Two Naked Buddhas

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Two Naked Buddhas

Postby Kim OHara » Thu Dec 24, 2009 2:56 am

Okay ... don't hit me ... I saw the chance for an attention-grabbing title and seized it. :tongue:
But it's a perfectly accurate title too: I have found that there are two books called 'The Naked Buddha'!

The one I heard of a couple of years ago but haven't read (I can only get it easily as an audio book, and I don't like listening to books) is by Adrienne Howley. Here's it's Amazon description:
One result of Buddhism's inherent flexibility is a bewildering array of religious rituals and traditions-"cultural trappings" that Howley believes often obscure the Buddha's original teachings. Herself an Australian Buddhist nun, Howley sets out to "strip the Buddha of added layers... and get down to what he really thought and taught." It's an ambitious project; unfortunately, Howley shares with us neither her sources nor the methodology by which she arrived at her stripped-down versions of these "basic teachings." Nevertheless, her vigorously philosophical, non-religious approach (an unexpected choice for an ordained nun) results in a streamlined, appealing primer for everything you wanted to know about Buddhism but were afraid to ask. In simple, well-organized chapters-often employing a Q&A format-she addresses topics and questions that get to the heart of Buddhism. She begins with the historical Buddha (Who was he? Who were his followers?), then discusses whether Buddhism is properly a religion or a philosophy. (Conclusion: it's a philosophy frequently adapted to religious expression.) She offers excellent, lucid discussions of some of Buddhism's core elements such as the Four Noble Truths, karma, impermanence, compassion and emptiness. She rounds out the book with basic suggestions for meditation and by addressing specific questions like, "Is the Dalai Lama the Buddhist 'Pope'?" Straightforward and readable, this book will appeal both to those new to Buddhism and to those wanting to revisit its foundational teachings
http://www.amazon.com/Naked-Buddha-Practical-Buddhas-Teachings/dp/1569244324

The other, which a friend loaned to me recently is by Eric Harrison, a New Zealander who has been living and teaching in Perth, Western Australia, for twenty years. His book (Amazon listing http://www.amazon.com/Buddha-Teaching-Without-Ritual-Religion/dp/0958637806) seems to be more radical than Howley's. He wants to keep the meditation practices and core teachings but rejects the 'archaic traditions'. He is extremely critical of the authoritarianism, elitism and sexism of institutional Buddhism (if I can call it that) and wants to to drag it - kicking and screaming if it won't come quietly - into the present so that it can be of use to the majority of westerners.

Comments?

Kim
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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby pink_trike » Thu Dec 24, 2009 3:01 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:Okay ... don't hit me ... I saw the chance for an attention-grabbing title and seized it. :tongue:
But it's a perfectly accurate title too: I have found that there are two books called 'The Naked Buddha'!

The one I heard of a couple of years ago but haven't read (I can only get it easily as an audio book, and I don't like listening to books) is by Adrienne Howley. Here's it's Amazon description:
One result of Buddhism's inherent flexibility is a bewildering array of religious rituals and traditions-"cultural trappings" that Howley believes often obscure the Buddha's original teachings. Herself an Australian Buddhist nun, Howley sets out to "strip the Buddha of added layers... and get down to what he really thought and taught." It's an ambitious project; unfortunately, Howley shares with us neither her sources nor the methodology by which she arrived at her stripped-down versions of these "basic teachings." Nevertheless, her vigorously philosophical, non-religious approach (an unexpected choice for an ordained nun) results in a streamlined, appealing primer for everything you wanted to know about Buddhism but were afraid to ask. In simple, well-organized chapters-often employing a Q&A format-she addresses topics and questions that get to the heart of Buddhism. She begins with the historical Buddha (Who was he? Who were his followers?), then discusses whether Buddhism is properly a religion or a philosophy. (Conclusion: it's a philosophy frequently adapted to religious expression.) She offers excellent, lucid discussions of some of Buddhism's core elements such as the Four Noble Truths, karma, impermanence, compassion and emptiness. She rounds out the book with basic suggestions for meditation and by addressing specific questions like, "Is the Dalai Lama the Buddhist 'Pope'?" Straightforward and readable, this book will appeal both to those new to Buddhism and to those wanting to revisit its foundational teachings
http://www.amazon.com/Naked-Buddha-Practical-Buddhas-Teachings/dp/1569244324

The other, which a friend loaned to me recently is by Eric Harrison, a New Zealander who has been living and teaching in Perth, Western Australia, for twenty years. His book (Amazon listing http://www.amazon.com/Buddha-Teaching-Without-Ritual-Religion/dp/0958637806) seems to be more radical than Howley's. He wants to keep the meditation practices and core teachings but rejects the 'archaic traditions'. He is extremely critical of the authoritarianism, elitism and sexism of institutional Buddhism (if I can call it that) and wants to to drag it - kicking and screaming if it won't come quietly - into the present so that it can be of use to the majority of westerners.

