Occasionally over the past couple months I’ve chosen to visit a little Dharma center in Northside, maybe 10 miles from my home. It is an English-speaking group that does a group meditation for an hour on Sundays and holds short Dhamma talks on the first Sunday of each month. It is a simple get-together that seems to strip away a lot of what some see as strictly cultural accretions to the practice.
I personally think it goes a little too far, but at the same time this offers a chance to simplify it all and bring back the so-called “cultural” bits where they seem most appropriate. This also means that they, as a center, can be the equivalency of a non-denominational Buddhist organization. In other words, the practice is simple enough so as to not intrude on a individual’s private practice while offering the possibility of being meaningful as a common starting point and offering a place of community. It has been interesting to have a few conversations with people who practice or view things a little differently, and to see how practitioners are still very human in the subjects they choose to talk about (which can’t be understood if you don’t know the language).
I do think I will continue to visit there, at least on the first Sunday of each month as a means of establishing a sort of formal practice and to engage with other “convert” Buddhists. Going on other Sundays may be a possibility, but I must remain flexible for my wife and family, so I can’t get too attached to too rigorous a schedule.
Engagement with others such as myself who come to Buddhism from a completely different culture has seemed more important to me lately, but I hope that no one takes my saying so as a disrespect toward the many friends I’ve made over the last couple of years. I think if we’re being honest many of us would agree that it is easier to explore religion and philosophy amongst native-speakers of our own language, and we are in a unique time wherein a large volume of the Pali texts have been or are being translated into English and being studied by scholars (monastic and lay) and the life of the historical Buddha is coming to be better-understood than it has been since the century after the Parrinibbana.
If anything, I feel gratitude toward these friends who have made me feel welcome in their temples and monasteries and have never acted like it was necessarily my job to learn the totality of their languages — something I clearly lack the time to accomplish with any proficiency. In closing, I am also immensely thankful for (and indebted to) those who have done so much to make the Dhamma available in so many languages so that the masses might still find a means to true peace.
Please be well, friends. I will write again soon!