So many schools

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So many schools

Postby shaunc » Tue Jan 15, 2013 10:04 am

There are many different types of buddhism out there to choose from. Theravada, pure-land, zen, tibetan & then there are also sub-schools within them. Mainly I've practised on my own, meditation that was taught to me by theravadan monks (Thai forrest tradition) some pure-land chanting that was taught to me by a Japanese neighbour & of course basic buddhism that generally speaking is common to all schools (4 noble truths, noble eightfold path & the 5 precepts etc). My question is, what are the benefits/drawbacks of following only 1 school & also what are the benefits/drawbacks of mixing it up a bit in the way I do.
Thanks. Good-luck & best-wishes. Shaun.
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Re: So many schools

Postby Jesse » Tue Jan 15, 2013 12:09 pm

They are all designed to do the same thing essentially, so following multiple schools is good if you can read between the lines and find what they have in common. You're also more likely to find practices you find enjoyable. The only reason I can think of that it can be harmful is if you're taking it all far too literally.
"We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know." - Albert Einstein
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Re: So many schools

Postby Seishin » Tue Jan 15, 2013 1:29 pm

Finding a good teacher with a good sangha in a tradition that resonates with you can be really beneficial. Some people find they progress and learn so much more than they would have done on their own. But some people find being by themselves to be more beneficial. The best way to find out is by going to some groups and seeing what's best for you. :smile:

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Re: So many schools

Postby oushi » Tue Jan 15, 2013 1:57 pm

seeing what's best for you

This can be tricky :smile:
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Re: So many schools

Postby Jikan » Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:11 pm

Indeed. It's not always easy to know what is the right situation, and what is not.

Here are some baselines:

*Is this a situation in which I can learn and grow? Will I be respected here and also challenged?

*Is this a fly-by-night situation, or is it connected in a deep way with a community of practice with deep historical roots? Can I trust this thing?

*Do I like these people? Do I want to be more like them? Can I see myself spending a lot of time with these people over many years on a regular basis?

*What do my friends at DharmaWheel think of this teacher/group?
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Re: So many schools

Postby Seishin » Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:28 pm

oushi wrote:
seeing what's best for you

This can be tricky :smile:


Yeah sorry for making it sound easy :tongue:

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Re: So many schools

Postby shaunc » Wed Jan 16, 2013 3:12 am

Thanks for your replys.
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Re: So many schools

Postby Yudron » Wed Jan 16, 2013 3:20 am

Although I have focused on one school--the Nyingma--because I would rather do one thing right than 100 things half-assed, I could have easily become a Chan, Tendai, or Shin practitioner. If you practice whatever is most interesting to you at the moment, you can end up jumping from practice to practice and not pushing through the boredom and difficult feelings that come up that are necessary parts of the path. I good teacher helps with this.
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Re: So many schools

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Jan 16, 2013 3:27 am

My only advice is go with what you like - what actually resonates with you, rather than what you think you should like, even if it's just based on external things..sometimes those say alot about what kind of teaching might work for us I think.

I spent years with a more austere vision of what I wanted out of Buddhism, so mostly studying a few Pali texts, and Zen practice because it was nearby, and it was minimal, which is what I thought was "correct" somehow, but not really what I liked. Then I decided to look into Tibetan traditions due to my attraction to the art, music, and colorful presentation, all I can say is I should have just gone with my gut in the first place, instead of worrying about what was more correct.

I think if you just go for what really speaks to you, you at least have something that you will enjoy doing, outside of loftier spiritual considerations, that's really an important thing. I'm not saying go with any old thing, i'm just saying that what gives you joy will actually get you to walk through the door, whereas just doing what you think is "the best" often won't.

My inclination is that is best to have one, or a series of a few solid teachers in the same, or similar traditions..for the same reason as the advice above.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: So many schools

Postby PorkChop » Wed Jan 16, 2013 4:52 am

Kind of reluctant to post because I'm so new and a pretty horrible practitioner, but I'm kind of in the same boat.
I mix it up quite a bit.
I study a lot, I've practiced with a bunch of different groups locally (many of the same ones you mention).

I've run into the same questions that are probably going through your head:
Do I play it safe and buy into the idea of "Theravada orthodoxy" - sticking with Pali Suttas in favor of "newer" Mahayana?
Do I go straight for the direct route to achieve the highest realization in the shortest time possible with either Zen, Jnana/Vipassana, or Dzogchen?
Do I stick with the well-established resources of FPMT's online courses?
Do I go for all the bells and whistles (rituals & mantras) of "full blown" Tibetan Vajrayana?
Do I go with "standard" Mahayana in the vein of the Chinese traditions (TianTai or a "general" Chinese Mahayana)?
Do I go for a householder-oriented practice like Rissho Kosei Kai's take on Nichiren Buddhism, or Pure Land?

