Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
User avatar
No_Mind
Posts: 2016
Joined: Fri May 23, 2014 4:12 pm
Location: India

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by No_Mind » Tue Nov 26, 2019 11:44 am

Dan74 wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 11:08 am
"Not my business" and "my lamentations should not disrupt my practice" sounds to me like a very self-centered approach to the Dhamma. It's basically all about me, my 'equanimity', my 'noble attainments', etc I don't know about others, but it sounds like a project that's doomed from the start. How can we realise non-self, when we are consciously focused on self-seeking goals from the start?
Food for thought.

I did not mean it as self-centered but rather that I choose "not to be."

I could never decide a thought experiment.

I am walking home one night. I find three men molesting a woman.
  • Is it my duty to stop and protect?
  • Is it my duty to stop and protest?
  • Call police by using phone while standing at a distance.
  • Do nothing.
In other words is being the observer (anything .. from a theft to global warming) wrong? Why should being an observer be wrong?

:namaste:
"The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”― Albert Camus

Dan74
Posts: 3225
Joined: Sun Mar 01, 2009 11:12 pm

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by Dan74 » Tue Nov 26, 2019 12:37 pm

No_Mind wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 11:44 am
Dan74 wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 11:08 am
"Not my business" and "my lamentations should not disrupt my practice" sounds to me like a very self-centered approach to the Dhamma. It's basically all about me, my 'equanimity', my 'noble attainments', etc I don't know about others, but it sounds like a project that's doomed from the start. How can we realise non-self, when we are consciously focused on self-seeking goals from the start?
Food for thought.

I did not mean it as self-centered but rather that I choose "not to be."

I could never decide a thought experiment.

I am walking home one night. I find three men molesting a woman.
  • Is it my duty to stop and protect?
  • Is it my duty to stop and protest?
  • Call police by using phone while standing at a distance.
  • Do nothing.
In other words is being the observer (anything .. from a theft to global warming) wrong? Why should being an observer be wrong?

:namaste:
I guess it boils down to metta and karuna. The Buddha taught us to cherish every living creature as a mother cherishes her only child. If you feel indifference to the woman being attacked, perhaps cultivating metta and karuna is the best practice for you. I think it is a wonderful practice for all of us.

You may wish to frame that thought experiment with yourself being attacked and people walking by. Or being hungry and cold in the street, while others waste money but pay no attention to your plight at all. A late American Zen teacher, Bernie Glassman used to do rough retreats, I think, sleeping in the streets.

According to the Jataka tales, it was only after lifetimes of immense compassion that Siddhartha could attain his last birth.

You described previously how you gave a lot of money towards your ex-ladyfriend's children out of compassion. How was that different?
_/|\_

binocular
Posts: 6951
Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:13 pm

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by binocular » Tue Nov 26, 2019 2:48 pm

No_Mind wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 6:22 am
Binocular, ]this thread is not about me
My point is that when a prospective Buddhist practitioner doesn't take things personally (as those prone to romanticism and idealism are prone to not taking things personally), they cannot hope to make progress, gain insight, or improve their situation.
It is for exploring if Romanticism and its modern variants (climate change protest, extinction rebellion and various other forms of idealism) can be pursued inside strict Buddhist practice.
The prospective Theravadan Buddhist practitioner most likely already knows the answer to this question anyway.
But is it possible to be in an agitated state and still have a strong practice?
The prospective Theravadan Buddhist practitioner most likely already knows the answer to this question anyway.
No_Mind wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 8:54 am
Without bringing in politics, if I am concerned about the fact that every major power in the world has shifted to a strongly right of center position in last few years - Turkey, Russia, China, Japan, India, Israel, the UK and the US - my lamentations would disrupt my practice. Same holds true for everything else.
And what fuels this concern? One's most basic concerns over safety and happiness in this world, as such.
This is only superficially about politics. Underneath, it's about living in a dangerous world, and having no refuge in it.

