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Ways of Enlightenment: Buddhist Studies at Nyingma Institute

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In recommending this book for classroom use, I am breaking with an established custom in Western academia. I would like to propose that professors surrender a certainly scholarly distance and actually use a Tibetan survey of Buddhist teachings as the central reading for a Survey of Buddhism course. The book is Ways of Enlightenment, an outline of Buddhist philosophy and practice written by American Tibetan Buddhists under the direction of a Nyingma lama, Tarthang Tulku. Although the book was designed for practitioners at American meditation centers, it could as well be used as an introduction to Mahayana Buddhist writings in general. It would overcome the cultural gap we usually find between primary and secondary readings in college courses on Buddhism.

Tarthang’s students have written an exceptionally clear and straightforward outline. It could be recommended on these grounds alone, but really its strongest point is stylistic. Because it was originally designed for  Buddhists, it uses a language akin to that of the Buddhist scriptures and commentaries. It shows forth in its very style the premises upon which the  religion is based. Since Ways of Enlightenment rhetorically and stylistically embodies the thing it studies, it overcomes the cognitive dissonance between primary and secondary texts which is typical of “Introduction to Buddhism” courses.