Modern Theravada

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
Digity
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by Digity » Wed Apr 24, 2013 2:20 pm

Paribbajaka wrote:I think it's a disservice both to the Dhamma and to practitioners to crticize attempts at modernization as a "watering down" of the teaching or creating a "hodge podge" or similar sentiments.

Like every living religious tradition, Theravada must constantly adapt or die. This is the nature of the religion business, and every society, culture, and generation will adapt the religion to their own needs. This is nothing new. Thai monks give away lucky amulets and winning lottery numbers, things I'm fairly certain the historical Buddha would frown upon, but because it happens in Thailand and it's acceptable to the orthodox Theravada community. Meanwhile if, say, a western monk begins ordaining nuns again a schism erupts and people begin crying heresy. The Brahma Viharas are loving kindness, compassion, wisdom, equanimity, and empathic joy, yet people get hung up on who isn't wearing the right clothes and who isn't pointing their feet the right way and *gasp* who is doing a practice applicable to 21st century life instead of attempting and failing to do it the way they did 2,500 years ago. I'd say the whole loving each other and being happy thing may be a little more important than sticking rigidly to the way it's always been done when historical evidence again and again shows that our conception of the way it was always done is not as clear as had previously been thought

When the Lord Buddha saw Sigalaka worshipping the six directions, he didn't reprimand him or teach him pure Dhamma, he provded a Buddhist frame for Sigalaska to continue his practice. No "watering down", no "muddying", no fear that foreign practices would pollute his pure practice, but accomadating and adapting instead of excluding and isolating. Even in traditional Theravadin countries, animistic and shamanistic practices were integrated into the Dhamma instead of being thought of as impure influences.

Every religion must make a decision: does it want to remain the same or does it want to remain alive? Due to the wider access to knowledge through technology and modern society, people are no longer willing to accept answers based on authority or tradition (something else the spoke on I think). So no, modern Theravada is not an oxymoron, it's simply the tradition and its adherents evolving together as has been the case throughout the history of humanity. Sorry for the :soap:
You make a good point. However, you can only go so far to adapt to new cultures. In the end, the core teachings must be preserved. My biggest issue with "modern" Buddhism is when it gets all "new-agey" about the teachings....or when teachers start picking and choosing from different forms of Buddhism and start constructing their own...they'll teach Theravada Buddhism, but also talk about "Buddha Nature", etc. Stuff like that tends to bother me. In the end, maybe it's a pure preference thing and everyone should just seek out those teachers who resonate with them the most.

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Lazy_eye
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by Lazy_eye » Wed Apr 24, 2013 2:48 pm

How do folks here feel about the kind of approach developed at Amaravati -- what might be called "English Theravada," perhaps?

I have been listening to many talks from their site and they strike me as finding the optimal balance between tradition and modernity. It's still "Western/Modern Theravada" though, so there are probably some differences of emphasis compared to practice in South Asia.

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Paribbajaka
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by Paribbajaka » Wed Apr 24, 2013 3:27 pm

Digity wrote: You make a good point. However, you can only go so far to adapt to new cultures. In the end, the core teachings must be preserved. My biggest issue with "modern" Buddhism is when it gets all "new-agey" about the teachings....or when teachers start picking and choosing from different forms of Buddhism and start constructing their own...they'll teach Theravada Buddhism, but also talk about "Buddha Nature", etc. Stuff like that tends to bother me. In the end, maybe it's a pure preference thing and everyone should just seek out those teachers who resonate with them the most.


I actually agree on all points. I practice Theravada because it is what can most reliably traced back to the Buddha. With that said, I also think staying relevant is important and that tradition and modernity can be compatible. Attachment to views is still attachment!

And as much as the new agey Buddhists bug me, I try I remember that at least some of them will eventually stick to a firmer practice. When I started practicing it was with the very secularized, very western rationalist aspects we see currently around, but through contact with good teachers and my own progress settled in to a more traditional viewpoint . I think we should redirect everyons varied entries to the Dhamma without losing sight of what the core of the Dhamma is.
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Digity
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by Digity » Wed Apr 24, 2013 3:35 pm

When I think of watered down Buddhism I think of the new-agey, airy-fairy, everything is perfect in the present moment type stuff. Sure, I understand that these sort of teachings do touch on some truth, but it's usually kind of deluded thinking and not really touching on the core of the Buddha's teachings. That's why I worry about adapting the teachings too much. You have to really trust the person who are doing the adapting. They have to have a really solid understanding of the teachings. You gave the example of the Buddha and the six directions….the thing is, it was the Buddha who did that. He knew what he was doing. Now you're handing off this responsibility to far less enlightened individuals and that's where you can run into problems. That's why I think it's best to stay as close to the original teachings as possible, because the Buddha is gone now. If you keep modernizing and changing you can go down a slippery slope, because you can't always trust whose leading the way in this new age.

