Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ...

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Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ...

Postby cookiemonster » Sun Oct 13, 2013 5:13 am

... can anyone tell me what the differences are? Thank you.
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Oct 13, 2013 5:58 am

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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby Modus.Ponens » Sun Oct 13, 2013 7:38 am

The difference is mainly on the level of authority atributed to the Abidhamma and the commentaries, particularly the Visuddhimagga.

It is clear, by modern historical studies, that the Abidhamma is not the word of the Buddha or one of his contemporaneous disciples. And a later commentary such as the Visuddhimagga has as much value as what a good contemporaneous teacher teaches.

So, in general, the classical theravada places more authority on the abidhamma than in the discourses. The "modern" theravada is whatever teachings that are not bounded by this traditional view; and it includes different aproaches.

What matters are the pratical consequences of this difference. The crucial one I'm aware of is how each group (with few exceptions) practice jhana.
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Oct 13, 2013 7:58 am

Modus.Ponens wrote:So, in general, the classical theravada places more authority on the abidhamma than in the discourses. The "modern" theravada is whatever teachings that are not bounded by this traditional view; and it includes different aproaches.

While I'm sure one could locate some who put more authority on the Abdhidhamma, I think that in general it would be more accurate to say that the Classical works use the Abhidhamma model to aid interpretation of the suttas. The various "Modern Theravada" interpretations use a variety of interpretive models and come to a variety of conclusions, some quite traditional (such as Ajahn Brahm) and some quite non-traditional (such as the "Secular" approach of Stephen Batchelor and others.
Modus.Ponens wrote:What matters are the pratical consequences of this difference. The crucial one I'm aware of is how each group (with few exceptions) practice jhana.

Which also vary dramatically between modern interpreters (with, again, Ajahn Brahm having quite a traditional interpretation of jhana relative to some other interpreters).

Personally, I've got a lot of useful advice from the interpretations of teachers from all over the spectrum. I generally see most of the variations as differences in technique, rather than differences in Dhamma.

:anjali:
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby Modus.Ponens » Sun Oct 13, 2013 8:56 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Modus.Ponens wrote:What matters are the pratical consequences of this difference. The crucial one I'm aware of is how each group (with few exceptions) practice jhana.

Which also vary dramatically between modern interpreters (with, again, Ajahn Brahm having quite a traditional interpretation of jhana relative to some other interpreters).

Personally, I've got a lot of useful advice from the interpretations of teachers from all over the spectrum. I generally see most of the variations as differences in technique, rather than differences in Dhamma.

:anjali:
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I wrote "with few exceptions" thinking precisely of Ajahn Brahm and his followers.

Pragmaticaly the interpretations of jhana don't vary dramaticaly. The important difference is that in one interpretation insight practice is not possible during jhana, while the other interpretation says that insight is possible (and highly recomended) during jhana.
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Oct 13, 2013 6:48 pm

Modus.Ponens wrote:Pragmaticaly the interpretations of jhana don't vary dramaticaly. The important difference is that in one interpretation insight practice is not possible during jhana, while the other interpretation says that insight is possible (and highly recomended) during jhana.

Which is pretty much what the the "Classically based" Mahasi approach teaches. (As in U Pandita's "Vipassana Jhana" terminology, or the ancient Classical description of "dry insight with access concentration"). So, as I said, I don't really see a need to focus on making a difference out of it. To me it's all just advice on how to apply Dhamma, and personally I'm happy to get some guidance from any competent interpreter, ancient or modern.

So there are these different techniques: Develop very strong, absorbed, concentration (Ajahn Brahm/Visuddimagga jhana) then use that as a basis for insight, or develop the insight with a lighter concentration (Classical dry insight, Mahasi, many "modern" teachers). I don't see those as disagreements over Dhamma. Besides many teachers (and the Visuddhimagga) teach both approaches.

But this has been discussed many times on this forum...

To get back to the topic, I would suggest that the biggest differences between Classical and some Modern interpretations is that some of the modern interpreters (particularly those at the "secular" end of the spectrum) seek to distinguish which parts of the suttas are "essential Dhamma" and which are "cultural baggage". In this case, the debate is over what exactly is Dhamma.

:anjali:
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby cookiemonster » Sun Oct 13, 2013 7:16 pm

Thanks for the insight regarding both! Much appreciated.
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby Modus.Ponens » Sun Oct 13, 2013 7:19 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
Modus.Ponens wrote:Pragmaticaly the interpretations of jhana don't vary dramaticaly. The important difference is that in one interpretation insight practice is not possible during jhana, while the other interpretation says that insight is possible (and highly recomended) during jhana.