No_Mind wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 11:44 am
I am walking home one night. I find three men molesting a woman.
  • Call police by using phone while standing at a distance.
This is what the authorities usually advise citizens to do if they witness a violent situation.

binocular
Posts: 6951
Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:13 pm

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by binocular » Tue Nov 26, 2019 2:50 pm

Dan74 wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 8:05 am
I think there is an assumption in your post, No_Mind, that engagement in social/political/environmental causes inevitably leads to unwholesome states, and that disengagement from such causes automatically pacifies such unwholesome states, rather than often lead to indifference, apathy and preoccupation with oneself, which are arguably even more insidious hindrances.
That's a false dichotomy.

To give a more poignant illustration: Merely quitting drugs likely won't make an addict's life good. It would only make it free of drugs. As such, it can make a number of things easier. But per se, quitting drugs won't suffice for a better life. The former addict needs to learn proper life skills, get new friends, etc. etc.

Dan74
Posts: 3225
Joined: Sun Mar 01, 2009 11:12 pm

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by Dan74 » Tue Nov 26, 2019 9:09 pm

binocular wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 2:50 pm
Dan74 wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 8:05 am
I think there is an assumption in your post, No_Mind, that engagement in social/political/environmental causes inevitably leads to unwholesome states, and that disengagement from such causes automatically pacifies such unwholesome states, rather than often lead to indifference, apathy and preoccupation with oneself, which are arguably even more insidious hindrances.
That's a false dichotomy.

To give a more poignant illustration: Merely quitting drugs likely won't make an addict's life good. It would only make it free of drugs. As such, it can make a number of things easier. But per se, quitting drugs won't suffice for a better life. The former addict needs to learn proper life skills, get new friends, etc. etc.
Not sure which you mean. I don't think I posited any dichotomy.
_/|\_

daveblack
Posts: 57
Joined: Wed Oct 30, 2019 8:44 pm

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by daveblack » Tue Nov 26, 2019 10:20 pm

Dan74 wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 11:08 am

"Not my business" and "my lamentations should not disrupt my practice" sounds to me like a very self-centered approach to the Dhamma. It's basically all about me, my 'equanimity', my 'noble attainments', etc I don't know about others, but it sounds like a project that's doomed from the start. How can we realise non-self, when we are consciously focused on self-seeking goals from the start?
Are you Mahayana who derides Theravada as "selfish Hinayana"? Buddha never taught social activism while he was alive. Mahayana claims that after he died he taught it on some other planet and they saw it in a vision and wrote it in their wonky sutras. Buddha taught how to save yourself from the cycle of reincarnation (or rebirth if you prefer that terminology), not how to setup a Leftist utopia.

Dan74
Posts: 3225
Joined: Sun Mar 01, 2009 11:12 pm

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by Dan74 » Tue Nov 26, 2019 10:33 pm

daveblack wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 10:20 pm
Dan74 wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 11:08 am

"Not my business" and "my lamentations should not disrupt my practice" sounds to me like a very self-centered approach to the Dhamma. It's basically all about me, my 'equanimity', my 'noble attainments', etc I don't know about others, but it sounds like a project that's doomed from the start. How can we realise non-self, when we are consciously focused on self-seeking goals from the start?
Are you Mahayana who derides Theravada as "selfish Hinayana"? Buddha never taught social activism while he was alive. Mahayana claims that after he died he taught it on some other planet and they saw it in a vision and wrote it in their wonky sutras. Buddha taught how to save yourself from the cycle of reincarnation (or rebirth if you prefer that terminology), not how to setup a Leftist utopia.
Hi Dave :hello:

I am indeed more of a Mahayana practitioner. As for 'deriding Theravada', not at all. In fact, I have the deepest respect for many Theravada teachers and had the honour of meeting some wonderful ones. They, incidentally, worked tirelessly for other beings - mostly in propagating the Dhamma, but some also on social/environmental causes.

