When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

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When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Apr 03, 2010 7:15 pm

On the net and in real life I often encounter an idea that "Buddhism is about the present moment" and that everything is secondary to that.

I've never encountered a place in scripture, sastra or even a modern work by a Buddhist master that makes such a statement.

I imagine this is a fairly recent development tailored to suit the tastes of people who can't quite swallow Buddhism's core ideas of karma, rebirth and the cosmology.

However, if someone can point to a place in the canon where this idea actually exists, I'd be interested in discussing it.
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby shel » Sat Apr 03, 2010 10:28 pm

Hello Huseng,

Was just thinking about this today while listening to a Dharma talk from a Soto Zen teacher. He was discussing non-attachment, essentially, in relating a story about when he'd felt detached from a situation and yet very in tune with it at the same time. On reflection, it was some kind of milestone for him, or at least that was the impression I got.

Clearly, not grasping is an important idea in Buddhism. Not letting go is also an important idea, for the Mahayana tradition anyway, if I'm not mistaken. "Don't hold on, don't let go," as they say, how can we do that… or maybe a better question, how can we not do that? Things will change and there's nothing that can be done to stop them from changing, as much as we might want things to be otherwise. We are part of this world and there's nothing that can separate us from it, as much as we might want the situation to be otherwise. Not Buddhism, indeed, it's just the way things are.
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby justsit » Sat Apr 03, 2010 11:27 pm

Perhaps the ideas you are encountering refer to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hahn, specifically, "Present Moment, Wonderful Moment," and other related authors and works. The blurb from Amazon about that book says,

"Developed during a summer retreat at Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh's meditation center, these charming short verses were collected to help children and adults practice mindfulness throughout the day. The verses, or gathas, are designed to make everyday activities — such as washing the dishes, driving the car, or turning on the television — opportunities to return to a state of mindfulness. As exercises in both meditation and poetry, gathas are very much in keeping with the Zen tradition: the gatha helps readers become attuned to each action, and at its conclusion, even the most mundane activity is imbued with heightened awareness. Reciting these poetic yet practical verses helps readers slow down and savor every moment. ..."

Basic Buddhist mindfulness-awareness practice distilled into, "Be Here Now?"
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby Huifeng » Sun Apr 04, 2010 3:37 am

Ven Dhammananda and also Walpola Rahula cite this:

When asked why His disciples, who lived a simple and quiet life with only one meal a day, were so radiant, the Buddha replied: 'They do not repent the past, nor do they brood over the future. They live in the present. Therefore they are radiant. By brooding over the future and repenting the past, fools dry up like green reeds cut down [in the sun](Samyutta Nikaya).

And by another prominent Theravada venerable, Ven Dr Vajiragnana the same thing in another form:

Do not repent upon your past misdeeds and do not brood over the future, for the past is already gone and the future has not yet come. Therefore, try to live the present moment with clear awareness of your actions, words and thoughts.

As per SN 1.10 PTS: S i 4 CDB i 93 Arañña Sutta: The Wilderness.

And simply look up the words in Chinese: 禪 活在當下 = Zen, Live in the Present Moment

And try 當下 in a CBETA search for some fun!
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby meindzai » Sun Apr 04, 2010 3:53 am

It's not wrong to say Buddhism is about the present moment, but it's definately tiring to hear over and over again that the entire practice can be boiled down to that. In otherwords, one can't just "live in the present moment" as a practice and exclude the entire eightfold path. At least the thousands of pages of teachings would seem to suggest that there's a little more to it.

I think the way the notion is popularized now probably got it's big push in some of the Beatnick Buddhism of the 60s/70s, where Zen ala Alan Watts and such was coming to america and getting mixed up with other forms of indian mysticism and with Toaism. Such memes as "go with the flow man...just live for the now..the enternal now" and all that business.