Comments?

Kim

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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby jcsuperstar » Thu Dec 24, 2009 3:25 am

i've found that most authors who do this "stripped down" buddhism thing are really just promoting their own little agenda, which is selling us a buddhism devoid of whatever aspects the author him/herself doesnt like or want to believe

the only good examples of people being able to take buddhism back to it's "roots" or whatever you want to call it, have been lp buddhadasa, who tried to ween thai people away from all the superstitious add-ons to buddhism that thai culture has thrown in, and ajahn chah & his monks which (i may be wrong but i have a feeling i'm not) were kinda following , directly, lp buddhadasa's lead.

the main difference is that with these thai (and western followers) monks they just used the pali canon to see what the buddha taught and sifted off the thai additions, whereas with most western authors you see them just tossing out anything in the canon they dont like, "oh the buddha couldnt have said that", "oh when he mentions gods etc its just metaphor" "that was just added later" etc.
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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby Laurens » Thu Dec 24, 2009 1:59 pm

I haven't read the book, but I think frankly its good that people are taking what the Buddha actually taught away from all the nonesense.

However, I don't think people should strip away things that were clearly taught by the Buddha *cough* rebirth *cough*, but its good to get rid of all the cultural junk like amulets that can make your life longer, or make you rich, stuff like that makes me cringe.
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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby seanpdx » Thu Dec 24, 2009 5:00 pm

Naked buddhism without additional cruft? Gombrich, Bronkhorst, Wynne, Schmithausen, et cetera, et cetera...

Of course, most people aren't interested in listening to anyone who tells them their precious beliefs aren't authentic. *oops*
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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Dec 25, 2009 12:53 am

My prejudice is to share JC's worries:
jcsuperstar wrote:i've found that most authors who do this "stripped down" buddhism thing are really just promoting their own little agenda, which is selling us a buddhism devoid of whatever aspects the author him/herself doesnt like or want to believe...

However, different approaches are useful to different people at different times. Honestly, I have not read any of those books because I have enough to do trying to understand the depth of what I do read, which is mostly Tipitika plus teachers reasonably aligned with my practise approach. [It's not that I see anything wrong with other approaches, but I don't have time to assess them all...]

For me, the key unease that JC brings up is that by smoothing out some of the "difficult bits" one is not really challenged to seriously grapple with them. As far as I can understand, it is useful to grapple with the apparently contradictory teachings (e.g. not-self vs rebirth).

However, it's good to have one's approach and concepts challenged. Since I haven't read them, I don't know if the above books are particularly challenging, but if you want a bit of a challenge I would suggest taking a look at Daniel Ingram's book, Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book, which you can download at: http://www.interactivebuddha.com/mctb.shtml (or buy a paper copy). There's bound to be something in there that will challenge, annoy, and exasperate any practitioner...

Here is his assessment of what can happen in the West. I'm sure that many who have attended Western sitting groups will find at least parts of his descriptions familiar:
There is another related movement in the West, and that is to make
Buddhism into something for everyone. Unfortunately, what is
happening is that Buddhism is becoming watered down in order to
make it have broad appeal. The result is something very similar to what
happens in places like Thailand, where most people “practice
Buddhism” in a way that is largely devotional and dogmatic. In the
West, this translates to people “practicing Buddhism” by becoming
neurotic about being Buddhist, accumulating lots of pretty books and
expensive props, learning just enough of some new language to be
pretentious, and by sitting on a cushion engaged in free-form
psychological whatnot while doing nothing resembling meditative
practices. They may aspire to no level of mastery of anything and may
never even have been told what these practices were actually designed to
achieve.

