Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby tobes » Mon Jan 10, 2011 3:11 am

catmoon wrote:Have a good sleep. You'll need it because tomorrow you'll have to review the Critique of Pure Reason and half of Hegel, before noon, leaving the afternoon free for the composition of your next reply! And of course we will in reply throw Kierkegaard at you and then everything will go to the 108 hells in a handcart...


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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby catmoon » Mon Jan 10, 2011 9:47 am

Well I do hope that doesn't mean you are abandoning the discussion! Even though Kant's Critique of Pure Reason defeated me twice, and I never got more than a couple of chapters in, even though my reading is hopelessly inadequate to the topic, I still think there are an awful lot unresolved ideas here, at least some of which may yield answers if we keep at it.

For instance, this...

Or........

Buddhism in the west gets subsumed under this logic of utility; its own particular moral trajectory becomes distorted into something purely consequentialist.



Raises a disturbing prospect. The relentless pursuit of enlightenment (or a reasonable facsimile) by the quickest, easiest and preferably cheapest means available might produce a Buddhism lacking the characteristic joy of the Tibetans, or the warmth of Shunryu Suzuki. Would you call this a reasonable worry?
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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jan 10, 2011 12:48 pm

catmoon wrote:Raises a disturbing prospect. The relentless pursuit of enlightenment (or a reasonable facsimile) by the quickest, easiest and preferably cheapest means available might produce a Buddhism lacking the characteristic joy of the Tibetans, or the warmth of Shunryu Suzuki. Would you call this a reasonable worry?


I think most people are not relentlessly pursuing enlightenment.

Truth be told if you ask the average Dharma center member what enlightenment is they probably won't really be able to define it that well. Of course "enlightenment" has a myriad of meanings in English, but I mean if you ask them for their personal understanding of it you will probably encounter a lot of hesitant responses.

Buddhist groups are almost never made up of devoted yogis. You'll have a mixed bag really. With it comes politics, friendships, some rivalries and fellowships resulting in communities that become second families for many people. Even if they're not really serious about practise, they'll still have a community that they are emotionally and socially tied to.
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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby tobes » Tue Jan 11, 2011 1:17 am

Huseng wrote:
catmoon wrote:Raises a disturbing prospect. The relentless pursuit of enlightenment (or a reasonable facsimile) by the quickest, easiest and preferably cheapest means available might produce a Buddhism lacking the characteristic joy of the Tibetans, or the warmth of Shunryu Suzuki. Would you call this a reasonable worry?


I think most people are not relentlessly pursuing enlightenment.

Truth be told if you ask the average Dharma center member what enlightenment is they probably won't really be able to define it that well. Of course "enlightenment" has a myriad of meanings in English, but I mean if you ask them for their personal understanding of it you will probably encounter a lot of hesitant responses.

Buddhist groups are almost never made up of devoted yogis. You'll have a mixed bag really. With it comes politics, friendships, some rivalries and fellowships resulting in communities that become second families for many people. Even if they're not really serious about practise, they'll still have a community that they are emotionally and socially tied to.


Yeah, I think that's kind of right. The problem might be quite opposite to the relentless pursuit of enlightenment - which I can't imagine Buddha Shakyamuni disapproving of!

So, back to Zizek and Trungpa again, the idea of using Buddhism to maintain one's samsaric existence rather than undermine it. To solidify the sense of permanence which comes from a well maintained illusory self. You know, so Buddhism is about trying to get a little bit of calm, peace and order in ones life, so that life runs more smoothly......as opposed to genuinely changing ones life so that it transforms in quite demanding and challenging ways as a result of a complete engagement with a Buddhist path.

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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby catmoon » Sat Jan 15, 2011 7:14 am

Well, it seems to me someone has made the assumption that the path to enlightenment is filled with anguish, angst, and crisis. I don't see why this should be so. I would just expect a growing sense of equanimity and serenity as understanding increased.
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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby tobes » Tue Jan 18, 2011 12:54 am

catmoon wrote:Well, it seems to me someone has made the assumption that the path to enlightenment is filled with anguish, angst, and crisis. I don't see why this should be so. I would just expect a growing sense of equanimity and serenity as understanding increased.


