Practical advice

Getting started

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 Buddhism.

  1. 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 given.
  2. 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 categories.)
  3. 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 following useful.

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

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