Nor have I mentioned a 'leftist utopia' anywhere, I think. As for what the Buddha taught, I thought it was the end of suffering, the end of ignorance and delusion. He also taught that the superior practitioner practices for himself and others.

All the best.
_/|\_

daveblack
Posts: 57
Joined: Wed Oct 30, 2019 8:44 pm

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by daveblack » Tue Nov 26, 2019 10:38 pm

Dan74 wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 10:33 pm
I am indeed more of a Mahayana practitioner.

Since you are, then maybe you can clarify this for me. Is the idea of Mahayana's version of no-self that you cannot individually save yourself because everything is you, we're all one, etc. so that literally saving all beings is necessary to even save your individual self? That is, if one person has not yet realized enlightenment, nobody has? I think that is the only way their rejection of Theravada makes sense. Its absurd to reject Buddha's teaching of individual liberation for some pipe-dream of saving all beings (like you're some Omnipotent Deity who can save everyone). It must be a confusion of the idea of no-self into a world-self, or that everything is you, so unless you save everything you haven't saved yourself. That's the illogical hole I think the creators of Mahayana fell into, and its practicioners have never been able to dig themselves out of; That's why they spew hate on paccekabuddhas and arhants.

User avatar
retrofuturist
Site Admin
Posts: 22079
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 9:52 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Contact:

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by retrofuturist » Tue Nov 26, 2019 10:41 pm

Greetings No_Mind,
No_Mind wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 6:22 am
My query is not about something that an engaged Buddhist would do but if such engagement is not a hindrance.
This, from Amod Lele of Boston University may be of interest to you...
Disengaged Buddhism

Contemporary engaged Buddhist scholars typically claim either that Buddhism always endorsed social activism, or that its non-endorsement of such activism represented an unwitting lack of progress. This article examines several classical South Asian Buddhist texts that explicitly reject social and political activism. These texts argue for this rejection on the grounds that the most important sources of suffering are not something that activism can fix, and that political involvement interferes with the tranquility required for liberation. The article then examines the history of engaged Buddhism in order to identify why this rejection of activism has not yet been taken sufficiently seriously.

(click link above to read the actual full article)
Plus the accompanying piece from the same author on the psychological case for Disengagement, and whether engagement could be a hindrance...
The psychological case for disengaged Buddhism

My project on disengaged Buddhism has now been submitted to a journal. It’s undergone several revisions by this point. One of the most important such revisions was suggested unanimously by BU’s magnificent CURA seminar. In an earlier draft I had attempted to emphasize the contemporary constructive significance of disengaged Buddhism by noting how its ideas were corroborated by some contemporary psychological research. The seminar participants thought that discussion of psychology did not strengthen the paper because I didn’t have the space to defend them fully; the paper would stand best discussing disengaged Buddhists’ claims in their historical context and letting those claims stand on their own.

I think they were right, and I removed the psychology discussion from the paper – a little sadly, as I thought the psychological case for disengaged Buddhism was worth making. Fortunately, I have another place to make it: here.

The key Buddhist ideas I discuss in the paper are: that we should have a detached attitude to the passage of time rather than hoping for progress; that politics leads our minds to an anger that hurts them; and that the kinds of goods politics can provide (especially material goods) do not do as much to fix our suffering as we think they do. And I think evidence collected by modern psychologists lends some support to each of these claims.

I had previously mentioned the psychological distress experienced by liberal Americans after the election of Donald Trump, distress so severe it causes physical symptoms. One journalist reports that her anxiety about Trump led to a psychosomatic retinal bleeding so bad it almost made her blind. It seems to me that such people have something to learn from the Cakkavatti Sīhanāda Sutta, a text which some have regarded as politically engaged but which (I argue in the paper, following Steven Collins) is the opposite. In that text, history has been declining rather than progressing, and it will get worse before it gets better; and so, the Buddha says, we should “be islands unto yourselves, be a refuge unto yourselves with no other refuge.” Whether or not the text’s account of history’s direction is right, it is not hard to imagine how such a detached attitude to the passage of time could be a balm for those experiencing such great psychologically induced distress.

