For many years the Sakya Buddhist Centre in Bristol has been running courses for anyone interested in learning about meditation and the teachings of the Buddha. At our introductory classes, we sometimes follow a list of twenty different topics that introduce the basics of Buddhist practice.
With the outbreak of coronavirus we have had to stop all classes in the Centre for now (see here for our meetings on Zoom), but there are already many videos by our Buddhist teacher, Lama Jampa Thaye, which illustrate these twenty topics in turn.
We are making them available here in the hope that they can support those who have been attending the classes, by enabling self-directed learning at home. The videos are freely available to others too, and might be of interest to those who find themselves in solitude, or with time on their hands, or who are searching for answers.
“All beings have one thing in common, which is that all of us want to be free from suffering and find happiness. Every being strives for happiness and makes great effort to attain it.
Many people try to find happiness in material progress, but although this can bring us physical comfort, it cannot cure our mental and emotional problems, nor can it bring us lasting peace and happiness.
Real peace and happiness can only be achieved through spiritual practice, through transforming our mind. As long as our mind is controlled by our defilements, we cannot experience true peace and happiness. It is difficult for our mind to abandon its defilements because it has been associated with them since beginningless time. But by doing spiritual practice and following the Buddha’s teachings, the mind can become free of its defilements”.
(His Holiness Sakya Gongma Trichen, the 41st Sakya Trizin)
Discovering the causes of happiness
Some introductory videos to get you started:
Twenty topics to discover dharma
The format for our classes was recommended by Lama Jampa, and you might like to follow it at home – you can find it described under the list of videos below. You could set aside a regular time for meditation and study, perhaps each day, or each week, and cover one topic per session. It’s good to allow time to reflect on the topics between sessions so you can really take them to heart.
1. The life of the Buddha
2. The Four Noble Truths. (1 and 2)
3. The Four Noble Truths (3 and 4)
- (included in the video above)
4. The four thoughts that turn the mind to dharma – (1) precious human birth
5. The four thoughts that turn the mind to dharma – (2) impermanence
6. The four thoughts that turn the mind to dharma – (3) karma and rebirth
7. The four thoughts that turn the mind to dharma – (4) the defects of samsara
8. The wheel of life
9. Taking refuge
10 The teacher and lineage
- What is the role of a lama in Buddhism?
- Why do we need a teacher in Buddhism?
- What is the importance of receiving teachings in Buddhism?
11. The three vehicles
- What is Mahayana Buddhism?
- What is the Vajrayana?
- What is guru devotion in Buddhism?
- What is a Buddhist initiation?
12. Loving kindness and compassion
13. Bodhicitta and the bodhisattva
14. The Six Perfections – giving
15. The Six Perfections – moral discipline
16. The Six Perfections – patience
17. The Six Perfections – effort
- How do we develop a daily meditation practice? (a related topic)
18. The Six Perfections – meditation
19. The Six Perfections – wisdom
- What is wisdom?
- What is the “view” in Buddhism?
- How do Buddhists arrive at truth?
- Is Buddhism the most logical religion?
- What is enlightenment in Buddhism?
20. Dedication of merit
- (please see the prayer below)
[Please note that these videos were not purpose built for this course, and so while we have tried to match them as closely as possible to the topics used in the classes, they may not always be a perfect match, however we hope they provide a useful introduction to the Buddhist Path].
Suggested format for a session of meditation and study
The following format takes around an hour per session, so try and find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably without interruption. If you are comfortable sitting on the floor with a cushion then try that. If you like you can sit in front of an image of the Buddha if you have one, and perhaps light a candle. A degree of solitude is needed, but don’t worry – just make the best arrangements you can. If you like, you can include thee prayers in the session:
Recite the Refuge prayer (three times):
To the Buddha, dharma and sangha,
I go for refuge until enlightenment.
By the merit of the practice of giving and so on,
May I attain Buddhahood in order to benefit beings.
Recite the Four Immesaurables prayer (once):
May all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness;
May they be free from suffering and the causes of suffering;
May they be inseparable from the bliss that is beyond suffering;
May they rest in the state of equality that is beyond any partiality, desire or aversion.
Start with perhaps 15-20 minutes of tranquility meditation.
How should beginners meditate?
The seven point posture for meditation:
- Sit on a cushion with your legs crossed – in time you will be able to sit in a half lotus position with one leg pulled up onto the opposing thigh and even possibly, the full lotus position. Anyway, the important thing is to sit as comfortably as you can. If you find that sitting cross-legged is very uncomfortable, try using a couple of cushions and kneeling with your feet pulled back either side of you, or simply sit on a chair.
- Keep you back straight, so that your spine is upright like a pile of coins.
- Rest your right hand on your left hand, with the thumbs gently touching.
- Your head is tilted forward very slightly.
- Rest your gaze on the floor about one meter in front of you. Your eyes should be half open; if this is difficult keep them fully open.
- Your mouth is closed.
- Your tongue rests on the roof of your mouth.
Make sure you are not tense. It is important to be relaxed and yet not so relaxed that you slump. Just try and maintain a relaxed, alert position.
Reflective meditation: (perhaps 20-30 minutes)
Watch the video(s) for the topic, then sit for the remainder of the time for personal reflection on the teaching – consider how it relates to your own experience; whether it rings true; how can you take this teaching to heart; any questions that arise.
Meditation: (perhaps 1 or 2 minutes)
To close the session do a few minutes of meditation where you stop conceptual thoughts; no need to count the breaths; just let the mind relax.
Recite the Dedication of Merit:
By this merit may all beings gain omniscience,
And defeat all the enemies that harm them.
Thus may they be liberated from this world,
Which is like an ocean of birth, old age, sickness and death.
We also recommend the following videos for further study:
- What is a Buddhist lifestyle?
- What should the daily routine of a Buddhist be?
- How do we make a Buddhist shrine?
- How should we study the Buddhist teachings?
- What books should I read?
- What are the major obstacles afflicting the transmission of Buddhism to the West?
- How can we overcome fear?
You can see more videos at the YouTube channel for Lama Jampa.
If, after watching these videos, you would like to learn more you might like to visit these websites (they have contact details if you would like to get in touch):
- Lama Jampa Thaye – our Buddist teacher, and spiritual director of the Sakya Buddhist Centre in Bristol, as well as other Dechen Buddhist Centres around the world.
- Dechen – the community of Buddhist Centres and practitioners established by Lama Jampa Thaye, under the spiritual authority of Karma Thinley Rinpoche.
- Sakya Buddhist Centre, Bristol – our website, which includes details of the classes we hope we can run again in the future.
We hope that sharing these resources during the corona virus lock down has been helpful, and we wish you good health and happiness.