Becoming A Buddhist

I just thought I would share with you some ideas that had been brought to me in the days before I became an "official" lay Buddhist, and my take on the ceremony in general.

I had the wonderful oppourtunity to walk with the monk who had been at my monastery before Thich Huyen An had come. He was a very gentle speaking yet grounded man in his faith and beliefs. I had come early for weekly meditation to do a bit of walking meditation beforehand, and he came up to the window and said, "I'm sorry...are you looking for someone?"

I knew we were going to get along perfectly.

There was this teacher figure in my head that I needed in my practice, and I had been a little disappointed in the temple I attend merely because English wasn't widely spoken. There was little oppourtunity for a dharma talk, much less a question-and-answer approach to the practice. I was very relieved to find this young monk to be generous with his answers.

My first question of him was merely the difference between Mahayana and Therevada practice, to which he replied, "there may be many roads to Dallas, but when headed there, you get to Dallas". I figured I needed to be more specific, so I told him of the compassion, forgiveness, and lovingkindness meditations I had encountered through Noah Levine, and I wondered why Mahayana (and more specifically Zen) practitioners felt mindfulness and breath awareness practice was sufficient rather than focusing on specific qualities to manifest. His answer was very simple, but it opened a new respect for Zen practice.

He said, "Think of a household. When you need the light, you flip a switch. When you need a blender, you turn on the blender. When you need the computer, you turn on the computer. When you need the tv, you turn on the tv. It is not a different practice. There is not a generator for each item you need. It is the same generator. This is the same way we view Mahayana practice. We do not need different generators for each problem we have. All exists within the mind. Therefore, train the mind, train every aspect of your life."

What an amazing analogy! Oftentimes, before I began my practice, I wondered what the point was....sitting and staring at a wall can in no way help my life. This is not the way I was raised! Little did I know I was doing myself a great disservice, not allowing myself to truly experience each moment as it came.

Not that I am against any other forms of meditation. I enjoy a good forgiveness meditation just as much as anyone. However, I do believe we should really focus on a good foundation. If we cannot sit with ourselves as we are in the present moment, how can we ever feel confident in bringing up aspects of ourselves that we are not comfortable with?

Anyway, I found that very helpful. As for the ceremony, I have never felt more welcomed in my life. Although most of the service was in Vietnamese and I had to have a monk sitting beside me to translate the master's words for me, the precepts still rang true. I felt connected to everyone there...I truly have a sangha! Moreover, my wife and mother were there to support me. It couldn't have been better. I now can enter the temple a new person...a reincarnation of a past self that was not fully committed to practice. I can say that Ryan Lassiter was infused with wrong view, wrong perception, and so forth. Now, with a dharma name, Chán Trí Tuệ, I am fully committed. I sit not for myself, not for realization, but for the betterment of everyone.

There have been many posts in the buddhoblogosphere pertaining to the effectiveness of a virtual sangha, and the necessity of in-person sanghas. I have stayed out of the conversation merely because I didn't have an opinion. However, I think I have come to a conclusion. I don't believe that virtual sanghas are insufficient. I believe they have just as much merit as any other communities. Most of my progress in study has been due to the on line community. There is just so much information at everyone's fingertips!! There is no reason why a virtual community wouldn't be just as good. I do know, however, that I wouldn't have had the same experience and motivation to practice without being there. That definitely would have been missing. The important part is to keep practicing, not worried about in-home, in-temple, or in-virtual land, but always in the moment, in right effort, and in harmony with the world around us.

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