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Buddhists: Searching for a Dharma center, but overwhelmed by the options?

A question from a Buddhist, for Buddhists, about Buddhism:
I’m relocating to another state in the next couple of months. I’ve never been a member of a Sangha or Dharma center – I never could gather enough courage to try and attend. As part of my resolutions for the New Year, I want to make the effort to attend, for meditation, Dharma teachings, and just meeting other practitioners.
Here’s the problem – I’m moving to a bigger city than I’ve ever lived in, and while my old home had very few options, my new city has TONS. I have no clue where to begin! Between non-sectarian groups, Mahayana, Theraveda/Vipassana, Vajrayana/Tibetan and Zen, and myself not having a specific sect that I follow, I have no idea where to go or what to do.
If I had friends who were practicing in this area, I might ask them for advice, but none of my friends are Buddhists. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to figure out which place might suit me best?
Thank you in advance for your assistance.
Bill P: Let me clarify – there’s 33 different centers.
bepfuddle: further clarification, I’ve been studying on my own for 3-4 years.


  1. Visit a different one each week. Find one or two that appeal to you
    then attend each one for a few months.
    you will know by then which ones appeal most to you

  2. 1) Is there some hurry in finding one, or can you see which ones you like when you get there and narrow it down?
    2) Do you have some clear sense of how you see the teachings? Not all sects agree, and that could further reduce the choices.
    3) Ultimately, those that offer only intellectual knowledge will not help you have the experiences needed to understand Buddhism. Meditation *for the purpose of experiencing Sunya* is necessary.
    All said, I would recommend avoiding the Tibetan schools (too muddled with Bon), avoiding literalists (often including Theravada), and avoiding those that say being monastic is the only way.

  3. Chances are good that the 33 different centers organize naturally into three groups:
    – Tibetan Buddhist
    – Zen
    – Insight/Vipassana meditation
    In addition, there might be some centers that primarily serve Asian immigrant populations, along with some groups that are hard to categorize.
    You might visit one center from each of the three categories.
    Then, if one of these traditions interests you, then visit several different centers within that tradition.
    For example, within the Zen tradition, there are two rather different Japanese traditions (Rinzai and Soto), the Korean tradition (Seon), and the Vietnamese tradition (Thien, usually represented by groups affiliated with Thich Nhat Hanh). If you visit any of these and Zen seems interesting, then visit other Zen centers and see if you feel some connection with one of them.
    If it would be helpful to you, please feel welcome to email me.

  4. First I would ascertain what interests you the most….
    what kind of Buddhist studies have you been doing ?
    Who wrote the books you have been reading and what tradition are they ?
    It might do you some good to try and go to the centers that are the same as whomever you have been reading on.

  5. Q- Does anyone have any suggestions on how to figure out which place might suit me best?
    A- The best place is the place where they teach you the genuine Buddha’s teachings and the direct path to the Enlightenment (Nirvana, Nibbana).
    There are several ways to get to the top of a mountain (Enlightenment) including the direct path and several other redundant ones. And there are also several routes that lead you nowhere due to various obstacles.
    If you have a knowledgeable guide (teacher), you get to the top faster with the least amount of your energy and time and don’t get lost. If you don’t have a teacher you still can get to your destination if you know the right direction (by self-study and self-practice).
    The right teachers must really know about the Four Noble Truths and the Direct Path to Enlightenment (Noble Eightfold Path = Threefold Training = Satipathana) and teach accordingly. These concepts are very deep and very difficult to understand. If they teach you something else they are not the ones.
    Buddhism is similar to other religions. There are several branches. Each individual branch has several schools, several monasteries, and several teachers. Everyone will tell you that they follow the Pali Canon but they may teach you differently. Some teachings are obviously distorted from the Buddha’s Dhamma. Some involve with extra knowledge, which is unnecessary for reaching the Nibbana.
    I am a Theravada Buddhist and you would be able to guess what branch I recommend. But I would not guarantee you that any particular monastery will teach you the right Dhamma. You have to decide by yourself.
    I also recommend you to read the below links to make certain that you are on the right path.

  6. ..to complement other answers…
    You might want to check out intro books, such as Buddhism for Dummies. It’s comprehensive and will clarify a lot of things that may otherwise not be explained on a first encounter-basis…
    This below lists a bunch of meditation techniques–
    vipassana books–
    mindfulness in plain english
    breath by breath…
    mindfulness, bliss, and beyond
    zen books–
    zen meditation in plain english
    tibetan meditation books–
    buddhism with an attitude
    the attention revolution


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