Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

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Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Dec 19, 2011 1:01 pm

This afternoon I attended the first day of the Dalai Lama's teachings here in Dharamsala, India. Around town it is mostly maroon robed monks and nuns, but I've seen a few Chinese monastics and a handful of Theravada monks as well.

It got me thinking about ecumenical Buddhism. Presumably, everyone is there to get the tantric empowerment that will be conveyed on the third day. Whether they'll practice what they receive or not, I do not know. Still, it is nice to see people from various backgrounds engaging in what would be non-traditional practices, potentially quite alien to their own native traditions.

However, I wonder if ecumenical Buddhism on an institutional level is really realistic or not in our present day. By this I mean not just individuals doing their own things, but institutions with very long histories, and in most cases different canonical languages, actually mutually exchanging practices and texts.

There are obviously some problems that come to mind. For example, Theravada and every other living Buddhist tradition have two different visions of what buddhahood entails, and Theravada's goal of arhatship is seen as inferior and undesirable by Mahāyāna. There is also the fact that consort practices, whether visualized or put into actual practice, are probably going to be rejected by non-Tibetan Buddhist institutions.

But there are still potential advantages. Perhaps some of Nāgārjuna's works that are only extant in the Chinese canon might be made use of in Tibetan Buddhist circles. Maybe the Pali canon might heavily influence the direction of East Asian Buddhism, which it presumably already is doing (Chan and Zen masters quoting the Pali canon when discussing traditional ideas for example).

I wonder though if such ecumenical Buddhism will only be realistic in historically non-Buddhist cultures where things are still fresh and malleable. Over this century, much of the world's Buddhist canons will collectively be rendered in English -- everything including Pali, Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese, as well as the texts from other languages like Japanese and Mongolian. The projects to do this are all under way already. That will be an unprecedented development in Buddhist history, and will probably influence a lot of western Buddhism towards an ecumenical flavour.
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Dechen Norbu » Tue Dec 20, 2011 1:40 am

When two philosophers agree, one of them is not a philosopher. When two saints disagree, one of them is not a saint. ;)
If we have many saints, perhaps.
If we have many philosophers, hardly.

On a more serious note, I don't see many advantages in ecumenism. I'm afraid most traditions may lose what makes them tick, what makes them adequate to certain practitioners and not others, and Buddhism ends up becoming a sort of watered down version of the original traditions of little use especially to intermediate/advanced practitioners. It will be a more politically correct Buddhism. Easier for the masses to digest, but with less overall value, I think.
Respect for the difference- and this means acknowledging that there may be differences that will never be surpassed- is tolerance. Trying to abolish them, rendering everything the same, is a subtle form of intolerance. I'm sure you''re not suggesting this. All the explanations of Buddhadharma are but expedient means. The final outcome is what matters. But to reach that outcome, that is always positive even if we don't agree to always be the same, people need different schools that are more compatible with their needs, I guess. There can be some cross pollination at a certain extent, though. Just my two cents without thinking much about it...
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Astus » Tue Dec 20, 2011 2:07 am

There has never been a uniform tradition but a diversity of teachers and teachings with differing levels of mutual understanding. It is also a false impression to conceive of existing traditions as things that survived centuries intact, unchanged and continuous. Naturally some think in terms of "preserving the old" and others in "adapting to the new situation". Pure lineages and teachings exist only in the realm of theories, and that's also the place of arguments about superior and inferior, original and corrupt, etc.

Institutionally speaking, universities are institutions where students learn about not only the local forms of Buddhism but others too. The Nikayas have been translated to Chinese and Japanese to serve as sources of knowledge and more, while at the same time different Mahayana works are available in Thai and other languages. I think that today there are people who want to believe in preserving and upholding only what they see as their own tradition, others think about reforming traditions in different ways, and there are those who just want to learn useful and interesting teachings regardless of labels.
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(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Jikan » Tue Dec 20, 2011 2:30 am

It's possible to simultaneously practice within a lineage or tradition in a systematic way on one side, while remaining willing to listen to one's neighbor and learn from him or her in a spirit of open dialogue on the other side. I think ecumenical Buddhism *is* the future if approached in this spirit.
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby catmoon » Tue Dec 20, 2011 5:23 am

