R. H. Sharf on Protestant Buddhism

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
Post Reply
vinasp
Posts: 1675
Joined: Tue Aug 18, 2009 7:49 pm
Location: Bristol. United Kingdom.

R. H. Sharf on Protestant Buddhism

Post by vinasp » Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:09 pm

Hi everyone,

Protestant Buddhism.

While researching this subject, I found a very interesting paper by Robert H. Sharf, titled: Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience.
Numen, Vol. 42, No. 3. (Oct., 1995), pp. 228-283.

Some excerpts:

1. "In fact, contrary to the image propagated by twentieth-century apologists, the actual practice of what we would call meditation rarely played a major role in Buddhist monastic life. The ubiquitous notion of 'mappo' or the "final degenerate age of the dharma" served to reinforce the notion that "enlightenment" was not in fact a viable goal for monks living in inauspicious times. This is readily confirmed by anthropological accounts: modern monks,
at least those who are not associated with "Protestant Buddhist" revival movements (see below), consider nirvana to be an impossibly distant ideal.(18) As such, the more earnest monks are content to spend their time cultivating moral virtue, studying scriptures, and performing merit-making rituals in the hope of being reborn in more favorable circumstances."

2."We will see below that the two Buddhist traditions most commonly associated with meditation - Theravada vipassana and Japanese Zen - were both influenced by recent reform movements that stressed the centrality of meditation to the Buddhist path. The practice of what is now known as vipassana can be traced to early twentieth-century teachers such as Phra Acharn Mun (1870-1949) in Thailand, Dharmapala (1864-1933) in Sri Lanka, and U Narada (1868-1955) and Ledi Sayadaw (1846-1923) in Burma. Prior to this time, bhavana (meditation, or mental development) consisted largely of the recitation of Pali texts pertaining to meditation (such as the Satipatthana-sutta and the Metta-sutta), chanting verses enumerating the qualities of the Buddha, reciting formulaic lists of the thirty-two parts of the body, and so on. Such exercises are closer to what we might call devotional practices than to meditation, in that they are intended as vehicles for accumulating merit and cultivating wholesome attitudes, rather than as devices for inducing "altered states of consciousness."

3."Even today, after the full effect of the vipassana movement has been felt, historical and ethnographic studies still testify to the fact that meditation plays a minor if not negligible role in the lives of the majority of Theravada monks.(19) In fact, most such studies have little if anything to say about the role of meditation in monastic training, with the notable exception of a few monographs specifically devoted to contemporary Theravada reform movements. (20)"

4."While such reforms do promote meditation as a central component of the path, their effect has been felt more in the realm of ideology than in the realm of praxis; the vast majority of Theravada monks still consider their vocation to lie in 'ganthadhura' or "teaching," rather than 'vipassanadhura' or "meditation."
(21) Moreover, even the vipassanadhura monks will insist that the development of morality (sila) through proper observance of the monastic rule (vinaya) is more essential to the path than meditation per se. (22) Carrithers points out that the stress on moral behavior and the relative lack of any emphasis on religious experience is in fact fully consonant with the thrust of Theravada tradition - a tradition that "considers spectacular experience as an obstacle to practice, because of the great emotional disturbance involved.. .. There is a profound unity in Buddhism over this question, for the objective of meditation in all Buddhist traditions is the cultivation of wisdom founded in tranquility and equanimity" (Carrithers 1983 :19). "

Regards, Vincent.

User avatar
mikenz66
Posts: 16452
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: Aotearoa, New Zealand

Re: R. H. Sharf on Protestant Buddhism

Post by mikenz66 » Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:45 pm

Thanks Vincent,

In the other thread I said:
http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 26#p180913" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
mikenz66 wrote: Does he count the various Burmese Sayadaws and various Thai Forest groups to be "Protestant Buddhist"?
They certainly don't shy away from saying that nibbana is possible "in this very life" (to quote the title of a book derived from a U Pandita retreat [http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pesala/Pandita/]). Mahasi Saydaw describes his interpretation, presumably based on personal and teaching experience, of how practitioners progress to nibbana in this book: http://aimwell.org/Books/Mahasi/Progress/progress.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; Ajahn Maha Boowa gives his opinions in various places. Sample here: http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books/Maha_B ... ndying.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
And clearly his definition includes those people, not just the "secular" and "western" Buddhists.

