Is modernity bad for practice?

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby tobes » Thu Nov 29, 2012 12:03 am

I'd be careful about relying on translation semantics to build a case for the universality of Buddhist moral law(s).

Even within Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra is not universally accepted as a dharma. It is central to some Sino-Japanese traditions, and wholly irrelevant to others. How much more so to those outside of Buddhism?

So the question you must try and answer, is where precisely, in the content of dharma, is universality asserted?

My response to that it that is really found only in the unconditioned - and that always lies beyond assertion (and also: beyond action, beyond merit, beyond consequence - beyond ethics).

If we are dealing with conditioned phenomena - and this includes discourses (i.e. sutra's), intentions, actions, consequences - we are in the sphere of context, interdependence and relativity.

One could perhaps try and turn that into a universal dharma - but that would be to reify dependent co-arising by granting it some kind of existence.

Dharma has many translations, as you point out, but I think in this context, 'way' is better than law. And 'the way' is important, principally for what it leads to - not for what it is in itself.

Ethics here is representative of ways (one could say 'methods') for attaining the unconditioned. They are pragmatic, contextual, skillful - and universality is found in the fruit of these ways, not the ways themselves.

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby jeeprs » Thu Nov 29, 2012 12:20 am

Tobes wrote:Dharma has many translations, as you point out, but I think in this context, 'way' is better than law. And 'the way' is important, principally for what it leads to - not for what it is in itself.


The translation of 'dharma' as 'moral law' or 'moral principle' is not controversial.

According to our secular-scientific mindset, there is nothing to lead to and, accordingly, no 'way'.

So the question you must try and answer, is where precisely, in the content of dharma, is universality asserted?


Where is it denied? Why is the Buddha the 'World-Honoured one', the 'teacher of Gods and men'? What of the legends of the appearance of the Buddhas on 'all the life bearing orbs of the cosmos'? Whence the notion that the Buddhas incarnate endlessly for 'the benefit of all sentient beings'? In what sense is Buddhism not a 'universal religion'?

My response to that it that is really found only in the unconditioned - and that always lies beyond assertion (and also: beyond action, beyond merit, beyond consequence - beyond ethics).


...and certainly beyond the premisses of scientific materialism.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Thu Nov 29, 2012 3:06 am

jeeprs wrote:
Shel wrote:Furthermore, materialism is a philosophical position. Do you really think that most people anywhere have studied and agree with this philosophical position? If you were to visit your local main street and ask passersby what happens when we die, do you think that most of them would give a reasoned argument for philosophical materialism. Probably not, right?


What I am saying is that the influence of materialism, as an outlook on life, is pervasive, and it is insidious. As to 'belief in an afterlife', I think it would be dangerous to generalize, but I am confident in saying that materialism generally rejects any such idea out of hand and that the majority of people who self-identify as 'scientific' would be inclined to the view called in the texts ucchevavada.

Furthermore nihilism is pervasive in modern society. Many people are scared of any kind of spiritual commitment, and also 'spiritually illiterate', with no kind of background against which they can even interpret spiritual teachings. Of course if you asked people 'what do you think nihilism means' they won't have a clue. But it doesn't mean they don't implicitly see the world that way. (See 'If it feels right....'.)

Nihilism does not mean fear of spiritual commitment or ignorance of religious doctrines. Nihilism doesn't mean not having a shared moral framework, such as a religion might provide.

From the NYT column:
Smith and company found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism. Again, this doesn’t mean that America’s young people are immoral. Far from it. But, Smith and company emphasize, they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading. In this way, the study says more about adult America than youthful America.

Many of these shortcomings will sort themselves out as these youngsters get married, have kids, enter a profession or fit into more clearly defined social roles. Institutions will inculcate certain habits. Broader moral horizons will be forced upon them.

I was pretty much raised this way. It's just how our culture is now. At one point in my life I went though a typical existential crisis, followed by a brief spell of nihilism. I've come to recognize that whenever I feel like shrugging off my responsibilities, or when I become disillusioned by some "shared moral framework" :tongue: , that is nihilism. As you say, it can also be implicitly felt.

jeeprs wrote:
Shel wrote: And I will ask for the third and hopefully last time, what do you believe the intrinsic meaning or purpose in the Universe is according to Buddhism?


Awakening.

The meaning and purpose of the Universe is the goal of your religion. I happened to read today that there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world. Should we hope that all the people from all those other religions know what the meaning and purpose of the Universe is?
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Thu Nov 29, 2012 3:16 am

People have had 2,500 years to practice dharma, tech free.
and that's about 2,400 years before most folks even had electricity in their homes.
If you didn't take advantage of it during all that time,
please don't start whining about it now!
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:14 am

shel wrote:From the NYT column:
Smith and company found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism. Again, this doesn’t mean that America’s young people are immoral. Far from it. But, Smith and company emphasize, they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading. In this way, the study says more about adult America than youthful America.

