For nearly 500 years after his death, the Buddha’s teachings were passed through generations of the monastic community by oral tradition. In the late first century BCE they were first written down in a collection known as the Pali Canon. Since then a variety of additional texts and translations have appeared as a means for disseminating his ancient wisdom. Now in the 21st century we have the benefit of a new medium; the Internet is a resource utilized by lay practitioners and monastics alike for bringing the religion of Buddhism to the world.
The Buddhist Faith
One of the oldest enduring Eastern religions, Buddhism was founded in India during the sixth century BCE by Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha. Although specific beliefs and practices vary, Buddhism centers around the idea that earthly suffering can be relieved by attaining Enlightenment, the cessation of the eternal cycle of death and rebirth in which all sentient beings are mired. In this section of the guide we’ll direct you to Web sites with information on the history of Buddhism and explanations of fundamental concepts such as karma, the three jewels, the four noble truths, the eightfold path, and nirvana.
- Reliable information on Buddhism comes from a few primary sources: active monasteries, Buddhism organizations and associations, educational institutions, and occasionally personal Web pages.
- Most of these sites offer general introductions to Buddhism without favoring any specific sects. Those sites with specific affiliations are noted in our descriptions, and can still be viewed as unbiased sources of historical information, most of which is universal.
- The following sites have a combination of walk-through tutorials (e.g., BuddhaNet), articles (Dharmanet.org), and encyclopedic definitions to aid you in developing an understanding of the religion. A good place to begin would be at BuddhaNet, as it provides a cohesive introduction to a subject with many disparate elements.
For overviews of Buddhism …
BuddhaNet , a site run by the Buddha Dharma Education Association, has a wealth of information covering nearly all aspects of Buddhism. Go to the “Buddhist Studies” link at the top of the page to be directed to a “Basic Buddhism Guide,” and “Buddhist History and Culture.” These links can help you find essential information on Buddhist history as well as forms and methods of practice. The “Basic Buddhist Teachings” link answers practical questions for contemporary practice. We’ll reference other areas of this comprehensive Web site throughout this guide.
DharmaNet International has links to articles on the history, fundamental beliefs, and traditions of Buddhism. Topics are organized into subsections to make searching for specific information easy. As simple as the subjects are to navigate, the text here can be extensive, so be prepared to read.
The BBC has a very well organized section on Buddhism with links to original BBC content. The explanations are divided into topics like “History,” “Beliefs,” and “Customs,” which are then covered in easy-to-follow summaries. Visit “At a Glance” for quick facts, but expect more thorough explanations from other links. The BBC site does a great job of clearly presenting material within context. For example, the “History” section has a clear timetable of the Buddha and his teachings and also offers articles on specific topics, such as “History of Buddhism in Britain” and “Buddhism and slavery.”
The Buddhist Society is a Buddhist center in London that hosts events and regularly offers articles and discussions on Buddhism. The “Resources” section of the homepage takes you to a list of links that define the religion by explaining the life of the Buddha and the practices that emerged from his teachings. There is also a “Library” section that explains Buddhist texts and suggests further reading
C. George Boeree wrote this text for classes he taught on Buddhist Psychology at Shippensburg University. Scroll down the page for a list of topics related to Buddha’s history and specific elements of Buddhist practice. Subjects are clearly outlined and arranged to encourage a comprehensive understanding. The “Links and Suggested Readings” section offers lots of good information to help you continue your path to Enlightenment.
Simhanada , although with a Mahayana focus, has links to basic topics in Buddhism-especially its history and teachings. The information is easy to find but dense, with lots of text involved. This thorough overview is supplemented by colorful pictures: practicing monks and ancient Buddhist artwork are two examples.
For Buddhism for kids …
Dharma For Kids is another Mahayana Web site with links to the stories and symbols of Buddha and Buddhism. Click on the temple icon for Q&A’s on Buddhist history and doctrine, Buddhist games, and numerous mini-features. Click the temple and monk icons for coverage of the practices of Buddhism, such as Karma and the Noble Truths. Each topic is explained in brief and followed by a Q&A section and an art gallery to make learning visual.
For the role of vegetarianism in Buddhism …
http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma3/vegi.html Urban Dharma provides essays with varying opinions about Buddhism and vegetarianism. You’ll find lots of good insight if you’re thinking of becoming a vegetarian for Buddhist purposes, and many good arguments about why you can also be a carnivorous Buddhist.