Yes, I think Chogyam Trungpa definitely makes that assumption ~ but not that the path entails anguish, angst and crisis....more that genuine transformation is very confronting and is in some respects quite unpleasant. An unmasking process; people prefer to wear nice clothes rather than be naked.

But I take your point. I think it is the case that in paths more gradual than the Varjrayana, a more gentle unfolding of peaceful qualities is likely. But you know, there is nothing so gentle about the Kagyu lineage Trungpa has described as 'crazy wisdom.'

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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby tobes » Wed Aug 31, 2011 11:44 am

Just wanted to chuck this thread back in the mix to see if anyone has anything interesting to add.

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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby Jikan » Wed Aug 31, 2011 1:59 pm

I'll have more to add later. Right now I'm working on a dissertation proposal that treats this topic, among others.

I'm increasingly interested in the other side of this, though: the desacralization of meditation, "mindfulness," &c in other contexts, such as classroom management, psychotherapy, law enforcement, management... It opens the question: are there instances in which meditation and "western Buddhism", as distinct from the critical & dialectical practices in traditional Buddhism that are often rejected by "western Buddhists" as cultural baggage or whatever, are the opposite of a critical social theory in application?

more later from me if anyone's interested
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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby shel » Wed Aug 31, 2011 9:42 pm

Jnana wrote:What is necessary is to clearly see the visionary domain and the rational domain as equally valid in their own terms. They are not in conflict in any way. They are each valuable and each pertain to different fields of prajñā. There is only a perception of conflict between the two if these domains are mistakenly conflated in some fashion.


Necessary for what purpose?
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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby tobes » Thu Sep 01, 2011 2:53 am

Jikan wrote:I'll have more to add later. Right now I'm working on a dissertation proposal that treats this topic, among others.

I'm increasingly interested in the other side of this, though: the desacralization of meditation, "mindfulness," &c in other contexts, such as classroom management, psychotherapy, law enforcement, management... It opens the question: are there instances in which meditation and "western Buddhism", as distinct from the critical & dialectical practices in traditional Buddhism that are often rejected by "western Buddhists" as cultural baggage or whatever, are the opposite of a critical social theory in application?

more later from me if anyone's interested


Yes, very.

Could you flesh out your question a little more, I think I can see where you're coming from, but I'm not entirely sure.

Are you suggesting that a desacralised Buddhism would be total endorsement of the status quo, and so, be conservative rather than critical?

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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby Jnana » Thu Sep 01, 2011 7:57 am

shel wrote:
Jnana wrote:What is necessary is to clearly see the visionary domain and the rational domain as equally valid in their own terms. They are not in conflict in any way. They are each valuable and each pertain to different fields of prajñā. There is only a perception of conflict between the two if these domains are mistakenly conflated in some fashion.

Necessary for what purpose?

In order to understand that visionary revelation and the historical record are not in conflict.
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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby daelm » Thu Sep 01, 2011 9:04 am

Huseng wrote:
catmoon wrote:Raises a disturbing prospect. The relentless pursuit of enlightenment (or a reasonable facsimile) by the quickest, easiest and preferably cheapest means available might produce a Buddhism lacking the characteristic joy of the Tibetans, or the warmth of Shunryu Suzuki. Would you call this a reasonable worry?


I think most people are not relentlessly pursuing enlightenment.



agreed. most people want some kind of optimization (happiness, sharpened intellect, steadiness of concentration, freedom from daily troubles) from Buddhism, similar to what we hope to get from cycling. yoga suffered the same fate and became weight-loss in most cases.

i don't know whether this is merely a result of a physicalist/materialist bent on our part, the obsessive western focus on technique and technology, the loss of (and consequent yearning for) native yogic techniques in the west, or the inevitable end result of "...this logic of utility", described earlier. probably some combination of all of this.

personally, i find it interesting that the two traditions that have such overwhelming popularity both appeal to the technique-obsessed mind. zen was presented to the west (initially) as a technique system, one that - according to d.t. suzuki - could be separated from "Buddhism". and Vajrayana, while emphatically not divorcing itself from Buddhism, is often presented as merely the most comprehensive catalogue of different techniques.


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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby shel » Fri Sep 02, 2011 9:14 pm

Jnana wrote:
shel wrote:
Jnana wrote:What is necessary is to clearly see the visionary domain and the rational domain as equally valid in their own terms. They are not in conflict in any way. They are each valuable and each pertain to different fields of prajñā. There is only a perception of conflict between the two if these domains are mistakenly conflated in some fashion.

