Termas and Cultural Paradigms

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Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jan 01, 2013 12:54 am

Topic split from here:

viewtopic.php?f=40&t=11042




justin.hudgins wrote:Why should it?



Because we're not Tibetan and the cultural paradigm is completely different.
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Re: tibetan buddhist monasticism in the west

Postby justin.hudgins » Tue Jan 01, 2013 2:54 am

Huseng wrote:
justin.hudgins wrote:Why should it?



Because we're not Tibetan and the cultural paradigm is completely different.


I don't see what a practical emphasis on treasure teachings or early canon has to do with ethnicity.
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Re: tibetan buddhist monasticism in the west

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jan 01, 2013 3:10 am

justin.hudgins wrote:
Huseng wrote:
justin.hudgins wrote:Why should it?



Because we're not Tibetan and the cultural paradigm is completely different.


I don't see what a practical emphasis on treasure teachings or early canon has to do with ethnicity.


I said nothing about ethnicity. I said cultural paradigm.

Inevitably people ask, "Okay, so where did these treasure teachings come from?" It does require faith, especially from a rationalist perspective, to believe such treasure teachings were left behind by past masters and that they truly are what Tibetans say they are. I'm not saying that to dismiss them. Not at all. I'm just saying our cultural paradigm sees things quite differently.

For instance, in the East Asian Buddhist sphere the scriptures that are now said by scholars to have been penned in China hold a lot less weight than they used to. The questions and doubts surrounding the origins of Mahāyāna sūtras from India are likewise in need of proper reply. There is a decided preference for referring to the teachings of the "historical Buddha" Śākyamuni in much western discourse on Buddhism. Deferring to Mahāyāna sūtras or even tantras somehow doesn't cut it in the wider discussion on Buddhism in general.

So, revealed or hidden treasure texts from Tibet require a kind of faith that might work for some people, though for a lot of people, especially those with a decided inclination towards rationalism and the western academic perspective on the textual evolution of Buddhism, things might inevitably have to change as western Buddhist traditions in the real sense evolve.
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Re: tibetan buddhist monasticism in the west

Postby Yudron » Tue Jan 01, 2013 3:31 am

Great topic, Husung... I suggest a new thread on it.

The origins of the tantras that are definitely from India are believed to be from much more fantastical origins than termas--so I don't know how a scientific rationalist is going to be comforted by going back to the original source material. Plus written documents from 1200 or more years ago inevitably have lots of scribal errors, like the Bible does.
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Re: tibetan buddhist monasticism in the west

Postby justin.hudgins » Tue Jan 01, 2013 3:36 am

Huseng wrote:I said nothing about ethnicity. I said cultural paradigm.

Inevitably people ask, "Okay, so where did these treasure teachings come from?" It does require faith, especially from a rationalist perspective, to believe such treasure teachings were left behind by past masters and that they truly are what Tibetans say they are. I'm not saying that to dismiss them. Not at all. I'm just saying our cultural paradigm sees things quite differently.

For instance, in the East Asian Buddhist sphere the scriptures that are now said by scholars to have been penned in China hold a lot less weight than they used to. The questions and doubts surrounding the origins of Mahāyāna sūtras from India are likewise in need of proper reply. There is a decided preference for referring to the teachings of the "historical Buddha" Śākyamuni in much western discourse on Buddhism. Deferring to Mahāyāna sūtras or even tantras somehow doesn't cut it in the wider discussion on Buddhism in general.

So, revealed or hidden treasure texts from Tibet require a kind of faith that might work for some people, though for a lot of people, especially those with a decided inclination towards rationalism and the western academic perspective on the textual evolution of Buddhism, things might inevitably have to change as western Buddhist traditions in the real sense evolve.


Ethnicity, cultural paradigm, whatever. In this case I think they amount to the same thing.

If people want something that coincides with their rational and western academic perspective they're free to practice any of the traditions that don't put a heavy emphasis on revealed texts. I don't think the answer is to change the tradition to satisfy people with that inclination.

As far as faith goes, sure, these treasure teachings require faith. So does buying anything the Buddha said in the first place. If you want to talk about rationalist and academic inclinations, let's talk about rebirth. Some people will buy into the early canon, some will accept the later Mahayana sutras, some the tantras and then there are even fewer who will go so far as to accept the terma teachings as authentic. So what? I don't think any tradition should change to appease a given worldview, especially since I think a big point of Dharma is to challenge our default worldviews.
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Re: tibetan buddhist monasticism in the west

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jan 01, 2013 3:42 am

Yudron wrote:Great topic, Husung... I suggest a new thread on it.

