Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby alan » Fri Jun 11, 2010 5:47 am

Actually I was giving you a way out.
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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Jun 11, 2010 5:56 am

alan wrote:Actually I was giving you a way out.
Of course, now you are trying to be funny. So, far you have blown a lot of smoke here. You were asked directly to give us an idea of what you understood "bare attention" to be and you just side-stepped it. If you want a dialogue, it helps to answer the questions put to you, rather than avoiding the question and countering with other questions.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby alan » Fri Jun 11, 2010 6:01 am

Take on the idea, tilt, not who said it. It's a diversion to ask who said what in this context. I could say A, B and C said it. Then you'd just tell me that you have no respect for A, B and C.
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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Jun 11, 2010 6:08 am

alan wrote:Take on the idea, tilt, not who said it. It's a diversion to ask who said what in this context. I could say A, B and C said it. Then you'd just tell me that you have no respect for A, B and C.

Damdifino what you are talking about here. With Wallace we have an accusation of unnamed modern Vipassana teachers teaching in a way that distorts the Dhamma, but the problem is that we have no examples of what it is they are teaching or who they are. All we have is just what Wallace says they are teaching, and in the process pretty much implying the whole of the modern vipassana movement - or a fair number of teachers - are guilty of distorting the Dhamma, which is really ugly and serious.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Jun 11, 2010 6:17 am

Keep in mind, Alan, that the OP states: "I don't necessarily agree with Wallace, but I'm curious exactly what Tiltbillings finds unimpressive about Wallace's critique, and what everyone thinks of the article he posted." He asking my opinion here, and one of things I find as a problem with this article is the accusation of unnamed modern Vipassana teachers teaching in a way that distorts the Dhamma, which very unnecessarily tars pretty much all modern Vipassana teachers with doing that.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby alan » Fri Jun 11, 2010 6:22 am

Oh, tilt.
Why the anger? I apologize if I said anything in the past that upset you.
We were supposed to be discussing the article. But you've turned it into a prosecution, and it does not reflect well on you. Thought I'd give you a chance to cool down, but you keep charging! Why?
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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Jun 11, 2010 6:30 am

alan wrote:Oh, tilt.
Why the anger?
Anger? Hardly.
I apologize if I said anything in the past that upset you.
Don't apologize. Just answer questions put to you.
We were supposed to be discussing the article. But you've turned it into a prosecution, and it does not reflect well on you. Thought I'd give you a chance to cool down, but you keep charging! Why?
I ask a question; you refuse to answer. When asked about your claim that there are teachers who are doing what Wallace claims (which is one major complaint I have about Wallece's interview), you dodge the question. Don't play this game of trying to turn it back onto me.

Back to the subject, if you will be so kind.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

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People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby d.sullivan » Fri Jun 11, 2010 6:51 am

tiltbillings wrote:
d.sullivan wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
Here is Wallace's broadside against vipassana practice: http://www.tricycle.com/a-mindful-balance

I am not impressed.


In another thread, Tiltbillings wrote this, and I wanted to respond to it without taking the thread off topic, so I'm starting a new thread.

I don't necessarily agree with Wallace, but I'm curious exactly what Tiltbillings finds unimpressive about Wallace's critique, and what everyone thinks of the article he posted.

Reading the article, I'm not sure it contains a "broadside against vipassana practice," only a critique of modern mindfulness practice, which Wallace posits is actually not the same as traditional Therevadin vipassana.

Who are these naughty "modern vipassana teachers" Wallace is talking about?


To be clear, I don't necessarily agree with the distinction Wallace made between modern Theravadin teachers and traditional ones, I was merely pointing out that he made this distinction, and that he was not intending to attack the Theravadin tradition in general.

The fact that Wallace leaves these teachers unnamed is certainly problematic for this article. I'm reluctant to put words in Wallace's mouth, but I would guess that he is referring to teachers like Kornfield and Goldstein. In the article, Wallace asserts that a problem with this "bare attention" form of vippassana is that it is lacking in terms of not including Right Intention, View and Effort. Given that even teachers such as Kornfield and Goldstein do not neglect these aspects of the path, either Wallace is not referring to them, or his critique is invalid. I wonder if it is the latter.

