Is modernity bad for practice?

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Astus » Mon Nov 26, 2012 10:53 am

Putting aside whether this is true or not, what if modernity is bad for practice? The idea of a Dharma ending age is not a new one, and it's not stopped any school to continue with whatever they had been doing. There are some emphasising the difficulty of the times for hundreds of years now, mainly the Pure Land schools. In Zen they emphasise that regardless of the circumstances every being has buddha-nature and the possibility to attain enlightenment right now. Vajrayana has both concepts and claims that it is the most appropriate method especially for this dark age. All three schools embrace householders and say that being busy in everyday life is not a problem. And there is Vimalakirti and the idea of the householder bodhisattva.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby deepbluehum » Mon Nov 26, 2012 3:20 pm

Huseng wrote:
deepbluehum wrote:Asian elitism duly noted.


You just smacked a strawman.



The West has many very brilliant minds and sincere ones at that.


I don't deny that, but a lot of what gets tossed around as "Buddhism" online and in the print media is just wrong. The popular revisionism and secularization of Buddhist traditions especially so. If you tried to teach such nonsense at a Buddhist college in Asia they'd first feel sorry for you, and then ask you to stop (or just assume that since you're a foreigner you haven't been properly taught and hence safely dismiss whatever you're saying as uneducated blabbering).



Definitely a very profound Western Dharma can grow here. I don't agree with the condescending attitude toward the West and her dharma practitioners. There's no need to pidgeon-hole and over-generalize.


I hate to say it, but these generalizations often apply. From personal experience I know this to often to be case. That's why I agreed with the aforementioned Chinese monk. It isn't condescending if it is often true. The stereotype of privileged occidentals coming East to learn Dharma, but not really taking it seriously (spiritual tourism?) holds some degree of weight.

If you travel around Asia and get to know a lot of people from various traditions you may or may not come to the same conclusions as I have.


Your assessments discount the fairly numerous Western dharma practitioners who are sincerely putting dharma into practice in their lives in a very heartfelt and purposeful way. Your generalizations also discount the Asian monk and nun who only has a college degree in Buddhism, but other than that, is just an arrogant pseudo-intellectual. And you've set up a stupid psuedo-standard. Who cares what gets passed off as dharma teaching at a stilted and ridiculous thing like a Asian Buddhist college. I've met so many Asian monks and nuns in San Francisco. Not a single one has anything close to a realization. And so many are looking for Tibetan teachers; very few are ever accepted. Sure there are Western Buddhists with unusual ideas about Buddhism, as if the Asians haven't come up with so many funny ideas over the centuries.

Huseng, I find you consistently pessimistic attitude to be over-bearing and tiresome. I fail to see how this thinking is even Buddhist.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Nov 26, 2012 3:25 pm

deepbluehum wrote:Asian culture is bondage.


And you accuse me of generalization?
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby deepbluehum » Mon Nov 26, 2012 3:32 pm

Huseng wrote:
deepbluehum wrote:Asian culture is bondage.


And you accuse me of generalization?


It was a bit of an over-statement, I edited out. The fact remains, Western society doesn't put nearly the kind of pressures on someone than does an Asian society.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Nov 26, 2012 3:41 pm

deepbluehum wrote:It was a bit of an over-statement, I edited out. The fact remains, Western society doesn't put nearly the kind of pressures on someone than does an Asian society.


That doesn't negate my observations about occidental spiritual tourism and all the revisionism coming out of the west.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Mon Nov 26, 2012 5:27 pm

Thrasymachus wrote: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.


So like it's like we know "modernity" is bad for us, like alcohol or tabbaco, but we consume it anyway. :tongue:
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby BuddhaSoup » Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:26 pm

I'm kind of with Huseng on this point. I've practiced in Asia, and if I could afford it, I'd fly there every month just for the experience of the Wat, to be among renunciates, and to learn Dhamma/Dharma with some dedicated and knowledgeable monks and teachers.

Here in the West, there are some positive practice centers, a few centers of excellence and authenticity, and some very positive developments. However, so much of what I have seen in western Buddhism is watered down, confused, goofy, and at the end of the day, a practice that seems to relegate the teachings of Gautama Buddha to the basement. Stephen Batchelor professes a 'secular Buddhism' without regard to the fact that Buddha taught his Dhamma in a secular way. Don't like rebirth? Tossing it out the window also tosses the Dhamma with it. Don't want to believe in rebirth or karma? OK, then be agnostic about it....no one in this age is likely to prove it positively or negatively (science even seems to have an appetite to investigate rebirth cases...) ...for Batchelor to dismiss it outright strikes me as a conceit.