But I don't think it's wrong of course. Right concentration and right mindfulness could certainly be ascribed the quality of being very present.
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Apr 04, 2010 3:54 am

justsit wrote:Perhaps the ideas you are encountering refer to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hahn, specifically, "Present Moment, Wonderful Moment," and other related authors and works. The blurb from Amazon about that book says,

"Developed during a summer retreat at Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh's meditation center, these charming short verses were collected to help children and adults practice mindfulness throughout the day. The verses, or gathas, are designed to make everyday activities — such as washing the dishes, driving the car, or turning on the television — opportunities to return to a state of mindfulness. As exercises in both meditation and poetry, gathas are very much in keeping with the Zen tradition: the gatha helps readers become attuned to each action, and at its conclusion, even the most mundane activity is imbued with heightened awareness. Reciting these poetic yet practical verses helps readers slow down and savor every moment. ..."

Basic Buddhist mindfulness-awareness practice distilled into, "Be Here Now?"



However, is the whole point of Thich Nhat Hanh's model of Buddhist practise to be mindful of the present moment?
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Apr 04, 2010 4:06 am

Huifeng wrote:Ven Dhammananda and also Walpola Rahula cite this:

When asked why His disciples, who lived a simple and quiet life with only one meal a day, were so radiant, the Buddha replied: 'They do not repent the past, nor do they brood over the future. They live in the present. Therefore they are radiant. By brooding over the future and repenting the past, fools dry up like green reeds cut down [in the sun](Samyutta Nikaya).

And by another prominent Theravada venerable, Ven Dr Vajiragnana the same thing in another form:

Do not repent upon your past misdeeds and do not brood over the future, for the past is already gone and the future has not yet come. Therefore, try to live the present moment with clear awareness of your actions, words and thoughts.

As per SN 1.10 PTS: S i 4 CDB i 93 Arañña Sutta: The Wilderness.

And simply look up the words in Chinese: 禪 活在當下 = Zen, Live in the Present Moment

And try 當下 in a CBETA search for some fun!



Venerable Huifeng, thank you for the quotes and links.

Now I wonder though, is the point of Theravada to live in the present moment with clear awareness of one's actions, words and thoughts?

That's what I encounter: people saying Buddhism, regardless of the sect or school, is just about "living in the present moment". That is even their excuse for not taking a lot of teachings seriously (like karma, samsara and so on).

Let me point to an example of what I'm talking about. On a review for Ven. Ajahn Brahm's book on Amazon there is following remark:

3. I also agree with the previous reviewer that the emphasis on remembering past lives is neither necessary nor helpful. He suggests that with meditation a person can scan their memory back into the womb and farther back. Hypnosis is a deep state of concentration in which people invent false memories and believe with all sincerity that they are real. Aside from problems of validity of this, the more important issue is it's relevance. Buddhism is about the present moment. Such an emphasis on looking for past lives is very questionable.


A lot of "Buddhism" could end up being sanitized of most of Buddha's teachings and becoming something like "yoga", "feng shui" or "Taoism" are in the western spiritual marketplace.

I think this has already happened in many places.
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Apr 04, 2010 4:10 am

meindzai wrote:It's not wrong to say Buddhism is about the present moment, but it's definately tiring to hear over and over again that the entire practice can be boiled down to that. In otherwords, one can't just "live in the present moment" as a practice and exclude the entire eightfold path. At least the thousands of pages of teachings would seem to suggest that there's a little more to it.

I think the way the notion is popularized now probably got it's big push in some of the Beatnick Buddhism of the 60s/70s, where Zen ala Alan Watts and such was coming to america and getting mixed up with other forms of indian mysticism and with Toaism. Such memes as "go with the flow man...just live for the now..the enternal now" and all that business.

But I don't think it's wrong of course. Right concentration and right mindfulness could certainly be ascribed the quality of being very present.


I think you hit the nail on the head.

One thing that comes to mind is that if Buddhism can really be boiled down to present moment awareness, then any other yogic practise is equally as valid, which would contradict the idea that only the Tathagata's teaching leads to liberation (but then some Zen people insist that liberation is not their goal).
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby shel » Sun Apr 04, 2010 5:21 am

Huseng wrote:A lot of "Buddhism" could end up being sanitized of most of Buddha's teachings and becoming something like "yoga", "feng shui" or "Taoism" are in the western spiritual marketplace.

I think this has already happened in many places.


