Secular Tendai?

Secular Tendai?

Postby Tatsuo » Tue Oct 22, 2013 9:50 pm

Do you think it necessary for Tendai to take root in the West to let go of all supernatural elements and establish a new "Western" form of secularized Tendai? For me this seems to be the idea of Tendai Buddhist Institute, which on it's website either leaves out supernatural elements or reinterprets them.

The nenbutsu for example is described as a tool for "experiential wisdom in the non-intellectual realm and is performed by advanced students for the equivalent of a meditation period to realize and manifest Amitabha’s qualities".. I may misunderstand this, but to me it seems, that the original goal of birth in the Pure Land is no longer the idea behind the nenbutsu, but it is rather seen as a psychological method (does anyone know, where it is described in the Sutras, that one goal of the nenbutsu is to achieve experimental wisdom?).
When describing the veneration of the Buddha, the "feelings of respect and gratitude" are likened to "the feelings of respect an American citizen might have for the founding fathers and Martin Luther King, Jr., or an Elvis fan might have for Elvis" and it is pointed out, that it "should not be confused with the worship of, or belief in, the Buddha as a deity".

Now of course a website is directed towards newcomers and does not stand for the general position of the Tendai Buddhist Institute on this topic. It is likely, that experienced practitioners have a totally different view on supernatural elements. The question, however, is: Is it really necessary to get rid of all supernatural elements of Tendai to attract "rational" Western audiences? While many newly converted Buddhists seem to search for a Buddhism, which is 100% rational and scientific, I think the supernatural element can serve as a solid emotional basis once you've made your first steps as a Buddhist practitioner.
When looking at other traditions we actually see both approaches. Whereas Zen schools have been very willing to let go of all supernatural elements (which may be one of the reasons, that they became very popular among the young generation in the 60s), Vajrayana traditions have preserved many supernatural elements. Both being fairly "successful" it seems that you can take either way - the more traditional and the more secular - and still attract new people.


For the quotes see here and here.
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby yan kong » Wed Oct 23, 2013 2:13 am

Just like any other culture Buddhism came into contact with ours is steeped in its own dogmas and one of them happens to be materialism. I think Tendai is just trying to ease people in without being dishonest about Buddhist doctrine.
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Seishin » Wed Oct 23, 2013 9:39 am

I can't speak for the TBI nor for it's founders. However I would say that presenting their organisation in such a way on their web page is pretty much common practice for most Buddhist groups in the west. I would also say, that from my interactions with members of the TBI I wouldn't describe them nor their practice as "secular Tendai"

From my experience, the majority of people in the west are interested in "Secular Buddhism" removed of cultural and supernatural "baggage" (their words not mine), so for a group who tries to appeal to as many people as possible I think this is a good thing.

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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Tatsuo » Wed Oct 23, 2013 1:23 pm

It's just a general decision how to present oneself to the Western audience.. I think it's both valid to offer a secular view on Buddhist philosophy or to include supernatural elements. Though I lean towards including supernatural elements because they can add an emotional aspect to the practise and all traditional schools in Asia do have supernatural elements.
About the TBI: I think they are doing a good job at teaching authentic Buddhism - for example the Sutra reading classes are really outstanding (I haven't attended them, but I think the idea of offering this is amazing)
What struck me is that there seems to be a problem with worshipping and believing in the Buddha, because it's so very different from what you can read in the Sutras or from what you can see in Asia. That's why I thought the TBI might promote "secular Tendai". But I've never been there, don't know any members personally and have just read the website, so of course I do not really know their approach. Thank you for your insights, Seishin.
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Jikan » Wed Oct 23, 2013 1:39 pm

Tatsuo wrote:Do you think it necessary for Tendai to take root in the West to let go of all supernatural elements and establish a new "Western" form of secularized Tendai?


No.

For me this seems to be the idea of Tendai Buddhist Institute, which on it's website either leaves out supernatural elements or reinterprets them.


This claim assumes that the blurbs given on a website that has been perpetually under construction since 2008 or so represents a complete view of the organization's practices and views.

The nenbutsu for example is described as a tool for "experiential wisdom in the non-intellectual realm and is performed by advanced students for the equivalent of a meditation period to realize and manifest Amitabha’s qualities"..


Once you start talking about Amitabha's qualities, you're well out of the realm of the secular. This is a wholly religious claim, and it reflects the Tendai understanding of Pure Land practice as a form of method. What you describe as a "psychologized method" is much closer to Chih-i's prescription for practice as we've received it. Which is to say that the position you criticize as some kind of contemporary psychologism is in fact a traditional, in fact conservative, view.

