The Five-Minute Buddhist Books

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Starting Out

Question:

I have been following your podcasts and also purchase the book “The Beginners Guide to Buddhism” over the last few months. I am very interested in Buddhism and like what I am hearing and learning. I read your “Starting Buddhist Practice … How?” posting on your site and I am dealing with the same issue. How to pick a place to start so that I can get involved with real life instead of just reading and listening. Like you said, you will get more out of it by visiting a temple then reading books. I live in the Columbus, Ohio area and have searched on the internet for places. I came across a few locations but am not sure how to best to approach this. Yes I understand that it will take me a period of time to find one that best fits me but with knowing so little it is hard. Like you said it is easy for us to know the difference between a Baptist, Greek Orthodox or Lutheran church.

I have come across a few places and have looked up information from their web sites but it is still hard. I came across The World Maitreya Great Tao Organization, Columbus Karma Thegsum Chöling, Shambhala Meditation Group of Columbus, and the Zen Columbus Sangha. Most of them do have visitor times and beginner classes. Is there a difference between a group that is focused on meditation? But on the other hand without really understanding the difference in each of them how do I start. You may just tell me to just start with one and move down the list till I find one I like. And that is fine. But the difference between a Maitreya, Thegsum, Shambhala or Zen? One of the locations had a membership plans that ranged for $1,500 to $350 giving you voting rights to discounts on books and such. Is that normal? I have no problem in supporting a place that I am involved. Whatever help you can provide I will appreciate.

Answer:

I think you are going about it in the right way so far. Unless you have a close friend that can lead you through it, then you should spend the first few months researching and learning the general-purpose ideas of Buddhism. That’s what the Daily Buddhism is for. But what happens when you are just past that point and are getting ready to step into the larger world of the “sangha?” where do you go? I have said in the past, that it’s a good idea to “shop around” to find the group that fits you best. I still stand by that, yet you can narrow down the field beforehand if you want.

As you have done, the first thing is to research yor local area and see what’s available. Find out what exists and research those particular sects. If you find that you like Theravada, for example, and there is no Theravada group locally, then you need to either find the next closest thing, or continue to work on your own. The Internet has information on all of them, but be aware that sites devoted to any religion, Buddhism included, are going to be very biased toward “their” way of doing things, so read critically. Also remember; the Net is an interactive research tool. If you can’t find the difference between Maitreya and Thegsum through Google, then ask someone from those places; use the phone to call your local group or email someone who has a Maitreya or Thegsum site. I have founf that Buddhists on the web are eager to help each other. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of unique little groups, and no one knows the differences between all of them; it’s best to ask a member.

Meditation-only groups can be very specific in their Buddhist styles (i.e. Zen or Theravada) or they can be completely non-religious (just meditating without Buddhism at all). Call ahead and see what’s offered. It’s my belief that it is a good idea to try all forms of meditation regardless of what you believe, in many ways it’s not a Buddhist issue. You’ll eventually come upon a form of meditation that you like and works for you, so play around with them all; there’s no harm in experimenting.

Now on to your comment about membership plans. As to whether or not this is acceptable, I will leave it up to you and your judgement of individual situations. If a particular group sounds greedy to you, then it probably is; at the very least, your doubts will work against you. Most places I have visited have a donation box inside the door, and people can slip an envelope or cash into a slot. This can be done anonymously and without anyone seeing. If you drop in $100 one time and only $5 the next, no one sees. This way you can give what you are able without the guilt of a publicly visible “collection plate.” Many centers make a decent income selling books and merchandise, and I see nothing wrong with that. To charge a membership or admission fee to get in the door, however, would not be acceptable in my mind. Buddhists are there to relieve suffering, and that should be open anyone, regardless of their income levels.

Good luck!

1 comment to Starting Out

  • Kristen

    I am in Columbus, OH, too, and will be checking out both Karma Thegsum Cholig (KTC) and the Zen group.

    KTC is one of the largest American groups of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. They even have their own resident Lama, Lama Kathy (who is very sweet). I have been on their yahoo group for some time now, and this is my first impressions of these two groups before actually entering: KTC is community-oriented whereas the Zen group, which takes place at the local UU church, is far less community-oriented. If you are not interested in a Buddhist community, and just want bare bones zazen, something that can compliment other belief systems easily, then the Zen group is best. If you are drawn to mantras, community, “smells and bells,” the Dalai Lama (he is the head of the Galug school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapa is the head of the Kagyu school which the KTC is a part, which is the largest school of Tibetan Buddhism), meditating on Compassion Buddha, then go to the KTC.

    I don’t know what is best for me, so once my life dies down in a couple of weeks, I plan on going to both.

    Namaste, Kristen

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