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Introduction to the Online Correspondence Course

Geshe Tashi Tsering


An Introduction

My own view which does not rely solely on religious faith, nor even on an original idea, but rather on ordinary common sense is that establishing binding ethical principles is possible when we take as our starting point the observation that we all desire happiness and not to suffer. We have no means of discriminating between right and wrong if we do not take into account others feelings, others suffering. And if it is correct that this aspiration is a settled disposition shared by all, it follows that each individual has a right to pursue happiness and avoid suffering.
ANCIENT WISDOM, MODERN WORLD by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

The three main reasons this course was started are: to deepen our understanding of Buddha Dharma within a structured approach that shows how we can integrate the teachings in our everyday life. to bring Buddha Dharma to the West in a complete way. Buddha Dharma is coming to the West in many forms there is already so much here and it is so important to keep it pure, so it is important to study the complete Dharma. to ensure Buddha Dharma lasts a long time. If Dharma has the potential to reduce suffering, problems, difficulties, then it is our responsibility to make sure this will last a long time.

My hope is that the course will increase the knowledge of Buddha Dharma and give the opportunity to learn the subjects over an extended period. I have selected 6 different subjects for these 2 years which are the ones I feel are quite important to know and I hope you will be able to get quite a profound knowledge of them and hopefully not just knowledge but also some experience. So the main motivation is to cultivate our Dharma knowledge, Dharma understanding and Dharma experience. I believe this is your main motivation for doing the course too. No pressure on you Right at the beginning there is no pressure on you to take this course. This is very important to know because although the course is designed in a slightly Western style with essays and examinations etc, and there is a responsibility to be involved in some way, with your group there is no element of competitiveness, nor any sense of my loss and your gain. You will be asked to do things for the course but if you cant you wont miss out on a job or fail to get that promotion. Do as much as you can with great joy, but dont push yourself. Dont put pressure on yourself saying: I must, I must, especially if you are not happy to do it. The main motivation is solely to increase our Dharma knowledge, our Dharma experience.

The structure of the course

The subjects Over the next 2 years we will be looking at 6 subjects that I feel cover the most important aspects of Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism. They are: The Four Noble Truths Relative Truth, Ultimate Truth Buddhist Psychology The Awakening Mind (Bodhicitta) Emptiness Tantra

Your study group You will be in a study group of about 10 people with a tutor who is a graduate of a previous Foundation of Buddhist Thought course. Your tutor and the students in your group may change at the end of the first year. Methods of studying When we talk about studying, I dont just mean developing an intellectual understanding. Doing meditation, such as simple silent meditation, can become very rich and beneficial. Our practice is our study. Applying what we learn in our daily lives is our study. My experience of being in the West first of all in Nalanda Monastery in France for 2 and a half years, being with the Western monks and trying to teach Tibetan Buddhism, and then after that coming to Jamyang in 1994 all this shows me very clearly that Westerners, generally speaking, have a very intellectual way of approaching Buddhas teachings. And yet because of lack of time, that intellectual understanding can really put you off actually experiencing the Dharma you are studying. My hope is that the course will give you both the support and structure to have time each week and get a balance between your Dharma study and the other bits that make up your life. What I provide is only the structure for you to work from. The real course is what you do from day to day. How you structure your study time, how you fit your meditation, discussion, reading and writing into daily life, is very much up to you. Constantly checking your motivation is a good way to keep committed. Seeing how important understanding these topics is and how integrating them into your life will definitely help you to put the maximum effort into the course. Naturally, as with all distance learning, your motivation needs to be quite strong but

