"Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Nov 10, 2012 5:01 am

Maybe i'm missing some doctrinal point here, not all that well-read...but I seem to remember plenty in the Pali canon about the Unconditioned being unobtainable by rational thought alone, at least by my reading.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby PorkChop » Sat Nov 10, 2012 5:27 am

I read the article back in August, as it was posted on reddit/r/Buddhism.
It brought up some points that made me think.
I'll admit it may have had some influence on my perceptions of TNH, but until I really start delving into his stuff I refrain from having a definite opinion.
I agree that he has assumed a role of introducing Buddhism to non-Buddhists.
In that sense, some of his skillful means may not seem apparent to people versed in Buddhism.

I have to wonder though, if any anti-intellectualism relates back to the age-old debate of abiding Nirvana vs non-abiding Nirvana?
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 10, 2012 5:39 am

wtompepper wrote: It might be good to keep in mind that this idea really becomes part of Buddhist thought in China around the ninth century CE, and that many Buddhist believe that such an “unconditioned” and ineffable dimension was one of the fundamental Brahmanical teachings that the Buddha rejected. There are many Buddhists for whom, in the words of Matsumoto Shiro, “if zen (the practice of dhyana) means the cessation of conceptual thought, then Zen thought is the denial of Buddhism itself.” But then, I don’t know anything about Buddhism, and I suppose Matsumoto doesn’t either.


Perhaps you might clarify what you mean here further.

There is indeed an attainment of samadhi called nirodha-samāpatti whereby all sensory and discriminative mental activity are extinguished. However, this does not entail sipping tea while looking at flowers, but advanced yogic attainment where there is no awareness of the sense.

Unconditioned as asaṃskṛta nominally refers to that which is not arisen based on causes and conditions. The Sarvāstivāda school enumerated three items which are asaṃskṛta: space (ākāśa), conscious cessation of afflictions (pratisaṃkhyā-nirodha) and unconscious cessation (apratisaṃkhyā-nirodha).

Nominally, ākāśa qualifies as an unconditioned reality.
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby tomamundsen » Sat Nov 10, 2012 6:51 am

Huseng wrote:Zen in Japan calls schools like Kegon and others as gakumon 学問 (scholastic) in a pejorative sense, but this is utterly ridiculous in the face of their own extensive scholarship confined primarily to the vast canon of Zen/Chan literature.

Oh, yea. I remember from Zen sanghas I've practiced with and some Zen literature I've read looking at the Kosha school as some kind of complete abomination.
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby tomamundsen » Sat Nov 10, 2012 6:55 am

Huseng wrote:
wtompepper wrote: It might be good to keep in mind that this idea really becomes part of Buddhist thought in China around the ninth century CE, and that many Buddhist believe that such an “unconditioned” and ineffable dimension was one of the fundamental Brahmanical teachings that the Buddha rejected. There are many Buddhists for whom, in the words of Matsumoto Shiro, “if zen (the practice of dhyana) means the cessation of conceptual thought, then Zen thought is the denial of Buddhism itself.” But then, I don’t know anything about Buddhism, and I suppose Matsumoto doesn’t either.


Perhaps you might clarify what you mean here further.

There is indeed an attainment of samadhi called nirodha-samāpatti whereby all sensory and discriminative mental activity are extinguished. However, this does not entail sipping tea while looking at flowers, but advanced yogic attainment where there is no awareness of the sense.

Unconditioned as asaṃskṛta nominally refers to that which is not arisen based on causes and conditions. The Sarvāstivāda school enumerated three items which are asaṃskṛta: space (ākāśa), conscious cessation of afflictions (pratisaṃkhyā-nirodha) and unconscious cessation (apratisaṃkhyā-nirodha).

Nominally, ākāśa qualifies as an unconditioned reality.

Dude, you are a walking Abhidharma reference. :bow:
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby muni » Sat Nov 10, 2012 10:46 am

Everyone talks from its own view, its own practice. Knowing that opens the opportunity to ask 'why'. Since as long as there is a view to defend is understanding each other by a dialogue not easy.

