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"Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest? - Dhamma Wheel

"Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
meindzai
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"Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby meindzai » Fri Mar 04, 2011 3:50 pm

I hope I can get out the thought that's bouncing in my head without sounding too strange or overly stereotypical or ignorant. I apologize for the latter two. (The first I can't help).

I can speak only for my experience, as an American and a person whose knowledge of Buddhist America comes from message boards (tah dah) and some amount of retreat practice, but really message boards.

It seems that Lay people, espeically theravada lay people, are still trying to figure out exactly what being a lay practitioner entails. I am going to try to make this clearer by some examples of how I see lay practitioners here vs. my understanding of lay practitioners in an imaginary example that we will call Thailand :tongue: I'm thinking mostly theravada. I am not qualifying these characteristics as good or bad.

Non-Buddhist Country Laypeople
--------------------------------------

Not raised Buddhist
large amounts of Judeo Christian Baggage
"Book" Buddhists
not much access to monasteries, monks
not typically superstitious, not devotional, suspicious of "religion"
slow, hesitant, or unwilling to accept the notion of rebirth
intellectual Buddhism - highly questioning
very literal and technical reading of suttas
influenced by multiple schools of Buddhism and often new age notions- picking and choosing
entry point into Buddhism is usually meditation
somewhat frantic pursuit of meditation and attainment goals

Goal: full enlightenment or bust
Common questions: Should I ordain or not? Should I be celibate? Should I stop eating candy/listening to music/going out to clubs/watching TV/eating meat? Is getting married going to totally screw up my practice even if I do not plan on ordaining anyway? (pseudo monasticism)

Buddhist Country Laypeople
---------------------------------
Buddhist upbringing taken for granted
More "merit" based understanding - good kamma bad kamma
Access to monasteries and monks a given
more prone to ritualistic ideas in Buddhism
notion of rebirth not a big deal
Single School of Buddhism based on region
More relaxed attitude towards practice
meditation not a given

goal: Better rebirth? Awakening at some point.


I guess I've been thinking about this since I got married. It may appear I've typified the second group as lax, and in some cases this may be true, but I also have met some of these imaginary people and I have always appreciated their more down to earth and fairly healthy attitude. The reason I say we can learn from this is that I see a lot of Theravada laypeople just beating themselves up over practice and going to a lot of extremes, which I'm not sure is helpful.

Of course, our intense curiosity to find out just what the Buddha is getting at (our literal and questioning attitude) is probably a good thing, yet at the same time it can lead to a lot of frantic questioning and overly technical discussions. (Which I am super guilty of).

It's possible also that I am talking about Americans and that other countries are not having the same complications. The American attitude of "Consume/master/conquer" shows up in our Buddhist practice pretty quickly.

Hope I didn't come off sounding too like a fool, but I'm interested in any comments.

-M

ajahndoe
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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby ajahndoe » Fri Mar 04, 2011 4:50 pm

These lists can be true in many cases. Several of the ones from the "non-Buddhist country" list had applied to me in the past.
Thank you for taking the time and effort to think about these things. It is beneficial to contemplate!

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David N. Snyder
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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Mar 04, 2011 5:46 pm

Interesting. There are some stereotypes but that is okay, sociologists do it too, as long as we recognize that we are speaking in general terms, not in all cases.

It raises some similar points made in this thread: viewtopic.php?f=22&t=7510

I think what you are getting at is that the two groups can learn from each other and share in the successes and positive points in both versions.

For example, the birth-certificate Buddhists could learn from the zeal of the convert Buddhists on things like meditation, 4 noble truths, study, etc.

And the covert Buddhist could learn from the birth-certificate Buddhists the importance of creating a sense of community, even some social functions. The social functions, while not directly leading to the goal can provide a skillful means to keep the community together and then for further practice.
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Lazy_eye
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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:08 pm

I'm grateful for your post, Meindzai, as this is really one of the core questions for me. I started out pretty clearly in the first mode but have found myself gravitating towards the second (minus the in-country birth and upbringing part, which obviously I can't do much about).

