Lay sangha vs temple/monastery

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Lay sangha vs temple/monastery

Postby Invincible_Summer » Sun Mar 16, 2014 5:30 am

Which would be a better environment to delve deeper into Buddhism and meditation: a lay sangha/sitting group, or going to a temple/monastery?

I've been more or less practicing on my own for the past few years, with short stints in lay Zen groups (when I was still practicing zazen). I think my practice would really benefit from a teacher, but the Theravadan viharas in my area are quite difficult for me to get to (I don't have a car), and I'm somewhat unsure about joining a lay sitting group. It could just be my attachment to this idea that "monks are wiser than lay teachers." I guess I'm just more interested in have a holistic practice that includes some of the observations that would be done at a vihara, not just secular-ish meditation (which seems to be the focus of any remotely non-Mahayana lay group around here).

Am I misguided in my opinions? Is it better than nothing to attend a lay (possibly secular, but still Buddhist) meditation group?


Thanks in advance.
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Re: Lay sangha vs temple/monastery

Postby appicchato » Sun Mar 16, 2014 5:45 am

The internet can be your friend... :coffee:
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Re: Lay sangha vs temple/monastery

Postby Anagarika » Sun Mar 16, 2014 1:28 pm

Invincible:

You experience, I'm sure, echoes that of many. One of the great benefits of DhammaWheel is the "sangha" here of monks, as well as many very experienced Theravadins. The level of Dhamma discourse can be miles ahead of that which you might find in a local generic sangha or sitting group. I have also found that at some American Thai/Lao Wats in my area, for example, that the level of English is not high, and the Dhamma talks can be very basic when given to farang at the temple. Having said that, I feel there's also real benefit to having a sangha nearby to sit with, to converse with, and to simply share airspace with. You may find that your ideas about Dhamma, and meditation, will vary from that of the sitting group, but there can be social benefits to being part of a sangha in any case. To me, one of the great benefits of DW is that , despite where one lives and despite the access (or lack thereof) to a Theravada temple, one can interact with scholars, Bhikkhus/Bhikkhunis, and experienced lay teachers/students from around the world. Bhante makes this point exactly, above. Like shopping for an automobile, you may have to "shop around" your local sanghas, take them for a test drive, and see if you can find a group that will give you support for your practice, or at least some kalyana mitta with whom to associate.
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Re: Lay sangha vs temple/monastery

Postby waterchan » Sun Mar 16, 2014 2:40 pm

BuddhaSoup wrote:You experience, I'm sure, echoes that of many. One of the great benefits of DhammaWheel is the "sangha" here of monks, as well as many very experienced Theravadins. The level of Dhamma discourse can be miles ahead of that which you might find in a local generic sangha or sitting group.


Yes, truly. David, the creator of this site, seems to have many strong connections in the Theravada Buddhist world, yet he has stated in a thread that he doesn't get the same degree of deep discussions and free inquiry that we get here in face-to-face conversations.

Reading and learning from these forums has affected my interaction with real-life people. I've lost the patience to put up with questions like "Where is Nibbana?" or remarks like "The Buddha says life is suffering but I know my life is bliss", and when they try to connect the Dhamma with reiki, tai-chi, tarot cards and astrology, that's when I feel like putting up my hands and walking away. Yeah, I need to develop my khanti parami.

Invincible_Summer wrote:Is it better than nothing to attend a lay (possibly secular, but still Buddhist) meditation group?


I think it's OK as long as you go in without expecting much more than some casual discussion related to Buddhism. But I do share your sentiment that monastics are wiser in the Dhamma than most lay teachers. For a monastic, the Dhamma is a full-time job that starts from 5 AM in the morning, and their monastic discipline is far more conducive to practice than lay life. Monastics are also less likely to stray from the original teachings or interpret them in their own idiosyncratic ways.
quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur
(Anything in Latin sounds profound.)
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Re: Lay sangha vs temple/monastery

Postby Goofaholix » Sun Mar 16, 2014 6:51 pm

I think you have to visit whatever groups you can get to and decide for yourself, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

The presense or lack of monastics is no guarantee that you are going to find the experience helpful or not.

If you are mostly interested in learning meditation then a lay sangha is likely to be more suitable, if you are mostly interested in religion then you're going to prefer a monastic setting.

Many lay teachers have had decades of monastic life and/or teaching experience under their belts. Whereas some monastics are thrust into teaching quite early and may not have a lot of experience, and if it's an ethnic monastery there may be a cultural divide.
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Re: Lay sangha vs temple/monastery

Postby Invincible_Summer » Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:59 am

appicchato wrote: The internet can be your friend... :coffee:



BuddhaSoup wrote:Invincible:

You experience, I'm sure, echoes that of many. One of the great benefits of DhammaWheel is the "sangha" here of monks, as well as many very experienced Theravadins. The level of Dhamma discourse can be miles ahead of that which you might find in a local generic sangha or sitting group. I have also found that at some American Thai/Lao Wats in my area, for example, that the level of English is not high, and the Dhamma talks can be very basic when given to farang at the temple. Having said that, I feel there's also real benefit to having a sangha nearby to sit with, to converse with, and to simply share airspace with. You may find that your ideas about Dhamma, and meditation, will vary from that of the sitting group, but there can be social benefits to being part of a sangha in any case. To me, one of the great benefits of DW is that , despite where one lives and despite the access (or lack thereof) to a Theravada temple, one can interact with scholars, Bhikkhus/Bhikkhunis, and experienced lay teachers/students from around the world. Bhante makes this point exactly, above. Like shopping for an automobile, you may have to "shop around" your local sanghas, take them for a test drive, and see if you can find a group that will give you support for your practice, or at least some kalyana mitta with whom to associate.

Yes, I've learned a lot from resources on the internet (like Dhammawheel!), but I've pretty much been an Internet Buddhist for the past 3-4 years since I've identified as "Buddhist." I've gone to a few local Mahayana temples and lay sitting groups, but they don't didn't do much for me. I appreciated the opportunity to meditate, but the focus wasn't where I wanted it to be (esp in the lay group). I feel like my practice would deepen if I found a good sangha, lay or not.


Goofaholix wrote:I think you have to visit whatever groups you can get to and decide for yourself, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

The presense or lack of monastics is no guarantee that you are going to find the experience helpful or not.

If you are mostly interested in learning meditation then a lay sangha is likely to be more suitable, if you are mostly interested in religion then you're going to prefer a monastic setting.

Many lay teachers have had decades of monastic life and/or teaching experience under their belts. Whereas some monastics are thrust into teaching quite early and may not have a lot of experience, and if it's an ethnic monastery there may be a cultural divide.


You make a good point! Thanks. Like I said above, I've been to Mahayana temples that had monks leading the services, but it was far from helpful to my practice. Not that it hindered, but it surely didn't help.

I've contacted a couple of sanghas, even if they're not the most convenient to get to. One seems to be more geared towards the small Thai community, but I'll see where this goes.
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