I agree with Huseng that some of what passes for Buddhism in America would be unrecognizable in Asia. It's a shame, really. So many in the West needing the "medicine," and we're watering it down to the point where it is becoming suspect as to its benefit.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Nov 26, 2012 7:01 pm

I think that clarity and authenticity in belief and action was rare in Buddha's day, and is also rare in ours, in any culture.

Are we supposed to think that what people like Batchelor are doing is some uniquely modern trend? It pretty much describes the history of religion..the window dressing might be different but I don't really see how the process is particularly uniquely "modern' other than the fact that the Dharma has spread to the west so quickly. Not exactly unusual for cultures to grapple with adjusting new belief systems to their own accepted views of reality...you may not like some of the results in the process, but the process itself is not strictly modern.

Shouldn't we be judging authenticity of teachings by the teachings themselves anyway, and not the authority of culture?

Basically the argument seems to be:

Westerners are cheezy, lazy and don't get Buddhism, therefore modernity is bad.

Seems kinda iffy to me :shrug:

I don't like the Buddhist revisionism/naive realist movement much myself, but acting like it's just a bunch of silly westerners messing around is missing the point of what it actually is, which is a process of the Dharma emerging the west, to me retreating to a reactionary method of stating that culture is pretty much the sole authority on what is 'correct' Buddhism is just as bad as picking and choosing what to believe.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby duckfiasco » Mon Nov 26, 2012 7:15 pm

Well the title of Batchelor's book "Buddhism without Beliefs" betrays the same kind of assumption that underlines most Christianity in the US: that to be religious, you have to either factually accept or reject a statement that you wouldn't otherwise consider. So rebirth and karma are relegated to this same kind of belief that doesn't seem to do anybody any good. This is symptomatic of the modern mindset that measurable, in-your-eyeball facts are important and everything else is suspect or at least subjective. That's maybe the greatest challenge we face in this particular age: our own skepticism based on a worldview that assumes it has no worldview. But maybe this kind of ignorance isn't modern after all.

So yeah, making beliefs an issue at all in Buddhism kind of misses the point, and it's unfortunate to see them be such a hangup. It's good people are practicing mindfulness and kindness. It would be still better if Buddhism were taken for what it is: a complete set of practices meant to deal with the mind. If there's a teaching that seems to require that kind of piss-poor irrelevant "belief" that US culture has come to associate with religion, it means the teaching isn't relevant to your time and situation. So set it on the shelf. I agree with everyone here that divvying Buddhism up into concepts and "facts" you'll either throw in the believe or don't believe pile makes for a poor dharma. It neuters it. When something challenges you the most, you're at an important point. Batchelor and others would have you throw it into the "don't believe" pile and move onto more comfortable things.

All this misses one of the most liberating teachings of Buddhism: your beliefs are a distraction, your concepts bind you. Let's hope we may all be free from our own ignorance, regardless of our views.

:soapbox: time over :tongue:
Please take the above post with a grain of salt.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby duckfiasco » Mon Nov 26, 2012 7:37 pm

I wonder, too... with the changes inherent in the change from a "long-cycle" lifestyles (growing crops, long distances taking a long time to cross, information taking time to find, etc.) to the more efficiency-driven lifestyle of comparative physical luxury, it surely has to have had an effect on our mental expectations of the world. Easy-swallow capsules of belief that don't require mental exertion or dwelling in uncomfortable places of ambiguity or change in our lives are the equivalent of going to get a fast food hamburger. People have likely always wanted easy fixes and lazy solutions. However, just like obesity wasn't an epidemic in the US until circumstances were just right, I think there's a growing trend of mental and spiritual obesity as well.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby tobes » Mon Nov 26, 2012 11:50 pm

Huseng wrote:
tobes wrote:It's just clumsy and without foundation.

:anjali:


I agree. I'm not doing that though.