In my situation, besides issues with respective doctrines, there are issues with each insofar as their availability locally.
My thinking has been to stick with the one(s) that resonate with me the most, the one(s) that are the most convenient, and the one(s) that fit my situation & capacities the best.
I've been reluctant to commit to any one thus far, because no situation is perfect.
As I learn more my opinions change, and I become more aware of my capacities.
What was uncomfortable & confusing to me in the very beginning now seems perfectly reasonable.
What seemed like the best course of action originally, maybe doesn't look so good now.
There are groups that I feel comfortable around and there are groups that I don't.

My plan is to study as much as possible, try out integrating various practices into my daily life, and see where I'm at in a year or so.
Part & parcel of that is whether or not I find a teacher that I really connect with.
I don't see myself shopping around so much later on.
I do plan on settling down with one practice as my main, maybe supplementing here and there as opportunities & needs arise.
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Re: So many schools

Postby plwk » Sat Jan 19, 2013 7:38 am

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Re: So many schools

Postby shaunc » Sat Jan 19, 2013 8:10 am

Firstly, I'd like to thank everyone for their input. It would help I feel if I made myself more clear & explained what experience I had & what problems I'd encountered. Tibetan buddhism is fairly easy for me to access where I live, the plus side is that almost all of them were westerners (language) the down side was that I found it very academic. I'm not an academic, I left school at 15 & work as a driver.
Pure-land (vietnamese) the problem I encountered here was language & very little/no emphasis on meditation. The plus side was that it's easily practised by anyone at any time. Another down side was all the faith needed wishing for the pure-land after death. My own mish-mash of buddhism at least gives me benefit in this life.
Theravada (Thai forrest monks), the meditation was great, but again language was a problem, also the emphasis on becoming a monk/nun before attaining enlightenment made me feel as though all I was practising for was another life where I could become a monk/nun & then achieve enlightenment.
Nichiren, again like pure-land it was a fairly simple practise although I wasn't particularly impressed with the way they rubbished meditation, also basic things like the 4 noble truths the noble eight fold path & the 5 precepts weren't even mentioned. I should also mention this was an SGI group I'd encountered & most buddhist groups consider them to be a bit sketchy at best.
My needs I feel are fairly simple. I'm a lay house-holder (married with 4 kids) meditating helps me a lot & I try to practise daily, at least 5 times/week, not for long usually 10-20 minutes. I start work early 4.00am & while driving to my first job I remind myself of the 4NT, N8P & 5P. I also chant a bit.
If anyone feels that they know of a fairly simple school please don't hesitate to mention it.
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Re: So many schools

Postby Yudron » Sat Jan 19, 2013 8:30 am

shaunc wrote:Firstly, I'd like to thank everyone for their input. It would help I feel if I made myself more clear & explained what experience I had & what problems I'd encountered. Tibetan buddhism is fairly easy for me to access where I live, the plus side is that almost all of them were westerners (language) the down side was that I found it very academic. I'm not an academic, I left school at 15 & work as a driver.
Pure-land (vietnamese) the problem I encountered here was language & very little/no emphasis on meditation. The plus side was that it's easily practised by anyone at any time. Another down side was all the faith needed wishing for the pure-land after death. My own mish-mash of buddhism at least gives me benefit in this life.
Theravada (Thai forrest monks), the meditation was great, but again language was a problem, also the emphasis on becoming a monk/nun before attaining enlightenment made me feel as though all I was practising for was another life where I could become a monk/nun & then achieve enlightenment.
Nichiren, again like pure-land it was a fairly simple practise although I wasn't particularly impressed with the way they rubbished meditation, also basic things like the 4 noble truths the noble eight fold path & the 5 precepts weren't even mentioned. I should also mention this was an SGI group I'd encountered & most buddhist groups consider them to be a bit sketchy at best.
My needs I feel are fairly simple. I'm a lay house-holder (married with 4 kids) meditating helps me a lot & I try to practise daily, at least 5 times/week, not for long usually 10-20 minutes. I start work early 4.00am & while driving to my first job I remind myself of the 4NT, N8P & 5P. I also chant a bit.
If anyone feels that they know of a fairly simple school please don't hesitate to mention it.


