Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Sep 15, 2010 5:46 pm

conebeckham wrote:Modernity has not put an end to anyone's suffering.

Although it has certainly improved the "quality of life" in many ways, and has put an end, or markedly decreased, SPECIFIC types of suffering, the root suffering-the suffering that really underlies it all--the cause of samsara--has not been rooted out one iota by "modernity."


The Buddha himself taught that better quality of life can provide individuals and societies with a basis for developing spiritual practice. When people are relatively free of poverty and disease, they have more leisure with which to study and practice the dharma. When society is more affluent, there is more dana available to support monasteries, and parents may be more willing to let their children ordain. When people have reached a certain level of economic security, they begin to see that the pursuit of material well-being is not enough to eliminate their dukkha and achieve happiness. Also, people who are not consumed with the fight for survival can be nicer to each other.

As Brecht said, "first grub, then ethics".

Some of the high points in Buddhist history (Tang and Song dynasty China, for instance) were very modern for their times.
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby conebeckham » Wed Sep 15, 2010 6:13 pm

Dear Conebeckham,

Have you or anyone you know rooted out the cause of suffering?


Well...personally, I haven't rooted out the cause, but I believe I understand it, due to the Dharma..I believe there are a few Lamas who have high realization and may have...but I can't say with certainty, can I? Can anyone?

I also agree with Kirtu and with Lazy Eye that "modernity" has given us the POTENTIAL ability to practice and thus "root out the cause"--and I understand and subscribe, to a degree, with that whole "Hierarchy of Needs." (Was that Maslow? Fromm? Can't recall...) Also agree with Kirtu that "modernity" has some "negative" effects on our abilities to do so, also.....
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby catmoon » Thu Sep 16, 2010 5:12 am

catmoon wrote:Well, if you ask modernity to put and end to suffering, it's pretty debatable whether or not progress has been made.


Modernity has objectively put an end to the suffering of millions, perhaps billions


Modernity has not put an end to anyone's suffering.




Well I said it was pretty debatable, but I didn't mean like "Hey, c'mon let's debate this".
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby Astus » Thu Sep 16, 2010 11:00 am

I think it is not exactly correct to confuse scientific development with economic situation. Europe became rich because of looting and colonising a large percent of Earth, not because they invented the steam engine. And so there are poor countries, even a poor continent, Africa (which otherwise is very rich in natural resources), and rich countries. It is convenient to think that technological development can solve things like hunger, but partially it was technological development that helped the Western countries rob and enslave everyone else (to a certain level). But I think this has little to do with Buddhism.
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby Lazy_eye » Thu Sep 16, 2010 12:32 pm

Astus wrote:I think it is not exactly correct to confuse scientific development with economic situation.


Fair point. We might also want to distinguish between "science" and "technology" -- related topics, maybe, but not exactly the same thing. Plenty of science goes on that has no particular technological utility. And humankind began making tools and weapons long before science emerged as a discipline.

But I think this has little to do with Buddhism.


Yes, this thread has gone astray, and I'm partly (maybe largely!) responsible for that. Perhaps it's worth revisiting the original topics:

-- how can (valid) Buddhism grow in the West?
-- how to counter materialism? Can Buddhism provide a persuasive alternative?
-- can and should Buddhists try to answer the critique of religion put forward by "new atheists" such as Dawkins and Hitchens?

Huseng has put forward one suggestion (and I hope I'm not misreading him) -- namely, people should be taught philosophy as well as science. If they learn philosophy they will see that a materialist interpretation of science is not the only possible interpretation. Without philosophy, they get the scientific methodology "raw", without knowing how to interpret it, and so they fall into ucchedavada as a default.

Others have suggested the dharma is about liberation from suffering, something which even the most advanced science cannot achieve (and is probably not even within the scope of science).

Another approach, possibly, might be to note that the Buddha did not teach a "belief system" but a path of practice. This distinction is made clear in the Canki Sutta, among others. The path of practice includes provisional acceptance of certain propositions about reality (i.e. Right View), but the point is to apply these and see if the path actually takes us where we want to go. So in this case the answer to Dawkins etc might simply be "ehi passiko".
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby kirtu » Thu Sep 16, 2010 1:45 pm

shel wrote:No war or hunger prior to modernity? Wow, we really missed the boat!


