Thanks to all of you for the warm welcome.Its great being on the forum.
As I began to delve into Buddhism I realized there are quite a number of different schools. In fact about less than an hour’s drive from where I live there are three different Buddhist centers (Forgive me if I misspelled any of the names).
One is a Padmasmbhava Buddhist Center-Nyingma Tradition
(Affiliated with Venerable Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche, Venerable Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche).
The other is the Ganden Sherub Ling Buddhist Center
(Affiliated with Venerable Geshe Lhundub Sopa, Venerable Lhundup Dancho, Yangsi Rimpoche)
And finally a Zen Center
from the lineage of Joshu Sasaki Roshi.
I am really not that familiar with any of these traditions, although I do believe the first two belong to the Tibetan branch of Buddhism. I may be a tad more familiar with Zen since I have read a few books on the subject (mostly some light reading such as the “Way of Zen” by Alan Watts).
I am currently reading “Buddhism Plain and Simple” by Steven Hagen. I must mention Pema Chodron whose books have given me a great amount of guidance during some of the most difficult times of my life. Any reading suggestions are more than welcome.
Thanks to all for the warm welcome.
Before your questions are answered by anybody else, it would be both necessary and helpful for you to be aware of some important principles/guidelines in choosing a particular school or teacher, and/or in learning and practicing Buddhism in general.
First, Buddhist wisdom or achievement falls into three different levels, those at the level of the simple acceptance of the dharma on reading or hearing it, those at the level of thorough understanding after reflecting and digesting the dharma, and those at the level of samatha and vipasyana practice where the mind is able to remain in a state of awakening and be free from any mental affliction or any attachment to an external environment (be it Form, Sound, Smell etc. ...). This means that you don't read the dharma for the purpose of reading or knowledge only, you read it in order for it to become your own way of thinking and living. In short, you need to practice what you have read/heard in order to truly benefit from it. And in turn, your practice helps to verify or confirm the truthfulness of what you have learned.
Second, don't be afraid to challenge any Buddhist doctrine. Remember: The Buddha's teaching can always be critically examined or even challenged before it is to be followed, and in this way you can at a very good chance avoid blindly following any school or teacher, and therefore avoid going astray in the path of truth-seeking.
Third, whichever school or teacher you follow, the dharma is your only refuge, not the teacher or the school. Just like a loving parent, when he/she teaches his/her child to walk and live, he/she does it in such a way that the child quickly gains the power to walk and lively independently and to become more mature, not in a way letting the child to depend more heavily on the parent. If any teacher or school has deviated from this key Buddhist principle, it may be an indication or sign that something has gone wrong.
Fourth, though the Buddha is free of any mental, speech-related, or bodily mistake or error, this is almost in no way to be the case with any other teacher or school, and therefore a blind or absolute trust in a teacher is neither justified nor healthy. Remember: In Buddhism, the final salvation is achieved through one's own effort, not through a teacher or gods or God. In a world where the integrity of human beings is frequently a problem, it is not unusual for beginner Buddhists, especially female learners, to fall victim of some bad “teachers”.
Lastly, whichever school or teacher you choose, start with the easy and foundational work, and this is the core teaching and practice of the Theravada tradition. Remember: You don’t build a skyscraper in air or in loose sand, you build it on a solid foundation; and the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Noble Path, and the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination are the rock foundations of the whole Buddhist edifice. Any Buddha who comes into this world will teach these, and it is absolutely making no sense to belittle these fundamental teachings. Since “No pain, no gain”, and “Haste makes waste,” hence a wrong attitude or an unrealistic expectation in learning and practicing Buddhism is more likely to make a short way longer rather than do the opposite. Thus resisting the temptation of taking a shortcut way may not be an easy thing to do, but it will always prove to be safer and healthier.
Good luck to you on your way of truth-seeking!