Many of these shortcomings will sort themselves out as these youngsters get married, have kids, enter a profession or fit into more clearly defined social roles. Institutions will inculcate certain habits. Broader moral horizons will be forced upon them.


I was pretty much raised this way. It's just how our culture is now. At one point in my life I went though a typical existential crisis, followed by a brief spell of nihilism. I've come to recognize that whenever I feel like shrugging off my responsibilities, or when I become disillusioned by some "shared moral framework" :tongue: , that is nihilism. As you say, it can also be implicitly felt.



On one hand complete tolerance sounds like a virtue, but on the other I've seen this lead to very self-destructive behaviors among youth that could have otherwise been checked by having a peer group or authority that denounced such behavior.

For example, teenagers engaging in unrestrained sexual behavior and having to get the "morning after pill" from a clinic like it was no big deal. Numerous abortions like it was simply visiting the doctor.

When I was a teenager I knew one girl who would lacerate her arms (a "cutter") and while her friends never approved, they never seemed to denounce it either. When her mother flipped out and tried to restrain her even the doctor said it was just a phase that teenagers sometimes go through, so no worries.

A lot of what younger generations think of as "judgmental" (as a pejorative) used to be common values held by the greater society in past times when families were more stable with less broken families, youth gangs, STDs and drug addicts. That doesn't mean people didn't make the same mistakes we do now, but in previous generations such behavior was not encouraged. Now much of it is. Having an affair is routinely depicted as sexy and even normal for example.

The seemingly archaic idea of chastity unto marriage is also often now regarded in a negative light, though such arrangements mean less abortions, STDs, unwanted children and other such social problems. Having tens of thousands of abortions a year is now acceptable, but demanding your daughters to remain chaste is considered anti-social and extremely conservative.

Being extremely open and tolerant of potentially destructive behavior is clearly not having a net positive benefit. The moral relativism of our present day is simply destructive.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby jeeprs » Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:18 am

Shel wrote:The meaning and purpose of the Universe is the goal of your religion. I happened to read today that there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world. Should we hope that all the people from all those other religions know what the meaning and purpose of the Universe is?


Sure. But first, awaken oneself. That is the best way to help.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby catmoon » Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:59 am

A metaphor.

I wanted to get Vancouver and asked a monk for directions. He set me off on a highway that led west. After some time traveling, a question occured to me: what was so special about this highway? Why was it said to be the only way to Vancouver? Perhaps, I thought, there was something about this highway that distinguished it from all other highways. I bent down to examine the surface. Not much difference there, perhaps a little finer grained and a bit newer than other roads but that was it. So I concluded the difference must lie deeper, beneath the surface. So, I returned home and came back with some power tools and drilled down into the asphalt. But it was just asphalt, somewhat thicker than usual. Perhaps, I thought the unique qualities of this path lay elsewhere, in the realm of the abstract. Off to the library. I studied lighting, safety, grades and loads, cost efficiency, drainage, stability, composition, settling, and the psychology of signage. I learned about drinking and driving, law enforcement, flow problems and the construction of access and exit ramps, and learned the safe clearances for electrical lines near the highway, and I learned how deep a sewer must be buried beneath it.

In these years of study I learned that this highway had many unique features represented nowhere else, that each road was a solution to a set of problems that were complexly interconnected, and that generalizations usually did not hold. Along the way I acquired a Ph.D in civil engineering, tenure and a full professorship at MIT which meant of course I had to move to Massachusetts.

Funny thing though, I never did get to Vancouver, or anywhere near it. Never saw the monk again either.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby jeeprs » Thu Nov 29, 2012 5:12 am

But I hope it opened up a world of opportunities in Civil Engineering.........
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby catmoon » Thu Nov 29, 2012 5:17 am

jeeprs wrote:But I hope it opened up a world of opportunities in Civil Engineering.........


Well yes but you see in this metaphor, the monk tried to guide me to enlightenment, but I got so preoccupied with the path that I forgot to FOLLOW it. I wound up an expert in paths instead.


And no, I don't have a Ph. D in engineering or anything else.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Thu Nov 29, 2012 5:26 am

jeeprs wrote:
Shel wrote:The meaning and purpose of the Universe is the goal of your religion. I happened to read today that there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world. Should we hope that all the people from all those other religions know what the meaning and purpose of the Universe is?