Which is pretty much what the the "Classically based" Mahasi approach teaches. (As in U Pandita's "Vipassana Jhana" terminology, or the ancient Classical description of "dry insight with access concentration"). So, as I said, I don't really see a need to focus on making a difference out of it. To me it's all just advice on how to apply Dhamma, and personally I'm happy to get some guidance from any competent interpreter, ancient or modern.

So there are these different techniques: Develop very strong, absorbed, concentration (Ajahn Brahm/Visuddimagga jhana) then use that as a basis for insight, or develop the insight with a lighter concentration (Classical dry insight, Mahasi, many "modern" teachers). I don't see those as disagreements over Dhamma. Besides many teachers (and the Visuddhimagga) teach both approaches.

But this has been discussed many times on this forum...

To get back to the topic, I would suggest that the biggest differences between Classical and some Modern interpretations is that some of the modern interpreters (particularly those at the "secular" end of the spectrum) seek to distinguish which parts of the suttas are "essential Dhamma" and which are "cultural baggage". In this case, the debate is over what exactly is Dhamma.

:anjali:
Mike



That's true. In practice, those differences often are not determinant. But, and geting a bit more on topic, it's in the interest of truth that it is established what are the historical Buddha's teachings and what are later constructions. And this drive to return to the original teachings is what distinguishes modern buddhism from classical buddhism, in my opinion. And this difference is important on the theoretical level. But also it is often important on the practical level.

Most of the time you (Mike :) ) adhere to a strictly pragmatic aproach to the dhamma. That has mostly advantages to you, so it is quite an inteligent aproach. However, thinking as a comunity and in the long term preservation of the teachings, I think you can quickly conclude that it is important to also have a first priority reference, a golden standard, which is as pure as possible _ the suttas _ so that the dhammic idiossincrasies of a miriad of meditation techniques don't outweigh the original dhamma _ and divide it into different factions.
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Oct 13, 2013 7:53 pm

Modus.Ponens wrote: However, thinking as a comunity and in the long term preservation of the teachings, I think you can quickly conclude that it is important to also have a first priority reference, a golden standard, which is as pure as possible _ the suttas _ so that the dhammic idiossincrasies of a miriad of meditation techniques don't outweigh the original dhamma _ and divide it into different factions.
Pure as possible. Interestingly, I have very few (if any) "back to the sutta" people here working from a place of having mastery of Pali, not to mention a strong working knowledge of the history of early Buddhism. Also, there is no historical reason why we should favor the Pali texts over the corresponding texts preserved in various other languages.

How do we determine what is "original Dhamma?" By whose criteria, by whose interpretation is "original" Dhamma determined?

We have seen, for example, the idea that the 12 link version of paticcasamuppada is not properly interpreted as involving 3 lives. This is now a "classic" modern vs classical area of contention. I have yet to see with the modern "timeless," in this moment, interpretation of the 12 links an argument showing that the 3 life interpretation does not lead to awakening.
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby Modus.Ponens » Sun Oct 13, 2013 8:11 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
Modus.Ponens wrote: However, thinking as a comunity and in the long term preservation of the teachings, I think you can quickly conclude that it is important to also have a first priority reference, a golden standard, which is as pure as possible _ the suttas _ so that the dhammic idiossincrasies of a miriad of meditation techniques don't outweigh the original dhamma _ and divide it into different factions.
Pure as possible. Interestingly, I have very few (if any) "back to the sutta" people here working from a place of having mastery of Pali, not to mention a strong working knowledge of the history of early Buddhism. Also, there is no historical reason why we should favor the Pali texts over the corresponding texts preserved in various other languages.

How do we determine what is "original Dhamma?" By whose criteria, by whose interpretation is "original" Dhamma determined?

We have seen, for example, the idea that the 12 link version of paticcasamuppada is not properly interpreted as involving 3 lives. This is now a "classic" modern vs classical area of contention. I have yet to see with the modern "timeless," in this moment, interpretation of the 12 links an argument showing that the 3 life interpretation does not lead to awakening.


In the same way a chemistry teacher doesn't need to have a PhD in chemistry to teach the subject, we don't all need to be pali experts to understand the results of the scholarship in this subject. No physicist has mastery over all knowledge of physics so he has to rely on his colleagues' expertise to referee a paper. That's how the most scrutinized human endeavour works. I see no reason for us to try to do better _ it would be impossible.

So how does this research get done? Which particular theories do we accept? Well, just like evolution is a theory that, although is revised in its details, is essencialy true, it's my understanding that there is extensive agreement in academia that the abhiddhamma is a later work which could not have been spoken by the Buddha.

Of course this is an unsatisfactory response to your question. How do we determine what exactly is pure dhamma? Well, we have best guesses, but we don't have absolute certainty. And we'll never will. But at least we can exclude some things as clearly not spoken by the Buddha. That doesn't mean it is worthless. It just means that it is of less value than originaly thought.
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby Modus.Ponens » Sun Oct 13, 2013 8:54 pm

tiltbillings wrote:We have seen, for example, the idea that the 12 link version of paticcasamuppada is not properly interpreted as involving 3 lives. This is now a "classic" modern vs classical area of contention. I have yet to see with the modern "timeless," in this moment, interpretation of the 12 links an argument showing that the 3 life interpretation does not lead to awakening.


