Experimental Buddhism

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Ben
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Experimental Buddhism

Post by Ben » Fri Sep 18, 2015 5:21 am

One of the most profound developments to emerge from the 20th century affects the lives of billions of people yet remains largely unnoticed. Alongside dramatic social and political changes, technological and scientific discoveries, and new systems of transportation and communication, historians of the future will surely recognize how the relative freedom to first interpret and then shape one’s own identity has empowered human existence. Familiar frameworks of the self formed by ethnicity, neighborhood, race, and family (to name a few) are still present but have been diminished through a variety of factors unique to the 20th century. So thoroughly have liberal democratic societies adopted an experimental self as fundamental to notions of what it means to be a person, we rarely consider how significantly this concept has altered forms of social and cultural organization. The ability to select, fashion, and then continually augment our identity in ways we hope are positive has come to dominate how we conceive of and construct our lives.
-- John Nelson: Experimental Buddhism, Tricycle
http://www.tricycle.com/feature/experimental-buddhism" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
This is an interesting article and one worth the few minutes to read. Please feel free to comment but only after reading the article in full.

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

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ryanM
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Re: Experimental Buddhism

Post by ryanM » Fri Sep 18, 2015 12:37 pm

Hi Ben,

Thank you for posting. I thought the article was a little wordy, and found myself asking who the intended audience was, or really just how significant the article was in itself knowing the audience of Tricycle . Here's a quote by Ajahn Thanissaro/Geoff that was posted recently in the "The Quotable Thanissaro" thread that seems relevant to this article.

Edit: Sorry to make this post longer than it already is, but the preceding paragraph to the passage that I originally posted seems relevant in light of reading the quote as a "response" to the article. Ha that's quite wordy!
Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Study after study has shown that mainstream Buddhism, both lay and monastic, has adapted itself thoroughly to the various societies into which it has been introduced — so thoroughly that the original teachings seem in some cases to have been completely distorted. From the earliest centuries of the tradition on up to the present, groups who feel inspired by the Buddha's teachings, but who prefer to adapt those teachings to their own ends rather than adapting themselves to the teachings, have engaged in creating what might be called designer Buddhism. This accounts for the wide differences we find when we compare, say, Japanese Buddhism, Tibetan, and Thai, and for the variety of social roles to which many women Buddhists in different countries have found themselves relegated.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The true practice of Buddhism, though, has always been counter-cultural, even in nominally Buddhist societies. Society's main aim, no matter where, is its own perpetuation. Its cultural values are designed to keep its members useful and productive — either directly or indirectly — in the on-going economy. Most religions allow themselves to become domesticated to these values by stressing altruism as the highest religious impulse, and mainstream Buddhism is no different. Wherever it has spread, it has become domesticated to the extent that the vast majority of monastics as well as lay followers devote themselves to social services of one form or another, measuring their personal spiritual worth in terms of how well they have loved and served others.

However, the actual practice enjoined by the Buddha does not place such a high value on altruism at all. In fact, he gave higher praise to those who work exclusively for their own spiritual welfare than to those who sacrifice their spiritual welfare for the welfare of others (Anguttara Nikaya, Book of Fours, Sutta 95) — a teaching that the mainstream, especially in Mahayana traditions, has tended to suppress. The true path of practice pursues happiness through social withdrawal, the goal being an undying happiness found exclusively within, totally transcending the world, and not necessarily expressed in any social function. People who have attained the goal may teach the path of practice to others, or they may not. Those who do are considered superior to those who don't, but those who don't are in turn said to be superior to those who teach without having attained the goal themselves. Thus individual attainment, rather than social function, is the true measure of a person's worth.
From: Upasika Kee Nanayon and the Social Dynamic of Theravadin Buddhist Practice by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
:anjali:

Ryan
sabbe dhammā nālaṃ abhinivesāya

"nothing whatsoever should be clung to"

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Mkoll
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Re: Experimental Buddhism

Post by Mkoll » Sat Sep 19, 2015 9:30 am

ryanM wrote:Hi Ben,

Thank you for posting. I thought the article was a little wordy, and found myself asking who the intended audience was, or really just how significant the article was in itself knowing the audience of Tricycle . Here's a quote by Ajahn Thanissaro/Geoff that was posted recently in the "The Quotable Thanissaro" thread that seems relevant to this article.

