which is Impermanent” (SN 22.15)

What did Kondañña attain?

“An Ethical Mendicant” (SN 22.122)
“The Best Kinds of Confidence” (AN 4.34)

Part 6: Setting Out on the Path

Going for Refuge & Taking the Precepts

“Overflowing Merit” (AN 8.39)

Practice: Chanting the Homage and Refuges
Practice: Chanting the 5 Precepts

A map of the path

“With Subha” (DN 10)
“A Tangle” (1.23)

Practice: Discernment of maturity


“A Wheel-Turning Monarch” (SN 55.1)

The paths and fruits

“Fetters” (AN 10.13)
“Fetters” (AN 4.88)
“Eight People” (AN 8.59)

Part 7: The Importance of Community

The goodness of the community

“For the Welfare of Many” (Iti 84)

Lay people’s practice

“Advice to Anāthapiṇḍika” (MN 143)


“Good Friends” (SN 45.84)
“Half the Spiritual Life” (SN 45.2)

The Buddha loves the saṅgha

“Mindfulness of Breathing” (MN 118)

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