If you'd like to pursue this discussion directly with the spiritual director of the center, you can call him up--the phone number on the "contact us" page of the website is legitimate. This would be more productive than more and more pages of speculation.
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Jikan » Wed Oct 23, 2013 1:48 pm

Seishin wrote:
From my experience, the majority of people in the west are interested in "Secular Buddhism" removed of cultural and supernatural "baggage" (their words not mine), so for a group who tries to appeal to as many people as possible I think this is a good thing.


It's been reported to me by several members of the TBI sangha (not leadership) that the appeal of this temple is in its refusal to do the secular Buddhist or "mindfulness" thing. The "cultural baggage" is *everywhere.* The raison d'etre of this temple, one might say, is to offer an alternative to the secular trip. This is why people show up there...

The reality is that TBI is presented online and in reality in contradistinction to "secular Buddhism."
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Seishin » Wed Oct 23, 2013 1:52 pm

Thank you Jikan :smile:

I'm sorry if my comments caused any upset :smile:

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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Tatsuo » Wed Oct 23, 2013 3:09 pm

Jikan wrote:This claim assumes that the blurbs given on a website that has been perpetually under construction since 2008 or so represents a complete view of the organization's practices and views.

That's why I pointed out, that I don't know anything about the TBI except for their website. Of course there is a huge difference between the texts presented on the website and the actual practise within the TBI. I was hoping, that we could discuss this on this forum.

Once you start talking about Amitabha's qualities, you're well out of the realm of the secular. This is a wholly religious claim (...) What you describe as a "psychologized method" is much closer to Chih-i's prescription for practice as we've received it. Which is to say that the position you criticize as some kind of contemporary psychologism is in fact a traditional, in fact conservative, view.

You're right. I didn't think about that, though it's rather obvious, that this a wholly religious claim to speak about Amidas qualities. And you're partly right about the "conservative" view of the nenbutsu. I'm not so sure, if Zhiyi did see the nenbutsu only as a meditation to achieve certain states of mind, but he does indeed focus on those. But when it comes to Japanese Tendai the nenbutsu clearly has a supernatural background. For example Enshō (880-964) used the nenbutsu in death rites to achieve birth in the Pure Land and Annen (841-?) stated, that those, who will not achieve Buddhahood in this lifetime should reach for the birth in the Pure Land. Also Kūya (903-972) and Genshin (942-1017) saw the nenbutsu as a way to achieve birth in the Pure Land after death. (see: Repp, Martin: "Hōnens religiöses Denken", pp. 148-174 and pp. 194-215). So since the Heian Period (794-1185) the nenbutsu is strongly linked to death and birth in the Pure Land and Tendai Buddhists in contemporary Japan recite the verse "May the light of Amida Buddha illumine the whole world so that everyone who calls upon His Holy Name may be saved and never be forsaken." (Translation taken from here; for the original text see 天台宗日常勤行式, p. 33).

If you'd like to pursue this discussion directly with the spiritual director of the center, you can call him up--the phone number on the "contact us" page of the website is legitimate. This would be more productive than more and more pages of speculation.

By opening this discussion I didn't want to speculate or attack the TBI in any way - like I said several times, I deeply respect their work. The TBI serves as an example for other Tendai temples/groups in the West and that's why I think it's worth discussing their decisions on how to present Tendai in the West. Of course I could have contacted them personally and ask about certain points, but I think, that this discussion is interesting for anyone, who would like to see Tendai taking roots in the West. Because this forum has many members interested in Tendai, my hope was to discuss the general direction the TBI is heading for. This doesn't mean that I think, I know it better, or that I want to discredit them and I hope it didn't come across that way.
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Jikan » Wed Oct 23, 2013 6:39 pm

I appreciate where you're coming from, Tatsuo.
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Oct 23, 2013 8:40 pm

Seems like there are alot of concepts in Buddhism that are better off glossed over, or at least presented in "lite" fashion until someone is actually interested. I don't consider it really secularizing anything, it's just presenting things in a way that doesn't make the intended audience run away screaming.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Jikan » Fri Oct 25, 2013 7:27 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Seems like there are alot of concepts in Buddhism that are better off glossed over, or at least presented in "lite" fashion until someone is actually interested. I don't consider it really secularizing anything, it's just presenting things in a way that doesn't make the intended audience run away screaming.