You mean like Image. :tongue:

Haven't read the book but like yoga, feng shui or Taoism, I don't believe it's claiming any significant connection to Buddhism, so no worries about it distorting the image of Buddhism.
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Apr 04, 2010 5:49 am

To add to Ven Huifeng's quote from Ven Dr Vajiragnana, the series of Theravada Suttas starting at:
MN 131 PTS: M iii 187 Bhaddekaratta Sutta http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
are often quoted. The others in the series do the analysis in different ways, but all include the verse:
You shouldn't chase after the past or place expectations on the future.
What is past is left behind.
The future is as yet unreached.
Whatever quality is present you clearly see right there, right there.
Not taken in, unshaken, that's how you develop the heart.
Ardently doing what should be done today,
for — who knows? — tomorrow death.
There is no bargaining with Mortality & his mighty horde.
Whoever lives thus ardently, relentlessly both day & night,
has truly had an auspicious day:
so says the Peaceful Sage.

However, if you read the Buddha's analysis, it turns out to be talking about not building up a sense of self, as much as "being in the present":
"And how, monks, does one chase after the past? One gets carried away with the delight of 'In the past I had such a form (body)'... 'In the past I had such a feeling'... 'In the past I had such a perception'... 'In the past I had such a thought-fabrication'... 'In the past I had such a consciousness.' This is called chasing after the past.

And there is also a warning about the present moment:
"And how is one taken in with regard to present qualities? There is the case where an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person who has not seen the noble ones, is not versed in the teachings of the noble ones, is not trained in the teachings of the noble ones, sees form as self, or self as possessing form, or form as in self, or self as in form.


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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Apr 04, 2010 7:10 am

shel wrote:
Huseng wrote:A lot of "Buddhism" could end up being sanitized of most of Buddha's teachings and becoming something like "yoga", "feng shui" or "Taoism" are in the western spiritual marketplace.

I think this has already happened in many places.


You mean like Image. :tongue:

Haven't read the book but like yoga, feng shui or Taoism, I don't believe it's claiming any significant connection to Buddhism, so no worries about it distorting the image of Buddhism.


My point was that Buddhism might, in some areas at least, become a watered down commodified spiritual system marketed as a product sanitized of disagreeable religious elements and presented in an easy to swallow and highly lucrative image.

Feng Shui has become an exotic way of decorating your house.
Yoga is merely exercise washed of all religious purpose and meaning.
Taoism is poor psedo-translations of the Daodejing sold to those wanting an escape from the insanities of modern civilization.

There are already some people taking Buddhism and picking out "all the Asian cultural elements" and reworking it to fit with western materialist thought and secular ideology that thinks it is above religion.
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby Clueless Git » Sun Apr 04, 2010 11:29 am

Huseng wrote:On the net and in real life I often encounter an idea that "Buddhism is about the present moment" and that everything is secondary to that.

Picking up on TNH's emphasis on living in the present moment ..

My personal understanding is that the practice of mindfullness and 'looking deeply'), even on the most mundane of things is simply to train the mind to be mindfull and look deeply all the time, as it were.

Gandhi (with apologies for using a non buddhist source) named "knowledge without character" as one of his 'Seven Deadly Social Sins'.

I'm kinda thinking there that 'knowledge' of the dhamma, et-anything else, is worse than useless without the 'character' to understand it and apply it as it is meant to be applied.

Maybe the importance of practicing mindfullness 24/7/365 is that it is a way of developing the 'character' needed for the really important stuff?
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby Luke » Sun Apr 04, 2010 4:08 pm

I think one could say that meditation is about the present moment, but Buddhism is about more than just meditation.

This thread made me think of another cliche which New Age people would like to extend to Buddhism. I created a new thread to discuss this:
"Is 'all one' in Buddhism?"
viewtopic.php?f=66&t=1217
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby shel » Sun Apr 04, 2010 8:59 pm

Huseng wrote:My point was that Buddhism might, in some areas at least, become a watered down commodified spiritual system marketed as a product sanitized of disagreeable religious elements and presented in an easy to swallow and highly lucrative image.

This has already occurred in several cases that I'm aware of. Most familiar to me would be the likes of Adyshanti. Adyshanti was a student of a non-dharma-heir (who was a student of Taizan Maezumi Roshi (Soto/Rinzai Zen Buddhism)). I'm sure there are other similar cases, and possibly from other Buddhist traditions.