The International Vegetarian Union explains the relationship of Buddhism and vegetarianism, offering Buddhist texts on the subject as well as the personal story of a practicing vegetarian Buddhist. The “FAQ” link on the menu bar at the top of the page has great clarifications and tips on both basic and elusive vegetarian questions. The “Recipes” link instructs on vegetarian cuisine from all over the world, categorized by region.
Buddhist Resources on Vegetarianism and Animal Welfare is a Web site compiled by Ron Epstein for the Philosophy Department at San Francisco State University. He lists links to Buddhist scriptures and contemporary essays on vegetarianism. He also offers many vegetarian resources that can be quite helpful, though some don’t open. The second half of the page links to essays on animal welfare.
The Different Forms of Buddhism
During Buddhism’s 2,500 year history, several thriving sects have emerged, each with a unique take on the teachings of Buddha and daily practice. In this section we’ll contrast the three dominant strains of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, along with a fourth-Zen Buddhism-that grew out of Mahayana and has gained increasing popularity in the West. We’ll explore these traditions’ differing approaches to the dharma, their conduct of monastic practice, and the geographic boundaries that define them.
- In this guide we’ll direct you to sites with information pertaining to four of Buddhism’s most prominent sects. The following is some introductory information to get you started.
- Theravada, the most ancient form of Buddhism, is the dominant school in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Myanmar/Burma, Cambodia, and Laos). Its name translates to “Doctrine of the Elders,” and it centers around the Pali scriptures, transcribed from the oral tradition taught by the Buddha. By studying these ancient texts, meditating, and following the eightfold path, Theravada Buddhists believe they will achieve Enlightenment. Strong emphasis is also placed on the monastic community and on heeding the advice of the wise.
- Mahayana Buddhism developed out of the Theravada tradition roughly 500 years after the Buddha attained Enlightenment. A number of individual schools and traditions have formed under the banner of Mahayana, including Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, and Tantric Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism focuses on the idea of compassion and touts bodhisattvas, which are beings that work out of compassion to liberate other sentient beings from their suffering, as central devotional figures.
- Vajrayana was last of the three ancient forms to develop, and provides a quicker path to Enlightenment than either the Theravada or Mahayana schools. They believe that the physical has an effect on the spiritual and that the spiritual, in turn, affects the physical. Vajrayana Buddhists encourage rituals, chanting, and tantra techniques, along with a fundamental understanding of Theravada and Mahayana schools, as the way to attain Enlightenment.
- Zen Buddhism is said to have originated in China with the teachings of the monk Bodhidharma. Zen Buddhism treats zazen meditation and daily practice as essential for attaining Enlightenment, and deemphasizes the rigorous study of scripture.
- Because Buddhism is a system based on practice and individual experience rather than on theology or dogma, the different forms that have emerged differ less in what they believe the Buddha’s teachings to be than in how they believe Buddhism should be practiced in daily life. Here are some Web sites that explain the history of the various movements and ways to be involved in those sects, both online and off.
The BBC ‘s section on Buddhism lists some of Buddhism’s subdivisions with coverage of their history, beliefs, and practices. The Web site explains how each subdivision is currently practiced.
BuddhaNet lists some of the major forms of Buddhism and links to original texts in different categories. These essays are not very long and offer a thorough but concise overview of the most important schools of Buddhism. Another page illustrates the distinction between the Theravada and Mahayana traditions using an easy-to-follow table that lists and explains the differences between the two belief systems.
DharmaNet International ‘s section “The traditions” (on the lower left of the page), has links to explanations of the major forms of practice. The text is not as dense in this section of DharmaNet as it can be in other parts of the Web site. The belief systems are broken down by various themes, making their descriptions easy to follow.
Access to Insight is the Web site on Theravada Buddhism most frequently recommended by other online resources. It offers a clear layout of the basic principals of Theravada with hyperlinks guiding you to more thorough investigations of elements of the faith.
Kheper offers informative text on the Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana traditions, which are easy to find through a list of links. Images of Buddhist sculpture and painting supplement the detailed explanations of the three traditions.
The Berzin Archives are the collection of Alexander Berzin, an American who spent 29 years studying and practicing Tibetan Buddhism in India. The Archives offer original text comparing the Mahayana and Theravada traditions. Also explored are different forms of Tibetan Buddhism. The comparative studies are organized in lists and identified as book excerpts, essays, or transcripts.
Zen is an entertaining site produced by the Kodai-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan. Through creative use of Flash animation, this site has a short walk-through explaining Zen Buddhism through the embodiment of its principles.
Finding Buddhist Scriptures
Whether you’re looking for the Pali Canon, Zen parables and koans, Mahayana text, or scholarly books on the subject of Buddhism, there’s a large quantity of original Buddhist scripture freely available on the Internet.
