Frequently Asked Questions
If your question or concern is not addressed here, please ask a teacher or an experienced member of the Sangha, or contact us by email.
I’m new to any kind of organized religion…
Buddhist teachings are inclusive and tolerant, and presented more as an applied philosophy, a practical psychology, and an ethical way of life. We are not dogmatic and invite you to bring your own experience and intellectual capacity to bear on any teaching. It is okay if you don’t have a mala (prayer beads), say the prayers, do prostrations, or agree with everything. You are invited to ask as many questions as you want. A questioning mind is very helpful for making progress in Buddhist meditation.
My background is in other organized religions but I want to see what I can learn from Buddhism…
We respect your path and hope that our teachings can aid you on your journey. We offer Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings–authentic, practical, easily applicable advice for leading a happier, more meaningful life. You will find similarities with other religions here. We strive to act in virtuous ways, have respect for holy beings, and teach methods to live deeply spiritual lives. We have teachers both lay and ordained, male and female. We have a sincere spiritual community, called a “Sangha,” committed to supporting each other in spiritual progress.
I’m completely new to meditation…
Welcome to a time-honored and fully integrated mind/body philosophy and meditation system that, if done systematically, correctly, and with the desire to help other people, creates a permanently happy, compassionate, wise, and healthy person. People come to meditation for many different reasons-e.g. stress release, relaxation, overcoming a particular problem, inner peace, health benefits, a positive mind, a practical spiritual path, and an increasing ability to help others. You can find all these benefits by practicing the meditations taught here.
I’m experienced in meditation…
We welcome you. Your previous experience can help you with many aspects of Kadampa Buddhism. If it is your intention to deeply pursue a spiritual path, it is important to remember that all Buddhist masters advise us to choose one wisely and to follow it sincerely, gratefully, and thoroughly. Each authentic tradition is a complete method in itself, a sequence of progressive steps, not to be mixed or diluted. Should you choose the Kadampa path as your own, that is wonderful. Should you choose another path, follow it whole-heartedly with our blessings and good wishes.
I’m not a Buddhist but I like it here…
You don’t have to be a Buddhist to come here. Most members of the Sangha, like you, began to notice that the meditation practices seemed to help solve our daily problems and bring us a greater measure of inner peace. Each week, we have different classes for varying degrees of commitment. Do what’s right for you and we will all do our best to be of benefit to you, whether you are “a Buddhist” or not.
I feel like I have found a permanent home in Kadampa Buddhism…
It is wonderful that you have found us and we are happy to have you join us. Our tradition has many opportunities to participate in practical ways, including helping at the Centers with many tasks, contributing financially to ensure our viability and to enable our growth, and studying and practicing enough yourself to become a teacher who can offer the tradition to others. All are of great value. Jump in. Welcome to your new home.
What classes are available and where should I start?
Our General Program introductory classes are open to everyone. There is a talk, guided meditation, and time for questions. In these classes, you will learn breathing meditation and other forms of practical meditation that you can do at home throughout the week. We have more advanced General Program classes that are based on the systematic study of various Buddhist texts and which include prayers, meditation, and time for discussion. We also have a retreat and puja program where we pray and meditate together as a group. You are welcome to attend any of these programs. For the more committed student, we offer the Foundation Program and Teacher Training Program, including by correspondence. For those with Highest Yoga Tantra empowerment, we offer a Highest Yoga Tantra meditation class.
How often should I meditate and what meditations should I do?
To begin with, getting into the habit of coming regularly once or twice a week to meditation classes will recharge your batteries and make a big difference. Once you feel ready, it is very helpful to engage in these meditations at home on a regular basis- you will soon notice their positive effects on your life. Start with breathing meditation until your concentration is stronger, and then gently start doing the other meditations you have learnt. Meditating once a day is recommended, even it is only for 5, 10, or 15 minutes. This helps us maintain a positive, sane perspective on the rest of the day. If you come to classes regularly, you will gradually learn more meditations that you can start doing in a cycle. Eventually, you will know how to incorporate all the meditations you have learned into a 3-week cycle of 21 meditations called “Lamrim”, or the “stages of the path to enlightenment”. Always feel free to ask the teacher for advice on your individual meditation practice.
What books should I read?
A good place to start is Transform Your Life. If you are ready to do the cycle of meditations based on the “Lamrim” (see above), you will be well guided by The New Meditation Handbook. Additional commentary to these 21 meditations can be found inIntroduction to Buddhism and Joyful Path of Good Fortune. Browse the Tharpa catalog to see what else catches your interest and feel free to ask for advice.
Who is Geshe Kelsang Gyatso?
We do not worship our Spiritual Guide, yet recognize him as having gained a full understanding and experience of all Buddha’s teachings, such that he now possesses the qualities of an enlightened being himself-including perfect compassion, wisdom, and skill. From the age of 8, Geshe-la (a term of endearment) studied at the great monastic universities of Tibet, earning the title of “Geshe,” which means “spiritual friend.” Under the guidance of the famous Tibetan Lama Trijang Rinpoche, his Spiritual Guide, he spent the next 18 years in meditative retreat in the Himalayas. He rose to prominence through his mastery of the Kadampa tradition and his compassionate healing acts. In 1976, he was invited to teach in England. For over 25 years, he has worked tirelessly to bring these precious teachings to the West, including setting up hundreds of Centers, designing 3 special study programs (the General Program, Foundation Program, and Teacher Training Program), writing 19 highly acclaimed books, training Western Buddhist teachers, and building temples dedicated to world peace.
