Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by DNS » Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:06 pm

mikenz66 wrote: I took it as a continuation of the discussions we have had about the origins of modern/western Buddhism, the back-and-forth between colonial attitudes and locals, and the way this shaped the way Buddhism was modernized by locals in Sri Lankan, Thailand, and Burma, and interpreted by western immigrants such as Ven Nyanatiloka, etc.
Yes, that is fine, but this was added to that discussion by the OP:
zavk wrote:If it were not for a longstanding bad habit of 'white' people pointing an accusatory finger at others, constantly yapping about the moral and/or intellectual faults of others in order to pat themselves on the back,
zavk wrote:But what if those who HAVE been systematically marginalised and persecuted respond by saying: "Wait, what? For the longest time, we have been silenced and ignored.
zavk wrote:You just don't know how to see it'. No, screw that!
zavk wrote:What if the privilege if you have accrued at our expense is precisely because you always tell yourself and force it down our throats that 'We are all the same?' We have never been 'the same'? Are you prepared to deal with that?"
zavk wrote:You keep your unity to yourself.
mikenz66 wrote: Given this interest in locating and understanding "the real Buddha-Dhamma", and flushing out the "cultural accretions" I'm baffled at the reaction to zavk drawing attention to where some of our own, modern, cultural accretions may have arisen.
Locating the real Buddha-Dhamma? That is fine. But see this from the OP:
zavk wrote: If one looks into this other story of how the 'West' came to love the Buddha in the nineteenth century, one would find that it involved the same habit of accusing the natives of traditional Buddhist cultures of getting the Buddha's teachings 'wrong' or 'adulterating' it, etc

If it were not for a longstanding bad habit of 'white' people pointing an accusatory finger at others, constantly yapping about the moral and/or intellectual faults of others in order to pat themselves on the back,

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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by mikenz66 » Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:55 pm

Hi Dave,
daverupa wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:zavk drawing attention to where some of our own, modern, cultural accretions may have arisen.
I saw zavk asking us to reflect on certain racial/cultural issues in order to continually assess whether there was some sort of cultural/racial hegemony being perpetuated alongside our Dhamma narratives:
zavk wrote:I think this question must posed and reposed as an open question.
Conceptual categories may not be immediately available to awareness, though they might underlie... the cultural-hegemony-anusaya, if you like...
If I understand you correctly, I think we are agreeing with zavk that it is important for us to examine our Dhamma narratives.

:anjali:
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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by mikenz66 » Tue Sep 24, 2013 9:03 pm

Hi David,
David N. Snyder wrote: Locating the real Buddha-Dhamma? That is fine. But see this from the OP:
zavk wrote: If one looks into this other story of how the 'West' came to love the Buddha in the nineteenth century, one would find that it involved the same habit of accusing the natives of traditional Buddhist cultures of getting the Buddha's teachings 'wrong' or 'adulterating' it, etc

If it were not for a longstanding bad habit of 'white' people pointing an accusatory finger at others, constantly yapping about the moral and/or intellectual faults of others in order to pat themselves on the back,
I think you need the whole of the paragraph, where zavk is explaining the irony of how he personally came to the Dhamma and how he therefore has some insight into the various cultural accretions in modern Buddhism:
zavk wrote:As someone who is a certain 'bastard offspring' born on the other side of the bed of colonial history, I have had to come to accept this strange plight of mine. If it were not for a longstanding bad habit of 'white' people pointing an accusatory finger at others, constantly yapping about the moral and/or intellectual faults of others in order to pat themselves on the back, I wouldn't have come to appreciate Buddhism - which has always been a part of my ancestral 'Chinese' heritage, yet I only felt a resonance with it after encountering 'Western' translations of it and the accompanying history of Eurocentric-Christocentric-colonialist attitudes (still persisting today in various guises, btw, including discourses that cloak themselves in the sheepskin of 'Reason') towards a genealogy I at once inherit and betray.
:anjali:
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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by rohana » Tue Sep 24, 2013 9:57 pm

mikenz66 wrote: I took it as a continuation of the discussions we have had about the origins of modern/western Buddhism, the back-and-forth between colonial attitudes and locals, and the way this shaped the way Buddhism was modernized by locals in Sri Lankan, Thailand, and Burma, and interpreted by western immigrants such as Ven Nyanatiloka, etc.
That's how I read it too.

I'd say unless you're an Āriya, you already have biases and prejudices, even if you disagree with them on an intellectual level (just as understanding anattā on an intellectual level doesn't stop one from I-making and mine-making). So clearly it's better to understand that they're there and be aware of them rather than denying any prejudices and going on with a 'color-blind' attitude.