Do you believe that this sort of thing could be an inevitable evolution of Buddhism in general?
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 05, 2010 3:47 am

shel wrote:
Huseng wrote:My point was that Buddhism might, in some areas at least, become a watered down commodified spiritual system marketed as a product sanitized of disagreeable religious elements and presented in an easy to swallow and highly lucrative image.

This has already occurred in several cases that I'm aware of. Most familiar to me would be the likes of Adyshanti. Adyshanti was a student of a non-dharma-heir (who was a student of Taizan Maezumi Roshi (Soto/Rinzai Zen Buddhism)). I'm sure there are other similar cases, and possibly from other Buddhist traditions.

Do you believe that this sort of thing could be an inevitable evolution of Buddhism in general?


I suppose on one hand it is inevitable given the trends in religious reconfiguration in recent decades in the western world, but then I think as the east-west divide melts away orthodox Buddhist organizations will have more ability to reassert themselves and with the growth of such organizations in non-Buddhist societies there will be strong sanghas formed with enough public credibility to define what Buddhism is.

One problem is that there are few strong orthodox organizations, in the English speaking world at least, that are consulted when people want to know about Buddhism.
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby KeithBC » Mon Apr 05, 2010 5:32 pm

Awareness of the present moment (i.e. meditation) is essential in Buddhism. However, it is wrong to say that it is the essence of Buddhism or that everything else is secondary.

The essence of Buddhism is suffering and the path to the end of it. All else is secondary to that. Awareness of the present moment is simply one part of that path.

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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby shel » Mon Apr 05, 2010 5:59 pm

Interesting, Huseng, however I'm having some trouble conceiving these 'orthodox Buddhist organzations'. Who are they?

In an other recent thread about Soto Zen Buddhism, the tradition that I know the most about, the current state of orthodoxy in that tradition was partly discussed. If you recall, I had posted a quote from Rev. Nonin Chowaney, who represents Soto Zen orthodoxy, being a chairman of the Committee of the American Zen Teachers Association and serves on the Priest Training Committee of the Soto Zen Teachers Association.

Rev. Nonin Chowaney wrote:In contemporary Soto Zen Buddhism in both the West and Japan, the terms priest and monk are both used, but not consistently. After priest ordination (shukke tokudo), a person is a priest, a novice priest, for it takes a long time to become a full priest. But that person does not necessarily leave home. Some priests are single and can choose to remain celibate or not; it's their choice unless their teachers have specific rules. Some priests are either married (or eventually will be) or are involved in relationships. In some lineages and with some teachers, this is okay. In some lineages and with some teachers, It is not. This is true in both the US and in Japan.


The current state of Soto Zen Buddhism orthodoxy appears to be such that priests can be married, consume alcohol & meat (in moderation I assume), can have full-time careers and live a rich or what might be described as a 'materialistic' lifestyle. At one temple in LA that I attended for a while, the Roshi operated a construction business and one of the priests in training worked for a major ad agency. There were typically more that a couple of BMW's in the parking lot at the temple.

None of that strikes me as terribly orthodox Buddhism, not that I'm any kind of expert in such things, yet there is nothing or no one to challenge this current state of Soto Zen Buddhism. There is no higher authority.
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby m0rl0ck » Mon Apr 05, 2010 6:30 pm

shel wrote:This has already occurred in several cases that I'm aware of. Most familiar to me would be the likes of Adyshanti. Adyshanti was a student of a non-dharma-heir (who was a student of Taizan Maezumi Roshi (Soto/Rinzai Zen Buddhism)). I'm sure there are other similar cases, and possibly from other Buddhist traditions.

Do you believe that this sort of thing could be an inevitable evolution of Buddhism in general?


Apropos to this thread and also to viewtopic.php?f=66&t=1217 Adyashanti and Huang Po seem to me to have a lot in common, for instance this "All Buddhas and all ordinary beings are nothing but the one mind. This mind is beginningless and endless, unborn and indestructible. It has no color or shape, neither exists nor doesn't exist, isn't old or new, long or short, large or small, since it transcends all measures, limits, names, and comparisons. It is what you see in front of you. ~ Huang Po" could have been said by either of them. The bolded text is my emphasis.