Edit: Sorry to make this post longer than it already is, but the preceding paragraph to the passage that I originally posted seems relevant in light of reading the quote as a "response" to the article. Ha that's quite wordy!
Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Study after study has shown that mainstream Buddhism, both lay and monastic, has adapted itself thoroughly to the various societies into which it has been introduced — so thoroughly that the original teachings seem in some cases to have been completely distorted. From the earliest centuries of the tradition on up to the present, groups who feel inspired by the Buddha's teachings, but who prefer to adapt those teachings to their own ends rather than adapting themselves to the teachings, have engaged in creating what might be called designer Buddhism. This accounts for the wide differences we find when we compare, say, Japanese Buddhism, Tibetan, and Thai, and for the variety of social roles to which many women Buddhists in different countries have found themselves relegated.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The true practice of Buddhism, though, has always been counter-cultural, even in nominally Buddhist societies. Society's main aim, no matter where, is its own perpetuation. Its cultural values are designed to keep its members useful and productive — either directly or indirectly — in the on-going economy. Most religions allow themselves to become domesticated to these values by stressing altruism as the highest religious impulse, and mainstream Buddhism is no different. Wherever it has spread, it has become domesticated to the extent that the vast majority of monastics as well as lay followers devote themselves to social services of one form or another, measuring their personal spiritual worth in terms of how well they have loved and served others.

However, the actual practice enjoined by the Buddha does not place such a high value on altruism at all. In fact, he gave higher praise to those who work exclusively for their own spiritual welfare than to those who sacrifice their spiritual welfare for the welfare of others (Anguttara Nikaya, Book of Fours, Sutta 95) — a teaching that the mainstream, especially in Mahayana traditions, has tended to suppress. The true path of practice pursues happiness through social withdrawal, the goal being an undying happiness found exclusively within, totally transcending the world, and not necessarily expressed in any social function. People who have attained the goal may teach the path of practice to others, or they may not. Those who do are considered superior to those who don't, but those who don't are in turn said to be superior to those who teach without having attained the goal themselves. Thus individual attainment, rather than social function, is the true measure of a person's worth.
From: Upasika Kee Nanayon and the Social Dynamic of Theravadin Buddhist Practice by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
:anjali:

Ryan
Service to others can be part of one's practice as it cultivates generosity. Generosity cools the mind and can serve as support for one's meditation. Moreover, one can do Dhamma practice within one's mind while offering service. Though this may not be the "true practice" Ven. Thanissaro has in mind, it can certainly be part of a persons's practice that is true to themselves for where they are on the path.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

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Ben
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Re: Experimental Buddhism

Post by Ben » Sat Sep 19, 2015 11:16 am

ryanM wrote: Thank you for posting.
You are welcome, Ryan. I'm not a fan of Thanissaro Bhikkhu for a number of reasons. His characterisation of Dhamma practice that is disconnected from the world is something that I take issue with. It fuels a deeply self-centred view within 'western buddhism' which I find extremely troubling.
Hence, my posting of this and similar articles...
Kind regards,
Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

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Anagarika
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Re: Experimental Buddhism

Post by Anagarika » Sat Sep 19, 2015 2:45 pm

Ben wrote:
ryanM wrote: Thank you for posting.
You are welcome, Ryan. I'm not a fan of Thanissaro Bhikkhu for a number of reasons. His characterisation of Dhamma practice that is disconnected from the world is something that I take issue with. It fuels a deeply self-centred view within 'western buddhism' which I find extremely troubling.
Hence, my posting of this and similar articles...
Kind regards,
Ben
I had commented within the Tricycle article, and also note with enthusiasm Ben's comments. I'm a fan of Ven. Thanissaro the same way I'm a fan of a strict professor I had in grad school...he was stern and unyielding in his views, demanded more of us students than the other profs, but he was, as we learned later, right most of the time, and truly correct on many of the issues that mattered. I think it's auspicious that we have in our lifetimes, for example, both Ven. Thanissaro and Ven. Bodhi...Bhikkhu Bodhi clearly, to my mind, the exemplar of positive Buddhist engagement and activism ( see http://www.buddhistglobalrelief.org" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; ) , with a true Dhammic center. We have many other great monks and nuns to draw inspiration from; each of them talented and engaged in their own ways. So, I like having Ven. Thanissaro as an "anchor," even though I may, as well, not agree with him on some issues (Bhikkhuni ordination/Vinaya interpretation being one of them), and find his approach to be perhaps more clinical than open and engaging, the way, say, Ajahn Brahm can be.

While it may be said that altruism and engagement were not fully taught by the Buddha, my view of the Buddha of the Suttas is a man that walked, lived and breathed compassion, altruism and engagement. Bhikkhu Bodhi said it best when he stated that each of us needs to find a level of engagement, or disengagement, that suits our own aptitudes and attitudes. Most of us won't become enlightened in this lifetime...why not cultivate this practice of engagement with others, with dana, with altruistic generosity and appreciation of the more modern idea that the true root of happiness involves being of service to others; having a purposeful life that does not involve only one's own development?