It's not only realistic, it is happening as we speak. Bodhicitta is spreading as a desireable concept in Theraveda, if it wasn't there all along, and Mahayana is developing a really strong respect for the practice of the Forest Monks and others like them. Two lay practioners, one from each tradition, can find an enormous amount of common ground, if they wish to. But, on the internet at least, an awful lot of time is spent in the relatively small territories where differences arise.
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Tue Dec 20, 2011 10:50 am

Jikan wrote:It's possible to simultaneously practice within a lineage or tradition in a systematic way on one side, while remaining willing to listen to one's neighbor and learn from him or her in a spirit of open dialogue on the other side. I think ecumenical Buddhism *is* the future if approached in this spirit.
When I conceive of ecumenical Buddhism this is what I see as well, not a single form of Buddhism to be adapted by all, but repect between Buddhist traditions. Saying that Theravadrans are embracing the idea of bodhicitta and thus are ecumenical is not 100% correct. It just means that some Theravadra practitioners may be altering their view of bodhicitta. Ecumenism is not when everybody agrees with what you do and then does it.

Because I am a Muay Thai instructor and a Vajrayana practitioner (as is my Muay Thai teacher) I see the following pattern: Thai people that happen to be present when we practice (and see the various thangka and rupa) find it very difficult to believe that we are practicing Buddhism, they consider that we are practicing a form of "demon" or "spirit" worship and are suspicious of our practice even though they may be (are) devout Threravadra Buddhists.

The "mixing" together of practitioners from various traditions that Huseng is reporting can only be a positive thing, since the Bhikkhus present will take the information from the teachings back to the Buddhists in their respective traditions and cultures and INFORM the general population about what exactly each group is doing and how it is doing it. This is not to say that they will then adopt the practices and forms of practices (and why should they?) but at least they will understand them. This will give rise to an ecumenism within Buddhism.
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Sönam » Tue Dec 20, 2011 1:12 pm

There is different vehicles because there is different level of practioners, due to the two accumulations some are nearer buddhahood than others ... but the vehicles division is not fine enough to take that progression into account, therefore it's somehow logical than some practitioners belonging to one yana are attracted by teachings of another yana ...

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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Tue Dec 20, 2011 3:13 pm

Sönam wrote:There is different vehicles because there is different level of practioners, due to the two accumulations some are nearer buddhahood than others ...
And these are exactly the kind of statements that will make it impossible for any real ecumenism to exist. This is what happens when the practices are used as mere vehicles to bolster practitioners ego based pride.
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Jikan » Tue Dec 20, 2011 4:35 pm

It's possible to behave ecumenically (to be ecumenical Buddhists) without insisting on a consensus on all points, or even many points. Consider ecumenical movements within Christianity: there are immense theological and practical differences among them, but they find points of agreement and when appropriate agree to respect each other's boundaries. Without those differences, it is impossible to learn from an other, because there would be no other, no alternative.

Ecumenicism is not the same as homogeneity, not the same as consensus. It means mutual respect and really listening.

I think catmoon is onto something: it is near impossible to study Buddhism now without an awareness that there are many viable ways to practice this tradition, and to be exposed to many approaches before settling into one (or in some cases without settling into one).
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Astus » Tue Dec 20, 2011 5:23 pm

Indeed, there must be a respect and appreciation toward different forms of Buddhism. I often see how teachers of different traditions simplify and misinterpret other Buddhist teachings. A very common example is when people from Mahayana view Theravada simply as if it were the Hinayana doctrine they learnt a little about from their own traditions, or even worse, when they call Theravada what should be called Hinayana. This simplification and misinterpretation is a usual source of not understanding different Buddhist teachings. It would be enough to start with an open mind and hear what others actually teach. Calling others' faiths "hinayana", "sutrayana", "deviation", "superstition", etc. is the sign of closed minds. As it should be obvious for all Buddhists, it is ignorance that keeps us in the dark.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Dechen Norbu » Wed Dec 21, 2011 3:09 am

Jikan wrote:It's possible to behave ecumenically (to be ecumenical Buddhists) without insisting on a consensus on all points, or even many points. Consider ecumenical movements within Christianity: there are immense theological and practical differences among them, but they find points of agreement and when appropriate agree to respect each other's boundaries. Without those differences, it is impossible to learn from an other, because there would be no other, no alternative.

