We each have our own approaches to life. Some of the things that I find riveting you might find less so. (As a web writer, I have had hour-long conversations with colleagues about the relative merits of the colon versus the en-dash in page titles.)
Given our different personalities, it’s not surprising that different approaches to the practice of Buddhism have emerged over the centuries.
What works for me might not work for you, but hopefully out of the entire Buddhist tradition, there’s something for pretty much everyone.
The basic approaches seem to me to be divided into five categories:
5. Benefitting others
Most people’s practice will probably have aspects of each of these in it, but what attracts us in the first place will tend to be one or another.
How I got into Buddhism
For me, meditation was the initial pull. By the time I found Buddhism, I’d already found logical, rational thought to be a limited tool for grasping reality. I was looking for something else.
But there’s nothing specific to Buddhism about meditation and initially I was interested in ‘Eastern stuff’ in general.
In the end, I started to think of myself as ‘Buddhist’ because of the philosophical approach. And that came about through study.
Somehow or another I managed to suspend my northern British scepticism for long enough to actually enjoy a bit of devotional practice. I did that as a result of coming into contact with a bunch of people (a community) and ended up with a few good friends.
And sooner or later I realised that my happiness and the happiness of others was interlinked. Some people get that intuitively. I was a bit slow, largely as a result of early negative experiences with other members of the human race.
To be honest, I’m still not too hot on the human race as a species. Individually, however, they seem to be largely OK.
(I still prefer dogs over people.)
Buddhist schools and character types
People tend to hang out with people they like. Or people they live near.
For many people in the world, and most people in history, the type and school of religion you get into is basically to do with what the people around you are into.
If you live in Tibet, for example, you’d probably get into Tibetan Buddhism (though of course, there are four main schools in Tibet and a whole bunch of sub-schools, so even there it’s possible to do a bit of window shopping).
Here in the contemporary West, the sky’s the limit. We can shop online for all manner of religion, and we can get as niche as we like. Online mystically engaged anarcho-Buddhist zen hang-out anyone?
If you like your meditation, try a bit of Zen on for size. Or the Thai Forest Sangha perhaps. Or the Vipassana lot.
If you like study, the Gelugpas of Tibetan Buddhism might offer you a happy home. The Theravada is also into its study.
If you’re into devotional worship, the Pure Land school of Japanese Buddhism might tickle your fancy.
If you like community, pretty much any group will do! But the Order of Interbeing could be a place to start.
And if you like benefitting others, check out Mahayana Buddhism in general. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship in the US and the Engaged Buddhist Network in the UK might also be of interest.
And if you like good old no-nonsense, nuts-and-bolts attempts at synthesising all that into an authentic Western Buddhism for right here and right now, stick around! I’m working on it!