Along with the fear and distress in the Trump era comes anger, an anger that one therapist described as “almost irrational”. That reaction seems to confirm the worries of Aśvaghoṣa about the harshness inherent in politics – and the way that harshness interferes with one’s tranquility.

The negative consequences of anger and violence for their targets should be obvious. But it is worth noting also how some contemporary psychological and biomedical research concurs that anger and hostility have a negative effect on the angry one’s own well-being, a key concern of these texts. Psychological and medical researchers have observed a significant correlation of anger not only with self-destructive behaviours like bulimia, but with physiological illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.

As for the disengaged Buddhists’ disregard for material goods, it seems confirmed by the theory of the hedonic treadmill (which I briefly discussed a long time ago.) That is, any perceived gain in happiness from increased income is temporary at best, confirming the Rajja Sutta’s claim that “not a mountain of gold would suffice for one”. Philip Brickman and others found that lottery winners were neither happier than a control group, nor showed a significant increase in happiness from before they won the lottery. At the collective level, when a state’s GDP rises, Richard Easterlin and others found that there is a short-term boost in happiness but the long-term relationship is nil – whether the country was rich or poor to start with.

The implications of these studies are debated, but they should give us pause before dismissing the disengaged Buddhists’ arguments that the goods of politics are not as important as we think they are. The Thai-born behavioural economist Nick (Nattavudh) Powdthavee makes the connection explicit: he told his 90-year-old Thai Buddhist grandmother about the findings of the happiness literature and she replied “Tell me something I don’t already know.” And so, he came to think:

...maybe it wasn’t Philip Brickman and colleagues who first discovered that people adapt to changes in life events. It probably wasn’t Richard Easterlin who was the first to conclude that economic growth for all increases the happiness of no one…. It was actually the Buddha who first discovered them over 2,500 years ago.

So various observations from contemporary psychology would seem to lend support to key claims of the disengaged Buddhists: a detachment from hope for progress, an avoidance of anger, and a suspicion of material goods. These observations are not sufficient reason for us to disengage from politics, at least not on their own, but they are reason to take the disengaged Buddhists’ arguments seriously in our context, rather than dismiss them as some outmoded view that we have progressed beyond. Nor is it sufficient to dismiss the disengaged Buddhists as “selfish”, when the thoroughgoing Mahāyāna altruists Candrakīrti and Śāntideva express at least as much suspicion of politics as the non-Mahāyāna texts do. Even if we are not fully convinced by their view, it seems to me that they have figured out something important that most people in our activist culture have not.
Metta,
Paul. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"It is natural that one who knows and sees things as they really are is disenchanted and dispassionate." (AN 10.2)

“Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” (Flannery O'Connor)

chownah
Posts: 8616
Joined: Wed Aug 12, 2009 2:19 pm

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by chownah » Wed Nov 27, 2019 2:44 am

Amon lele seems to be very engaged in the social activity of prosletyzing for disengagement. Here is an article by amon lele which can be taken to cut the other way:

The Compassionate Gift of Vice: Śāntideva on Gifts, Altruism, and Poverty
https://philpapers.org/archive/LELTCG.pdf
A teaser:
The Mahāyāna Buddhist thinker Śāntideva tells his audience to give out alcohol, weapons and sex for reasons of Buddhist compassion, though he repeatedly warns of the
dangers of all these three.
It bears directly on the issue of engagement.
chownah

Dan74
Posts: 3225
Joined: Sun Mar 01, 2009 11:12 pm

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by Dan74 » Wed Nov 27, 2019 7:18 am

daveblack wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 10:38 pm
Dan74 wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 10:33 pm
I am indeed more of a Mahayana practitioner.