Sure. But first, awaken oneself. That is the best way to help.

I suppose my message wasn't clear, :tongue: , from the perspective of at least four thousand other belief systems you may be the one who needs help in understanding the meaning and purpose of the universe.
Last edited by shel on Thu Nov 29, 2012 5:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Thu Nov 29, 2012 5:50 am

Huseng wrote:
shel wrote:From the NYT column:
Smith and company found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism. Again, this doesn’t mean that America’s young people are immoral. Far from it. But, Smith and company emphasize, they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading. In this way, the study says more about adult America than youthful America.

Many of these shortcomings will sort themselves out as these youngsters get married, have kids, enter a profession or fit into more clearly defined social roles. Institutions will inculcate certain habits. Broader moral horizons will be forced upon them.


I was pretty much raised this way. It's just how our culture is now. At one point in my life I went though a typical existential crisis, followed by a brief spell of nihilism. I've come to recognize that whenever I feel like shrugging off my responsibilities, or when I become disillusioned by some "shared moral framework" :tongue: , that is nihilism. As you say, it can also be implicitly felt.



On one hand complete tolerance sounds like a virtue, but on the other I've seen this lead to very self-destructive behaviors among youth that could have otherwise been checked by having a peer group or authority that denounced such behavior.

For example, teenagers engaging in unrestrained sexual behavior and having to get the "morning after pill" from a clinic like it was no big deal. Numerous abortions like it was simply visiting the doctor.

When I was a teenager I knew one girl who would lacerate her arms (a "cutter") and while her friends never approved, they never seemed to denounce it either. When her mother flipped out and tried to restrain her even the doctor said it was just a phase that teenagers sometimes go through, so no worries.

A lot of what younger generations think of as "judgmental" (as a pejorative) used to be common values held by the greater society in past times when families were more stable with less broken families, youth gangs, STDs and drug addicts. That doesn't mean people didn't make the same mistakes we do now, but in previous generations such behavior was not encouraged. Now much of it is. Having an affair is routinely depicted as sexy and even normal for example.

The seemingly archaic idea of chastity unto marriage is also often now regarded in a negative light, though such arrangements mean less abortions, STDs, unwanted children and other such social problems. Having tens of thousands of abortions a year is now acceptable, but demanding your daughters to remain chaste is considered anti-social and extremely conservative.

Being extremely open and tolerant of potentially destructive behavior is clearly not having a net positive benefit. The moral relativism of our present day is simply destructive.

I wasn't speaking in favor of the state American culture is in right now, but your response did serve to remind me to ask the question: is current American culture any less moral than the premodern culture or cultures it arose from?

A hard question I know, but it would be amusing if someone at least tried to answer it. :tongue:
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby jeeprs » Thu Nov 29, 2012 6:05 am

I am not going to try and amuse you any futher, you seem very adept at amusing yourself.

@catmoon - sorry if I was being facetious at your expense....I typed impulsively.... :thinking:
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Sherlock » Thu Nov 29, 2012 7:04 am

Huseng, some pre-industrial cultures were often rather promiscuous and with the lack of contraception besides abortion, STDs and unwanted children were also not uncommon. This happened in spite of the rhetoric of celibacy and chastity. Prostitution was very common in London throughout the 18th century well into the Victorian era; mediaeval Europe legalized prostitution and even the Church tolerated it because they thought it would prevent greater evils. In parts of Tibet, there never was a stigma against having children outside of wedlock. Widespread "chastity" before marriage in the industrial world occupied a fairly brief time period from the late Victorian era to the 1960s (the Sexual Revolution was really more about increased availability of contraception than hippie free love); even then some strange things like women going to doctors to get masturbated were common.

I don't agree that "loose morals" is the main reason why modernity is bad for practice. Generally modern people are as moral as ancient people even if they might disagree on certain points.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Konchog1 » Thu Nov 29, 2012 7:17 am

Sherlock wrote:Generally modern people are as moral as ancient people even if they might disagree on certain points.
They're less honest and more subversive. This may be due to technology instead of nature though.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Nov 29, 2012 8:29 am

Sherlock wrote:Huseng, some pre-industrial cultures were often rather promiscuous and with the lack of contraception besides abortion, STDs and unwanted children were also not uncommon. This happened in spite of the rhetoric of celibacy and chastity.


I'm well aware of that, though my concern is with youth, not adults. Having your daughters remain chaste, even if it means keeping them away from beer keg parties that they really want to attend, might save them a lot of self-imposed misery in the long-run.

With adults it is different and they're expected to take care of themselves. People will have affairs regardless of what religion or the state says. Still, I don't think liberal encouragement of such activities will lead to social harmony.