This is practice as well, at least for me.

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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby Dan74 » Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:10 pm

One of my earliest and most life-changing practices came from Thich Nhat Hanh's talk. It was simply to keep returning to the breath throughout the day until there is a little bit of focus on the breath continuously.

His talks on patience and compassion I found very moving and transformative. I never actually read much of his, but listened to the talks.

I think a lot of the negativity to people like Thich Nhat Hahn and HH the Dalai Lama who write books for very general audience is that we like our Buddhism to be complex and profound. We are attached to the knowledge and understanding and yet even these very basic things like patience, generosity, radiating kindness etc continue to elude us.

Some of us have come in contact with "native" Buddhists whose knowledge of the Dharma does not come close to our own and yet who embody the teachings in a much more powerful way. If they were to teach the Dharma, I suspect they would sound a lot like Thich Nhat Hanh.
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby zenkarma » Sat Nov 10, 2012 2:02 pm

wtompepper wrote: Buddhist practice has the capacity to make us more, not less, aware of our attachments and aversions, but “mindfulness” seems to avoid that—to encourage the illusion that paying attention to our immediate sensations will give us access to the pure truth,


So your method of becoming more aware involves NOT paying attention? How exactly does that work?
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby muni » Sat Nov 10, 2012 2:19 pm

[quote="Dan74"
His talks on patience and compassion I found very moving and transformative. I never actually read much of his, but listened to the talks.

...these very basic things like patience, generosity, radiating kindness etc continue to elude us.
quote]

Thank you very much. :anjali: Very good reminder.
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Nov 10, 2012 5:05 pm

There were two passages in a book by B. Allan Wallace called Minding Closely-Four Applications of Mindfulness, that I thought applied to this discussion.

I have attempted to find a middle way between the rich theoretical framework of scholarly analysis that illuminates Buddhist understanding of mindfulness and actual engagement in meditative practice. Theoretical analysis has many merits, but there is no benefit unless the theory is put into practice. On the other hand, the practice of mindfulness is impoverished without being rooted in the vast, fertile field of contemplative wisdom that has developed and perfected these techniques.
The vitality of this middle way emerges spontaneously as the integration of theory and practice. One´s experiences in actual practice resonate with reports of past adepts, bringing theoretical concepts to life. (pg.2)

and, Wallace relates this observation of HH Dalai Lama


A question was posed to the Dalai Lama in 1990 concerning the teaching of basic mindfulness practices that were radically decontextualized from the framework of Buddhist theory... Did His Holiness think that teaching these mindfulness practices was a kind of plagiarism?
HHDL answered If following these practices helps people to alleviate stress, without the framework of ethics, samadhi and the larger worldview, this is a good thing.´Even if people derive only a fraction of the benefit of his teachings, simplified practices can help relieve their suffering. But then the Dalai Lama added this precaution: "Just don´t mistake it for the Buddhadharma." p.94
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby wtompepper » Sat Nov 10, 2012 5:34 pm

Yes, zenkarma, it is in sense paying less attention to the sensory, or at least not limiting ourselves to it, not assuming it is a clear and true perception. We must analyze our immediate perceptions to discover how they arise, what conditions them. This is not uncommon in the Buddhist tradition; we must realize that even our sensory perceptions are already shaped by our culture and experiences, and there is never a pure and true perception, because perception occurs in the mind, not the eye/ear/finger.

My point is that this reification of senses, by the belief that they are unanalyzable, prevents us from becoming aware of how things really are. This is a long debate in Buddhism, and, to come to Huseng’s question, the belief in and unconditioned, which is clearly already a subject of debate in the Pali canon, only becomes more or less “settled” in the “Original Nature” or “Buddha Nature” debates. It is after this that it is commonly simply assumed, in eastern Buddhism, that there is an “unconditioned.” Up until then, it was a subject of debate, and Nagarjuna is clearly arguing that even things like space are dependently arisen—but he is arguing this because there are other Buddhists who disagree with his position. It is only later that it can be “assumed” that there is an unconditioned, and for many Buddhists this is still seen as a rejection of the most important Buddhist insights: anatman and dependent origination.

