Study as Part of the Spiritual Life
Study is a deliberate effort to increase our knowledge or understanding. Our knowledge and our beliefs steadily change as we develop. They are not static. They cannot be fixed or frozen. We are continually taking in new information, and we are continually revising our impressions. Every experience changes us, changes what we know and what we believe. Study provides the opportunity to examine our evolving beliefs and understanding.
“Deliberate” and “Effort” are the two crucial elements that define study. At the moment we are studying we have a defined objective to learn, to increase our knowledge or understanding. It is purposeful and deliberate; we cannot study by accident. Study also requires effort. Study may be reading, listening, discussing, thinking, reflecting, investigating or pondering. It is an activity. It requires us to be active not passive.
We study to understand, to stimulate, to invigorate, to keep ourselves alive and growing. We study to be inspired, to open ourselves. At Aryaloka Buddhist Center we study with a focus on living according to Buddhist teaching and principles. We study to learn what these teachings are, and we study to develop a growing clarity about our beliefs. We study to better know ourselves and to understand how we may apply our knowledge and beliefs to live an increasingly satisfying and meaningful life. We study to cultivate wisdom, the third limb of the Threefold Path in Buddhism of Ethics, Meditation, and Wisdom.
What We Study
Buddhism is the common factor at Aryaloka that defines us and unites us. We study the teachings of the historical Buddha as they have been recorded and passed down through the past 2500 years. This includes study of the original discourses, the dialogues and the encounters of the historical Buddha as they have been recorded in what is known as the Pali Canon, dating from the 1st Century BCE. The Pali Canon is an extensive corpus of writings, worthy of a lifetime’s dedication. But these are only a small fraction of the material available for study. We also delve into the lives and teachings of Buddhist thinkers, practitioners and exemplars from various cultures and times, such as Nagarjuna, Padmasambhava, Shantideva, and Milarepa.
Our initial study programs are centered largely on the teachings of the founder of the Triratna Buddhist Community, the Ven. Urgyen Sangharakshita. He has taught and published extensively; his writings progress from introductory material to advanced study for those who have been followers of Buddhism for many years. He incorporates in his teachings the range of Buddhist traditions, Theravadin, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Sangharakshita is well known and respected for his unified understanding of Buddhist teachings and his vision for living the Dharma in all contexts, including the modern west and changing east, while remaining radically true to the original intent of the teachings.
How We Study
In the Buddhist tradition there are said to be three levels of wisdom: listening, reflecting, meditating. In the first phase of listening we take in what has been taught; we find out what has been said and what the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha) means in its own terms. In the second, reflecting, we begin to consider what we have heard in relation to our own life experience and our own perspective; we ‘test’ the teachings. Buddhism is distinguished by the exhortation to explore the truth for ourselves, not to take on the teachings unexamined. In the stage of developing wisdom through meditation we merge what we have learned with our life experience, our contemplations and the capacities of a deeply still and quiet mind. In meditation we have the opportunity to penetrate the truth of reality and see things ‘as they are’.
To begin, we need to hear the Dharma. This is facilitated by participation in formal classes. At Aryaloka these are typically held in a series of evenings over several weeks, offered on regularly scheduled basis as described in the Aryaloka program of activities. The classes are led by a variety of teachers from the Triratna Buddhist Community. Periodic weekend study retreats also occur, usually directed to the introductory and intermediate levels of study. More advanced study opportunities are offered for mitras (those who have made a declaration of commitment to Buddhist practice), for those training for ordination into the Triratna Buddhist Order, and among Order members.
Both formal classes and retreats are group study opportunities. Group study allows for the exchange of information, knowledge and ideas among a variety of people. It provides the benefits of learning from each other’s experiences and beliefs.
Individual effort is also encouraged and may be supplemented with meetings with more experienced members of the community, arranged on an individual basis. Friends also may convene informal study groups together to explore a particular topic or text.
Through study and over time our familiarity with and knowledge of the Buddhist teachings become part of us, informing our decisions and actions. Study becomes the foundation upon which the wisdom levels of reflection and meditation naturally develop, leading us to insights and spiritual transformation.