Western cultural adaptations

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Ben
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Post by Ben » Tue Mar 11, 2014 10:14 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:
Ben wrote:David, an interesting subject and one that I have been delving into deeply, of late.
Like Kare, I would not have used the term 'baggage'. Here is so,etching that might pique some interest:
I agree with you and Kare. It should have been 'adaptations' not baggage. I was borrowing the 'baggage' term from the other thread. :mrgreen:

Good posts from you, Kare, and the rest. Lots of things to consider.
No problem, David.
I highly recommend the book that I quoted from in my above quote for those who might be interested in the evolution of Buddhism after it's contact with the west.
Also excellent is "The birth of Insight" by Eric Braun.
With metta,
Ben
“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

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culaavuso
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Post by culaavuso » Tue Mar 11, 2014 10:34 pm

Aloka wrote:
culaavuso wrote: It's noteworthy that aversion to rites, rituals, and ceremonies is also indicative of attachment. Much in life is arbitrary and it's easy to fall for the illusion that replacing something unfamiliar and arbitrary with something familiar and arbitrary is somehow less arbitrary.

It's also worth considering that following various rites, rituals, and ceremonies are external means for developing clear awareness, mindfulness, and concentration. It can be helpful to start with external practices to develop these skills before moving to more subtle forms of practice.
The various Buddhist traditions/schools can have quite different kinds of rites, rituals and ceremonies. Are you saying from your own experience that following any of these can develop clear awareness, mindfulness and concentration?
Following along with any detailed set of bodily, verbal, and/or mental fabrications can develop clear awareness, mindfulness, and concentration. Similarly the development of at least mindfulness is involved with even non-detailed acts that are done at regular intervals. Simply remembering to perform the action at the appropriate time can develop mental faculties in that case. These two cases seem to include a significant portion of rites, rituals, and ceremonies.
Aloka wrote: Deciding that elaborate rituals and ceremonies aren't beneficial for ones development,doesn't necessarily mean that there is aversion to them, it can just mean setting them aside.
I agree. They may be set aside for a number of reasons. There's nothing inherently wrong with picking them up and there's nothing inherently wrong with setting them aside. It's just worth considering in the context of evaluating the drawbacks of clinging to rites, rituals, and ceremonies that replacing clinging with aversion also has drawbacks.

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Anagarika
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Post by Anagarika » Tue Mar 11, 2014 10:59 pm

Kare wrote: When Buddhism spread to cultures outside India, lots of adaptions were made to Chinese culture, to Japanese culture etc. Was that wrong? I do not think so. People needed the Dhamma to be of help in their own lives, in China or Tibet or wherever, so it was very sensible of them to make adaptions instead trying to trying to imitate the Indian way of life. This created many forms of "cultural baggage", or sensible adaptions of the Dhamma, as I would rather call it. Admittedly some of the adaptions may have been less wise, but the principle holds. Adaptions to new cultures made the Dhamma into a relevant and living force in the lives of people who were not born and bred in the Indian culture. The result is that every living tradition of Buddhism today consists of a core Dhamma with cultural adaptions added.
This is an interesting thread, and I enjoyed Kare's posting, and agree with its core points. I offer the idea that these locale adaptions can be the first steps of a very slippery slope toward the dilution and extinguishing of the Dhamma. I have this sense that the Canon Dhamma is a fairly pure medicine, and that as this medicine traveled through Japan and into the west, it became adapted, diluted, embellished, and reformulated to the point that the medicine was no longer the same product; it was an entirely different prescription altogether. Ven. Thanissaro, I recall, has analogized these adaptions to a game of "telephone," where the message becomes garbled to the point of nonrecognition as it passes from speaker to speaker to speaker. I believe that this reformulation and corruption did occur with the Dhamma, and that what many people in Japan, and the west, for example, as 'Buddhism' is really some hybrid form of practice that may, or may not, lead to the release that the Buddha intended for his disciples.