Thus, their meditation is largely a devotional meditation, something
that externally looks like meditation but achieves little. In short, it is just
one more spiritual trapping, though one that may have some social
benefits. Many seem to have substituted the pain of the pew for the pain
of the zafu with the results and motivations being largely the same. It is
an imitation of meditation done because meditation seems like a good
and noble thing to do. However, it is a meditation that has been
designed by those “teachers” who want everyone to be able to feel good
that they are doing something “spiritual”. While it is good for a person
to slow down to take time out for silence, I will claim that beyond these
and a few cardiovascular benefits there is often not a whole lot of any
great worth that comes from this sort of practice. True, they are not out
smoking crack, but why get so close to the real thing and then not do
those practices that make a real difference?

Many will consider my devaluation of low-grade sitting practice
radical and counterproductive. Perhaps it is, but I claim that many who
would have aspired to much more are being short-changed by not being
invited to really step up to the plate and play ball, to discover the
profound capabilities hidden within their own minds. This book is
designed to be just such an invitation, an invitation to step far beyond
the increasingly ritualized, bastardized, and gutless mock-up of
Buddhism that is rearing its fluffy head in the modern West and has a
strangle hold on many a practice group and even some of the big
meditation centers.

Notice that his definition of "watering down" is not to do with philosophical questions about rebirth or planes of existence, but to do with practical questions about whether this "devotional meditation" abandons the whole point of the Buddha's teaching: awakening.

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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby pink_trike » Fri Dec 25, 2009 4:17 am

Buddhist devotional meditation isn't anything new, and certainly not unique to the West. Hasn't it been true for a very long time that there are those people that are particularly suited for devotional practices, and those who are suited for the approach he seems to think is the only way?

While it is good for a person to slow down to take time out for silence, I will claim that beyond these and a few cardiovascular benefits there is often not a whole lot of any great worth that comes from this sort of practice.


He must think he's omniscient or something. Maybe his divine eye is in full flower? How would he know what value devotional meditation has on a person's entire life and life span? How could he possibly know with such a strong bias against it? Yeah...bias.

Many will consider my devaluation of low-grade sitting practice radical...


No, no...nothing radical about it at all (though thinking that may make him feel kinda special - a bit of a "rebel"...grrrowl!). In fact, condemning condescending snobs like him have been around in Buddhism (and in every tradition and discipliine) for a long, long time. Oh, isn't it such a waste that everyone isn't as pure and correct as he? He's obviously so much more smarter than those stupid Buddhist “teachers” (his quote marks) who obviously don't have a clue and aren't capable of employing skillful means to meet the needs of the seeker. :tongue: You go, tough guy!

There is another related movement in the West, and that is to make Buddhism into something for everyone.


I hold an MD, an MSPH in Epidemiology, and a BA in English Literature, all from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


I suspect this is getting closer to the meat of the matter. Why expose the lesser masses to something that they can't possibly make use of in the way that the superior, more intelligent, and better educated, correctly-motivated people (like him) can? I guess Buddhism is an elite club only suited for a certain type of person...

It is an imitation of meditation done because meditation seems like a good and noble thing to do.


His psychic powers are just awesome. Amazing that he knows what's happening in all those people's minds, and that he knows their motivation for practicing too. :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: , er.... :thinking:

This book is designed to be just such an invitation, an invitation to step far beyond the increasingly ritualized, bastardized, and gutless mock-up of Buddhism that is rearing its fluffy head in the modern West and has a strangle hold on many a practice group and even some of the big meditation centers.


Sounds like a branding strategy to me - wonder how many tough guy-themed "pretty books" he dreams of selling. Condescending prig... :rofl:
Last edited by pink_trike on Fri Dec 25, 2009 5:38 am, edited 3 times in total.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
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Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby pink_trike » Fri Dec 25, 2009 4:37 am

From his About Daniel Ingram page:

I am an arahat with mastery of the formed jhanas, formless realms, Nirodha Samapatti, and a few other traditional attainments.


He's an arahat...mastery. Got it? :popcorn:

I am one of the few teachers I know of who will talk about high-level practice directly and unambiguously without relying on dogma, making things taboo or coating simple truths in mystery.


He doesn't get around much, does he?

...and have trained under teachers from all the major Buddhist traditions over the last 11 years.