The origins of the tantras that are definitely from India are believed to be from much more fantastical origins than termas--so I don't know how a scientific rationalist is going to be comforted by going back to the original source material. Plus written documents from 1200 or more years ago inevitably have lots of scribal errors, like the Bible does.


If something is attributed to Śākyamuni and this is denied by specialist scholars who write the books on the subject, the issue must be addressed on a basis other than just faith and deference to orthodox authorities.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Konchog1 » Tue Jan 01, 2013 3:49 am

I predict a "scripture only" orthodoxy movement for Theravada westerners and a logic driven Nalanda type Buddhism for Tibetan Buddhist westerners. E.g. instead of "this guru/lineage founder/sutra says this; therefore it is correct" it will be "this is correct because of a, b, and c; therefore this guru/lineage founder/sutra is correct. Thus, we should have faith in them."

I can see only benefit in both views.

As long as we practice more and materialism/new age interpretations don't increase in influence, everything will be fine.
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Re: tibetan buddhist monasticism in the west

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jan 01, 2013 3:56 am

justin.hudgins wrote:Ethnicity, cultural paradigm, whatever. In this case I think they amount to the same thing.


Your words. Not mine.


If people want something that coincides with their rational and western academic perspective they're free to practice any of the traditions that don't put a heavy emphasis on revealed texts. I don't think the answer is to change the tradition to satisfy people with that inclination.


I don't even think it will be a widely conscious change. It will just naturally evolve and change on its own. What is regarded with special weight in one time place and culture inevitably changes.

Tibetan Buddhism, I think, tends to attract a lot of intellectuals in the west, most of whom unless they consciously reject their own western roots, will be inclined towards rationalist analysis of texts.

That doesn't mean treasure texts must be rejected, but simply that the traditional explanations regarding their genesis might have to be revised given contemporary scholarship. The same goes for Mahāyāna texts.

Here in Taiwan I recently said in passing with a group of well educated Buddhists that contemporary scholarship regards Mahāyāna texts as postdating the death of Śākyamuni. The room went silent and the topic was quickly changed. That doesn't fly well in this culture and I suspect it would be much the same with Tibetans as well.

Nevertheless, almost every contemporary academic work on Mahāyāna Buddhism in the English language states that said movement and its texts postdates Śākyamuni. So if a Buddhist nominally accepts this and yet actively believes the physical Śākyamuni taught all of them because tradition says so, they'll inevitably come to suffer a kind of cognitive dissonance.

Hot coals and ice don't last long in the same container.

Consequently, something has to give. I think there is a middle way between both sides, which leans towards the transmundane and metaphysics, though I don't know how many people really appreciate this as of yet. In my mind a treasure text is to be treasured given its contents and saddharma, though at the same time recognizing the reality behind their origins requires a step away from orthodoxy, does it not?

So what? I don't think any tradition should change to appease a given worldview, especially since I think a big point of Dharma is to challenge our default worldviews.


It isn't so much about appeasing a given worldview, but evolving to accommodate new circumstances and environments. Rebirth is not been disproved by anyone and plenty of evidence even in the western academic sphere supports the theory.

My point really is that without evolution and adaptation a tradition is sunk. Of course it can go overboard on its own with reforms, though a kind of middle way is most appropriate.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby justin.hudgins » Tue Jan 01, 2013 3:57 am

Konchog1 wrote:I predict a "scripture only" orthodoxy movement for Theravada westerners and a logic driven Nalanda type Buddhism for Tibetan Buddhist westerners. E.g. instead of "this guru/lineage founder/sutra says this; therefore it is correct" it will be "this is correct because of a, b, and c; therefore this guru/lineage founder/sutra is correct. Thus, we should have faith in them."


Doesn't scriptural authority fall under "indirect logic"?
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jan 01, 2013 4:02 am

Konchog1 wrote:I predict a "scripture only" orthodoxy movement for Theravada westerners and a logic driven Nalanda type Buddhism for Tibetan Buddhist westerners. E.g. instead of "this guru/lineage founder/sutra says this; therefore it is correct" it will be "this is correct because of a, b, and c; therefore this guru/lineage founder/sutra is correct. Thus, we should have faith in them."

I can see only benefit in both views.