we really hope you will feel very much part of the course in the discussion groups and written work you do. As with everything, what you get from the course depends on what you put into it. Remember we are always there for back up when you need us. Reading and listening There are many books written on the subjects we will be studying, but I have included in the recommended reading list below, the books that I feel are the most relevant for our course. If you can, it is very good to buy each of these, as I will be referring to them a lot during the course. You will receive a course book for each module, which I have written from the teachings I gave during the first two twoyear courses at Jamyang London. You can also have the MP3s of the teachings I gave during the 3rd campus course, or you can download them from the Learning Resources section of the module being studied (if your computer has broadband, a suitable media player and sound card - see page 3 of the Moodle Student/Tutor Handbook 2007/2008). The course book and these resources will be your main study guides. You will have a set subject every two weeks (e.g. the first Noble Truth) and I recommend you first read the relevant section in the course book, think about it a while, then listen to that section on the Mp3. Then use that as your exploration of that subject. Meditate on it each day, using the meditation guides we will provide, and, when you have some knowledge of it, participate in the e-discussions. Its not a good idea to read all of the books at once like a novel, as you wouldnt be able to absorb all of the ideas. By approaching each section systematically, slowly and thoroughly, you will hopefully both increase your knowledge and develop a deeper understanding of how it fits into your everyday life, which is one of the main aims of the course.

Meditating Of the different aspects of this course reading, listening, writing, discussion groups and meditation I feel the most important one is meditation. For each monthly unit, there will be a guided meditation. Many of you have a daily practice so you can put some emphasis on whatever point in the programme you are studying. For example, with the Four Noble Truths, there will definitely be a point where you can fit in a meditation on suffering. For people who don't have that sort of daily commitment, it would be very good to do at least 20 minutes meditation every day, maybe 5 minutes settling your body, then 15 minutes on the actual meditation. Writing As you know, this course asks for your active participation. There are a variety of questions to be answered, some are interactive and should be discussed with the whole group and some are for you to think over individually or write about. Besides meditations, this is probably the most powerful tool to deepen our Dharma understanding. Different assignments: how to complete & where to send

Discussion groups for threaded discussions These are questions that the tutor sends out via the online forum every 2 weeks relevant to the topic being studied that fortnight in order to develop your understanding and share your ideas. Please add your thoughts, experiences, questions and views as and when you feel like it once a week would be ideal.

The idea is that there is no right or wrong answer to these discussion questions, nor are they testing your intellectual knowledge. They relate to your everyday life and everyone can contribute from their own experiences. The questions and replies are posted to the Discussion Group for the entire group to see. Essaylettes and essays Essaylettes are short essays, a paragraph or two, whereas the long essay at the end of the third month is around 1,500 words. The tutor posts the essaylette questions at the end of each month and you have a month to reply. These are for you to check the depth of your understanding. Ideally you should not write the essay all in one go but think about the questions over a period of time and write a bit each week. Send them directly to your tutor not the whole group and you will receive feedback to let you know if you are on the right track. Self-review questions After each 2-week block the tutor will also mail you a set of simple self-review questions. Answers are not to be sent to the tutor or the group but are purely to be used by yourself as a tool to check how much you have understood and retained from what you have read. You can then compare the answers your tutor sends out a week later. Exams or final reviews Exams are part of the course too! Each module consists of three active months of reading, engaging in discussions etc. and one month of quiet time for revision, writing your long essay and doing your exam. These are for you to check your retention of major facts and ideas and are linked to the self-review questions. The exam will not be scored but will be commented on, like your essays, by your tutor. Ideally you should do the exam in one sitting, without your book, in about 60 to 90 minutes. You post the exam directly back to your tutor.

What to send where Discussion Threads Essaylettes Self-review questions Long essay Exams or Final Reviews Chat room Each module has a chat room to allow live discussion with other students. All posts are recorded in a log and are not private. Your tutor may opt to co-ordinate the chat as part of a formal learning exercise. There is no compulsion to participate in these but if you have time, you may find it beneficial to join in one or two. Participation and certificates Although, the course is primarily to benefit you, if you do want to get a certificate at the end, you must participate in the discussion groups, write the long essay and complete the exam for each module. Each of these three components contributes 33% towards passing the course. I feel it is good to work towards the certificate at the end. It gives you a nudge when you are feeling it is all too much! While it is possible to do less than required (and not get the certificate) I really dont recommend it. Without pressuring yourself, try to see how beneficial it is to fully participate and work your life around it. Discussion Forum Directly to your tutor Used only for reference, you dont send answers Directly to your tutor Directly to your tutor