He currently spends his time divided between England and the United States, living humbly and guiding and inspiring many thousands of students.
Sutra and Tantra–what’s the difference?
Sutra teachings are all those teachings of the Buddha that are open to everyone to practice without the need for empowerment. Tantra teachings require an empowerment from a Tantric Master, such as Geshe-la, and are known as “the quick path to enlightenment”. (Rest assured that, despite many misunderstandings in the West, Buddhist Tantra has nothing to do with adult encounter groups, etc!)
How do I get involved?
We love people who are doing their best to put the teachings into practice. Talk to an experienced Sangha member, study a book, do your best on the meditations, practice Dharma in daily life, ask questions, and share your experiences. You are also welcome to find out what help you can give to keep the classes and Center running smoothly.
I have a specific problem in my life…
You have come to the right place. The Kadampa path heals and transforms the mind, granting access to deep relaxation, happiness, and inner peace. Our Sangha is filled with compassionate people who will offer you help through the immediate and effective application of Buddhist wisdom and practice to your specific problem. Ask someone.
What are the facts about Buddhism?
Buddhism is the world’s third oldest and fourth largest religion–a 2500-year-old tradition of teachings and practices. Many Westerners first hear about Buddhism from another religion’s partial idea of it, often out of context. It is not a cult. At least a billion human beings are presently following the Buddhist path, keeping compassion and wisdom as their motivating force.
Who are all the pictures of?
That is a wonderfully complex question–enjoy discovering the answer yourself by coming to know these Buddhas in your own experience. Each Buddha, male or female, is the embodiment of an aspect of enlightenment, like a facet of a jewel. Each has specific qualities that can help us with our spiritual practice and enable us to fulfill our own spiritual potential. Avalokiteshvara, for example, is the Buddha of Compassion and can help us to actualize our own universal compassion. Je Tsongkhapa is the embodiment of the wisdom of all Buddhas, and helps us to increase our own meditative insight. You can find out more about these Buddhas and do the special meditation practices, mantras, and visualizations associated with them by, for example, attending the weekly chanted meditations. Feel free to ask questions about the pictures, the offerings, the objects on the shrine, and so on.
Why do people put food and flowers on the shrine in front of the room?
In all Buddhist traditions, offerings are made to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas out of respect and gratitude for their attainments and teachings, and with the wish that we gain the same attainments ourselves. The bowls filled with water symbolize different offering substances, such as perfume and nectar. Flowers add beauty, and the food, blessed, is enjoyed by everyone after it has been on the shrine. Please feel free to make offerings–they create merit, or good karma, the cause for swift progress on the spiritual path.
What are the rules here?
There are different types of Buddhist vows and precepts, including refuge vows, monks’ and nuns’ vows, Bodhisattva vows, and Tantric vows–all for those with varying levels of personal commitment. Vows are an individual’s sole responsibility and each person voluntarily and privately chooses to take them or not. Nobody will judge you or expect anything from you other than common courtesy and respect. All of the vows serve the purpose of helping us overcome our faults and train our mind. The most important promise a Buddhist makes is the promise never to deliberately harm other living beings. Beyond that, we try to avoid placing our books or prayers on the floor, to remain quiet during meditation, and to stand when the teacher enters and departs-all out of respect for the teachings. Mistakes are part of the path. It’s the fact that we keep trying to improve that counts.
What about the prayers, prostrations, and other rituals?
We use the practices of prayers, prostrations, and other rituals, during pujas for example, to help us purify our mind, increase our merit or good karma, and receive inspiration from enlightened beings. All these help quickly to transform our mind. Some of the most sacred and ancient prayers and mantras have been retained in their original Tibetan or Sanskrit, but most of the prayers have been translated under the guidance of Geshe-la into our own language. The prostrations are a way of showing humility, gratitude, and respect for the teachings. Decide for yourself whether or not to join in with the prayers, prostrations, or any other ritual.
I can’t seem to do the meditations…what do I do?
Geshe-la says, “Try, don’t worry!” Keep a light and happy mind, make steady effort, and you will find that your concentration naturally improves. Geshe-la also suggests that we can improve our meditation by using mindfulness in daily life–remembering to keep a positive mind by relying upon the teachings and to practice moral discipline. You are in the right place. We will do our best to answer your questions if you have them and lift your concerns if you voice them. Your confusion will clear if you take the time to deeply and thoroughly contemplate each aspect of the teachings and to put them into joyful and consistent practice in your life.
What are the economics of the Center and the Sangha?
Each NKT Center is an independent, non-profit entity, receiving no financial support from the tradition’s leadership or any other government or corporate entity. We sustain the running of the Center, the offering of all Dharma activities, and try to contribute to the living expense of our principal teacher through your class fees and donations as well as through the contributions of those who are core supporting members. Our Center in Portland is growing and we have ongoing fundraising campaigns to finance the facilities needed for that growth.
This section was prepared by students of Parbawatiya Center and Kancha Center. © Parbawatiya Center. It has been modified only to reflect information that is specific to Mahasiddha Center rather than Parbawatiya Center.