The Buddha’s teachings are as vast as the ocean. Faced with the vast array of scriptures and commentaries in the Tripitaka, it is important to find the correct path of practice and avoid coming back empty-handed after setting out for the treasure mountain. Over the years, Middle Path Buddhist Temple has been dedicated to develop a relatively complete and progressive system of Buddhism. It can be divided into four levels of study: the Āgama, the Abhidharma (Abhidharmakośa), Nagarjuna (or Madhyamaka), and the Yogācāra (or Vijnanavada), or simply referred to as Āgama, Abhidharma, Madhyamaka, and Vijñānavāda. Each section has video and audio recordings of the main courses, as well as lecture materials, such as the “Essential Teachings of the Agama Sutras,” the “Abhidharmakosha,” the “Heart Sutra,” the “Diamond Sutra,” the “Introduction to Yogacara,” the “Explanation of the Mahayana Treatise on the Perfection of Wisdom,” and the “Compendium of Yogacara Philosophy.” These resources can be found on our website and other media, i.e., Wechat, Facebook, etc.
For beginners to Buddhism, we recommend starting with “The Path to Buddhahood.” “The Path to Buddhahood” integrates the essence of the scriptures and commentaries, covering the three levels of the Five Vehicles, the Three Vehicles, and the non-shared teachings of the Mahayana, as well as all aspects of the normal and expedient paths, fully displaying the entire path of Buddhism in sequence. It is a monumental work that represents the insights gained by Master Yin Shun from his comprehensive study of the Buddhist canon. As Ven. Master Yuan once learned directly from Master Yin Shun, he has presented a comprehensive introduction to “The Path to Buddhahood” with an open-minded, analytical approach, using simple language and integrating the practical realities of modern life. This book is a must-read for beginners, as it guides readers to systematically learn Buddhism and fully comprehend its essence.
Next is “The Essence of the Agamas” (《阿含經講要》). The Agamas are the earliest recorded teachings of the Buddha’s fundamental ideas and actions. They contain the Buddha’s worldview, understanding of human life, and methods of practice for attaining liberation. They record the Buddha’s teachings to his disciples on how to observe the impermanence of the world and body and how to overcome afflictions in order to seek liberation. From the history of Buddhist scriptures, they are recognized as the earliest compiled scriptures and are considered the sacred texts that explain the fundamental teachings of Buddhism. Therefore, it can be said that the Agamas are a must-study for all Buddhist learners. Based on the “Treatise on the Pure Land” (《清淨道論》), Venerable Yuan has systematically taught the six aspects of “increasing good” learning, “increasing faith” learning, “increasing precepts” learning, “increasing concentration” learning, “increasing wisdom” learning, and “correct liberation” learning to help students understand the teachings of the Agamas and gain the true benefits of Buddhism.
Next is the “Abhidharma-kosa,” also known as the “Treatise on the Abhidharma.” It was highly recommended by Indian Buddhist masters since ancient times and is considered the “Treatise of Wisdom.” The “Abhidharma-kosa” is a systematic and extensive discussion and commentary by later Buddhist disciples on the fundamental teachings of Buddhism found in the “Agamas.” It covers in-depth exploration and study of these teachings and is a foundational text. It inherits from the “Agamas” and develops them further, having a decisive influence and inspiration on Mahayana Buddhist teachings. It is an indispensable part of learning Buddhist thought. As Ven. Yuan uses his experience of over 20 years in the study of Buddhism to express the essence of the “Abhidharma-kosa” using vivid language and practical examples, in order to enable everyone to quickly explore the essence of Buddhism.
With this foundation of learning, one can further study the “Three Essentials of Practicing Buddhism” and “History of Indian Buddhist Thought.”
“The Three Essentials of Buddhist Practice” is based on the teachings of the Prajna Paramita Sutra, as explained by Master Yin Shun. The essence of Mahayana Buddhism is embodied in these three essentials: the aspiration for enlightenment, the compassionate heart, and the wisdom of prajna. They are collectively known as “The Three Essentials of Buddhist Practice,” representing the fundamental aspects of faith, compassion, and wisdom that are necessary for those who seek to follow the Buddhist path. By mastering these three essentials, one can transform all actions into the bodhisattva practice of Mahayana Buddhism, and attain the state of a bodhisattva in the human realm. Based on Master Yin Shun’s teachings, Ven. Master Hsing Yun has elaborated on the contents, essentials, and practices of “The Three Essentials of Buddhist Practice” in a manner that suits the practical needs and characteristics of modern people. With a rigorous attitude and vivid language, he hopes that everyone can truly apply “The Three Essentials of Buddhist Practice” to their daily lives, become genuine followers of the Mahayana path, and avoid wandering aimlessly outside of the Buddhist teachings without receiving their true benefits.
Studying “The History of Indian Buddhist Thought” helps Buddhist practitioners to return to the origin of Buddhism, trace the historical development of Indian Buddhism, and clarify the “true” meaning of the Buddha’s teachings and the “expedient means” used to adapt to different situations. By studying the history of Indian Buddhist thought, one can observe and grasp the overall picture of Buddhism more keenly and deeply, and achieve a more effective result in dispelling confusion and misconceptions about the Buddhist teachings.
Lastly, the study of the two major philosophical systems and schools of Indian Mahayana Buddhism – Madhyamaka and Yogacara – is essential. These courses cover the study of the Middle Way philosophy (Madhyamaka) and the Mind Only school (Yogacara), providing a comprehensive understanding of the profound teachings of Buddhism. By studying these courses, one can gain a deep understanding of the ultimate nature of reality and the relationship between consciousness and phenomena, which are essential for those seeking to cultivate wisdom and compassion and attain liberation from suffering.
The Mahayana Buddhist thought is rooted in the profound meaning and vast practice of the Prajnaparamita Sutras, so learning the Prajnaparamita teachings is an essential foundation. However, since the Prajnaparamita Sutras are voluminous and extensive, the study of Madhyamaka is usually initiated with the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra, which contain the essence of Prajnaparamita teachings. Once a certain level of understanding of Prajnaparamita teachings is achieved, the study of other Mahayana teachings can be more effective and efficient.
The curriculum of the Yogacara School includes “Overview of Yogacara,” “Essential Teachings on the Lotus Sutra,” and “Compendium of the Mahayana.” The “Essential Teachings on the Lotus Sutra” is the fundamental text of the Yogacara School, providing the theoretical foundation for the establishment of the Yogacara School. The “Three Natures and Three Emptinesses” and “Atman” views proposed in this text are the core theories of the Yogacara School, and are also some of the most profound theories in Buddhist thought. Studying the “Essential Teachings on the Lotus Sutra” is crucial for a better understanding of the fundamental Buddhist doctrines of dependent origination, impermanence, and non-self.
In addition, people can also learn according to the classification of courses on the Zhongdao website and public account. By taking courses at the entry level, beginner level, intermediate level, advanced level, etc., and studying for several years to more than a decade, if Buddhist practitioners can have a certain degree of learning and understanding of the courses listed above, they can establish a deep foundation in Buddhist studies. In combination with the practice of meditation and the observance of precepts, this will be of great help to future learning and spiritual practice.