Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

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Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby My Socks Smell » Wed Aug 08, 2012 7:38 pm

I’m at a crossroads in my investigation of Buddhism. I was looking at Mahamudra, Dzogchen and Madhyamaka Philosophy and ran into the Rangtong/Shentong debate and disagreement between Tsongkhapa and Mipham. I’ve been trying to figure out who taught what. The best I can tell, Chandrakirti and Shantideva said that consciousness cannot be thought of as being inherently reflexive even on a conventional level, since that would imply that consciousness is self-validating, while Shantaraksita accepts rang rig as a convetional, and Dignaga and Dharmakirti accept the reality of reflexive awareness in the classical Yogacara sense of svaprakasha, supporting their arguments with the example of a lamp that illuminates itself while revealing other objects.

I have read Jay Garfield’s paper on “The Conventional Status of Reflexive Awareness: Whats’ at Stake in a Tibetan Debate?”, where he says attention has been drawn to the Mipham vs Tsongkhapa debate by Paul Williams’ book, “The Reflexive Nature of Awareness: A Tibetan Madhymaka Defence”. He says that the debate between Mipham and Tsongkapa forces questions like these: Is the mind a hidden object to itself, or is it self-revealing? How does knowledge of our own minds relate to our knowledge of others? How do we know we have minds? Could we be in error about the nature and/or contents of our mental status, or about what we are doing cognitively? He says that Mipham and Williams take for granted the mind is self-revealing; that we know our own minds in a special, direct way; that we cannot be in error about the nature of our own minds or cognitive activity. He comes down on the side of Tsongkhapa in saying that even conventionally, awareness is not reflexive. I use to think awareness did possess the quality of reflexivity/luminosity, but now I’m changing my opinion because it seems to invite the ghost of a substantial, inherently existing, non-dependently arisen, uncompounded, unconditioned thing to start haunting the mind again.

Before I delve more into these issues, I would like to narrow down exactly what my study focus should be. Right now, I don’t see any reason not to absolutely reject that svasamvedana/rang rig is conventionally real, other than being a little concerned about something having a “quality” of self-recognition might imply there is something “substantially real” which can be validated by the mere fact of having qualities.

What I’m looking for is to learn from teachers who would in no way be misunderstood as implying a reification or hypostatization of any ideological abstraction, whether it’s called awareness, emptiness, luminosity, clarity, Buddha nature, rig pa, clear light mind, self-cognizing cognizing, Dharmakaya or a pure, stainless, unchanging ultimate reality which even remotely resembles a transcendental “Other”.

After having said all that, I don't know if I've simply misunderstood Shentong and it actually escapes the above reification or not. Mahamudra and Dzogchen seem to take the long way around the issue without addressing it right up front. I'm still leery of them because they seem to fall on the side of Shentong, and I distrust Shentong right now. Wish I knew a definitive answer on whether they teach svasamvedana/rang rig as just conventionally real and not ultimately real. I'm guessing maybe the Gelug School or Zen would be most helpful at the moment, but could be wrong.

Got any suggestions?

Thanks
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby Karma Dondrup Tashi » Wed Aug 08, 2012 7:58 pm

Looks like you've got enough intellectual understanding. Maybe forget all that for a while and habituate a practice? Maybe time to call your teacher?
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby Jikan » Wed Aug 08, 2012 8:21 pm

My Socks Smell wrote:Before I delve more into these issues, I would like to narrow down exactly what my study focus should be.


To what purpose? I mean, why are you studying? If you want to be a scholar, then one set of advice will make sense for you. If you want to practice, then I'd double-down on Karma Dondrup Tashi's advice: find a teacher if you don't have one already, commit to practice, and practice. It will become clear to you after you have become established in a regular practice regimen what will be useful to read, and what will not be; and if it doesn't become clear to you, then you can ask your teacher for guidance.