:anjali:
Mike

vinasp
Posts: 1675
Joined: Tue Aug 18, 2009 7:49 pm
Location: Bristol. United Kingdom.

Re: R. H. Sharf on Protestant Buddhism

Post by vinasp » Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:56 pm

Hi everyone,

Robert Sharf's website, where you can download the paper in PDF:

http://buddhiststudies.berkeley.edu/peo ... arf/2.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Also many other papers available.

Regards, Vincent.

vinasp
Posts: 1675
Joined: Tue Aug 18, 2009 7:49 pm
Location: Bristol. United Kingdom.

Re: R. H. Sharf on Protestant Buddhism

Post by vinasp » Thu Mar 29, 2012 12:04 am

Hi everyone,

Perhaps I should make it clear that I do not agree with most of his views.
So I am not interested in defending them.

However, some of the content is thought provoking, or at least, the
bits that I can understand.

Regards, Vincent.

John C. Kimbrough
Posts: 18
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2012 9:02 pm

Re: R. H. Sharf on Protestant Buddhism

Post by John C. Kimbrough » Fri Mar 30, 2012 12:17 am

His comments and views are most interesting. I do not agree or disagree. I just keep practicing and look at him with right understanding (hopefully). We all have wisdom. We can learn from all......but there is not much reason to debate the Dharma or other things when we can use our mental and physical energy to focus on and practice The Dharma......

User avatar
Ferox
Posts: 79
Joined: Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:16 am
Location: New Jersey, USA
Contact:

Re: R. H. Sharf on Protestant Buddhism

Post by Ferox » Fri Mar 30, 2012 2:51 am

I'll make this comment. When speaking with Bhante Gunaratana about ordaining and he told me about the age 36 limit at Bhavana Society( a place where the practice is most important.. hence it's name). I asked if there was an age limit in Sri Lanka. He said that I would not want to ordain in Sri Lanka because most monks ordain and sit in a temple all day doing nothing LOL.

So in a way what this guy is saying about the lack of meditation is true.. although I'm not sure where he gets that vipassana is a modern thing.
-just one more being treading the ancient path of Dhamma-

User avatar
Kim OHara
Posts: 4999
Joined: Wed Dec 09, 2009 5:47 am
Location: North Queensland, Australia

Re: R. H. Sharf on Protestant Buddhism

Post by Kim OHara » Fri Mar 30, 2012 4:17 am

Ferox wrote:... I'm not sure where he gets that vipassana is a modern thing.
It's an idea I've come across before - people saying that the practice of meditation was so nearly completely lost in Theravadin traditions that those reformers had to virtually reinvent it from the scriptures or learn it from other schools - Zen/Chan or Vajrayana. I can't remember any more than that, however - maybe someone else can fill in the gaps.

:namaste:
Kim

User avatar
Ferox
Posts: 79
Joined: Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:16 am
Location: New Jersey, USA
Contact:

Re: R. H. Sharf on Protestant Buddhism

Post by Ferox » Fri Mar 30, 2012 11:29 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:
Ferox wrote:... I'm not sure where he gets that vipassana is a modern thing.
It's an idea I've come across before - people saying that the practice of meditation was so nearly completely lost in Theravadin traditions that those reformers had to virtually reinvent it from the scriptures or learn it from other schools - Zen/Chan or Vajrayana. I can't remember any more than that, however - maybe someone else can fill in the gaps.

:namaste:
Kim

ah ok "lost" I can understand to a point, but not if they are saying it was not part of the original teachings.
-just one more being treading the ancient path of Dhamma-

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Baidu [Spider] and 55 guests