binocular
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by binocular » Wed Apr 24, 2013 3:39 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:5. A hotch-potch of the teacher's personal opinions, labelled as "Modern" to make it look like he/she is not old-fashioned or narrow-minded and as "Theravāda" to give it an air of authority and orthodoxy.
I don't get this, though. If those teachers are so sure they know better than the Buddha, better than the Pali Canon and the tradition, why don't they just call it after themselves? Why rely on the traditional name for authority and orthodoxy?
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Coyote
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by Coyote » Wed Apr 24, 2013 3:45 pm

binocular wrote:
Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:5. A hotch-potch of the teacher's personal opinions, labelled as "Modern" to make it look like he/she is not old-fashioned or narrow-minded and as "Theravāda" to give it an air of authority and orthodoxy.
I don't get this, though. If those teachers are so sure they know better than the Buddha, better than the Pali Canon and the tradition, why don't they just call it after themselves? Why rely on the traditional name for authority and orthodoxy?
To make is seem more down to earth than "mystical" mahayana? To some early buddhism and theravada are synonymous, so it makes sense to keep the name if you believe that is what you teach.
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Paribbajaka
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by Paribbajaka » Wed Apr 24, 2013 4:28 pm

binocular wrote: I don't get this, though. If those teachers are so sure they know better than the Buddha, better than the Pali Canon and the tradition, why don't they just call it after themselves? Why rely on the traditional name for authority and orthodoxy?
That's a good point. So how about the aformentioned monks who sell charms and tell fortunes? How about the monks in Burma inciting violence? What about the Pali commentators that began to delineate and define points not in the orginal texts? Very often today we hear of the different "layers" of the Pali canon, how certain parts were clearly added later or modified, and about how the whole of the Abhidhamma is most liekly not Buddha sasana... why continue to use the name of Buddhism at all if you're going to do these things?

It's because this is a living tradition, much like how Christianity has changed since ancient Palestine. Traditions survive by adapting and changing.

The Buddha speaks in the Pali Canon of kings and monarchs, but we have very few monarchies left. Does this mean Buddhists should oppose democracy? Or do we adapt the teachings on monarchs to our current elected officials?

The Buddha speaks at one point in the Pali Canon on seeing through sexual desire, and uses a woman "at the height of her beauty, 16 years of age" as an example in a sermon. Should Buddhists then adapt the teaching to current views of sexual maturity, or apply it in its written way and risk criminal charges in some countries?

This is not an argument for a free-for-all do what feels good Dhamma, but a Dhamma that is open to changing the small things in order to accomodate a popualtion that is very different philosphically, socially, and politically from that of ancient India.
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daverupa
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by daverupa » Wed Apr 24, 2013 7:56 pm

If Dhammic exegesis conforms in certain ways to the culture within which it is propagated, I see no reason to judge modern attempts at this as being more or less valid than past attempts in and of themselves, to wit "Thai Buddhism" and so forth.

It seems hypocritical to see "modern Theravada" as liable to criticism if such things as "Burmese..." and "Thai Forest..." are seen as acceptable. There are problems with and within all such groupings, are there not?
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    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Wed Apr 24, 2013 9:42 pm

binocular wrote:
Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:5. A hotch-potch of the teacher's personal opinions, labelled as "Modern" to make it look like he/she is not old-fashioned or narrow-minded and as "Theravāda" to give it an air of authority and orthodoxy.
I don't get this, though. If those teachers are so sure they know better than the Buddha, better than the Pali Canon and the tradition, why don't they just call it after themselves? Why rely on the traditional name for authority and orthodoxy?
I doubt if any "Modern Theravāda" teachers think that they know better than the Buddha, but some may think they know better than those we might call the "Orthodox Theravāda" who have more regard for, say, the Abhidhamma, Commentaries, and works that are clearly much later like the Visuddhimagga.

There are clearly dangers from either extreme — accepting blindly whatever is in Pāli as the original teachings, or picking and choosing which teachings one regards as authentic.

