Jonah Engler- Buddhism for Beginners: A Guide to Getting Started

People interested in Buddhism often as, “As a newbie, how do I get started?” That’s the perfect question! The answer educator and entrepreneur Jonah Engler would give any on“newbie” is “bit by bit!” 

Buddhism is over 2500 years old. It has 470+ million followers. There’s simply too much to learn. People who have busy lives may struggle to get absorbed into this centuries-old religion and philosophy. 

But, we must remember the famous Buddhist saying, “The water pot is filled drop by drop.” Every big thing has a small start. So, the most important thing for people new to Buddhism is to get started.

What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is one of the oldest religions/spiritual traditions or religions in the world. It was started by Gautama Buddha in Nepal almost 2500 years ago. He sat beneath a Bodhi tree, meditated for months, and achieved “Enlightenment.” 

In Sanskrit, the word Buddha means “Enlighted.” Technically, anyone can become a “Buddha” by meditating and seeing the world without any personal judgments or biases. However, very few people have earned this title. 

Why? Because mastering this ancient spiritual tradition is not easy. Jonah Engler claims that attaining enlightenment shouldn’t be the only goal of an aspiring Buddhist. Yes, attaining that state of mind is the ultimate “success.” 

But, the privilege of understanding the core values of Buddhism is success in and of itself. Embarking on the Buddhist path and reinforcing your core values will do your personal life a great deal of good. 

Can people convert to Buddhism? Of course, anyone can become an “official” Buddhist. But, the more important thing is learning about the teachings and traditions of Buddhism with appreciation and respect.

How Can I Start My Journey on the Buddhist Path?

Learning about Buddhism has never been easier. Educator Jonah Engler always urges his students to take the simplest of steps in this humble and noble pursuit. Conduct a few Google searches. Buy some relevant books on Buddhism. 

Reach out to Buddhist communities on the Internet and have one-on-one discussions with Buddhists to learn about their perspectives. These simple steps don’t cost anything. But, they’ll serve as the fuel for the fiery curiosity in your mind about Buddhism. 

Here are some other basic and practical steps Engler recommends to people interested in Buddhism –

  • Take a Class: There is a wide range of classes and workshops on Buddhism online and IRL. Newbies should try some of these classes to become familiar with basic Buddhist principles. They’ll also get to meet fellow aspiring Buddhists when attending services or meditation classes. 
  • Try Meditation: As stated above, Gautama Buddha became enlightened purely through meditation. There were no grand ceremonies. No complex mythological tales. Just a man with an unquenchable desire for truth and an unshakeable dedication to meditation. You can start Buddha’s journey right in your home. Be it 5 minutes a day or 20 minutes a week – try meditating. Don’t know how to meditate? Ok. Start by allocating some time to just sit with yourself, alone with no plans or activities. 
  • Read Books and Articles: On the Internet, you’ll find several free articles (like this one) that teach Buddhism to beginners. Read as many of them as you can. Brush up on some basic Buddhist topics before taking a paid class or course or buying a book on Buddhism. 

Seems easy, right? There are so many free/paid resources on Buddhism. However, the number one source of knowledge about Buddhism is yourself. 

Understanding Yourself: The Essence of Buddhist Philosophy 

According to Buddhist philosophy, our sense of “self” is a mere product of our perceptions. You don’t exist – you occur inside your mind. Imagine pausing a film to see an individual still image. All movies are made up of individual still images. 

But, when watching films, we perceive each still image as part of a larger connected story. Our sense of self is just like individual still images. The you of today won’t be the same you tomorrow. In the movies, every individual’s still image changes after a second. 

In life, every moment comes and goes just like those still images. In the highest Buddhist teachings, students are taught to see themselves as full-scale films, not just individual still images. That’s because most peoples’ perceptions of themselves are very narrow. 

They don’t see themselves as parts of the bigger, grander picture of life. They see themselves as still images. The Buddha taught that people must let go of such narrow-minded perceptions of themselves. 

The Five Components of Your Self Image

To guide people on how to achieve this type of self-disengagement, he created a simple concept. According to him, your perception of yourself is made up of five components or aggregates (Sanskrit term – skandhas) – 

  • Awareness or consciousness (viññāna)
  • Mental formation (sankhāra)
  • Sensation or feeling tone (vedanā)
  • Form or materiality (rūpa)
  • Perception (saññā)

Consciousness is the component that makes the entire process of experiencing life possible. In Buddhism, understanding the relationship between your mind and your consciousness is very important. 

The Buddha incorporated the five components of philosophy into many of his other teachings. The essence of this philosophy is simple – 

  • “You” are not you.
  • Your self-image or self-perception is a temporary phenomenon.
  • You are an illusion. Life is an illusion.

Coming to this conclusion through self-reflection and meditation is the ultimate goal of Buddhism. 

What Type of Buddhism Should I Learn? 

According to CTN News, our sense of self is fabricated by our emotional responses. How we perceive each moment in life defines our sense of self. People come to this same conclusion after following different schools of thought in Buddhism. 

Just like any other major religion, Buddhism has different sects, denominations, and schools of thought. Some of the more popular branches of Buddhism include –

  • Zen Buddhism
  • Vajrayana Buddhism
  • Mahayana Buddhism
  • Theravada Buddhism
  • Thai Forest Traditional Buddhism 
  • Nichiren Buddhism
  • Pure Land Buddhism

The first and oldest branch is Theravada Buddhism. But, that doesn’t mean other branches of Buddhism won’t teach you how to become an enlightened being. 

Start looking up ancient Buddhist concepts like “the Four Noble Truths.” If needed, take a class or course on the basics of Buddhism. Get started now! 

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