Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

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Bhikkhu Cintita
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Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by Bhikkhu Cintita » Fri Dec 15, 2017 1:54 am

I recently posted a short reflection on my blog about how the propagation of Buddhism to the west is progressing. I thought I would drop it here in the Dhammaduta section as well, in the hope that it might be helpful. It begins:

A few months ago I gave a talk to some seminary students who wanted to learn about Buddhism. After the talk, after the Q&A that followed, and as we were adjourning, one of the students approached and confided in me that he had, in his younger days as a spiritual explorer, visited a number of the Buddhist sitting and discussion groups that are common in the West, but that he was disappointed with what he found there. He said,

“People seemed so self-absorbed.”

Well, this was awkward. Although I had never belonged to another faith before taking refuge some twenty years ago, I have come to recognize that most people of faith, across many religious traditions, have a characteristic sense of humility that differs markedly from that found in secular contexts. Moreover, Buddhism is the only tradition that carries the virtue of humility as far as teaching anatta (non-self) and then systematically de-constructing the sense of being a self. In Buddhism, humility is the most reliable indicator of spiritual progress and renouncing personal neediness the most effective means of making it. So, how could it be that this result was not apparent in this seminarian’s experience?

You can find the rest here:
https://bhikkhucintita.wordpress.com/20 ... buddhists/

Garrib
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Re: Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by Garrib » Fri Dec 15, 2017 2:57 am

Thanks for the good read, Bhante.

Although I have no doubt that there are plenty of self-absorbed Buddhists around (and I admit to being one of them!), I also wonder if someone practicing mindfulness might appear (from the outside) to be self-absorbed, when in fact, they are just paying close attention to what is arising. There are ways in which Buddhist practice asks us to go "against the grain", which in certain cases can be perceived as giving too much thought to our own mind and behavior.
That being said, my ego (for one) needs to be checked and reprimanded from time to time, and I do appreciate what you have written here. I really wish I felt a stronger sense of community and kinship with fellow Buddhists. It is something to work on, for sure. Just a few thoughts.

Best,

Brad

SarathW
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Re: Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by SarathW » Fri Dec 15, 2017 6:15 am

[“People seemed so self-absorbed.”/quote]


Perhaps meditation should start after the discussion of "News, current events, and politics"!
:D
Keeping the joke aside, I think this is the situation in Sri Lankan temples too.
Men hardly go to temples as it seems it is boring to go to temples.
Many women go to temple just to talk gossips.
What is your suggestion to turn this around?
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

binocular
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Re: Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by binocular » Fri Dec 15, 2017 7:36 am

Bhikkhu Cintita wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 1:54 am
So, how could it be that this result was not apparent in this seminarian’s experience?
Ha ha.

I was once discussing with a Christian, also about anatta doctrine, suggested that he listen to a certain Dhamma talk about anatta. His reaction? This is from memory, but it's almost verbatim what he commented: "Did you even notice how often the speaker says "self"?! This is so selfish!"

My guess is that they don't actually listen, or listen with a hostile attitude that makes them hear only soundbites.

Secondly, Christians are supposed to be focused on God/Jesus, and they seem to consider any other focus to be selfish.

However, they seem to take no ownership of their idea of God/Jesus; they even seem to lack the very notion that their idea of God/Jesus is something which is constructed or at least appropriated by them.
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

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Sam Vara
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Re: Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by Sam Vara » Fri Dec 15, 2017 9:01 am

binocular wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 7:36 am
Secondly, Christians are supposed to be focused on God/Jesus, and they seem to consider any other focus to be selfish
Do you mean they ought to be focused, etc., or that people suppose them to be so focused?

Here's what someone once said about the ought:
Mark 12:30-31New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?s ... rsion=NRSV

binocular
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Re: Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by binocular » Fri Dec 15, 2017 9:48 am

Sam Vara wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 9:01 am
Do you mean they ought to be focused, etc., or that people suppose them to be so focused?
The former.
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

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Sam Vara
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Re: Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by Sam Vara » Fri Dec 15, 2017 10:14 am

binocular wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 9:48 am
Sam Vara wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 9:01 am
Do you mean they ought to be focused, etc., or that people suppose them to be so focused?
The former.
In which case, see the above quote from Mark's gospel. Focus upon one's neighbour seems to be very important, not just on God and Jesus.

binocular
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Re: Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by binocular » Fri Dec 15, 2017 5:27 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 10:14 am
In which case, see the above quote from Mark's gospel. Focus upon one's neighbour seems to be very important, not just on God and Jesus.
But with that, we're back at the mere ought.
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

binocular
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Re: Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by binocular » Fri Dec 15, 2017 5:35 pm

I think the OP is failing to distinguish that the remark about Buddhists being self-absorbed was made by a Christian seminarian, and as such coming from a very specific perspective.
Other people, not Christians, have other complaints about Buddhists, and those complaints are not about the supposed self-absorption of "those Buddhists".

