Is modernity bad for practice?

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Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 24, 2012 1:00 pm

Some time ago I realized that this last generation of elderly lamas represent something special at the moment because they were born and raised in an environment that was effectively pre-modern and pre-industrial, so they never had to contend with materialism (especially in their education system), political theories, atheism, consumerism and a whole string other things that we modern folks have to live with. When they're gone there really won't be anymore Buddhist teachers that were born and raised in a pre-modern environment. That will be a real loss. These fellows are often thought of as particularly special and very unique.

I've come to think that modernity as a whole is bad for practice. Despite all the science, information, medical care and women's rights we have, a lot of what we're brought up with and have to deal with throughout life is contrary to the path. We're brought up in an education system that teaches materialism as the default worldview. We have to think about capitalism versus socialism. We've got entertainment of all sorts to distract us. We have to function in a cash economy and this means working on a schedule rather than at your own pace most of the time. Modernity is exhausting and the system is setup to have people be productive, which means not having the energy and time to devote oneself to spiritual pursuits. The worst is the amount of doubt most modern people have to contend with when facing questions like rebirth, karma and so on.

So is modernity bad for practice? Of course it is up to the individual, but then I still think on the whole modernity is overall detrimental to liberation rather than conducive to it.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Dave The Seeker » Sat Nov 24, 2012 1:17 pm

Modernity is a hinderence in many many ways.
It's not only the Lamas of the last generation, but the people of that generation that will not be around much longer.
I agree the things you've mentioned are all assets to the way we live with each other.
But as you also stated the production mentality is a downfall to some aspect. It seems that the "system" is producing followers instead of individual thinkers and doers.
The "life will be lived this way" mentality. The expectation of "this is owed to me" or "this will be provided for me".
There doesn't seem to be much appreciation for the things we have in life. Like life itself!
The world and the children, for the most part here in the US, are raised on violence and greed. Look at the video games and the shows/movies that are produced and followed mindlessly. It's all about domination and death, for the most part. The rest is fantasy that some fall victim to and believe is reality.
I agree that these things are not conductive to liberation or the Path, but all we can do is be the best we can in our actions and speech to hopefully plant seeds that will in time germinate and grow.

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Sherlock » Sat Nov 24, 2012 1:20 pm

Certainly modernity is bad for practice in so many different ways. The path of renunciation is very difficult for anyone living in a Western country, and tantra really isn't that easy as well. If one wishes to return to modern life, long retreats are not practical for most people. Those who have been through three-year retreats, which traditionally weren't even considered that long, experience many difficulties adjusting back to modern life, with many never managing to do so, as Malcolm once said.

The question then is what one should do in these circumstances. IMO, that would be Dzogchen. Of course, if one wishes to realise Buddhahood in this very life through Dzogchen methods, it wouldn't be very easy to do so in modern life either, but the basic practice of guruyoga is very simple and can lead to liberation after death, at least as Chogyal Namkhai Norbu teaches it.

However, this depends on whether you accept Dzogchen as definitive.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby muni » Sat Nov 24, 2012 1:30 pm

Change continually is, mind need not to be involved or attracked. Reminding that bell, it can help/encourage us to sustain our awareness/mindfulness in the moment.

But this means not isolated from all and everything. Whether a lot of material whether almost nothing; whether many trees whether a desert; nature of mind remains same and is not modern or good old*.

* this is modern English.

ps: Of course in the beginning of practices or in moments of cloudy mind, it is good to be very careful, to not get entangled.

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Astus » Sat Nov 24, 2012 1:43 pm

I think that the current era is more conducive to practice than it was in the past. In pre-modern Europe (approx. before 16th century, although we can say that since the middle of the 20th century it is post-modern) people took the Christian world view as evident and everything else was simply wrong. Buddhism could spread in the West exactly because of the loss of faith after World War 2 in both religion and science. Explicit atheism in Europe is below 20% and even in the most atheist countries it doesn't go above 35%, while there are countries where organised religion is accepted by more than 90% (based on Eurobarometer Poll 2005). It is misleading to say that people are generally materialist just because state education consists mostly of non-religious subjects. But if you mean by materialist that people are greedy, there is nothing new about it. At the same time, with modernity came education and the accessibility of information. Again something that Buddhism greatly benefits of. In the pre-modern era the general population not just couldn't read but books were also a rarity.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 24, 2012 2:04 pm

Dave The Seeker wrote:Look at the video games and the shows/movies that are produced and followed mindlessly. It's all about domination and death, for the most part. The rest is fantasy that some fall victim to and believe is reality.


