Is modernity bad for practice?

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby duckfiasco » Sun Nov 25, 2012 6:04 am

The book "Hare Brain Tortoise Mind" addresses what I think is a major stumbling block that is particular to our time, as well. That is, our society highly values logical, sequential chains of thought that can be deliberated and explained, with components clearly delineated and nothing left unaccounted for. This is to the detriment of the function of mind that is more content to let things arise on their own accord instead of attempting to reason them out of nothingness. One is somewhat hurried and wanting efficient deliberation. The other is more suited towards handling ambiguity and the unknown. Our modern drive for instant information and solutions both is an effect and cause of furthering this imbalance towards one kind of thinking.

Anyway, I can't do the book justice in a few lines. I read it on reading another poster's recommendation. I can also pass on that recommendation, especially since it seems relevant to this discussion. It's not particularly Buddhist, but hits on something of great importance for the tools Buddhism uses, I think. There are also many references to scientific studies for those so inclined. :twothumbsup:
Please take the above post with a grain of salt.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby ground » Sun Nov 25, 2012 7:45 am

Honestly - from the heart - only practice is bad for non-practice.

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby muni » Sun Nov 25, 2012 9:01 am

duckfiasco wrote: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


Concentration of awareness/mindfulness. :smile:
When mind is focussed, attracked to phenomena, mind is lost in phenomena. Then there is temporary no awareness/mindfulness of the grasping.

It are not the appearances which bind us, it is the attachment to appaerances which bind us.

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby tobes » Sun Nov 25, 2012 11:13 pm

jeeprs wrote: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.


I don't think this is clear cut at all.

If we're talking about certain philosophical trends associated with modernity - for example, a crude Hobbesian-Darwinian competitive individualism, sure.

But there are just as many philosophical trends associated with modernity which have facilitated the enormous growth of Buddhism in the west/industrialised societies. Perhaps most pressingly, the notion that liberation is an important value, and that the possibility of liberation depends greatly upon what one does.

Now of course, there are important distinctions between the concepts of liberty which came to prominence in modernity (and tended to be cached out in moral, aesthetic and political terms), with the concepts of liberty in Buddhism (which are of course soteriological in character).

But the point is, we need to ask why 'modernity' has been so receptive to Buddhism, when it is in so many other ways, strongly secular and aggressive hostile to organised forms of religion?

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby tobes » Sun Nov 25, 2012 11:25 pm

Huseng wrote:
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'll grant you that that if the objective of your meditation is achieving the jhanas, then the mountaintop is infinitely superior; you would be explicitly be withdrawing from the senses, and in the latter two, from any kind of form.

But if the objective of your meditation is gaining insight into emptiness, then there is no need to withdraw from the senses and the various worlds of form.

It's a very glib juxtaposition you make - if you're in the forest your mind could be occupied with the most perverse of sexual fantasies, and if you're online you could be conducting a webcast enlightening hundreds of dharma students. In both cases, what do you think really matters?

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby tomamundsen » Sun Nov 25, 2012 11:36 pm

:good:
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Jnana » Sun Nov 25, 2012 11:40 pm

kirtu wrote:And worse, there are no Buddhist communities that we can go to, live and work to support

Sure there are. Here are some: Monastic Ordination Resources.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Jnana » Sun Nov 25, 2012 11:46 pm

tobes wrote:I'll grant you that that if the objective of your meditation is achieving the jhanas, then the mountaintop is infinitely superior; you would be explicitly be withdrawing from the senses, and in the latter two, from any kind of form.

But if the objective of your meditation is gaining insight into emptiness, then there is no need to withdraw from the senses and the various worlds of form.

It's a very glib juxtaposition you make - if you're in the forest your mind could be occupied with the most perverse of sexual fantasies, and if you're online you could be conducting a webcast enlightening hundreds of dharma students. In both cases, what do you think really matters?

