"The Broken Buddha" by Ven.Dhammika and other scandals

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby poto » Fri Nov 13, 2009 4:30 pm

tiltbillings wrote:Some Theravadin temples are really meant for ethnic groups they serve - a little bit of home in a strange land.


Yes, I understand that. However, most of these ethnic temples advertise themselves as "bringing Dhamma to the West", which I think is misleading. To be more accurate I would say they are bringing Dhamma to Asian expatriates in the West. It doesn't do much to spread Buddhism here or help Westerners who are interested in Buddhism.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Nov 13, 2009 4:43 pm

poto wrote: It doesn't do much to spread Buddhism here or help Westerners who are interested in Buddhism.

That very well may not be their function; or at least how the monks and temple leaders see it, if their purpose is to serve the local ethnic group. Also, to adapt to a very different culture is not an easy thing without first really understanding the culture. I'd cut the ethnic temples a lot of slack in terms of adapting to and appealing to Westerners, though I have seen some do a really great job. It all depends upon the monks and temple leaders.

Missionary temples are another thing. There would be expected to be accomodation to Western culture, but it would also be a two way street.
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.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby poto » Fri Nov 13, 2009 5:44 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
poto wrote: It doesn't do much to spread Buddhism here or help Westerners who are interested in Buddhism.

That very well may not be their function; or at least how they monks and temple leaders see it, if their purpose is to serve the local ethnic group. Also, to adapt to a very different culture is not an easy thing without first really understanding the culture. I'd cut the ethnic temples a lot of slack in terms of adapting to and appealing to Westerners, though I have seen some do a really great job. It all depends upon the monks and temple leaders.

Missionary temples are another thing. There would be expected to be accomodation to Western culture, but it would also be a two way street.


I would hope they would eventually move towards being more like the ones that do a really great job.

I get it that a foreign monk may not understand the culture or language at first, but how many years of living here does it take to learn and adjust? Is it unreasonable to expect that at some point these culturally isolated temples would become more open and inclusive of Western Buddhists?

If they remain unchanging, surely they will die out.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby Vardali » Fri Nov 13, 2009 6:39 pm

I haven't read the book, but I think I will now, after reading this thread.

poto wrote:I've long felt that Buddhism in the West would greatly benefit if it were freed from Asian cultural traditions and customs that are irrelevant to the actual Dhamma.

My sentiments exactly. I vaguely remember a talk by Joseph Goldstein where he characterises the different "Western" types of interests leading to Buddhism, and one of them was the factor of showing off something considered "exotic". For me, this cultural "appendix" is rather an inconvenience because it makes it harder for me to distinguish between the intended teaching and its relative cultural and historical context. A cultural and historical context, that my frame of reference has not been atuned to.

This is why I do appreciate the work of teachers who can actually "translate" the Buddhist teachings and relevant practice into Western thinking and perception, i.e. the frame of reference that I can easily relate to.

Please note that I don't mean to dismiss or discount Asian culture (of any Buddhist country) which I find highly interesting but also rather more different to my personal experience, than, say, an intra-European exposure.


:soap:

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Nov 13, 2009 6:42 pm

Ven. Dhammika has raised some issues similar to this topic in today's post (Nov. 13, 2009):

http://sdhammika.blogspot.com/

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Nov 13, 2009 6:51 pm

Not responding to any particular poster/post but some things I have noticed are that some predominantly non-Asian groups sometimes completely adopt an Asian culture in their practice. For example, some Soto / Rinzai Zen centers I have visited in the past where the chanting is done in Japanese, meditators wear robes, etc.

And then there are some predominantly Asian temples where the atmosphere is more "Western" in terms of culture. When looking at the different practices it is probably best to notice the differences based on Sutta interpretation, etc. and for this there is wide variation among all communities. See also what I wrote here recently:

http://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=Western_Buddhism

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Nov 13, 2009 7:58 pm

Hi poto,
poto wrote:I will say though, that it's not just that one Thai temple, there's also a local Sri Lankan temple that is pretty much all Sri Lankan with almost no Westerners. This is the problem I'm talking about. Temples that serve one ethnic group and only cater to that culture.

