Buddhism in traditional form as practiced overseas in Asian countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, China, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, etc. all have one thing in common, they have preserved the Buddha dharma as it is actually completely taught through lineages long time-tested through practice and inquiry.
The reason is that Buddhism as traditionally practiced is time-tested, is that it is already critically reviewed for over centuries of scholars, monks and nuns; and the sheer numbers of people using its methods successfully in their daily life is staggering when you account for over 2,555 years of teachings.
Buddhism is really new in the USA and elsewhere in the European countries, and it’s not stable except where you find temples and monasteries with robed monastic monks and nuns of traditional (many westerners categorize this as ethnic) Buddhism. Traditional Buddhism has recognized authority of lineages, stable places of practice, interested and active laity and sangha communities.
Learning from the monks and nuns is fine just be sure your mind in the right place with regular donations of money not just your time, not just your body in a class or eating their food and running off. Places like these need our support and money to keep their doors open.
___________________________________REAL LIFE and PRACTICES….
People are responsible for their own progress on the path, not Sangha, not lay teachers, not one’s guru. They must use the methods as taught from their teachers, take precepts, continue to study Buddhism on their own, seek out and request dharma teachings from ordained Sangha members and uphold the Triple Jewel through dana, participation in community events, volunteering (without reward or expectation of one) in their local towns, and should practice..practice…practice all their lives.
It’s important to have the respectful attitude towards monastics and not approach them oddly or rudely with expressions related internalized socialized habits. Some show up sharing confused feelings of inferiority resulting in over-submissiveness or worse if they stay with out learning or practicing is the acquisition of slave mentality. Sometimes there is mis-placed towards Sangha or laity in the temple with anger in words or actions when they are upset at authorities or authority figures. Some people suffering too much unload on them using them in place of therapists, spending too much time on the grief of loss; or loss of love. Worse is the one who abuse them online, in texts with words, gossip, or actions. Some insist on approaching Sangha while indulging in a fantasy role-playing or some kind of game. Some out of great need for a cure or when suffering from a deluded mind having grossly unrealistic expectations or in a confused or insane state insisting on participating in Buddhist activities.
How to help yourself correctly is by first having a moral code, not just saying you do but practicing it. You need the refuge and 5 precepts to help you train very well, otherwise it’s not very deep unless you already have an innate capability and are very diligent with your studies of Buddha dharma. But the real nitty-gritty begins only after you take refuge and 5 precepts, then you make real progress. That’s why people take refuge and 5 precepts before they begin training. Also a BIG dose of COMMON SENSE, by using discriminating awareness and not relying on another person for the contents of your own mind; and not being too dependent on a teacher for personal life choices or day-to-day living situations; or by not dropping personal or family duties in favor of teacher devotion becoming a temple ‘groupie’ rather than properly behaving as a contributing lucid member.
To engage in these faulty acts is to harm oneself and the teachers as well as the community who sees you engage in faulty acts when you over-rely on another rather than your own common sense. I’m not saying you need to ignore teachers just saying you need to keep things in proper context and be respectful when meeting with traditionally robed Sangha members.
For example from my own experiences:
I have sought out and been accepted by teachers who are fully ordained monks and nuns from both Theravada and Mahayana Schools now for over 27 years, I have found and been accepted by my preceptors, acaryani and my upadyaya within the Chinese Mahayana Buddhism with my Bhikshuni rains age being 7 now with these monks and nuns and living 10 years as nun already since 2001.
As a laywoman without formal precepts, I asked for dharma teachings, showed respect and was well received. I was accepted early on to study Buddha dharma from and by monks and nuns in Theravada and Mahayana who were travelling and studying.
As a novice I still was asking for dharma teachings, and being accepted for training, underwent training, studying, learning, showing and being given respect; asking and being accepted for ordination as bhikshuni, underwent intensive training, studying, showing respect and being given respect; fulfilling my requisite bhikshuni training years asking for dharma teachings, studying, showing respect and being given respect.
