Modern Buddhist traditions

A lot of people come to Buddhism seeking to improve themselves and to make their lives better, simpler, and more productive. There is nothing wrong with this approach. Even in Buddha’s time, kings and householders came asking about their everyday problems, and Buddha’s answer wasn’t “just sit” or “become a monk.” His responses were practical but firmly rooted in the Dharma. I was inspired by Buddha’s response and compassion to everyday people and everyday problems, and that’s how Dharmacore was born.

Today, there are certain schools and traditions of Buddhism that are modern interpretations of the Dharma. I define these as modern-beginner-friendly traditions. I’m talking about the person who feels vaguely dissatisfied with their life, walks into a Barnes and Noble one Saturday afternoon, and has no idea which book to choose from the vast Buddhist section in order to start learning more about the religion.

So what are these modern, Western-accessible, beginner-friendly traditions?

Thich Nhat Hanh – Plum Village – Vietnamese Zen
TNH is one of the most popular Buddhist authors currently alive today. He rivals the Dalai Lama for that precious Barnes and Noble bookshelf real estate, and his books and are friendly, accessible and easy to read. His teachings are often described as a mix between Zen and Vipassana (insight) meditation. He draws from both Theravada and Mahayana scriptures, but has a firm basis in the Pali Canon. Most of the practices at Plum Village can be easily integrated into daily life. I’m a big fan of the gathas. Plum Village is in France, so it may not seem that accessible for US and Canadian seekers, but there are many TNH-inspired sitting groups in the states.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche – Shambhala – Kagyu and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism
The Shambhala lineage is one of the best organized Buddhist sects in the West. They have a lot of features normally associated with Christian churches, including Sunday services, childcare, childrens’ programs, fellowship activities, and classes. Though Shabhala is definitely Tibetan in flavor, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (the original leader) and his son (Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche) have borrowed aspects from other traditions, including Zen’s focus on the arts as well as elements of Bön, Taoism, Confucianism, and Shinto. Their beginner meditation classes are friendly and free, and you can find a center via their website.

Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, et al – Insight Meditation Society – Theravada/Vipassana
Some of the most prolific Western authors writing about Buddhism today are associated with IMS and their educational organization, the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. The teachings focus on the basics of Buddhism from the Theravadan perspective, including instruction in breathing meditation, vipassana, and metta (lovingkindness). IMS doesn’t have really have satellite centers around the country, though you might be able to find a like minded lay sitting group near you. They do offer plenty of retreats throughout the year, though, so if getting away appeals to you and you have the time to do it, IMS is a great candidate.

Noah Levine – Dharma Punx – Theravada/Vipassana/eclectic
Noah’s book, “Dharma Punx,” inspired a lot of younger practitioners to get started on the path. He deals with topics like addiction, sex, drugs, and morality with an unflinching honesty. The community of people inspired by these teachings have organized themselves via the message board on his website and sitting groups have sprung up everywhere. The community announcements board is the best place to look for (or even start) a group in your area. The Dharma Punx crowd tends to be accepting, unconventional and dedicated to bringing the Dharma into the reality of our modern lives.

Jundo Cohen – Treeleaf Zendo – Soto Zen
As far as I know from my online travels, Jundo is responsible for providing the world’s first legitimate online sangha, led by an experienced teacher and run as well or better than any brick-and-mortar practice center. Treeleaf has daily video Dharma talks, daily sittings via webcam, and an active community forum. Jundo answers emails and is very active on the forum. If you’re looking for direct experience with a teacher, Treeleaf can provide that even if there’s not a practice center within 500 miles of where you live. This is an amazing example of modern Dharma.

This list is not all-inclusive, by any means. Groups like Soka Gakkai and the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order are very active in Europe and in other parts of the US. The groups listed are those of which I have the most personal knowledge and experience. As always, see for yourself and find your fit. To find a sitting group near you, check out gosit.org, a non-sectarian meditation directory. Please also consider joining the Dharmacore community.

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One Response to “Modern Buddhist traditions”

  1. There’s also http://www.dhamma.org/ who focus mostly on just teaching vipassana meditation and have centres all over the world.

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