This is definitely another thing.

One other thing is how sex is splashed around everywhere. Advertisers fine tune images to be the most exciting as possible to attract attention.

So, sex, violence, domination, power, money and gain are all readily accepted and followed.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 24, 2012 2:06 pm

Astus wrote:It is misleading to say that people are generally materialist just because state education consists mostly of non-religious subjects.


No, I'm saying state education teaches materialism (without calling it materialism) as the default worldview. If you got educated in pre-modern Tibet your worldview would be thoroughly Buddhist with the whole cosmology, karma and rebirth taught as explicitly real and realistic, whereas now there is an alternative worldview.

This is why so many people (not just in the west, but in Asia too) have problems with the idea of rebirth and karma.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby BuddhaSoup » Sat Nov 24, 2012 3:20 pm

Seems to me the issue of modernity, technology, commercialism cuts both ways. Clearly, we are inundated with messages that can drive us further from the Dharma. As has been pointed out, messages of sexual attraction, easy wealth, the social benefits of alcohol, etc....other messages on America TV of violence and conflict. Video games that sell millions of copies that feature war, violence and mysogeny.

On the other hand, for anyone interested in the antidote for these viruses in society, that seeks the medicine for the relief of a sick society, modern society has brought us technology that makes the dissemination of the Dharma possible. Each of us has a virtual library in our homes or schools from which we can access via a laptop the suttas and sutras, and exchange ideas and issues with each other as we are doing now on DW. I feel fortunate that the modern age has allowed us so much greater access to insight (pardon the Thanissaro allusion).

So, for me, it's an interesting paradox...society gets sicker, but the medicine is more accessible and more widely available around the world. Our jobs? To perhaps help spread this medicine as far, and wide, and as well as we can, in the way we live and the way we interact with others.

Modernity is bad for practice...just sitting is more difficult with all of the static around. Yet, we have a chance to exploit what modernity has brought in terms of technology, and perhaps assure that Buddha's fears of the loss of the Dharma are never realized.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 24, 2012 3:37 pm

BuddhaSoup wrote:On the other hand, for anyone interested in the antidote for these viruses in society, that seeks the medicine for the relief of a sick society, modern society has brought us technology that makes the dissemination of the Dharma possible.


I think yes and no.

On one hand the technology enables instant access to Dharma texts and in some cases teachers, but that still doesn't necessarily produce any better results than in the past when you had to seek out a live teacher or rely on paper texts.

What comes to mind is how we have the entire Pali, Tibetan and Chinese canons plus many translations at the click of a mouse, though that doesn't necessarily render it more edifying. You can track down quotes easier, but that's just scholarly business, and not edification. A library provides the same benefits, though it is less efficient admittedly.

The ills of modern society seem to provoke far heavier mental strain and illnesses than its technological fruits remedy.



Each of us has a virtual library in our homes or schools from which we can access via a laptop the suttas and sutras, and exchange ideas and issues with each other as we are doing now on DW. I feel fortunate that the modern age has allowed us so much greater access to insight (pardon the Thanissaro allusion).


I'm grateful for DW and other such forums as well. It is nice, but is there a huge difference between now and, say, two or three decades ago?

In some cases the internet has made people morbidly dependent on instant information and communications. You take away their internet for a few days and they'll suffer withdrawal symptoms. That's different from sitting on a porch reading Buddhist magazines or having a few Buddhist friends to talk things over with.


So, for me, it's an interesting paradox...society gets sicker, but the medicine is more accessible and more widely available around the world. Our jobs? To perhaps help spread this medicine as far, and wide, and as well as we can, in the way we live and the way we interact with others.