As long as we practice more and materialism/new age interpretations don't increase in influence, everything will be fine.


I completely agree.

The thing is though with the Pāli canon is that there are multiple layers to it and a skilled scholar can discern the time-period specific strata. For example, mention of Greeks is clearly not reflective of early 5th century Magadha.

However, comparative analysis between the Pāli canon and Āgamas in other languages (like Chinese and perhaps more importantly Gāndhārī) might inevitably lead to a new more accurate representation of the historical Buddha in his own time. This, I think, is largely only going to be valuable to westerners. It will largely be western scholars who engage in such a project as well. However, once a more accurate representation of the early sangha is widely available it will change a lot of paradigms.

A kind of new orthodox canon might emerge that depends on the historical Buddha for its authority. That might end up being a real new key component of western Buddhism.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jan 01, 2013 4:03 am

justin.hudgins wrote:
Konchog1 wrote:I predict a "scripture only" orthodoxy movement for Theravada westerners and a logic driven Nalanda type Buddhism for Tibetan Buddhist westerners. E.g. instead of "this guru/lineage founder/sutra says this; therefore it is correct" it will be "this is correct because of a, b, and c; therefore this guru/lineage founder/sutra is correct. Thus, we should have faith in them."


Doesn't scriptural authority fall under "indirect logic"?


Knowing via a valid testimony (śabda-pramana) is a valid means of knowledge.
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Re: tibetan buddhist monasticism in the west

Postby justin.hudgins » Tue Jan 01, 2013 4:33 am

Huseng wrote:
justin.hudgins wrote:Ethnicity, cultural paradigm, whatever. In this case I think they amount to the same thing.


Your words. Not mine.


Yup, sure are. Wasn't trying to make it seem otherwise.

Huseng wrote:
justin.hudgins wrote:If people want something that coincides with their rational and western academic perspective they're free to practice any of the traditions that don't put a heavy emphasis on revealed texts. I don't think the answer is to change the tradition to satisfy people with that inclination.


I don't even think it will be a widely conscious change. It will just naturally evolve and change on its own. What is regarded with special weight in one time place and culture inevitably changes.

Tibetan Buddhism, I think, tends to attract a lot of intellectuals in the west, most of whom unless they consciously reject their own western roots, will be inclined towards rationalist analysis of texts.

That doesn't mean treasure texts must be rejected, but simply that the traditional explanations regarding their genesis might have to be revised given contemporary scholarship. The same goes for Mahāyāna texts.


Sure, any tradition is going to evolve over time, that's inevitable. I guess I just hope it doesn't evolve the way that it appears to me you foresee it evolving. I likely reacted to what I thought you were saying and not what you were actually saying, so apologies if that's the case.

However, I do want to ask, what about the stories of the revelation of terma needs to be changed in light of contemporary scholarship, in your opinion?

Huseng wrote:
justin.hudgins wrote:So what? I don't think any tradition should change to appease a given worldview, especially since I think a big point of Dharma is to challenge our default worldviews.


It isn't so much about appeasing a given worldview, but evolving to accommodate new circumstances and environments. Rebirth is not been disproved by anyone and plenty of evidence even in the western academic sphere supports the theory.

My point really is that without evolution and adaptation a tradition is sunk. Of course it can go overboard on its own with reforms, though a kind of middle way is most appropriate.


My point about rebirth is that to the average American, telling them they could be reborn as an animal goes over about as well as telling them some dude pulled a scroll out of a rock with his bare hands. (I specify American here because I'd rather not make generalizations about "Westerners")

I appreciate that traditions must adapt to work with circumstances in a given culture. I just always wonder to what extent. It wasn't that long ago that people accepted miracles and the supernatural. As a Westerner that accepts at least some of the more "superstitious" aspects of my chosen tradition as well as at least having a strong interest in the academic side of things, I don't see the need to sterilize the tradition because of Western academia.
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Re: tibetan buddhist monasticism in the west

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jan 01, 2013 5:11 am

justin.hudgins wrote:However, I do want to ask, what about the stories of the revelation of terma needs to be changed in light of contemporary scholarship, in your opinion?


Is every terma attributed to Padmasambhava going to be accepted as his literal spoken word?

An example of this is the The Legend of the Great Stupa Jarungkhasor.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/tib/stupa.htm

It is still a product of this world and I think such teachings and ideas are valuable and, in my mind, legitimate. However, we need to recognize their origins. They can't be held as historical documents for instance, though that will gnaw at some folks because they'll feel them to be illegitimate apocrypha.