I'm not sure what is intended by this absurd statement:

And actually in modernity we have the technological capacity to end world hunger, whereas we did not prior to modernity.


Which is exactly my point with the phrase " - both completely avoidable states".

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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby kirtu » Thu Sep 16, 2010 1:49 pm

Astus wrote:I think it is not exactly correct to confuse scientific development with economic situation. Europe became rich because of looting and colonising a large percent of Earth, not because they invented the steam engine. And so there are poor countries, even a poor continent, Africa (which otherwise is very rich in natural resources), and rich countries. It is convenient to think that technological development can solve things like hunger, but partially it was technological development that helped the Western countries rob and enslave everyone else (to a certain level). But I think this has little to do with Buddhism.


"Guns, Germs and Steel", Jared Diamond

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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby Astus » Thu Sep 16, 2010 2:00 pm

"people should be taught philosophy as well as science"

Very unlikely to happen. Real study of philosophy requires intelligent, thinking people, without being restricted to thinking in a small box - this is not something many could study or teach. Also, education seems to be more and more under the attach from the god of money, and all subjected to the concept of productivity. A philosophy class is clearly useless for that.

"liberation from suffering ... science cannot achieve"

It needs the Buddhist definition of suffering to say that. There are other ways to look at what men need, like fast food, healthcare and plasma TV.

"Buddha did not teach a "belief system" but a path of practice."

This utilitarian approach is the common excuse of those who're looking only for stress relief but nothing more. It is not Buddhism, as they take no refuge.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby Lazy_eye » Thu Sep 16, 2010 2:31 pm

Astus wrote:"Buddha did not teach a "belief system" but a path of practice."

This utilitarian approach is the common excuse of those who're looking only for stress relief but nothing more. It is not Buddhism, as they take no refuge.


Astus,

It can certainly by misused by people for that end. However, it is also what the Buddha (of the Pali Canon) taught. He made a clear distinction between the dogma of the Brahmins and his own "have faith but verify through investigation".

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Your suggestion that being "utilitarian" is a bad thing surprises me. Pragmatism is often mentioned as a distinctive characteristic of the Buddha's teaching.
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby Astus » Thu Sep 16, 2010 2:44 pm

Lazy_eye,

I meant was that the basis for the path is right view. Wrong view makes the path impossible and it is also a fundamental source of bad karma. What is right and what is wrong is hardly negotiable, at least in Buddhism. To sacrifice that for relativism and pragmatism is an unfortunate way to think, simply because it presupposes that the Buddha is wrong and the teaching is faulty. Who would want to learn Russian from a teacher one thinks has bad grammar?
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby Lazy_eye » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:10 pm

Yes, of course you are right to emphasize the importance of Right View. But on this thread we've been talking about how Buddhism can take root in the West -- i.e. a part of the world where most people are not Buddhists, where a wide variety of religions and ideologies compete for attention, a wide variety of teachers/gurus claim to be enlightened, and so on. In short, an environment not so unlike that of the Buddha's time.

So for that reason, we may want to look at how the Buddha went about teaching the groups who came to hear his dharma, and at the ways he distinguished his approach from the various other religious and philosophical alternatives of that era -- Brahmin traditionalism, the various ascetic movements, materialism/nihilism, and so on. Not all of his listeners possessed Right View. Indeed, he spent a lot of energy explaining why Right View should at least be provisionally accepted as the basis for spiritual practice. The scriptures make a point of noting the varying degrees of receptivity among his audience -- some venerate him, some greet him politely, and some (the diehard Dawkins-type sceptics?) sit silently at the back.

