Buddhism: RTFM

RTFM Old-testament style

In my opinion, you can learn a lot more about Buddhism by reading the sutras yourself, rather than reading someone else’s interpretation of them. If you go to any bookstore in the US, a lot of books about Buddhism are written by famous teachers, who teach you how to be happy and such. But if you only read these books, you’re relying on their interpretation.

Instead, RTFM: read the friendly manual.1

RTFM Mao Tse-Tung style

It helps a lot to read the sutras left behind by the Buddha and his disciples. One or two isn’t enough. If you read enough of them, you can “read between the lines” and get a feel for what Buddhism is about. Then, when you read books by famous teachers, you can appreciate them more.

Even famous Zen masters, such as Hakuin, spent time studying the sutras. In Hakuin’s case, he said he learned a lot from studying the Lotus Sutra, while Honen of Pure Land Buddhism learned a lot from reading the Immeasurable Life Sutra. Kukai of the Shingon sect learned a great deal from reading the Maha-Vairocana Sutra, and it drove him to go to China, where he learned the critical esoteric teachings.

Everyone is different, and everyone has different tastes. So, one sutra might not interest you, but another will more impact. That’s normal. But the time spent is a good investment.

P.S. For those not familiar, the scene above is a painting about the Old-Testament Bible story where Moses smashes the Ten Commandments in frustration. ‘RTFM’ and ‘noobz’ are internet slang of course. 😉

1 I changed the meaning of RTFM a bit, to be more…….friendly. 😉


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

2 thoughts on “Buddhism: RTFM”

  1. ‘Everyone is different’ Yes, in my case it is difficult to get much out of reading sutras. I suspect that for many of them, their meaning is not something that can be easily put into ordinary English. So, my solution, throwing up my hands in despair, is to chant the sutras. My concept is, chant the sutra, then meditate and let the sound and vibrations soak in. Or prepare with meditation first, and then chant the sutra. Also, I think commentaries can be helpful, but the old ones in old languages seem the best, and the translation problem hits us again. I haven’t read very many of the ‘manuals’ written originally in English. They don’t seem to be in the same league as the old stuff.


    1. Yeah, some of those old commentaries are pretty darn good. I’m reading Venerable Ou-I’s 17th century commentaries on the Amitabha Sutra right now, which is similar to Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentaries, but frankly I like the former much better than the latter.

      Ven. Ou-I just tells it like it is, while TNH seems to be trying to explain away a lot of things about the Pure Land and compare it to a training center (!). TNH has a lot of good books and sutra commentaries, but this just isn’t one of them.


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