Approaching the Course

Welcome! The intention of this course is to support Awakening. It is not a study course designed to furnish knowledge - rather it presents some of the many tools offered by the Buddha to liberate the heart. Our approach follows the encouragement of our primary teacher Ajahn Chah, which is "Read the book of the Heart." This approach which informs how we present the material and how you are encouraged to study and practice with it.

SMS Online Introduction

Regarding the material: the content of the first module covers some of the building blocks of practice offered by the Buddha - themes such as sila (ethics), karma/vipaka (action and result), and mindfulness are brought in as we build a practice of samadhi (calming meditation.) As we go along, we also introduce the paramitas - spiritual perfections - that the Buddha developed and taught. These nourish and sustain the heart and, together with the other practices we touch into, build the optimum foundation for insight and wisdom which is the focal theme of the second module. In the third module we touch into some of the Mahayana teachings, as well as experiencing how these teachings are interwoven with the themes and practices integral in the earlier teachings of Buddhism.

Teachings of the Buddha were handed down orally and then later systematized into many different lists and formulas. Inevitably the themes we cover figure in these lists and to orient the mind we do present the material in a somewhat linear way. That said, please hold any lists/schemes lightly. You can use them to explore, and while it is helpful to have a map - there is no need to cling to it. What is important is the qualities we are developing, deepening our felt understanding of the inter-relatedness of many facets of practice, and the opening of the heart. So, please be patient with the course as it unfolds. Buddhist teaching is like a hologram. As we touch on one piece, inevitably many other dimensions come into focus. Just allow whatever you listen to, or contemplate, to rest within your heart in a natural and organic way.

So, in approaching the course, what is important is its aim - awakening the heart. We can enter what is offered with a spirit of listening and even of mystery. Let the teachings touch and unfold us rather than overly grasping them to attain knowledge. In a monastic framework, the emphasis is on daily reflections which hone our ability to be mindful, reflective and self aware, and we would like to encourage a similar approach here. As you listen to the Dharma talks or read the Suttas or engage the inquiry reflections, be with whatever draws your interest. It may only be a few lines of teaching, or an area of contemplation suggested in the inquiry questions, or an overall theme or an aspect of meditation practice. This being touched by teachings is somewhat timeless. Please give effort to look at the material given, but also pace yourself in a way that works for you so you are able to reflect and take in what is offered. It is not necessary to cover everything; it is more important to feel the transformative potential of the teachings and qualities being discussed.

SMS Online Introduction

Lastly, in Dharma practice we always begin again -- here and now -- always working with how it is now. Some of the teachings may appear linear but the Dharma is not. We cycle again and again, revisiting the same practices and principles as they deepen into our lives. Within this cyclic process, you can always return to topics covered in the course at an earlier time. It's not that more is better or that teachings in module 3 are more advanced than module 1. Each step is important; each piece contributes to the overall mandala of the Buddha Dharma.

Again, a very warm welcome to SMS Online. We look forward to supporting your practice and are happy to hear from you if you wish to report back about how it's going or ask any questions. Our contact email is: dharmagiri.mail@gmail.com

Wishing you peace and well being,
Kittisaro & Thanissara

Course Structure

The course consists of 3 modules. Each module is 12 lessons long. The themes for each lesson are guided by the following 4 supports:
1. Two Dharma talks relevant to themes in the course curriculum.
2. A Sutta reading or short Buddhist text.
3. Contemplative exercise with inquiry questions.
4. Guidance for meditation practice.

Sometimes chants, texts or articles are offered in the Extra Material Section.

Approaching the Suttas

Just as the approach to this course is a contemplative one, so we approach the Suttas in a contemplative way. In Western Christian monasticism a form for reading scripture was developed which is called Lectio Divina. Here we offer a contemplative approach that is based on that. This practice can be done in a group or individually. We thank Peter Woods for the transmission of this practice which he explains here within a Buddhist context:

This recording is from our first SMS residential retreat in 2008 at Dharmagiri in South Africa. Here is the text with guidelines for the practice of Contemplative Sutta Reading: Lectio Divina Text

We encourage you to keep a journal through the course, jotting down your responses to Dharma themes, Sutta readings and your experience of meditation. It doesn't have to be in depth, but a few lines, perhaps with relevant quotes, will give a sense of continuity. For those who would like more context for studying the Suttas, we recommend Bhikkhu Bodhi's book 'In the Buddha's Words'. This is also available as a down load E-Book. In South Africa, it can be ordered from Loot.

Setting Up Your Meditation Practice

We encourage you to set up a daily practice of meditation as meditation is at the heart of the transformative path of Buddhism. We recommend you designate a spot in your home for this. If you are travelling a lot, carry with you some shrine pieces so you can establish a meditation space wherever you are. This can consist of a candle and pictures that reflect your deepest aspiration. If you find it helpful, you can also offer incense or a small flower to your shrine as a gesture of devotion to the Path. We further recommend you have a set time and length of time to meditate each day, and keep with that.

Please assess the time that works for your life style. We recommend at least 20 minutes in the morning and evening. If you can do up to 45 minutes, this is also good. However the important thing is to make the length of time realistic so it can be sustainable. It's very helpful to set a timer for this period. There are iPhone apps that you can download, for example "Insight Timer."

Connecting as Sangha

In addition to the above supports we are glad to offer some different ways of connecting as a Sangha, a community of practitioners - even if we are spread world wide! Periodically Kittisaro and Thanissara will host conference calls in which everyone on the course is invited to participate. Details of how to connect will be sent to you before each call.

To Offer Dana

This course is run on a Dana (free will offering) basis, in accordance with the historical transmission of Dharma and the intention of the Buddha. Dharma teachings are offered freely and with an open hand. The sharing of Dharma and material support is done in the spirit of generosity and reciprocity. In the same spirit we rely entirely on Dana to support our dharma work including the construction and support of this course.

Historically those who offer the Dharma through teachings and guidance have been supported by their communities and monasteries. We have no larger organization or monastery supporting us. Therefore we appreciate any Dana offerings you may wish to give in response to this course. Thank for considering this.
Click Here for details of how you can make an offering

SMS Online Intro