Shopping For A New Buddhist Temple

Hi all,

As mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been thinking about some changes to my Buddhist practice1 and I hope to elaborate on that here.

I’ve been more or less a Pure Land Buddhist since 2005 when I visited the temple of Chion-in and was greatly impressed what I saw there. It motivated me to learn about Buddhist, do regular practice, etc. For years I also went to a Buddhist temple here in Seattle that is related to the Jodo Shinshu sect and my baby girl used to grow up there.

About two years ago though, I wrote a fairly scathing criticism about Japanese Pure Land Buddhism in particular, using the criticism from the famous Hosso Buddhist scholar, Jōkei from the 12th century. But at the same time, I didn’t really find a good alternative so I kind of fell back on old habits over time. Pure Land Buddhism was something I could easily practice at home as a working parent, and is decentralized enough that I didn’t have to worry about teacher/student relationships which didn’t fit my life schedule.

But then on my recent business trip to Arizona, I visited a local Rinzai Zen temple and had a nice experience. I never really took part in meditation sessions before except for one awkward experience in Ireland, so it got me thinking that I would like to do more.

I’ve been to many Buddhist services, mostly in Japan, but public, lay services are often kind of passive unless you attend special classes above and beyond the lay services. Also, since I only visit Japan occasionally, it’s hard to keep it up.2 So, having tried a Zen temple here in the US, I decided I should keep it up here in the US. Plus, Jōkei’s criticism of exclusive Pure Land Buddhism (Jodo Shu and Jodo Shinshu sects) has been stinging in my ears lately. Pure Land Buddhism was very helpful for me in “getting on my feet”, and I still believe in the Pure Land, but having taken the five precepts and such, I feel I need to do more than wait for death.3 On the other hand, I can’t do it alone. A community helps so much.

But as I said earlier, schedule is still an issue. Thanks to my recent transfer at work, my oncall schedule is more consistent and lighter than before; I can finally live a normal life again. But as a parent who’s daughter is very sad when Daddy is not home, it’s important to spend time with her too.

So, lately, I’ve been looking at Buddhist temples in north Seattle looking for a temple/community that is:

  • Close to home. This increases the likelihood I can keep up attendance. My family comes first.
  • Preferably Japanese Buddhism. I’ve married into the culture and am most familiar with it. If I ever move to Japan, it would also be easier to keep it up rather than starting up a new tradition. I could be flexible on this one though.
  • Has a flexible schedule. My wife and I discussed it, and weekends are not ideal because it’s our only chance to spend time together as a family.
  • Something traditional. I am leery of newer temples that are devoted to a single, charismatic teacher (potential cult), or tend to reinterpret things too much.

So, below is a map of Seattle with Buddhist temples marked in my area:

As you can see, Seattle is fortunate to have variety of temples, but they’re pretty spread out, and there aren’t too many options. If you want a church in the US, you can very easily find them. If you don’t like one church, you can just go to another one in your neighborhood. For Buddhist temples, you have to put in some more work to find and research before you visit.

So, over the coming weeks, I plan to visit several likely temples starting with the ones closest to my house (unless they violate the criteria above).

I haven’t committed to Zen yet or anything else. Zen Buddhism in the US is probably has the largest and most developed community, but when I see how Zen clergy and followers behave online, I wonder if it happens in person too. I would love to attend the local Seattle Shingon temple as well, but it’s pretty far and not the best neighborhood at night. The closest Theravada temple is quite far away and doesn’t really advertise services as far as I can tell.

So, it’s like finding a life-partner: if you expect perfection, you’ll be disappointed, but if you find something compatible and work with it, you’ll get more satisfaction and maybe find unexpected joys.

Time will tell.

Wish me luck. :)

Namo Shaka Nyorai

P.S. Double-post today. :)

P.P.S. I’m currently taking suggestions for new topics to discuss on the Beginner Buddhism series. One suggestion was finding a Buddhist temple and this will be a video topic in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

1 Or “lifestyle” I guess you could call it. I am not sure. :P

2 Due to costs of travel, and the high exchange-rate, I think I will be staying home this year and not traveling to Japan. My wife and daughter will go, but I don’t think I can afford to go. Hoping the new Japanese government can fix that exchange rate soon. :-/

3 I know Japanese Pure Land Buddhism encourages other things than the nembutsu, but it’s still secondary to the Pure Land itself. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be Pure Land Buddhism. ;)

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About Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.
This entry was posted in Buddhism, Hosso, Jodo Shinshu, Jodo Shu, Religion, Seattle, Shingon, Theravada, Zen. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Shopping For A New Buddhist Temple

  1. Kyoushin says:

    Zen Buddhism in its Japanese and now American forms is just as much an exclusive / single-practice tradition as the Jodo sects. Don’t you think you will run into similar issues there?

    I hope you find somewhere that suits you though. Best wishes with your search.

  2. Hi Kyoushin,

    Long time no see. I’m less concerned about the exclusive nature of zen at the moment (I’m also looking at other temples in the “zen family”) so much as finding something that works. Pure Land Buddhism is just not working for me anymore.

    Thanks!

  3. Kyoushin says:

    I’m still around … just spending less time online!

    I see both Japanese Pure Land and Zen as designed in such a way as to thwart the whole notion of ‘what works’, in other words, as naturalness teachings that put obstacles in the way of the end-gaining mind and by doing so allow a more spontaneous way of living/being to arise.

    I took the reverse journey to you: from Zen to Shin. Initially, after a couple of years of practice, I wrote off the former as ‘not working for me’ (and indeed not suitable for modern life / Western society) but looking back I think Zen was working just fine … it blocked my end-gaining mind just like it was meant to and that was uncomfortable. I probably would’ve kept on jumping from tradition to tradition each time I got that feeling if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to meet a teacher and community (that just happened to be Shinshu) who gave me the right kind of non-coercive pressure to allow me to hang out attentively in the stuck phase until my mind turned around.

    So I agree with you about the importance of a good community, though with the caveat that ‘good’ community isn’t always ‘feel-good’ community. Sometimes community feels like a pain in the arse but that can happen when it is acting as an essential foil for personal development, just as much as due to the problems of group dynamics. Differentiating between the two can be very tricky I find! When is the community genuinely wrong, or when am I projecting my own issues on to it?

    By the way I’m probably going to be over your way sometime this year. I’ll keep you posted. It would be good to meet up again.

  4. Hi Kyoushin,

    To be clear, I’m not just looking at Zen. For example, I visited a Shingon temple recently that I thought was pretty nice, but Zen came to mind because of my experiences in Arizona. Still it may not be sustainable. We’ll see.

    Yeah the big issue is something compatible and sustainable. I think it has less to do with the type of Buddhism than a particular community. The last one didn’t work but there are other options.

    Anyhow, yes, please let me know when you are in town. My wife and I were just thinking of you and the others the other day coincidentally. :-)

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