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I'm pretty new to buddhism, I come from a christian family and as such I attended church for the earlier part of my life.

I'm wondering what to expect from my first session in comparison to that of church.

I'm also asking if there's any general advice/tips you can give me for my first time.

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  • Can you share your location? Do you have any particular Buddhist centre that you plan to visit? Back in the time of the Buddha people used to visit the Buddha and inquire, what are you doing? what do you teach? – Kaveenga Wijayasekara May 1 '16 at 11:14
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    @KaveengaWijayasekara - I live in the UK. I've been to the session already and I've learnt a few differences. The group is part of the triratna Buddhist order. Based on what I understood, it's a western version of Buddhism which isn't as strict in different areas. The place I went to wasn't a temple or anything like that, it was a regular community building with the Buddhist statue and lots of pillows. – S.Wessels May 1 '16 at 17:33
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    Ah that sounds wonderful. Last thing you want is to be edgy and on pins when visiting a Buddhist institution. UK has some wonderful Buddhist communities. When time permits and if you like visit Amaravati and Chithurst. – Kaveenga Wijayasekara May 1 '16 at 22:39
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    I had a look at the places you mentioned and it looks brilliant! Like I stated in my post above I'm still new to thr whole thing so I'd like to attend a few more sessions and learn more about Buddhism in general before going. But thank you for the reccomendations, I didn't realise there was anything like that close to me. – S.Wessels May 2 '16 at 1:09
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Generally, a Buddhist centre will be very relaxed, easy going & accepting. Buddhists generally do not interrogate newcomers as Christians might, apart from asking "are you new; have you studied before?". If it is otherwise, that is, "fundamentalist", this should be of concern. While many Buddhist centres may sound like they give dogmatic teachings, generally the social atmosphere is very easy going, as I explained. You should be at ease when visiting the centre but you will learn that when you visit. Also, as advised above, dress in a relaxed (loose clothing) but modest manner, ensuring legs & shoulders are well covered. As for addressing any monks, this depends on the centre. "Bhante" is only for Theravada centres and particularly for Sri Lankan centres. For example, Thai people rarely use the word "Bhante". I personally generally address a monk or teacher by their name (eg. Lama X; Ajahn Y) unless I notice the regulars at the centre using another title (such as Geshe-La, Bhante, Tan Ajahn or Loong Po, which are Asian titles). Some centres, particularly Tibetan, may charge a fee for attending teachings. Apart from that, giving a donation is generally your choice. All the best. All will be fine. Enjoy yourself.

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  • I was torn between your answer and @Sankha Kulathantille 's answer. I gave it to you because you cover what differences there are in Christianity, information on the general attitude and advice on clothing. – S.Wessels Apr 28 '16 at 8:18
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At a Theravada monastery:

  • You have to be familiar with taking refuge in the Triple Gem and taking of the five precepts: http://refuge.sirimangalo.org/
  • Remove shoes and hats when you enter the monastery.
  • Wear conservative clothing. White color clothes are more appropreate.
  • Avoid shouting, idle chatter and laughter(can smile when appropriate) while you are there
  • Avoid running. Walk quietly.
  • While listening to Dhamma talks or meditating with others, turn off your phone or keep it in silent mode. If you need to answer an urgent call or text, quietly go outside the room.
  • If you make an offering to the Buddha or the Sangha, do it using both hands and bow afterwards.
  • If you offer food, do it well before noon as monks cannot accept food after noon. Make sure the food is prepared for consumption as monks are not allowed to cook food.
  • Do not offer food that is already consumed by another.
  • When offering food to monks, don't place it on the table expecting them to take, like in restaurants. You must personally serve every curry into the bowl or plate. If they don't prefer a certain dish, they will indicate by covering the bowl with hand as you try to serve.
  • Don't consume food while attending meditation sessions or listening to Dhamma talks.
  • Don't smoke inside the monastery.
  • If a monk is standing and addressing you, don't be seated. If a monk is seated on a couch/bench, do not sit on the same at the same time. Sit on the floor or sit on a chair which is lower and less luxurious. Do not sit directly facing a monk or a Buddha statue. Sit to the side. When sitting(chair), do not put one leg over the other or sit with your legs wide open or stretched infront.
  • Do not address the monks by name. Use respectful terms like 'Bhante', "venerable sir" etc.
  • Do not try to shake hands with the monks, pat on the back etc. Avoid all unnecessary physical contact within the monastery.
  • Do not take selfies with Buddha statues or monks. Do not take pictures with your back turned to the Buddha statues.
  • Do not try to practice your own method in the monastery. Follow the instructions by the teacher.
  • If you wish to make a donation, don't hand money to the monks as they are not allowed to handle money. Instead, look for the donation box or ask them how to make a donation.
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  • The above very much for Buddhist monasteries in Sri Lanka, and are not necessarily universal. Best is to ask a person frequents the particular Buddhist institution. – Kaveenga Wijayasekara May 4 '16 at 8:44
  • @KaveengaWijayasekara I disagree! This behavior is expected in most Theravada monasteries even outside Sri Lanka. – Sankha Kulathantille May 4 '16 at 8:52
  • Yes some are universal for they are good manners and etiquette. However not all. You don't have to call a monk Bante or Venerable Sir, just Sir would do sometimes. Also offering food varies on different cultures. Thai and Burmese monks often sit at tables and serve themselves after all the food on the table has been offered. Removing shoes and head gear also depends on the circumstances. If the floor is dirty or muddy and the temperature is too cold. – Kaveenga Wijayasekara May 4 '16 at 8:58
  • Certain monks and monasteries may choose not to enforce this behavior. Especially if there are many non Buddhists coming just for meditation. But it is the behavior expected from people who know better. You use the term 'sir' for lay people. When addressing a monk, it's better to make a distinction like "respected sir" or "venerable sir". Letting the monks serve their own food is a lazy and below par behavior that has crept into certain groups. I have seen it even in Sri Lanka. But that is not the norm and certainly not the ideal behavior. – Sankha Kulathantille May 4 '16 at 9:43
  • Removing hats and shoes is the general practice regardless of if someone might choose not to do it for some reason – Sankha Kulathantille May 4 '16 at 9:45
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This can depend greatly on where you go. Buddhism is in some important ways more diverse than Christianity. For example Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, while they both grow from the same central Buddhist tenants (e.g., the Four Noble Truths), have very different approaches and trappings.

Additionally some places are going to be more formal and rigid in their approach than others. Some monasteries may be a bit more formal, whereas there are sangha groups that have almost a book club feel.

The best advice I think is to do as much research as you can about the place you're going in advance, and when you go there just do your best to be respectful. There may be written or verbal instructions for some things, and for others you may just have to try to be observant.

One little thing I've noticed is unless it's a less formal sangha meeting at a public space shoes will almost always be off. Many sanghas, centers, and monasteries are pitch-in efforts by members. If you notice other people helping clean up after a class or meditation you don't necessarily have to do it the first time, but make a mental note to give yourself more time in the future to stay afterward and help the next.

Finally, Buddhism doesn't permit teachers to charge for their teachings. However, maintaining a monastery or center does cost money. There will be a donation box/plate/something somewhere and you should really consider chipping in a bit when you can.

Hope this helps.

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