All introductions are incomplete. When you are trying to introduce someone to something (a new cuisine, a new exercise routine, anything new), you have to start somewhere. And that starting point has to be appropriate for the person you are trying to involve.

I see where Tatsuo's coming from in that sense: the language used to introduce people in North America to this or that kind of practice at the tendai.org is not complete. It's not right to go on to assert or imply that the whole of practice at this temple is reducible to those introductory words.
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Oct 25, 2013 8:33 pm

Jikan wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote:Seems like there are alot of concepts in Buddhism that are better off glossed over, or at least presented in "lite" fashion until someone is actually interested. I don't consider it really secularizing anything, it's just presenting things in a way that doesn't make the intended audience run away screaming.


All introductions are incomplete. When you are trying to introduce someone to something (a new cuisine, a new exercise routine, anything new), you have to start somewhere. And that starting point has to be appropriate for the person you are trying to involve.

I see where Tatsuo's coming from in that sense: the language used to introduce people in North America to this or that kind of practice at the tendai.org is not complete. It's not right to go on to assert or imply that the whole of practice at this temple is reducible to those introductory words.



I know exactly what you are saying, my (Tibetan) Dharma center seems to use pretty neutral language, I assume because they know the community here, and they know what will pique people's interest, and what will attract only a small minority. In some ways it's not very It doesn't go out of it's way to show how Buddhist or official it is, nonetheless, it is very much so in practice. I think what you say is true, in many cases things HAVE to be put a certain way for people to walk through the door, even if it's an incomplete statement from the point of view of many practitioners. Personally I think that's not only ok, but I have alot of respect for when people can do this in a meaningful way. Interestingly, for all the criticism you hear of Trungpa Rinpoche, it rarely centers on the fact that this was exactly his skillset, completely changing around the language and still presenting something equally profound, and fundamentally leading to the same place.

It's a weird balance to strike, and I don't envy the job lol, it's not easy one, I think just of conversations i've had with family and friends where they ask about things like Bodhisattvas/ Mahasattvas..and "how" they exist, for someone with no background in Buddhism answering a question like that is almost comical..the best you can do is pick the least incomplete thing, because anything you say will be incomplete.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Oct 26, 2013 12:44 am

BTW I hope i'm not intruding by posting on a Tendai thread, I just thought that the subject matter of the thread was universal enough to Buddhism...
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby PorkChop » Mon Oct 28, 2013 9:24 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:BTW I hope i'm not intruding by posting on a Tendai thread, I just thought that the subject matter of the thread was universal enough to Buddhism...


Don't worry man, the Tendai warrior (monks?) are just for scaring people these days. :)
I, for one, appreciate your input.
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Jikan » Mon Oct 28, 2013 1:42 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote: the subject matter of the thread was universal enough to Buddhism...


certainly.
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Arjan Dirkse » Mon Nov 18, 2013 4:06 pm

I hope Buddhism will one day present itself in a completely unapologetically "secular" form. To me Buddhism is a tradition that develops, it takes in new influences and new insights. That is a good thing, not a bad thing. It's not about getting rid of "cultural baggage", it is using the cultural baggage that is available to present Buddhism in a way that takes into account our current day wisdom and insights; including our modern insights into physics, chemistry, biology, maths, history and so forth.
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Nov 18, 2013 10:53 pm

Arjan Dirkse wrote:I hope Buddhism will one day present itself in a completely unapologetically "secular" form. To me Buddhism is a tradition that develops, it takes in new influences and new insights. That is a good thing, not a bad thing. It's not about getting rid of "cultural baggage", it is using the cultural baggage that is available to present Buddhism in a way that takes into account our current day wisdom and insights; including our modern insights into physics, chemistry, biology, maths, history and so forth.



It already has lol, where have you been? Seriously..

I agree with you in theory, but the controversial bit is what to keep and what to leave behind. For many of us, "secular dharma" is pretty wanting, and ends up just being a form of self-help for people to pick up and drop at will. I don't think it's all that way, but I DO think alot of people doing what they consider "secular dharma", believe they are doing what you are saying, are actually just operating from another set of cultural biases, not doing anything like "modernizing dharma" or whatever, as they seem to believe. The trouble is the cultural biases are so close to their face they can't see them.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Arjan Dirkse » Mon Nov 18, 2013 11:37 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Arjan Dirkse wrote:I hope Buddhism will one day present itself in a completely unapologetically "secular" form. To me Buddhism is a tradition that develops, it takes in new influences and new insights. That is a good thing, not a bad thing. It's not about getting rid of "cultural baggage", it is using the cultural baggage that is available to present Buddhism in a way that takes into account our current day wisdom and insights; including our modern insights into physics, chemistry, biology, maths, history and so forth.