The three components that count towards the certificate are:

Discussion threads 33% (showing your developing understanding and communication skills) Long essay Exam 33% (showing the depth of your understanding of the module) 33% (showing how much information you have retained from that module)

I really hope you will have no trouble meeting this commitment. It is designed to ensure you get the most from the course. If, however, you are finding it hard to meet, due to changed circumstances or whatever, please dont just feel you cant go on and drop out discuss it with your tutor so you can find the best way forward. I certainly dont advise you not to do the essays and exams but there might be some circumstances where that is the only way you can continue. And remember, setbacks are often temporary - they can change back again.


Mutual responsibility To achieve our goal of getting a really good understanding of Buddha Dharma, we need a strong sense of mutual responsibility. It is not a matter of me simply giving you the information. From my own side I don't have that kind of rich understanding, therefore, there needs to be mutual responsibility. You also need to work very hard with the reading, homework and meditation. You need to take responsibility and make a firm commitment to do the whole course. Try to motivate yourself with joyful effort so that you achieve the best level in whatever you do. People who have some kind of personal difficulty with joining in the discussion groups, or with understanding the points, difficulty in doing some of the homework or who have personal problems, there is no need to hesitate. Just let the course administrator and your tutor know and they will be very happy to help. It is very unlikely, but it could happen, that there is some personal clash between members of a group. If this should happen, it is good to discuss it openly rather than letting it develop. If you are annoyed by somebody, it can ruin your enjoyment of the course and the way the group works. If your dialogue with that person does not resolve the issue, then please discuss it with your tutor, who will try to sort it out. Guidelines The Foundation of Buddhist Thought course, like most UK colleges, has set procedures for disputes. As you will see from the student charter, it is your responsibility to foster and maintain harmony within the group. If, after all other means have been tried, the dispute is still unresolved, the administration staff at Jamyang have the authority to withdraw someone from the course, refunding fees and blocking their user name so they can no longer use the website.


Please read the student charter, this outlines the commitment that the Foundation of Buddhist Thought makes to you and that you should make to the course.

Student charter From the side of the Foundation of Buddhist Thought We agree to provide material course books, audio material and other material for the course on time and in good condition to your specified address. We agree to provide you with an on-line tutor/tutors for the duration of the course. We agree to set up a study group and tea room with the other students starting at the same time as you, in order to foster active and stimulating discussions (via e-mail or other media) about the course work you are undertaking. With the exception of your name, general locality and e-mail address, we agree to keep your personal details confidential from anyone other than the tutors and administration staff of the Foundation of Buddhist Thought. Your name, general locality and email address will be issued to your tutor and each member of your study group. We agree to treat seriously problems and complaints about the contents and administration of the course, your course tutor or the behaviour of any of your fellow students. We agree to issue a certificate at the completion of the course, provided you have regularly participated in discussions and satisfactorily completed all the long essays and exams.


From the side of the student I agree to participate fully in the two-year study programme of the Foundation of Buddhist Thought. This includes: reading the required material, listening to the audio materials provided and meditating on it, as recommended by Geshe Tashi and the course tutors giving in written work to the tutors on time joining in discussion groups I understand that to receive a certificate I must have completed all exams and long essays and actively participated in the discussion groups. I agree to work in a harmonious way with my fellow students, the course tutors and the Foundation of Buddhist Thought course to bring about maximum benefit for myself and others.