In some countries the Buddhist community can be extremely segregated along racial and ethnic lines - and I'd guess sometimes even more segregated by socio-economic lines. And then there are some who openly advocate taking out the 'Asian image' of Buddhism: Merchandising the Buddha.

:anjali:
"Delighting in existence, O monks, are gods and men; they are attached to existence, they revel in existence. When the Dhamma for the cessation of existence is being preached to them, their minds do not leap towards it, do not get pleased with it, do not get settled in it, do not find confidence in it. That is how, monks, some lag behind."
- It. p 43

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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by zavk » Tue Sep 24, 2013 10:46 pm

Thank you to those who are picking up on salient points and the objective of the initial posts and subsequent clarifications.
David N. Snyder wrote:
mikenz66 wrote: I took it as a continuation of the discussions we have had about the origins of modern/western Buddhism, the back-and-forth between colonial attitudes and locals, and the way this shaped the way Buddhism was modernized by locals in Sri Lankan, Thailand, and Burma, and interpreted by western immigrants such as Ven Nyanatiloka, etc.
Yes, that is fine, but this was added to that discussion by the OP:
zavk wrote:If it were not for a longstanding bad habit of 'white' people pointing an accusatory finger at others, constantly yapping about the moral and/or intellectual faults of others in order to pat themselves on the back,
zavk wrote:But what if those who HAVE been systematically marginalised and persecuted respond by saying: "Wait, what? For the longest time, we have been silenced and ignored.
zavk wrote:You just don't know how to see it'. No, screw that!
zavk wrote:What if the privilege if you have accrued at our expense is precisely because you always tell yourself and force it down our throats that 'We are all the same?' We have never been 'the same'? Are you prepared to deal with that?"
zavk wrote:You keep your unity to yourself.
mikenz66 wrote: Given this interest in locating and understanding "the real Buddha-Dhamma", and flushing out the "cultural accretions" I'm baffled at the reaction to zavk drawing attention to where some of our own, modern, cultural accretions may have arisen.
Locating the real Buddha-Dhamma? That is fine. But see this from the OP:
zavk wrote: If one looks into this other story of how the 'West' came to love the Buddha in the nineteenth century, one would find that it involved the same habit of accusing the natives of traditional Buddhist cultures of getting the Buddha's teachings 'wrong' or 'adulterating' it, etc

If it were not for a longstanding bad habit of 'white' people pointing an accusatory finger at others, constantly yapping about the moral and/or intellectual faults of others in order to pat themselves on the back,
Gee... reading it like this, this zavk guy seems like a real grade A SOB a-hole! But I guess we are living in a world of soundbites (kinda like what we confront in meditation, isn't it?) Reading the above 'remix' reminded me of videos like this:




Ah well, it's fair game I suppose. :popcorn:

But there's one particular phrase isolated above that I really wish to redress (it's up to anyone else if they wish to read the others in context or not):
zavk wrote:You keep your unity to yourself.
Soundbites are sexy but if we don't get seduced by them we might find that what was written was in fact:
zavk wrote:But ok, now that you have evoked the praxis-ideal of commonality, let me say unreservedly that I affirm commonality but precisely because commonality ≠ sameness. If commonality is not commonality-in-spite-of-difference, togetherness-in-difference, then, I'd rather not have anything to do with it. You keep your unity to yourself.
Don't be dishonest and cowardly in your assessment - even if, especially if, it is uncalculated, as I believe this is. So no offence taken. But if such effects occur, then, that's something to pay attention to.
Last edited by zavk on Tue Sep 24, 2013 10:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by retrofuturist » Tue Sep 24, 2013 10:55 pm

Greetings,
zavk wrote:But ok, now that you have evoked the praxis-ideal of commonality, let me say unreservedly that I affirm commonality but precisely because commonality ≠ sameness. If commonality is not commonality-in-spite-of-difference, togetherness-in-difference, then, I'd rather not have anything to do with it. You keep your unity to yourself.
Perhaps the most significant and important commonality amongst all non-arahant beings is the propensity to experience dukkha.

It is from the mindful awareness (i.e. Right Mindfulness) of this commonality experienced by all sentient beings (i.e. Right View) that wholesome mindstates like generosity and loving-kindness can arise (i.e. Right Effort), along with the intention (i.e. Right Intention) to do good deeds (i.e. Right Action, Right Speech, Right Livelihood).

Find the answer within. (i.e. Right Samadhi)

Is that unity objectionable to you, or do you experince patigha and strike against it, preferring socio-cultural analysis modelled on jati and mana?