At the risk of being seen as an orthodox jerk, I feel that there needs to be a real effort to communicate this Dhamma prescription in its purest form possible. If the Dhamma is being "telephoned," I feel we need to call it out as such. I was watching an Ajahn Brahm video the other day, and he discussed a Zen parable, and then went on to say that in "real Buddhism, we understand that..." Talk about a fastball across the plate. Perhaps as the Dhamma really takes a foothold in the west, the time has come to no longer sit quietly as the Dhamma gets twisted to the point of nonrecognition. While many people have benefitted, and still benefit, from zazen for example, maybe the time has come to suggest that some attention be paid to the path that the Buddha taught, and suggest that some adaptions have taken us off the path in the west, and that the roadmap for the journey is as easy to find as in the Sutta Pitaka.

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daverupa
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Post by daverupa » Tue Mar 11, 2014 11:08 pm

BuddhaSoup wrote:... Canon Dhamma ... I feel that there needs to be a real effort to communicate this Dhamma prescription in its purest form possible.
The Canon in toto is already a 'game of telephone' spanning about five hundred years or more; even slimming this down to the Nikayas leaves a century and a half. And, in this respect, the oral tradition is not well-characterized as a game of telephone. The Nikayas are the first step of cultural adaptation, frozen-ish ca. the Second Council.

And you know, we can see the Abhidhamma as the second step of cultural adaptation taken with the Nikayas; our own is some Nth iteration of cultural adaptation of that very core material.

I feel as though we have better access to and understanding of this material now than many earlier iterations, in fact...
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "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.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

culaavuso
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Post by culaavuso » Tue Mar 11, 2014 11:23 pm

daverupa wrote: The Canon in toto is already a 'game of telephone' spanning about five hundred years or more; even slimming this down to the Nikayas leaves a century and a half. And, in this respect, the oral tradition is not well-characterized as a game of telephone. The Nikayas are the first step of cultural adaptation, frozen-ish ca. the Second Council.
This is useful to consider in the light of the canonical story of the First Council, long before the first texts were put in writing, wherein there was already a degree of confusion regarding what was the core and what was cultural accretion.
Mahīśāsaka Vinaya wrote: Kassapa again interrogated Ānanda: ‘If we agree that the sekhiyas are lesser and minor training
precepts, some bhikkhus will say that up to the four pāṭidesanīyas are also lesser and minor training
precepts. If we agree that the pāṭidesanīyas are lesser and minor training precepts, some bhikkhus will say
that up to the pācittiyas are also lesser and minor training precepts. If we agree that the pācittiyas are lesser
and minor training precepts, some bhikkhus will say that up to the nissaggiya pācittiyas are also lesser and
minor training precepts. Now we have these four kinds of opinions, how can we gain certainty?’
Kassapa then said: ‘If we don’t know what the characteristics of the lesser and minor rules are and
mistakenly rescind them, members of other sects will say: ‘The Dhamma of the ascetics, sons of the
Śakyan, is like smoke. While their Teacher was alive they practiced what was laid down, but straight after
the Parinibbana they were not willing to train.’
Kassapa then said in the midst of the Sangha: ‘We have now already gathered the Dhamma. What
Buddha has not established should not be mistakenly established; what is already established should not
be deviated from. As the Buddha instructed we should sincerely train.’
Last edited by culaavuso on Tue Mar 11, 2014 11:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Goofaholix
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Post by Goofaholix » Tue Mar 11, 2014 11:24 pm

I can't make much sense of the OP. The word "baggage" implies carrying something unecessary, whereas several of the examples in the OP are about getting rid of baggage or simplifying it. Also I'm not sure any of them could be considered "cultural".

Here's my thoughts on western cultural baggage;

1. The tendency to view Buddhadhamma as a system of belief, like western religion, rather than a system of practice as in eastern religion. This is why westerners can get uptight about dogma whereas asians tend to be pretty relaxed about it.