I'm trying veeeeeery hard here to avoid mention of a certain sutta which tends to be over-referenced in these discussions. The Apannaka and Canki suttas may be even more relevant.
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby catmoon » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:31 pm

Astus wrote:Lazy_eye,

I meant was that the basis for the path is right view. Wrong view makes the path impossible and it is also a fundamental source of bad karma. What is right and what is wrong is hardly negotiable, at least in Buddhism. To sacrifice that for relativism and pragmatism is an unfortunate way to think, simply because it presupposes that the Buddha is wrong and the teaching is faulty. Who would want to learn Russian from a teacher one thinks has bad grammar?



Hooooold da bus. Your target audience is composed of people who believe relativism and pragmatism are the hallmarks of Right View, and that Buddha taught them as such, and correctly too. So to make any headway, you need to demonstrate each point wrong in turn. Yes?
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby Astus » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:40 pm

Lazy_eye,

It is so. And the first things the Buddha taught were: giving, virtue and heaven. So the be good, do good parts. Then came the drawbacks of sensual passions and samsara and the rewards of renunciation. Finally the four noble truths.

If we want to use that example for the Western spreading of Buddhism it should be first establishing that good karma leads to good birth, and that people should give abundantly and live a virtuous and moral life. So this is the basics of ethics. Only after that we can talk about how samsara is full of suffering, even heavens are painful and they should give up their greedy and sensuous lifestyle. Finally we can get into details about the four noble truths, like dependent origination, nirvana, meditation, selflessness, etc.

What currently happens is that some become interested in meditation and fancy foreign mystical masters, then do some sitting and don't really care about other things. A couple of them becomes more interested and eventually learn something about Buddhism.

To me it seems that the so far successfully used teachings are simple meditation techniques and methods that promise fast attainments. Moral lessons are not what people come to Buddhism for. But I may be wrong.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby Astus » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:42 pm

catmoon wrote:Hooooold da bus. Your target audience is composed of people who believe ... that Buddha taught them as such


This is what I've made my reply on: "Pragmatism is often mentioned as a distinctive characteristic of the Buddha's teaching."
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby shel » Sat Sep 18, 2010 4:14 pm

conebeckham wrote:
Dear Conebeckham,

Have you or anyone you know rooted out the cause of suffering?


I haven't rooted out the cause...

I see. Thanks. :namaste:
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby Indrajala » Sun Sep 19, 2010 9:04 am

Lazy_eye wrote:
Astus wrote:"Buddha did not teach a "belief system" but a path of practice."

This utilitarian approach is the common excuse of those who're looking only for stress relief but nothing more. It is not Buddhism, as they take no refuge.


Astus,

It can certainly by misused by people for that end. However, it is also what the Buddha (of the Pali Canon) taught. He made a clear distinction between the dogma of the Brahmins and his own "have faith but verify through investigation".

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Your suggestion that being "utilitarian" is a bad thing surprises me. Pragmatism is often mentioned as a distinctive characteristic of the Buddha's teaching.




He also said you have to have some kind of conviction until you're actually realized and know first hand through experience the truth of the dharma.

Basically, unless you're realized like Sariputta was at this point, you have to rely on conviction (or dare I say faith?).


"Excellent, Sariputta. Excellent. Those who have not known, seen, penetrated, realized, or attained it by means of discernment would have to take it on conviction in others that the faculty of conviction... persistence... mindfulness... concentration... discernment, when developed & pursued, gains a footing in the Deathless, has the Deathless as its goal & consummation; whereas those who have known, seen, penetrated, realized, & attained it by means of discernment would have no doubt or uncertainty that the faculty of conviction... persistence... mindfulness... concentration... discernment, when developed & pursued, gains a footing in the Deathless, has the Deathless as its goal & consummation."

