Is modernity bad for practice?

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby duckfiasco » Sat Nov 24, 2012 10:30 pm

For me at least, no focus = no awareness of grasping mind and its influence. If simply lacking focus or concentration were the way to realization, we'd all be bodhisattvas by now :P
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Lhug-Pa » Sat Nov 24, 2012 10:36 pm

In reply to Shel's post above, and Tobes' post below...; This Post addresses your questions & comments quite directly (see the bolded part in the quote there, and my "commentary" that follows it).

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby tobes » Sat Nov 24, 2012 10:46 pm

Modernity is a problem only if you fail to see that it is just as empty as a mountain top in the Himalaya's.

Sure it is easier to concentrate on the mountain top, and we could say, for that reason, better for the practice of gaining insight into emptiness.

But both conventionally and ultimately, it does not matter what the content of that insight is. It does not matter if it is a desolate peak or a busy highway. Both equally empty and dependently arisen.

The profundity and greatness of the Buddhist view is that it is a view - per se - not a view which requires a mountain top in order to be. One is not reaching for a transcendental reality away from the world; one is seeing the immanence of reality in whatever way it appears.

Failing to appreciate the incredible richness of conventional phenomena - is a failure of the mind which apprehends, not a failure of the phenomena in question.

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby duckfiasco » Sat Nov 24, 2012 11:20 pm

All of us are deluded to some extent. I'm not sure how helpful a highway will be to someone with very little skill in concentration versus said mountaintop. Do we let them stay with "well my mind is just deficient" or suggest means to compensate for deficiencies so a little wisdom can grow?

Falsely imputed or not, said impediments apparently exist so we must work with them. So in this context, does modernity significantly impede practice?

FWIW I think a lot of modernity DOES contribute to absentmindedness and impatience at the very least. The advent of scientific influence in our society has also brought a mindset that says if it can't be measured and turned into data, it doesn't exist or has no meaningful impact. I think that is very unfortunate.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby tobes » Sun Nov 25, 2012 12:53 am

duckfiasco wrote:All of us are deluded to some extent. I'm not sure how helpful a highway will be to someone with very little skill in concentration versus said mountaintop. Do we let them stay with "well my mind is just deficient" or suggest means to compensate for deficiencies so a little wisdom can grow?

Falsely imputed or not, said impediments apparently exist so we must work with them. So in this context, does modernity significantly impede practice?

FWIW I think a lot of modernity DOES contribute to absentmindedness and impatience at the very least. The advent of scientific influence in our society has also brought a mindset that says if it can't be measured and turned into data, it doesn't exist or has no meaningful impact. I think that is very unfortunate.


I granted that concentration would be easier on the mountaintop.

And though I broadly take your point, I think there are certain dangers in reifying the mountaintop. Being attached to beauty, stillness, calm - even the highest of formless meditative states - is still being attached.

In this respect, the highway analogy is not arbitrary - the point of practice is recognise what is true and liberating in the immanence of reality, not to escape from it.

True reality is not to be found somewhere else: it is wherever it is.

I think it is a very romanticist mindset that conceives of Buddhist liberation as somehow apart from or agonal to modernity. Ironically, such a mindset is one of the hallmarks of modernity - the longing for a past golden age, where the pressures of speed, instrumental rationality et al were not manifest.

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby duckfiasco » Sun Nov 25, 2012 1:28 am

I get the impression we're saying the same thing different ways :P

Reifying anything is a danger. But when your life is built up of habits of reification, that's what you start with. I think a lot of people are still at that point (including me). So we rely on quiet, safe places where we won't be disturbed to meditate until we find it easier to do in rock concerts and while being robbed. :stirthepot:

I would argue though that because of technological advancement and the immediate availability of information, entertainment, and ways to basically disengage ourselves from our lives and others, things are hard in a different way now than they would be for someone in the 1500s. And at the very least, since what we're familiar with is the modern age, that's where we find the problems. So for some, it may be trying to wean ourselves from being restlessly entertained every waking moment. For others, it might be trying to cultivate bodhicitta in a culture (United States) that increasingly promotes individualism and isolation.

In the 1500s, maybe the problem of the day was "how do I find time to practice when I have to slave in the fields 15 hours a day to survive?" or "how can I be happy when I have a cyst in my jaw and no way to get better?"

Just as a personal example of late, being locked into an employment system and culture that doesn't value downtime means it's much harder to go on a retreat than someone a couple hundred years ago. I have two weeks of vacation a year, not much to begin with, and I'm lucky if I can get ONE of those days off, let alone the full two weeks for a short retreat. There have been definite trends that make practice harder in some respects, but easier in others. The point of the thread I thought was to focus on the hard points and see what we could do about them :) If we're just waxing poetic on times we never lived in and can never recreate, I want off! :rolleye:
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Thus-gone » Sun Nov 25, 2012 1:59 am

It should be pretty obvious to any intelligent person that blanket statements like "this is bad" or "this is good", that do not admit of any possible complexity or ambiguity, are at best mistaken and at worst propaganda. The question of modernity and its relation to practice (among many other things) is not some simple equation, but a very complex question. In my experience, people who argue 100% in one direction or the other are usually nut-bags.

