Focusing the Lens

Over the last year I have maintained a mostly wide-angle view on the teachings of Buddha. I’ve listened to a lot of talks from varying traditions, and in general kept an open mind to the differing ways things are taught (and understood). When I have been focused, the lens has been on Mahayana teachings with a special emphasis on Pure Land and Zen. Pure Land practice seems to appeal to me because of its accessibility, while Zen more because of great teachers such as Thích Nhất Hạnh. Pure Land and Zen, at least in Vietnam, seem to have a sort of symbiotic relationship — which I suppose has made it easy to look at them together as I’ve spent so much time at a Vietnamese temple. I’ve read a number of books from practitioners of both traditions, as well as scriptural texts such as the Three Pure Land Sutras, and I have a high regard for both.

That said, while I respect these traditions, I have recently decided to re-center my efforts on the Theravada teachings. I have come to feel that the asceticism of the Theravada is not closely paralleled by its Mahayana counterparts, and the practice of meditation as expounded in the Nikayas has a stronger impact on my mind than anything I have learned elsewhere. That isn’t to say that I think one is “all right” and another is “all wrong,” just that my focus is shifting to what I believe has worked best so far for me.

I started re-reading the Majjhima Nikaya (Middle Length Discourses) last week, and have begun the process of connecting with a couple of Theravada monasteries — and in particular, organizations with American-born monastics. I have little time to devote to reading and practicing as it is, so to spend that time trying to learn another language instead seems counter-productive when there are some highly realized English-speaking Bhikkhus practicing in the United States, England, and Australia sharing the Dhamma in a way I can more quickly understand.

I think on a practical level, this doesn’t really imply much of a day-to-day change. I’ll still visit the same temples I’ve been going to because, quite frankly, I don’t have any real reason to change that unless a primarily English-speaking temple magically materializes out of nowhere… but it does mean that I feel comfortable setting a long-term goal for doing a meditation retreat someday in the future because I know where I would want to do it. More on that another time — nothing concrete yet.

I hope you are well friends. May you be at peace.

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4 comments

  1. I will be interested to follow your progress through the Theravada tradition.

    1. Thank you, friend. I hope you are well!

  2. Dennis Beyer · · Reply

    I’d just like to say, probably again, that I admire you for following a different spiritual path than your family and friends. It takes a strong person to do such a thing even when those people are supportive and understanding.

    1. Thank you, Denny. I hope things are well for you and your family — as usual, it has been too long since we last got together.

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