Different kinds of meditation Single pointed and analytical Although there will be specific meditation guidelines for each module, the actual structure will be the same. I suggest you build on your meditation from the first module until the last. But there is no pressure. If you feel unwell, if you have lots of things to do, leave it. Dont push yourself. But try to get time to do this meditation. There are also many levels of students doing this course, from beginners to people who have been involved with Tibetan Buddhism for many years, so you will need to modify the meditations given to suit your level and whatever daily practice you are already doing.

In Tibetan, the word for meditation is gom, which means to become familiar, so when we talk about meditation it is simply that, making the mind familiar with its particular subject. These days there are many activities labelled meditation but in Buddhism it is principally familiarising ourselves with an object, an attitude, a mind or a phenomenon. Particularly in Tibetan Buddhism, there are two different ways to do this, the single-pointed and the analytical approach. This is quite important to know because during our meditation we sometimes need to employ one, sometimes the other and sometimes both. For instance, with a meditation on love or bodhicitta, it is really our present mind trying to become love or compassion. Through reducing the obstacles and difficulties we actually turn our mind into a mind of love or compassion. That is singlepointed meditation. On the other hand, with the meditation on impermanence or emptiness we are not really trying to become impermanence or emptiness. Here our mind is trying to understand impermanence or emptiness by analysis. In other words, our mind is the subject and impermanence or emptiness is the object. With analytical meditation the subject tries to realise the object, but when meditating on love or compassion, the mind is the object. I think that is very important to know that difference at a very early stage.

Setting up the meditation practice - establishing good habits Time Because meditation is a gradual familiarisation, setting up good habits is very important. We should do our meditation on a daily basis and, after choosing the best time to do it, stick to it as much as possible. This will make a great difference to the 2-year course.


The best time is the morning. At this time the external environment is very fresh and there are certain elements that help make our mind easily focused and pliable. In the morning our mind is also quite fresh and clear, because the day has not started yet. Yesterdays things have passed away and we have had a good sleep. Having a good sleep is also important for our mind to be fresh. Diet also needs to be considered. Place and posture The place where we do our meditation is also important. It does not have to be very religious, but if it is clean and tidy, that can really help to cut down distractions. It also needs good light. It is not necessary to sit on the floor with a meditation cushion, but whether you sit on a chair or a cushion it should be firm enough to help give a good posture. Ideally, the back should be a bit higher than the front. It should be comfortable, but with some kind of support so, whether your session lasts 5 minutes or 30 minutes, you should be able to do it without pain. You dont have to sit cross-legged; being comfortable is the most important. I have written something on setting up an altar on the website. Having a relaxed body is very important so maybe do some short exercises beforehand to relax yourself. This is not mentioned traditionally but do whatever helps to relax your muscles and shoulders. And when you sit, make sure you body is well supported. Keep your hands in a comfortable posture, either on your knees or in your lap, but very gently. You neck should be really relaxed. I wont go into detail here as there are many lamrim texts that start off explaining the traditional seven-point posture.


The three levels of familiarity Some of you will be completely new to meditation or maybe you have done meditation in the past but dont have any commitment to do a daily practice. 1) Initial level At the initial stage, what is important for you is to really have a calm, focused, concentrated mind. In the first module, although part of your meditation needs to be focussed on the subject, in this case the Four Noble Truths, the main meditation should be how to develop calmness, focus and a concentrated mind. To do that, you can meditate on your breath or you body posture. Concentrating on your breath is simply being aware of your breath as you breathe in and out, no more than that. Be aware of your breath with clarity and focus, fully awake, without giving it a label. In the same way you can use your body posture as a focus for your concentration, simply being aware of your body on the cushion, of how you are sitting and the actual sensation of your body. If you are completely new to meditation, use those two things to make your mind calm and clear, peaceful and concentrated. You may find it quite easy to use certain types of sound, such as certain mantras, to bring your mind here and now, either reciting the mantra by yourself or listening to it. You are not visualising, just being with that sound, but fully awake and concentrated. Then it would be very good to at least do the prayers you will find at the end of this introduction booklet, His Holiness the Dalai Lamas favourite Generating the Mind for Enlightenment, the Four Immeasurables and the Seven Limb Prayer and the Praise to Shakyamuni Buddha. A Daily Meditation Practice by Lama Zopa Rinpoche is a very good basic practice. Or you can find a more comprehensive morning meditation practice in WishFulfilling Golden Sun which you can find on or the Foundation of Buddhist Thought website.