The part of the article that I find most interesting is Wallace's claim that modern Buddhism in general seems to be lacking in the samatha department. From my limited knowledge, this distinction between western and eastern teachers seems to hold true; Jack Kornfield, for instance, seems to emphasize samatha/jhana practice very little, while eastern Theravadin teachers value such practices more. Am I wrong in perceiving this distinction, and what do you think of Wallace's critique of western Buddhism as lacking in the concentration aspect of the Path?
Every blade in the field,
Every leaf in the forest,
Lays down its life in its season,
As beautifully as it was taken up.

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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Jun 11, 2010 7:17 am

d.sullivan wrote:To be clear, I don't necessarily agree with the distinction Wallace made between modern Theravadin teachers and traditional ones, I was merely pointing out that he made this distinction, and that he was not intending to attack the Theravadin tradition in general.
Damdifino what his intentions were, but it is a choice of wording that is a problem, which is less than skillful. And it sure looks like he was attacking modern vipassana teachings, and who would that be?

The fact that Wallace leaves these teachers unnamed is certainly problematic for this article. I'm reluctant to put words in Wallace's mouth, but I would guess that he is referring to teachers like Kornfield and Goldstein.
If he is referring to K & G, then he is remarkably stupid and ignorant. I have done 3 three month retreats with these guys, and Wallace's characterization of the modern Vipassana teachers simply do not fit their style and content of teaching.

In the article, Wallace asserts that a problem with this "bare attention" form of vippassana is that it is lacking in terms of not including Right Intention, View and Effort. Given that even teachers such as Kornfield and Goldstein do not neglect these aspects of the path, either Wallace is not referring to them, or his critique is invalid. I wonder if it is the latter.
I suspect it has to do more with sectarianism, but then who knows. There is a tendency to want to define things - vipassana and samatha - in one's own school's terms.

The part of the article that I find most interesting is Wallace's claim that modern Buddhism in general seems to be lacking in the samatha department. From my limited knowledge, this distinction between western and eastern teachers seems to hold true; Jack Kornfield, for instance, seems to emphasize samatha/jhana practice very little, while eastern Theravadin teachers value such practices more. Am I wrong in perceiving this distinction, and what do you think of Wallace's critique of western Buddhism as lacking in the concentration aspect of the Path?
This whole samatha/vipassana divide is a bit misleading in actual practice. We are stuck with it coming out of the Visuddhimagga and commentaries, and traditionalists such as Ledi Sayadaw or Mahasi Sayadaw were not going to challenge it. Mahasi Sayadaw understood that one does not need full blown Visuddhimagga described absorption to cultivate direct insight into the three marks, and U Pandita recognized that the levels of concentration cultivated via the Mahasi Sayadaw method are significantly profound, thus the vipassana jhanas, which look like what others call the sutta jhanas.

Kornfield, whom I admire greatly, may down play concentration some and he may put practice in more psychological terms, but he does not neglect the ethical and Dhamma basics of the practice.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby PeterB » Fri Jun 11, 2010 7:29 am

I am reminded of the analogy made in another thread about the treasure map , when the "expert" ( which was once defined by someone as " a guy from out of town who brings a flip-chart ) says that the Buddha didnt teach what he is said to teach etc. and therefore the map is wrong, and he addresses these remarks to someone loading up on the treasure he has discovered by following the map..
The same with Alan Wallace. I have done Vipassana retreats with a number of modern teachers* and they have reinforced and clarified my Dhamma practice like nothing else.
They have all emphasised the 8 fold path. They have all emphasised sila. modern Vipassana is dynamic and effective, and totally different to chewing the Dhamma fat.

* teachers in the Goenka and, Sayadaw tradition and primarly, Dhiravamsa.
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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby sukhamanveti » Fri Jun 11, 2010 9:16 am

tiltbillings wrote:
alan wrote:Many meditation teachers preach the idea that to pay attention is enough. "Watch what arises and don't judge it" seems to be the dominant ethos. Scores of books echo this.
If 'mindfulness" has become a one-word path, then "bare-attention" is it's aim. I'm waiting for a cogent explanation of the value of this path.

