Buddhism in Austin

Posted on Dec 7, 2010 in religion | 7 Comments

I’m not a very religious person.  I believe that religion is a highly personal subject, and am totally turned off by proselytizing.  That said, I’m going to try to talk about Buddhism in this post because it’s something I’m really interested in, and frankly, my interests make up this entire website. If you aren’t down with the Buddha, I have no problem with you ignoring this entry. In any case it’s really just me rambling, because I don’t know of many Austin resources to share for this topic.

I’ve been dabbling with Buddhism since my San Francisco days.  It’s the first religion that makes sense to me, although I suppose you could call it a philosophy instead of a religion. I used to sit with a Insight Meditation (Vipassana) group occasionally in SF and stay for the Dharma talks.  I never totally got meditation, which is really at the core of Buddhism, but I loved (and still love) learning about the Buddha’s teachings.  
I spent a week at a Zen Center in San Francisco, where we got up at the ungodly hour of 5am to meditate for an hour and a half, then spend the day cleaning the temple.  We had another hour of meditation in the evening.  I HATED it.  I don’t think anyone likes to get up that early, but really what I hated was the formalism of Zen — how you had to have your legs crossed a certain way, your eyes open a certain way, your hands resting a certain way…. I rebelled in small ways, like closing my eyes, or letting my mind wander on purpose.  I loved the Dharma lectures, but was creeped out by the chanting.  I couldn’t wait to get home. I figured Zen wasn’t for me, and that the more informal Insight Meditation was the branch for me.
I stopped practicing when we moved to Austin, because I couldn’t really find anything like the group I had in SF. I tried going to 3 separate groups, but nothing really clicked.  Plus I started having kids, and we all know how impossible it is to get away from babies to go spend time on yourself, so I let Buddhism take a back seat  for a while.
A couple weeks ago I was browsing at Half Price Books and saw a book on Buddhism called Awakening the Buddha Within, by Lama Surya Das. I am soooooo glad I bought it.  The author is an American lama who is classically trained in Tibetan Buddhism, and has such a knack for explaining Buddhist concepts to a Western audience. So much clicked into place for me while reading this book: I get the point of meditation now, and much to my disbelief, I get the formalism of Zen. I get the point of regularly practicing with a group (sangha), and even chanting in a strange foreign language.

I can’t give a brief synopsis of his teachings because I would just be finger-painting next to his Renaissance masterpiece. If you have any interest in Buddhism, I highly recommend his book.

Anyway, to bring this back to Austin:  I’m on the hunt again for a sangha to practice with. I might even give Zen a try again, and head to the Austin Zen Center. However, if anyone out there can recommend a good group, I would be very grateful to know of it.


  1. Anonymous
    December 11, 2010

    I hope that some of your readers with more experience on this front post some responses because I’ve been interested in finding out more about the local Buddhist scene, too.

    By the way, our next door neighbors just plopped their glowing plastic wise men inside the edge of our yard. You know–so they can look like they are traveling to Baby Jesus in the center of THEIR yard. The neighbors didn’t ask us, don’t know our religious beliefs or anything. My husband has nicknamed them the Wise asses, and suggested maybe we are the Gaza Strip.

    Funny how religion is in Austin…

  2. Move To Austin
    December 12, 2010


    I found a new group to sit with last week. I don’t think I want to post their name — it was ok. I might keep looking. As I mentioned, I love Dharma talks and this one wasn’t the best. But it was nice to practice meditation again with a group. When I’m on my own I cheat and never make it past 10 minutes…

  3. Move To Austin
    December 14, 2010

    Awesome, thanks for both recommendations. Wake Up Austin looks great, and is in my ‘hood. I’ll check them out. The book looks great too.

  4. Anonymous
    January 25, 2011

    There is a thriving, friendly Vipassana community in Austin for students who’ve attended the 10 day Vipassana retreat training in the tradition of SN Goenka, one of Lama Surya Das’s early teachers.

    The sits and one-day retreats are for trained practitioners of this specific formal version, or “old students” as they are called, and there is a post-retreat communications network – it’s not advertised to the general public.

    Texas is home to one of the 4 American Vipassana centers founded by Goenka. The Southwest Vipassana Center is located on a nature preserve east of Dallas. http://www.siri.dhamma.org The courses plus lodging and food are FREE – the entire thing is run on donations by old students and volunteers. And it’s very rigorous/old school – about 9 hours all told of meditating a day, noble silence, segregation of the sexes, huge lunch but fruit for dinner, and three one-hour group sits of noble determination (adhittan, aspiring to remain in the same posture, observing the ever-changing sensations like a mountain)… What’s great about non-sectarian vipassana is that it’s so inter-faith – there are hindus, muslims, athiests, and christians working together in the kitchen!

    With young children of course, it’s not practical to do the training until the youngest is four at least, and with extended family to provide them with plenty of distraction…

    Dipa Ma, a female vipassana master from Burma, taught women they could practice via anapana as well as mindfulness to the sensations of nursing/feeding/mothering in general. Her biography is great.

  5. Anonymous
    February 3, 2011

    Thanks for the recommendation. Love you blog. Former SF person too. Keep up the great posts. thanks much.

  6. Move To Austin
    February 4, 2011

    Good to know second to the last anonymous! A 10 day retreat! I was plotting my escape from my weeklong retreat by the first afternoon :). Of course, that was pre-kids, now I might welcome 10 days of silence.

    Thanks last anon!

  7. Tiffany
    February 21, 2011

    Hi there!

    Have you heard of SGI-USA? It’s a really great lay Buddhist association for Nichiren Buddhism, which is based on the Lotus Sutra. If you’re looking for a great sangha, I’m not lying when I tell you the most wonderful people I’ve ever met are SGI-USA members. There’s a center in Austin on Lamar. I’ve been there twice while visiting my Dad and Stepmom Ellen. I live in Minneapolis and I’m an SGI-USA member, and my Dad and Ellen live in Austin and they’ve practiced Buddhism with SGI-USA for a long time. If I lived there, I’d invite you to a meeting but I don’t know when they are, so I can connect you with Ellen if you’d like. She’s really cool. Just shoot me an e-mail. If you’d like to check out more of what SGI-USA is and what Nichiren Buddhism is, check out the website is http://sgi-usa.org/