Digity
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Re: Experimental Buddhism

Post by Digity » Sat Sep 19, 2015 6:15 pm

Anagarika wrote:Most of us won't become enlightened in this lifetime...why not cultivate this practice of engagement with others, with dana, with altruistic generosity and appreciation of the more modern idea that the true root of happiness involves being of service to others; having a purposeful life that does not involve only one's own development?
My personal experience is that trying to circumvent the development of engaging others, practicing dana and being a service to people so that you can focus on solitary practice without a care of the people around you just doesn't work well. You end up feeling cold, hollow and disconnected. So, rather than seeing these practices as something else to strive for since I can't muster enlightenment just yet; I see it more as stepping stones towards awakening. It's the foundation and later on as a solid foundation is built we can delve deeper into the practice and meditation. This gets back to the whole idea of gradual practice.

Here in the West I see people and teachers jumping into meditation right away and I'm starting to see the problem with this more and more. I think for some it can be beneficial, but I've seen with others that at their core they have serious personal issues and they hide in their practice and have not built a solid foundation of goodness to build their practice on. I have fallen into this trap and had enough sense to see it happening and realize I needed to change course. However, many lack the awareness and keep going deeper into their delusions.

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Re: Experimental Buddhism

Post by Herbie » Wed Sep 23, 2015 7:33 am

After reading the last 2 paragraphs the auther's intent became clearer. The paragraphs before these may be misleading and cause the impression that the author is implying that 1. contemporarily the influence/importance and role of "western" cultures for individual identity is decreasing 2. "experimental buddhism" is just an initial stage and 3. final destinations are religious traditions that originate from "eastern" cultures. So this wrong impression may lead to the conclusion that he is not writing in favour of loosening cultural fixations but in favour of cultural conversion.
Anyway I think that regardless of whether one takes a traditionalist perspective or a non-traditionalist perspective as to the religion of buddhism what is dominating is one's own cultural conditioning. I think that not accepting this is like fighting one's own shadow, very exhausting and fruitless. So using the term "enlightenment" often used by buddhists for a playful statement: "European enlightenment" certainly is more important for me than "buddhist enlightenment", nevertheless "buddhist enlightenment" may provide inspiration that "European enlightenment" falls short of.
Inspiration is based on the exchange of different linguistic expressions. But inspiration is best knowing how language relates to truth. :smile:

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Re: Experimental Buddhism

Post by imagemarie » Wed Sep 23, 2015 10:45 am

Anagarika wrote:
Ben wrote:
ryanM wrote: Thank you for posting.
You are welcome, Ryan. I'm not a fan of Thanissaro Bhikkhu for a number of reasons. His characterisation of Dhamma practice that is disconnected from the world is something that I take issue with. It fuels a deeply self-centred view within 'western buddhism' which I find extremely troubling.
Hence, my posting of this and similar articles...
Kind regards,
Ben
I had commented within the Tricycle article, and also note with enthusiasm Ben's comments. I'm a fan of Ven. Thanissaro the same way I'm a fan of a strict professor I had in grad school...he was stern and unyielding in his views, demanded more of us students than the other profs, but he was, as we learned later, right most of the time, and truly correct on many of the issues that mattered. I think it's auspicious that we have in our lifetimes, for example, both Ven. Thanissaro and Ven. Bodhi...Bhikkhu Bodhi clearly, to my mind, the exemplar of positive Buddhist engagement and activism ( see http://www.buddhistglobalrelief.org" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; ) , with a true Dhammic center. We have many other great monks and nuns to draw inspiration from; each of them talented and engaged in their own ways. So, I like having Ven. Thanissaro as an "anchor," even though I may, as well, not agree with him on some issues (Bhikkhuni ordination/Vinaya interpretation being one of them), and find his approach to be perhaps more clinical than open and engaging, the way, say, Ajahn Brahm can be.

While it may be said that altruism and engagement were not fully taught by the Buddha, my view of the Buddha of the Suttas is a man that walked, lived and breathed compassion, altruism and engagement. Bhikkhu Bodhi said it best when he stated that each of us needs to find a level of engagement, or disengagement, that suits our own aptitudes and attitudes. Most of us won't become enlightened in this lifetime...why not cultivate this practice of engagement with others, with dana, with altruistic generosity and appreciation of the more modern idea that the true root of happiness involves being of service to others; having a purposeful life that does not involve only one's own development?
:thumbsup: Good posting

I guess the danger lies in our undermining the inner work ("most of us won't become enlightened in this lifetime"), by focussing upon the outer crusades. Which are limitless, are they not? And the bodhisattva (Mahayana) path?
"Bhikkhu Bodhi said it best when he stated that each of us needs to find a level of engagement, or disengagement, that suits our own aptitudes and attitudes"..