So, name names. Who are these people?


I think Alan Wallace may have in mind Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has divorced vipassana from its Buddhist context and does say things like, "Watch what arises and don't judge it" (See, e.g., his book Wherever You Go, There You Are for words to this effect). JKZ is primarily interested in vipassana as a means of managing pain and reducing stress. As far as I recall, I don't think that he has said much about liberation or precepts, if anything. I am relying on memory, however.

I think it is unfortunate that Wallace overgeneralized or did not choose his words more carefully. I know that he is an intelligent, sincere person who seeks to understand and respect all major Buddhist traditions (his perspective is Ri-me or "nonsectarian"). Clearly, he needs to meet more vipassana teachers.
Sīlaṃ balaṃ appaṭimaṃ.
Sīlaṃ āvudhamuttamaṃ.
Sīlamābharaṇaṃ seṭṭhaṃ.
Sīlaṃ kavacamabbhutaṃ.


Virtue is a matchless power.
Virtue is the greatest weapon.
Virtue is the best adornment.
Virtue is a wonderful armor.

Theragatha 614


Sabbapāpassa akaraṇaṃ,
kusalassa upasampadā,
Sacittapariyodapanaṃ,
etaṃ buddhāna sāsanaṃ.


Refraining from all wrong-doing,
Undertaking the good,
Purifying the mind,
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

Dhammapada v. 183/14.5
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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby d.sullivan » Fri Jun 11, 2010 9:29 am

tiltbillings wrote:Damdifino what his intentions were, but it is a choice of wording that is a problem, which is less than skillful. And it sure looks like he was attacking modern vipassana teachings, and who would that be?
Oh, I don't mean to say that he isn't attacking modern vipassana teachings. He clearly is. In your original post, you referred to Wallace's critique as a against Theravadin teachings in general, and for the sake of clarity, I wanted to point out that I think his attack was more leveled at modern, western Theravadin teachings, as opposed to Theravadin teachings in general.

tiltbillings wrote:If he is referring to K & G, then he is remarkably stupid and ignorant. I have done 3 three month retreats with these guys, and Wallace's characterization of the modern Vipassana teachers simply do not fit their style and content of teaching.


I agree. As I already mentioned, if these are the teachers Wallace is referring to, his criticism is invalid, because it really bears no resemblance to how both Kornfield and Goldstein teach, and his characterization of the "modern vipassana teacher" is a bit of a strawman.

tiltbillings wrote: Mahasi Sayadaw understood that one does not need full blown Visuddhimagga described absorption to cultivate direct insight into the three marks, and U Pandita recognized that the levels of concentration cultivated via the Mahasi Sayadaw method are significantly profound, thus the vipassana jhanas, which look like what others call the sutta jhanas.


The vipassana jhanas as mentioned by U Pandita crossed my mind also while reading Wallace's interview, and its a very good example of the false dilemma that exists between jhana and vipassana practice. From what I have read, also, the Buddha pretty explicitly stated that only access concentration was necessary for vipassana practice. It may very well be beneficial to vispassana practice to reach higher stages of absorption, but it does not seem to be necessary.

tiltbillings wrote:Kornfield, whom I admire greatly, may down play concentration some and he may put practice in more psychological terms, but he does not neglect the ethical and Dhamma basics of the practice.


I admire Kornfield a great deal, as well. In fact, I have plans to visit his meditation center early August, and I am looking forward to it a great deal!
Every blade in the field,
Every leaf in the forest,
Lays down its life in its season,
As beautifully as it was taken up.

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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby PeterB » Fri Jun 11, 2010 9:35 am

If you are correct Sukhmanveti in your indentification of the kind of modern teacher that Wallace is aiming his piece at then frankly he is attempting to evaluate an important Buddhist development without the necessary means of measurement. He might as well criticise Vipassana as taught by Osho's "Neo-Sanyassins ",
It exposes a danger in any Rime type of attempt to establish a neuralised Pan-Buddhism. To whit, that depth will be sacrificed in the cause of breadth.
And that the resulting melange will be a shade of khaki.
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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby d.sullivan » Fri Jun 11, 2010 9:39 am

sukhamanveti wrote:
I think Alan Wallace may have in mind Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has divorced vipassana from its Buddhist context and does say things like, "Watch what arises and don't judge it" (See, e.g., his book Wherever You Go, There You Are for words to this effect). JKZ is primarily interested in vipassana as a means of managing pain and reducing stress. As far as I recall, I don't think that he has said much about liberation or precepts, if anything. I am relying on memory, however.



