Sunday, March 13, 2011

Visitor's Guidelines

Hey, Everybody!

AMBMS, the Ariya Magga Buddhist Missionary Society, maintains Ariya Magga Vihara, an “abode” of the Noble Path, located at 123 S. Center Street, in Sioux City, Iowa, USA. As a Noble Path Abode, the vihara is a place of instruction and practice, where everyone is welcome, whether for meditation practice, to learn a bit about practicing the Noble Path, to learn about the many paths called Buddhism, or just to visit. We note that, while some social functions take place here we not a social gathering hall. We try to keep the atmosphere at the vihara quiet and relaxed, and we ask that you help us in that effort. Please enter quietly, turning off cell phones, pagers and any other devices which might make a disturbing noise. If others are “sitting” in the Buddha Hall, speak as little as possible, and speak softly when you must.

Our practice falls within the family of disciplines called "Buddhist," but despite what you might have read, or heard, or might be anticipating, when visiting Ariya Magga Vihara you will not be required to bow, to chant, to participate in meditation or to do other things which are unfamiliar or uncomfortable. At Ariya Magga Vihara we follow certain customs and traditions, and we do ask that you be respectful of them. If you are not sure of what would be respectful, please ask.

One thing that stands out for some people is that as they enter the vihara, the entry room is sometimes full of shoes. This is due to the custom of removing one’s shoes when entering a vihara building, and especially before entering a Buddha Hall. There are lots of different explanations for this practice, some of which seem more plausible than others. One explanation is that for centuries in Asia people removed their shoes before entering any building, as their shoes were usually dusty or muddy or otherwise “dirty.” So it was both hygienic and respectful to leave the dirt at the door. Another explanation is rooted in ancient mythology, which held that impish and/or evil spirits or beings lived in the earth. Walking outside in shoes disturbed them and they would subsequently cling to the shoes’ soles. Carrying these imps/spirits into one’s house, business or temple was just bad form. Another explanation is derived from logical reasoning. Shoes are dirty. Wearing shoes indoors brings dirt indoors. Indoors we sit on the floor. We don’t want to sit in dirt. Ergo, we don’t wear our shoes indoors. For some people removing the shoes is an action which assists them in making the mental transition from a noisy “outside” world to the more peaceful atmosphere of the vihara. Removing one’s shoes is the first preparatory step toward their practice. And finally, people who practice the Noble Path frequently sit on the floor with their legs crossed in either a “full-lotus” or “half-lotus” position. It is very uncomfortable to sit in either of these positions wearing shoes. So we leave them at the door as we come in.

We encourage the custom of removing shoes at the door, but if there is some reason you would rather not, we can live with that, too. And if you are more comfortable in a chair, we have those too. Please don’t let these customs deter you from coming for a visit or a sitting. You might find our vihara a refuge from the “sturm und drang” of our modern world.

Ehi passiko! Come and see!

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