The main reason is that it just seems more feasible for a person with worldy involvements to focus on merit. There are just too many things that I deal with that don't mesh particularly well with the path of purification, and I was experiencing a great deal of cognitive dissonance as a result. If I say that my goal is to eliminate desire, then I end up feeling like a hypocrite. Romantic evening with wife? Oops, here we go with the lobha. Should I pretend not to enjoy it? That's not very sweet to the missus, and it's a strain. Or my kid comes to me with her preschool painting and, wow, she's my daughter and so cute. Ooops. Got some serious attachment happening there. Bad Buddhist. Ya know?

I'm always very interested to hear the experiences of serious lay practitioners who have managed to work around such conflicts, but until I can find my way through them, merit is probably the best goal for me. Anyway, just trying to crank my sila up a notch or two is a lifetime of work in itself.

When i first started reading up on Buddhism and checking around to see what kinds of communities were available in my area (DC), I saw pretty quickly the split which you mention. There was dharma as presented to Westerners -- intellectual, somewhat removed from any particular cultural context, and focused on meditation. But I knew already that there had to be more to the story. Because years ago I lived in Asia and visited temples there, and saw that most people were practicing a devotional kind of religion...lighting incense, making prostrations, praying to Kwan Yin, and so on. The disparity really fascinated me.
Last edited by Lazy_eye on Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:15 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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mikenz66
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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:12 pm


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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby Viscid » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:33 pm

Last edited by Viscid on Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"What holds attention determines action." - William James

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Goofaholix
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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby Goofaholix » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:35 pm

They are true enough a stereotypes go, but stereotypes always have exceptions, people just make the most of the cards they've been dealt.

For myself though family responsibilities do make it hard to get the most out of dhamma practise I wouldn't see changing my mode of practise to that of the second group an option, the affect of training my mind through intensive meditation practise is essential for me, I have no interest in accumulating merit other than to the extent that it helps train my mind.

Also beware of drawing stereotypes from the internet. My city is quite a small city but I'd estimate there are hundreds of people regularly practising insight meditation whether part of a traditional Buddhist group or not. Extending that to Mahayana practitioners hundreds more, extending to traditional Theravadin Buddhists thousands more. Yet it's very rare for me to encounter somebody from my city on a Buddhist discussion board, or on any of the retreats I've attended overseas for that matter.

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mikenz66
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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:51 pm

Good point about stereotypes,

The kind (mostly rather old) Thai women who feed me (and the monks) when I am on retreat do also do brief meditation retreats (every Uposatha day during the rains retreat). It's not necessarily an either-or thing.

:anjali:
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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby Elkstone » Fri Mar 04, 2011 10:34 pm

This topic interests me a lot as it reflects my current experiences. For a number of years I have been slowly gathering an interest in Zen Buddhism styles. My initial interest stemmed from the art and design of Japan and as I read more about the philosophies involved I found them to be a mix of interesting revelations about life and a way of living as well as keying into some of my own thoughts that I already possessed about things. I haven't taken any monastical or strict devotional path yet rather I am slowly discovering my own meandering pathway and quite like the notion that it is important for people to find their own way to enlightenment and that to barrel down a seemingly certain path doesn't necessarily get you there.

So that makes me one of those Western types, bookish and well-versed on a number of different writings.

I am also recently married and my husband is of the latter type, he is Chinese Malay and was born and raised following the Kwan-Yin practices. In trying to understand his way of doing things I am often frustrated as I ask him about certain things he does in his practice and he has no clue as to why he does it. If I do get an explanation it is very vague and not based on any readings I know of. Rather he does things because that's what he was told to do and will be unshakeable in those practices. He is very superstitious and will follow whatever his mother tells him to which she in turn it seems to just acquire from the local temple where signs are erected to inform the lay-followers what they should be doing for certain days or the year ahead. Chinese New Year brought a small tiger charm suddenly being wedged into my purse that "I must carry around with me at all times". I am rather cynical and am already growing to resent this little tiger token as a superstitious money-raising enterprise dreamt up by those who run the temple. I am not much of a fan of his temple where I get pushed in front of one statue after the other waving joss sticks. For my own individual practice I found much more value in the Japanese Temples sitting by the pond and watching dragonflies scoot over its surface and being able to reflect on the patterns and cycles of nature and how I can gain strength from that understanding.

I guess the challenge in the future for us will be how we in turn will raise our children...

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zavk
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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby zavk » Fri Mar 04, 2011 11:00 pm

Hey meindzai :goodpost:

I think what you've posted is very helpful. It indicates:

1.) that 'we' shouldn't take out own circumstances for granted, as a given or as self-evident. Insofar as we are committed to 'go against the grain', self-reflexivity towards the most obvious and 'common sensical' aspects of our social environment is important, I reckon.