I'm simply saying that first of all there is some truth to the stereotype in Asia that western Buddhists tend to be off the axle a bit. This is not universal let alone 100% accurate, but time and again I encounter western Buddhists with distorted and wrong views who think they are perfectly acceptable. Rebirth is a core issue. Except for Japan, it isn't an issue in any Asian culture as far as I know. If someone doesn't believe in it, they just say so and leave it at that. With a lot of westerners they say, "I don't believe in it and here's why I don't think we need it and should remake a new kind of Buddhism sanitized of what we find disagreeable." Look at guys like Batchelor and his sympathizers.

Secondly, the west doesn't have near the level of complexity and bureaucratic apparatus as Asian institutions do. Western Buddhism is nowhere near as institutionalized as it is in Asian countries, hence I object to your "highly institutionalized" remark -- it not a fact as you suggest.



You make the mistake here of taking revisionists to be representative of western Buddhists per se.

There are and have been revisionists in the east too. If that is what you are attacking, you should attack it explicitly; is it really a problematic of modernity?? Maybe it is - but I would like to see some kind of argument making the connection.

With respect to your second point - it is simply institutionalised in different ways. Buddhism in the west is not remotely akin to the Kerouac days of a bit of poetry, a bit of a read of sutta's in the local library, a week in forest hut, a month on amphetimes writing prose....

It is highly organised, not only on the level of dharma centres, but on more macro levels too. There are Buddhist councils, societies, translation groups, scholarly networks, fund raising committees et al et al - a tremendous amount of effort to ensure that Buddhism flourishes in the west, all of which you just flatly deny, in favour of some fantasy of materialist individualism.

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby tobes » Mon Nov 26, 2012 11:58 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:I think that clarity and authenticity in belief and action was rare in Buddha's day, and is also rare in ours, in any culture.

Are we supposed to think that what people like Batchelor are doing is some uniquely modern trend? It pretty much describes the history of religion..the window dressing might be different but I don't really see how the process is particularly uniquely "modern' other than the fact that the Dharma has spread to the west so quickly. Not exactly unusual for cultures to grapple with adjusting new belief systems to their own accepted views of reality...you may not like some of the results in the process, but the process itself is not strictly modern.

Shouldn't we be judging authenticity of teachings by the teachings themselves anyway, and not the authority of culture?

Basically the argument seems to be:

Westerners are cheezy, lazy and don't get Buddhism, therefore modernity is bad.

Seems kinda iffy to me :shrug:

I don't like the Buddhist revisionism/naive realist movement much myself, but acting like it's just a bunch of silly westerners messing around is missing the point of what it actually is, which is a process of the Dharma emerging the west, to me retreating to a reactionary method of stating that culture is pretty much the sole authority on what is 'correct' Buddhism is just as bad as picking and choosing what to believe.



:good:

I have been reading a history of Christianity recently - and it is more or less a history of constant revision and counter-revision.

One might be tempted to start with Luther and the reformation and try to claim that revisionism is an expression of modernity ~ but that would be to overlook that the historical process is dynamic in character. The only thing that can't be is stasis.

Buddhism takes that as a central insight - there are no universals to ground ideas. Ideas necessarily move.

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Nov 27, 2012 1:12 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Are we supposed to think that what people like Batchelor are doing is some uniquely modern trend?


Yes, it is. Nobody until very recently called themselves a Buddhist and denied rebirth, karma and other core Buddhadharma.


Westerners are cheezy, lazy and don't get Buddhism, therefore modernity is bad.


Nobody has announced this conclusion other than you.



I don't like the Buddhist revisionism/naive realist movement much myself, but acting like it's just a bunch of silly westerners messing around is missing the point of what it actually is, which is a process of the Dharma emerging the west, to me retreating to a reactionary method of stating that culture is pretty much the sole authority on what is 'correct' Buddhism is just as bad as picking and choosing what to believe.


I don't think anyone is suggesting this. There is no sole authority when it comes to judging correct Buddhism.

I've simply said there is a stereotype in Asia concerning occidentals messing around in Buddhism. This is not entirely true, but it holds some weight in my opinion.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Red Faced Buddha » Tue Nov 27, 2012 1:17 am

Huseng wrote: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 PadmaVonSamba » Tue Nov 27, 2012 2:09 am

Huseng wrote: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.


Tibet had its share of problems, political battles and people distracted by wealth and status.
And even though there is no escaping the wheel of time, the monastic world is far from extinct.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Nov 27, 2012 3:45 am

Huseng wrote:
I don't think anyone is suggesting this. There is no sole authority when it comes to judging correct Buddhism.