Most of the great Buddhist teachers have spent considerable time, even the majority of their lives, in retreat. Resorting to the wilderness is also included in numerous practice injunctions. For example, Tilopa:

    KYE MA! Listen with sympathy!
    With insight into your sorry worldly predicament,
    Realising that nothing can last, that all is as dreamlike illusion,
    Meaningless illusion provoking frustration and boredom,
    Turn around and abandon your mundane pursuits.

    Cut away involvement with your homeland and friends
    And meditate alone in a forest or mountain retreat;
    Exist there in a state of non-meditation
    And attaining no-attainment, you attain Mahamudra.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Thrasymachus » Mon Nov 26, 2012 12:15 am

Modernity is bad period, not just for dharma practice, but for everything. Nothing good ever came from the myth of linear teleological progress through the march of time, induced by new technologies.

This is a great topic, I am not gonna bother to read every previous reply, because I find most here use Buddhism as their form of escapism. "Samsara is samsara" or just invoking samsara is one of the most popular catcheisms on this site, sadly. It is a great excuse to refuse to analyze your present epoch and also lazily refuse to realize what good is being lost every day to allow the continuing sacrifices necessary on the altar of a narrow type of progress, peculiar to technological civilization. In modernized societies, most people spend a great portion of their lives partaking in escapism as a necessary adjunct for their mere continued functioning in society:
Jacques Ellul wrote:Consider the average man as he comes home from his job. Very likely he has spent the day in a completely hygienic environment, and everything has been done to balance his environment and lessen his fatigue. However, he has had to work without stopping and under constant pressure; nervous fatigue has replaced muscular fatigue. When he leaves his job, his joy in finishing his stint is mixed with dissatisfaction with a work as fruitless as it is incomprehensible and as far from really productive work. At home he "finds himself" again. But what does he find? He finds a phantom. If he ever thinks, his reflections terrify him. Personal destiny is fulfilled only by death; but reflection tells him that for him there has not been anything between his adolescent adventures and his death, no point at which he himself ever made a decision or initiated a change. Changes are the exclusive prerogative of organized technical society, which one day may have decked him out in khaki to defend it, and on another in stripes because he had sabotaged or betrayed it. There was no difference from one day to the next. Yet life was never serene, for newspapers and news reports beset him at the end of the day and forced on him the image of an insecure world. If it was not hot or cold war, there were all sorts of accidents to drive home to him the precariousness of his life. Torn between this precariousness and the absolute, unalterable determinateness of work, he has no place, belongs nowhere. Whether something happens to him, or nothing happens, he is in neither case the author of his destiny.

The man of the technical society does not want to encounter his phantom. He resents being torn between the extremes of accident and technical absolutism. He dreads the knowledge that everything ends "six feet under." He could accept the six-feet-under of his life if, and only if, life had some meaning and he could choose, say, to die. But when nothing makes sense, when nothing is the result of free choice, the final six-feet-under is an abominable injustice. Technical civilization has made a great error in not suppressing death, the only human reality still intact.

Man is still capable of lucid moments about the future. Propaganda techniques have not been able wholly to convince him that life has any meaning left. But amusement techniques have jumped into the breach and taught him at least how to flee the presence of death. He no longer needs faith or some difficult asceticism to deaden himself to this condition. The movies and television lead him straight into an artificial paradise. Rather than face his own phantom, he seeks film phantoms into which he can project himself and which permit him to live as he might have willed. For an hour or two he can cease to be himself, as his personality dissolves and fades into the anonymous mass of spectators. The film makes him laugh, cry, wonder, and love. He goes to bed with the leading lady, kills the villain, and masters life's absurdities. In short, he becomes a hero. Life suddenly has meaning.

Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society. p. 376.


According to Ellul, it is foolish to analyze modern society with terms like capitalism or communism, rather one must speak of a unified technological society that seeks only efficient technique. "In our technological society, technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity."[1] No one around me thus has any other type of knowledge than that demanded by technique: to be a good neighbor, to be a father or mother, as they have specialized their whole lives to be excellent workers and consumers of goods and services at the expense of everything else. The average person around everyone on this site is so disconnected from natural processes, any sense of community. It is so frightening to reflect upon, that it would cause total social paralysis if it was given the weight it was due, but most use escapism, to hide from such realizations, and on this site, that escapism is Buddhism.