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by DNS » Tue Sep 24, 2013 10:57 pm

zavk wrote: Soundbites are sexy but if we don't get seduced by them we might find that what was written was in fact:

As you mentioned context is everything. My post was in response to Mike's post suggesting that this was a continuation of the historical discussion about the formation of Western Buddhism and where I was just trying to show that race was a theme in your posts. Are you now saying that race was not a topic in your posts?

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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by zavk » Wed Sep 25, 2013 12:36 am

Actually, you were the one who first evoked the term ‘race’, not me. Although I can certainly see the rationale for extracting a ‘racial’ thematic in this thread, given that the OP highlights the discussion in Lopez’s book about historical European attitudes towards Asian Buddhist customs and my own reflections about the tensions I feel as someone of a ‘Chinese’ ancestral heritage towards certain ‘white’ attitudes, etc.

Fair enough. I understand that the theme of ‘race’ can cause discomfort, and I don’t want to cause any misunderstanding (as it had in fact happened) that I am reifying racial or ethnic distinctions, my clarifications notwithstanding. But whether there’s discomfort or not – and I presume we all agree that working with discomfort is productive - I think it is important not to misattribute the source of discomfort.

So let me clarify that ‘race’ is really only a subset of the broader theme/objective of the OP. What I am hoping to share for collective reflection is more precisely the taken for grantedness, the necessary situatedness and exclusions of any chosen set of outlooks.

I should have clarified that when I evoke the term ‘white’, I am not referring exclusively to race. But more along the lines of the satirical blog: http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/ It’s use of the term ‘white’ is meant to be self-deprecating http://www.theage.com.au/news/entertain ... 44115.html And as you can see, one need not be racially ‘white’ to be ‘white’. What it points to is a certain taken for granted attitude of comfort and assuredness in such activities and outlooks.

Another way to clarify the main theme/objective of the OP is to think of the analogy of photography or image-making. We have all taken photos. I certainly have. I know very well that if I frame and angle my camera a certain way, I can draw attention to certain details, focus attention a certain way and encourage certain outlooks. Surely, I am not the only to have taken ‘selfies’? Come on? I mean look at my profile pic, it is quite bloody narcissistic, isn’t it?

Anyway, my point is: Regardless of how convinced one is about the beauty of a picture, is it ever possible to frame a picture, to draw attention to some scene or detail, portray oneself a certain way, WITHOUT leaving something out of the frame?
Last edited by zavk on Wed Sep 25, 2013 12:40 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by zavk » Wed Sep 25, 2013 12:37 am

Let me then try to illustrate these metaphors of ‘white’ and ‘framing’ in terms of my own experience.

As I’ve mentioned I have a ‘Chinese’ ancestral heritage. But I grew up in an environment where I was thoroughly educated in English. Because I generally spoke English at home and preferred Western popular culture, I totally sucked at my supposed ‘mother tongue’ of Mandarin. Throughout my childhood, I faced criticisms from peers of being a ‘banana’, yellow on the outside but white on the inside. Yet, my English language capacity put me at an advantage socially. I'd be lying if I say I did not and still delight in my more 'Westernised' or 'white' ways over others.

I also attended a Christian missionary school for six years. Up till my teenage years, I more or less regarded myself as a Christian. As to be expected, Christianity in where I come from is associated with ‘Western’ culture. So even though I grew up being fascinated by certain ‘Chinese’ folklore involving Buddhist themes, etc - not to mention my loving grandmother was a devotee of Guanyin who would seek blessings from the temple for her grandchildren - I was nevertheless taught to regard these customs with suspicion.

I was constantly being exposed to how I am ‘white’ and ‘non-white’ at the same time. How I am necessarily a ‘traitor’ on all sides.

Then I migrated to Australia where I have been living for the past 11-12 years. Throughout my university, work and social life, I have had to deal with the question: ‘Wow, your English is really good for a non-native speaker. Where do you come from?’ What do you mean ‘non-native’ speaker? I cannot think in any other language. What exactly is yours to possess and not ours to share?

It was in Australia where I discovered ‘Western’ translations of Buddhism, and felt a connection with it. I embraced it because it was very different to the sort of ‘cultural Buddhism’ I grew up with. I encountered the same criticisms I had encountered via Christianity: that the Buddhist customs of my ancestral heritage are to be viewed with suspicion. Once again, my inferiority is pointed out to me; once again I am asked to embrace 'whiteness' by disavowing my 'non-whiteness'. Yet, I very quickly began to see that even though ‘Western’ translations of Buddhism have a tendency to portray itself as a more ‘direct’ approach to the Dhamma, it is in fact thoroughly conditioned by certain cultural and historical forces – cultural and historical forces that I am intimately familiar with because these forces have been used to judge me as ‘inferior’ and at the same times have also worked to my advantage.

