From its beginning, Buddhism has been an interior, personal practice that is supported and encouraged by participation in community life, in the life of the Sangha. The community of Buddhist practitioners is made up of four groups: female and male monks and female and male lay practitioners. (We use the term “monk” for women as well as men, since we aspire to practice complete spiritual and functional equality within our Order.)
Different in their outward form, these four groups are interdependent and mutually support one another, and have done so since the time of the Buddha. Although there are differences between these groups, we are all united in the purpose of putting the teachings of the Buddha into practice.
We are all primarily concerned with the more inward aspects of practice: How to put the mind of meditation into practice in the many varied facets of day to day life; how to make the mind of preceptual practice into a refuge in the many complexities of our modern world.
Outwardly, the practice of the monastic members of the community is more formal than that of the laity. We wear robes and shave our heads, giving ourselves a uniform appearance; we regulate our day to day lives with schedules and detailed rules – including the practice of celibacy – giving ourselves a formal framework in which to practice the “letting go” aspect of meditation. After a specified period of training within the monastic setting, monks may be licensed to teach, run temples, offer spiritual guidance and perform other priestly duties, such as weddings and funerals. Many live in our monasteries, others live singly or together in smaller temples.
Because they are not constrained by the outward formal aspects of monastic practice, lay practitioners often have a greater latitude in the actions they can take in responding to the needs that arise in the context of their lives and in being of benefit to the world. Within the context of preceptual practice, they can pursue a variety of relationships – including active family life – and pursue career and occupational choices as well as other lifestyle choices not available to those who choose the monastic path.
In the Serene Reflection Meditation Tradition, a person can follow the Way as a lay person or as a monk. Anyone can learn to meditate because we all have the Buddha Nature, even though we may not see it yet. All beings are Buddhas and we can respect them because of this, whatever form their life may take.
Here is a link to an article about some things one lay practitioner has found helpful in putting the practice into action in his own life. This article was written by a lay minister of our Order; here is a link to an article about the lay ministry.
Here is a link to an article with a more detailed description of the approach to monastic life.