I agree that this is a problem, but why confuse what is basically a language/social problem with ritual? The main reason we don't have more non-Thai people practising at our Wat is that the monks who can teach in English come and go, and the beginners drift off. As others have said, our Wat is there primarily to provide a service to the Thai community. The monks are very happy to teach westerners, and in addition to meditation run Thai classes (useful for people with Thai partners...). They could be better organised for non-Thai, but it's not a matter of deliberate exclusion...

The ritual is pretty minimal, unless you take chanting refugees and precepts as unnecessary ritual. Naturally most people will make an effort to dress slightly tidily.

As for white, I wear white on retreats. You have to wear something, and looser pants are a good idea, so I wouldn't wear jeans on a retreat for that reason. People come and go at our wat all the time, so wearing white is a signal that you're mediating and are not interested in chatting at that point.

[If I go on an "insight" retreat I substitute grey track pants for white, in order to "fit in"...]

Metta
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby Perry » Fri Nov 13, 2009 10:14 pm

I am a newbie on the subject compared to the majority (if not all) of you, but I would look to add that my local temple does double as a sort-of community centre for Sri Lankans in Letchworth Garden City and surrounding areas.

Even so, I was made most welcome as a Westerner and Bhante Samitha has been incredibly accommodating and understanding of my relative recentness in Buddhism.

Anyway, thanks for the reply, I've been a bit busy the past few days so haven't gone beyond the introduction but will definitely continue reading.

Thanks everyone.

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Nov 13, 2009 10:33 pm

Thanks Perry,

That's my experience with my local Thai and Sri Lankan temples. They obviously cater to their community, but are very welcoming to anyone.

Perhaps when the level of support from the "non-ethnics" approaches that from the "ethnic community" they will become more "westernised". At present I "get" much more than I "give", I think.

It's a tricky problem. The Western Ajahn Chah monestaries are, to a large extent, possible because they automatically draw in "ethnic" support from Thai and Sri Lankan communities. When we have Ajahn Tiradhammo here for a retreat the Thai restaurants are falling over each other to provide lunch boxes for the participants so they have a chance to give Dana to a distinguished Ajahn...

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby poto » Sat Nov 14, 2009 12:09 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hi poto,
poto wrote:I will say though, that it's not just that one Thai temple, there's also a local Sri Lankan temple that is pretty much all Sri Lankan with almost no Westerners. This is the problem I'm talking about. Temples that serve one ethnic group and only cater to that culture.

I agree that this is a problem, but why confuse what is basically a language/social problem with ritual? The main reason we don't have more non-Thai people practising at our Wat is that the monks who can teach in English come and go, and the beginners drift off. As others have said, our Wat is there primarily to provide a service to the Thai community. The monks are very happy to teach westerners, and in addition to meditation run Thai classes (useful for people with Thai partners...). They could be better organised for non-Thai, but it's not a matter of deliberate exclusion...

The ritual is pretty minimal, unless you take chanting refugees and precepts as unnecessary ritual. Naturally most people will make an effort to dress slightly tidily.

As for white, I wear white on retreats. You have to wear something, and looser pants are a good idea, so I wouldn't wear jeans on a retreat for that reason. People come and go at our wat all the time, so wearing white is a signal that you're mediating and are not interested in chatting at that point.

[If I go on an "insight" retreat I substitute grey track pants for white, in order to "fit in"...]

Metta
Mike


I'm glad that you've had such positive experiences. :)

I don't think that language issues are the only problem. I apologize, I'm not always the best at wording my comments. In the text you quoted I probably should have said, "This is one of the main problems I'm talking about." Also, I will agree that Thai Buddhism is generally not nearly as ritualized as say Tibetan Buddhism, but there are still issues. Some of my comments were speaking about faults with the whole of Buddhism here in the West, not only Theravada, sorry if I caused some confusion.