Wallace may very well be referring to to Kabat-Zinn, that seems plausible. However, I am not sure Wallace's critique would apply even to JKZ, because as far as I can tell, JKZ makes no attempt at claiming that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is Buddhism, specifically because he does not teach it in a context in which Buddhist doctrine is also taught. He does not claim that MBSR is identical to vipassana, so Wallace should not critique him in that light.

Wallace does seem to be off the mark here. It would be cool if he would attend a two-month vispassana retreat at Spirit Rock to help him become better educated about the modern Buddhist scene.
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Lays down its life in its season,
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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby jcsuperstar » Fri Jun 11, 2010 10:03 am

well he uses the term like you're supossed to know who he's talking about, so i googled it here are some modern vipassana teachers
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vipassana_movement
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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby Zom » Fri Jun 11, 2010 10:18 am

So, name names. Who are these people?


Guess he is speaking about Goenka Vipassana teachers (and probably) Mahasi Sayadaw Metidation Teachers with their techniques of "just watch, name-it, and don't do anything with it" :reading:
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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby PeterB » Fri Jun 11, 2010 10:46 am

It is a puzzle to me that these lists usually exclude Dhiravamsa..who was one of the pioneers in the field.
He as Chao Khun Dhammasudhi more or less single handedly introduced Vipassana to the UK in the late 60's. Before the Mahasi or Goenka organisations reached these islands. ( I am fairly sure ).
He left the robe some time ago and continues to teach. He lives in the Canary islands.
I am sure Mr. Walalce would be less than enthusiastic about his approach.
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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby Sobeh » Fri Jun 11, 2010 5:15 pm

From the article:

"When I first noticed this disparity about thirty years ago..."

Could be his information is simply out-of-date and he hasn't thought to re-assess the current context.
---

Tilt: rather than asking what bare attention means, let's ask the author of the article in question what he thinks it means:

"...bare attention corresponds much more closely to the Pali term manasikara..."

(In Sammasati, An Exposition of Right Mindfulness by Ven. P. A. Payutto:
"To demonstrate the process involved as a sequence of events, one could say that when sati brings an object to mind and lays it down in full view of the mind, yoniso-manasikara, as it were, picks it up and manipulates it in such a way that pañña may scrutinize it and then deal with it effectively.")

So what is the author's problem?

"The cultivation of bare attention is valuable in many ways, and there’s a rapidly growing body of research on its benefits for both psychological and physiological disorders. But it’s incorrect to equate that with mindfulness, and an even greater error to think that’s all there is to vipassana."

It seems he might agree with Ven. Payutto's quote, above. Logically we would say that bare attention (yoniso-manasikara) is a necessary but insufficient component of the vipassana process. But wait!

"So bare attention doesn’t by any means capture the complete significance of vipassana, but represents only the initial phase in the meditative development of right mindfulness." (emphasis added)

(Payutto disagrees here, as yoniso-manasikara is not initial:
"A comparison may be made to someone in a rowing boat out on a choppy river, picking flowers or water greens. Firstly, that person ties up the boat or anchors it in such a way that it will remain stationary at the spot where the plants grow. Then with one hand he grasps hold of the stems, gathers them together and exposes them as conveniently as possible for harvesting. With the other hand, using the tool he has prepared for the job, he cuts them off. Sati may be compared to the anchor which stabilized the boat, enabling the man to remain within reach of the plants. The boat, held stationary at a given spot, may be compared to the mind. The hand which grasps the plant stems and holds them in a convenient way is like yoniso-manasikara. The other hand, using a sharp tool to cut off the stems, is like pañña.")