There are pros and cons to internet dissemination of Buddhadharma. On one hand there is instant access, but on the other there is a lot of misinformation, charlatans and internet Zen masters. Back before the internet if you were serious about Buddhism you sought out a teacher, probably belonging to an institution somewhere. That made for a degree of quality control. Published works on Buddhism are generally more reliable than what's online.


Modernity is bad for practice...just sitting is more difficult with all of the static around. Yet, we have a chance to exploit what modernity has brought in terms of technology, and perhaps assure that Buddha's fears of the loss of the Dharma are never realized.


I don't think technology really solves the problem. It just mitigates the severity of modernity and all the horrors, both visible and invisible, that accompany it.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby gad rgyangs » Sat Nov 24, 2012 3:44 pm

sure if you think the goal of "practice" is to repristinate a medieval mindset, then sure modernity is bad for it. if, on the other hand, one wants to understand & work with reality and circumstances, then, not such a good idea.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 24, 2012 3:54 pm

gad rgyangs wrote:sure if you think the goal of "practice" is to repristinate a medieval mindset, then sure modernity is bad for it. if, on the other hand, one wants to understand & work with reality and circumstances, then, not such a good idea.


Your characterization of a "medieval mindset" as a pejorative here is representative of the same old platitudes you hear from people nowadays who spit on the past and insult their ancestors, thinking they were all backwards and living in darkness while we are so much more enlightened and free.

When it comes to Buddhism such an attitude renders your position less than respectable.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby gad rgyangs » Sat Nov 24, 2012 4:09 pm

Huseng wrote:Your characterization of a "medieval mindset" as a pejorative here is representative of the same old platitudes you hear from people nowadays who spit on the past and insult their ancestors, thinking they were all backwards and living in darkness while we are so much more enlightened and free.

When it comes to Buddhism such an attitude renders your position less than respectable.


the irony is that, try as one might, you cannot recapture a medieval mindset: its a fantasy. So, one ends up with neither the old mindset nor the actual present reality, and therefore it becomes more of a solipsistic game one plays with one's self.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Sherlock » Sat Nov 24, 2012 4:12 pm

Mindset isn't the main point here. The opportunity for practice is.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby gad rgyangs » Sat Nov 24, 2012 4:13 pm

Sherlock wrote:Mindset isn't the main point here. The opportunity for practice is.


if you cant practice as you are, where you are, in the time you are, then you're already in trouble.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby BuddhaSoup » Sat Nov 24, 2012 4:17 pm

Huseng wrote:
BuddhaSoup wrote:On the other hand, for anyone interested in the antidote for these viruses in society, that seeks the medicine for the relief of a sick society, modern society has brought us technology that makes the dissemination of the Dharma possible.


I think yes and no.

On one hand the technology enables instant access to Dharma texts and in some cases teachers, but that still doesn't necessarily produce any better results than in the past when you had to seek out a live teacher or rely on paper texts.

What comes to mind is how we have the entire Pali, Tibetan and Chinese canons plus many translations at the click of a mouse, though that doesn't necessarily render it more edifying. You can track down quotes easier, but that's just scholarly business, and not edification. A library provides the same benefits, though it is less efficient admittedly.

The ills of modern society seem to provoke far heavier mental strain and illnesses than its technological fruits remedy.



Each of us has a virtual library in our homes or schools from which we can access via a laptop the suttas and sutras, and exchange ideas and issues with each other as we are doing now on DW. I feel fortunate that the modern age has allowed us so much greater access to insight (pardon the Thanissaro allusion).


I'm grateful for DW and other such forums as well. It is nice, but is there a huge difference between now and, say, two or three decades ago?

In some cases the internet has made people morbidly dependent on instant information and communications. You take away their internet for a few days and they'll suffer withdrawal symptoms. That's different from sitting on a porch reading Buddhist magazines or having a few Buddhist friends to talk things over with.


