Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

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Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby DaveKS » Tue Jul 23, 2013 4:56 pm

I've just started looking into Buddhism and am very confused about all the different sects and paths. I'm in the US and do not have an Asian background and am approaching Buddhism for the very first time.

What attracted me the most to Buddhism are the core teachings: the triple gem, the four noble truths, the eightfold path, the five precepts, etc. All of the extra practice that seems to be in so many different sects doesn't appeal to me at all. I'm not interested in deities or complex rituals.

I thought I might like Theravada, but from my understanding it is more for those pursuing a monastic life. I also understand that scripture, chants, etc. are kept in the original language, which is a big barrier for me. There is a Theravada temple nearby but I'm apprehensive about attending as I'm not sure at all what I'll find.

So then I started looking at Mahayana, but the only sect that didn't have all the extra deities and rituals seemed to be Zen, and I can tell you that Zen is not at all the correct path for me. Pure Land, Nichiren, and Amitabha don't seem like the right path, either.

Please, understand that I only have a very surface knowledge of Buddhism from what little I've read on the Internet. I'm probably way off on everything so feel free to correct me. Does anyone have any suggestions as to which path I should investigate?

FYI, the following temples/centers are in my area:
- Theravada
- Nithyananda Vedic
- Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land)
- Nichiren
- Amitabha
- Zen
- Tibetan
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby Seishin » Tue Jul 23, 2013 5:11 pm

I would suggest that the only way to know the temperature of the water is to dive in. Go to various temples and see what it's all about. You'll find that if you try to find something to fit exactly to your views you'll never be satisfied. Open yourself to new opportunities and it can be of great benefit.

Good luck and welcome to Dharma wheel.
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby PorkChop » Tue Jul 23, 2013 6:20 pm

As a guy who's been through some similar growing pains in the last year, I figure I'll throw in my 2 cents.
The stuff that made me uncomfortable at the beginning, is the stuff I gravitated towards over time.
The stuff I had a lot of interest in at the very beginning, is the stuff that I found didn't fit so well over time.
I'd suggest getting some good, general books on Buddhism to learn more information (just be careful to ignore any polemics).
If you want recommendations for books, just ask, there are tons and many are freely available.
I'd also suggest visiting as many of those centers as you can to see what feels like the best fit.

One thing I might point out is that in eastern religions/philosophies, deities/bodhisattvas/mahasattvas/buddhas are thought of differently than in religions that people in the west are typically familiar with. Many times they serve as ideals, things to aspire to, traits to bring out from within yourself, and lessons to learn, not some external being that you must propitiate "or else". They can function on the level of metaphor and be no less helpful.
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby Punya » Tue Jul 23, 2013 9:48 pm

It's wonderful that you have so much choice in your area. Maybe look for a centre that has a basic introductory meditation program, some centres offer this over 6-8 weeks. You should then find yourself in the company of other beginners and it will give you an opportunity to explore and ask questions. There's no need to commit to a particular tradition or centre at this point.

And BTW, welcome to Dharma Wheel. :smile:
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby Kim O'Hara » Tue Jul 23, 2013 10:30 pm

All the advice so far has been good, so I will just add ...
(1) Introductory resources from Dhamma Wheel (i.e. Theravada) http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=148 and Dharma Wheel (Mahayana) http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=77&t=2984
(2) Some Buddhist centres in non-Buddhist countries function largely as community centres for immigrant communities and often retain their 'home' language. They are likely to be friendly and welcoming but you might not get much out of visiting them. The rest are oriented towards westerners even though they may be led by foreign monks. This goes for both Mahayana and Theravada centres.

:namaste:
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby Dorje Shedrub » Tue Jul 23, 2013 10:34 pm

http://Tsegyalgar.org/theteachings/dzogchen

Check out Dzogchen. ChNN is an excellent master. With his method you work with your individual capacity and opportunity using the practices that work best for you. You can use various deity practices or not. Also, he gives teachings over the internet as well as in person.

Best wishes in your search.
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby DaveKS » Tue Jul 23, 2013 10:44 pm

Thanks for all the awesome advice! I also just found two Shin Buddhism centers nearby and their beliefs and practices appeal to me. I might try attending one of their Sunday services first.
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Jul 23, 2013 11:03 pm

Let us know how things evolve. I look forward to hearing where your journey takes you!
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Jul 24, 2013 12:25 am

Yeah..like every one is saying, just read and meet people.

Don't put to much stock in what you think is "for you", that stuff can change in a heartbeat..just go experience some things and see what sticks.
"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: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby TaTa » Wed Jul 24, 2013 1:11 am

I started more interested in theravada also but then as someone posted here the things that use to worry me are the things that i like now(postrations, tantra, prayers, devotion..). Its just a question of understanding. The thing that helped me a lot was practicing shamata and going slow, not getting over my head. Just trying to develope my meditation a little bit and keep it simple, learning slowly as i went on. I ended up in tibetan because the teachers where really inspiring, maybe after reading and hearing teachers here and there you will develop some attraction to a certain form of buddhism. Yo dont have to decide right away, keep it simple, keep it practical. Investigate without the feeling that you have to commit to something, take dharma as an advice, see if you can get something from the teachings you receive as if someone is giving you and advice. Stop thinking in terms of religion or non religion, just advice from someone that you can take it or not.
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby Konchog1 » Wed Jul 24, 2013 1:47 am

It seems like you like a practical step by step approach. I recommend the Lam Rim (Stages of the Path) genre.