I'd recommend the latter approach.
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby My Socks Smell » Wed Aug 08, 2012 8:28 pm

Karma Dondrup Tashi wrote:Looks like you've got enough intellectual understanding. Maybe forget all that for a while and habituate a practice? Maybe time to call your teacher?
Until recently, my schedule prevented me from exploring local groups to find a teacher. My search will only include two or possibly three choices; a Rinzai Zendo that meets in the basement of a church and a New Kadampa Buddhist Center where it looks like they intend to either dollar me to death for each visit or charge an exorbitant monthly fee for membership. I'm curious about a small Karma Kagyu center in a neighboring town, but it is at least 35 minutes away, so not sure going there is feasible, at least on any truly regular basis. I might consider the extra effort if I knew it would help me.

I need someone who can help me sort out the Shentong/Rangton and Mipham/Tsongkhapa question so I won't spend time studying a teaching that ultimately leads back to the same self-constructed sense of alienation from a higher power that I experienced in Christianity.
Last edited by My Socks Smell on Wed Aug 08, 2012 8:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby My Socks Smell » Wed Aug 08, 2012 8:39 pm

Jikan wrote:
My Socks Smell wrote:Before I delve more into these issues, I would like to narrow down exactly what my study focus should be.


To what purpose? I mean, why are you studying? If you want to be a scholar, then one set of advice will make sense for you. If you want to practice, then I'd double-down on Karma Dondrup Tashi's advice: find a teacher if you don't have one already, commit to practice, and practice. It will become clear to you after you have become established in a regular practice regimen what will be useful to read, and what will not be; and if it doesn't become clear to you, then you can ask your teacher for guidance.

I'd recommend the latter approach.


I spent way too many years struggling with my former religion of Christianity, and then another few years sorting out Perennial Philosophy, Vedanta, Shaivism, etc., before finally wading into the waters of Buddhism. I don't have time to go down several more roads in a philosophical system as diverse as Buddhism, just to find myself once again hitting a brick wall of disappointment. I want to know which specific teachings/teachers completely avoid the kind of reification/hypostatisazation I described in the initial post above. Can Mahamudra or Dzogchen offer that or do I need to stick with the Gelug School or perhaps Zen?

Thanks

EDIT: It is important to know what I'm getting into because it looks like I'll ether end up having to spend a ton of money being a member at the Kadampa Center which is Rangton/Gelug or having to travel a great distance to visit the Karma Kagyu Center which is Shentong. As mentioned, my only other choice is a Rinzai Zen group but I'm not sure they would be able to teach any fine points about svasamvedana/rang rig to help someone who wants to thoroughly understand the issue of "reflexivity" as it relates to possible reification and alienation.
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby Jesse » Wed Aug 08, 2012 9:24 pm

Sir, I believe your cup is overflowing
"We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know." - Albert Einstein
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby Norwegian » Wed Aug 08, 2012 9:42 pm

The Tibetans became great experts at intricate and overly complex philosophical systems, and digesting much of this can be very time consuming and very challenging.

To be honest with you, I would set issues of rangtong and shentong to the side, and ignore it for now. Instead, direct your focus towards Mahamudra and/or Dzogchen.

You do not need knowledge of rangtong or shentong for Dzogchen to make sense, or for it to be a working vehicle for you. Instead, what you need, is to receive direct introduction and teachings from a qualified Dzogchen teacher. Then, you practice. And that's it. Granted, the "that's it" does not mean you don't have anything at all to do. There's work to do. It's a path.

But complex philosophical intricacies you do not need to worry about.
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby dharmagoat » Wed Aug 08, 2012 10:08 pm

My Socks Smell wrote:I want to know which specific teachings/teachers completely avoid the kind of reification/hypostatisazation I described in the initial post above. Can Mahamudra or Dzogchen offer that or do I need to stick with the Gelug School or perhaps Zen?

I believe Mr Smell has a valid question. I would like to hear an answer myself, while continuing to focus on my practice.
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby viniketa » Wed Aug 08, 2012 10:20 pm

My Socks Smell wrote: I want to know which specific teachings/teachers completely avoid the kind of reification/hypostatisazation I described in the initial post above.


