Encountering the Teachings

An Exploration of the
Major Streams of Buddhist Thought

A Six-Week Online Course with

Jiryu Rutschman-Byler

Encountering the Teachings is an interactive online course in which we will explore the major insights developed over the history of Buddhism.

Through encountering the teachings, we discover new ways of seeing ourselves and the world, and come to new understandings of the Buddha’s Path and what it means for us right here and right now to practice.”

Jiryu Rutschman-Byler

In this six-week online course, we will explore some of the core teachings of Buddhism, from the earliest doctrines of karma and “No Self” to the later teachings on Emptiness, Mind Only, and Buddha Nature.  We will engage in a dialogue with our Buddhist ancestors—Shakyamuni Buddha, Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, to name a few—listening fully and contributing our voice to an age-old, ever-evolving conversation.

We will use video contemplations and teachings, webinars, discussion posts, and shared readings to encounter, enter, and converse with these teachings together.

Wherever you are in your practice and understanding of Buddhism, encountering and engaging with the teachings anew offers enlivening insight and support in deepening your practice and awakening to life.

What is the essential doctrine of karma, and how might it support us today?

How do we make sense of the early Buddhist teaching of “No Self” when “I” am right here?

What is meant by the Madhyamaka teachings on the “emptiness of everything,” and how can this insight into this emptiness relieve suffering?

How does the “Mind Only” of the Yogacara teachings help to untangle our habits and confusion?

How do we engage the optimistic, life-affirming teachings of the absolute innate perfection of all beings and things, as expressed in the doctrine of Buddha Nature or Tathagatagarbha?

How do all of these streams of teaching fit and flow together?

If you feel the resonance and relevance of these questions, please consider joining us in Encountering the Teachings.

About Jiryu

Jiryu Mark Rutschman-Byler is a priest and teacher in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, with Dharma Transmission from Sojun Mel Weitsman. He lives and teaches at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center and is the head teacher of the Buddhadharma Sangha of San Quentin State Prison.

Jiryu has lived at Zen temples since the age of 20, training under a variety of teachers in both the US and Japan. He has taught a number of courses through San Francisco Zen Center including: “Breath in Buddhist Meditation,” “Teachings on Buddha Nature,” “Approaches to Enlightenment,” and the “Practice of Shikantaza.” His other online class for San Francisco Zen Center is “Breath.”

Jiryu holds a master’s degree in Asian Studies from UC Berkeley where he worked on Buddhist texts in classical Chinese and modern Japanese. He is the author of the book Two Shores of Zen, about his experiences in 2002 to 2004 as an American-trained monk practicing in Japanese Zen monasteries. He has published articles in Buddhadharma and Turning Wheel. He blogs at “No Zen in the West.”

More on Jiryu can be found at Shores of Zen.


From wherever you live, you can join Jiryu Rutschman-Byler, beginning September 12, by signing up for this online course. Register here for “Encountering the Teachings.”

  • Course Starts on: September 12 (LIVE webinars will be held on 9/13, 9/27, 10/11, and 10/25 from 5:30-6:30 PM Pacific time)
  • All live sessions will be recorded so you will never miss a session, and can listen at your convenience any time
  • Here’s what you’ll receive for your course fee.

Course Fees

$143 (member)
$127 (limited income)

A limited number of need-based scholarships are available. Please fill out the online programs application.

Guarantee & Cancellation Policy

Thank you for choosing SFZC’s Online Programs. If for any reason you wish to withdraw from the program, you can receive a refund minus a $20 processing fee, during the first 15 days. There is no refund if you cancel or withdraw more than 15 days after the start of the program.

What The Course Covers



The first video of the course, “Joining the Buddhist Conversation,” will offer reflections on different ways we might relate to the teachings of Buddhism.

The main theme of this week will be the early Buddhist teachings on karma. We sometimes dismiss this teaching as just a coarse and unhelpful insistence that “you had it coming,” but if we open to the wider meaning of the principle we may find in it real inspiration and motivation for a life of maturity and careful practice.

Week One materials will include:

  • A contemplation video, “What I Do Matters”
  • A teaching video, “Encountering Karma”
  • Optional readings, webinar, and online discussion about this vital and often frustrating karma teaching



The theme of this week will be the early Buddhist teaching of “No Self.” These teachings, codified in the so-called “Abhidharma,” point to the truth that what we think “I” am is revealed under examination to be simply the coming together of different parts. None of these parts are “me,” exactly, nor is there any “me” outside of these parts. This inquiry into the elements underneath what we take as the “I experience” leads in this teaching to the refutation of any separate, lasting, controlling “I” at all.

Week Two materials include:

  • A contemplation video, “I Am Not in Charge”
  • A teaching video, “Encountering No Self”
  • Optional readings, webinar, and online discussion about this teaching of “No Self” and the Abhidharma system that emerged from it



The theme of this week will be the teachings on the emptiness of all things, not just the self, as expounded in the Middle Way (Madhayamaka) teachings of the second century Indian Ancestor Nagarjuna. This important development in the Buddhist tradition emphasizes the inconceivable interdependence of everything and concludes that, in light of our inability to find any solid distinctions between any single “things” in this web of relations, none of our concepts can be true to reality. And yet through the companion teachings on the “Two Truths,” we don’t simply throw up our hands or retreat into “nothingness.” Paradoxically, these very teachings on “emptiness” end up re-engaging us with the conventional, so-called ordinary world that we find before us in every moment.