(I should note that because of my social and cultural capital here in Australia, I am in some ways 'whiter' than certain 'white' people. Race is only very partially relevant in this 'whiteness'.)

So, in other words, I have been conditioned to look through multiple frames, to view the world and life this way or that way. But through the necessary experience of dukkha, I have come to see that every frame, no matter how appealing the image appears, must necessarily leave something out as less worthy of attention. This is the unavoidable effect of the act of framing. Yet, we cannot focus our attention or look in a specific way without the act of framing.

What I am hoping to invite for collective reflection, then, is not so much ‘racial discrimination’ per se. Nor am I presuming to tell people if they have gotten the Dhamma right or wrong, or if they are developing the right insights or not. Note that I have refrained from suggesting that people are caught in aversion, not utilizing Right View, etc. If anything, although this habit of offering advice to correct other people’s Dhamma practice is not necessarily always a problem, it can be a part of the broader issue of I am pointing to: hubris, presumptuousness, taken for grantedness, blindness to the necessary situatedness and exclusions of one’s outlooks.

I am not so much concerned with proving anyone wrong or myself right. But merely to invite people to consider how it may be productive to not simply sharpen one’s focus within a (Dhammic) frame, but to pay attention to the (cultural and historical) process of framing (the Dhamma) itself.

Regardless of how convinced one is about the beauty of a picture, is it ever possible to frame a picture, to draw attention to some scene or detail, portray oneself a certain way, WITHOUT leaving something out of the frame?
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by chownah » Wed Sep 25, 2013 2:37 am

chownah wrote:
zavk wrote: ..........not to disparage 'Western Buddhism' as such, since I am participating in it too, but merely in hope of encouraging curiosity about the stories of other Buddhists that may be effaced/subjugated/denigrated, even if unwittingly, by the story 'Western Buddhism' narrates about itself.
Ok, then. Consider me to be encouraged to be curious about the stories of other Buddhists as you describe.......so where are these stories? Are you talking about stories from Buddhists alive today or are you just talking about stories about dead Buddhists?
chownah
Ok, we'll........seems like you are saying that your life is one of the stories.......seems like you are self making big time......are there other stories about other Buddhists alive today or are all the other stories about dead Buddhists?
chownah

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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by zavk » Wed Sep 25, 2013 3:51 am

chownah wrote:
chownah wrote:
zavk wrote: ..........not to disparage 'Western Buddhism' as such, since I am participating in it too, but merely in hope of encouraging curiosity about the stories of other Buddhists that may be effaced/subjugated/denigrated, even if unwittingly, by the story 'Western Buddhism' narrates about itself.
Ok, then. Consider me to be encouraged to be curious about the stories of other Buddhists as you describe.......so where are these stories? Are you talking about stories from Buddhists alive today or are you just talking about stories about dead Buddhists?
chownah
Ok, we'll........seems like you are saying that your life is one of the stories.......seems like you are self making big time......are there other stories about other Buddhists alive today or are all the other stories about dead Buddhists?
chownah
Despite the OP starting with an overview of a study (including a link) on the historical and cultural processes conditioning the story of ‘Western Buddhism’ and what is sometimes excluded by its frame of focus….

Despite my sharing in a follow-up post six or seven links to books that shed light on the other sides of the story of ‘Western Buddhism’…

Despite my use of bold fonts to highlight certain phrases like historical and cultural process, so as to map my experience against a wider backdrop of conditioning forces that are external to the self but which shape our experience of ‘self’….

Perhaps I had wrongly presumed that I had put in sufficient effort in my long posts….

Perhaps I had wrongly presumed that it would be better to just offer general suggestions in a forum like this where one often encounters the celebration of such sentiments: ‘The Dhamma is all about “come and see for your self”…’ ‘You cannot tell people what to think, you can only offer suggestions and let them find out for themselves’, blah, blah, blah…. surely you know the rest….

Perhaps I ought to have been even more presumptuous and offered a link like this http://lmgtfy.com/ and specified search terms…

I am tempted to evoke the experience of others like Ben and Mike (I name this two simply because I have had contact with them) who may have encountered similar stories in their interactions with Buddhist communities that straddle cultural and traditional boundaries… but it would perhaps be too presumptuous of me to speak for others… I mean, after all, I am trying to be mindful of the problem of presumptuousness, aren’t I? And is there anything more presumptuous than to make claims about others?

