New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Jhana4
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New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by Jhana4 » Mon Sep 12, 2011 3:40 pm

“During my early years as a monk, I hardly paid any attention to social issues. My focus was almost entirely on my Dharma studies and personal spiritual development. In recent years, however, I came to feel increasingly a sense of responsibility for the fate of the world. The conviction came to me that a predominantly personal and private approach to spiritual development is sadly inadequate as a response to the crushing misery that afflicts billions of ordinary nameless people around the world. Perhaps it was through my practice of the meditations on loving-kindness and compassion that I felt “a call of conscience,” a sense that our Buddhist practice should enable us to share the sufferings of those weighed down by grinding poverty, compelled by an unjust system to endure constant hunger, fear, and the threat of disabling illnesses without adequate medical services. As this conviction gained momentum in my mind, and I met people with similar sentiments, this led to the creation of Buddhist Global Relief in mid-2008.”
Read the full interview here

I read a book by another western born monk, who is doing something similar to Bhikkhu Bodhi. The Venerable Dhammika is still in robes, but intentionally loosely tied to any Theravada order. He wrote a fascinating book about the state of Asian Theravada called

“THE BROKEN BUDDHA:
Critical Reflections on Theravada and a Plea for a New Buddhism”

One of Venerable Dhammika’s points was that he felt Asian Theravada could benefit from a more philanthropic attitude. He had a number of examples of the emphasis on merit making for a better future life driving people to glut monks with more things than they could ever use while ignoring serious poverty.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.

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retrofuturist
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Re: New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Sep 12, 2011 10:54 pm

Greetings,

I wonder if it's chance or co-incidence that his "call of consciousness" seems to chronologically parallel his encounters with Mahayanists?

I used to receive status update feeds from Bhikkhu Bodhi on Facebook, but they became increasingly about worldly and political matters, disconnected with Dhamma, so in the end I hid that news feed as I didn't want to hear a Theravada Bhikkhu being a political activist. It raises an interesting question about what is permissable / encouraged under the Theravada VInaya in relation to politics. Ajahn Sujato can't think of any clear boundaries - "I think politics is clearly against the spirit of the Vinaya, but I can’t think of any specific rules" - http://sujato.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/blood-politics/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

From the Suttas, I know of this...
AN 10.69 wrote:“Then the Blessed One, emerging from his seclusion in the late afternoon, went to the meeting hall and, on arrival, sat down on a seat made ready. As he was sitting there, he addressed the monks: “For what topic of conversation are you gathered together here? In the midst of what topic of conversation have you been interrupted?”

“Just now, lord, after the meal, on returning from our alms round, we gathered at the meeting hall and got engaged in many kinds of bestial topics of conversation: conversation about kings, robbers, & ministers of state; armies, alarms, & battles; food & drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, & scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women & heroes; the gossip of the street & the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity, the creation of the world & of the sea; talk of whether things exist or not.”

“It isn’t right, monks, that sons of good families, on having gone forth out of faith from home to the homeless life, should get engaged in such topics of conversation, i.e., conversation about kings, robbers, & ministers of state… talk of whether things exist or not.

“There are these ten topics of [proper] conversation. Which ten? Talk on modesty, contentment, seclusion, non-entanglement, arousing persistence, virtue, concentration, discernment, release, and the knowledge & vision of release. These are the ten topics of conversation. If you were to engage repeatedly in these ten topics of conversation, you would outshine even the sun & moon, so mighty, so powerful — to say nothing of the wanderers of other sects.”
In terms of compassion and concern for fellow beings, I believe it's for the worldly people to look after people's worldly concerns and for the spiritual people to look after people's spiritual concerns. Call me conservative, but my preference would be for Bhikkhu Bodhi to focus on practicing, investigating and/or teaching the Dhamma. He chose to be a bhikkhu in a non-Mahayana tradition, and that is what a bhikkhu in a non-Mahayana tradition ought to be focused on.

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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bodom
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Re: New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by bodom » Mon Sep 12, 2011 11:34 pm

retrofuturist wrote:I used to receive status update feeds from Bhikkhu Bodhi on Facebook, but they became increasingly about worldly and political matters, disconnected with Dhamma, so in the end I hid that news feed as I didn't want to hear a Theravada Bhikkhu being a political activist.
Can we be sure it was actually him or someone who started a page in his name?

