A Buddhist Apprenticeship

A while back I had a conversation with Daniela about apprenticeships. She did one in tailoring for a few years. We then spoke about a Buddhist apprenticeship. I like that word, apprenticeship. I like the attitudes surrounding it. It’s a good phrase to describe my approach to Buddhism.

1. a person who works for another in order to learn a trade: an apprentice to a plumber.
2. History/Historical. a person legally bound through indenture to a master craftsman in order to learn a trade.
3. a learner; novice; tyro.

verb (used with object), ap·pren·ticed, ap·pren·tic·ing.
4. to bind to or place with an employer, master craftsman, or the like, for instruction in a trade.

The master-student relationship is highlighted in this word. Master not in the sense of having dominion over someone, but as someone who has mastered their craft. This is a similar attitude in the guru-disciple relationship.

Some people call Buddhism a religion. That’s true. But religion is too small a word to describe Buddhism. It’s a science of mind. It’s a philosophy. I also like seeing it as a skill, which fits exactly into the Buddhist apprenticeship.

Buddhism as a Skill

There are three main skills in Buddhism.

  1. Ethics (sila)
  2. Meditation (samadhi)
  3. Wisdom (prajna)

Many books have been written on each one. For me the most unusual one to see as a skill was ‘ethics’. Ethical training is not a phrase I’ve heard outside of Buddhism. But the more I reflect on it the more I see how crucial it is for humanity. Ethics is the foundation of civilisation. Agreed rules of ‘do no harm’ or ‘do not steal’ have a significant role for a healthy society.

A Buddhist apprenticeship involves:

The word ‘apprentice’ for me has an effect of nostalgia. It reminds me of Miyamoto Musashi – the greatest swordsmen of Japan. I read the book many years ago. I loved his attitudes towards life and his sword. It serves as a good reminder for how I want to approach studying Buddhism (and for that matter, any other religions or topics I decide to study).

“The purpose of today’s training is to defeat yesterday’s understanding.”

Miyamoto Musashi

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