Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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clw_uk
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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by clw_uk » Wed May 06, 2009 4:08 pm

MMK23 wrote:
Peter wrote:And as another rule of thumb, I would take with a grain of salt any information on religion gleaned from Wikipedia.
Excellent reminder, Peter. Many of the Buddhist pages are riddled with inaccuracies and sectarian rubbish. And biographies of particular figures from a particular tradition (no names mentioned) are entirely hagiographical with "complicating" details left out. Everytime I've read Wikipedia pages on Buddhism I've had to remind myself of:

http://xkcd.com/386/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

:)
That cartoon is good :rofl:

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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by Cittasanto » Wed May 06, 2009 4:18 pm

seanandrews wrote:I have been reading about Buddhism for a year and have attended two different Mahayana sanghas to get a better sense of the different practices of Mahayana meditation. However, I keep coming back to Theravada. Something speaks to me about it. However, I am everyday American with a wife, children, job, etc. I spend time meditating every day. I feel as though I want to follow the Theravada path but have gotten a little discouraged when I have read online that Theravada Buddhism does not generally accept lay practitioners because of the amount of time needed to devote to meditation and/or that only a monk can attain nirvana and that laity can only aspire to be reborn as a monk after many reincarnations spent discharing the burden of karma. But then I have read that progressive-minded Theravadins think you can be a lay practitioner, though. I would greatly appreciate if someone could advise me on this. On one hand, I am not going to abandon my family and job to become a monk, but on the other hand, if it is possible to be a lay practitioner of Theravada Buddhism in modern-day America, I want to learn more. There is a Laotian Buddhist temple in Charlotte, NC, but I believe it is exclusive to people who have immigrated to Charlotte from Laos. And the other temples and/or sanghas in Charlotte are all one or another form of Mahayana. So I am not likely to find a support group here. Thank you so much!

Sean
Hi Sean,
There is no reason why you can't be a lay follower I don't think there are many theravadin members here who are actually monastic and the ones who are obviously monastics. Theravada can not exist if it is not lay and monastic, and that is how it has always been from what I can tell, there has not been a time when the monks could be seperate from the laity, I very much doubt the temple is exclusive to only imigrants from a certain country, I would imagine it formed due to the presence of the imigrants but it would welcome any who wanted to attend, if they have a web site try looking there first

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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by seanandrews » Wed May 06, 2009 4:46 pm

I am so thankful to all of you for these posts. You have really encouraged my further study of Theravada. I have a couple books on Buddhism, but none that go into much depth into Theravada. I have found a couple on Amazon, but I am not sure which is the best book to start with. Any suggestions?

I will contact to Lao temple to see if I could attend.

You know, I used to be so skeptical of Wikipedia but then began to trust it fairly well. I know better than to take what it says on faith, especially when it comes to something more important than useless information.

My last question is, are any of you on Facebook that I could connect to? Or do you know of a group Facebook Theravada group? I will stay on this group and read the other posts, but I like to network through Facebook as well.

Again, thank you so much. Wow, I feel so much better now. Your advice and support has meant a lot to me.

Sean

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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by DNS » Wed May 06, 2009 5:05 pm

In the Theravada article at Wikipedia, at least they had the decency to put the following factual point:

It is also possible for a lay disciple to become enlightened. As Bhikkhu Bodhi notes, "The Suttas and commentaries do record a few cases of lay disciples attaining the final goal of Nibbana. However, such disciples either attain Arahantship on the brink of death or enter the monastic order soon after their attainment. They do not continue to dwell at home as Arahant householders, for dwelling at home is incompatible with the state of one who has severed all craving."[35]

35. # ^ Bhikkhu Bodhi,In the Buddha's Words, Wisdom Publications 2005; page 376

My comments:

One may be a householder all the way up to becoming an Arahant, it just that after that [full] enlightenment is attained, the person will apparently want or need to ordain.

So no need to feel defeated or to not try, there is the opportunity for full enlightenment, even as a lay follower.

:reading: :meditate: :sage: :buddha2:
Last edited by DNS on Wed May 06, 2009 6:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: typo

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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by MMK23 » Wed May 06, 2009 5:11 pm

seanandrews wrote:I am so thankful to all of you for these posts. You have really encouraged my further study of Theravada. I have a couple books on Buddhism, but none that go into much depth into Theravada. I have found a couple on Amazon, but I am not sure which is the best book to start with. Any suggestions?
Sean, I have a few suggestions, but first I want to declare that even Theravāda is not univocal and these suggestions are based on my own experience:

For a social history of Theravāada, I recommend RIchard Gombrich's "Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo", but this book won't give you too much insight into Theravāda so much as its social context.

For an introduction to where Theravāda sits with regard to the other Buddhisms, Peter F. Harvey's "An introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, history and practices" is pretty solid, but again won't give you indepth insight into Theravāda but is good value in a lot of ways.

I love Buddhaghosa's the Visuddhimagga, which is a wonderful treatise on meditation*, but, and I'm being practical here, not patronising, might not be the best place to start without a grounding in general Theravāda wisdom.

The website Access to Insight is a Theravāda cyber treasure trove: http://www.accesstoinsight.org" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;. You'll find a section there at the front page which will lead you through introductions to axiomatic principles of Theravāda. Also, in the library, there are heaps and heaps of articles from lots of different authors on lots of different topics. If you browse some of these you'll see what I mean about Theravāda not being univocal!

