Q&A: Where should I study Buddhism?
“Hi, I was thinking about a long term stay in a monastery, but I have absolutely no idea which ones are most suitable for me. I know that there are several kinds of ways in which the Monks live and guide you, but apart from what they are called (Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan), I know nothing. Would you please give me a brief information about the differences, pros and cons of all three? I would be really grateful. And maybe point out several monasteries that are the most friendly and open…? Thanks a lot.” – Jeremi
Hi Jeremi, thanks for your question! This is a good comprehensive article about it. [Link may be broken--google it!]
The thing that worked best for me, was researching which monasteries were accessible to me (with the help of google and the buddhanet directory), and visiting the ones that appealed. You can quickly get a sense of what a place is like, when visiting. You’ll also meet people who are happy to tell you about other places that they’ve been to. This is a post of mine on what to do when you get there.
Aside from the points mentioned in Alan Peto’s article that I linked to above, pros and cons depend on what works best with your personality and needs; and the differences can be so subtle that you won’t know until you’ve stayed somewhere for a while. Some places are friendlier to men than to women, for instance, and everyone’s definition of ‘friendly’ differs; so I couldn’t possibly tell you objectively which was the friendliest. Having said that, if ‘friendly’ and ‘open’ is what you’re looking for, then Tibetans are the first to come to mind!
While I loved all the monasteries I visited, I chose an English Zen one in the end because the way they were, and the way they did things, ‘clicked’ more with my personality than the others had. Because of that, their teachings were the easiest for me to understand. I think much of it was down to culture rather than to Buddhism, since I relate relatively easily to English and Japanese culture. Many of my friends chose Theravada or Tibetan schools instead, and knowing them, that makes total sense. Yet others chose to study in a more relaxed place like the Sharpham Trust in the UK, even if it isn’t explicitly Buddhist.
At the end of the day, I think the important thing is not technical differences, but that you find yourself a good place to study, that you like, run by a trustworthy and established lineage of teachers. Good luck!