My point about rebirth is that to the average American, telling them they could be reborn as an animal goes over about as well as telling them some dude pulled a scroll out of a rock with his bare hands. (I specify American here because I'd rather not make generalizations about "Westerners")


This is why understanding logic and the use of logic is essential to the western Buddhist project. Plenty of Greek and Roman philosophers thought rebirth was quite logical and discussed the matter. Instead of relying on faith, we should rely on other means such as logic and inference based on evidence (for instance the contemporary research on children recollecting past lives by such scholars as Tucker and Stevenson).

In respect to demonstrating the plausibility of rebirth, the work of Dharmakirti is especially useful. We cannot expect people to take rebirth on faith.


As a Westerner that accepts at least some of the more "superstitious" aspects of my chosen tradition as well as at least having a strong interest in the academic side of things, I don't see the need to sterilize the tradition because of Western academia.



Change happens inevitably. We just need to look to our predecessors for guidance on how to direct things. As Konchog1 suggested we could look to Nalanda University and their methods. I think in many ways their approach to things would have been quite palatable to many contemporary minds. For instance, having to prove your arguments through logic and inference rather than just depending on the authority of tradition and scripture. Many Indian minds of ancient times were similar to their Indo-European cousins in the west. Indian Buddhists often had to defend themselves against very critical non-Buddhist opponents, so deference to scripture was not possible. You had to step up to the debate armed with other means of arguing for your position. This is something we can and should learn from. In a cosmopolitan culture with plenty of people in opposition to you, skilled debate is critical if you are to be taken seriously.
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Re: tibetan buddhist monasticism in the west

Postby Ukigumo » Tue Jan 01, 2013 6:51 am

justin.hudgins wrote:
Huseng wrote:I said nothing about ethnicity. I said cultural paradigm.


Ethnicity, cultural paradigm, whatever. In this case I think they amount to the same thing.



Not to nitpick, but these are very distinct from each other and it is important that we recognize the difference.

There are people of many different ethnicity who subscribe to what we might call a Western cultural paradigm, which includes things like rationalism, Judeo-Christianity, etc. The distinction between ethnicity and cultural paradigm is fairly obvious, at least to me as an American, since in this country we have people of many different ethnicities who all subscribe more or less to the same Western cultural paradigm.

Likewise, one is not necessarily bound to the cultural paradigm one was born into, although depending on how attached to it one is, it may be more or less difficult to shed. One can also occupy or utilize more than one paradigm at once. An example of this might be somebody like B. Alan Wallace, who has clearly accommodated or adapted himself to a Tibetan cultural paradigm while still using or retaining the Western cultural paradigm of his birth.

Ultimately ethnicity is a separate variable from cultural paradigm. It is important to recognize this, both in the context of this particular discussion and how the development of Western Buddhism is understood. For example, in the United States it's common for people to assert that there is an "Asian Buddhism", made up of Asian immigrants, and a "Western Buddhism", made up of (mostly White) converts. But this is a simplistic picture. There are white converts who participate in more traditional Buddhist practices, just as there are third or fourth generation Asian Americans who might participate in a largely secular forms of Buddhism, or in forms of Buddhism that have no relation to the traditions of their ancestors.

The real dividing line in Western Buddhism, I would argue, is not between Asians and non-Asians. It's between those for whom Buddhism represents a rejection, or at the very least, a critique of, the Western cultural paradigm and those for whom Buddhism must be modified to fit their Western cultural paradigm.* In other words, the dividing line here is not a question of race or ethnicity, but of basic, background worldview and how Buddhism relates to that worldview.

* Obviously, there is a spectrum here: there are few who, having grown up in the West, completely reject the Western paradigm (even those who think they do); and likewise there are few who profess to be Buddhists that aren't in some way running on a paradigm different from those of non-Buddhists.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Ukigumo » Tue Jan 01, 2013 7:01 am

Konchog1 wrote:I predict a "scripture only" orthodoxy movement for Theravada westerners and a logic driven Nalanda type Buddhism for Tibetan Buddhist westerners. E.g. instead of "this guru/lineage founder/sutra says this; therefore it is correct" it will be "this is correct because of a, b, and c; therefore this guru/lineage founder/sutra is correct. Thus, we should have faith in them."

I can see only benefit in both views.