:anjali:
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With no struggling, no thinking,
the mind, still,
will see cause and effect
vanishing in the Void.
Attached to nothing, letting go:
Know that this is the way
to allay all stress.

- Upasika Kee Nanayan

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Ben
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Re: New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by Ben » Mon Sep 12, 2011 11:44 pm

retrofuturist wrote: In terms of compassion and concern for fellow beings, I believe it's for the worldly people to look after people's worldly concerns and for the spiritual people to look after people's spiritual concerns. Call me conservative, but my preference would be for Bhikkhu Bodhi to focus on practicing, investigating and/or teaching the Dhamma. He chose to be a bhikkhu in a non-Mahayana tradition, and that is what a bhikkhu in a non-Mahayana tradition ought to be focused on.
Perhaps you should also tell the monks of Burma. Many of them lost their lives protesting over the junta's skyrocketing fuel prices which further impoverished people living in one of the poorest countries of the world. What Bhikkhu Bodhi has done to head Buddhist Global Relief, in my opinion, is incredibly honorable.
“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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Re: New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Sep 12, 2011 11:44 pm

Greetings Bodom,
bodom wrote:Can we be sure it was actually him or someone who started a page in his name?
To start with, it was just someone who started it in his name. Or rather, someone else administered it on his behalf, but it was 'official'. As for what it is now, I don't know... I gave up on looking.

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: New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Sep 12, 2011 11:47 pm

Greetings Ben,
Ben wrote:Perhaps you should also tell the monks of Burma. Many of them lost their lives protesting over the junta's skyrocketing fuel prices which further impoverished people living in one of the poorest countries of the world. What Bhikkhu Bodhi has done to head Buddhist Global Relief, in my opinion, is incredibly honorable.
I'm not saying they're not noble deeds in their own right, but they're not the deeds of a renunciate who has renounced the world.

If they want to be renunciates, be renunciates. If they want to be activists, be activists.

Everyone has a choice. Renounce the world or be enmeshed in the world - work out what is more important and make a decision.

Are Burmese monks better qualified to overthrow juntas, or to give spiritual guidance and solace in the form of the Dhamma to those experiencing worldly oppression? Which is worldly, and which helps lead to the end of worldliness?

It's no co-incidence that the blog the interview appears in is sub-titled "bodhisattvas in the trenches".

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: New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by mikenz66 » Tue Sep 13, 2011 12:04 am

Hi Retro,

The Buddha gave a lot of advice to rulers and lay people about how to build a decent society. Bhikkhu Bodhi expands on this in various writings.
See: http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 01#p140286" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; for example.

It therefore therefore seems to me highly appropriate for our monastic teachers to give us advice on such issues. Just as they give us advice on our own personal development. Our personal development is intertwined with society, since the development of generosity and compassion is an integral part of the Buddha's message.

Of course, I certainly don't condone the sort of blatant involvement in politics that Ven Sujato is reporting on.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by retrofuturist » Tue Sep 13, 2011 12:08 am

Greetings Mike,
mikenz66 wrote:It therefore therefore seems to me highly appropriate for our monastic teachers to give us advice on such issues. Just as they give us advice on our own personal development. Our personal development is intertwined with society, since the development of generosity and compassion is an integral part of the Buddha's message.
Indeed. The Buddha taught householders how the live an upright and wholesome life, and it is entirely appropriate for bhikkhus to do that, as it contributes to the spiritual wellbeing of the lay community, as you point out.

I note that, in the interview, Bhikkhu Bodhi's mentions that his translation of AN will be published in 2012 - which should contribute to such righteous Dhamma endeavours, particularly given the increased proportion of suttas in that volume aimed at householders. May much benefit accrue from that Dhamma activity. The gift of the Dhamma is the greatest of all gifts.

In the suttas, there is also an example of the Buddha not teaching until a hungry man is fed. That is appropriate too, but it is not the role of a bhikkhu to feed the hungry layman.

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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Dan74
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Re: New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by Dan74 » Tue Sep 13, 2011 12:20 am

Hmm... the worldly and the spiritual are not separate spheres but impact each other, interpenetrate each other in myriad ways.