I rarely agree with HHDL (I am not a Tibetan Buddhist), but on this he has a point. There is perhaps nothing wrong with understanding “mindfulness” a bare attention to the supposedly “pure” sensory present, if it helps relieve you migraines or whatever—but it is not Buddhism. Instead of helping us to realize the absolute conditioning of everything, it reifies our present construal of the world, and uses the “ineffable” to avoid real insight.

To return briefly to the idea of Thich Nhat Hanh using “skillful means”: I think in the case of the example of the WMD engineer, the function of the example in the book is not to suggest that he will become awakened eventually, but to reassure the reader of the book that it is okay to give money to Plum Village even if that money is made by making weapons. Read the book, and I think the rhetorical function of the example is clear: don’t bother to change the world, just ignore the effects of your actions and focus on you immediate sensations. It is promoting quietist comfort, and Buddhism as a way to reduce anxiety and guilt without having to stop doing things we really should be anxious and guilty about. I could believe he was using skillful means if he just said to the guy, look, if you even came here to ask this question, you already know the answer—when you’re ready to accept the answer you already know, then we can talk.
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby Yudron » Sat Nov 10, 2012 7:13 pm

Mr. Pepper,

In bringing up the arrogant jerkness of your blog post, I was addressing your tone, not the content of your critique. I have only read a couple of TNH books and seen him speak once. I practice in another tradition.

While you decry people who “condescendingly smirk at your ignorance” when you raise substantive issues about certain teachings, you yourself condescendingly refer to “bookstore Buddhists” and “self-help Buddhists” who want to believe that their garden parties and golf swings are really the end of the Buddhist path.

Buddhist thinkers who are angry and arrogant should definitely be ignored. Anger and arrogance are afflictive emotions and dwelling on them are signs of not only lack of an exalted enlightened state, but also a person’s lack of any level of long-term ongoing effective meditation practice.
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby wtompepper » Sat Nov 10, 2012 7:20 pm

Okay, Yudron. I'll take your advice and ignore you. I hope you'll return the favor.
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby duckfiasco » Sat Nov 10, 2012 8:09 pm

Far too often, I've seen "projection" used as a smokescreen to avoid dealing with one's own unskillful speech as a secondary cause in another's suffering or anger. Please, we are all suffering beings in the same stinky samsara. Let's help each other :)

My main issue with the post is the contention that TNH is harming Buddhism. That wasn't my personal experience. His teachings were gentle enough not to drive me off with bizarre metaphysics that are impenetrable to people new to Buddhism, and inviting enough to propel me further along the path. I try to deepen my practice every day and think I may have finally found a way forward in Karma Kagyu. This is hardly the same as sitting around being angry or lustful and going, "yep my lungs still work. Back to mass murdering now." That was somewhat the impression I got from the criticism of TNH.
Please take the above post with a grain of salt.
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby Thus-gone » Sat Nov 10, 2012 8:28 pm

Incredible: yet another thread on a Buddhist discussion forum where people are so infatuated with themselves that they lack the basic human skill of communication. This whole "think about the Dharma instead of practicing it" approach is clearly getting people somewhere.
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby Jikan » Sat Nov 10, 2012 8:36 pm

duckfiasco wrote:Far too often, I've seen "projection" used as a smokescreen to avoid dealing with one's own unskillful speech as a secondary cause in another's suffering or anger. Please, we are all suffering beings in the same stinky samsara. Let's help each other :)
.