Well, it would be ideal if you had a center near you. I don't know where you are. How about Thich Nhat Hanh's style of Vietnamese Zen? A Vipassana or Soto zen center or group run by one of the many English speaking teachers? These are the most popular groups around where I live that meet your criteria. Oh, and the Shambala centers, you might like that.
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Re: So many schools

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Jan 19, 2013 8:34 am

Hmmm..

how do you feel about the people at these places?

Is there anyone who you are particularly fond of, communicates well with you, says things that resonate with you?

If you can't decide on what flavor is right for you..maybe it's worth time exploring that?
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: So many schools

Postby greentara » Sat Jan 19, 2013 9:43 am

The Buddhas teaching points to the fact that all conditions are impermanent. By
the word "condition" we mean a formation of the mind, such as a thought or
opinion.

Men and women are conditions. Similarly, Jews and Gentiles, Buddhists and
Christians, Asians and Europeans, Africans, the working class, the middle class,
the upper class; all these are only formations that go through the mind. They
aren't absolutes. They are merely conventions that are useful for communication.

We must use these conventions, but we must also realize that they are only
conventions - not absolutes. In this way, our minds are no longer fixed in our
views or opinions. Views and opinions are seen simply as conditions that arise and
cease in the mind, because that's what they really are. All conditions are
impermanent; they arise and cease.

Ajahn Sumedho
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Re: So many schools

Postby Punya » Sat Jan 19, 2013 8:47 pm

Have you considered/do you have access to an Insight Meditation centre? From what I understand it's based on the Theravada tradition. I have a friend who practices/attends retreats with an Australian group and is attracted to it because it promotes a basic Buddhist philosophy without all the cultural and religious trappings.
Unless the inner forces of negative emotions are conquered
Strife with outer enemies will never end.
~Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
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Re: So many schools

Postby Astus » Mon Jan 21, 2013 10:56 am

If you have trouble with faith in buddhas and bodhisattvas then Theravada is an easier choice here. You don't have to aim for becoming a monastic in the next life, rather you should work for attaining stream-entry, the first level of a noble disciple who is stable on the path to nirvana. As a stream-entrant one will never again be born in the lower realms and reaches liberation within 7 lives either as a human or as a god.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: So many schools

Postby shaunc » Tue Jan 22, 2013 3:27 am

The opinions/advice that has been given to me have made me aware of one thing, the importance of having a sangha. Reading through the many topics covered by this forum I realise that a lot of the practitioners here take their practise of buddhism very seriously. Unfortunately I'm not in a position to do that at this point in my life, I've got a wife & 4 kids that rely on me & for me to function correctly I have to put their needs ahead of mine. Johnny mentioned picking a sangha based on whether I liked the people there. There is some merit in that idea & maybe one day I'll check that out. Astus mentioned that I may prefer theravada over mahayana as theravada doesn't have as much influence on buddhas & boddhisatvas. This doesn't worry me much at all. As far as I know all/most religions have a belief of some sort in help/favour that can be obtained through the spirit/heaven world. Greentara mentioned about conditions of the mind. When I read that it made me think about my own attitudes/prejudices & the fact that I may have to change a bit. I suppose english as a main language is necessary for me to learn so I will have to make that a pre-requisite for whatever sangha I choose. Secondly will be to pick one that fits in with my timetable regarding work & family commitments. Thanks again for everyones input.
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Re: So many schools

Postby PorkChop » Wed Jan 23, 2013 4:56 pm

shaunc wrote:Firstly, I'd like to thank everyone for their input. It would help I feel if I made myself more clear & explained what experience I had & what problems I'd encountered. Tibetan buddhism is fairly easy for me to access where I live, the plus side is that almost all of them were westerners (language) the down side was that I found it very academic. I'm not an academic, I left school at 15 & work as a driver.
Pure-land (vietnamese) the problem I encountered here was language & very little/no emphasis on meditation. The plus side was that it's easily practised by anyone at any time. Another down side was all the faith needed wishing for the pure-land after death. My own mish-mash of buddhism at least gives me benefit in this life.
Theravada (Thai forrest monks), the meditation was great, but again language was a problem, also the emphasis on becoming a monk/nun before attaining enlightenment made me feel as though all I was practising for was another life where I could become a monk/nun & then achieve enlightenment.
Nichiren, again like pure-land it was a fairly simple practise although I wasn't particularly impressed with the way they rubbished meditation, also basic things like the 4 noble truths the noble eight fold path & the 5 precepts weren't even mentioned. I should also mention this was an SGI group I'd encountered & most buddhist groups consider them to be a bit sketchy at best.
My needs I feel are fairly simple. I'm a lay house-holder (married with 4 kids) meditating helps me a lot & I try to practise daily, at least 5 times/week, not for long usually 10-20 minutes. I start work early 4.00am & while driving to my first job I remind myself of the 4NT, N8P & 5P. I also chant a bit.
If anyone feels that they know of a fairly simple school please don't hesitate to mention it.