Aside from differing on the ordinal structure, both agree that yoniso-manasikara is a component and not, in and of itself, the whole of vipassana. So now we have a rubric: a vipassana meditation teacher will be subject to the author's critique if they teach only yoniso-manasikara to the exclusion of other sammasati path factors.

Turns out we simply need to determine if this rubric applies to one vipassana teacher or another, or we have to deny the rubric as being either subtly or critically flawed.
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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby Goofaholix » Fri Jun 11, 2010 8:17 pm

Sobeh wrote:"So bare attention doesn’t by any means capture the complete significance of vipassana, but represents only the initial phase in the meditative development of right mindfulness." (emphasis added)
...
Turns out we simply need to determine if this rubric applies to one vipassana teacher or another, or we have to deny the rubric as being either subtly or critically flawed.


Yes, and how long does it take to teach and learn this "initial phase"?

I think we might find that teachers emphasise this initial phase because most of their students are at this initial phase, explanations of what to do with this new found mindfulness come later when mindfulness is established. There isn't a lot of point trying to understand and purify the workings of the mind if one can't even be present in the present moment consistently. It would be like trying to find your socks and underwear with the light off, the first step is to turn the light on then hunt for your socks and underwear.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Alan Wallace on Modern Vipassana

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Jun 11, 2010 8:26 pm

PeterB wrote:If you are correct Sukhmanveti in your indentification of the kind of modern teacher that Wallace is aiming his piece at then frankly he is attempting to evaluate an important Buddhist development without the necessary means of measurement. He might as well criticise Vipassana as taught by Osho's "Neo-Sanyassins ",
It exposes a danger in any Rime type of attempt to establish a neuralised Pan-Buddhism. To whit, that depth will be sacrificed in the cause of breadth.
And that the resulting melange will be a shade of khaki.

I took him to be referring to the sort of "non-secular vipassana" people I come into contact with at times, who are very nice people but have a tendency to reduce teachings on liberation down to a teaching on stress reduction...

Since Wallace is clearly only criticising what he perceives in some modern developments it seems odd to accuse him of sectarianism. There is plenty of criticism of some of these things from Theravada teachers.

Still Crazy after all these Years: Why Meditation isn’t Psychotherapy
by Patrick Kearney
http://buddhanet.net/crazy.htm
Buddhism is not a collection of spiritual or therapeutic techniques. Buddhism is an ocean. If we want we are free to paddle on the edge of the shore, trying a technique here or a therapy there, occasionally getting our feet wet, but staying safely within our limitations. Or we can take the advice of Døgen Zenji, who said: "Arouse the mind that seeks the way, and plunge into the ocean of Buddhism." Ultimately the future of Buddhism in the West will be decided by those who take the plunge, because the paddlers will always draw back and, rather than adapt Buddhism to its new home, will develop new forms of Buddhised psychotherapy. For ultimately we must choose whom we will follow. We can follow Buddha or we can follow Freud; we cannot do both, because they are just not travelling in the same direction.


Wallace's observations seem quite reasonable to me:
What, then, is the role of bare attention?
[Wallace:] The cultivation of bare attention is valuable in many ways, and there’s a rapidly growing body of research on its benefits for both psychological and physiological disorders. But it’s incorrect to equate that with mindfulness, and an even greater error to think that’s all there is to vipassana. If that were the case, all the Buddha’s teachings on ethics, samadhi (highly focused attention), and wisdom would be irrelevant. All too often, people who assume that bare attention is all there is to meditation reject the rest of Buddhism as clap-trap and mumbo-jumbo. The essential teachings are dismissed rather than one’s own preconceptions.
...
Do the differing definitions of mindfulness have any practical bearing? Or is this just a semantic issue?
[Wallace:] It’s far more than a semantic issue. In common usage the English term mindfulness simply means to be aware, or heedful. Sati has a much richer connotation, so those wishing to practice Buddhist meditation are well advised to gain as clear an understanding of this and other related terms as they can, based on the most authoritative sources they can find. Otherwise, Buddhist meditation quickly devolves into a vague kind of “be here now” mentality, in which the extraordinary depth and richness of Buddhist meditative traditions are lost.


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