I am interested in spiritual awakening, green building, medicine, dance, yoga, gardening, car repair, travel, music, poetry, and living a fun and useful life.


wow. Let's see...11 years divided by...oh, just 3 "major Buddhist traditions" would equal a smidge more than 3 years for each. Oh, but he trained in all the major Buddhist traditions..huh, imagine that. And he's got the right and correct way.

Imo, he's a sign of these times...
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Dec 25, 2009 5:59 am

Thanks for the responses so far, folks.
I think I can say Ingram is not my ideal teacher :tongue: but that his divergence from traditional Buddhism is quite different from Eric Harrison's.
Harrison does take the meditative practices seriously and also (though he says less about them) the 'morality' practices that support good meditation. But he finds that Asian teachers and Western students - in Asia or in the West - are not a good combination. Summarising him (I'm not saying I agree with everything!):
Asian teachers tend to see lay students as incapable of making much progress, because the high achievers in their own community are all monastics, and therefore tend to give them limited instruction; that goes double for women. They also tend to be conservative, authoritarian and elitist in personal and pedagogical relationships and don't handle western-style egalitarianism at all well, and their teaching skills per se are usually so poor as to make any western-trained educator wince.
Harrison doesn't talk much about individual cases but I have read elsewhere about some very destructive behaviours in (particularly) American Zen communities.

To me it seems clear that 'western Buddhism' is a work in progress. People like Harrison, and like us, are shaping it through our practice and our conversation. I am curious about where it is headed.

Almost coincidentally, the Asian traditions are dealing with potentially radical upheavals. the Tibetan diaspora is a really obvious example, but the major schools' ability to communicate freely with each other is a new thing as of (say) the last fifty years and coincides with Asian Buddhists' large-scale exposure to secular scientific consumerist Western culture, and to Christianity. My feeling is that if Asian Buddhism won't bend in response to those pressures, it will break - what has happened to Christianity in Europe and Australasia in the last hundred years may be a fairly good analogy.

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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby BlackBird » Fri Dec 25, 2009 6:12 am

And the veteran weed-cutter did the job that weed-cutters do and so it was.
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'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby Paññāsikhara » Fri Dec 25, 2009 7:03 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:Thanks for the responses so far, folks.


Hi Kim
Well, I haven't replied so far, but now I shall! :P

I think I can say Ingram is not my ideal teacher :tongue: but that his divergence from traditional Buddhism is quite different from Eric Harrison's.
Harrison does take the meditative practices seriously and also (though he says less about them) the 'morality' practices that support good meditation. But he finds that Asian teachers and Western students - in Asia or in the West - are not a good combination. Summarising him (I'm not saying I agree with everything!):


Think I may give Mr Ingram a miss myself. I'm on my twelfth year full time Dharma study, so maybe I missed something last year?! :P
It's an interesting point - for some, I am a professional, with all that comes with it. For others, I am still a beginner, with all that comes with that!
A nice middle ground, good for reflection.

It is interesting that "meditation" seems to be often the first word mentioned in connection with Buddhism in the west.

The Asian teacher + Western student thing is something I can maybe comment on. Though, for myself, I can also comment on some basics of Western teacher (myself) + Asian student, too. (Though the latter is a basic relationship, I am nobodies "preceptor" or "shifu".)

Asian teachers tend to see lay students as incapable of making much progress, because the high achievers in their own community are all monastics, and therefore tend to give them limited instruction; that goes double for women.


I think that the "making much progress" thing is definitely something relative. It depends where we are setting a standard, to then comment whether or not person X can "make much progress" or not. And Dharma practice is not a single linear thing, there are a range of factors and so on that something take place synchronously, sometimes diachronically. Not easy to lump it all together.

Rather than "lay students", I think that sometimes it may help to distinguish between "householders with families", particularly those married with children; and also "laity" who are young, single and have time and energy.

For my own Buddhist community, I can maybe give some examples:

All monastics are full time. First, they complete 3-4 years of Buddhist College, full time study and practice, with all it's rules and whatnot. Then, most will have another 6+ years as regular junior monastics, before they are in a position to be called "teacher" by anybody at all. Some exceptions, though. Some monastics really never become "teachers". Those who are the specialist teachers of doctrinal, meditation, ritual or other areas, usually have about 15+ years full time experience in that area.

