Forum on Indian and Buddhist Studies
April 18, 1991
A curious new subscriber recently asked:
Where do I start in the practice of buddhism? What
beginner books to read?
There are three easy steps to follow in the practice of
- Get rid of all your pirated software. If you
are using your own computer, then immediately after signing off
from your e-mail service, go through all the software on your
system and delete all the programs that you have not yet paid for
(or pay for all the programs that you are not willing to delete).
If it is not obvious to you why you should not be running any
pirated software, or if you are unwilling to do what it is obvious
to you that you ought to do, then you are not yet ready to
undertake the practice of Buddhism, one of the most basic precepts
of which is undertaking not to take what has not been freely
- Sign off this Buddhist forum (if you can
figure out how). Most of the people who belong to this forum are
really decent people who never send messages in. They are the only
people you should listen to. You can get the same effect by signing
off. The majority of people who send messages to this forum are
either opinionated fanatics or anal-retentive scholars whose
improper toilet-training as infants has condemned them to a
lifetime of quibbling over the nuances of enclitic particles in
medieval Pali. (Some unfortunate contributors such as myself suffer
the double curse of falling into both of the aforementioned
- Stay away from people who identify themselves as
Buddhists. When you have successfully practised on your
own for at least ten or fifteen years without telling a soul that
you are practising Buddhism, you may be strong enough to withstand
the copious quantities of bovine fecal matter that will be dumped
on you in most North American dharma centres by earnest
practitioners and their well-meaning but benighted gurus.
As for books, I have found that quite a few people find the
- Aitken, Robert. 1984. The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen
Buddhist Ethics. San Francisco: North Point Press.
- Nhat Hanh, Thich. 1976. The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual
on Meditation. Boston: Beacon Press.
- Thien An, Thich. 1975. Zen Philosophy, Zen Practice.
Emeryville, CA: Dharma Publishing.
The first of these books is an intelligent and articulate
discussion of ethics. The second is a lively and innovative
discussion of meditation in everyday life. The third discusses
several methods of somewhat more formal sitting meditation
practice. All happen to be written by Zen masters, but all have
gotten well rid of the horrible stench of sectarian piety.
One final piece of friendly advice: Do not under any
circumstances photocopy any of these books. But do read
them and think about them. (This warning is for your own health.
The cosmic engineers are busy at work at this very moment building
a spacious new purgatory to accommodate all the people of our
generation who pirate software and photocopy copyright books and
articles. The denizens of this hell, it is said, spend incalculable
aeons working at computer terminals that crash unpredictably before
their work can be saved and squinting at curled yellow pages from
which the print has all but disappeared. It's said to be an
unimaginably awful place, nearly as awful they say as life as a
human being on the planet earth.)
Good luck in your practice of Buddhism or whatever else you
decide to take up after realizing that Buddhism isn't really for
you after all.
Richard P. Hayes