Such as that "those Buddhists" are smug, elitist, authoritarian, Asian supremacists, and (perhaps deliberately?) completely oblivious to the problems faced by people who have an interest in Buddhism but who were not born and raised in traditionally Buddhist countries.
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

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Sam Vara
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Re: Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by Sam Vara » Fri Dec 15, 2017 5:38 pm

binocular wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 5:27 pm
Sam Vara wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 10:14 am
In which case, see the above quote from Mark's gospel. Focus upon one's neighbour seems to be very important, not just on God and Jesus.
But with that, we're back at the mere ought.
Which is what you were talking about, weren't you? They are supposed to be focused on others - their neighbours - as well as God and Jesus. That's what Jesus taught.

binocular
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Re: Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by binocular » Fri Dec 15, 2017 6:03 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 5:38 pm
Which is what you were talking about, weren't you? They are supposed to be focused on others - their neighbours - as well as God and Jesus. That's what Jesus taught.
Personally, I think Christians are the self-absorbed ones, and that their focus on others is superficial.
To be sure, being self-absorbed and only superficially focused on others appear to be evolutionary advantageous traits (as are elitism and authoritarianism). It's just that those traits aren't exactly conducive to building genuinely trusting relationship with others.
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

dharmacorps
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Re: Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by dharmacorps » Fri Dec 15, 2017 7:26 pm

This doesn't surprise me to hear that. Having attended SF Bay Area Vipassana/Insight Meditation events over the last 12 or so years, I would say I get that feeling from many of them-- meditation and Buddhism used for navel-gazing or ego agrandizement. This is particularly the "secular Buddhist" crowd centered around large retreat/meditation centers which charge to attend events. I absolutely do not get that impression around monasteries, ordained people, those who follow the precepts, upasaka/upasikas.

Sorry if this sounds harsh. Just my 2 bits.

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Re: Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by Bhikkhu Cintita » Sat Dec 16, 2017 5:17 pm

Thanks for the many comments.

Let me correct a possible misperception concerning my story. The talk I was giving was to a very open-minded Christian audience, with a great deal of curiosity and no evidence of hostility toward Buddhism. Almost all of my Christian friends are like this. The seminary student in question was very respectful and seemed genuinely puzzled with regard to this key indicator of spiritual progress: humility. Even if I incorrectly interpreted his intentions, what he said rang true in terms of my own experience. Keep in mind, I am endorsing his observation. "Those Buddhists" is my own phrase.

Brad,

Yes, contemplative practices is often wrongly interpreted as self-absorbed to the outside observer. That is a good point, but beside the one I am making here, since I am not taking this as a matter of interfaith misunderstanding.

SarathW,

There are weak and marginal practitioners everywhere and in all faiths, so you are right. However, my experience among Western Buddhists is that they really have quite a bit of energy and seriousness about their practice, even when it is somewhat misdirected. Western Buddhism so far has some clear strengths. What is striking about this seminarians observation is that his sense of the sitting groups he visited seems to fall short of his rather modest expectations. This calls for reflection on in what way Western practice is misdirected.

binocular,

We all tend to misperceive views that we do not share. People can hold religious views with quite a lot of hostility toward alternative faiths. This is certainly common here in Texas. However, I really don't think this was going on in this case, at least this is not how I read this man. In any case, I agreed with him, and I am clearly not hostile toward Buddhism.

binaocular and Sam Vera,

My intention is not to contrast Buddhism and Christianity or to criticize Christians. So this is a bit off topic. Christians vary enormously; many in my experience are quite thoughtful, open-minded and articulate. Many practice Buddhism with the best of them and find no particular contradiction. Besides, biblical references are a bit out of my element.

dharmacorps,

I aim my main critique at a segment of Western Buddhism, namely the sitting and discussion meet-up variety. You are right that you will not observe what I am talking about in Western monastic settings (which are very rare), and to a lesser extent in some established non-monastic but non-secular institutions, like serious Zen centers. I think you are right in bringing in secular Buddhism in this way. I notice that that the sitting and discussion meet-up is the organizational structure of choice for secular Buddhists. In fact, Batchelor's book After Buddhism seems quite concerned with organizational structures. First, he argues that the Sangha was not founded by the Buddha, but by Kassapa, and is in this sense not authentic. Then, at the end of the book, he outlines ideas about what organizational structure is appropriate "after Buddhism." What he outlines seems to be exactly the sitting and discussion meet-up I refer to here.

I have gotten few comments about my diagnosis of the issue.

binocular
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Re: Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by binocular » Sat Dec 16, 2017 5:32 pm

Bhikkhu Cintita wrote:
Sat Dec 16, 2017 5:17 pm
key indicator of spiritual progress: humility.
But whence this idea that the "key indicator" of spiritual progress is humility??

I don't recall reading anything to this effect in the suttas!
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

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Re: Those Self-Absorbed Buddhists

Post by Bhikkhu Cintita » Sat Dec 16, 2017 11:47 pm

binocular wrote:
Sat Dec 16, 2017 5:32 pm
Bhikkhu Cintita wrote:
Sat Dec 16, 2017 5:17 pm
key indicator of spiritual progress: humility.
But whence this idea that the "key indicator" of spiritual progress is humility??

I don't recall reading anything to this effect in the suttas!
"Humility" is a bit ambiguous in English and it was my interlocutor's word-choice. It is not meant here in the sense of self-deprecation, but is, as I say, related in Buddhism to the deconstruction of the sense of self. It is roughly the opposite of I-making, of pride, conceit, self-centeredness.

It is indicated in Buddhism in the weakening of greed, hate and delusion. The Canki Sutta, for instance, gives criteria for judging a teacher that elaborates on this indicator.

The weakening of greed, hate and delusion, of course, a tall order. I think a more preliminary sense is deference, respect or even veneration for views of others. This is likely the level at which faith traditions are similar to one another. The equivalent in Buddhism is refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, which serves to put one's own valued opinions on hold and accept these authorities as valued sources of wisdom. Refuge requires some maturity in humility. I suspect that the seminary student discovered a lot of attachment to own views with insufficient regard for those of others or for outside authorities. At least that is what I notice in such meetings.

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