There are also non-monastics, single lay practitioners, who are still full time. For example, when one starts at the Buddhist college, they are not monastics. Some decide to become monastics, others do not. So, there are quite a few lay students (single, not married or even in relationships) who complete 3-4 years full time study there. They may then go on to work in some area or another at the monastery. A small amount of them may become "teachers", but not usually of doctrinal, meditational or similar areas. Maybe areas like Buddhist arts, charity work, or the like.

In addition to the Buddhist college at the main monastery, some of our larger branch monasteries also have Buddhist Colleges on a smaller scale. For instance, here in HK, we have a program which runs for 4 months - every weekend. (At present, this is women only, so, so much for the gender discrimination issue!) They are single, unmarried, and during those weekends, live a pretty strict monastic lifestyle. They may then go to the main college in Taiwan, if they like.

Most of the lay students who have gone through the buddhist college training become very dedicated practitioners. They may be at the monastery 1-4 nights a week, helping out with this or that. Or even more. For example, we have three ladies who have gone through this training here, who are now full time at the monastery working with the lay organization that is parallel to the monastic organization. In the last week, they are organizing a family sports day for Dec 27th. And, for our weekend Children's Buddhist class, we have a couple of other ladies who have gone through the college, who lead the class as the teachers.

The childrens class is for 8-12 year olds. We also have Buddha Light Scouts group, and a Youth Group, too. They have their own programs, and most of it is led by the people who have gone through the Buddhist college - all of them are laity. With a bit of help from some monastics.

We also have a large number of activities for the laity in general. This includes classes, Dharma services, meditation retreats, charity events, etc. The dharma classes are all taught by monastics, as are the Dharma services and meditation retreats. The classes are graded from elementary to advanced, so over years, the students can learn a huge range of material. We also have programs at Universities, too, which go further. The other activities are mainly organized by the laity themselves, but with supervision and guidance from the Abbess.

So, coming back to the question of "progress" - some of the lay community are recognized throughout the whole of Hong Kong as community leaders for their efforts. A couple of them have written books on Buddhism, too.

In Chinese Buddhism, most people will acknowledge that as far as meditative practice goes, one needs to lead a very renunciate lifestyle. So, rather than being ousted by monastics, they themselves will think that comparatively speaking, having a full time job, spouse, children, etc. is definitely not very conducive to being a meditation expert.

This is less so for doctrinal issues. As I say, we have a couple of lay teachers who are Uni profs, who will teach to the monastics as well as laity.

So, I don't know what Asian community those initial comments were made wrt, but they don't really apply here. And HK is still Asia, from what I remember! :P

They also tend to be conservative, authoritarian and elitist in personal and pedagogical relationships and don't handle western-style egalitarianism at all well, and their teaching skills per se are usually so poor as to make any western-trained educator wince.


hmmm.... maybe, maybe not. Hard to generalize.

The wording here, though, seems to imply that these qualities are qualities in the Asian teacher. However, many of them are relational qualities. In an Asian student Asian teacher relationship, it may just work perfectly well.

The issue of egalitarianism is tricky, in that making it a criticism implies that the Asian teacher should conform to the norms of the student. Why?
Likewise for the "teaching skills".

One could easily flip it around and assess it from the position of the Asian teacher. Probably they too cringe at the lack of respect in those students, and the demand that somehow the student is the equal of the teacher!

The problem is not on either side - the problem is when the two sides come together, both expecting that the other side has a similar mode of relationship to their own, and thinking that the other should conform to their own. (Similar thing in Asian Western marriages, but that is another story!)

The very idea of what a "teacher" is, and what a "student" is, can be quite different.

Harrison doesn't talk much about individual cases but I have read elsewhere about some very destructive behaviours in (particularly) American Zen communities.


Yes. Taking things out of context - teaching style X in social context Y.
One of the interesting things about culture, is that people tend to automatically believe that their own cultural norms are universal, until clearly shown otherwise. So, for these first east-west relationships, both sides often go crashing into it like a bull in a china shop. Can get ugly. I have my own stories, but I'll leave them for my memoirs! :P

To me it seems clear that 'western Buddhism' is a work in progress. People like Harrison, and like us, are shaping it through our practice and our conversation. I am curious about where it is headed.


Indeed.

