Question: Most weeks I visit a local temple in my town, where Theravada monks hold a brief service before spending about 45 minutes meditating. This then makes me feel that maybe I should have made the effort to travel to the temple of my own form of Buddhism in a more distant town for the service there. It is quite difficult for me to travel so far at the moment because of work and other commitments. I suppose the problem I have is clinging to one practice rather than allowing myself to absorb all of the Buddha’s teachings. However, as the Buddha that I am devoted to is never mentioned in the Theravada services, I feel as though I’m not staying true to my faith. The alternative is that I don’t go to any service and don’t meet with other Buddhists. Yet meeting with others with the same or similar beliefs helps me to learn, and I feel a warmth that only my faith gives. I’m trying to be a good person and learn about my faith, and I have been learning the way that others celebrate. I hope that this is a right action.
Short answer: Mix and match.
Longer answer: All Buddha’s teachings are good, and there is value in having flexibility in one’s practice. There is nothing wrong with singing hymns in a Christian church. At the same time, there is a great value in associating with those who have a form of practice and faith similar to the one you follow. The solution, therefore, is to do both. Sometimes go to the convenient temple and sometimes make the effort to go to the one that has the best fit. One can learn everywhere, and as a Buddhist, you can practice devotion to the Buddha in any Buddhist temple.
The presentation of the dharma may vary from place to place. Some presentations may go deeper than others, and none is perfect. The best course for you as a lay practitioner is to learn everything you can from every opportunity that presents itself, but also to align yourself with a sangha that, as best you can judge, most truly represents the path in a manner that works for you. I have often been in this position myself. There are not so many Buddhist temples, and the nearest may not always be the one you need most, but that does not mean that one cannot make excellent friends there and participate in the good spirit, even while, whenever possible, you go elsewhere in order to cement your main sangha connections.
Here in France we have the reverse situation. Each week I hold a Pure Land service and give a teaching at Oasis, a Buddhist community nearby where most people follow Tibetan Buddhism. A Zen master also gives teachings at the same center. This ecumenical spirit is excellent. When they can, the core group of community members go to see Tibetan teachers who live farther away. Last weekend they went all the way to Strasbourg to hear the Dalai Lama. This is all fine. Buddhism should give an example of friendship to the world, and this means friendship between sanghas as well as between individuals.
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