I've simply said there is a stereotype in Asia concerning occidentals messing around in Buddhism. This is not entirely true, but it holds some weight in my opinion.


What exactly is an occidental "messing with Buddhism" as opposed to one who is not just messing around?

For instance, what defines you as not one of these people? Proximity to the mother culture, level of scholarship? What is the test of Buddhist "seriousness"?

If the characteristics that define one as just messing around are simply skepticism of the culturally unfamiliar bits of religions, i'm pretty sure we could make similar arguments about Asians who adopt for instance Christianity not being "serious". It seems like a questionable argument to me.

There are some really unattractive, ugly parts to the huge "eastern spirituality industry" for sure, but I think you are throwing the baby out with the bathwater by assuming anyone with views you find distasteful, or even people who are just dipping their toes in for the first time are "just messing around", people can be misguided but serious. Then some people can hold correct views (maybe 'consistent views' fits better) and yet really not be serious at all in terms of observable dedication, let alone persistence - which is the only real measure of most people's seriousness.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby futerko » Tue Nov 27, 2012 4:09 am

Huseng wrote:I'm simply saying that first of all there is some truth to the stereotype in Asia that western Buddhists tend to be off the axle a bit. This is not universal let alone 100% accurate, but time and again I encounter western Buddhists with distorted and wrong views who think they are perfectly acceptable. Rebirth is a core issue. Except for Japan, it isn't an issue in any Asian culture as far as I know. If someone doesn't believe in it, they just say so and leave it at that. With a lot of westerners they say, "I don't believe in it and here's why I don't think we need it and should remake a new kind of Buddhism sanitized of what we find disagreeable." Look at guys like Batchelor and his sympathizers.

Secondly, the west doesn't have near the level of complexity and bureaucratic apparatus as Asian institutions do. Western Buddhism is nowhere near as institutionalized as it is in Asian countries, hence I object to your "highly institutionalized" remark -- it not a fact as you suggest.


The other side of the coin, perhaps just as much of a stereotype, is the image of the Asian person being very concerned about their own rebirth, where their idea of karma actually motivates them towards self-cherishing (i.e. what realm they will be reborn in), and just as in the days when many Europeans used to attend church, such a degree of institutionalization can lead to ritualization.

A high degree of institutionalization does not strike me as necessarily beneficial or progressive as it currently is in Asia, but in the more secular countries where Buddhism is still a young shoot then it could well be quite discouraging.

The idea of "traditional monasticism with all its bureaucracy and enforced discipline" sounds quite oppressive, and also a far cry from the vision of a solitary meditation on a mountain-top. Just because the west does prefer a non-organized form is no reason to lack faith in the power of the Dharma. It seems to me that concern for what other people are doing in their practice on the basis that it is, "easily digested individually-tailored spirituality" is more based upon the hegemonic concerns of a bureaucratic clergy than upon any spiritual insight.

If anything, Batchelor's version of Buddhism is the way it is precisely because he is attempting to address the crisis of modernity (rather than because certain aspects are seen as "disagreeable"). His focus is on the idea of how to live a good life here and now rather than on metaphysics, possibly a symptom of Modernity, but also an attempt to make Buddhism relevant to that crisis. Maybe he does place the demands of reason before the demands of Buddhism, and he also seems to get caught up in polemics which detract from that project, but his focus does still seem to primarily be on the idea of self-transformation and the cessation of suffering without a lot of the superstition and magical thinking that can make Buddhism appear as a flight from rather than an adequate answer to the issues faced by the crisis of rationality raised by Modernity.

It seems to me that the idea of rebirth one might come across in Asia may often err just as much on the side of eternalism as the modern interpretation is prone to err on the side of annihilationism, however in both cases, the basic teachings concerning suffering, compassion, meditative equipoise, virtue, etc. in this life seem alive and well for the most part.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Nov 27, 2012 5:36 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:What exactly is an occidental "messing with Buddhism" as opposed to one who is not just messing around?


The former is an ideological descendent of past colonialist mentalities which dictate it is only proper and right to appropriate and reform what the natives have produced for one's own satisfaction and benefit without much regard for what the original people have to say on the matter. Good criticism is always good, but turning to revisionism because you can't accept the core teachings is not.

There's also the stereotype of privileged spiritual tourists going to India and Nepal, and elsewhere, to "find themselves" while having a great time and spending a lot of money in the process. If it works for them, cool, but that's a far cry from really devoting yourself.