Widespread "chastity" before marriage in the industrial world occupied a fairly brief time period from the late Victorian era to the 1960s (the Sexual Revolution was really more about increased availability of contraception than hippie free love); even then some strange things like women going to doctors to get masturbated were common.


That's eurocentric. Throughout Asia it has been different. For one thing peoples in various countries like India and elsewhere were often in unions shortly before or after puberty. That meant they had an outlet rather than having to seek out partners ahead of marriage or remain without until marriage maybe a decade later.

Chastity, specifically for women, has been upheld as a virtue throughout East Asia, at least among certain segments of societies. The prostitutes obviously weren't included in that realm, but nevertheless the idea has been there. In traditional Confucian society there is the idea that "when men and women exchange things they do not get close" [男女授受不親], which goes back into very ancient times.

There is value to such thinking in the sense that intimacy between heterosexual men and women often leads to problems which can affect the greater community. In premodern times this was potentially fatal where the well-being of everyone depended on everyone living and working together in reasonable harmony. In the present day where we're all anonymous faces in urban environments, it doesn't really matter so much because community has lost its original function and meaning.

If promiscuous behavior was ultimately beneficial to a complex human society, I think natural selection would have eliminated it sometime in the last number of centuries. However, what we see in many complex societies throughout history is efforts to preserve the chastity of girls from "proper families" as well as prevent married men and women from entering into problematic relationships. That doesn't mean monogamy necessarily, but there has always been limits to who you can become intimate with and perhaps for good reason.



I don't agree that "loose morals" is the main reason why modernity is bad for practice. Generally modern people are as moral as ancient people even if they might disagree on certain points.


Relativistic morality is problematic because it is increasingly leading to social ills that didn't seem to exist before. Now you can compare now to Victorian England and its "angel makers" (abortionists) and say otherwise, but that's just one culture, and not a very noble one anyway.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Lhug-Pa » Thu Nov 29, 2012 9:11 am

Chastity and/or celibacy (two different things actually, even though one can include the other) is impossible to achieve without methods such as Pranayama, Tsa-Lung, Kumbhaka, Yantra Yoga, Trul Khor or 'Khrul 'Khor, etc.; and these methods have been hidden from the vast majority of humanity up until recently.

Therefore women and men might as well have been having more sex with each other in the past, that is as opposed to having dealt with the worse problems that have come with sexual-repression.

It might have been a different story had Pranayama, Tsa-Lung, Kumbhaka, Yantra Yoga, Trul Khor or 'Khrul 'Khor, etc. been common knowledge all along.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Thu Nov 29, 2012 11:23 am

Problem with this discussion is that all those involved in it have only lived during the modernist period. Any ideas, theories, opinion, etc... that we may have about pre-modern society, ethics/morality, tendencies, etc... are just intellectual and usually gleaned by referring to other intellectuals.

"Here' is where we are, can we use what we have "here" to benefit our practice? If not, no matter which "here" we may find ourselves in (modern or pre-modern), it will always be bad for practice.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Jnana » Thu Nov 29, 2012 1:58 pm

Lhug-Pa wrote:Chastity and/or celibacy (two different things actually, even though one can include the other) is impossible to achieve without methods such as Pranayama, Tsa-Lung, Kumbhaka, Yantra Yoga, Trul Khor or 'Khrul 'Khor, etc.

And how, precisely, do you know that celibacy is impossible to achieve without those methods???
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Masaru » Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:04 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:Problem with this discussion is that all those involved in it have only lived during the modernist period.


Says who?
A certain man said to the priest Shungaku, "The Lotus Sutra Sect's character is not good because it's so fearsome." Shungaku replied, "It is by reason of its fearsome character that it is the Lotus Sutra Sect. If its character were not so, it would be a different sect altogether."
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Karma Dondrup Tashi » Thu Nov 29, 2012 5:00 pm

Re: materialism, Alan Wallace calls materialism the "fourth Abrahamic religion". If you listen to him explain this position, it's very interesting. It also explains why modern "science" arose in the West.

However modern scientific-materialism is only a variant of an ancient view. Dudjom Rinpoche follows Vimalamitra and Padmasambhava in describing Lokayata as a doctrine with no understanding.

The apathetic and materialists
Have no understanding,
The nihilistic and eternalistic extremists
Have wrong understanding.

Vimalamitra

These doctrines may not have precisely the same descriptions as they did in ancient India (Samkhya, Aisvara views, etc) but their gist can easily be translated into so-called "modern" beliefs.

There's nothing new under the sun ...
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