Almost coincidentally, the Asian traditions are dealing with potentially radical upheavals. the Tibetan diaspora is a really obvious example, but the major schools' ability to communicate freely with each other is a new thing as of (say) the last fifty years and coincides with Asian Buddhists' large-scale exposure to secular scientific consumerist Western culture, and to Christianity. My feeling is that if Asian Buddhism won't bend in response to those pressures, it will break - what has happened to Christianity in Europe and Australasia in the last hundred years may be a fairly good analogy.

Kim


Often, I think that as westerners, we seldom have any sympathy for the incredible amount of influence that the west has already had on Asia. Yet we still make such high demands! (eg. in a non-Buddhist setting, expecting China - which was an empire only 100 yrs ago, and had communist purges just 40 yrs ago - to suddenly become a full on western style democracy!)

I also think that many of the changes taking place are not necessarily "western culture", either, because often they are elements which are also very new to the west. I tend to think of it more as simply "modern culture", post industrial, high tech, etc.

Okay, enough blather from me. :P
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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby BlackBird » Fri Dec 25, 2009 8:00 am

Blather it is not Bhante. Thank you for that.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Dec 25, 2009 8:46 am

And my thanks, too, for a very informative perpective. :smile:

I'd just like to comment on part of what you said:
So, I don't know what Asian community those initial comments were made wrt, but they don't really apply here. And HK is still Asia, from what I remember!

Burmese, Thai and Tibetan traditions were mentioned, Japanese less if at all, HK not at all.
They also tend to be conservative, authoritarian and elitist in personal and pedagogical relationships and don't handle western-style egalitarianism at all well, and their teaching skills per se are usually so poor as to make any western-trained educator wince.

hmmm.... maybe, maybe not. Hard to generalize.

The wording here, though, seems to imply that these qualities are qualities in the Asian teacher. However, many of them are relational qualities. In an Asian student Asian teacher relationship, it may just work perfectly well.

The issue of egalitarianism is tricky, in that making it a criticism implies that the Asian teacher should conform to the norms of the student. Why?
Likewise for the "teaching skills".

One could easily flip it around and assess it from the position of the Asian teacher. Probably they too cringe at the lack of respect in those students, and the demand that somehow the student is the equal of the teacher!

The problem is not on either side - the problem is when the two sides come together, both expecting that the other side has a similar mode of relationship to their own, and thinking that the other should conform to their own.

I agree with what you're saying here and I believe Harrison would, too. The problems multiply when expectations of the teacher-student roles are mismatched.
Part of the point about 'teaching skills', though, is that western teachers are taught how to work out what the student does and doesn't understand and respond accordingly, i.e. the teacher makes (most of) the adjustments. The logic of that is that the teacher holds most of the power as well as the knowledge and therefore has a responsibility to act in the interests of the student. The student, after all, has little freedom to adjust the style or content of the teaching.

Often, I think that as westerners, we seldom have any sympathy for the incredible amount of influence that the west has already had on Asia. Yet we still make such high demands! (eg. in a non-Buddhist setting, expecting China - which was an empire only 100 yrs ago, and had communist purges just 40 yrs ago - to suddenly become a full on western style democracy!)

I'm pretty well aware of the profundity of the changes, I hope, but then again I have the (mixed) blessing of living in a region which had only a stone-age hunter-gatherer culture 150 years ago. As you say, many people think the way they live is the only normal way to live.
I also think that many of the changes taking place are not necessarily "western culture", either, because often they are elements which are also very new to the west. I tend to think of it more as simply "modern culture", post industrial, high tech, etc.
[/quote]
In this context, I think 'western' = 'modern' to a pretty high degree of accuracy. HK and Japan may be almost the only non-western states where science and technology have really been naturalised. Do you have other kinds of change in mind?
:namaste:

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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Dec 25, 2009 8:54 am

Hi PT,
pink_trike wrote:Buddhist devotional meditation isn't anything new, and certainly not unique to the West. Hasn't it been true for a very long time that there are those people that are particularly suited for devotional practices, and those who are suited for the approach he seems to think is the only way?

I certainly don't believe everything that Ingram says, but I've seen some of what I think he's talking about in lay groups.

Of course, I agree that the traditional devotional practises are useful. But what I take Ingram to be referring to is some of those who are critical of "traditional Buddhism", its "devotional practises", and "cultural trappings" and want to just do the "useful bits" (insight meditation). Which is fine if they practise well, but not so useful otherwise...