All are trying to be helpful, but the question is not all that clear. It almost seems as if you are asking for spiritual instruction that avoids discussing anything spiritual. Perhaps the confusion is in your understanding of the differing schools of Buddhist thought.

If you want a purely educational understanding of the logical permutations of emptiness arguments, that doesn't necessarily require a teacher but will require a good library (part of which can be online digital). If you want an experiential understanding, a teacher can be very helpful but time and contemplation are required. If you want nothing to do with either a 'transcendental “Other”' OR a 'transcendental self', Buddhism or Advaita Vedānta are pretty much it.

May I ask, why do you not have much time?

:namaste:
If they can sever like and dislike, along with greed, anger, and delusion, regardless of their difference in nature, they will all accomplish the Buddha Path.. ~ Sutra of Complete Enlightenment
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby Andrew108 » Wed Aug 08, 2012 10:36 pm

Shentong is pretty easy to understand. Do you want to discuss it? But anyway don't go to the New Kadampa place. Avoid.
The Blessed One said:

"What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." Sabba Sutta.
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby tomamundsen » Wed Aug 08, 2012 11:37 pm

Sounds like you definitely do not want Dzogchen. Also if you're this interested in philosophy, Zen won't hit the spot. You want something Tibetan.
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby Matt J » Thu Aug 09, 2012 12:31 am

Just a thought, but perhaps it might be clearer to go through the dharma turnings in order.

I've found a thorough grounding in sutta-based Buddhism has helped me immensely in understanding Mahayana practice.
The Great Way is not difficult
If only there is no picking or choosing
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby My Socks Smell » Thu Aug 09, 2012 1:29 am

viniketa wrote:May I ask, why do you not have much time? :namaste:
I need to clarify my concern about time. My experiences with Christianity ended up exacerbating the things I thought it was supposed to have saved me from. My mind has always played tricks on me. I've been plagued with a vivid imagination and a hyperactive "theory of mind" as neurocognitive scientists would call it. I swallowed Christian doctrine whole heartedly. I was so serious about it that the dualism, the ought-should-must, the platonic idealism, the threat of punishment, etc.; it drove me crazy trying to figure out how to please an infinitely holy god. It only made me more anxious, neurotic, hyper-vigilant, self-conscious, obsessive-compulsive, perfectionistic, fragmented, separate. I actually ended up in a self-created mental "bardo" constructed from the kind of hopelessness and anguish of soul that I was told I deserved for being a "sinner" and a backslider. What I should have said is that I am still recovering from the psychological damage of those years full of "fear of the Lord", and I don't have time to investigate teachings that will prolong any unhealthy pattern of attachment to ideological abstractions. I have a lot of conditioning to cut through. If I am exposed to teachings about a Buddha Nature or Alaya or Tathagatagarbha that can be mistaken as an implied theism, then I need to know up front "why" such a thing is only conventionally real and not taken as an ultimate reality like ParamaShiva or Supreme Brahman. I don't want to wait until I've practiced just to find I've found another god. But back to the question, though, it's more about needing time to finish recovering from the effects of extreme dualism as much as it is about time to developing a new practice.
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby Osho » Thu Aug 09, 2012 1:33 am

Andrew108 wrote:Shentong is pretty easy to understand. Do you want to discuss it? But anyway don't go to the New Kadampa place. Avoid.

.........................................
Would agree with that 'Avoid' Andrew.
NKT is perhaps not the best of venues for an enquiring mind. The only books they sell or promote are those written by their leader.
Follow your heart Mr Socks and every success in your search for a spiritual 'home'
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby viniketa » Thu Aug 09, 2012 1:53 am

My Socks Smell wrote:I don't have time to investigate teachings that will prolong any unhealthy pattern of attachment to ideological abstractions...


I wonder if you truly want to start 'dating' a new religion at this point? Watch out that someone/thing doesn't 'get you' on the rebound... :rolling:

That said, leave rangtong/zhentong alone for now & try the Zen practice. Truly, after what you've related, it makes the most sense.