And my final advice to you is this: be patient, and be gentle - you are embarking on a process of discovering a living tradition that spans many continents, a timespan of more than 2 millenia, millions of adherents, and is literally the pathway to ultimate peace. So be gentle and patient with yourself :)

* Edit: I should say it's a wonderful treatise on purification (path to purification = visuddhimagga) from virtue through insight, not just meditation :yingyang:

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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by kc2dpt » Wed May 06, 2009 7:05 pm

MMK23 wrote:Everytime I've read Wikipedia pages on Buddhism I've had to remind myself of this.
Or this. :)
seanandrews wrote:I have a couple books on Buddhism, but none that go into much depth into Theravada. I have found a couple on Amazon, but I am not sure which is the best book to start with. Any suggestions?
In my opinion you cannot do better than "In the Buddha's Words", by Bhikkhu Bodhi.
You know, I used to be so skeptical of Wikipedia but then began to trust it fairly well.
I think Wikipedia is fine for non-controversial topics. Unfortunately religion tends to be controversial, even Buddhism.
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.

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Mexicali
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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by Mexicali » Thu May 07, 2009 1:31 am

I would think that there have always been more lay Buddhists than monks.
"We do not embrace reason at the expense of emotion. We embrace it at the expense of self-deception."
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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by pink_trike » Thu May 07, 2009 1:45 am

Peter wrote:
MMK23 wrote: Unfortunately religion tends to be controversial, even Buddhism.
Or fortunately. It depends on one's psychological default. Imo, controversy injects a note of dynamism into systems that tend toward stasis and inertia, even Buddhism.
Last edited by pink_trike on Thu May 07, 2009 1:48 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Clear Light is Union
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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by retrofuturist » Thu May 07, 2009 1:47 am

Greetings,

Actually, I think it would be easier to be a lay Theravada Buddhist than a lay Mahayana Buddhist.

Why?

In the Pali Canon there are many suttas aimed at householders... but how many Mahayana Suttas will you find sutras aimed at householders?

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by pink_trike » Thu May 07, 2009 1:51 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

Actually, I think it would be easier to be a lay Theravada Buddhist than a lay Mahayana Buddhist.

Why?

In the Pali Canon there are many suttas aimed at householders... but how many Mahayana Suttas will you find sutras aimed at householders?

Metta,
Retro. :)
That's probably true, but also true in my experience is that Mahayana teachers are more accessible (in their teaching styles and interactions with the lay community) than Theravada teachers - using the stuff of ordinary lay life as a vehicle for wisdom. So probably 6 of one, half dozen of the other.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.

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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by Dan74 » Thu May 07, 2009 3:19 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

Actually, I think it would be easier to be a lay Theravada Buddhist than a lay Mahayana Buddhist.

Why?

In the Pali Canon there are many suttas aimed at householders... but how many Mahayana Suttas will you find sutras aimed at householders?

Metta,
Retro. :)
Well, there is a sutra spoken by a householder, Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra.

:shrug:

It's a very good read!

_/|\_
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robertk
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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by robertk » Thu May 07, 2009 4:16 am

Peter wrote:Even today I see mostly Europeans attending lectures and meditation while the Asians mostly make donations and offerings and then leave. :shrug:
Isn't dependent on kamma as to the people one meets. Where I live I meet many laypeople who are knowledgeable about Theravada. Some examples: khun somporn, past head of the Thai government pali translation committe which translates the tipitaka and commentaries into Thai. two generals that have written books on Dhamma, sujin Boriharnwanaket - her Dhamma talks are broadcast on about 20 radio stations everyday.
I guess most of my asian friends know more about Dhamma than me. However, these people mentioned above don't go on 10 day meditation retreats etc. so I guess that makes them sub-par in many western Buddhist eyes. They do make lots of donations to various Dhamma activities too.

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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by Nadi » Thu May 07, 2009 4:25 am

Peter wrote: Even today I see mostly Europeans attending lectures and meditation while the Asians mostly make donations and offerings and then leave. :shrug:
I think we need to keep in mind that the path is not only about meditation. Dana is an integral part of the teachings and should be practiced as such. It is also a practice of letting go, and therefore is conducive to meditation as well. I do agree that dana without the development of wisdom would not get you far along the path, but the same is true for meditation without the development of dana and sila. So, I don't think we should belittle the part that dana plays in the Buddha's teachings.
With Metta,
Nadi

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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by Jechbi » Thu May 07, 2009 4:28 am

robertk wrote: However, these people mentioned above don't go on 10 day meditation retreats etc. so I guess that makes them sub-par in many western Buddhist eyes.
I doubt it.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Re: Is It Possible to Be a Lay Theravada Buddhist?

Post by seanandrews » Thu May 07, 2009 11:59 am

My local library system does not carry Bhikkhu Bodhi's IN THE BUDDHA'S WORDS, but it does carry THE CONNECTED DISCOURSES OF THE BUDDHA and THE MIDDLE LENGTH DISCOURSES OF THE BUDDHA. Would you recommend either of those, or should I just buy IN THE BUDDHA'S WORDS?

Can anyone recommend a free, downloadable ebook or iPod Touch/iPhone Application that would be a good place to start? Or Podcast?

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