After that, if you still have some energy and time, make your mind familiar with the subject. For instance, with the 1st Noble Truth, in your meditation session try to make yourself aware of the nature of your own life and exactly what conditions are occurring to cause any dissatisfaction. Really check the subject out. The Buddha found the nature of our life has 4 features birth, sickness, ageing and death but dont just accept this. Explore this and try to see whether this really is the nature of all our lives. 2) & 3) Intermediate and advanced levels If you are already quite familiar with meditation, then try to take your understanding to a deeper level, from assumption to some kind of conviction make the understanding firmer and more spontaneous. For the more advanced student, you can take the analytical meditations beyond looking at this lifetime, seeing how the subject relates to future lifetimes as well. If you have done a lot of analytical meditation in the past, you can try to make your understanding very firm, vivid and strong. With a strong familiarisation with the subject, our mind can spontaneously come to understand it without any effort. That is a great goal to aim for. For everybody, beginner or not, I am requesting 20 minutes meditation a day. If you can do more than that, it is very good. If you have a daily practice, you need to think about how to integrate whatever topic we are doing into your daily practice. No matter what level you feel you are at, it is good to have a routine that you are comfortable with. Over the entire 2 years, there are 4 meditations that are the most important for all levels. They are: calm-abiding renunciation bodhicitta emptiness

There are many different ways to integrate these key features into your mind stream, according to your own particular level. This does not mean I expect you to have realised emptiness by the time we have finished the emptiness module! There are various files on the website about setting up a shrine and preparing for daily meditation. Please go to and then Daily Meditation and Prayers in the Other Resources section.

DVDs linked to FBT modules* Four Noble Truths Four Noble Truths [2 DVDs] 2 Discs by Dalai Lama @ GBP 42.95 (available from Wisdom). Buddhist Psychology Investigating the Mind 2005 Science and Clinical Applications of Meditation, high quality record. 5 DVDs $89.95 USD Emptiness Emptiness Explained [7 DVD Set] Lama Thubten Zopa approx GBP 50 (available from Wisdom) Tantra Introduction to Tantra [DVD] Lama Thubten Yeshe approx GBP 13 (available from Wisdom)
* Please check online for updated prices and offers


Supplementary reading The Four Noble Truths 1) The Four Noble Truths by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Out of print, 2nd hand copies may be obtained at Publisher: Thornsons (1997) ISBN: 0-7225-3550-3 A concise teaching on the Four Noble Truths taken from His Holiness London talks in 1996. Also contains teachings on the Two Truths. 2) The Four Noble Truths by Ven. Lobsang Gyatso Publisher: Snow Lion (1994) ISBN 1-55939-027-1 Written in the Tibetan style with lots of lists, but good study material. 3) What the Buddha Taught by Wapola Rahula Publisher: Oneworld, Oxford. (1959) ISBN 1-85168-142-6 Only some sections (pages 15 to 50) are relevant for the Four Noble Truths. This is a good mixture of philosophical explanation with everyday practice. 4) The Meaning of Life, Buddhist Perspectives on Cause and Effect by His Holiness the Dalai Lama Publisher: Wisdom (2000) ISBN 0-88171-173-4 Excellent teachings on both the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination and the Two Truths from His Holiness. Also recommended is The Four Noble Truths by Ajahn Sumedho, available on-line in the Learning Resources section of that module, in