It already has lol, where have you been? Seriously..


Has it? I genuinely wasn't aware of that, which group or school do you mean?

I agree with you in theory, but the controversial bit is what to keep and what to leave behind. For many of us, "secular dharma" is pretty wanting, and ends up just being a form of self-help for people to pick up and drop at will. I don't think it's all that way, but I DO think alot of people doing what they consider "secular dharma", believe they are doing what you are saying, are actually just operating from another set of cultural biases, not doing anything like "modernizing dharma" or whatever, as they seem to believe. The trouble is the cultural biases are so close to their face they can't see them.


Of course everybody has cultural bias. Chan Buddhism has a Chinese cultural bias, Tibetan Vajrayana has a Tibetan cultural bias, Zen and Jodo Shinshu and Nichiren have a Japanese cultural bias etc. It's not a bad thing. Saying something is "Western Buddhism" has almost become an insult, it is used to refer to what people think of as a "watered down" or neutered form of Buddhism. I'd like to see a kind of Western Buddhism that is proud of being Western, instead of apologizing for it.
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Nov 19, 2013 12:19 am

....It already exists, have you never heard of IMS? Stephen Batchelor etc.? Just throw a rock somewhere and you'll hit a mindfulness class heh.

There are already people doing 'secular Dharma' in the west, and have been for a while. In addition it's practically become canon with some circles of psychology too.

In addition, plenty of Dharma Centers (I can include my own here) specifically have programs that meant precisely for people who want Buddhist meditation without having to "do Buddhism" (a good thing for sure), I don't know how much more secular or "Western" things are supposed to get. IN terms of public presentation, I would say most sangha are very accommodating to people who are uncomfortable with anything they see as "religious".

Institutions and authority are of course a different deal, and obviously that's something that's very much in -progress.

Of course everybody has cultural bias. Chan Buddhism has a Chinese cultural bias, Tibetan Vajrayana has a Tibetan cultural bias, Zen and Jodo Shinshu and Nichiren have a Japanese cultural bias etc. It's not a bad thing. Saying something is "Western Buddhism" has almost become an insult, it is used to refer to what people think of as a "watered down" or neutered form of Buddhism. I'd like to see a kind of Western Buddhism that is proud of being Western, instead of apologizing for it.


Who apologizes for being a westerner? What groups expect you to do so?
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Secular Tendai?

Postby Arjan Dirkse » Tue Nov 19, 2013 3:43 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:....It already exists, have you never heard of IMS? Stephen Batchelor etc.? Just throw a rock somewhere and you'll hit a mindfulness class heh.

There are already people doing 'secular Dharma' in the west, and have been for a while. In addition it's practically become canon with some circles of psychology too.

In addition, plenty of Dharma Centers (I can include my own here) specifically have programs that meant precisely for people who want Buddhist meditation without having to "do Buddhism" (a good thing for sure), I don't know how much more secular or "Western" things are supposed to get. IN terms of public presentation, I would say most sangha are very accommodating to people who are uncomfortable with anything they see as "religious".

Institutions and authority are of course a different deal, and obviously that's something that's very much in -progress.

Of course everybody has cultural bias. Chan Buddhism has a Chinese cultural bias, Tibetan Vajrayana has a Tibetan cultural bias, Zen and Jodo Shinshu and Nichiren have a Japanese cultural bias etc. It's not a bad thing. Saying something is "Western Buddhism" has almost become an insult, it is used to refer to what people think of as a "watered down" or neutered form of Buddhism. I'd like to see a kind of Western Buddhism that is proud of being Western, instead of apologizing for it.




Who apologizes for being a westerner? What groups expect you to do so?


I only know Batchelor from what I have read about him on this website and a few youtube videos, and it seems he is constantly having to defend his position from people who are claiming he represents "dharma lite".

The dharma centers you mention are probably something that is more common in the US, here in the Netherlands I don't know any of them. Most Buddhist institutions here are quite traditional I think, most are Tibetan, and there is a Fo Guang Shan temple in Amsterdam; that said, there is one Zen group here that I know of that is quite interesting in mixing Zen with Christian influences, kind of similar to the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives which Westernized the liturgy. Unfortunately they're not really close to my home town.

But this is drifting a bit off topic...
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