Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to know anything about Buddhism to attend a meeting?
Absolutely not; you will be guided through the practices as we go along.  Nor do you need to believe anything about Buddhism; you will not be asked to make any prayers or affirmations of faith of any kind.  All that is required is an attitude of openess and the natural respect for the "traditions of the house" that one would normally grant to any host.

Smile!Are there any rituals I will be expected to perform?
The leader performs any and all ceremonial functions, while the rest of the sangha (congregation) participates through its attention.  There are no chants nor gestures you will need to know.  For a "sneak preview" of what a typical meeting is like, please read our Basic Ceremony page.  There are a few things that may differ from other religious meetings you may have attended.

We normally take our shoes off before entering the meditation hall.  In the countries where Buddhism originated and flourished, this is a common act of respect for the sanctity of the space.  Many people also feel that it is helpful to not wear shoes while practicing walking meditation.  Anyone who has a health condition that makes this untenable or who is simply uncomfortable doing it should keep their shoes on.  (In the colder months, you may wish to bring a pair of heavy socks.)

We also believe that a meditation space is sanctified by Noble Silence (both external and internal!), so we cease social conversation when we enter the hall. Some discussion takes place during the meeting, but unlike in normal Western situations, speaking is done mindfully, and deep listening and mindful reflection precedes speech.  Most of the meeting, however, is conducted in silence, except for the directions given by the leader.

In our tradition, speaking is preceded by bowing to the sangha slightly and pausing for this bow to be returned by the sangha before speaking.  In our tradition, bowing is a sign of respect, acknowledging the sanctity of the individual and of the relationships among individuals.

Will I be forced to sit cross-legged on the floor or assume any other uncomfortable positions?
You will be invited to sit in a manner you find comfortable.  Chairs and benches are provided, but if you have your own, please feel free to bring them.  Our ideal is to maintain a posture that affords the maximim "alert relaxation" -- comfortable enough to be relaxed and free of distracting discomfort, but not so lax as to invite sleepiness or dullness of mind while meditating.  We do not practice any yoga-like disciplines.

Will I be asked for money?
We maintain the 2,500-year-old tradition that the Dharma (the collective teachings of Buddhism) is too precious to put a price on, so it is offered for free.

When some people bow to the altar, are they worshipping the Buddha?
We do not believe the Buddha is a god, nor do we worship him.  We believe the Buddha was a human being who attained to extraordinary spiritual insight, but died as do all living beings.  The statue of the Buddha that sits on the altar is not a sacred object; it is a symbol of the Buddha's teachings and the example of his lifetime of spiritual practice and service to all beings.  No one is required to bow to the altar, but those who choose to do so are making a gesture of gratitude and respect not only to the Buddha and the Path he taught, but also to the entire sangha of practitioners who have preserved and continue to preserve the Way of Liberation.

I'm allergic to incense. Should I still come?
In our opening ceremony, we offer incense as a symbolic act of gratitude to our teachers and the beautiful fragrance of the teachings, but we do not light it as a matter of course.  Some of our members are allergic and others have sensitive sinuses.