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So I've been a Buddhist since around 2007, but I've never been to a temple. I don't think I've ever actually met another Buddhist. I just go by what I read in Bodhi's translations and Thanissaro's lectures and practice on my own.

A few months ago, I started working in Raleigh, NC, and my drive home now goes right by this Dhammayut temple (map). It's only something like 8 minutes out of my way.

I had called their number a few years ago and asked if--I forget what I said specifically--something like do you have any services? (I may have said "Sunday services." Ack.) The response was something like:

Aah.. uh, no...

Sort of like a Consuela "no.. no..". It didn't seem that the person spoke English very well, although I think he understood my question.

At the time I had figured that a Thai temple is probably just not very interested in westerners. (I've noticed typical western converts to Buddhism don't tend to wholeheartedly buy into one tradition or another, they might read books on Zen, listen to lectures by the Dalai Lama and also watch videos by Ajahn Brahm. They often totally disregard the idea of rebirth. I can see how some of this might be off-putting to conservative Theravadins.)

So I figured their interest is just in attending to the Thai community there, and/or they may have few or no people that speak English well enough to teach in that language. Since then I've sort of alternated back and forth between this view and thinking maybe I ought to pursue it further. Now that I'm so close to the temple, I'm thinking more about trying to attend.

So my question is does anyone here have first-hand experience with Thai temples in the United States and how those tend to handle westerners wanting to attend?

I'm really only interested in practice. I'm only interested in devotion-based actions (e.g. veneration of Buddha statues, kathina ceremonies) insofar as they inspire practice, because I can imagine a scenario where the only thing being done is offering of incense, giving robes and alms to monks and maybe listening to Pali chanting, with little or no meditation or English-language talks. If that's the case, it might not be worth it. (Although this is a Dhammayut temple, so I would tend to think they would certainly be doing meditation there?)

I'm specifically interested in anyone who's Thai and attends Thai temples in the United States, especially a Dhammayut temple like this one, and could give me some insight as to how they operate, what practices they do and how useful it would be to someone who's interested primarily in practice, less in ritual..

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Sri Lankan monasteries tend to be more open to westerners. –  yuttadhammo Jun 30 at 14:29
    
I am also interested in if westerners are typically welcome at ethnic temples in the US as I've learned there is a Laotian temple not too far away from me. :) –  Robin111 Jun 30 at 14:32
    
Yeah, I'd be open to other Theravadin traditions, but it looks like for North Carolina, this temple is my only shot, unless I want to convert to Nichiren Buddhism and join SGI. –  Wideshanks Jun 30 at 14:35
    
YOur experience matches mine. Many local Buddhist groups conduct their affairs in the language of their home country, so the barrier to entry for outsiders is very high. I'm not sure what the question is in your post. Maybe you could salvage it as "How do I join a ethic Buddhist group who conducts their affairs in a language I don't know" or something along that line. –  MatthewMartin Jun 30 at 16:51
    
I bolded the question. –  Wideshanks Jun 30 at 16:55

5 Answers 5

Sorry not Thai.

I'm a westerner (black American) who attends a Thai Forest temple, and they were welcoming to me since the beginning. Honestly as someone who has been attending for a while, the "Sunday service" question would have been strange to me too. We have chanting and meditation open to laypeople once in the morning and evening. Of course, visitors are welcome all day, and there are regulars who also make lunch for the monks, and offer other food, medicine, and other donations.

It is not good to make decisions based on your imagination. For example, your assessment would be incorrect if applied to our temple. Offering robes formerly is mostly only done once a year for Vesaka. Also, donations, chanting, and meditation go hand-in-hand. Offering food, taking refuge, praising the Three Jewels, practicing gratitude for things we do not normally think about (food, shelter, clothing), and spreading loving-kindness is the basis for a healthy meditative life. At my temple, they speak both Thai and English, and if you can find an English version of the Pali chanting book they use (technically their books are already in "English" as far as using transliterated Roman script), it is easy to pick up on the keywords that let you know what you are chanting at any given moment.