EDIT: The chinese "hsin" can also be translated as "heart" as well as "mind". So from what I have read, "all ordinary beings are nothing but the one heart." would be a valid translation as well.
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Apr 06, 2010 4:16 am

shel wrote:Interesting, Huseng, however I'm having some trouble conceiving these 'orthodox Buddhist organzations'. Who are they?

In an other recent thread about Soto Zen Buddhism, the tradition that I know the most about, the current state of orthodoxy in that tradition was partly discussed. If you recall, I had posted a quote from Rev. Nonin Chowaney, who represents Soto Zen orthodoxy, being a chairman of the Committee of the American Zen Teachers Association and serves on the Priest Training Committee of the Soto Zen Teachers Association.

Rev. Nonin Chowaney wrote:In contemporary Soto Zen Buddhism in both the West and Japan, the terms priest and monk are both used, but not consistently. After priest ordination (shukke tokudo), a person is a priest, a novice priest, for it takes a long time to become a full priest. But that person does not necessarily leave home. Some priests are single and can choose to remain celibate or not; it's their choice unless their teachers have specific rules. Some priests are either married (or eventually will be) or are involved in relationships. In some lineages and with some teachers, this is okay. In some lineages and with some teachers, It is not. This is true in both the US and in Japan.


The current state of Soto Zen Buddhism orthodoxy appears to be such that priests can be married, consume alcohol & meat (in moderation I assume), can have full-time careers and live a rich or what might be described as a 'materialistic' lifestyle. At one temple in LA that I attended for a while, the Roshi operated a construction business and one of the priests in training worked for a major ad agency. There were typically more that a couple of BMW's in the parking lot at the temple.

None of that strikes me as terribly orthodox Buddhism, not that I'm any kind of expert in such things, yet there is nothing or no one to challenge this current state of Soto Zen Buddhism. There is no higher authority.



Well, Soto-shu in Japan is much the same way. You only live a lifestyle as prescribed by Dogen when you're "on duty" during your seminary, so to speak. Soto-shu in Japan (or elsewhere), with a very small few exceptions here and there, can hardly be said to be reflective of what on paper that organization is supposed to be. However, most of Japanese Buddhism is the same: the precepts for the most part are completely ignored, there is no enforcement of them from above and there is no difference between a priest and a layman except that the former wears robes once in awhile. Most priests have families and they pass down the temple property to a son who, whether he wants to or not, is told to become a priest.

That same mentality has crossed over oceans and now it is perceived as legitimate and acceptable because it came from Japan. Interestingly, there are a lot of distorted perceptions where people think Buddhist priests in Japan are "very strict", but this is not at all so.

As to orthodox organizations, I know of a few in Canada. Foguangshan is the big one (although unless you take any interest in Chinese Buddhism, you'll probably never have heard of them even though they have a lot of temples all over N.America and elsewhere). There are also less known associations that might lack an overarching power structure and funding apparatus, but they're there (and they're "ethnic" so to speak). Ajahn Brahm's Buddist Society of Western Australia as well represents, as far as I can tell, actual Theravada Buddhism and monasticism. He also teaches rebirth, kamma and so on as it is described in scriptures rather than some kind of modern revisionism.
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Re: When did Buddhism become "about the present moment"?

Postby 5heaps » Tue Apr 06, 2010 6:56 am

Huseng wrote:I imagine this is a fairly recent development tailored to suit the tastes of people who can't quite swallow Buddhism's core ideas of karma, rebirth and the cosmology.

However, if someone can point to a place in the canon where this idea actually exists, I'd be interested in discussing it.

presented as the main goal it's surely a tailoring down, but it inspires people to keep morality, which is a good thing.

the main place it would begin to be discussed is in the topic of pramana (valid cognition) in sautrantika which defines pramana as a _fresh_ unerring etc cognition. a cognition which is not fresh may still be unmistaken with regard to its object but it is not counted as valid cognition because it suffers from types of staleness (like subtle dullness).

part of meditation is removing things like subtle dullness so that we can always maintain freshness and therefore always maintain valid cognition. this is very important for example with selflessness/emptiness which requires a completely fit mind capable of ultimate analysis. only this kind of super lucid mind can maintain enough clarity to realize its object fully (ie. the momentary nature of the person, the selflessness of the person, etc)
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