Lots of research shows that modern devices and mass media create a new type of cybernetic person that cannot maintain single-pointed focus on anything, especially any difficult subject, but this new type of man excels in multi-tasking, juggling many tasks poorly as never before. Everyone has seen what results this has produced, and everyone tries to hide from their true horrific magnitude. I am sure many here know too many folks who even when you are with them, they have to have their cellphone out on the table, or fidget with their cellphone. That is just their constant reminder that they are always looking for the next better person to contact, or perhaps that they cannot be still in any moment without movement or anticipating who next will contact them, or who they will contact next. Any concerted concentration is now impossible for a growing number of people. Also anything requiring the slightest effort like walking a mere three blocks for most suburban dwellers or dealing with the exigencies of extreme weather for several hours, is also not possible for most, when technology can subsume those problems for them.

[1] Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society. p. xxv.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Mon Nov 26, 2012 12:54 am

jeeprs wrote: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.


If that's the case, one should get off the computer and go meditate.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Mon Nov 26, 2012 12:58 am

Thrasymachus wrote:
Lots of research shows that modern devices and mass media create a new type of cybernetic person that cannot maintain single-pointed focus on anything, especially any difficult subject, but this new type of man excels in multi-tasking, juggling many tasks poorly as never before. Everyone has seen what results this has produced, and everyone tries to hide from their true horrific magnitude. I am sure many here know too many folks who even when you are with them, they have to have their cellphone out on the table, or fidget with their cellphone.

[1] Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society. p. xxv.


I don't know about "lots of research" but none of the people I know who are constantly hooked up to electronic stimulation (TV, i phones, etc.) is evenly remotely interested in studying, much less practicing dharma.
The modern world may be going down a cyber toilet,
but i don't think it matters as far as dharma practice is concerned.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:00 am

Thrasymachus wrote:Modernity is bad period, not just for dharma practice, but for everything. Nothing good ever came from the myth of linear teleological progress through the march of time, induced by new technologies.

---thus posted on an internet forum.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:06 am

tobes wrote:But the point is, we need to ask why 'modernity' has been so receptive to Buddhism, when it is in so many other ways, strongly secular and aggressive hostile to organised forms of religion?


The modern west is receptive to the non-organized form of Buddhism. What most people have encountered hasn't been traditional monasticism with all its bureaucracy and enforced discipline, but a rather easily digested individually-tailored spirituality with no immediate clergy to say otherwise. Writers can write whatever they want and it is unlikely people inside the major institutions will actually say much. I reckon in much of Asia Buddhist intellectuals don't really care what western revisionists have to say. One Chinese monk (fluent in English) once said to me, "Westerners usually just get things wrong." I'm inclined to agree.

The general image of "Buddhism" in the modern west is not all that different from yoga or tai chi. There's no cause for hostility towards such things.

Modern Asia though has been incredibly hostile towards Buddhism. Look at all the communist regimes, or the hostility towards Buddhism in 19th century Japan.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:11 am

tobes wrote:But if the objective of your meditation is gaining insight into emptiness, then there is no need to withdraw from the senses and the various worlds of form.


Actually there is. There is no prajñā without dhyāna. The latter enables the appropriate mental fitness which realizes emptiness. What you suggest is just an intellectual understanding of emptiness. Dhyāna is also key because one needs a point of reference from which to understand the form and formless realms.



It's a very glib juxtaposition you make - if you're in the forest your mind could be occupied with the most perverse of sexual fantasies, and if you're online you could be conducting a webcast enlightening hundreds of dharma students. In both cases, what do you think really matters?


Let's be realistic.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:15 am

tobes wrote:But the point is, we need to ask why 'modernity' has been so receptive to Buddhism, when it is in so many other ways, strongly secular and aggressive hostile to organised forms of religion?


Why do you start with the assumption that Buddhism is a form of religion?