:good:

and a good observation...

wtompepper wrote:Okay, Yudron. I'll take your advice and ignore you. I hope you'll return the favor.
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby wtompepper » Sat Nov 10, 2012 8:42 pm

duckfiasco: I am not suggesting my speech might have been the cause of someone's suffering or anger--but I would not consider that unskillful. If the truth makes someone angry, or makes them suffer, then they should take their anger at the truth as an opportunity to see their delusions. Buddhist teaching has not usually meant saying only nice happy things even if it means encouraging delusion--that is a very modern very western idea of Buddhism. The "projection" I am referring to is the assumption that anyone who thinks is angry--if you think that thought always means anger, it might be worth considering what it is about thought that makes you so angry, what truth you are avoiding that thought might reveal to you.

Remember that arrogance does not mean being right, arrogance means refusing to consider evidence that you are wrong.

Thus-gone: you're missing the point: Thinking about the dharma IS practicing the dharma. If you thought about it more, maybe you wouldn't be so angry.

It is sad that I have found yet another Buddhist discussion where anti-intellectualism is seen as the highest wisdom; but I did not ask, or even give permission, for my blog post to be reposted here. If you don't want thought, truth, discussion, you should stay clear of Speculative Non-Buddhism. It will likely cause you much suffering if you want to remain deluded and find world-transcendent bliss.

This is an edit, to try to clarify my poorly written comment about "projection" above. I am not using the term "projection" to deny that my (perhaps unskilful) speech may have caused someone's anger. Projection refers to the denial that one IS angry, so if someone says they are angry because of what I wrote, that would not be projection, right? Projection is when someone acts angrily, while claiming not to be angry, while claiming that the one they are acting angrily toward is the one who is angry. This is the sense in which I meant that people are "projecting" anger onto me. I am not angry (no, really, having a thought does not mean one is angry, thinking can be fun!). I am saddened and dismayed about the state of western Buddhism, but not angry about it. So I am suggesting that if someone insults me and makes passively hostile remarks while calling me angry, and saying that they ARE NOT angry, they are projecting, and should examine this. If someone says I am a poor rhetorician, and that my unnecessarily inflammatory tone makes them angry, then they are NOT projecting, but simply offering an honest response.
Last edited by wtompepper on Sat Nov 10, 2012 9:26 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Nov 10, 2012 8:48 pm

We need all three- Hearing, contemplation and meditation. Without a rich approach that combines them, our practice will be lacking. If the teachings were not supposed to be studied and thought about deeply, the Buddha would not have revealed such a vast number of sutras. Whether one upholds the Pali Canon, the Sanksrit Canon, or both the Sutras and the Tantras, the vastness of the scriptures reveals that there is much to think about and discuss.
If cherry blossoms were enough to liberate sentient beings, Lord Buddha would have stopped there. These types of teachings can lead people to the door of the treasury of the dharma, and if they are taught with that in mind it is a deeply compassionate act, and I rejoice. However, people should know that the final goal, and practice, are loftier and require significantly more effort.
Our afflictive emotions have been like our best friends for countless rebirths in samsara, and to remove them to reveal the purity and potential of our mind is a vast task indeed.
A foolish man proclaims his qualifications,
A wise man keeps them secret within.
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But a precious gem placed upon it sinks to the depths
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby Thus-gone » Sat Nov 10, 2012 10:05 pm

wtompepper wrote:Thus-gone: you're missing the point: Thinking about the dharma IS practicing the dharma. If you thought about it more, maybe you wouldn't be so angry.


Hope that works out for you, though I can't think of any spiritual/mystical tradition that endorses rational thought as a full path in itself. Perhaps your egotism and inability to communicate with others is related to this mistaken conception of the path, or is it just because you're not very good at thinking?
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Re: "Comfort Food Buddhism" a critique of

Postby Jnana » Sat Nov 10, 2012 10:07 pm

wtompepper wrote:I rarely agree with HHDL....

So you don't like TNH and you rarely agree with HHDL. Most of what TNH teaches can be supported by mainstream East Asian Mahāyāna sources, and most of what HHDL teaches is straight up Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism.

Is your penchant for disagreement due to you not being a mahāyāna practitioner? Or are there other reasons?
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