Ecumenicism is not the same as homogeneity, not the same as consensus. It means mutual respect and really listening.

I think catmoon is onto something: it is near impossible to study Buddhism now without an awareness that there are many viable ways to practice this tradition, and to be exposed to many approaches before settling into one (or in some cases without settling into one).

You know, I think the internet also facilitates that process. I've noticed for a few times that Buddhists without this regular online contact with practitioners from different quadrants of the Buddhist world have more misconceptions and less appreciation for other traditions and schools. They are much more closed in their oyster, limiting their knowledge to what one or two teachers say and, at best, a few generalist books. One widens one's horizons just by reading boards like this or former e-sangha. It changes the perception one has of the richness and diversity of the Buddhist world, the inter connections and all that. It's like finding one's position in the terrain with the help of more reference points. Perhaps in terms of attaining enlightenment this doesn't count much, but it's somehow meaningful to have a wider perspective on things, I think. :smile:
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Sönam » Wed Dec 21, 2011 9:16 am

gregkavarnos wrote:
Sönam wrote:There is different vehicles because there is different level of practioners, due to the two accumulations some are nearer buddhahood than others ...
And these are exactly the kind of statements that will make it impossible for any real ecumenism to exist. This is what happens when the practices are used as mere vehicles to bolster practitioners ego based pride.
:namaste:


Ega based shame does not help either ... I wonder how you perceive the rebirth cycle and merits accumulation's effects in term of reachings ? I suppose you are in the middle of the ford and do not know which direction to face.

Sönam
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By understanding that any and all mental activity is meditation, you are freed from arbitrary divisions between formal sessions and postmeditation activity.
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Dec 21, 2011 11:40 am

Shame? My dear Sonam I feel no shame about my pratices, but I would at any time take 1 "lowly" Sravakayana practitioner on the path of renunciation over 1,000,000,000 of the "high and mighty" bodhisattvas that exist on this forum! Why? Because at least they are trying, whereas most of us are just using the "higher" vehicles to justify our ego-centredness. This of course is no judgement of the vehicles themselves, just the practitioners (of which I am one).

As to which way I am facing: I prefer to look forward across the ford to the other bank and see the immense expanse that I still need to cross, rather than look back and pride myself on the tiny distance I have managed to traverse!

Also, let us not forget that if, due to our lack of mindfulness, we manage to slip the current may end up dragging us back where we started from.
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Sönam » Wed Dec 21, 2011 12:01 pm

All that is only mind looking at his self and having opinions ... I won't go further in that "shame and pride" holy game.

Sönam
By understanding everything you perceive from the perspective of the view, you are freed from the constraints of philosophical beliefs.
By understanding that any and all mental activity is meditation, you are freed from arbitrary divisions between formal sessions and postmeditation activity.
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Inge » Wed Dec 21, 2011 12:06 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:Shame? My dear Sonam I feel no shame about my pratices, but I would at any time take 1 "lowly" Sravakayana practitioner on the path of renunciation over 1,000,000,000 of the "high and mighty" bodhisattvas that exist on this forum! Why? Because at least they are trying, whereas most of us are just using the "higher" vehicles to justify our ego-centredness. This of course is no judgement of the vehicles themselves, just the practitioners (of which I am one).

As to which way I am facing: I prefer to look forward across the ford to the other bank and see the immense expanse that I still need to cross, rather than look back and pride myself on the tiny distance I have managed to traverse!

Also, let us not forget that if, due to our lack of mindfulness, we manage to slip the current may end up dragging us back where we started from.
:namaste:


"'The sea of suffering is boundless, but a turn of the head is the other shore.' That is to say, when you seek outside, just that is the boundless sea of suffering; when you reflect within and work on your self-nature, just that is the other shore you find upon turning your head" Hsuan Hua - http://www.cttbusa.org/dharmatalks/zero.htm
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Dec 21, 2011 1:34 pm

Sönam wrote:All that is only mind looking at his self and having opinions ... I won't go further in that "shame and pride" holy game.