- The Buddhist Society has overviews of the different scripture sets, including the Pali Canon, Sanskrit Canon, Mahayana texts, Tantric texts, and the Tibetan and Mongolian Canon. Find them by clicking the “Scriptures” link on the left side of the page.
- Much Buddhist scripture exists in the public domain, so you can often find it online. It’s common to find a combination of the original Pali or Sanskrit text, but many Web sites also host English translations of popular scriptures.
For overviews of Buddhist scripture …
Sacred-Texts has a large holding of Buddhist scripture and scholarly books and essays from the public domain. This is probably the best selection available on the Web, as it includes such renowned pieces as the Zen classic, The Gateless Gate, by Ekai, and Dwight Goddard’s A Buddhist Bible. It has texts from nearly all Buddhist sects, most of which can be found in their entirety, and in English translations. Take advantage of this great resource.
BuddhaNet ‘s “Sutras” page summarizes the significance of ancient Buddhist texts, while also providing actual scriptures and writing. Go to “Buddhist Scriptures” for an introductory essay on the topic. Check here for links to free PDF versions of texts and teachings of the Theravadin and Mahayana Sutras. At the “Buddhist File Library” you’ll find links to many texts from different kinds of Buddhism. Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan, Zen, and Chan writings are available.
Ancient Buddhist Texts has esoteric texts that have been translated into English and includes a link to the works in their original form. This extensive range of texts and studies is the work of one scholar. The works are separated into themes to facilitate finding scriptures on specific topics.
For the Pali Canon …
The Ida B. Wells Memorial Sutra Library has translated texts from the Pali Canon. The works are listed in alphabetical order, which makes finding a specific text very easy. There is also a section for “Sutra Links from the Sanskrit.”
Nibbana.com has an English version of the Pali Canon translated by Burmese scholars and available for free viewing, along with various suttas and discourses. This site is comprehensive but incredibly difficult to navigate, given the complex structure of the Canon.
The Pali Text Society is a U.K. publisher that aims “to foster and promote the study of Pali texts.” They publish English translations and ancillary works related to the study of Pali texts. On the Web site you can purchase any of its publications.
For the Sanskrit Canon …
The Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon Web site , a joint project of the University of the West in Los Angeles and Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods in Nepal, has made free access to the Sanskrit version of the Canon available online.
Many prominent Buddhist organizations host sites with information aimed at helping you further your spiritual journey. If you wish to learn more about incorporating Buddhist practice into your daily life, or are a veteran practitioner looking to enhance or supplement your practice of Buddhism, you’ll find the resources provided in this section helpful.
- Because there’s such diversity in the practice of Buddhism, it’s good to develop a familiarity with the different sects prior to making the decision to practice. This can be done using the “The Buddhist Faith” and “The Different Forms of Buddhism” sections of this guide.
- One valuable way to learn about a new religion is to speak with someone who practices. If you’re seriously considering the faith, most Buddhist organizations, whether they’re monasteries or local sitting groups, provide introductory courses and talks for aspiring Buddhists. You can learn about the programs offered on such an organization’s Web site. If the directories below don’t yield a group near you, try running a search in your favorite search engine; for instance, a search for “Zen Buddhism [your city’s name]” will produce a list of Zen groups in your area.
- The concept, purpose, and practice of meditation vary greatly between sects. Below we’ve included Web sites that overview these different techniques, with an emphasis on Zen meditation because it’s widely practiced in the West.
- Buddhist retreats involve intensive meditation and study of the dharma (Buddha’s teachings). They can take place in purpose-built retreat centers, monasteries, or on location in nature. The following sites have databases to help you locate retreat centers worldwide.
- Pilgrimage is often an important aspect of religious worship. A number of locations throughout Asia have immense significance to the Buddhist religion, including the sites of the Buddha’s birth, Enlightenment, and death. Included here is a guide to Buddhist pilgrimage. For additional information on travel, consult the findingDulcinea Travel Guide.
For an introduction to practicing Buddhism …
BuddhaNet answers basic questions about Buddhism and how to live the faith, like how to become Buddhist, what the three refuges are, and what changes you can expect in your life after taking the refuges.
The Berzin Archives has links for the beginning Buddhist and for those more well versed in practice. This is a Tibetan Web site specifically, and has a link to the basics of Tibetan Buddhist practice as well as a link to the processes of advanced meditation. Visit the “Daily Practice” link for a selection of vows and prayers.
DharmaNet International offers links to articles dealing with the practice of Buddhism. There is Ken McLeod’s “Unfettered Mind,” a study and practice guide, and intensive study and practice programs for which you can apply.
