I'm New: Questions and Answers
Where are you located?
We are on 16.1 acres in the Oak Hill area of southwest Austin, about 3 miles west of ACC Pinacle campus. Directions are on our contact page. The address is 9001 Honeycomb Dr., Austin, TX 78737, if you want to come by GPS.
What do you do at the Sitagu Buddhist Vihara?
Sitagu Buddhist Vihara is a meditation center that offers a variety of opportunities for Buddhist practice and study. The word Vihara means Monastery, but aside from supporting resident monks it also supports private and group meditation and study retreats for lay folks. The Vihara is also a community and cultural center, for predominately Burmese community with strong Western and other Asian participation.
I would like to learn about Buddhism and meditate.
As a meditation center we support group or individual retreats providing housing and meals and a level of silence and individual seclusion. We also offer meditation instruction and daily support as issues and questions arise. We hope to be able to maintain a daily regular meditation schedule soon, but at this time primarily support independent schedules. For groups we can set up a meditation schedule and classes on demand. We accept requests from individuals to spend periods in retreat. We can also help set up a program for individual home meditation and daily life practice.
We also support Dharma study and classes. We are developing a lending library, soon to be housed in a dedicated building, and offer we occasional classes, including a sunday school for children. Most of our monks are learned scholars of Buddhism and can explain the various aspects of Buddhist doctrine, practice and history. We can also help set up a program for individual home study. We hope to maintain regular classes soon.
To learn more, drop by and ask to talk with one of the monks (you might phone ahead of time to make sure one will be here). Check our News or Schedule page for information about upcoming retreats.
How about community events?
As a community center we we sponsor many lively folk festivals with Burmese music, dancing and food. We also maintain a very family-friendly atmosphere such that people generally come and go on a daily basis, sometimes enjoying lunch here, walking around the temple grounds. Sometimes a team of friends wil show up as volunteers to build something or do some gardening.
Traditionally Burmese combine friendly visits, family outings and even participation in folk festivals with a number of devotional practices, offerings and short ceremonies, and paying respect to the monks. These are entirely optional, but you can ask one of the monks or many laypeople to explain them to you. Often they optionally involve offerings of flowers to the Buddha, food for the monks or other gifts, including financial donations to the monastery, ritual bows, taking of the refuges and precepts.
We also offer daily chanting and various services for special occasions.
What can I expect on my first visit?
You are welcome to drop by almost any time, but it is a good idea to phone or email ahead of time to make sure someone is here to greet you, especially if you are driving from afar. Typically you would call or email either the monastery or a specific monk (or nun if one happens to be in residence, or a lay resident). It is often wise to check ahead of time before a scheduled event, in case there is some unanticipated change.
If you are dropping by, you may just be curious about us, want to do some sight seeing, want to learn about meditation or about Buddhist teachings, or want to know what practice opportunities we offer. We will be glad to give you a tour and answer any questions and whatever orientation you need.
If you have timed your first visit for a scheduled meditation or chanting period we recommend that you show up early for orientation. Generally you can look for one of the monks, or anybody else who looks friendly and knowledgeable.
If you come for a community event there will be many people you can approach for orientation.
Please note that the monks generally eat at 11:30am (they need to eat before noon). You are welcome to join in the ritual food offering (it's not complicated), and generally to stay and eat with the lay folks around 12:00.
Where do I park?
During our construction phase parking is not clearly marked. Best is to take the left fork after the entrance gate, and park near the large yellow building, which is our Reception Hall. Most public practice events happen in the Reception Hall. If you are looking for someone in particular you may have to ask around.
Sitagu Buddhist Vihara is a Burmese center, isn't it? Are Westerners and other non-Burmese welcome?
Yes, yes! The monastery was founded by a Burmese monk, Dr. Ashin Nyanissara Sayadaw, and is primarily supported by an ethnic Burmese community in Austin and Texas. However, part of its mission is to make Buddhist teachings and practice available to all. There are a few Westerners that have been part of the Vihara community for over ten years, and many are active participants at all levels and generous supporters. As of this writing there is one American monk in residence. Westerners consistently report that they feel very welcome no matter what events they come to. The monks almost always speak very good English.
Do I have to be a Buddhist?
As long as you show due respect for the practices you will observe here, absolutely not. We respect all major religions or lack of thereof, and will not proselytize nor try to disrupt others' faith. Many people of other faiths report finding elements of Buddhist practice, most particularly meditation, very useful in their lives, and not only not challenging to their root faith but often very supportive of it. Feel free to talk with one of the monks about your needs and concerns and he will be glad to recommend what might and might not be appropriate for you.
Be aware that the beginning's of many events routinely begin with reciting the articles of Buddhist faith, known as Refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha (the Buddha, the teachings and the monastic community). You are free to remain silent.
What points of etiquette should I know?
This is an excellent question because you will be coming not only to a monastery, but also into a largely Burmese culture. There are a number of conventional practices which you should be aware of and try to observe. But don't worry about the learning curve, people are very understanding that the general American culture tends to be very casual. The key elements are gestures of respect, especially toward monks and Buddha statues, and taking off shoes. A list of rules of thumb can be found HERE.
You will notice these guidelines make specific reference to monks. Although most monasteries are for either monks or nuns, because of the nature of our facilities nuns will in fact be frequently present at the monastery. Analogous guidelines apply to nuns. Thank you very much for your cooperation in maintaining the tradition of Buddhist etiquette.
How much do you charge?
Nothing. We are totally supported by the generosity of our community which has always proved unwavering. We do not put any pressure on anyone to donate, nor announce "suggested donations." Many people are inspired to support our material needs because they have benefited personally from their participation here, others because they believe Buddhist practice, including yours, benefits all and they want to support it. Traditionally the spontaneous offering of donations (dana) is considered a core Buddhist practice that brings much joy to its practitioners.
What is Theravada Buddhism?
In the world today there are two main schools of Buddhism: Theravada and Mahayana. In the ancient past there were many other schools in existence, but only these two main schools have survived into modern times, Mahayana principally in countries north of India: China, Tibet, Japan, Mongolia, Korea, and Vietnam, and Theravada chiefly in countries south and east of India: Sri Lanka, Burma. Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. For this reason Mahayana is often referred to as the Northern School and Theravada as the Southern School. Each school has varients, most of which can be found right here in Austin in a variety of monasteries, temples and sitting groups.
While there are significant differences between the two schools, it is important to keep in mind that the basic, foundational tenets of the two schools are identical: The Four Noble Truths, The Eight-fold Noble Path, Karma Theory, Dependent Origination, etc. It is primarily in their differing emphases and historical develpments that the two schools differ. Their ultimate goal is the same - the attainment of Nibbana by following the teaching of the Buddha.
What is the role of monks?
The monks at Sitagu Vihara serve primarily as teachers of the Dhamma and meditation. The Sangha, the community of monks and nuns, was constituted by the Buddha in order to provide those of pure aspiration, who are willing and able to simplify their lives radically, an opporunity and support to base their lives entirely in Buddhist principles. In return they were made responsible for preserving and promoting the teachings and for ensuring that they are accurately transmitted to new generations. In the Burmese tradition it is common for people to ordain temporarily to experience what monastic life offers.