A lot of people overlook Pure Land and misunderstand it.
Pure Land recitation IS a type of meditation, specifically buddhanusmrti or mindfulness of the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, (and the Devas).
That being said, Vietnamese Pure Land schools are often based on Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, which recommends combining Pure Land practice and Chan/Zen meditation.

In the Pali Cannon the Buddha mentions mindfulness of the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha (and the Devas) as a way to correctly navigate one's mind, to set it on the right track, and with faith can lead one to birth in a Pure Abode where one may attain enlightenment upon being born there.
The Buddha specifically recommended this practice to householders.
The thing is, Pure Land practice is not just about what happens when you die, it's about properly purifying your mind while you're alive.
So even if you don't win realizations right away, they will come at some point in the future.

I liken the practice to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), where if it's rainy outside every day, you're going to tend to have dreary thoughts, the more dreary thoughts you think, the more dreary your mind becomes, eventually you get depressed. It's also like anger - the more you allow yourself to become angry, the more often you act on your anger, the more you establish that habit of being angry, eventually you become an angry person.
By focusing on Enlightened beings with limitless Compassion & Wisdom, slowly, over time you put the imprints of Compassion & Wisdom on your mind and bring out those qualities in yourself.

Theravadans typically accomplish mindfulness of the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha (and the Devas) with the Iti Pi So chant.
In Mahayana, this became the Pure Land sutras, with Amitabha, Amitayus, Akshobya, and Medicine Buddha (among others); and it also includes very effective visualizations.
In Japan, the Jodo Shu and Jodo Shin Shu movement are somewhat unique in that they don't believe in "self power". Unlike Chinese Buddhism or Tendai, they don't advocate mixing Pure Land practice with Jnana/Chan/Zen meditation, and they don't seem to put the emphasis on dana (giving) or sila (ethics) that most schools do.
Nichiren's chanting of the title of the Lotus Sutra grew up in response to the Jodo Shu & Jodo Shin Shu schools, but it is similar to Pure Land practice in a lot of regards.
Nichiren practice allows for birth in Shakyamuni's Pure Land at Vulture's Peak, it also stresses the Lotus Sutra itself, which is a very deep sutra filled with tons of metaphor, and like other buddhanusmrti practices, Nichiren practice also purifies the mind.

Focusing on "the historical Buddha" can help if you're having a hard time buying into the other Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas, or you can remember that in the Dharmakaya, there really are no differences. In emptiness, nobody has an absolute, permanent, separate existence. All Buddhas would have the same enlightenment.

The advantage that the simple chanting practices have over Zen is that you don't need to worry about killing the Buddha on the path if you meet him, because you asked him to be there. :)
In other words, with Pure Land practice, you tend to need less guidance than with anapasatti (breath meditation), but you shouldn't dump breath meditation.
You also shouldn't dump ethics/precepts, the 4NTs, or anything else considered "standard" Buddhism - otherwise, you wouldn't be mindful of the Dharma.
In fact, in the Visualization Sutra (one of the 3 or 4 main Pure Land Sutras), the Buddha tells Queen Vaidehi that she must cultivate the Three Conditions in order to be born in the Pure Land.
They are:
The First Condition is:
1. Be filial to and provide for parents
2. Be respectful to and serve teachers
3. Be compassionate and not kill any living beings
4. Cultivate the Ten Virtuous Conducts.
- Physically, we are to refrain from killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct.
- Verbally, we are to refrain from lying, harsh speech, divisive speech, and enticing speech.
- Mentally, we are to refrain from giving rise to greed, anger, and ignorance.

The Second Condition is:
5. Take the Three Refuges
6. Abide by the precepts
7. Behave in a dignified, appropriate manner

The Third Condition is:
8. Generate the Bodhi mind
9. Believe deeply in causality
10. Study and chant the Mahayana sutras
11. Encourage others to advance on the path to enlightenment


Many of the vows of Amitabha and Medicine Buddha deal explicitly with the precepts, right concentration, wisdom, and compassion.
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Re: So many schools

Postby lobster » Thu Jan 24, 2013 3:19 am

I also chant a bit.


I would drive and chant. It is a complete path, if dedicated to it. Seems you are doing all the right things for yourself and your family :woohoo:
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