Shedra Curriculum and History
The Shedra curriculum, which evolved over many centuries in Tibet, distills the vast corpus of Indian Buddhist literature into five core texts, which represent the essence of Buddhist philosophy and practice. While we do not yet have complete and viable translations of all of five texts into English, we do have complete translations of three of them and of substantial related literature—other texts similar to the five core ones as well as many commentaries on either the five texts themselves or the topics they present. This makes it now possible to pursue the Shedra curriculum in English by expanding the exclusive focus into five topics instead of exclusively focusing on the five core texts. Additionally, instead of limiting our study to the texts to only one tradition, in the spirit of the Rime or unbiased movement, we are using texts from all traditions of Buddhism in India and Tibet.
When viewed more broadly, these five texts present the five topics, as follows:
Abhidharmakosha: The Treasury of Knowledge, by Vasubhandu – Identifying the elements of our experience, both internally and externally, and how they function.
Pramanavartikka: The Commentary on the Compendium of Valid Cognition, by Dharmakirti – Sharpening the logical mind so that it can understand the subtleties of experience and so that inference can be strong enough to lead to direct cognition.
Madhyamakavatara: The Introduction to the Middle Way, by Chandrakirti – Gaining certainty in the view of the middle path free from the extremes of superimposition and deprecation.
Abhisamayalankara: The Ornament of Clear Realization, by Maitreya – Travelers, stages and realizations on the various paths. In our version of the curriculum, the focused of this topic is extrapolated into the gradual path of the Bodhisattva as presented in the lamrim literature.
Vinayasutra: The Compilation of the Precepts for Conduct, by Gunaprabha – Understanding the vows for individual liberation required for monks and nuns. In Tibet this topic was often expanded to the study of all three vows as precepts for practice and broader guidelines for conduct, and in particular as the conduct of the Bodhisattva.
However, since our audience consists of lay practitioners, the last topic is exchanged for the study of the subtleties of meditation, in particular the practice of the four immeasurable, lojong (mind training slogans), Tonglen (exchanging the focus our wish to benefit ourselves with the wish to benefit others), and shamatha-vipashyana. As such, the Five Topics expand on the earlier scheme of the Three Wheels of the Buddhist path: Shila (virtue), Samadhi (meditation), and Prajna (wisdom-awareness).
The successful study of the traditional Shedra curriculum also requires the understanding of a substantial range of more introductory subjects. Thus the material used in preparation for studying the five root texts includes the following standard introductory subjects which are also included in the Rime Shedra Curriculum:
History: The development of the lineages of transmission for the five topics and the biographies of the main figures;
Collected Topics: The precise definition and skillful classification of the basic terms and topics used first in the Abhidharma and then throughout the curriculum;
Science of Mind: The classification and definitions of our various mental states, and in particular, the distinction between valid and invalid cognition;
Science of Reasoning: The practical application of valid cognition through logic;
Tenets: The foundational frameworks of the main systems of Buddhist philosophy;
Grounds and Paths: The delineations and the characteristics of the various stages of attainment on the various paths.
- Practice Instructions: The foundational instructions for meditation practice.