:namaste:
If they can sever like and dislike, along with greed, anger, and delusion, regardless of their difference in nature, they will all accomplish the Buddha Path.. ~ Sutra of Complete Enlightenment
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby dharmagoat » Thu Aug 09, 2012 3:35 am

viniketa wrote:
My Socks Smell wrote:I don't have time to investigate teachings that will prolong any unhealthy pattern of attachment to ideological abstractions...

I wonder if you truly want to start 'dating' a new religion at this point? Watch out that someone/thing doesn't 'get you' on the rebound... :rolling:

That said, leave rangtong/zhentong alone for now & try the Zen practice. Truly, after what you've related, it makes the most sense.

I agree that Zen would be the best antidote for what you have described.
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby yan kong » Thu Aug 09, 2012 11:01 am

My Socks Smell wrote:
Karma Dondrup Tashi wrote:Looks like you've got enough intellectual understanding. Maybe forget all that for a while and habituate a practice? Maybe time to call your teacher?
Until recently, my schedule prevented me from exploring local groups to find a teacher. My search will only include two or possibly three choices; a Rinzai Zendo that meets in the basement of a church and a New Kadampa Buddhist Center where it looks like they intend to either dollar me to death for each visit or charge an exorbitant monthly fee for membership. I'm curious about a small Karma Kagyu center in a neighboring town, but it is at least 35 minutes away, so not sure going there is feasible, at least on any truly regular basis. I might consider the extra effort if I knew it would help me.


Maybe you only have two choices :namaste:
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby Andrew108 » Thu Aug 09, 2012 11:45 am

Reification happens when you focus on the form of the teaching rather than the meaning. So you need to follow a school that laughs about this type of reification. That won't allow you to reify. Unfortunately these days most organisations allow their followers to get carried away. But really no path is blocked for you if you know not to reify. Dzogchen, Mahamudra, madhyamaka, Zen are all possible. It's upto you.
The Blessed One said:

"What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." Sabba Sutta.
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby Jikan » Thu Aug 09, 2012 1:18 pm

Follow up question for Socks:

Where are you in the world geographically, roughly speaking? There may be more options in your area than you might be led to believe by internet searches and the like. The forum may be able to lead you to another option.
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Re: Which Buddhist School is Right For Me?

Postby My Socks Smell » Thu Aug 09, 2012 1:54 pm

Osho wrote:Would agree with that 'Avoid' Andrew. NKT is perhaps not the best of venues for an enquiring mind. The only books they sell or promote are those written by their leader.
After looking at their prices for classes and membership again, as well as considering the possible pressure of having to buy books by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, I've ruled out NKT. Thanks for the warning, Osho and Andrew.

tomamundsen wrote:Sounds like you definitely do not want Dzogchen. Also if you're this interested in philosophy, Zen won't hit the spot. You want something Tibetan.
It's true. I want something Tibetan. I'm fascinated by the intricate philosophical discourse. But I'm wondering if maybe I'm still thinking like a Christian and just don't realize it. My search for the middle way can quickly degenerate into grasping. Maybe I should force myself to put Tibetan Buddhism aside for a while and starve the hungry intellect. There could be a lingering Christian mindset of adopting and rejecting disguised in Buddhist terminological drag. In fact, I might as well admit there is right now and stop the charade. Thanks for the feedback, tomamundsen.

viniketa wrote:That said, leave rangtong/zhentong alone for now & try the Zen practice. Truly, after what you've related, it makes the most sense. :namaste:

dharmagoat wrote:I agree that Zen would be the best antidote for what you have described.
I have no reason to disagree. Zen looks like it makes the most sense as the best antidote to what's eating me. Will just have to go through intellectual withdrawal. But, the good news is that the Zendo is within easy driving distance, does not charge a burdensome membership fee and has meetings that easily accommodate my schedule. Thanks for the advice, viniketa and dharmagoat.
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