Kim O'Hara wrote:Thanks for the responses so far, folks.
Well, I haven't replied so far, but now I shall!
I think I can say Ingram is not my ideal teacher
but that his divergence from traditional Buddhism is quite different from Eric Harrison's.
Harrison does take the meditative practices seriously and also (though he says less about them) the 'morality' practices that support good meditation. But he finds that Asian teachers and Western students - in Asia or in the West - are not a good combination. Summarising him (I'm not
saying I agree with everything!):
Think I may give Mr Ingram a miss myself. I'm on my twelfth year full time Dharma study, so maybe I missed something last year?!
It's an interesting point - for some, I am a professional, with all that comes with it. For others, I am still a beginner, with all that comes with that!
A nice middle ground, good for reflection.
It is interesting that "meditation" seems to be often the first word mentioned in connection with Buddhism in the west.
The Asian teacher + Western student thing is something I can maybe comment on. Though, for myself, I can also comment on some basics of Western teacher (myself) + Asian student, too. (Though the latter is a basic relationship, I am nobodies "preceptor" or "shifu".)
Asian teachers tend to see lay students as incapable of making much progress, because the high achievers in their own community are all monastics, and therefore tend to give them limited instruction; that goes double for women.
I think that the "making much progress" thing is definitely something relative. It depends where we are setting a standard, to then comment whether or not person X can "make much progress" or not. And Dharma practice is not a single linear thing, there are a range of factors and so on that something take place synchronously, sometimes diachronically. Not easy to lump it all together.
Rather than "lay students", I think that sometimes it may help to distinguish between "householders with families", particularly those married with children; and also "laity" who are young, single and have time and energy.
For my own Buddhist community, I can maybe give some examples:
All monastics are full time. First, they complete 3-4 years of Buddhist College, full time study and practice, with all it's rules and whatnot. Then, most will have another 6+ years as regular junior monastics, before they are in a position to be called "teacher" by anybody at all. Some exceptions, though. Some monastics really never become "teachers". Those who are the specialist teachers of doctrinal, meditation, ritual or other areas, usually have about 15+ years full time experience in that area.
There are also non-monastics, single lay practitioners, who are still full time. For example, when one starts at the Buddhist college, they are not monastics. Some decide to become monastics, others do not. So, there are quite a few lay students (single, not married or even in relationships) who complete 3-4 years full time study there. They may then go on to work in some area or another at the monastery. A small amount of them may become "teachers", but not usually of doctrinal, meditational or similar areas. Maybe areas like Buddhist arts, charity work, or the like.
In addition to the Buddhist college at the main monastery, some of our larger branch monasteries also have Buddhist Colleges on a smaller scale. For instance, here in HK, we have a program which runs for 4 months - every weekend. (At present, this is women only, so, so much for the gender discrimination issue!) They are single, unmarried, and during those weekends, live a pretty strict monastic lifestyle. They may then go to the main college in Taiwan, if they like.
Most of the lay students who have gone through the buddhist college training become very dedicated practitioners. They may be at the monastery 1-4 nights a week, helping out with this or that. Or even more. For example, we have three ladies who have gone through this training here, who are now full time at the monastery working with the lay organization that is parallel to the monastic organization. In the last week, they are organizing a family sports day for Dec 27th. And, for our weekend Children's Buddhist class, we have a couple of other ladies who have gone through the college, who lead the class as the teachers.
The childrens class is for 8-12 year olds. We also have Buddha Light Scouts group, and a Youth Group, too. They have their own programs, and most of it is led by the people who have gone through the Buddhist college - all of them are laity. With a bit of help from some monastics.
We also have a large number of activities for the laity in general. This includes classes, Dharma services, meditation retreats, charity events, etc. The dharma classes are all taught by monastics, as are the Dharma services and meditation retreats. The classes are graded from elementary to advanced, so over years, the students can learn a huge range of material. We also have programs at Universities, too, which go further. The other activities are mainly organized by the laity themselves, but with supervision and guidance from the Abbess.
So, coming back to the question of "progress" - some of the lay community are recognized throughout the whole of Hong Kong as community leaders for their efforts. A couple of them have written books on Buddhism, too.
In Chinese Buddhism, most people will acknowledge that as far as meditative practice goes, one needs to lead a very renunciate lifestyle. So, rather than being ousted by monastics, they themselves will think that comparatively speaking, having a full time job, spouse, children, etc. is definitely not very conducive to being a meditation expert.
This is less so for doctrinal issues. As I say, we have a couple of lay teachers who are Uni profs, who will teach to the monastics as well as laity.
So, I don't know what Asian community those initial comments were made wrt, but they don't really apply here. And HK is still Asia, from what I remember!
They also tend to be conservative, authoritarian and elitist in personal and pedagogical relationships and don't handle western-style egalitarianism at all well, and their teaching skills per se are usually so poor as to make any western-trained educator wince.
hmmm.... maybe, maybe not. Hard to generalize.
The wording here, though, seems to imply that these qualities are qualities in the Asian teacher. However, many of them are relational qualities. In an Asian student Asian teacher relationship, it may just work perfectly well.
The issue of egalitarianism is tricky, in that making it a criticism implies that the Asian teacher should conform to the norms of the student. Why?
Likewise for the "teaching skills".
One could easily flip it around and assess it from the position of the Asian teacher. Probably they too cringe at the lack of respect in those students, and the demand that somehow the student is the equal of the teacher!
The problem is not on either side - the problem is when the two sides come together, both expecting that the other side has a similar mode of relationship to their own, and thinking that the other should conform to their own. (Similar thing in Asian Western marriages, but that is another story!)
The very idea of what a "teacher" is, and what a "student" is, can be quite different.
Harrison doesn't talk much about individual cases but I have read elsewhere about some very destructive behaviours in (particularly) American Zen communities.
Yes. Taking things out of context - teaching style X in social context Y.
One of the interesting things about culture, is that people tend to automatically believe that their own cultural norms are universal, until clearly shown otherwise. So, for these first east-west relationships, both sides often go crashing into it like a bull in a china shop. Can get ugly. I have my own stories, but I'll leave them for my memoirs!
To me it seems clear that 'western Buddhism' is a work in progress. People like Harrison, and like us, are shaping it through our practice and our conversation. I am curious about where it is headed.
Almost coincidentally, the Asian traditions are dealing with potentially radical upheavals. the Tibetan diaspora is a really obvious example, but the major schools' ability to communicate freely with each other is a new thing as of (say) the last fifty years and coincides with Asian Buddhists' large-scale exposure to secular scientific consumerist Western culture, and to Christianity. My feeling is that if Asian Buddhism won't bend in response to those pressures, it will break - what has happened to Christianity in Europe and Australasia in the last hundred years may be a fairly good analogy.
Often, I think that as westerners, we seldom have any sympathy for the incredible amount of influence that the west has already had on Asia. Yet we still make such high demands! (eg. in a non-Buddhist setting, expecting China - which was an empire only 100 yrs ago, and had communist purges just 40 yrs ago - to suddenly become a full on western style democracy!)
I also think that many of the changes taking place are not necessarily "western culture", either, because often they are elements which are also very new to the west. I tend to think of it more as simply "modern culture", post industrial, high tech, etc.
Okay, enough blather from me.