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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby Paññāsikhara » Fri Dec 25, 2009 10:08 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:And my thanks, too, for a very informative perpective. :smile:


:)

I agree with what you're saying here and I believe Harrison would, too. The problems multiply when expectations of the teacher-student roles are mismatched.
Part of the point about 'teaching skills', though, is that western teachers are taught how to work out what the student does and doesn't understand and respond accordingly, i.e. the teacher makes (most of) the adjustments. The logic of that is that the teacher holds most of the power as well as the knowledge and therefore has a responsibility to act in the interests of the student. The student, after all, has little freedom to adjust the style or content of the teaching.


I dunno. My own teacher has to deal with about 1500 ordained monastic disciples, and there are tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of lay disciples that would pretty much do whatever he asked of them - though there are maybe only a couple of thousand that are in the position of being directly "in the family" so to speak. And he certainly knows those disciples very well, giving teachings and tasks for them very personally. Some disciples may know themselves well, others not so well. Between their own self knowledge, and the teacher's instruction, it works itself out. So, I don't buy what you are saying here.

However, it may be the case, again, that western teachers can work it out better for western students, and asian for asian, and that again the only really problem is when it tries to cross over. This confusion which often results, may give the impression - to a westerner - that western teachers are better able to understand and respond to the needs of the student.

I think that the "power" is not so much in the area you describe, but more about the very role of a teacher. I use the term "in the family" above, for a reason. I don't know about western Dharma groups with western teacher and students, but most Dharma groups around here (China in general) have the teacher as a kind of "father" role. Before going down an anti-patriarchal / gender, etc. path, it needs some explanation. In Chinese Buddhism, when a disciple ordains, in general, it is the teacher's responsibility to provide full education, a place to live, etc. for them. Either personally, or through some type of "guanxi" (relationship). It is not a kind of "go to the Dharma center when I can, and then go home if I want" type of thing. It is a family dynamic. That includes all members, not just father-son (in confucian terms), but also uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters, cousins too. Power is not just with the father-teacher, but through the whole family. So too is the instruction.

In such a context, it may be much easier for the student to work out where they are at. Rather than tiny little Dharma centers, where anybody who has read the Idiots Guide to Buddhism, and sat on the floor for 20 minutes, and then thinks that they are enlightened, it is a very different situation.

But I am not sure if any or many western Buddhist groups have hit that level yet, whereby the entire Dharmic relationship is so in depth (and complex). Maybe places like Shambala, and some of the older Zen centers, perhaps.

In this context, I think 'western' = 'modern' to a pretty high degree of accuracy. HK and Japan may be almost the only non-western states where science and technology have really been naturalised. Do you have other kinds of change in mind?
:namaste:

Kim


Taiwan, south Korea. But have you been to Shanghai or similar recently?

Not just tech. Look at a lot of lifestyle issues in Japan and Taiwan - marrying late in life, if at all. Fewer kids. High divorce rate. These aren't really due to just "tech". They aren't traditional, either. They are due to a number of issues, in general, modern cities and all that.

Attitudes to religion in Japan seem to mirror Europe a bit, movement away from tradition to non-religion. But, quite different in Taiwan - huge Buddhist rennaisance; and Korea - huge Christian influence.

Eating habits in mainland China are moving towards more meat, a sign of affluence. Maybe western influenced, but also a move away from agricultural rural society, where the oxen is the tractor. There is in some ways not a huge amount of westernization in China in some ways, they were never invaded (unlike India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Japan, etc.). But there is a lot of industrialization and modernization. And they are definitely being naturalized.

Personally, I think that a lot (but not all) the "westernization" hype is something of a scapegoat. If they dropped all the western stuff, but still had all the modernization and industrialization that they really want, they would still have pretty much the same problems that some try to blame on westernization.

Oh, "two naked buddhas". Oops. :focus:
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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Dec 25, 2009 8:19 pm

Hi Venerable,
Thank you for your input.
Paññāsikhara wrote:In such a context, it may be much easier for the student to work out where they are at. Rather than tiny little Dharma centers, where anybody who has read the Idiots Guide to Buddhism, and sat on the floor for 20 minutes, and then thinks that they are enlightened, it is a very different situation.