So, for me, it's an interesting paradox...society gets sicker, but the medicine is more accessible and more widely available around the world. Our jobs? To perhaps help spread this medicine as far, and wide, and as well as we can, in the way we live and the way we interact with others.


There are pros and cons to internet dissemination of Buddhadharma. On one hand there is instant access, but on the other there is a lot of misinformation, charlatans and internet Zen masters. Back before the internet if you were serious about Buddhism you sought out a teacher, probably belonging to an institution somewhere. That made for a degree of quality control. Published works on Buddhism are generally more reliable than what's online.


Modernity is bad for practice...just sitting is more difficult with all of the static around. Yet, we have a chance to exploit what modernity has brought in terms of technology, and perhaps assure that Buddha's fears of the loss of the Dharma are never realized.


I don't think technology really solves the problem. It just mitigates the severity of modernity and all the horrors, both visible and invisible, that accompany it.


Huseng, I just read through your response and I feel you have the better of the argument (and I hope you feel I'm not arguing...). I tried to make a case for the potentials existing in modern technology, but after reading your response, I sense you're correct. I myself would prefer, if it were possible, to be divorced from all of the instant info technology, and had a teacher at a quiet or monastic setting to which I could go and just sit, study, learn. And yes, it is the internet that has allowed the profiteers and charlatans to gain a foothold and cause great harm.

I myself am going to travel some distance this year to find a rural practice center and invest myself in that practice. I couldn't have found this temple without the internet and DW, but at the same time, I very much look forward to being in a quiet place, among peers and teachers, away from technology, and just practice.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 24, 2012 4:18 pm

gad rgyangs wrote:the irony is that, try as one might, you cannot recapture a medieval mindset: its a fantasy. So, one ends up with neither the old mindset nor the actual present reality, and therefore it becomes more of a solipsistic game one plays with one's self.


I think your idea of a medieval mindset is fantastical enough.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby gad rgyangs » Sat Nov 24, 2012 4:20 pm

Huseng wrote:
gad rgyangs wrote:the irony is that, try as one might, you cannot recapture a medieval mindset: its a fantasy. So, one ends up with neither the old mindset nor the actual present reality, and therefore it becomes more of a solipsistic game one plays with one's self.


I think your idea of a medieval mindset is fantastical enough.


hey its your proposal.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 24, 2012 4:25 pm

BuddhaSoup wrote:I myself am going to travel some distance this year to find a rural practice center and invest myself in that practice. I couldn't have found this temple without the internet and DW, but at the same time, I very much look forward to being in a quiet place, among peers and teachers, away from technology, and just practice.


Last year I lived for three and a half months on a mountain top in Ladakh and rather enjoyed being generally detached from the net (the power was also only on for around six hours a day, sometimes a bit more more). I could check my e-mail in town provided the internet cafe actually had a working connection. I spent most of my time reading and meditating. I found I had better concentration. I could sit and read Classical Chinese for hours on end without feeling fatigued. My meditation was richer, too.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Nov 24, 2012 4:25 pm

gad rgyangs wrote:hey its your proposal.



No, you're suggesting that I'm advocating something entirely other than what I've stated.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby BuddhaSoup » Sat Nov 24, 2012 4:28 pm

Huseng wrote:
BuddhaSoup wrote:I myself am going to travel some distance this year to find a rural practice center and invest myself in that practice. I couldn't have found this temple without the internet and DW, but at the same time, I very much look forward to being in a quiet place, among peers and teachers, away from technology, and just practice.


Last year I lived for three and a half months on a mountain top in Ladakh and rather enjoyed being generally detached from the net (the power was also only on for around six hours a day, sometimes a bit more more). I could check my e-mail in town provided the internet cafe actually had a working connection. I spent most of my time reading and meditating. I found I had better concentration. I could sit and read Classical Chinese for hours on end without feeling fatigued. My meditation was richer, too.


Your experience in Ladakh sounds wonderful. A place you can go to in your mind, now, when life gets too infused with modern static. I spent some time as a samanera in a Wat in Thailand, and go there in my mind when I need a quiet place....the temple dogs still bark, though....:)
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