Although I have greatly admired Buddhist values for years and have committed myself to routinely putting its methods into practice, I am reluctant to call myself a Buddhist. This is primarily because I have never belonged to a “Sangha,” or community of like-minded individuals to practice with. I’ve spent countless hours studying the Dharma on my own, but my shyness has prevented me from taking the final leap and immersing myself into the community. For an assignment in my multicultural counseling class I decided I’d finally visit the Hsi Lai Temple, which is the Temple that University of the West is associated with and happens to be only a short distance from where I live.
I made arrangements to tour the Temple and was enthralled by my experience right from the start. The temple is surprisingly large and an unexpected delight in the suburbs of Hacienda Heights. During my time there, I was able to earn a more thorough understanding about the culture than I’ve been able to acquire in the books I’ve read. The literature I’ve focused on thus far has mostly covered the history of Buddhism, meditation styles and primary concepts such as the four noble truths and the eightfold path. The temple on the other hand, offered information I have yet to come across about the Bodhisattvas and the Arhats. I especially liked the idea of bowing to the Bodhisattva statues, not because you are idolizing them, but rather to humble yourself and seek their guidance on your own path to enlightenment. I made a point to bow to the Bodhisattva of great practice as well as the Bodhisattva of compassion and loving-kindness because I’d like all the help I can receive in cultivating these qualities.
After the tour, I felt silly for previously being fearful of visiting the temple. The people I encountered were either very friendly and helpful or kept to themselves, lost in their own practice. I found it funny that I would have felt more comfortable entering a catholic church, despite the fact that I don’t believe in God, than I did going to the temple even though it represents the spirituality I plan on sticking to. Yet I suppose it’s understandable, because I was raised in a catholic household. I may not have enjoyed it or even believed in it, but I became familiar with the traditions. At church services I’ve attended, whether they were in English or Spanish, I knew exactly when it was time to kneel, sing, pray, etc. without even really having to pay attention to the service. I feel like I can blend in more with that community even though I don’t feel connected to it.
Thanks to this assignment I faced my silly fear and found comfort in the temple. I plan on going back to check out the various activities they offer on Sundays. I’m especially interested in experiencing meditation amongst others, yoga and the Dharma classes. The new cycle of classes start on November 8th! My only concern now is whether to attend the Dharma class first or the meditation class. Since their scheduled times overlap, I’ll be forced to choose just one. However, I’m sure whichever one I choose will be a great decision, because either way I’ll finally be immersing myself into a Sangha; an experience that will prove to be invaluable if I plan on suggesting that my future clients find similar support systems of their own.