Since you are, then maybe you can clarify this for me. Is the idea of Mahayana's version of no-self that you cannot individually save yourself because everything is you, we're all one, etc. so that literally saving all beings is necessary to even save your individual self? That is, if one person has not yet realized enlightenment, nobody has? I think that is the only way their rejection of Theravada makes sense. Its absurd to reject Buddha's teaching of individual liberation for some pipe-dream of saving all beings (like you're some Omnipotent Deity who can save everyone). It must be a confusion of the idea of no-self into a world-self, or that everything is you, so unless you save everything you haven't saved yourself. That's the illogical hole I think the creators of Mahayana fell into, and its practicioners have never been able to dig themselves out of; That's why they spew hate on paccekabuddhas and arhants.
I wouldn't presume to speak for Mahayana, not only because I am just one poor practitioner with no credentials, but also because it is an umbrella term for a variety of teaching schools and lineages.

One thing I would like to set straight is that I don't think anyone 'spew hate on paccekabuddhas and arhants' except maybe online. In the Sutras where there are sectarian passages, it is clearly the mode of practice that is criticised, not practitioners and I do agree that the language seems strong at times. Whether they are later accretions or editions, I don't know of course.

Regarding your first question, to the best of my knowledge there is no teaching in Mayahana that asserts that 'we are all one'. Sounds like Hinduism perhaps? Nor does Mahayana reject individual liberation. I guess with this line of questioning, you are referring to Bodhisattva vows:

Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to liberate them.
Greed, hatred, and ignorance rise endlessly; I vow to abandon them.
The Dharma gates are countless; I vow to wake to them.
The Buddha’s way is unsurpassed; I vow to embody it fully.

There are many wonderful explanations of the Vows and a range of interpretations. To me, the 1st Vow is ultimately about orientation - I practice with others and for others as well as for myself. We are indeed not separate, but nor are we 'all one'. Each has his or her karma. What better help can I be to others, than when I earnestly embrace the 2, 3 and 4th Vows? What better chance to save all beings eventually, not in this life, but after thousands of others, perhaps? It imbues practice with a whole new level of meaning. It is no longer just about me and my own suffering, my bliss, my happiness, shutting out the suffering around me. If I practice in earnest, I am a better Dad, better partner, better teacher, better neighbour. Even a hermit who abandons all to plunge him or herself into practice, is an inspiration for others who cling to the world and possibly a guide if one seeks them out. See

Every practitioner deals with the Vows in their way. Many of us don't take them too seriously and essentially practice for ourselves. Some keep coming back to the Vows and grappling with them from time to time. Others turn to the Vows for inspiration especially during the tough times. I don't think anyone really think themselves omnipotent or spend any energy fantacising about saving everyone. In Zen especially, we are taught to be grounded in this moment, this is where the work is done. So the First Vow, as far as I understand, if truly internalised, provides an orientation for practice, but not some kind of a different practice. The practice is still about the 2-4 Vows and.
_/|\_

SteRo
Posts: 844
Joined: Fri Oct 11, 2019 10:27 am

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by SteRo » Thu Nov 28, 2019 9:44 am

I think it's an interesting topic if one approaches it as unbiased as possible, unbiased due to sectarian, ideological or emotional reasons.
I mean as a lay practitioner one might be pursuing worldly ideals in addition to dhamma ideals without being aware of them simply through being conditioned by worldly education. So pursuing political or ecological ideals might not be very distant and still be located within social norms and standards.

binocular
Posts: 6951
Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:13 pm

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by binocular » Thu Nov 28, 2019 9:33 pm

SteRo wrote:
Thu Nov 28, 2019 9:44 am
I think it's an interesting topic if one approaches it as unbiased as possible, unbiased due to sectarian, ideological or emotional reasons.
I mean as a lay practitioner one might be pursuing worldly ideals in addition to dhamma ideals without being aware of them simply through being conditioned by worldly education. So pursuing political or ecological ideals might not be very distant and still be located within social norms and standards.
Actually, the romanticism/idealism I had in mind in the original discussion which inspired this thread was about the naivete inherent in romanticism/idealism.