The three most commonly studied Lam Rim texts (which have a lot of overlap) are:

Words of My Perfect Teacher
Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment
Jewel Ornament of Liberation

Any one of them are fine. I'm not familiar with WMPT but it's author was a saint without any doubt. The Great Treatise is the longest and most detailed. The Jewel Ornament is very concise and very to understand and to practice.
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

-Ra Lotsawa, All-pervading Melodious Drumbeats
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby flavio81 » Thu Jul 25, 2013 1:56 am

DaveKS wrote:I thought I might like Theravada, but from my understanding it is more for those pursuing a monastic life. I also understand that scripture, chants, etc. are kept in the original language, which is a big barrier for me. There is a Theravada temple nearby but I'm apprehensive about attending as I'm not sure at all what I'll find.

So then I started looking at Mahayana, but the only sect that didn't have all the extra deities and rituals seemed to be Zen, and I can tell you that Zen is not at all the correct path for me. Pure Land, Nichiren, and Amitabha don't seem like the right path, either.


But to think that "theravada is most for those pursuing a monastic life" or that "extra deities" are not a good thing, are just preconceptions.

The best thing for you would be to read as many books as you can on the main/most popular traditions of Buddhism, at least Theravada, Zen, general Mahayana (i.e. books by the Dalai Lama) and Tibetan Buddhism (which has many traditions inside). Aim to develop an understanding on "the big picture": what are the foundations of buddhism and why this tradition does this practice.

I think that after this first step, the decision will be easier for you.
If this is a virtual sangha, do we achieve virtualization instead of realization?
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby PorkChop » Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:26 am

DaveKS wrote:Thanks for all the awesome advice! I also just found two Shin Buddhism centers nearby and their beliefs and practices appeal to me. I might try attending one of their Sunday services first.


Good that you found something that appeals to you!

Shin's one of the oldest forms of Buddhism in America and very much oriented towards householders.
In coming to the US at the turn of the 20th century, they instituted some cultural forms that they felt would be more familiar to people here - so expect pews instead of zafus (meditation cushions) and organ music instead of bells and fish-drums. Shin centers are also very family-oriented, and many centers have things for the kids. They primarily focus on the Pure Land sutras, which are focused on Amida/Amitabha and they are a more faith-oriented form of Buddhism. Though depending on the branch, they may take a more metaphorical stance instead of a purely literal stance on those sutras. They will teach general Buddhist theory that you are attracted to and their practices are relatively simple. We covered the shorter Amitabha (Pure Land) sutra here on DharmaWheel in the Pure Land subforum and in that sutra are allusions to the 37 limbs of Enlightenment, which covers the 8 fold path, the 4 noble truths, and the 7 factors of Enlightenment. Shin Buddhists also study writings from the founder Shinran, who's views almost echo Soto Zen founder Dogen's words about non-grasping and self-acceptance.

Just remember, if it doesn't fit, or makes you feel uncomfortable, don't give up, just keep reading, researching, and trying out the various schools until you find one that suits you. There are many dharma doors because people have different capacities & needs, so keep shopping until you find what you need.
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby dzogchungpa » Thu Jul 25, 2013 4:22 am

May I ask where you live?
Note that, in the higher tantras, there is talk of a self and an I, even though in the lower teachings the absence of self and the absence of I is what is always proclaimed. - Tony Duff
To educate the educated is notoriously difficult. - Jacques Barzun
སརྦ་དྷརྨ་དྷཱ་ཏུ་ཨཱཏྨ་ཀོ་྅ཧཾ༔
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby Ramon1920 » Fri Jul 26, 2013 3:29 am

I suggest you go judge schools and teachers by their students.
If the senior students are consistently below your expectations, or students become worse over time, then there's something wrong with the teachings they're getting.
If the senior students are consistently meeting or exceeding your expectations, or the students become better over time, then there's something right with the teachings they're getting.

People will defend bad teachers and students by saying you cannot tell what they're attainments are, they might be mahasiddha's or secretly Buddha's. "Look at Tilopa, you can't know who or what is good or bad", that's called gas lighting, it is a brainwashing technique to get you to doubt your better judgement so you will just follow the crowd or what people tell you.

However you can judge someone's attainment, I have a headache and don't remember the sutta name however. Someone can google it maybe. I also might come back with a link in another post.
You can always fall back on the Kalama sutta to judge teachings.
You have no obligation to believe anyone because they someone says they're a Buddha in disguise.
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby lobster » Fri Jul 26, 2013 9:07 am

You are lucky to have a choice. I feel Ramon1920 has provided useful insight. It is quite possible to study in different traditions as a beginner and lay follower. It really is the fruits that are the judge of the tree. You will also find much useful and dismissible material on the web. Trust your judgement but be aware it will change as insight and maturity develops. Work with it. :twothumbsup:
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby Luke » Fri Jul 26, 2013 4:00 pm

DaveKS wrote:I thought I might like Theravada, but from my understanding it is more for those pursuing a monastic life. I also understand that scripture, chants, etc. are kept in the original language, which is a big barrier for me. There is a Theravada temple nearby but I'm apprehensive about attending as I'm not sure at all what I'll find.

There are plenty of lay people practicing Theravada in the west these days, so I wouldn't be biased against them.

Like others have said in this thread, you won't know which group you'll like until you meet them and practice with them for a little while.

Good luck with your search! :)
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Re: Understanding and Finding the Right Sect/Path

Postby JKhedrup » Fri Jul 26, 2013 4:24 pm

Our sister board Dhammawheel might be a good place to go for more first-hand accounts of Theravada groups in your area. I am glad you are keeping an open-minded approach at this point in your search- it will make sure that you are able to find the right fit for yourself.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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