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A not so newbie in search of Sangha, and other general questions

I have been involved with Buddhism for the past 5 or 6 years. I started by going to a Shambhala group. My introduction and first few months of meditation were amazing. I felt like I just had a cool drink of water after wandering in the desert for a long time. I realized that meditation was the thing for me, and quickly signed up as a member.

Since then, I have delved deeper into Shambhala as an organization, and started going through their training levels, and increased my meditation time and frequency each week. However, as I began to learn more about the organization, I started to get turned off. Some people seem to worship the Sakyong as though he is a god. The Kalpa Court, his residence, complete with servants and the paramilitary arm (The Dorje Kasung) have been really off-putting and seem to be at odds with the core Buddhist teachings.

For the last few years, I have been meditating with different groups in the area, but have yet to really find my "home". I am really just looking for something simple, where people come together to meditate and discuss the dharma. A sangha which doesn't host expensive retreats, have a gift shop, or any other nonsense. Does this exist?

How did you choose the sangha that you attend?

Thank you!

PS: I hope I didn't offend anyone who is part of Shambhala or loyal to the Sakyong. I certainly didn't intend for that. I am just relating my experience in the hopes that someone may suggest a solution for me.


  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    @dreamingofpeace -- Welcome and I hope you find something useful here.

    Without disrespect, don't many things seem to have a honeymoon phase followed by a phase called marriage? Relax ... your tale is well known to most who have decided to serious up about a Buddhist practice.

    There is nothing in the world saying you have to stick with a group you find off-putting. On the other hand, skipping from center to center, one honeymoon to the next, is also unlikely to produce fruitful results. Bottom line ... go back to snooping the terrain, visiting centers that look as if they might appeal. Do what you can to leave the rose-tinted glasses at home, but don't be too distressed if you find yourself wearing them ... again. When you find a place that seems to be 80-85% appealing, stick with that. If a place is 100% pleasing, your chances of learning anything drops to nil.

    Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on the point of view, many centers can be hot beds of self-centeredness. But when you stop to think about it, why should it be otherwise? Aren't these places that those concerned with the wobbly nature of self-centeredness congregate and try to straighten things out? Them, you and anyone else who wants to give it a try.

    I tried Hinduism (Vedanta) for a number of years before I hooked up with Zen. It took a while for the ritualisms of Hinduism began to cloy and fester. Zen -- sit down, shut up, straighten your spine, focus your mind ... and be ready to do it all again and again and again -- was a delicious change from ritualistic potatoes for me. Of course there was ritualism to learn here as well, but the majority of time was spent doing ... well, whatever it is that Zen students do. Bit by bit the marriage segments kicked in ... sex scandals, financial finagling, power ploys ... it was all there, just as it is in 'real life.' But the zazen, or seated meditation, was always available and zazen, no matter how many liars surrounded you, didn't lie. After a pretty intensive stint filled with ups and downs, I came out the other side feeling "I wouldn't wish my training on my worst enemy and I wouldn't trade it for all the tea in China." That's just me and certainly is not a plug for Zen Buddhism. It is a plug for patience and courage and doubt: Just keep on keepin' on; this is your life ... it is not someone else's, no matter how many Kewpie dolls you buy in the gift shop. :)

    Best wishes.

  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited December 2015

    Hi, OP, and welcome to the forum. =)

    The Shambala group isn't for everyone (I'm being diplomatic, here). If the centers in your area seem too "gimmicky" or commercial, perhaps consider a non-sectarian meditation group. Also, Google around and see if there are centers that meet in people's homes, that may have fallen outside your radar. In my town, south of you in NM, there are several centers that just rent a room; they're not actual institutions in the usual sense, with a temple and all. When I lived in Seattle, I was surprised to find that there were quite a few dharma groups based in private homes. I'd thought the only show in town at the time was Sakya Monastery, but I was wrong.

    In your original searche/es, you may have just grazed the top tier of what's available. Look deeper, you may be pleasantly surprised.

  • @genkaku said:

    Without disrespect, don't many things seem to have a honeymoon phase followed by a phase called marriage?

    No disrespect taken, and thank you.

    That's a good point about the "honeymoon phase". That's probably what I experienced at Shambhala. Probably doubly so since Shambhala and Buddhism were both new to me at the time.
    Also another good point is about not searching for a place that is 100% perfect. It surely doesn't exist, and the bits that aren't for me are probably good opportunities to practice mindfulness.

  • You don't want to see how sausage is made and you probably don't want to see all the behind the scenes drama and personality clashes and leadership jockeying at temples and houses of worship. But do try retreats at different places and with different teachers, especially established and respected ones. You will have to see what speaks to you. I tried some Tibetan centers initially but what spoke to me was the simplicity and directness of a Therevada monastery in the Allegheny hills. No gift shop, paramilitary and retreats are by donation and all the monks are very approachable and down to earth.