As long as we practice more and materialism/new age interpretations don't increase in influence, everything will be fine.


I agree with this and I can already kind of see these different approaches evolving. Theravadin westerners, in my experience, do tend to stress the textual authority of the Pali Canon (sometimes in a manner reminiscent of fundamentalist Christians stressing the inerrancy of the Bible....sigh... :thinking: ).

I agree that there is benefit to be had from different ways of approach. In general I think diversity is a sign of strength, not weakness, so long as the basic teachings remain intact. 84,000 dharma doors and all that. :)
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Sherlock » Tue Jan 01, 2013 7:23 am

This blog post by Rob Mayer might be relevant to the discussion.

Consequently, something has to give. I think there is a middle way between both sides, which leans towards the transmundane and metaphysics, though I don't know how many people really appreciate this as of yet. In my mind a treasure text is to be treasured given its contents and saddharma, though at the same time recognizing the reality behind their origins requires a step away from orthodoxy, does it not?


Western-educated practitioners are even today attempting different methods to reconcile what we know about treasure teachings from Western-based analysis and the early canon. Taking two of the more prominent posters here, I think Jnana (Geoff) and Malcolm represent two different approaches, with Jnana tending more towards a shared early canon being ultimately definitive while Malcolm tends towards the Dzogchen tantras.

Padmasambhava literally being born from a lotus and Virupa stopping the sun are complete physical impossibilities and any Westerner who truly believes in the literal truth of these events will go through a cognitive dissonance at some level -- in any case believing in the literal truth of these events, Mt Meru cosmology or Kalacakra cosmology are not the main point of the teachings. I'm sure both Geoff and Malcolm agree on this.

Where they differ is with regards to the claims of Mahayana and Vajrayana superiority over the vehicles that preceded them. Textual citations don't serve to convince anyone who doubts the provenance of those texts (which is in any case a good thing IMO since that is a plain appeal to authority) so more focus on the actual arguments made will be necessary. Where one stands on the definitivity of Mahayana and later treasure teachings will depend on whether one finds those arguments convincing.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Konchog1 » Tue Jan 01, 2013 7:58 am

Sherlock wrote:Padmasambhava literally being born from a lotus and Virupa stopping the sun are complete physical impossibilities and any Westerner who truly believes in the literal truth of these events will go through a cognitive dissonance at some level -- in any case believing in the literal truth of these events, Mt Meru cosmology or Kalacakra cosmology are not the main point of the teachings. I'm sure both Geoff and Malcolm agree on this.
Agreed. But might it be hasty to dismiss all miracles just because some are impossible?

Sherlock wrote:Where they differ is with regards to the claims of Mahayana and Vajrayana superiority over the vehicles that preceded them. Textual citations don't serve to convince anyone who doubts the provenance of those texts (which is in any case a good thing IMO since that is a plain appeal to authority) so more focus on the actual arguments made will be necessary. Where one stands on the definitivity of Mahayana and later treasure teachings will depend on whether one finds those arguments convincing.
One knows what is true and false, superior and inferior when one practices those teachings.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Sherlock » Tue Jan 01, 2013 8:27 am

Konchog1 wrote:One knows what is true and false, superior and inferior when one practices those teachings.


I agree, but that goes into the experiential, which can lead individuals to different conclusions. Geoff is a Vajrayana practitioner who does not believe in what he believes is just polemics against the "lower" vehicles while Malcolm's experience lead him to hold Dzogchen teachings to be definitive.

As for "miracles", it would be callous to dismiss all of them without investigation, but I don't think too much importance should be given to them.
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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby Konchog1 » Tue Jan 01, 2013 8:57 am

Sherlock wrote:I agree, but that goes into the experiential, which can lead individuals to different conclusions. Geoff is a Vajrayana practitioner who does not believe in what he believes is just polemics against the "lower" vehicles while Malcolm's experience lead him to hold Dzogchen teachings to be definitive.
Different mental dispositions/Karma perhaps?

Sherlock wrote:As for "miracles", it would be callous to dismiss all of them without investigation, but I don't think too much importance should be given to them.
Agreed again.
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

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Re: Termas and Cultural Paradigms

Postby muni » Tue Jan 01, 2013 10:31 am

When termas appear in analytical thoughts, they are what these analytical thoughts percieves.

Grasping words = no terma.

Comparing the value of awakening tools is like throwing all (84000) medicines for all different beings together on one table and discussing what medicine is the best.
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