Pubbakotthaka Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html



So in the case of most people, they're really not in possession of appropriate insight and mental stamina to really get it (I don't say I myself have any realizations because quite simply I don't), so initially conviction and belief is a necessary.
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby 5heaps » Sun Sep 19, 2010 11:50 am

plwk wrote:How would you respond to the above quote discussions?

one of the requirements of someone who can uphold the dharma in the world is to be able to skillfully defend it through logic.

and i dont think its very difficult to prove "disembodied minds", though that term is not technically correct since one of the factors for the production of the human sense consciousnesses is the presence of sense organs (ie. the body). once that is done then its not as much effort to establish past and future lives and karma since they are both cause and effect of the mind.

finally, its not a matter of believing. its a matter of logic, analysis, and debate, all of which are tibetan buddhism's specialities, especially sakya and gelug
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby Lazy_eye » Mon Sep 20, 2010 5:44 am

Huseng wrote:
He also said you have to have some kind of conviction until you're actually realized and know first hand through experience the truth of the dharma.

Basically, unless you're realized like Sariputta was at this point, you have to rely on conviction (or dare I say faith?).

...In the case of most people, they're really not in possession of appropriate insight and mental stamina to really get it (I don't say I myself have any realizations because quite simply I don't), so initially conviction and belief is a necessary.



Sure. No disagreement from me. :smile: To say that the Buddha "taught a path of practice" is not to exclude the importance of faith as a component of the path. The Buddha clearly emphasized the centrality of Right View. I believe there's a sutta passage somewhere where he says that no other factor has as much impact on our existence as View.

Backing up your point further, the suttas also point out that if a person doesn't have any conviction whatsoever, he or she wouldn't be inclined to visit the Buddha and learn about the teachings. There has to be some initial trust in the Buddha to get the whole thing going.

Nevertheless, the dharma IMO is not a "belief system" as we generally use that term. In a belief system, the assumption is that conviction in itself constitutes realization of truth, whereas the Buddha's teaching is provisional -- a way to get from A to B (perhaps can I skip the raft analogy?). That's what I meant by "pragmatic". It seems that people confuse pragmatism with relativism, to the detriment of the dharma, but these are not the same thing. Pragmatism, in a nutshell, just means that the merit of the vehicle depends on whether it actually takes you where you want to go. I think the Buddha made a memorable statement to that effect as well.

If you don't mind me asking, how did you first develop conviction and belief in the Buddha and the dharma? Were there any sticking points for you initially? How did you overcome them?

5heaps wrote:and i dont think its very difficult to prove "disembodied minds"...


5heaps, might you elaborate on this a little? From your post, I gather that Sakya and Gelug have worked out a watertight argument and I'm curious to know what it is!
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Re: Adaptation: 'Buddhism' in the West

Postby Indrajala » Mon Sep 20, 2010 8:04 am

Lazy_eye wrote:Sure. No disagreement from me. :smile: To say that the Buddha "taught a path of practice" is not to exclude the importance of faith as a component of the path. The Buddha clearly emphasized the centrality of Right View. I believe there's a sutta passage somewhere where he says that no other factor has as much impact on our existence as View.

...

Nevertheless, the dharma IMO is not a "belief system" as we generally use that term. In a belief system, the assumption is that conviction in itself constitutes realization of truth, whereas the Buddha's teaching is provisional -- a way to get from A to B (perhaps can I skip the raft analogy?). That's what I meant by "pragmatic". It seems that people confuse pragmatism with relativism, to the detriment of the dharma, but these are not the same thing. Pragmatism, in a nutshell, just means that the merit of the vehicle depends on whether it actually takes you where you want to go. I think the Buddha made a memorable statement to that effect as well.




However, quite often there are people who stretch the whole encouragement of critical thinking to include dismissing whatever they disagree with or fail to properly understand. In our present day you have individuals in print who say that since Buddha encouraged people to not take things on the basis of tradition or lineage, then they have the liberty to dismiss concepts that they find disagreeable such as rebirth and karma. In their minds, since the Buddha encouraged critical thinking, they should critically dismiss whatever they dislike. Their interpret right view in such a light -- their distorted vision of critical thought is right view.

This is one reason why actual Buddhadharma will struggle to root itself in present day industrialized nations. There is increasing hostility towards anything that smells of religion. Hence why a lot of Buddhists like to announce that Buddhism is not a religion but a "way of life" or a "path of practice". The result is zazen and exotic oriental culture sanitized of disagreeable religious elements. This is likewise a problem even in countries where Buddhism has for centuries existed. Here in Japan it is hard to find Buddhist clergymen who actually address the problem of samsara. My friends from mainland China likewise seem to think Buddhism is a feudal superstition.