Also, the Buddhists in our temple are comfortable with going to Mahayana-based temples as well, and "doing as the Romans do", which includes more incense offering and devotional aspects like that.

Saying that, the Dhammakyut orders formed from a movement that basically Protestantized Buddhism in that region, so you have to take in account how Thai Buddhism is practiced in modern times when considering practicing Thai Buddhism.

It is really like any other new place. You just go in and check it out, without expectations, meet it on its own terms, then decide whether the temple is for you or not.

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1  
I'm not quite sure I'd say Dhammayut is a "Protestantized Buddhism" so much as it was Prince Mongkut's obsession with vinaya purity for monks. When people use "Protestant Buddhism," they're usually referring to the reforms in Sri Lankan Buddhism in the 1800s. –  Wideshanks Jun 30 at 20:38
    
While I'm sure that is the case, in general, "protestantized" is an accurate term for speaking generally about the event, since it does imply a purging of all "impure" practices. –  Sophie C Jul 1 at 13:26

I have been to only one temple in the West and it wasn't Thai. A very traditional one. They had no website, not spacious, the interior "design" - there's none - just traditional set up, no music, occasionally filled with smoke from burning incense.

This is only generally spoken; it is not a rule, but:

An irrelevant, however, funny example, would be Asian restaurants.

If one has some friends from Asia or even himself has travelled there in Asia, one would notice that most of them would dine at this restaurant that is totally below par to the "western" standard.

One asks why, he would usually reply: "It is the food that is superb here; am not here for service or decoration."

One replies: "What about the one over there? It looks nice and comfortable. And clean."

He replies: "Restaurants like these know how to hire good interior designers, but good cook? No."

And it turns out that they are right about this, speaking from experience traveling there. Food is in fact more traditional and tastier at those run-down restaurants.

At least in Asia.

And they are certainly not an attraction to Westerners.

So, relating this to Asian Temples.

I often find that one could really learn something and get to experience what one initially intends going to an Asian Temple by visiting a temple that is not "commercially-motivated" nor has its target towards Westerners.

The tough part one usually feels initially is language barrier and thusly the misunderstanding one might experience at these places.

What I have learnt is: patience.

Initially, your eagerness would be lessened by not having the feeling that you are being "attended", sometimes your questions are not answered (language barrier), you might feel ignored (again, as in the example regarding restaurants, they are not "good at" pulling off a good Facade (interior design, service in restaurants) but it doesn't mean they hate you (i.e., they can cook good food. Speaks: they welcome you at heart, but fail to give you a "welcoming" that you expect according to your standard and habits of feeling well-received)).

So, what is wrong with going to Temples that are more "Westerners-friendly"?

Nothing's wrong in that. But:

If one wants to learns Buddhism, one might want to learn first to "un-do" what we are used to like a newborn, born naked, without having (losing all) pre-cognitions / conditions / perceptions / judgements and learning everything from scratch.

If a Temple has its target towards Westerners, it would usually tries to "suit" your behavior and ways rather than taking the initiative to "correct" / teach you.

So, again, patience is the key, if one so happens to take part in Temples that do not have their "target" towards Westerners. As times go by, one would find himself having conversations with them, the language barrier and misunderstanding would slowly dimmish (if people really would like to communicate, they will find a way. Body language, drawing etc..).

All in all, one is not tied to take part in only one Temple. One could participate in the ones I have mentioned here and at the same time others that are more "Westerners-friendly" as well, just to initially experience and learn from both sides.

And like the other answerer has said:

Perhaps some day when you have "mastered" this, you could guide others in the West regarding Buddhism and share with them your experiences so that their starting path would be easier.

Who knows, perhaps by that time you will have learn a bit a new language, too, by taking part in these Temples and with your translation ability, you could help other beginners even better.

And when meditating with others, there is no language or cultural barriers.