I was losing sight of the topic _ and of what is reasonable. Of course there will always be different interpretations of the dhamma. But the most important thing is that it needs to be determined what texts are original and what texts were forged _ inside or outside the sutta pitaka. This, I think, is the most valid contribution of western civilization to the dhamma: applying peer reviewed scholarship to determine what are the most important texts. And this is the foundations on which every "modern theravada" interpretation is built, even if modern theravadins are not directly aware of it.
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby rohana » Sun Oct 13, 2013 9:09 pm

tiltbillings wrote:We have seen, for example, the idea that the 12 link version of paticcasamuppada is not properly interpreted as involving 3 lives. This is now a "classic" modern vs classical area of contention. I have yet to see with the modern "timeless," in this moment, interpretation of the 12 links an argument showing that the 3 life interpretation does not lead to awakening.

In addition, not all of the 'modern' interpretations necessarily invalidate the three-life interpretation. And the three-life model was not the only interpretation used by the Ãcāriyas of the past. If anything, the three-life model was provided as an illustration of a more general principle.

As already mentioned, the jhānas would be another area of contention. However, a teacher who is 'modern' in one area may be quite 'classical' with respect to another area.
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby kc2dpt » Mon Oct 14, 2013 1:15 am

cookiemonster wrote:... can anyone tell me what the differences are? Thank you.

The differences are...
some people teach what they have learned
and
some people think they know better.

Why do they think they know better?
Do they really know better?
What are valid criteria for thinking one knows better?

These are questions with long and involved and heated threads already in their wake.

There's surely good and wholesome reasons why some people think they know better, but most of what I've seen is either ego, or attachment to views, or over-estimation of attainments, or some such thing.

90% of the time it seems to be simply because they don't believe in rebirth and wish that bit wasn't included. :lol:

It's no big deal to me though, as long as everyone's honest about what they are doing. If you want to reinterpret scriptures just say that's what you're doing so everybody's clear. Some people want to hear new ideas and some people want to know what tradition teaches and we should respect both people.

I used to visit a teacher, and sometimes a visitor would say, "I think it's X," and this teacher would say with a friendly smile, "That may be so. Here we believe Y." Everyone is certainly entitled to their own beliefs and theories and whatnot.

:thumbsup:
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Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby plwk » Mon Oct 14, 2013 1:28 am

The difference is...
In the former, in ten words, only one word in tĕn or none comes with diacritical marks
In the latter, in ten words, ăll tĕn ărĕ lŏădĕd wĭth sŭch...
Bhikkhus, if you develop and make much this one thing,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.
What is it? It is recollecting the Enlightened One.
If this single thing is recollected and made much,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.

Anguttara-Nikaya: Ekanipata: Ekadhammapali: Pañhamavagga
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Oct 14, 2013 1:48 am

Greetings,

I'm sure there have been those throughout history who have followed a modus operandi equivalent to what has been defined here as Modern Theravada (i.e. those who were content with what had been transmitted via the suttas, who did not wish to build upon the corpus).

Of course it's those who built upon the corpus who have had their texts and interpretations transmitted through time, but it would be folly to neglect the existence of "suttavada" practitioners (for want of a better word) over the centuries simply because they're not identifiable through the advent of their own additional documentation (i.e. not identifiable via textual analysis) in the way the Sri Lankan Mahaviharans are, for example.

Most traditional/conservative standpoints are generally defined in terms of what they don't change/append, rather than what they evolve. David Snyder has often pointed out the irony that what is classed as "modern" is in some respects actually more conservative, in the sense of generally emphasizing the oldest strata of Buddhist teaching.

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Retro. :)
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby cookiemonster » Tue Oct 15, 2013 5:53 pm

So basically it boils down to:

1. Suttas only as authoritative, or
2. Suttas plus the ancient commentaries elevated into authoritative interpretations.

?
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby Modus.Ponens » Tue Oct 15, 2013 6:47 pm

Very roughly, yes. There is, as far as I can tell, a lot of golden material in the commentaries. The problem is when they are elevated to the same level as the suttas. Same with the abhidhamma.
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Re: Difference between "Modern" and "Classical" Theravada ..

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Oct 15, 2013 9:47 pm

Greetings,

Modus.Ponens wrote:There is, as far as I can tell, a lot of golden material in the commentaries. The problem is when they are elevated to the same level as the suttas. Same with the abhidhamma.

...or granted an intellectual monopoly over the interpretation of the suttas.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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