Question: “My New Years resolution as a growing Buddhist is to begin attending services at a local temple regularly. I’ve found a temple relatively close by, and I’m excited for the opportunity! But I must admit I’m a little nervous. I’ve been to places of Christian worship and even Unitarian churches before, but never a Buddhist temple. What can I expect? How should I dress and act? Will there be specific services like in a church, or will the practice be very free for the public to meditate individually?”
I’ll tell you a funny story about my first experience going to a Buddhist temple many, many years ago. I studied and practiced on my own for several years before ever going to a temple because I hadn’t felt the need for it yet. So when I finally did, I was quite nervous because like you I didn’t know what to expect or how everything would be. So the very first time I intended to go to a temple, which at the time was literally less than 10 minutes from my house, I turned around and went home…
Not because I was super nervous, which I was, but because the GPS was being difficult and didn’t take me far enough down the road, so I assumed the address was incorrect. Anyway, the next week when I did manage to find it, it was like my whole spirituality was reborn. It was my first temple to go to in my city and it became my home temple. My only regret is that I didn’t go years before when I first started my study.
Personally, I’m fairly traditional and rule-abiding when it comes to certain Buddhist practices and ways to do/conduct ceremonies, chanting, etc. And my temple, and most temples, will abide by their respective traditions, but for my temple, our Teacher really wants to make Buddhism and the things we do accessible for everyone, so it’s a lot more “freestyle” than most larger temples, since ours is fairly small (only one monk and one nun).
Regardless. I always encourage people to visit temples. Several, if not all within your location, if possible. Finding a “home temple” is a lot like shopping for a new house or car; it requires going around finding the best deals and the one that fits you best. Likewise, it’s important to find a temple or center that you feel connected to, comfortable and feel like the teachers and students there are able to help you learn and develop your studies and practices.
Also, most temples that have a yard or garden of some sort will be often for the public to walk through and meditate, while the temple itself or shrine hall will only be open during certain hours/days. But I highly encourage you to join their service.
Smile and be well!