Inspired by a post from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Listserve. Largely a forum for the random musings (whining) of professional academics who have long since lost touch with the real world (wouldn’t that make them Arahants?), the SVP listserve occasionally pops in something of interest in the realm of my randomly chosen field of study – mammalian paleontology.
This time, however, something mentioned stuck a strangely Buddhist tone (try striking a fossilized Archaeotherium femur with a wooden mallet and you will get a delightful tone).
From Dr. Christine Janis:
I also provide a “text” for my students in both my classes (Vert Evolution and Comparative Anatomy), in addition to the actual textbooks that they buy, although it’s printed out (?analog) not digital, which I update every year(and also do post lots of web resources on the MyCourses website). However, I think it much more important that the students really understand the basics of the discipline and how to think about the information than that they are bang up to date with the latest findings.
That’s the icing on very considerable layers of cake. A textbook, even if a bit outdated, provides them with a constant source from which they can grasp the fundamentals. Better to add (say) Tiktaalik to their basic source than to expect them (at least undergrads) to generate a structure for themselves from widely disparate sources.
For most of out there in the rural, convert Buddhist world, we are desperately trying to find a base or root knowledge. Something from which we can start to build the many layered cake that is Buddhist practice. For me secular Buddhism serves this purpose. For all the bitching and moaning about whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy and the constant complaints over which are the root teachings and which is “cultural baggage” (a ridiculous statement by the way. Nothing like telling a culture that has practiced Buddhism for at least 2000 yrs that they got it all wrong. Nothing but western arrogance), the secular approach does give a nice and understandable base for the neophyte (I love that term, it sounds so condescending) to build from.
Like Christine’s example of Tiktaalik, when you expect students or practitioners to build their own base of understanding without some sort of established framework you doom them from the start.
I would rather have an incorrect or dated textbook to which I can amend and correct than no textbook at all. Maybe Batchelor’s “Buddhism Without Beliefs” or Asma’s “Buddha for Beginners” can supply that subtle foundation.
Now, my foundation was secular Buddhism and I think it served its purpose well, but what do you use as your base text? What formed your foundation? Don’t say the Pali Canon, far too large. I guarantee that it was a smaller, abridged version or commentary that you started with and still refer back to.
…or maybe not.