The main obstructions that the modern world presents to Buddhist practice, in my opinion, are:

-Increased alienation from nature and its energies
-Generally lowered emphasis on physical, emotional, and mental health
-Increased reliance on palliative rather than preventative health care
-Decreased opportunities to concentrate or be silent
-Much decreased understanding of religion and the sacred as an important facet of the human experience

On the other hand, it presents some opportunities for practice:

-Increased mental and sensuous material to work with in vipasyana-related practices
-Massively obvious demonstrations of dukkha and its causes throughout all levels of society
-Technologies to spread the dharma and establish stronger connections with the Mahasangha
-Vast amount and availability of intellectual resources of all sorts
-Access to retreat centers and monasteries
-Cross-fertilisation between Western science and political consciousness with Eastern wisdom traditions

In general, the problem with the modern world is that everything in the environment pushes you in the direction of physical, psychological and spiritual disease...but if you choose to do so, and have the privilege, the resources to cultivate and perfect your health in all the same facets are available and ready. If you use "oh the world has gone to crap" as an excuse for practicing half-heartedly, then you're a fool and hardly deserve the wondrous message of the Dharma in the first place.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun Nov 25, 2012 2:07 am

Is modernity bad for practice?
1. Tell me, how did you come to learn about Buddhism?
2. What is modernity, and how does it reduce one's ability to developing compassion?

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby kirtu » Sun Nov 25, 2012 2:18 am

Huseng wrote:Last year I lived for three and a half months on a mountain top in Ladakh ...


Alas, we cannot live in Ladakh and most of us cannot visit Ladakh. And worse, there are no Buddhist communities that we can go to, live and work to support

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby tomamundsen » Sun Nov 25, 2012 2:20 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:Is modernity bad for practice?
1. Tell me, how did you come to learn about Buddhism?
2. What is modernity, and how does it reduce one's ability to developing compassion?

.
.
.

You have a good point. If I wasn't born in modern times, I would probably just have to pretend to be Catholic and never get the chance to be exposed to even one Buddhist scripture.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Nov 25, 2012 2:46 am

Astus wrote:Should rebirth be part of education?


You're missing the point: universal standardized education where "what goes into the curriculum" is a modern development. Before that you had no universal education and as such what people learnt was up to their families and community. Literacy rates were lower, but then youth spent their time learning skills more useful to that environment like farming, food preservation and crafts. The idea that everyone needs to be on the same curriculum is tied in with the urge to create citizens who are all on the same page. Plural ideologies and worldviews is seldom appreciated (that goes for Christian education as it does for secular education).
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Nov 25, 2012 2:51 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Then again, paradoxically it is elements of that same modernity that made the Dharma available at all to those of us not born near it. Undeniable there are more people practicing the Dharma now (however imperfectly) due to it.


If you have contact with Dharma and have an interest in it, it isn't the technology that facilitates it, but simply past life connections.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Nov 25, 2012 2:56 am

tobes wrote:And though I broadly take your point, I think there are certain dangers in reifying the mountaintop. Being attached to beauty, stillness, calm - even the highest of formless meditative states - is still being attached.



Not really. If you stay there thinking it is liberation, it is a problem, but as the Buddha taught spending your time in the wilderness away from civilization was to be encouraged. One would easily withdraw from sensual pleasures in a forest and be able to attain solid meditation in such surroundings. A means to an end, but it makes sense. Appreciating the visual beauty of the forest is different from downloading smut online. Sure, both lack inherent existence, but the former is more conducive to withdrawing from desire and achieving the jhanas.


I think it is a very romanticist mindset that conceives of Buddhist liberation as somehow apart from or agonal to modernity. Ironically, such a mindset is one of the hallmarks of modernity - the longing for a past golden age, where the pressures of speed, instrumental rationality et al were not manifest.


In ancient times as well many believed liberation was best achieved away from people and civilization. The forest and mountains were their monasteries.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby greentara » Sun Nov 25, 2012 3:13 am

'We all imagine that we want peace and quiet, that we value privacy and that the solitary and silent person is somehow more 'authentic' than the same person in the social crowd, but we seldom take opportunities to enjoy it. We romanticise silence on the one hand and on the other feel that it is terrifying, dangerous to our mental health.'
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby kirtu » Sun Nov 25, 2012 3:13 am

Huseng wrote:In ancient times as well many believed liberation was best achieved away from people and civilization. The forest and mountains were their monasteries.


Did they eat animals? Otherwise they had to cultivate or store some food. Siddhartha and his group lived close enough that people were able to come and offer them food and even so Siddhartha's legend was that he was utterly emaciated but would get a bean or a grain in the austerity period prior to his enlightenment.