Just try not to cling to views, and enjoy the journey of finding out as much as you can, through both study and practice.
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Kim OHara
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by Kim OHara » Thu Apr 25, 2013 12:16 am

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:
binocular wrote:
Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:5. A hotch-potch of the teacher's personal opinions, labelled as "Modern" to make it look like he/she is not old-fashioned or narrow-minded and as "Theravāda" to give it an air of authority and orthodoxy.
I don't get this, though. If those teachers are so sure they know better than the Buddha, better than the Pali Canon and the tradition, why don't they just call it after themselves? Why rely on the traditional name for authority and orthodoxy?
I doubt if any "Modern Theravāda" teachers think that they know better than the Buddha, but some may think they know better than those we might call the "Orthodox Theravāda" who have more regard for, say, the Abhidhamma, Commentaries, and works that are clearly much later like the Visuddhimagga.

There are clearly dangers from either extreme — accepting blindly whatever is in Pāli as the original teachings, or picking and choosing which teachings one regards as authentic.

Just try not to cling to views, and enjoy the journey of finding out as much as you can, through both study and practice.
:thumbsup:
Indeed.

This thread reminded me of http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=16897 - now locked, but the OP may find posts usefully addressing the topic in the first few pages. :tongue:

:namaste:
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Lazy_eye
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by Lazy_eye » Thu Apr 25, 2013 12:39 am

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote: I doubt if any "Modern Theravāda" teachers think that they know better than the Buddha, but some may think they know better than those we might call the "Orthodox Theravāda" who have more regard for, say, the Abhidhamma, Commentaries, and works that are clearly much later like the Visuddhimagga.

There are clearly dangers from either extreme — accepting blindly whatever is in Pāli as the original teachings, or picking and choosing which teachings one regards as authentic.

Just try not to cling to views, and enjoy the journey of finding out as much as you can, through both study and practice.
Sadhu! :anjali:

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Dan74
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by Dan74 » Thu Apr 25, 2013 12:42 am

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:
Just try not to cling to views, and enjoy the journey of finding out as much as you can, through both study and practice.

:goodpost:
_/|\_

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Paribbajaka
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by Paribbajaka » Thu Apr 25, 2013 2:17 am

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:
There are clearly dangers from either extreme — accepting blindly whatever is in Pāli as the original teachings, or picking and choosing which teachings one regards as authentic.

Just try not to cling to views, and enjoy the journey of finding out as much as you can, through both study and practice.
Are you perhaps suggesting a "middle way" Bhante? :smile:

In all seriousness I think that this is the most sensible view.

I work at a drug rehab, and an issue that often comes up is clients who don't like aspects of the 12 step process and tradition, feeling that they have an idiosyncratic way that would work better for them. I have often explained to them that recovery is less of a poem than a science: there is a method that works, and instead of trying to do it "my way" it's often best to follow what those who came before you did. Newcomers are also often encouraged to "take what you can and leave the rest". Focus on the points you can agree with in any meeting and don't stress what doesn't resonate with you. More often than not, the more someone hangs around, the less there is that they can't "take" so to speak. The aim is not to take the offending parts of the 12 steps away or to hide them, but to allow each person to find their own way to embracing their core.

The Dhamma is a little different, a little older and therefore with more traditions. I think it is important to have a healthy respect for that tradition, but to also recognize the parts that are not as important and can be adapted. The issue becomes figuring out what is what, and this is where well-trained teachers (both monastic and lay) become crucial. We have seen again and again lay teachers with cursory training in the Dhamma passing off their view as THE view. This most certainly is dangerous, and the new agey Buddhism we've discussed is a result. However, the new agey Buddhism can be a crucial door for many, who eventually seek out "heavier" teachings. I know that I myself started with a very secular view of Buddhism, and my quest to find the "real" teachings eventually brought me to Theravada and the Ajahn I study under. If the fluffy teachings were not there as a gateway, I truly don't believe I'd have the practice I have today. So perhaps there is room for both? The main danger is in the fluff being confused with the core, but I feel that most people who practice sincerely will eventually start to find the difference.
May all beings be happy!

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Dan74
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by Dan74 » Thu Apr 25, 2013 2:27 am

There is another side to this perhaps.

If one takes the approach of an active hands-on teacher who helps the students with meditation and general cultivation on a regular basis, how can one really teach what one does not know? And what one does know is going to be limited unless one is an arahat. So there will be some distortions inevitably, but as long as the teacher is grounded in correct practice and the insight is sufficient to guide the students, such teacher can be extremely valuable.
_/|\_

binocular
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Re: Modern Theravada

Post by binocular » Thu Apr 25, 2013 9:03 am

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:Just try not to cling to views, and enjoy the journey of finding out as much as you can, through both study and practice.
Sorry, I'm not much of a party animal. :yingyang:

Sure, I am often heavy and difficult, although not due to clinging to a particular view of or in Buddhism, but more due to a sense of urgency.
It's not always easy to figure out how to balance the sense of urgency with calm.
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

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