A Vietnamese Mendicant Tradition

Nhu Lai Thien Tu

There were six, if not more toilets at Như Lai Thiền Tự, a Buddhist temple in San Diego. I figured six was excessive—until three coaches of pilgrims pulled up in front. Celebrations for the Lunar New Year continue, and this includes the ancient tradition of temple hopping. Apparently the new year is the best time to make merit—and to wait in a long line to pee.

On any given day, there is very little about Như Lai Thiền Tự to distinguish it from the multitude of other Vietnamese temples across North America. There is a main shrine hall, an ancestor hall—even a special stage set up for Tết ceremonies. Statues of Buddhas, bodhisattvas and classic characters from Chinese Buddhist literature meet you at every turn, always accompanied by a incense holder for the devotee. But this is not your typical Mahayana Buddhist temple.

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Sects and Sectarianism

UnityEdictSarnathweb-fullThe problem with free eBooks is that, for all the gains in access they offer by removing the constraints of traditional distribution they remove some of the methods of traditional promotion. For Buddhist monastic authors this is usually not a problem since free access is greatly prefered to fame and fortune, but this means that many great eBooks fall through the cracks, unnoticed.

Thus, attention all Buddhist nerds: read Ajahn Sujato’s Sects and Sectarianism immediately. I cannot think of a more important book written for the cause of Global Buddhism.

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Non-Denominational Buddhist

bodhi leafOnce upon a time I got together with a bunch of friends to start a Buddhist group. It so happened that we tended to all be followers of the Theravada, were all pretty solid meditators and went to the same sorts of temples. We spent a lot of time together talking about how we wanted to market our group. At one of these meetings I said, “I’d like to think of this as a non-denominational Buddhist group.” There was an awkward silence. A friend finally spoke up, “When I hear people say non-denominational, they usually mean Mahayana.” It was only later in life that I learned that Catholics and Protestants have this issue too.

For some reason, this never fails to amuse me.