You mention in your Wat that English speaking monks come and go, and the beginners drop off. Has any thought ever been given to allowing or encouraging lay teachers? In my experience the ethnic temples don't seem to be too open to lay teachers. Yet, some of the lay groups that are peer led seem to be thriving.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Nov 14, 2009 12:30 am

Hi Poto,
poto wrote:I don't think that language issues are the only problem. I apologize, I'm not always the best at wording my comments. In the text you quoted I probably should have said, "This is one of the main problems I'm talking about." Also, I will agree that Thai Buddhism is generally not nearly as ritualized as say Tibetan Buddhism, but there are still issues. Some of my comments were speaking about faults with the whole of Buddhism here in the West, not only Theravada, sorry if I caused some confusion.

Yes, sorry if I sounded a little defensive. I just get a little tired of these general discussions that point out this or that fault in this or that country or temple (as in the topic of this thread), and seem to overlook the immensely positive effects of the spread of the Dhamma.

If you don't mind me asking a loaded question, are you talking about places where you have visited and interacted, or are you speaking in general?

My feeling is that the issues are complex and diverse. There is a big difference between how the Sri Lankans here do things, compared to the Thais. I don't really find talking about general theoretical issues particularly useful.
poto wrote:You mention in your Wat that English speaking monks come and go, and the beginners drop off. Has any thought ever been given to allowing or encouraging lay teachers? In my experience the ethnic temples don't seem to be too open to lay teachers. Yet, some of the lay groups that are peer led seem to be thriving.

Yes, we've discussed things like that, but temple politics can be tricky...

And, to switch around a bit, one of the issues that the meditation teachers here are concerned about is getting the Thai people more active in meditation. We (not me personally!) invited a moderately famous Thai Ajahn here for the rains retreat, which really boosted participation by the locals. And he just took a New Zealand lay person back to Thailand with the aim of him ordaining...

Metta
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby poto » Sat Nov 14, 2009 1:15 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hi Poto,
poto wrote:I don't think that language issues are the only problem. I apologize, I'm not always the best at wording my comments. In the text you quoted I probably should have said, "This is one of the main problems I'm talking about." Also, I will agree that Thai Buddhism is generally not nearly as ritualized as say Tibetan Buddhism, but there are still issues. Some of my comments were speaking about faults with the whole of Buddhism here in the West, not only Theravada, sorry if I caused some confusion.

Yes, sorry if I sounded a little defensive. I just get a little tired of these general discussions that point out this or that fault in this or that country or temple (as in the topic of this thread), and seem to overlook the immensely positive effects of the spread of the Dhamma.

If you don't mind me asking a loaded question, are you talking about places where you have visited and interacted, or are you speaking in general?


I was speaking both of places I have visited and what I see as the larger general situation.

I do realize there are many good things that happen, and I don't mean to downplay or overlook the good things. I agree that it is immensely positive that the Dhamma is spreading. I just feel that certain aspects could be done better, and that talking about them in the open may lead to some progress and improvements.

mikenz66 wrote:My feeling is that the issues are complex and diverse. There is a big difference between how the Sri Lankans here do things, compared to the Thais. I don't really find talking about general theoretical issues particularly useful.
poto wrote:You mention in your Wat that English speaking monks come and go, and the beginners drop off. Has any thought ever been given to allowing or encouraging lay teachers? In my experience the ethnic temples don't seem to be too open to lay teachers. Yet, some of the lay groups that are peer led seem to be thriving.

Yes, we've discussed things like that, but temple politics can be tricky...

And, to switch around a bit, one of the issues that the meditation teachers here are concerned about is getting the Thai people more active in meditation. We (not me personally!) invited a moderately famous Thai Ajahn here for the rains retreat, which really boosted participation by the locals. And he just took a New Zealand lay person back to Thailand with the aim of him ordaining...

Metta
Mike


Temple politics can indeed be tricky... with that I empathize.

It's great to hear about the ordination though. :twothumbsup:
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby Dan74 » Sat Nov 14, 2009 2:04 am

David N. Snyder wrote:Not responding to any particular poster/post but some things I have noticed are that some predominantly non-Asian groups sometimes completely adopt an Asian culture in their practice. For example, some Soto / Rinzai Zen centers I have visited in the past where the chanting is done in Japanese, meditators wear robes, etc.