Which means knowing ourselves..which means doing the inner work.
No separation then :smile:

:namaste:

SarathW
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Re: Experimental Buddhism

Post by SarathW » Wed Sep 23, 2015 12:10 pm

Thanks Ben, this is a very interesting post.
Buddha taught ten kind of happiness. (Nibbana is the highest)
Whatever the reason we all stuck (hit a brick wall) when you come to a certain level.
Instead or breaking the brick wall we go side ways, to left or right. (take the easy path)
Some are not interested about the highest, they are just comfortable with the first.
Buddha very clearly warned against these people. (person who do not start the path and the person who did not go to the end)

I used to be very critical about monks who are not prepared to go to the finishing line.
Now I am more compassionate for them.
I have no doubt that we all can attain Nibbana in this life itself.
However I am quite happy to just to spend my time at Dhamma Wheel helping and learning the way I can.
Is that the best I can do?
No I can do better.
But I am not prepared to take the plunge.
It is my personal choice. No body should blame me for that.
Kalyana Mitta may guide me in the right direction.
But end of the day, I have to carry my own weight.

The silver lining in this dark cloud is that we still have the Buddha's teaching preserved in pristine condition.
The opportunity is there for the person ,who is prepared to take the challenge.
.........................
:thinking:
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

daverupa
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Re: Experimental Buddhism

Post by daverupa » Wed Sep 23, 2015 3:28 pm

Here are five characteristics of experimental Buddhism that may shift your paradigms a little.
Hmm... conservative thinkers may not shift much at all, instead preferring a fundamentalist response to such modern issues... let's hope not (but humans are as humans do)...
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

SarathW
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Re: Experimental Buddhism

Post by SarathW » Wed Sep 23, 2015 10:09 pm

Could some one summarise the five characteristics of experimental Buddhism ?
:thanks:
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

daverupa
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Re: Experimental Buddhism

Post by daverupa » Wed Sep 23, 2015 10:50 pm

Looks like I can only read the article from work; as I recall, it was something along the lines of:

position
agency
suspicion of traditional religious authority
social applicability vs. adherence to orthodoxy
valuing religious reinvention

The first two were really all that were necessary to write the article: they involved the ideas of (a) contemporary context, awareness of history, preference for social applicability of religious ideas, & (b) the idea that reinventing & improving oneself were ideals that had replaced e.g. a preference for social advancement and group benefit.
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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cobwith
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Re: Experimental Buddhism

Post by cobwith » Thu Sep 24, 2015 12:12 am

First of all, a comparison should be made between clergymen and laypersons. There is a much greater gamut of social applicability for the later.
Buddhism being a philosophy and not a (state or idiosyncratic) religion, the closer you want to get to arahantship, the further you want to adulterate the discipline and praxis stated by Buddha (Dhammayuttika Nikaya). Contemporary context has a tendency to induce complacent personal views on top of explicitly expressed discipline and practices.

Ajahn Lee Dhammadaro wrote about what Tisso Uan once said to him: "People who study and practice the Dhamma get caught up on nothing more than their own opinions, which is why they never get anywhere. If everyone understood things correctly, there wouldn’t be anything impossible about practicing the Dhamma."

Karuna.
Sā me dhammamadesesi,
khandhāyatanadhātuyo
Thig 5.8

Herbie
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Re: Experimental Buddhism

Post by Herbie » Fri Sep 25, 2015 4:52 am

ryanM wrote:...
Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:...From the earliest centuries of the tradition on up to the present, groups who feel inspired by the Buddha's teachings, but who prefer to adapt those teachings to their own ends rather than adapting themselves to the teachings, have engaged in creating what might be called designer Buddhism. ...
Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The true practice of Buddhism, though, has always been counter-cultural ...
This is a nice example for the ubiquitous presence of dominance/submission and humans striving for both - either at the same time or alternately - I mentioned in the BDSM thread.
On the one hand such a claim is the manifestation of wanting power over others, others lifes, other practices and this dominance is seized through knowing the real truth and that knowing is empowerment which is felt as a kind of pleasure. On the other hand it is at the same time a submission to an other-power, the power of words originating from a source one feels obliged to submit to because one does not feel to be able to compete. Such a submission can be seen as a kind of pleasure too. After all the submission indirectly enables a kind of participation in the alleged superpower and thus enhances one's empowerment, one's dominance and it is relief from the burden of one's own responsibility to decide continually, case by case.
Inspiration is based on the exchange of different linguistic expressions. But inspiration is best knowing how language relates to truth. :smile:

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