Archive for the Theravada Category

Vassa: The fun of Lent for Buddhists!

Posted in Theravada, Vipassana, Western Buddhism with tags , , , , on July 17, 2008 by Al

So today is Dhamma Day (also called Asalha Puja), which marks the anniversary of the Buddha’s first sermon at Deer Park. Tomorrow marks the beginning of Vassa, the three-month rains retreat historically observed by monks in Theravada Buddhist countries.

This will be my third observation of Vassa. Traditionally, Vassa means extra practice, extra precepts, and not leaving the monastic environment. So how does Vassa become a modern practice in the US for the lay practitioner? I don’t claim to know, exactly, how Vassa translates to Western Buddhist practice. I observe it by giving up drinking alcohol entirely (I normally just try to follow the rule of not taking intoxicants to the point of heedlessness). I strive to follow the Five Precepts, which are as follows:

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

Source: Access to Insight

I also re-devote myself to home meditation practice, download and listen to tons of Dharma talks from places like Audio Dharma, and generally try to be less of an asshole.

You can read an interesting article on Vassa to learn more about the history of this observance. Access to Insight also has a fantastic lay resource called Lay Buddhist Practice by Bhikkhu Khantipalo which has an excellent section on the rains retreat. If you practice Vassa observance, I’d love to hear about your methods in the comments.

Modern Buddhist traditions

Posted in Theravada, Vajrayana, Vipassana, Western Buddhism, Zen with tags , , , , , on June 16, 2008 by Al

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, a non-sectarian meditation directory. Please also consider joining the Dharmacore community.

Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation Online Course

Posted in General, Theravada, Vipassana on June 11, 2008 by Al

A lot of people who are interested in exploring online Dharma do so because they don’t have a center near them or can’t get to one. Also, people who suffer from anxiety and depression – people who might be greatly helped by Buddhist practice – may not go to a Buddhist center for a course.

One great offering I’ve found is an online mindfulness meditation course offered by Gil Fronsdal and Ines Freedman. Starting on July 14, the course will cover the basics of mindfulness, including a beginning meditation schedule and online talks. I’m already registered and I’m excited to get started. The teachers are using a Google group to communicate with students. I think this is an excellent example of teachers stepping it up to use new media to reach out to those who are eager and interested to learn about the Dharma.

If you decided to register for this free course (dana is accepted for the teachers), leave me a comment and let me know.