Sönam
So look into your mind then and see where this "higher" and "lower" dualism is coming from.
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Sönam » Wed Dec 21, 2011 2:51 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:
Sönam wrote:All that is only mind looking at his self and having opinions ... I won't go further in that "shame and pride" holy game.

Sönam
So look into your mind then and see where this "higher" and "lower" dualism is coming from.
:namaste:


What are you looking for Greg ? ... you are in a fighting mood ? You come an judge like you would know who I am ... what is your problem ?

You start with a prosecutive "when the practices are used as mere vehicles to bolster practitioners ego based pride", then you continue with insults and using that stupid "us" and "we" to bring others in your own contradictions ?

I saw you are a pillar of dharmawheel, answering to every thread ... maybe it's time to give you a break and get you back to real practice.

:anjali: (as for convention)
Sönam
By understanding everything you perceive from the perspective of the view, you are freed from the constraints of philosophical beliefs.
By understanding that any and all mental activity is meditation, you are freed from arbitrary divisions between formal sessions and postmeditation activity.
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Dec 21, 2011 3:40 pm

What, apart from ego could be the basis of this statement?
There is different vehicles because there is different level of practioners, due to the two accumulations some are nearer buddhahood than others...
Do you consider your level greater and that you are nearer Buddhahood? Do you follow the highest path?

Don't you think that it's strange that you feel justified in making derogatory comments about practitioners of other traditions, but when your faults (the derogatory comments, your contradictions) are pointed out to you, you get riled up and think that I am looking for a fight?

If you don't want to deal with this though, it's no problem for me. But when you throw down the gauntlet, don't act surprised when somebody picks it up and slaps you with it.
:namaste:
PS I do not answer to EVERY thread on Dharmawheel, just the ones that are of interest to me. Is that a crime?
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Sönam » Wed Dec 21, 2011 4:11 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:What, apart from ego could be the basis of this statement?
There is different vehicles because there is different level of practioners, due to the two accumulations some are nearer buddhahood than others...


Ok, if you ask for explanation, it's better ... there it is

Beings progress, from one life to another, by accumulating the two merits. Therefore, in the same given historical time, there is beings which are not yet on the (dharma) path, some are on that path since few lifes, others are on that path since many, many rebirths, accumulating merits. All those beings, on the way to buddhahood, are following teachings and are practicing the dharma. Some are following the path of renunciation, the sutrayana (4NT), where the practice is based on the material (physical) level, it is said that once on that path it would need countless rebirth to attain buddhahood. Some others are following the path of transformation, vajrayana (tantrayana, mantrayana), where the practice is based on the energy level, it is said (depending on the tantras followed, external, internal) that once on that path it would need some rebirth to attain buddhahood. Again others, following the path of self liberation, dzogchen, where the practice is based on the mental level (mind, nature of mind), it is said that once on that path, buddhahood could be attained in this life or during the bardo after this life. This is (briefly) the long path of the dharma of Buddha Sakyamuni.
The reason why one is on that or that yana on that path is therefore related to the merits accumulated during numerous previous life.
What one has to considere is that, wether one is on sutrayana or one on dzogchen, there is no reason to be pride (or ashamed) for that, because accumulation have been made by "other beings" in previous lifes. One just inherit of such or such accumulation (and consequences) and therefore there is no reason to be proud if ever you are following (for exemple) dzogchen teachings of such master, because first it would be counterproductive in term of buddhahood, but stupid because what count is not the karma you inherited but what you will do with that karma during your present life. And for the same reason to be ashamed is equally stupid ... there is a point where a practitioner does not see anymore in term of pride or equally of shame.

Sönam
By understanding everything you perceive from the perspective of the view, you are freed from the constraints of philosophical beliefs.
By understanding that any and all mental activity is meditation, you are freed from arbitrary divisions between formal sessions and postmeditation activity.
- Longchen Rabjam -
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Re: Is ecumenical Buddhism realistic?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Dec 21, 2011 4:25 pm

Thank you!
Not a 100% accurate account by any means, but infinitely better than the first post!
Bravo!
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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