We live in a degenerate era unfortunately. While Buddhism is said to be spreading throughout the west, I see a rapid decay at the same time. Likewise in Asia where Buddhism was once probably the largest religion in the world (even larger than Islam and Christianity), what used to be an important aspect of daily life has largely been designated as something for grandparents or an individual pursuit. There are still plenty of devout Buddhists and thriving Buddhist organizations, but in general Buddhism has lost its position and role in East Asian countries.

As the fruits of industrialization and adoption of materialist thinking appear fewer young people in particular will see any point at all in Buddhism. To them it is just a foolish superstition. What's real and real important is money, science and popular culture. If you're given an education where no thought of past or future lives is given, why would you ever spend an ounce of strength on liberating yourself from samsara? The whole point of Buddhadharma is liberation from samsara. However, if you think samsara is just a foolish superstition of some bygone feudal past we'd rather forget about, why invest any thought about it? I've noticed in East Asian Buddhism of the present day, generally speaking, a lack of discussion about dukha and samsara. Humanistic Buddhism, the dominant development in Chinese Buddhism, in particular seemingly ignores samsara and dukha, and prefers to discuss building a Pure Land paradise on Earth.

Basically, what constitutes "right view" is likely to continue being distorted and warped as time goes on. That's not adaptation but degeneration.




If you don't mind me asking, how did you first develop conviction and belief in the Buddha and the dharma? Were there any sticking points for you initially? How did you overcome them?


When I was young I had a natural inclination towards Buddhism. I had a favourable disposition. I didn't know anything about it, but I was attracted to images of Buddha statues and monks. When I was a teenager I started reading and found much of it agreeable, though not everything at first.

What I initially found disagreeable were the teachings that pointed out all the fun things in normal life like sex, sensory pleasures (even music), idle chit chat, booze, culinary arts, porn, video games, screwing around and wasting time are counter productive to the path. They all have to be abandoned if you're serious about liberation. I didn't want to agree to that at first. I wanted my zazen AND several girlfriends plus drinking parties. Here in Japan that'd be fine, but that isn't what Buddha or even the original Japanese patriarchs taught.

Here Buddha was telling his assembly that such activities (of course he didn't mention porn or video games given his time period) are hindrances. I didn't agree with that at first.

However, I continued reading, contemplated what I was taught by my teachers and saw that the Buddha had a point. I also verified that engaging in sensory pleasures actually does prevent deep samadhi. The Buddha taught that the first jhana/dhyana is not possible without forsaking lust, which usually means you don't get to the first stage without giving up all sexual activity. Without the first dhyana, the other three are not possible. As Nagarjuna further elaborates prajna is furthermore not possible without the appropriate mental fitness which is cultivated with mastery of the dhyanas.

I don't live like a saint, but I agree that sensory craving is suffering and moreover it prevents one from developing as a yogi. I'm a hypocrite in that I say what needs to be done given what the Buddha and hundreds of Buddhist masters have taught, but I don't 100% live up to it. There is prescriptive and then there is descriptive. I know I shouldn't listen to music or waste time playing virtual samsara, but I still do.

Incidentally, the teachings I just outlined are unpopular in English language Buddhist publications. Telling people that they need to forsake lust if they're going to go anywhere seriously with meditation is going to summon images of puritanical Christianity...
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Re: No Adaptation

Postby Will » Mon Sep 20, 2010 3:42 pm

The notion of "adaptation" is a needless and very premature concession. But this "adaptation" is the common approach to anything new to the our minds. It is easier to adjust the Dharma to fit our worldview than the opposite.

Buddha said his Dharma "flows against the stream". Such is the case with any ethical system with metaphysical components. The secular, 5-senses-only view has been and always will be with us.

So for now and for many decades in the future we should be practicing, sharing and trying to fathom the Dharma - nothing else.
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