Mahayana Temple experience?

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This topic contains 5 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins 1 year ago.

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  • #40621


    Hi Everyone,
    I got started with Buddhism about a year ago and have been attending a Vietnamese/Mahayana Temple (the only Temple in my area). The weekly service consists of chants (to Amitābha or A-di-đà Phật) in Vietnamese. I do not speak Vietnamese.

    I have done a fair amount of self study to learn the history and ideas of Buddhism. I would categorize myself as Secular/Theravada. I plan to attend a 10 day Vipassana Meditation retreat later this year. I do not have a ‘practice’ other than the weekly service at the Temple.

    I now have friends at the Temple including 2 who share my interest in Theravada. However, it seems unlikely that the Temple service will ever include more than chanting to Amitābha. This is a bit frustrating.

    • Has anyone had similar experiences?
    • Does anyone know of a Mahayana Temple/group that found a way to include aspects of Secular/Western Buddhism?


  • #40623
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Jennifer Hawkins

    Hi 222fbj

    I guess I just wanted you to know that your post has been seen and not ignored. I haven’t been in that particular situation. I live so far away from the closest Temple that that’s not an option for me usually. Instead, most of my community-based practice is through SBA (the Practice Circle meditation event) or other online meditation groups like Buddhist Centre Online. There’s also a meditation group (kind of non-sectarian) that meets at the local Unitarian Universalist Church. It’s not my cup of tea, but many places have similar groups. It might be worthwhile to look for local meditation groups (instead of Temples) with Google or Meet Up.

    The other half of this could be to respectfully approach the right person in the Temple and ask if there are English-language events or if they know of any other groups you might go to as well or otherwise express interest in more diverse programming. Caution: don’t go in there and be like, “I’m this privileged person – change and provide for me!” But you can say, “I’m here, I’m interested.” If they can’t accommodate you (and they not be able to), they likely know of other groups in the area.

    Even further down this path, sometimes you just have to be the one to start things. I’ve been in that position more than once myself. It doesn’t have to be a terrible amount of work, but it can be incredibly rewarding. Perhaps the Temple would like to offer more of the kinds of things you are looking for, but they can’t find a leader/ organizer. That happens all the time, except this time, the person getting it started could be you.

    Maybe not the best answer or the one you most wanted, but I hope it helps.

  • #40624


    Thanks for your thoughts – I appreciate them. (btw – I am a fan of Robert Wright and the Coursera course you mentor.)

    It seems like there would be at least 1 or 2 Mahayana Temple/Groups – somewhere in the world – that have worked on the challenge of including Western/Secular members.

    I wonder why such Temples would not adapt for growth and/or self-preservation? To welcome new Buddhists who can continue the Temple/practice. I guess ‘change’ is difficult for everyone – even Buddhists. It is for me.

  • #40625
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Jennifer Hawkins

    “(btw – I am a fan of Robert Wright and the Coursera course you mentor.)”

    The thing to remember here is that such Temples are either in Asia (and would not have any particular need to “cater to” Western/Secular members. Secular Buddhism tends to be a Western phenomenon at the moment and any Westerners traveling to a Temple in Asia either know that it’s not going to be catered to them or flat out want a certain kind of experience that doesn’t necessarily cater to them) or they are largely the result of immigrant populations. (I’m going to assume the US, but it could be any Western nation.) Vietnamese, for example, in America had to give up everything familiar about their homeland and spend all day immersed in English. Their Temple is their place – where they can speak Vietnamese, engage in familiar Vitenamese things, and be safe from any discrimination or having to be acceptable to the majority population. In a way, the Temple is more than a Temple – it’s their space where they can indulge in the other part of their Vietnamese identity. It’s not there for non-Vietnamese American Buddhists.

    In an even broader sense, expecting a Vietnamese Buddhist Temple to actively try to recruit those not in the community by changing itself would be like asking a Catholic Church to include more Baptist things. That’s not really what it’s for – it’s a Catholic Church. While the membership may never be huge, it will probably always have a steady influx from the surrounding Vietnamese community (who are born with attachment to such a place) and from non-Vietnamese who go there because they want that specific experience.

    I’m not sure exactly how to phrase it, but there’s no reason for them to have “including Western or other forms of Buddhism” as an objective. Their objective is the opposite – it’s a space for their community and their school of Buddhism. It’d be like coming on SBA and wanting us to run a Practice Circle in Vietnamese and including prayers to Avalokitesvara. That’s not what we are for. Which is why I said that you can certainly let them know you are there and ask to see if there’s any interest (there might be – they might have younger members who want English language events or something), but not to come from a place of privilege. They don’t have to do more than they are doing if that makes any sense. However, it’s good to ask and hopefully they will be able to point you to other groups.

  • #40628


    I understand the issues. I have discussed it with a few members and there is some interest. I am speaking of Temples in the USA/West with refugee members. The ‘inclusion’ I have in mind is to add some teachings from the (Gautama) Buddha. And, some way to accommodate the few English speaking visitors we get – who often don’t stay for the 1 hour service and do not return. Just thinking there might be a Temple that has worked on this issue and had some ideas.


    btw – I have a related issue/question about ‘Service Sermons’ but will start a new post for it.

  • #40629
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Jennifer Hawkins

    Ah. In that case, I would look at what the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple and the various Buddhist Churches have done. In these specific cases, I know that there are English-language events, an effort to welcome all schools of Buddhism into events (being mean to other schools is discourage), and even general cultural events open to everyone in the area. This said, it’s important to remember that the specific Japanese communities around Salt Lake City have their own unique history that would lean in this direction.

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