SteRo
Posts: 844
Joined: Fri Oct 11, 2019 10:27 am

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by SteRo » Thu Nov 28, 2019 10:13 pm

binocular wrote:
Thu Nov 28, 2019 9:33 pm
SteRo wrote:
Thu Nov 28, 2019 9:44 am
I think it's an interesting topic if one approaches it as unbiased as possible, unbiased due to sectarian, ideological or emotional reasons.
I mean as a lay practitioner one might be pursuing worldly ideals in addition to dhamma ideals without being aware of them simply through being conditioned by worldly education. So pursuing political or ecological ideals might not be very distant and still be located within social norms and standards.
Actually, the romanticism/idealism I had in mind in the original discussion which inspired this thread was about the naivete inherent in romanticism/idealism.
But that naivete might be inherent in the pursuit of dhamma ideals too.

User avatar
No_Mind
Posts: 2016
Joined: Fri May 23, 2014 4:12 pm
Location: India

Re: Romanticism and Buddhist Practice

Post by No_Mind » Fri Nov 29, 2019 5:34 am

Dan74 wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 12:37 pm
No_Mind wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 11:44 am
Dan74 wrote:
Tue Nov 26, 2019 11:08 am
"Not my business" and "my lamentations should not disrupt my practice" sounds to me like a very self-centered approach to the Dhamma. It's basically all about me, my 'equanimity', my 'noble attainments', etc I don't know about others, but it sounds like a project that's doomed from the start. How can we realise non-self, when we are consciously focused on self-seeking goals from the start?
Food for thought.

I did not mean it as self-centered but rather that I choose "not to be."

I could never decide a thought experiment.

I am walking home one night. I find three men molesting a woman.
  • Is it my duty to stop and protect?
  • Is it my duty to stop and protest?
  • Call police by using phone while standing at a distance.
  • Do nothing.
In other words is being the observer (anything .. from a theft to global warming) wrong? Why should being an observer be wrong?

:namaste:
I guess it boils down to metta and karuna. The Buddha taught us to cherish every living creature as a mother cherishes her only child. If you feel indifference to the woman being attacked, perhaps cultivating metta and karuna is the best practice for you. I think it is a wonderful practice for all of us.

You may wish to frame that thought experiment with yourself being attacked and people walking by. Or being hungry and cold in the street, while others waste money but pay no attention to your plight at all. A late American Zen teacher, Bernie Glassman used to do rough retreats, I think, sleeping in the streets.

According to the Jataka tales, it was only after lifetimes of immense compassion that Siddhartha could attain his last birth.

You described previously how you gave a lot of money towards your ex-ladyfriend's children out of compassion. How was that different?
The main problem in associating oneself actively with any cause is that we may and often do find that our compatriots are weak people who lead unskillful lives. Association with such people leads to distress and dissatisfaction, not the cause itself.

As far as charity toward's those kids I spoke of goes - would they have received it unless I found their mother (at least prima-facie) to be a suitable person for being my companion? Would they have been at receiving end of my compassion if their mother could not use a knife and a fork or know the meaning of brogue and brolly? No.

It was not charity. It was trying to sway her mate selection by showing that I am a male caveman who will protect the cave and infants inside if a saber toothed tiger was prowling around. It was not a dishonest gesture but it was not completely altruistic.

Charitable acts are without any intention of axe grinding.

I believe Buddhists with strict practice have to be disengaged and unattached from the world around them in order to have a steadfast practice.

Association with weak people (like my ex-ladyfriend), inevitably means a compromise with those who do not have values that we choose to cultivate - dependability, reliability, consistency, honesty, strength of character, generosity, loyalty, commitment and such like.

That compromise is like a thorn in the foot.

No way to beat around the bush. They have no sila. As simple as that.

:namaste:
"The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”― Albert Camus

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 135 guests