  • @Dhammika said:
    ... but what spoke to me was the simplicity and directness of a Therevada monastery in the Allegheny hills. No gift shop, paramilitary and retreats are by donation and all the monks are very approachable and down to earth.

    Hi Dhammika,

    Theravada seems quite interesting to me too. There are a few temples in Chicago, but services are not conducted in English (They are Thai and Cambodian temples). I found another place not too long ago that is in a far flung suburb that has English speaking services, so I think i'll check that out.

    Thanks for your help!

  • You're welcome. If you are looking for a Therevada retreat place that has English-speaking monks on the Eastern side of the USA: Retreat registration opens 30 days before the day the retreat starts, so register that day as they fill up fast. It's all by donation,too.

  • I think looking for Theravada centers is probably the best idea. Generally speaking, they seem to be more baggage-free and with less of a tendency to get cultish than Zen or TB, though there can be some good Zen and TB sanghas. I think Theravada doesn't key into the "exotica" factor as much as Mahayana schools do (though I've heard good things about Ch'an Buddhism, if you can find a center). These suggestions are giving me some food for thought. Thx, Dhammika, et al.

  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited December 2015


    A Sangha is a just a group of Buddhists who gather to practice. The forms of it's practices are usually determined by the school, linage or teacher that this Sangha gathers around. These forms can manifest as anything from ignorance to enlightenment, depending on the spiritual maturity of each observing individual.

    A helpful Sangha offers the full range of the human condition to address, within a framework that reminds us of the Dharmic path.
    A less helpful Sangha offers only a select range of the human condition to work with and there by leaves it's practitioners spiritually untested by anything outside of that range.

    It pays to make sure you really know what you want when searching for a better Sangha because if all you are looking for is a group of practitioners that think more like you, then just how are you going to navigate beyond the delusions that you will likely all share in.

    The most seductive of all delusions are those most commonly shared within a group of like minded individuals.

    I think the key to discovering the best Sangha, is better found within your own practice, than in whatever any Sangha is doing. A lot of things that feel like "home" offer us only more of the same dream that the Buddha exhorted his followers to awaken from.

  • Invincible_summerInvincible_summer Heavy Metal Dhamma We(s)t coast, Canada Veteran

    @dreamingofpeace - Don't feel like you have to stick with temples. Even an established peer-led group could be beneficial too.

    Is there an Insight Meditation Society branch where you live? They tend to have sits that are either donation-based or free, and the retreats tend to be relatively inexpensive. Also a lot less mumbo-jumbo, but possibly more breathy, slow speakers.

  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran
    edited December 2015

    As they say here in the Bible Belt, it can take time to find your home church. Visit different ones/groups. In the meantime, visit and practice on everyday people. Even if you find a Temple/group that you fall in love with...guess what? You still have to try it out on the streets. Whatever you learn from meditation and the path has to be taken to the people to work. Don't be a bench warmer at church. Practice. Hang out with an online Sangha...we're pretty good peeps...hahaha....and read, study and do little altar and sit work. Find a mix that works for you...the AHA moments happen when you least expect it. o:)

    My Temple group broke never know...when the path calls for a Rhino. =)

  • @dreamingofpeace said:

    How did you choose the sangha that you attend?

    Thank you!

    I liked their rhinoceroses.

    ... however you asked about advice on sangha joining ... mmm ... good advice already given from everyone ...
    Do they have cushions? Do they disturb you if sitting on them?

    Incidentally I stopped attending Shamballah when they started disturbing my meditation to ask me if I had any problems with my meditation. Did not have the heart to tell them some idiotic person had interrupted my practice. Then they started discussing others 'progress' in front of me as if I was a fellow 'expert'. God knows what came next, probably disturbing others efforts ... >:)

    Check cushion availability. Avoid lectures unless they are for beginners and help out with anything simple would be my advice

    Hope that is helpful. o:)

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @dreamingofpeace said: How did you choose the sangha that you attend?

    Originally I just looked in the phone book under "Buddhism", but that was in the distant past before the internet was invented and you had to borrow "books" from "libraries" and such like.

    Do you know what Buddhist groups there are local to you? This site might helpful: Not all groups subscribe, but the ones who are on there should know what else is going on in their area.

    If all else fails maybe you could meet regularly with one or two like-minded people?

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @Dakini said: I think looking for Theravada centers is probably the best idea. Generally speaking, they seem to be more baggage-free and with less of a tendency to get cultish than Zen or TB

    That's right, us Theravadans don't like baggage!

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    The question was posted on the 14th: The OP has not returned since.
    Given their joining date (2010) and the number of visits in total (6) I shall close the thread until the OP requests a re-open, which of course I will be delighted to do.

    Thanks to all who contributed.

This discussion has been closed.