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I remember going to my first Theravada Vihara years back and thanking them for coming to teach westerners.

The monk there made a great point in response, they came because the area had a population of Sri Lankan people who requested them to come, not for some grand vision to bring dhamma to the west.

Very few monastics, at least in the Theravada, came out of a desire to spread dhamma in the west. they came as their laity moved west. We are the secondary beneficiaries of that movement.

Ive been to that Vihara many times and it is obvious that while they do teachings in English, their man focus is there laity from Sri Lanka.

Now there is at least one person who has dedicated the last 30 years of his life to bringing dhamma to the west, and that's Bhante G(author of mindfulness in plain English) who created Bhavana Society.

While most Viharas are places for Sri Lankans to come and socialize, Bhavana Society is a no nonsense meditation center that people visit from across the world. This is the kind of place a westerner wants to be and is fully part of the community. This is the type of place to find.

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When you posted this question a few weeks back, I was in a very similar situation. I had recently found out there is a Laotian temple not too far from me. The temple did not have a website and my phone call to them turned out pretty much exactly like yours! But secular Buddhist activities don't have great appeal for me and I really wanted to visit a Theravada monastery/temple. Today was the day and it went well. :)

Prior to today, I took a scouting visit there to see if I could find out any information. There was no one around at the time, but a sign on the door said that the public was welcome and a few rules were listed. Take your shoes off, sit on your legs, don't point your feet at the Buddha statue or anyone else and the monks should be called Ajahn. (I'm including this because I think Lao and Thai customs are similar.) But there was no indication of "when" the public was welcome.

I went home and did a deep google search of the Temple's name and ended up finding things people had posted in their blogs or on facebook and it did sound like services were held on Sundays; but not every Sunday.

I took a chance to show up this Sunday at 9:45am and indeed people were arriving for services. It was clear I was a first timer and a nice family invited me to sit with them and guided me through everything. I recognized the Taking Refuge and 5 precepts easily because it was in Pali and it was cool to be able to participate in that publicly for the first time. Here is a link in case you don't have the words to Taking Refuge in Pali yet. http://refuge.sirimangalo.org/#precepts5

I also recognized paritta chanting because I've listened to it so many times on youtube as I find it beautiful and soothing. Ex. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vj4pOcsYsGA&feature=share

There was no meditation during the services but I was told they sometimes have all night meditation on Saturday nights and I put my name on a mailing list to find out about upcoming events and services which are held about once a month.

Today was a special ceremony that included filling the monks alms bowls and after the monks ate, everyone else did. I was made to feel very welcome to participate even though I hadn't known to bring anything. I'm vegetarian, but in the spirit of being appreciative of everyone's hospitality, I just tried a bit of everything anyway and it was delicious. My favorite was a bamboo dish with tiny pieces of hot pepper. :)

I couldn't understand the Dhamma talk of course, but it was a good time to do a listening meditation and just relax and take in the beauty of the temple.

If I hadn't gone; I'd have kept wondering about it. I'm glad I went. Everyone was very welcoming and a couple of people actually thanked me for coming; which was unexpected.

It was just a nice experience. I'll definitely go back next time. If you decide to go, I hope you have a good experience as well.

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I can relate to your question. I'm from Brazil and it is very hard to find Buddhists here and when I did I found only New Kadampa Tradition and FPMT (both Tibetan Mahayana). I do like FPMT very much and went to a great retreat in Nepal with them, but I'm currently more interested in the Theravada tradition.

This is what I do:

  1. When I have the chance to go to Asia, I return with lots of books and audio CDs from Theravada monks. Last time I went to a Theravada temple was in Kuala Lumpur and the reception was great (they gave me everything for free, of course I did some donation to compensate, but it was really optional).

  2. I use internet a lot; videos, discussion forums like this one and ebooks. I can recommend the videos from Venerable Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu.

Don't worry if you are not physically close to a Sangha. Use the tools you have available and when you can (holidays) go for a retreat :)

hope it helps

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