Well, what can I say? Thank YOU for showing me that I have been overly presumptuous or not presumptuous enough. I am not quite sure which….

In any event, thank YOU for showing me how I am ‘making my self big time.’ Gee… now I really feel like I ought to reflect on the forces that have shaped my self.

It is sometimes customary to show appreciation for others’ contributions by saying ‘Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!’ But in this instance, it would not only be dishonourable to the Dhamma to do so - it would be more dishonest than having said ‘thank you’.
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by retrofuturist » Wed Sep 25, 2013 4:09 am

Greetings,
zavk wrote:In any event, thank YOU for showing me how I am ‘making my self big time.’ Gee… now I really feel like I ought to reflect on the forces that have shaped my self.
Alternatively...
MN 132 wrote:Do not recollect the past........

Bhikkhus, how do you recollect the past? You think interestedly, I was of such matter in the past. I was of such feelings in the past. I was of such perceptions in the past. I was of such determinations in the past. I was of such consciousness in the past. Bhikkhus, thus you recollect the past.

Bhikkhus, how do you not recollect the past? You do not think interestedly, I was of such matter in the past. I was of such feelings in the past. I was of such perceptions in the past. I was of such determinations in the past. I was of such consciousness in the past. Bhikkhus, thus you do not recollect the past.
Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by zavk » Wed Sep 25, 2013 4:36 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,
zavk wrote:In any event, thank YOU for showing me how I am ‘making my self big time.’ Gee… now I really feel like I ought to reflect on the forces that have shaped my self.
Alternatively...
MN 132 wrote:Do not recollect the past........

Bhikkhus, how do you recollect the past? You think interestedly, I was of such matter in the past. I was of such feelings in the past. I was of such perceptions in the past. I was of such determinations in the past. I was of such consciousness in the past. Bhikkhus, thus you recollect the past.

Bhikkhus, how do you not recollect the past? You do not think interestedly, I was of such matter in the past. I was of such feelings in the past. I was of such perceptions in the past. I was of such determinations in the past. I was of such consciousness in the past. Bhikkhus, thus you do not recollect the past.
Metta,
Retro. :)
Well, what can I say, thank YOU too for reminding me what my own lived experience is really like, and for reminding me of the real cause of my plight as a postcolonial subject who has had to come to terms with my place in history all my life. You know... sometimes when I reflect on how the Australian Aboriginals, African Americans, Anglo-Indians, etc, and how other postcolonial subjects grapple with the same historical forces as I am, I often feel a sense of empathy and solidarity with them, even though I am also painfully aware that it would be presumptuous of me to say I know exactly how they feel or tell them how they ought to go about coming to terms with their own historical plight. But perhaps this is just a false sense of empathy. Perhaps myself and others are just holding ourselves back by refusing to let go of the past. Silly, deluded, aversion-filled us.

Given your demonstrated ability to evoke pertinent quotes and/or themes from the suttas, I shall – if I may be so presumptuous – take it that you have discovered a certain leverage in understanding the Dhamma. Now I really feel I ought to reconsider how myself and others have been encumbered by the baggage of the past. How presumptuous of me to think that we are products of history. Yes, I shall learn to ‘let go’.
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by mikenz66 » Wed Sep 25, 2013 5:52 am

retrofuturist wrote:
MN 132 wrote:Do not recollect the past........

Bhikkhus, how do you recollect the past? You think interestedly, I was of such matter in the past. I was of such feelings in the past. I was of such perceptions in the past. I was of such determinations in the past. I was of such consciousness in the past. Bhikkhus, thus you recollect the past.

Bhikkhus, how do you not recollect the past? You do not think interestedly, I was of such matter in the past. I was of such feelings in the past. I was of such perceptions in the past. I was of such determinations in the past. I was of such consciousness in the past. Bhikkhus, thus you do not recollect the past.
As far as I can understand it, this quote has no relevance to this thread. The sutta is about building a sense of self from the past (or present or future).

Developing an understanding the cultural accretions of the last couple of centuries that have shaped Western Buddhism is not such an activity. Any more than reading and evaluating suttas or ancient and modern analyses of the Dhamma is such an activity.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: Book: 'Before we loved the Buddha'

Post by retrofuturist » Wed Sep 25, 2013 5:59 am

Greetings,
mikenz66 wrote:As far as I can understand it, this quote has no relevance to this thread. The sutta is about building a sense of self from the past (or present or future).
Indeed, that is what the sutta is about... so unless this is a purely academic exercise that zavk is facilitating here (and given his self-disclosures, it seems it's not), then it is relevant.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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