Now during my maturing years as a travelling, scholar bhikshuni studying, asking for dharma teachings, showing respect and being given respect.
That is the Vinaya based tradition, that is my foundation, my anchor that will allow me to progress on the Path, and present myself as someone who is well-trained, in reliable methods, being stable offering when I have time the tried and true methods of mind training.
My preparations before leaving home:
I consider myself fortunate to have prepared for 20 years learning Buddhism, its history and art and the history of the Chinese culture, the language and customs through direct experiences and travel to overseas communities before I had the opportunity and time to find a Buddhist temple to leave home with. I researched, read widely among contemporary English writers and masters works well ahead of my journey to the temple.
I did not take lightly the training I was about to undertake, and after reading the haphazard journeys of the feeble attempts by Westerners who expounded their pride in lighting up, tuning in and dropping out…. travelling to ashram, viharas, and temples, staying and failing at being monks and nuns, then blaming the ‘system’ as out of tune, not relevant or whatnot. I was not impressed at their vainglorious attempts and their self-grandiosity while atop their soap boxes claiming to be ‘experts’.
I was not about to give these types of experimenters my trust after reading about their psychedelic memories showing like psychotic states or even after reviewing their trippy ways especially when they told us in their own words and talks that they failed at the most fundamental levels in their many articles and books.
I researched and sought out stable places like recognized temples and monasteries with traditional checks and balances of tried and true methods of mind training.
I wanted the entire scope of real traditional Sangha-led teachings of the Buddha and to learn realistic methods not the feel-good-love-myself-upper high methods the tricked out New Age pseudo crap that was out there everywhere I looked for a very hefty price.
The best choices are and have been the trainings offered to laypeople and interested monastics in the temples and monasteries in the USA of Chinese Buddhism, Korean Buddhism, and Japanese Buddhism (yes Japanese Buddhism it’s not a Vinaya tradition but the monks and nuns are very well-trained and many are scholarly) and since Theravada (only 1 part Sangha for men) had no options for women at that time, I never considered them seriously.
My mind is worth my best effort and I would never recommend anyone to join in with a group does not put their best effort out there. Nor would I ever train with those who has a history of drug use, political involvement or faddish tendencies on their calendars rather than just teaching Buddha dharma.
It’s harmful to learn from leaders or members who failed in traditional Buddhism, leaders who failed as monks or nuns somewhere, or who refutes traditional Buddhism in favor of their own methods or religion which they claim are clearer and without Asian baggage, or have a history of abuse, sexual or financial abuse who are active advertising themselves as the same teachers shortly or long after scandals of criminal natures even insist on remaining in robes or in leadership roles.
The Buddha taught us to use our logic and reasoning skills, specifically saying the methods we were the ones practicing and actually responsible for our own progress. To understand this and other important teachings given by the Buddha and the learned elder masters we should read widely and from sutras/suttas and the corresponding commentaries of the elder masters in both traditions collections in order to advance our understanding, learn as much as possible for our and another benefit. Anyone who does not uphold the Triple Jewel is not teaching Buddhism, no matter how elaborate, logical, or how well-educated.
Those who refute sangha roles in Buddhism, even publicly denouncing Sangha as irrelevant to Buddhism whether it’s living Sangha or past generations of Sangha; these people are not legit teachers. Currently worldly teachers are trying to do just that in the hopes of promoting themselves to the ‘top’ of the expertise ladder posing as ‘real’ or ‘legit’ teachers of Buddhism with the hallmarks of cult wording and actions.
Study Buddha dharma, read from as much material you can in English or your native language translated directly from sutras or suttas collected by either and both of Theravada or Mahayana collections (Tripitaka).
When you show respect to Sangha it will support them in these degenerate desperate times of poverty and moral decay, invigorating them by seeing you as a serious practitioner who knows the value of the Triple Jewel.