For instance, the vast majority of the people in the world, due to poverty and warfare, have no chance and no opportunity to discover the dhamma and practice it. We, who are blessed with both, can do something to remedy this imbalance and perhaps this is what motivates some Bhikkus to act. They help not only by translating the Tipitaka for the likes of us, but addressing the needs of those who are struggling to survive, so that they too have a chance of liberation.

The Buddha's priority was to establish a Sangha and lay a solid foundation in Dhamma, and yet he also got involved in "worldly matters" and politics, did he not, mediating between royals, trying to stave off wars?

"Cherish all beings" means different things to different people, in the way they actualise this, but actively contributing to the welfare of all, seems to me to be within the scope.

I guess I am struggling to comprehend the seemingly narrow notion of what a monk "should" and "should not do" here...
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Re: New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by retrofuturist » Tue Sep 13, 2011 12:27 am

Greetings Dan,
Dan74 wrote:I guess I am struggling to comprehend the seemingly narrow notion of what a monk "should" and "should not do" here...
Well, a Theravada monk should act in accordance with the Theravada Vinaya.

As is well known, Mahayana bhikshus also take a bodhisattva vow which trumps the more traditional Vinaya, and allows them the liberty to do what they think is best to minimise suffering in the name of "skilful means", even if it deviates from the Vinaya.

To the best of my knowledge, the Theravada bodhisatta path does not accommodate actions that trump the Vinaya.

That is to take a rules-based approach to the matter, but even within that there is guidance and teaching from the Buddha (in both Sutta & Vinaya) which indicates quite clearly what they should be striving towards, and also what topics of conversation (and by inference other forms of kamma like bodily action) they should be leaving behind (see earlier sutta quote).

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: New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by Dan74 » Tue Sep 13, 2011 12:41 am

I understand this but where in Vinaya does it prohibit a Bhikkhu from helping in something like the Buddhist Global Relief?

I don't think the passage quoted above which is really about idle talk is relevant at all.

PS I should say that many Mahayana Bhikkshus take their Vinaya very seriously and I don't think it would be correct to say that the Vinaya is disregarded in Mahayana and respected in Theravada but I will leave it to the ordained to explain (rather than mess it up).