(actually, I think we have been through this before)
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Thrasymachus » Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:25 am

I am not going to make a whole back and forth with someone who I suspect is not interested in good faith dialogue, but:

-- Neither, I or any other single person makes social reality, and I certainly don't create social conditions or social structures. Thus it is beyond asinine to point out that a person with a critique of technology, modernism or progress actually uses a pc or internet. Obviously the few peoples left in this world, that live intimately in nature in small tribal bands, don't even have a concept of the internet, so they cannot critique it, but I can. Part of the reason I know why technology is so bad: intuitively from actually suffering through it, and intellectually by reading anti-establishment intellectuals. One thing Ellul pointed out in his work: what characterizes our technological civilization from all others and all previous epochs, is that there is no longer any obstacle to narrowly defined progress. In previous epochs, every so called advancement was known to have likely consequences and thus objections based on morality, religion, or tradition which would have to be deal with. Now there is no such obstacle, better technique is the only goal of our civilization and societal existence. Technology is adopted immediately and decades later, we actually learn the true magnitude of all the side effects, what we lost, and all the unforeseen consequences, which out of necessity are hidden beneath the threshold of most the hoi polloi.

If it was up to me, and I could get enough money, I would have my own meager apartment, and I wouldn't pay for internet and just use it minimally at the local library, so I could allow my mind to regain its composure and the ability for greater single pointed focus by minimizing greatly negative external influences. Obviously if someone's neuroplasticity has adapted down to the level of a tossed salad from too much television and internet, it has obvious impacts on meditation practice.

-- I went to a local Buddhist retreat center earlier in August, that was in residental neighborhood in a typical home. I got in a conversation with one of the monks(?) about my gripes with modern society, and I pointed out how disconnected people are socially. I then asked him if any of the neighbors even knew if a retreat center was next door to them and if they interacted. I don't even need to tell the answer, anyone who lives in a society that has been predominately capitalist for over a hundred years should know, and if they don't know, they don't care. Likely the same circumstances exist for most other Western Buddhists on this site acting as Super dharma men online...
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby jeeprs » Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:46 am

Thanks for the post on Jacques Ellul. He looks interesting and well worth reading. I am debating on another philosophy forum and am just amazed by the number of people who believe that computers are, or will soon be, 'conscious'. In opposition to that, I refer to what I see as the categorical difference between organism and mechanism. Not only do they not see it, they are insulted by the idea, apparently. So are they being 'enslaved by technology'? It seems highly possible.

I think the real problem is that we actually mistake representational modes of thinking for the reality itself. We are creating a kind of computerized version of samsara, of which the consequences will be felt in real life.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby duckfiasco » Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:49 am

It's good you realize all these things. Seeing this dire predicament and everyone's apparent ignorance of their own complicity, what marvelous grounds for cultivating compassion. I hope you don't make yourself sick with frustration or despair, but can use all this to your benefit and everyone else's :thumbsup:
Please take the above post with a grain of salt.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby gad rgyangs » Mon Nov 26, 2012 2:07 am

the so-called "real world" is already a virtual reality, so i don't see why it should be given precedence over any other virtual worlds we may come across or invent. personally, I would love to be permanently jacked into the internet. The thing that you have to get is that the empty/pure, ceaselessly manifesting and responsive ground (gzhi) is the same for all manifestation: "all phenomena of samsara and nirvana" means just what it says. so, it doesn't even matter if you reject "modernity" (however you happen to define on any given day) and opt for some fantasy of forest life or bygone days in Tibetan monasteries, all of that fantasy is no better or worse really than the fantasy we call "the real world" with its modernity and technology. its all just vanilla and chocolate flavors, take your pick.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby jeeprs » Mon Nov 26, 2012 2:36 am

duckfiasco wrote:It's good you realize all these things. Seeing this dire predicament and everyone's apparent ignorance of their own complicity, what marvelous grounds for cultivating compassion. I hope you don't make yourself sick with frustration or despair, but can use all this to your benefit and everyone else's :thumbsup:


Being able to discuss ideas with people who have diametrically opposing view of life to your own is a good training for non-attachment and not being attached to opinions. But it still doesn't mean that everything is a matter of opinion. 'Life is like a movie, but with real blood'.
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