And then there are some predominantly Asian temples where the atmosphere is more "Western" in terms of culture. When looking at the different practices it is probably best to notice the differences based on Sutta interpretation, etc. and for this there is wide variation among all communities. See also what I wrote here recently:

http://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=Western_Buddhism


Yes, I've seen it too with a Soto teacher. But I think the point is not whether there is more ritual or less ritual, but whether the ritual is useful for practice. And this depends on the understnding of the said ritual and the attitude of the practitioner.

My memory of Ven Dhammika's book was more than the ritual he criticized some entrenched attitudes, like elevating and spoiling monks, laziness and arrogance among the monks, lack of a caring and compassionate attitude, nitpicking and cherry-picking interpretations of the Vinaya, etc.

There has been a thread here on the same topic before but it ended up being more about hats as I recall (maybe someone can find a link). Interesting that it is staying on topic the second time around.

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby BlackBird » Sat Nov 14, 2009 2:26 am

I don't think bowing, or wearing modest clothing are superfluous at all, they were both around in the Buddha's time and have in my eyes quite important functions. It might be better to turn this around and ask why people think that bowing and wearing modest clothing isn't important? Why it's not worthy of being practised?

With regards to the actual superfluous rites and rituals - That have crept in over the centuries, such as holy water, incense, flowers etc - They provide for those who are simply concerned with faith and making merit - Which is probably a great degree of the Thai population, for example.

Don't underestimate the power of these simple things to bring some happiness to someone's day. When I was staying at Bodhinyanarama, a Thai lady brought her Cambodian neighbour in one day - They brought some food for lunch and came up to the Sala to receive a blessing. The Cambodian lady's story was quite heartbreaking. My friend Stepan told me her husband was a Kiwi who knew Cambodian and had gone over there and brought her back. His previous wife was a Thai lady, who had broken it off with him earlier. This time around the hubby thought he had it sussed, and kept his wife on a very tight leash - He wouldn't let her out of the house, she didn't know how to speak English or anything. Then he got sick, and died. His wife didn't even know where her passport was, nor any of her papers, she didn't know who to turn to after that, not being able to speak English. Luckily her neighbour (a Thai lady) could speak some Cambodian, so she was helping her out.

This lady was obviously in quite a state and situation. With no way of getting help and fear that if she sought help she might be deported.

When the monks chanted the blessing, got her to pour the holy water and administered her the 5 precepts, I could see the tears rolling down her face, she didn't have anything in this strange world, but the joy that those rituals brought her was enough to provide some comfort, that's all she wanted - some comfort, some reassurance.

It made me think that not everyone's ready to strive for Nibbana. But that Buddhism has something to offer everyone. I say if rituals bring people happiness then that's fine, the problem in my eyes is when Buddhism is simply reduced to ritualism, not the acts unto themselves. Let's not chuck the baby out with the bathwater as they say.

metta
Jack
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby BlackBird » Sat Nov 14, 2009 2:33 am

I would also like to make it clear that I mean no disrespect Poto
:anjali: and metta to you

Jack
"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: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Nov 14, 2009 3:33 am

Hi Jack,
BlackBird wrote:Don't underestimate the power of these simple things to bring some happiness to someone's day.

I haven't seen anything quite so dramatic, but I do recall similar emotions in a Thai woman who came to our Wat after several months in NZ with her new husband and no contact with other Thai people.

It would also be foolish to underestimate the development of lay people who choose to practise largely by way of dana (making breakfast or lunch, etc). I look to some of them as better role models than a number of western "meditators" that I know.

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby poto » Sat Nov 14, 2009 5:03 am

BlackBird wrote:that's all she wanted - some comfort, some reassurance.


That was a touching story, and thank you for sharing it. Though I couldn't help but to think that it's possible she could have been comforted and reassured without rituals.

I do agree with what Dan74 mentioned above. If rituals benefits a person and their practice then I see no problem.

On the subject of bowing and why I don't think it's very important. Firstly, just because it was around in the time of the Buddha, does not mean it is relevant today in all places and conditions. Mostly I've seen it mentioned before that bowing may help increase humility. While that may be true, I think there are plenty of other ways to gain greater benefit. In Ven. Dhammika's book, he mentions the story of the sick monk.
http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?tit ... g_the_sick

Volunteering at a hospice may do more to foster humility, metta and compassion than countless bows or prostrations. Sitting on a cushion, and contemplating such things is good, but at what point do you get off your cushion and put your contemplation to use?