For meditation …
Buddhism in Canada offers a “Local Maintained Information” section about meditation and other Buddhist beliefs with links to essays and descriptions of meditating. This site also answers practical questions if you visit the “Questions on Buddhism and Meditation” link.
Wildmind Buddhist Meditation thoroughly explains the process of meditation with explanations categorized by “meditation practices” and “applied meditation.” Practical issues include, “Is meditation for me?” as well as explanations on walking meditation and mindfulness of breathing. Yoga and health are also addressed as they relate to meditation. Use your Buddha mindfulness to stay alert to the subtle advertising for purchasable meditation courses, however, which are sometimes pitched in otherwise objective explanations.
For kids and families …
Family Buddhism is a Web site with essays on the Buddha’s teachings and how to bring them into family life, written by a family of practicing Buddhists. The site explains why Buddhism is of value in family life, especially for young children. The Web site also has good links to other sites that cover Buddhism in family life.
DharmaNet International is a great resource for a younger audience. It has links like “Children’s stories,” “Buddhist parenting” and a how-to on teaching children meditation. There are many links to external Web sites that explain how to bring meditation into family life. There are also links to online discussion groups aimed at a younger audience, and recommended readings and Buddhist stories.
The Family Meditation Website , created by author Kerry Lee MacLean, has a colorful, interactive guide to family meditation. Kids can “Meditate with the Piggies” by following a step-by-step, illustrated tutorial. You can also purchase Buddhist children’s books by the author here.
To find a Buddhist community near you …
The World Buddhist Directory is a BuddhaNet project that has gathered Buddhist centers and organizations from around the world into a single database. Begin your search by clicking on the world map or take advantage of the more robust searchable database on the right side of the page. Specify your country then narrow your search by state or province, or by Buddhist tradition. A list of organizations with contact information is provided.
The Shambhala Sun is a Buddhist magazine that offers a “Find a Center” link on its homepage. Indicate which country, region, state, and city you’re hoping to practice in and the database finds all available centers in that area.
The Soka Gakkai International (SGI-USA) is an American Buddhist association that offers resources for finding American Buddhist communities. Visit the “Find Us” section at the bottom of the page to be directed to SGI-USA centers all around the country.
Tibetanlama.com posts the contact information for more than 800 Tibetan Buddhist centers all over the world. When possible, a link to the center’s Web site is included. The list is organized alphabetically by country to make the search even easier.
For retreat centers …
Buddhadharma , a Buddhist magazine, offers a list of links to some of America’s largest Buddhist centers. See the “Meditation and Retreat Centers” list at the top of the page.
For pilgrimages …
BuddhaNet provides an excellent introduction to Buddhist pilgrimage. This page has pilgrimage guides to India and Sri Lanka, an article addressing the significance of pilgrimage, and descriptions of “The Four Holy Sites” of Buddha’s life.
Insight Travel offers pilgrimages in China, India and Nepal, Mount Kailas and Japan, among other places. Visit the “Featured Diary” and “Photo Gallery” to gain a greater sense of what trips are like.
Buddhist Temples.com offers information about pilgrimages and tours through India. It lists many different companies so that you can find exactly what you’re looking for. Brief descriptions of each trip including destination and duration are included with a link to more information.
Whether you’re looking for a statue of the Buddha to serve as inspiration in your practice, a book by a renowned Buddhist teacher, a zafu and zabuton cushion for Zen meditation, or an audio CD for help with chanting, the Internet has plenty of Buddhist products, selling almost everything you would need to outfit a home practice or large meditation hall.
- There are a variety of products to help you in your practice, all of which are available online. You’ll find practical meditation supplies such as clothing and cushions, Buddhist teachings on audio and video formats, art, and more.
- If you’re buying a zafu cushion (the pillow used in Zen meditation), consult this usage guide first.
For meditation accessories …
The Monastery Store is the online catalog of Dharma Communications, the not-for-profit educational arm of the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism in upstate New York. They sell a variety of meditation cushions, meditation supplies, books, CDs, videos, art, home and garden ornaments, and more.
The Foundation Store , a division of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, sells accessories to aid your Mahayana Buddhist practice. In addition to meditation supplies and the like, the Foundation Store sells jewelry, art, prayer flags, and other accessories.
Carolina Morning sells a wide variety of cushions, mats, benches, and chairs to aid in mediation. What makes this site special is that they offer guides for selecting the supplies that are right for you, and have a variety of sizes and colors. In addition to meditation gear, they sell books and CDs.