Edit: here's a passage from Ven Dhammika's Broken Buddha on the practice of Vinaya. There is also a talk and discussion of it by a Tibetan nun, Ven Thubten Chodron. I quote a passage and give a link below.
Ven Dhammika wrote:The Vinaya
The Vinaya is the second book in the Pali Tipitaka and contains the two hundred and twenty seven
rules monks are supposed to follow and the procedures for the ordering of monastic communities. A
separate section contains the rules for nuns. Westerners, indeed many lay Asian Theravadins as
well, believe that monks follow all these rules. This is not so, it never has been and it is only
sensible that it be that way. Many rules are irrelevant or meaningless outside the ancient Indian
context in which they were drawn up. What actually happens is that the majority of monks follow
the rules that have traditionally been followed and ignore rules that have not traditionally been
followed. It is difficult to detect any pattern in the selection of each other than that rules giving
monks precedence and status are always practiced and insisted upon with the greatest conviction.
Some quite useful rules are ignored completely while other seemingly useless ones are followed
scrupulously. Again, certain rules are carefully observed but in the most inane way or in the letter
only. Yet again, others are observed in a way that seems to defy any logic or purpose at all. For
example, the overwhelming majority of monks ‘handle money,’ to use the curious Theravadin
phrase. They buy, they sell, they have bank accounts, they accept donations, sometimes they even
demand them and this is looked upon as perfectly normal although it is against the Vinaya. Some
more finicky monks might insist that any cash given to them be put in an envelope so that they
don’t actually have physical contact with it, thus conforming to the letter of the rule while ignoring
its intent. Monks will not drink milk after midday , which accords with the Vinaya, but in Thailand
they will eat cheese and chocolate in the afternoon which clearly does not. The Vinaya says that any
food given to a monk must be formally offered, but if a lay person forgets to do this the monk will
instruct him to do so, which infringes the Vinaya rule about asking for anything. In the better
monasteries a ceremony is held twice a month during which monks are supposed to confess any
infringements of the rules or inappropriate behavior. This ceremony could have great value for
personal development and communal living. However, it is nearly always done in a purely
perfunctory manner where the words of the ceremony are simply recited with no real confession or
forgiveness taking place.
On top of all this there are a number of customary practices which are not in the Vinaya but are
treated as if they were, sometimes treated as even more sacrosanct. Thus Thai monks accept gifts of
money despite this being against the Vinaya, but they will never take anything directly from a
woman’s hand, which is not stipulated by the Vinaya. When a monk does the first no one thinks
anything of it, but if he fails to do the second he would be looked upon with extreme disapproval,
perhaps even disrobed. There is one other complication as well. Which rules are traditionally
followed and which are not and the customary practices that have developed around them differ
from country to country, from sect to sect, sometimes even from one region to another within the
same country. Thai monks, for example, are critical of their Burmese counterparts for going out
with only one shoulder covered with the robe. Sri Lankan monks use aluminum alms bowls but for
some unaccountable reason Thai monks consider this to be against the Vinaya. No Sri Lankan monk
would dare to smoke in public because this is believed to infringe the Vinaya but it is quite
acceptable for them to chew tobacco. Thailand’s Thammayut sect likewise considers smoking to be
contrary to Vinaya but the Mahaniky sect does not.
The reality is that the Sangha has been running on automatic for centuries and the major factor
governing most monks’ behavior is not Vinaya or Dhamma but long established traditions. Some of
these traditions originate with the Vinaya and accord with it, some do not. Some are practical and
sensible, many are pointless. Some could be useful if practiced with wisdom, a few are downright
bad. The majority of monks conform to traditional patterns of behavior, at least while lay people are
watching, and live their lives giving little or no thought to the Dhamma or the Vinaya. A much
smaller number of sincere monks, understandably reacting against the slovenliness of the majority,
try to follow every rule with almost fanatical exactness. This however, not only shows a serious
misunderstanding of the Dhamma, it also inevitably leads to the absurdities and problems that will
be mentioned below. An even smaller number of equally sincere but perhaps more intelligent
monks are capable of seeing the overall intent of the monastic life - mindful, disciplined behavior
conducive to understanding – and try their best to be like that without necessarily following every
rule literally. Unfortunately, such monks are a tiny cohort who get no support from the unthinking
tradition-bound majority and receive only sneering disapproval from the inflexible fundamentalists
minority.
VenThubten Chodron wrote:Whereas the ninth precept emphasizes the importance of keeping the Vinaya (the monks’
and nuns’ discipline) or Pratimoksha vows (which includes vows for lay people), this precept
is saying that if you’re in an extreme situation and there is a very small Vinaya rule versus a
big benefit to others that could be done, it’s more skillful to do the thing that benefits others.
One of the classic examples involves the rule that monastics are not allowed to touch people
of the opposite sex. So, if some man is drowning in the river, and I say, "I'm sorry, I can't
save you, I am a nun," that is not very compassionate. It makes more sense for me to jump
in and save him.
http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&sourc ... EQ&cad=rja
Last edited by Dan74 on Tue Sep 13, 2011 1:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by retrofuturist » Tue Sep 13, 2011 12:54 am

Greetings,

An interesting comment I read online, I happen to agree with...
It seems to me that individuals should follow there compassionate hearts and aid whatever (secular) charity they feel like. Why do we need Buddhist charity? How are reflections on emptiness going to aid the poor? The other way round I surely believe that outspoken ideas on family planning, politics and economics are going to hurt the image of Buddhism.
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: New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by mikenz66 » Tue Sep 13, 2011 1:33 am

retrofuturist wrote: Indeed. The Buddha taught householders [and rulers - Mike] how the live an upright and wholesome life [and rule - Mike], and it is entirely appropriate for bhikkhus to do that...
Which, in my opinion, is exactly what Bhikkhu Bodhi is doing.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by Nicro » Tue Sep 13, 2011 1:40 am

I fully agree with Retro here.

And I don't see the point in the quote from "Broken Buddha". Of course some monks don't follow Vinaya. But some do. That doesn't mean all monks are to be looked down on or something. Some laypeople are murderers, that doesn't mean all of us are.

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Re: New Bhikkhu Bodhi Interview

Post by retrofuturist » Tue Sep 13, 2011 2:51 am

Greetings,

A relevant piece from Bhikkhu Pesala...

Money Makes the World Go Round
http://www.aimwell.org/Books/Pesala/Money/money.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

:anjali:

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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