This group started out as a bookclub. I ran it for three years and in general it was successful– I read lots of books with people and had lots of good discussions. My daughter arrived and the book club went into hiatus, also meetup changed their prices so I made some experimental changes to the group format, which didn’t work out.
In rethinking, I decided I like book clubs, potlucks, semi-open-ended discussion and I aspired to do some of the “basic practices” of Buddhism, which I tend not to do if I’m not doing them with other people, such as meditation, chanting or the like. But I’m not keen on joining an existing Buddhist organization. The Chinese Mahayanists are most similar to my ideas and practice, but I don’t speak Chinese so I’m severely disadvantaged. Similarly, I don’t want to get into unproductive English arguments about vegetarianism, or if the Bodhisattvas have corresponding existents in reality, or the merits of even trying to earn merit. In short, a harmonious group already agrees on enough issues that they can focus on practice. As it happens, I think Buddhism is authentically pro-veganism, ie takes the preservation of sentient life seriously, is about self-improvement-type practices and not so much about faith in a higher power. Groups that take opposing view points already exist, I wish them well on their noble paths.
What does Buddhism, specifically this Buddhism, promise?
Buddhism has two kinds of benefits, the immediate, this-worldly benefits and the transcendent, ultimate benefits.
We chant, sit & meditate, read for calm and peace of mind
for aid in finding a job, a romantic interest,
Transcendent and ultimate benefits
The fundamental problem Buddhism solves is personal pain & misery
While not physically escaping this world, we can escape to a different way of experiencing this world
We move from experiencing personal, meaningless pain to having an existential project- that of dealing without our own pain, then dealing with the pain of others- our day to day ordinary jobs either directly or indirectly are solving the prob
What is the goal of the group?
For ¾ of the people who came to my book club for three years, they just wanted to know what was Buddhism as they rotated through religions and “new age” movements of the moment. The full answer is a confusing mess of “well, there are many sects, more diverse than you can imagine”. I want to be able to coherently explain one Buddhism that is broadly compatible and appealing to people in DC. It is someone else’s job to explain and make the case for Amidaism, Post-imperial reform Japanese Zen, and so on. The first benefit, in modern jargon is mood stabilization, something that might otherwise be treated with anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication or worse alcoholism and mindless TV. Buddhism isn’t a cure for serious psychological problems- schizophrenics should still avail themselves of modern medicine, but is a perfectly suitable cure for that feeling of unease we find ourself in that is somewhere between vacation and being literally sick.
Why is there a monthly vegetarian potluck? You may have read Buddhists aren’t vegetarian. This is a matter of sect. Mahayana Buddhist doctrine include animal liberation, a position even more “hard core” than typical US vegetarianism that prohibits owning pets, let alone eating them or using their products. Japanese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and Theravada is not vegetarian. The goal is for this group to be a place that is safe to be vegetarian. In Buddhism, there are many degrees of vegetarianism, such as being vegetarian only a certain number of days a week or only on the numerous holidays.
What will we be reading? I pick books that target the most common forms of Buddhism in the US, which is Zen, Nichiren Buddhism and Shambhala/Tibetan Buddhism.
What do you mean by practice? Buddhism is a religion of practice. Cultivating a state of mind and behavior is the core. As Buddhism was popularized (a thousand years ago!), monks realized that they couldn’t teach people do copy the monks. Easy practices, often with only symbolic content, became the foundation of practice– e.g. yoga, chanting and silent sitting meditation. I’m less certain on the exact details, but even alter maintenance is on the list.
I’d urge you to not project your previous religious expectations onto practice– this isn’t necessarily Christian prayer with cross swapped out for a Bodhisattva statue. In short, symbolic practices are what keep us from forgetting our practice (either in the form of the eight fold path or the paramitas) when in day to day life, we find our selves working a job to pay the rent and not working directly on charity, tolerance, or equanimity.
The ideal goal (the one we work towards but don’t necessarily expect to reach) is where we have internalized all the various meritable qualities into our daily life and we act every day without hate and greed and with equanimity. In the meanwhile, we lay a foundation with symbolic practices.