This is certainly a concern for those of us who have sporadic contact with real teachers (for various reasons). It's easy to fall into an attitude that what one is doing is "good enough" and get thoroughly sidetracked into mediocre practise...

Probably a discussion for another thread:
Paññāsikhara wrote:Personally, I think that a lot (but not all) the "westernization" hype is something of a scapegoat. If they dropped all the western stuff, but still had all the modernization and industrialization that they really want, they would still have pretty much the same problems that some try to blame on westernization.

I agree, and would add that I think that "westerners" are confused between "westernization" (in terms of ideals) and "modernization" (in terms of material stuff). I.e. they think that just because people in Asia have become "modern" they are also "western", or that they care, or should care, about "western ideas".

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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Dec 26, 2009 12:21 am

Hello, Paññāsikhara,
What you say about your teacher and the community context does highlight, for me, the differences between teaching Buddhism in Asia and in, say, Australia. Here we have little real sense of a religious community and certainly no sense of familial relationships between its members. Everything is far more fluid and temporary, and the typical (implicit) social contract between student and teacher is that their relationship extends only to the subject being taught and only as long as the student wishes to to keep learning - and the fee-for-service model hovers in the background, whether it's framed as 'donations', lesson fees and/or a certain degree of personal commitment.
That alone would be enough of a culture shock, but there is another one.
A monk coming from a rural Thai monastery to an Australian city comes from a culturally homogenous setting which he has been part of for his whole life, to a setting which is new to him and in which all the students are also very different from each other. (I'm setting up the most extreme case here, I know, but it applies to all foreign teachers to different degrees.) At home, understanding the students' starting point was simply a matter of remembering what he was like at that age, or agreeing to teach an older person that he has known all his life. That body of automatic knowledge is useless in Australia and - getting back to 'teaching skills' here - needs to be replaced by conscious strategies for establishing a connection to the students and learning about their skills and abilities.
The more I think about it, the more I am impressed with how well, not how poorly, many of them manage the transition.
:bow: :bow: :bow:

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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sat Dec 26, 2009 1:41 am

HI Mike -- Yes, I am with you there.

Hi Kim -- Yes, the issues of (largely) ethnically homogeneous vs heterogeneous societies is a big one.
It poses many challenges. However, if Buddhism is to become a true world religion, and transcend ethnic issues, then this challenge must be faced.
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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Dec 26, 2009 2:49 am

Hi Kim,
Kim O'Hara wrote: Here we have little real sense of a religious community and certainly no sense of familial relationships between its members. Everything is far more fluid and temporary, and the typical (implicit) social contract between student and teacher is that their relationship extends only to the subject being taught and only as long as the student wishes to to keep learning - and the fee-for-service model hovers in the background, whether it's framed as 'donations', lesson fees and/or a certain degree of personal commitment.

That's why I'm so thankful to have an actual Wat in my city, where I am "part of the family". In fact, I was part of the family before actually doing much in the way of Buddhist practise... Unfortunately, the monks with good enough English to teach Dhamma come and go [hence I spent the first six months just turning up to take precepts, share a meal, and practise Thai] so I don't have as stable a "Dhamma family" as I'd like.

The "fee for service" thing is something I've only experienced with lay teachers. The most annoying part of it is that (due to the incompetence of my mind) giving dana purely becomes much more difficult. In the case of a Wat such as this one there is plenty of lay support from the Thai community, so there's no feeling that "I'd better give something or the teacher will starve..." The teaching is given freely, and so that dana is given freely...

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Re: Two Naked Buddhas

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Dec 26, 2009 3:05 am

When Buddhism was brought to China all those years ago it entered into a deep dialogue with local religious and philosophical traditions, at the end of which it had absorbed and transmuted enough of the culture to be understood and accepted by the locals. (I know I'm oversimplifying, but bear with me.)
When Buddhism was brought to the modern Western world it entered into a deep dialogue with local religious and philosophical traditions ... I think ... and we're in the middle of it now.
Is this a useful analogy?

Which traditions?
* Science (every modern religion must deal with science!)
* Psychology (one of Harrison's main topics, to return to The Naked Buddha)
* Monotheism (that's the competition :smile: )
* Yoga and Hinduism (competitors or allies?)
* Philosophy (not so relevant to most people)
... any more?


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