Three Pillars of Our Practice
There are no fixed doctrines we expect our members to accept, or any particular practices we require. We are, nonetheless, dedicated to helping each other walk the spiritual path, and there are certain things that more than 2,500 years of Buddhist practitioners have found to be helpful on that journey. They could be briefly summarized under three headings: Skillful Behavior, Meditation, and Wisdom. These are not, however, consecutive steps or stages on the path. Growth in one area reinforces and promotes growth in the others.
It doesn't make much sense to think that we can lie, cheat, and abuse those close to us without paying a spiritual price. But important as ethical behavior is, Buddhism approaches it in a far different way than the Western religions. There is no concept of sin or redemption. According to Buddhism, our underlying nature is good, and harmful behavior stems from ignorance and delusion. The cultivation of wisdom thus naturally leads to a more wholesome and productive life.
The Buddhist tradition does, however, offer some general principles to help guide our behavior. They are not commandments or rules, just signposts to help us find our way. The five basic precepts advise us to refrain from: taking life, taking that which is not freely given (in other words stealing, and taking more than we need when others are in want), engaging in sexual activities that cause suffering to ourselves and others, spreading lies or speaking in ways that are needlessly harmful of others, and refraining from using intoxicants in ways that harm the body or the mind.
The subject of Buddhist meditation is a vast one. The Buddha himself suggested many different techniques to individual students, depending on their level of development and personal circumstances, and many additional approaches to meditation have been developed over the centuries.
Although we do offer meditation instruction to help beginners get started, our Sangha does not advocate any particular style of meditation. For example, we may occasionally use guided meditations as a way to help us cultivate loving kindness.
But for most of us, most of the time, meditation means simply sitting down quietly and just paying attention: being aware of our breath, our bodies, our sensations, our emotions, our thoughts. This may sound like a very simple practice, and indeed it is, yet for more than 2,500 years Buddhist meditators have found that it can lead us to touch the most profound depths of our being. (basic meditation instructions).
The cultivation of wisdom lies at the heart of the Buddhist path, and is the key to liberation from our suffering and delusion. This wisdom is not primarily an intellectual understanding. Rather, it is the direct personal realization of the true nature of things.
On one level, wisdom is as simple as just learning to let go of all those things we cling to. On another, it is the penetrating insight into the illusion of separate selfhood we create, and the suffering it inevitably produces. On still another, it is the realization of the vast unfathomable emptiness from which the world of form and substance emerges.
Countless Buddhist practitioners over the centuries have found that with the growth of such wisdom comes a deep boundless compassion and the desire to save all beings from the suffering their ignorance creates.