[Questions have been summarized.] I have read 3 introductions to buddhism. Where do I go from here? Sutras? I'm also interested in meditation.
I've always had a feeling that what we perceive about ourselves and also how others perceive themselves and us is very much illusionary. I want to dig deeper into this fact to improve happiness.
I have no attraction whatsoever into the historical Buddha as I feel no on can really say.
I was born into a catholic society (French Canada) and I know how twisted and convoluted church doctrine can be. I don't put much values in miracles or esoteric stuff.
I'm happy to know of your interest in a contemporary approach of living Buddhism, not the traditional "church" Buddhism. Yes, all world religions sooner or later petrify into some kind of "church" tradition, claiming final and absolute answers for everything. The beauty of Buddhism is the freedom and latitude it gives us to think and ask about it, leaving us to discover the truth for ourselves (as the Buddha himself did).
The God idea is a spiritually beautiful and powerful notion, but the theologians and church princes destroyed him by their personalization of something truly spiritual and "empty". Similarly, Buddhist theologians and temple-runners have created their own Buddhas so that now we cannot see the woods for the trees. But Buddhism, being a living religion, has a way of rejuvenating itself, that is, as long as we have truth-seekers. But let me start at the beginning to answer your question, which is characteristic, in a wonderful way, of thinking seekers of our times.
I can relate to you, since I am going through that stage right now even though I had been a monk for over 20 years, but now with a happy family and still teaching Buddhism today. It is not that I have faith in Buddhism, but I have many spiritual questions myself, answers for which I seek—often I do not know what the question is! Yet in answering the questions of others (like yourself) I get hints to their answers. (More of this in due course, at the appropriate time.)
I love Buddhist books, collect them and could recommend a lifetime of reading. But let me be realistic and suggest a balanced approach. I find it personally rewarding to have an academic as well as a spiritual approach to Buddhism.
By "academic" here is meant that the reading materials are well-researched, well-written and unbiased (interdenominational). Invariably this would give important reflections on early Buddhism (the basic teachings) in the light of our contemporary society. An excellent recommended reading here is:
Peter Harvey, AN INTRODUCTION TO BUDDHIST ETHICS, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
My first reason for choosing this title for you is in response to your remark that you "feel no attraction whatsoever [to] the historical Buddha as I feel no one can say [who he really is]." Peter Harvey is also the first Professor specifically of "Buddhist Studies" in the UK. And his book not only gives a fresh and balanced account of basic Buddhist teachings but also addresses many contemporary issues.
If you want to read primary texts (i.e. the original scriptures of early Buddhism), I recommend:
NUMERICAL DISCOURSES OF THE BUDDHA (An anthology of suttas from the Anguttara Nikaya), tr, & ed. Nyanaponika Thera & Bhikkhu Bodhi, Lanham, MD: Altamira Press, 1999.
["Thera" is a title meaning "elder monk"; "Bhikkhu" means "monk".]
This is a good authoritative introduction to the original texts complete with notes. If you enjoy this book, you might like to go on to other larger volumes of the Pali Canon (early Buddhist texts) translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi.
To balance the letter of the teaching, let me recommend that you enjoy delightful readings of the spirit of Buddhism from two highly spiritual masters: Ajahn Sumedho and Thich Nhat Hanh. "Ajahn" is from Sanskrit acariya, meaning "teacher". "Thich" (Chinese "Seck") is Vietnamese for "Sakya", the Buddha's clan, and is a common spiritual family name amongst many East Asian monks.
Sumedho made spiritual history by establishing the first forest monastery in Britain (something many thought impossible in our times). Since then, his monk pupils have set up their own monasteries and teaching in Australia and elsewhere.
Sumedho's books (like The Way It Is) are often distributed free by devotees. (Sorry, we do not do mailing since this is a shoestring and independent website.) His books are available from (and send an SAE to):
Herts. HP1 3BZ
Do find out what Sumedho means by "living the moment".
Thich Nhat Hanh (it seems that every Western Buddhist has heard of him) is a Vietnamese Zen monk, poet and peace activist. His books (like Present Moment Wonderful Moment) are usually published by Parallax Press (Berkeley, CA, USA) and often available in good bookshops. (Find out what he means by "interbeing".)
Generally, any book by any of these two very spiritual people having something inspirational to do with meditation. In due course, we will be publishing my booklet on basic meditation on our website (www.dharma.per.sg), so do keep a look-out for it.
An important note here is that meditation is like driving a car. You cannot learn it from reading books! You have to do it. And the best and safest way is to find a good meditation teacher. Here's the rub: the efficacy and success of meditation has attracted and spawned many self-made gurus with personal agendas.
So look carefully and widely for a good meditation teacher. Be not afraid to ask embarrassing questions. If he gets upset in some way, he has problems himself; you might as well look for another. When you find you have some inner peace and joy, you will then know the practice suits you. This is like finding a good doctor and taking his medicine. Only thing, there is a rewarding spiritual friendship between meditation teacher and pupil.
Another friendly advice, do not jump into the deep end of meditation right away. Do not begin with practices that need initiation (such as Vajrayana meditation). A good grounding in Calmness and Insight (samatha-vipassana) meditation is always rewarding. With this you will have a good idea which path to continue on. I know that California, where I lived [Berkeley] for over a year, has many Vipassana centres. I'm sure Canada has her own.
May your spiritual journey be safe and fruitful, and be generous with the fruits for the wellbeing of others.