As for modest clothing. I work from home and I can't remember the last time I purchased new cloths. Most of the cloths I have are free or were gifts. I do not have any white pants. I do have one white shirt, but it has holes in it and is covered in specks of old paint. Basically, I do not have any desire to go out and buy a 'uniform' just so I can be considered acceptable. If I want to meditate, I meditate. Why should it matter so much what color clothes I have on? Why so much attachment to these rags we wear?

BlackBird wrote:I would also like to make it clear that I mean no disrespect Poto
:anjali: and metta to you

Jack


No worries. I'm just a grizzled old sack of meat. It's very difficult to offend or disrespect me. If anything I should try harder to make it clear that I mean no disrespect, as my speech tends to be bit rough sometimes.
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby zavk » Sat Nov 14, 2009 6:12 am

poto wrote:
BlackBird wrote:that's all she wanted - some comfort, some reassurance.


That was a touching story, and thank you for sharing it. Though I couldn't help but to think that it's possible she could have been comforted and reassured without rituals.


Perhaps it is as Vardali puts it:

Vardali wrote:This is why I do appreciate the work of teachers who can actually "translate" the Buddhist teachings and relevant practice into Western thinking and perception, i.e. the frame of reference that I can easily relate to.


Maybe those activities are within the frame of reference that she could relate to. Those activities may seem irrelevant to some of us because they don't fit within our frame of reference. But should we then insist that she sees things according to our frame of reference? Should we then impose our frame of reference on her? What are the ethical implications of doing so?

This, of course, doesn't mean that we cannot interrogate those frames of reference or exchange our understanding about our frames of reference with others. But as we are doing so, we need to keep in mind that frames of reference are not universal--they are dependent on conditions. Our frame of reference make sense to us only because they have been enabled by certain conditions. In the absence of those conditions they may not make much sense. In other words, our frame of reference (assuring as it might be) is really arbitrary, tentative, and dependently originated.

I've made this point in a previous thread:

Frames bring certain things into focus. They allow us to see things in a certain way. That's what frames do--they ENFRAME. This means that something will inevitably be left outside the boundaries of the frame. However, frames are not fixed nor are they unchanging. Even while we engage with what the frame brings into focus, we need to also be mindful of how frames work, lest we get ensnared by them.

I think this video expresses these ideas quite well:

With metta,
zavk

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby poto » Sat Nov 14, 2009 7:33 am

zavk wrote:
poto wrote:
BlackBird wrote:that's all she wanted - some comfort, some reassurance.


That was a touching story, and thank you for sharing it. Though I couldn't help but to think that it's possible she could have been comforted and reassured without rituals.


Perhaps it is as Vardali puts it:

Vardali wrote:This is why I do appreciate the work of teachers who can actually "translate" the Buddhist teachings and relevant practice into Western thinking and perception, i.e. the frame of reference that I can easily relate to.


Maybe those activities are within the frame of reference that she could relate to. Those activities may seem irrelevant to some of us because they don't fit within our frame of reference. But should we then insist that she sees things according to our frame of reference? Should we then impose our frame of reference on her? What are the ethical implications of doing so?


I did not intend to imply that any frame of reference should be imposed on anybody else. That would be wrong. I was just suggesting that it's possible to see things from a different angle, rather than only through the lens of traditional Asian culture.

I'm not advocating a complete abandonment of rituals and traditions. I would just like to see other, more modern approaches considered and made more widely available here in the West.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Nov 14, 2009 8:26 am

Hi Poto,
poto wrote:I'm not advocating a complete abandonment of rituals and traditions. I would just like to see other, more modern approaches considered and made more widely available here in the West.

Isn't this up to westerners to support then? From my point of view it's already happening (of course it depends on what you mean by "modern"). There are not only good lay groups, such as IMS and similar, but also good (and western-populated) monastic groups such as the Ajahn Chah affiliated monasteries. These will only grow with increased support from western lay people.

Metta
Mike


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