Austin, TX: Picking a tradition & sangha -- help appreciated

Sleety Dribble, modified 6 Years ago.

Austin, TX: Picking a tradition & sangha -- help appreciated

Posts: 4 Join Date: 7/19/15 Recent Posts
I've been reading around Buddhism and Buddhist (and other) meditation for a couple of years now, and I'm trying to establish a regular meditation practice. It's hard though on my own, so I'm looking for a group for some support. But choosing a group means, in my city (Austin, TX) choosing a tradition. I'll describe each of my shortlist of options and what I see as pros and cons in each. Then maybe some of you can give me some input on how to decide? Thanks.
  • Soto Zen at the Austin Zen Center, affiliated with the one in San Fran.
    • Pros: long established and well-run place. Good opportunities to get group and individual-based help. And I just like the simple austerity of Zen
    • Cons: To be frank, I often have trouble recognizing that Zen is even Buddhism. They don't talk about shamatha vs vipassana. There's no clear notion of stream entry. In fact little or none of the components that seem to make up Theravada practices.
  • (Some kind of) Tibetan Buddhism at Austin Shambhala Center.
    • Pros: Tibetan seems to be the "richest" form of Buddhism, with lots of intricate teachings. I also find myself drawn to the bhodisattva aspects which seem to be placed more "front and center" in Tibetan than in other styles.
    • Cons: I am very put off by the personal history of Chögyam Trungpa and even more so with Ösel Tendzin. I know it doesn't follow from their failings that the whole organization is broken, but for my own reasons I cannot see myself joining this group.
  • Burmese Theravada at the Theravada Dhamma Society of America Temple (
    • Pros: Real deal Theravadan, complete with monks and an Abbott (who I've met and been able to ask about their approach, which is a la Mahasi Sayadaw).
    • Cons: They're not yet properly set up to handle complete newcomers. We can attend, but they promise teaching/instruction on their website, but that's not yet actually in place
There are a couple more maybe worth considering, but they don't add anything more in terms of tradition or form of sangha.

If I had a completely free choice on tradition, and sanghas were all the same, then I think I'd go for one of the traditional Tibetan styles -- not Shambhala. I've read quite a lot of B. Alan Wallace's work, and I have a strong affinity for that stuff. However, based on the above reality, in terms of searching for an effective sangha, I think the Zen Center is a more obvious choice.

But what makes me hold back on simply going ahead with AZC is that I'm very unsure about Zen overall. In fact, to be frank, if I had no background information, and encountered all of the main forms of Buddhism, I'd find it hard to believe that Zen actually was Buddhism at all. Through my reading of MCTB, and other supporting reading, I guess I could express my goal as something like "Follow in the footsteps of those on DhO who managed to attain stream entry and beyond". But then, Zen doesn't even seem to talk about those concepts.

Any thoughts? I'd be glad if someone could help remove my uncertainty about Zen, because overall it seems the best setup of the three. But I'm a fairly logical thinker and philosophically minded, so I'm not easily going to settle on Zen without good reason.

Any help (or pointers beyond those three) much appreciated.
Noah S, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Austin, TX: Picking a tradition & sangha -- help appreciated

Posts: 1532 Join Date: 7/6/13 Recent Posts
I sat a ten day sesshin with the Cold Mountain Sangha, led by Kurt Spellmeyer.  The people who had been sitting there the longest are super friendly and calm in the best possible way.  The style of strong determination sitting seems to really dig deep inside and do some serious purification.  I remember one of the more senior members smiling and commenting on a weeks worth of teishos from Kurt by saying, "I'm supposed to have reached some higher plateau by now", and then chuckling with joy.  He was making a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that he had not reached it.  I remember thinking that it seemed evident that he had, in fact, reached that pleteau, based on his speech, behavior, and the way he sat with perfect stillness for hours at a time.  Perhaps this type of externally-based judgement is too mushroom-culturey, but I figured I would include this plug for zen regardless.
tom moylan, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Austin, TX: Picking a tradition & sangha -- help appreciated

Posts: 896 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
howdy SD,
this is a really personal decision based on lots of inputs.  for me, tibetan teachings were / are to culturally complicated for direct practice although some of the practices have helped me a lot and some of the deeper books and treatises are great inspirational reading.

zen does not appeal to my desire for specificity.

theravadan is my fav.

Sleety Dribble, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Austin, TX: Picking a tradition & sangha -- help appreciated

Posts: 4 Join Date: 7/19/15 Recent Posts
tom moylan:
 for me, tibetan teachings were / are to culturally complicated ...
Thanks Tom. I agree, and perhaps that should be one of my "Cons" against Tibetan practices. That said, it's not so much that I judge them too culturally complicated, but rather that I suspect *some* of it is mere cultural baggage, but that it's very hard (for me) to decide which is baggage and which are the core "active ingredients". Overall, if I had local access to a more traditional Tibetan school I'd be inclined to give it a try, for a few years anyway.
. Jake ., modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Austin, TX: Picking a tradition & sangha -- help appreciated

Posts: 698 Join Date: 5/22/10 Recent Posts
Hmm. If there's good instruction at the Zen center, you may do well to pursue it actively for a time. Especially if what attracts you to Tibetan Buddhism are teachings on Buddha-nature and Bodhisattva-path stuff (i.e., directly socially engaged, engaged in experience, in life...). Soto Zen and Tibetan Buddhism will share a resonance on the view level of buddha-nature (a layer of mind/experience that is said to be free from ignorance, already awakened). If you can relate to that then maybe it would be a good fit and I know lots of folks who have sat Zen for many years who later are able to appreciate Tibetan practices in a much more direct way. Likewise, many Tibetan practitioners I nkow who resonate with that level of view have also appreciated Soto teachings in person and via ancient texts such as Dogen's Shobogenzo (see Moon in a Dewdrop).

That said, if you are really hung up on having everything figured out before hand and want a logically consistent view/practice framework that is mostly compatible with modern secular materialism, you might just want to go right for the Therevada and revisit the others later.

But I agree: it's a very personal choice based on lots of factors.

Myself, personally, I think it's important to be 'in' whatever sangha I'm in in the moment, without challenging the structures and culture of the group too much, going along to get along, and getting what I can out of it. In my experience things work best when you approach a group like a 'contemplative cultural anthropologist'. Fit in, practice, and bracket all the teachings as merely pragmatic on the inside while being respectful of the group norms and dynamics on the outside.
You could approach all three with that attitude and see what you get out of it! After all you're not really looking for a new group of friends or a new set of cultural identifications or a new set of intellectual beliefs about reality/truth; you're looking for experiential transformation that produces lasting results in your life and relationships. Right?  

P.S. I hear Austin's a cool town!