In Bill Porter's book about monks in China, "Road to Heaven", he encountered a monk who trudged down from the mountain to get supplied for the winter. In Hsu Yun's bio he talks about living in a hut, meditating and cooking potatoes (and in fact went into deep samadhi, some visitor monks dropped by and hit the pot to sound like a gong, Hsu Yun invited them for dinner but the potatoes had rotted as he had been in samadhi for something like at least 2 weeks).

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby PorkChop » Sun Nov 25, 2012 3:24 am

Whether you read Mahyana Sutras or the Pali Suttas, the decline of the Dharma/Dhamma seems to be the same.
In other words, it's only when people don't realize they are suffering and don't realize they are going to die, that the Dharma/Dhamma seems to be forgotten.
On another thread, I mention videos by Brian Ruhe. He makes the claim that the Mahayana (de-facto the Bodhisattva) Path is the work of Mara and the cause of the decline in "true Dhamma" because it is a "false Dhamma". I think this point is directly disputed by the above - it's in good times when we forget the realities of existence, that the Dhamma/Dharma are forgotten.
In that sense, I agree with you.
In the modern age, when we forget the truth of suffering, THAT is when the Dharma/Dhamma declines.
If modernity leads to people having a comfortable life for over 100 years, then I can see the truths the Buddha taught being forgotten.
I do not think we are there yet, but it may be close.
Chances are it will be in the interim between when the damage to our planet is done and when the results of that damage start to make themselves known.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby jeeprs » Sun Nov 25, 2012 4:21 am

I agree with the OP. I think the charachteristically 'modern' mindset is antagonistic to spirituality generally. The underlying impulse behind modern democratic liberalism is in some ways to 'make the world safe for the ignorant'. I know that is a very harsh thing to say, but it is a consequence of the European Enlighenment 'project'.

However I also believe, as some others have pointed out, that this is only as much of an obstacle as we allow it to be. On the plus side, those of us in the affluent part of the modern world are provided with freedom of choice and expression, and considerable freedom to decide how to direct our lives. As well as that there is great access to information and ability to trvel. In pre-modern societies, these kinds of freedoms barely existed. But at the same time, the modern world throws up many obstacles, distractions and confusions which make it hard to make use of the freedoms we have for a higher purpose.

Sometimes I think the best analogy for our life situation is that of a multi-level computer game. I don't play them, but my son does. They have become fantastically real now. You have to navigate all these realms, win battles, find strengths, and so on. Maybe we're all in a situation like that, except it's real.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby greentara » Sun Nov 25, 2012 4:23 am

"The idea of going off to a cave somewhere to meditate, or of being alone, is very attractive because as you settle into solitude, you do experience a level of tranquillity through lack of sensory stimulation. It is a kind of sensory deprivation. But that kind of tranquillity is easily disturbed. When the sensory impingements start pounding away at you again, you can get into, ‘Let me go to my cave.’ You can begin to hate people. You see them always as a threat. ‘Here they come again. They’re going to disrupt my samadhi.’ So, this couldn’t possibly be the way to liberation.

The other extreme is to think that you should not go off to the cave and should not practise meditation. Sometimes you hear people say that one need only be natural and let everything happen. This is true if you can do it, but if you don’t even know what is natural yet, it’s difficult to trust yourself."
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun Nov 25, 2012 4:39 am

I think the idea that "modernity' (and every time period is "modern") being antagonistic to practice is based on a somewhat romantic, idealized, perhaps even escapist fantasy about dharma practice.

Living in a modern industrialized world, which I do not have to indulge in to any great degree,
has a lot of things that can be to my advantage.
For example, I will have a lifespan probably twice that of what the average Tibetan's was 50 years ago. So, I have more time to practice. I have access to much more dharma material, dharma teachers, and other resources, PLUS I have been taught how to read and write. I have comfortable living conditions, I have enough food (which I can get from the store down the street) and if I get sick, I am not too far from a doctor. I do not have to climb a mountain in order to see my teacher.
If I want to get lost in a forest, or go to a monastery, look how many I have to choose from!
I can go to almost any country in the world, if I have the means. Or, I can go to the city park, or the beach.

The fact is, it is easier to study and practice dharma now than it ever has been.
the fact that modern conveniences may also be distractions is not the fault of the conveniences.
the TV set doesn't turn itself on.
It is up to the person to practice. But this has always been the case.
Don't blame your own lack of diligence on the things around you.

If one thinks that challenges make for better dharma practice,
then what greater challenge is there than living in a modern, noisy world?
If you say "life is too easy now"
then how much better one's results will be from overcoming that!
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby jeeprs » Sun Nov 25, 2012 5:24 am

But in fairness to the original post, I think the idea is, not that an individual wouldn't be able to practice or follow the path in the modern world, but that in important ways, modern thinking is antagonistic to the values it requires. It instills attitudes that undermine or work against the practice.
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