Necessary for what purpose?

In order to understand that visionary revelation and the historical record are not in conflict.

Interesting. I wouldn't necessarily place any historical record within a "rational domain" myself.
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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby Thug4lyfe » Sat Sep 03, 2011 4:34 am

We are the last Dharma Protectors of the Dharma Ending age! Unless some of us here becomes a monk/nun and becomes one of the triple Gem to continue the True Dharma!!!!
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Re: You know you're...

Postby Beatzen » Sun Jan 15, 2012 4:40 pm

Mr. G wrote:
Fruitzilla wrote:You don't post on Dharma-Wheel...


The one's that don't are busy posting at the "You know you're a Zen Buddhist modernist" thread on other forums. :tongue:


Zen Buddhist modernist? What does that mean?

Since you're obviously a zen scholar, you must know a good many "zen traditionalists"- whoever they might be...

There are no zen buddhists, modernist or not. There is only zazen.
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Re: You know you're...

Postby Mr. G » Sun Jan 15, 2012 4:53 pm

Beatzen wrote:Zen Buddhist modernist? What does that mean?


As this post was split and merged with this thread, there's plenty to read here. I think Huseng sums it up pretty well:

viewtopic.php?f=66&t=2985#p22980

Since you're obviously a zen scholar, you must know a good many "zen traditionalists"- whoever they might be...


I don't need to be a scholar to smell modernity creeping into Buddhism.

There are no zen buddhists, modernist or not. There is only zazen.


Yeah, I get the Zen slogans.
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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby Beatzen » Sun Jan 15, 2012 5:06 pm

There is nothing wrong with modernity. It has nothing to do with zazen practice though. If you sat zazen, all these opinions you hold about zen would exhaust themselves.

But, I take it you don't have any interest in zazen practice. And like any other philosophically sophisticated (compliment) Buddhist, the groundlessness of zen and it's flexibility in terms of expression must seem inferior, incredulous or something. You're only looking at the patina of zen though.

I think westerners are much more at home with Tibetan structure. There the path is all laid out for you, and in the west one always needs to be assured up front of what one is getting into.

Zen has no such breadcrumb trail.
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Re: You know you're...

Postby Fruitzilla » Sun Jan 15, 2012 5:57 pm

Mr. G wrote:I don't need to be a scholar to smell modernity creeping into Buddhism.


Would you smell Japanese culture creeping into Zen? Or Chinese into Ch'an or Tibetan into Nyingma or Kagyu? Would it smell bad?

I bet the purists ages ago had the same gripes as the purists of today....
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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby treehuggingoctopus » Sun Jan 15, 2012 6:07 pm

A nice thread with a splendid conduct of the posters :namaste:

Jikan wrote: Eske Mollgaard has a great article summarizing and then critiquing Zizek's work here on Buddhist grounds


Could you post a link, perhaps? I'd be infinitely grateful. Good to know that someone has started to refute the utter nonsense that Zizek has been spouting on the Dharma
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Re: Western Buddhists, modernity and the European enlightenment

Postby Mr. G » Sun Jan 15, 2012 7:05 pm

Beatzen wrote:There is nothing wrong with modernity.


There is a lot in the scope of modernity as has been discussed in this thread. I have no issues with Dharma teachings over the internet. I have no issues with using electric lamps as opposed to candles. Technology to spread Buddhist teachings to people who don't have access to a center is good. The issues I have are with charlatans like Genpo Merzel who charge $50,000 dollars for Buddhist teachings. I have issues with Buddhists who deny rebirth and karma because they don't read suttas/sutras and make absurdly wide interpretations.

And like any other philosophically sophisticated (compliment) Buddhist, the groundlessness of zen and it's flexibility in terms of expression must seem inferior, incredulous or something. You're only looking at the patina of zen though.


Thanks for the backhanded compliment. Also, I did not say Zen was inferior.

I think westerners are much more at home with Tibetan structure. There the path is all laid out for you, and in the west one always needs to be assured up front of what one is getting into.

Zen has no such breadcrumb trail.


If you think that, you definitely haven't read enough Zen/Chan works then.
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    grasping the letter of the text and ignoring its intention!
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