I'm simply saying there is a stereotype and it holds water to some degree.


For instance, what defines you as not one of these people? Proximity to the mother culture, level of scholarship? What is the test of Buddhist "seriousness"?


I don't know. I've often got the impression that people here generally don't take me seriously because I'm white and young. In Taiwan I'm still classed as a child and elsewhere, well, I'm just a white dude, so what would I know about Buddhism?



If the characteristics that define one as just messing around are simply skepticism of the culturally unfamiliar bits of religions, i'm pretty sure we could make similar arguments about Asians who adopt for instance Christianity not being "serious". It seems like a questionable argument to me.


Most stereotypes are questionable, but often hold a bit of weight. It isn't all or nothing.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Nov 27, 2012 5:46 am

futerko wrote:The other side of the coin, perhaps just as much of a stereotype, is the image of the Asian person being very concerned about their own rebirth, where their idea of karma actually motivates them towards self-cherishing (i.e. what realm they will be reborn in), and just as in the days when many Europeans used to attend church, such a degree of institutionalization can lead to ritualization.



Sure, but I'll take that over "Atheist Buddhism" or this new secularized watered-down variety of mindfulness that gets tossed around.



A high degree of institutionalization does not strike me as necessarily beneficial or progressive as it currently is in Asia, but in the more secular countries where Buddhism is still a young shoot then it could well be quite discouraging.


Institutions for all their faults are the vessels which transmit a lineage and all its distilled teachings and practices from one generation to the next. Without that vessel, flawed as it might be, things will easily disperse and be lost.

What this means is that institutions are actually quite necessary. At some point some people might chose to abandon them, but in their development they probably need the support that comes from such arrangements.



The idea of "traditional monasticism with all its bureaucracy and enforced discipline" sounds quite oppressive, and also a far cry from the vision of a solitary meditation on a mountain-top.


Right, but almost nobody, east or west, goes onto a mountain top to meditate.


It seems to me that concern for what other people are doing in their practice on the basis that it is, "easily digested individually-tailored spirituality" is more based upon the hegemonic concerns of a bureaucratic clergy than upon any spiritual insight.



Not really. If you don't have a clergy of some sort you end up with an anything goes mentality which, clearly, is not working in the west where everyone and their dog can write about Buddhism and even become certified. There is no quality control. Now I'm not saying huge institutions are the solution, but having some degree of stable landed organizations as true representatives of the Sangha would be a step in the right direction.




If anything, Batchelor's version of Buddhism is the way it is precisely because he is attempting to address the crisis of modernity (rather than because certain aspects are seen as "disagreeable"). His focus is on the idea of how to live a good life here and now rather than on metaphysics, possibly a symptom of Modernity, but also an attempt to make Buddhism relevant to that crisis.


The solution to the disease of modernity is not to feed it more modern ideas. Some old fashioned tried-and-test remedies would work wonders.


It seems to me that the idea of rebirth one might come across in Asia may often err just as much on the side of eternalism as the modern interpretation is prone to err on the side of annihilationism, however in both cases, the basic teachings concerning suffering, compassion, meditative equipoise, virtue, etc. in this life seem alive and well for the most part.



We will have to agree to disagree.
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Indrajala
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby futerko » Tue Nov 27, 2012 7:12 am

Huseng wrote:The solution to the disease of modernity is not to feed it more modern ideas. Some old fashioned tried-and-test remedies would work wonders.


Well, among the current responses to modernity, there is post-modern philosophy and various pre-modern ones, but Buddhism is one of the few to be able to bringe the gap between these. A large part of its appeal in the west is the degree of rationality to be found there (although Batchelor clearly goes too far in his reaction), but I think that the appeal to reason is the primary way for Dharma to gain a foothold in currently secular cultures.

It also seems quite logical that a wider perspective such as that of transmigration and of the 6 lokas would only develop once obscurations have been removed, so the immediate benefit of Buddhism to the west may seem merely "psychological" at first simply because the most pressing concerns are of purifying afflictions, taming the mind, etc. I'm not sure whether this is generally true for any individual, but certainly to a secular culture that values the self so much, it would seem that those short-term benefits would enable the Dharma to gain a foothold which then would make it possible for a viewpoint beyond the immediate concerns of the individual's psychological well-being to develop.
we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar - Nietzsche
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