Relative truth, ultimate truth 1) Appearance and Reality by Guy Newland Publisher: Snow Lion (1999) ISBN 0-86171-024-X Approachable look at Relative and Ultimate Truth. 2) The Two Truths by Guy Newland Publisher: Snow Lion (1992) ISBN 0-937938-79-3 Dense, very scholastic (a PhD thesis). Only for those intent in depth analysis. Buddhist psychology and epistemology 1) Mind in Tibetan Buddhism by Lati Rinbochay Publisher: Snow Lion (1980) ISBN 0-937938-02-5 Very Tibetan (lots of lists) with very clear guidelines to understanding the different states of mind according to Tibetan Buddhism. 2) The Mind and Its Functions by Geshe Rabten Publisher: Tharpa Choeling (1980) Good clear explanations of both the Psychological and Epistemological models. 3) Mind-Science by His Holiness the Dalai Lama Publisher: Wisdom (1991) ISBN 0-86171-066-5 Every year His Holiness meets with top scientists to explore the similarities and differences between Buddhist and modern Western sciences concepts of mind. This book came from the first meeting. The awakening mind (bodhicitta) 1) Bodhicitta by Ven. Lobsang Gyatso Publisher: Snow Lion Publications (1997) ISBN 1-55939-070-0 This is a clear commentary on the 7 Points of Cause and Effect. 2) A Guide To The Bodhisattvas Way Of Life (Bodhisattvacharyavatara) by Shantideva Publisher: LTWA (1987) ISBN 8185102597

One of the most important books in Tibetan Buddhism; this is a rich source book and a great inspiration. 3) Training The Mind In The Great Way by Gyalwa Gendun Druppa Publisher: Snow Lion (1993) ISBN 0-937938-96-3 This is written by the first Dalai Lama and goes into the subject of Mind Training or Lo-Jong. Emptiness according to the Prasangika Madhyamaka school 1) Practising Wisdom by His Holiness the Dalai Lama Publisher: Wisdom Publications (2004) ISBN-13: 9780861711826. A commentary on Shantidevas Guide to a Bodhisattvas Way of Life the chapter concerning Emptiness 2) What The Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula Publisher: Oneworld (1959) ISBN 1-85168-142-6 The relevant Chapter is Chapter 6. 3) Heart Sutra by Geshe Sonam Rinchen Publisher: Snow Lion Publications (2003) ISBN-13: 9781559392013 This book is the most concise of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, it contains the essence of the Buddha's teachings on Emptiness, the way in which things exist. 4) Realising Emptiness by Gen Lamrimpa Publisher: Snow Lion, 2002, ISBN 1559391804 5) The Essence of the Heart Sutra by His Holiness the Dalai Lama Publisher: Wisdom Publications, 2002, ISBN 0-8617-318-4 6) Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path (vol 3) by Lama Tsongkhapa Publisher: Wisdom Publications, 2005 Invaluable guide to wisdom and bodhicitta from the source: Lama Tsongkhapa. 7) Introduction to Emptiness by Guy Newland

Tantra 1) Tantric Paths and Grounds In The Guhyasamaja by Gyalwa Lodroe Publisher: LTWA, 1995, 81-85102-94-5 Quite technical but very good explanation of Highest Yoga Tantra, using Guhyasamaja. 2) An Overview Of Buddhist Tantra by Panchen Sonam Dragpa Publisher: LTWA, 1996, ISBN 81-85102-99-6 3) An Introduction to Tantra by Lama Thubten Yeshe Publisher: Wisdom Publications, 1987, ISBN 0-86171-021-5 A wonderful introduction to the whole subject of Tantra and how it works written in very simple, non-technical language. Highly recommended to read before the module begins. 4) Highest Yoga Tantra by Daniel Cozort Publisher: Snow Lion Publications, 1986, ISBN 0-937938-32-7 Generation and completion stages and Kalachakra and Guhyasamaja compared. Other suggested reading Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Buddhism by Thupten Jinpa Publisher: Routledge Curzon, 2002, 0-7007-1279-8 A clear explanation of Lama Tsongkhapas views on emptiness.


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