I was invited to the local Khmer Temple located about 3 miles from my home over the weekend to usher in the Cambodian new year with some of my friends from work. This gathering presented a long-awaited opportunity to visit another Theravada temple, and I’ve found that I may be able to make visits to this one in particular a regular part of my practice.
My issue has always come down to one of timing. In the case of the Sri Lankan Vihara, they meet on Wednesdays — a regularly scheduled workday for me. I would have almost certainly focused my energy there had that not been an issue. Fact is, weekends are simply the only time I can even think about getting away for a couple of hours without causing problems with my work schedule.
That isn’t to say that I feel bad about what I’ve been doing the last six or seven months going to the Vietnamese temple, it is just that the Theravada school is where I started my study into Buddhism and I find that the language barrier there is less of an obstacle for some reason.
I feel strange saying that too, being that my Vietnamese friends all speak English just fine, it is just that I can’t find any English-language resources to go along with the Vietnamese, to put it in context side-by-side, so that I can try to learn some of the language. Materials on Pali, the “liturgical” language (for lack of better terminology) of the Theravada school is, on the other hand, comparatively easily available, the result of several very hard-working American monks in the tradition such as Thanissaro Bhikku, Bhikku Bodhi, and Ajahn Sumedho. These venerable ones, and those who practice with them, have created a strong foundation on which people like me may learn and make progress on the path.
Of course, there are also subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) differences in content and teachings. I won’t go into too much on this because some might think I was disparaging one in favor of the other, but suffice to say that my thoughts generally line up very closely with the Theravada. That said, I do want to make sure I point out that I feel that any sect of Buddhism is a valid way to get one’s foot in the door, so to speak, and that the Ultimate, the Deathless, is accessible by any means in which the Noble Eightfold Path is employed.
So, I suppose that the issue at hand really is the question of whether I intend to roll with one school or another… Although I don’t feel compelled to say that I’m picking one particular school over another at this very moment, I do expect the time to come when I have to do so in order to progress. Teachings from many different sources both online and in print are great for fact-checking and general learning, but there is virtually no limit to what can be accomplished when guided by a qualified teacher.
So I suppose I’ll be testing the waters more fully with the Khmer monk(s) over the coming months. That doesn’t mean I won’t be visiting the Vietnamese temple in tandem, as I really appreciate their friendship and I feel like they’ve done a lot for me; a poor-ish Anglo-Saxon descendant trying to mingle with east-Asian spirituality needs all the help he can get, I think.
And yet, even though I know I must eventually decide on some critical elements of my future, I still feel this inexplicable awe at the amazing beauty found in the diversity-in-practice of the Buddha’s teachings.
I hope you are having an amazing year, whether it started January 1 or April 14. Be well, friends, and I will write again soon.