Lazy_eye wrote:Kim O'Hara wrote:Here's a question I've wondered about. Assuming there is such a need for adaptation, which tradition is better poised to adapt? Theravada or Mahayana?
Many people would say Theravada is quite analytical, rational and compatible with science -- to a degree. It is also more stubbornly orthodox and bound by the authority of millenia-old texts. So when problem areas arise, such as the ones Alex mentioned, it can be hard to work around them.
Mahayana, it seems to me, presents almost the opposite scenario. With its pantheon of Buddhas and bodhisattvas and its many devotional practices, it seems inherently less rational in its outlook. It is also more heterodox compared to Theravada and thus (theoretically) more flexible. Since the legitimacy of Mahayana sutras is questionable and the canon is so diverse, reinterpretation presents less of a problem. And indeed Mahayana has generated a wide variety of sects and schools. (For exactly this reason, I find it a bit odd and even amusing when folks like B. Allan Wallace start playing dharma cop -- as though their own tradition wasn't a significant departure).
So what's better, from the science-minded perspective -- the more rational but rigid Theravada, or the more adaptable but less rational Mahayana? I am oversimplifying of course, but hope you can see my point.
From my point of view the different Mahayana schools have already seen a lot of different adaptions that may have been the right thing at the time and place where they were made. But they are not necessarily the kind of adaptions that we need. If we start with the Mahayana, we then have to work our way backwards through the adaptions, unraveling the detours and deadapt the Dhamma before we can start contemplating what flavor of the Dhamma that may be right for ourselves. Better then to start with the Theravada, which is closer to the historical point of departure. On the other hand we can learn a lot from seeing how the different Mahayana schools adapted the Dhamma and broke away from the rigid orthodoxy - and some of those adaptions might even work for us - as long as we remember that each of those adaptions are results of a specific time and culture.
I am a great fan of Batchelor. When I read his books, I found much that resonated with thoughts I already had. My own flavor of the Dhamma would be a mix of Theravada, Zen, humanism and science. I do not say that this is the only right flavor. Others have to make their own choices.