“For the first few hundred years after the time of the Buddha, the teachings were not written down but were preserved as an oral tradition, transmitted person to person, heart to heart. I’ve heard anthropologists say that oral traditions can be even more authentic than written traditions, because people take the responsibility of transmission seriously, and they invest in memorizing and embodying a field of knowledge.
In service of that pretty awesome responsibility, the teachings were often systemized into sets of numbers to aid memorization. Thus, we have the ‘three of these’ and ‘four of those’ and ‘five of the other.’
As we gather together these different sets of numbers and lists, we find a breathtaking understanding of the human experience, and most essentially, insight into the conditions that lead to suffering and the conditions that lead to the end of suffering. Interestingly, I’ve also found that a single set of numbers, like the four noble truths or the four boundless states, function as a fractal, like a snowflake, or a coastline, or clouds, where the smallest part represents the entirety of the whole.
In designing The Way of the Buddha, we kept both of these aspects in mind – the power of even the smallest part, and the vision of life created by the whole. And, we celebrate the value of the oral tradition, even in an online age.
My wish for this program was to have IMS teachers choose the topic or topics they were most passionate about to present, and I’m so happy to say that is what happened. Throughout the program, many themes will recur—mindfulness, the causes of suffering, lovingkindness, equanimity or peace—and I think, for those who register for several or all of the sections, it will be interesting to hear the voices and choices of different teachers on what is most essential to address.
IMS co-founder Joseph Goldstein will begin this new program with a session on an essential teaching: the truth of one dharma. A new set of teachings will follow each month throughout the year, drawing on the wisdom of both the elder and the newer IMS teachers of the Dharma. I hope you will join us on this journey toward self-discovery and liberation.”