Connecting with the Buddhist Community
Buddhism has a large, vibrant community of online practitioners. Cyberspace abounds with Buddhist newsletters, directories, discussion groups, and blogs. In this section we’ll direct you to some popular resources for an intimate perspective on the religion.
- Approach discussion forums cautiously. Because it’s impossible to know the credentials or authority of anyone posting on a message board, there’s no guarantee for the quality of the information. Conversely, forums can also be excellent sources of information and customized advice. So what’s the bottom line? Use them, but also use discretion.
- Buddhism blogs are a fascinating and useful resource for practicing Buddhists and aspiring Buddhists alike. They typically offer commentary and analysis of contemporary society, culture, art, and the individual, all through the lens of Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy.
- The Blogisattva Awards are given annually to the best English-language Buddhist blogs on the Web. Categories are wide-ranging and include best writing, blog post of the year, and best blog. Use this site to locate blogs or read the highest quality Buddhism-related posts of the year.
- The primary publishers of blogs are individuals, but certain organizations (such as the Buddhist review Tricycle), publish blogs of their own.
- Most blogs have blogrolls (lists of recommended blogs and Web sites found in the margins of the page) comprised of useful Web sites on related topics. Visiting a few of them is a good way to find new favorites.
For discussion boards and forums …
Buddhism Portal E-Sangha is one of the most frequently recommended interactive Buddhist resources on the Web. It’s easy to navigate and offers a Buddhist forum, live chat, and has links to a long list of Buddhist blogs, all found on the homepage.
The Buddhist Society of Western Australia (BSWA) has a mediated forum to which people can post any questions they have on Buddhism. Discussions include “Buddhism for Beginners” forum, “General Forums,” “Community” forum, and others. The “Dhamma Talks” link offers podcasts, recordings of Buddhist discussion groups and guided meditations, PDF files of the Enlightened Times newsletter, and more.
Buddha Chat is an extensive forum for Buddhist discussion. You must complete a free registration to post on the site, although you’re allowed to view postings without creating an account. Members can respond to existing posts or start entirely new “threads” (discussions) on their own. Because it is an open forum, however, some discussions can get personal.
Tricycle is a magazine whose contents are posted online along with links to many other Buddhist resources. Contributors frequently post blogs that encourage user comments. There is also an open forum to which you can contribute; registration is free.
Belief.co.za is a philosophy and religion forum that offers discussions on many topics within Dharmic religions and faiths. Members often post questions which are promptly answered by a Web site administrator. Register for free to post on the discussion board, or view the discussions as a nonmember.
For blogs …
Integral Options Cafe explores all things in life, so long as they relate in some way to the Buddhist world view. This gives author William Harryman the freedom to address myriad issues. Posts might cover music, science, weight loss, and the Dalai Lama on consecutive days.
ThinkBuddha , a blog written by a British philosophy student and practicing Buddhist, serves as a platform for the author to investigate the teachings of Buddha and the doctrine of the religion. According to the author it’s “part of an on-going tussle with the traditions of Buddhism in the hope that, out of the confusion, some kind of clarity might eventually arise … or at least the confusion itself might be fruitful.”
Tricycle Blogs are affiliated with the Buddhism review of the same name. At this page you’ll find the latest posts from the blog’s six writers, not all of whom post regularly. The writers have diverse backgrounds that unanimously reflect close familiarity with the faith, ranging from scholarly study to devoted practice.
Danny Fisher is a Ph.D. student in Buddhist studies. His blog incorporates political, social, and environmental awareness and commentary with his Buddhist perspective and Buddhist philosophy.
Absent Of I is a somewhat enigmatic blog that traces one individual’s spiritual journey. Entries demonstrate the author’s exploration of Buddhist concepts and their applicability to daily life.
For other sources …
The Journal of Buddhist Ethics is a great way to keep up with contemporary Buddhist discourse. Take a look at current or back issues of the Journal, or visit their online eBook project to learn about new titles. The “Resources” section provides a wealth of links to other sites and organizations that can aid in your study.
The Buddhist Channel has a Web site that offers daily information about the Buddhist community with links to “News,” “Features,” and “Reviews.” News is organized in areas like Asia Pacific, The Americas, Europe, and World. The Features section includes links to original content on topics such as Arts and Culture, Healing, and Travel, to name a few. Reviews cover books and music geared toward the Buddhist community.
Buddahdharma ‘s Web site offers links to Buddhist studies and contemporary publishing. Go to the “Educational Programs & Institutions” and “Publishers and Resources” lists for links to publications on current Buddhist culture.