Week Three materials include:

  • A contemplation video, “There Are No Things”
  • A teaching video, “Encountering Emptiness”
  • Optional readings, webinar, and online discussion about the teachings on emptiness, the Two Truths, and Nagarjuna’s Middle Way



The theme of this week will be the teachings of the Mind Only stream of the Buddhist tradition, known as the Yogacara, which flowered through the work of fifth and sixth century ancestors like Vasubandhu. These teachings examine closely the role of the mind in constructing reality, and offer models or “maps of the mind” like the four parts and the eight consciousnesses.

Week Four materials include:

  • A contemplation video, “There Is No ‘Outside’”
  • A teaching video, “Encountering Mind Only”
  • Optional readings, webinar, and online discusson about the Mind Only teachings of the Yogacara, and what it might mean for our lives



The theme of this week will be the Buddha Nature teachings of the Tathagatagarbha stream, teachings that became immensely important in Chinese Buddhism, where they helped to shape Zen and much of East Asian Buddhism in general. This teaching is an invitation to see Buddhahood, and Buddha’s wisdom and compassion, not as far-away goals but as present right here and now amidst our collective greed, hatred, and delusion. Zen puts it succinctly: “This very mind is Buddha.”

Week Five materials include:

  • A contemplation video, “There Is Only Life”
  • A teaching video, “Encountering Buddha Nature”
  • Optional readings, webinar, and online discussion about the teachings on Buddha Nature, including the tension that some Buddhists have and do feel between these teachings and the older, “more authentically Buddhist” doctrines like “Emptiness” and “No Self”



In the sixth week of the course, a concluding video will review these major streams of Buddhism and put us into the shoes of the early Chinese Buddhists, like Zongmi, who were tasked with making sense of this wide array of teachings. How did they organize the teachings, fit them together into a coherent whole? And in particular, how did they make sense of the differences we’ve seen among the teachings? Studying these classification schemes (panjiao) is a great way to appreciate the interrelationships between the teachings and to invite ourselves into an inquiry into what teachings we most value and why. How would we sort the teachings, and what would that reveal about ourselves?

Week Six materials include:

  • A concluding video
  • Optional readings, webinar, and online discussion about these classification frameworks, and to review the ground we’ve covered and reflect on our insights and intentions going forward

During Each Week You Will Receive:

30-60 minutes of video sessions with Jiryu. A weekly theme will be covered in a contemplation video and a dharma teaching video. In the final week, there will be a concluding video in lieu of the regular contemplation and dharma teaching videos. These videos will be available to download or stream.

Access to a private, password protected interactive course website for all participants. This is the hub for all things related to this course, including our online community.

PDFs of supplemental readings on the theme of the week.

Four hour-long LIVE interactive webinars. Participants can engage directly with Jiryu and their fellow practitioners. Recordings will be available for those who are unable to attend the live dharma sessions, as well as for those who want to listen to the webinar more than once.

Encouragement in your email inbox from Jiryu with quotes, suggestions, and questions to support and guide your study and practice.

Participation in discussion forums with Jiryu and fellow participants from around the globe.

What People are Saying about Jiryu’s Courses . . .

Jiryu’s candid sharing of challenges and insights with his own practice gave relevance to the course.

I experienced Jiryu as embodying every attribute of a great teacher and bodhisattva: great and wide-ranging wisdom, great and open clarity, great and warming compassion! I felt Jiryu’s deep knowledge and caring transmitting powerfully through this “disembodied” online vehicle. This says a lot given I’ve only “met” him via this medium. It also says a lot for the technical structure and formatting of the vehicle itself, which I found well designed, reliable and easy to use.

Jiryu’s presence is simply beautiful. His wisdom and knowledge were conveyed intelligently and with clarity that ushered me towards a better understanding and appreciation for breath practice and more. I found Jiryu’s teachings reflected a depth of awareness, humility, and humor which allowed me to feel a human connection over the waves and wires of technology.

Jiryu is an excellent teacher. Would enjoy taking another online course from him.

It is so wonderful to be connected via this vehicle. The online zendo is excellent and Jiryu is totally awesome!

What People are Saying about SFZC live webinars

Feeling closer even though afar. I usually go to. . . lectures at the Green Gulch and I am always too shy to participate of the Q&A, but with this format, I felt at ease to contribute.

I thought that the video was a great improvement over the conference calls from a learning perspective and as a way to feel engaged with others. I was a little uncomfortable being brought in live at first, but I got over my self-consciousness.

It was interactive and made the group feel more like a sangha.

I took all the classes while commuting from San Francisco to Marin County on a bus and everything went well.

Photo credits:

City Center Avalokiteshvara by Travis Stansel; Jiryu Rutchman-Byler by Sara Tashker; Avalokiteshvara detail by Shundo David Haye; Zazen detail by Margo Moritz.