2.) that both sides have much to share and learn from one another.
With metta,
zavk

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Kim OHara
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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Mar 04, 2011 11:37 pm

This topic: has quite a lot to say about the current one. I know zavk is aware of both, but I thought I should mention the connection for those that hadn't seen the other thread.
:namaste:
Kim

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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby chownah » Sat Mar 05, 2011 1:27 am


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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby pilgrim » Sat Mar 05, 2011 2:09 am

I think the stereotypes are generally correct. I live in an Asian but non-Buddhist country. I started off in the 2nd mode and think that I'm now leaning 20% towards the 1st mode.

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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Mar 05, 2011 5:39 am


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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Mar 05, 2011 5:47 am


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zavk
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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby zavk » Sun Mar 06, 2011 5:03 am

It is entirely possible to distinguish between (1.) the cultural values of a society, and (2.) the behaviour of the people caused by social circumstances which may contravene those values. In this instance, what some of us are pointing to is (1.). The useful things we could learn from traditional Asian Buddhist cultures are the values of communality, hospitality, and so forth.

As for (2.), things like alcoholism, adultery, and other kinds of questionable behaviour--well, I don't think it is unreasonable to say that these could be prompted by the living conditions of those places. It is very easy for those of us who have the privilege of coming online to chat about things--i.e. those of us living under very different conditions--to attribute their behaviour to moral or intellectual deficiency. This is not to say that some of the behaviour are not morally wrong but that they have to be situated within their context. The fact is that they are living under much more difficult conditions than those of us in developed, late-capitalist societies.

To overlook their circumstances and attribute those behaviour to 'individual or cultural failings' is at best to risk slipping into a kind of patronising attitude/arrogance/smugness, and at worse to risk slipping into all sorts of 'isms', racism, sexism, nationalism, etc. All these attitudes contravene the principles of karuna, metta, mudita, and uppekha orientating the path.
With metta,
zavk

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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby chownah » Sun Mar 06, 2011 12:47 pm


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Kim OHara
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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby Kim OHara » Sun Mar 06, 2011 9:44 pm


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zavk
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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby zavk » Sun Mar 06, 2011 10:30 pm

Hi Chownah

Yes, you're right, Thailand should definitely NOT be painted in one brushstroke as a 'poor country. It's been several years since I last visited the region, but there is definitely a range of different socio-economic demographics in the country, from very rural villages to the kinds you described to huge urban centres. As for Bangkok.... I'd say that on any given day it would make Melbourne (the second largest city in Australia) seem pretty 'dead'!

To qualify what I was saying: it seems to me then that in rural areas like the ones you're in or even the poorer ones, the lives of the people are not oriented by the kind of economic model of progress that governs the cities and indeed the advanced capitalist global societies which (I assume) most of us hail from. This means then that the lifestyles of these people cannot be unambiguously evaluated on the same terms of 'productivity/efficiency' that we are accustomed to.

YET, it could also be argued that the situation in these rural areas are the 'shadow' effects of the economic impulse of the city centres and globalisation more generally. So there's a certain tension here which makes it difficult to say that these people are living a 'complacent' or 'unproductive' lifestyle, just as it is difficult to say that the people living in the margins of developed societies ought to get a 'real job'.

This was more or less what I was trying to get at: that we ought to be mindful of the frames of reference we use to view other lifeworlds, because while 'frames' help us to see things better, to view something through a framework is inevitably to bracket something out.

However, you're absolutely right. Regardless of circumstances, individuals everywhere are susceptible to indulging in vices. In the case of the village you're in, it certainly appears that people are indulging in various vices. But there's nothing particularly Buddhist about these habits, even if these people have a certain collective Buddhist identity.

I'm confident that anyone looking to understand or learn 'Asian Buddhist values' would be able to sift through these behaviours and not mistake those contravening sila as 'what the Buddha taught'--well, at the very least I'm sure those who have the ability to read and study Buddhism independently would be able to tell them apart from the admirable aspects of traditional Buddhist societies.

:anjali:
With metta,
zavk

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Re: "Buddhist country" Lay practice as a model for the rest?

Postby Freawaru » Mon Mar 07, 2011 9:54 am



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