2. The tendency to want to understand Buddhadhamma intellectually (and connect and contrast with other systems) before embarking on practice rather than proceeding intuitively and letting understanding ufold. This is as per like the western education system, while in asia rote learning is much more common, in contrast with both I think in Buddhadhamma learning should be an ongoing and inuitive process.

3. The tendency to see practice as a psychotherapy, so it can often become all about me and my personal story and getting tied up in knots about that rather than about patiently observing impersonal phenomena and letting go of it all.

Oh, and there are some things that are more common in western Buddhists than they are in western society as a whole, I don't think these are "cultural baggage" but has more to do with the type of people attracted to Buddhism in the west.

1.People who are new age, or "spiritual", first, and Buddhist second.

2. People who have green or left wing political ideals first, and are Buddhist second.

3. People who are vegitarian first and Buddhist second.
Last edited by Goofaholix on Tue Mar 11, 2014 11:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Anagarika
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Post by Anagarika » Tue Mar 11, 2014 11:25 pm

daverupa wrote:
BuddhaSoup wrote:... Canon Dhamma ... I feel that there needs to be a real effort to communicate this Dhamma prescription in its purest form possible.
The Canon in toto is already a 'game of telephone' spanning about five hundred years or more; even slimming this down to the Nikayas leaves a century and a half. And, in this respect, the oral tradition is not well-characterized as a game of telephone. The Nikayas are the first step of cultural adaptation, frozen-ish ca. the Second Council.

And you know, we can see the Abhidhamma as the second step of cultural adaptation taken with the Nikayas; our own is some Nth iteration of cultural adaptation of that very core material.

I feel as though we have better access to and understanding of this material now than many earlier iterations, in fact...
Dave, good points made, but there does seem to be a consensus that the Pali Canon is a fairly decent aggregation of the Buddha's teachings. I do place trust in the idea that this Canon is, rather than early links in a chain of 'telephone', an reasonably accurate rendition of the core BuddhaDhamma. I have no reason to question, for example, Ven. Thanissaro's faith in the general accuracy of the Canon as Dhamma, and suggest that he does not see the Canon as the first links in the 'telephone' chain. In any case, my thought is that whether we see the Canon as being pristine, or not, we take the Canon as a starting point, and in my view, we find in the west that Buddhism has, in many cases, veered well off course.

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daverupa
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Post by daverupa » Tue Mar 11, 2014 11:42 pm

BuddhaSoup wrote:there does seem to be a consensus that the Pali Canon is a fairly decent aggregation of the Buddha's teachings.
The Theravada Canon is one among many; a series of historical accidents brings it to us in its current form. Agreement across the Nikaya/Agama boundary is encouraging, and similarity in the early scholastic Abhidhammas is very encouraging news since they generally agreed on what to cite, but this means that for all intents and purposes the Second Council is a terminal point for what can be considered possible Buddhavacana by modern historical standards.

Within this body of material, there are certain additions and editorial efforts which have massaged the recited material into the Nikayic format; this process was still somewhat ongoing, accounting for some of the differences between Nikaya/Agama arrangements, etc.

So, approaching all this in terms of School or Canon or Textual Strata is going to be strongly descriptive in terms of which culturally adaptive matrix we're each using to approach the Dhamma, I suppose.

:group:
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "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.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Anagarika
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Post by Anagarika » Tue Mar 11, 2014 11:47 pm

daverupa wrote:
BuddhaSoup wrote:there does seem to be a consensus that the Pali Canon is a fairly decent aggregation of the Buddha's teachings.
The Theravada Canon is one among many; a series of historical accidents brings it to us in its current form. Agreement across the Nikaya/Agama boundary is encouraging, and similarity in the early scholastic Abhidhammas is very encouraging news since they generally agreed on what to cite, but this means that for all intents and purposes the Second Council is a terminal point for what can be considered possible Buddhavacana by modern historical standards.

Within this body of material, there are certain additions and editorial efforts which have massaged the recited material into the Nikayic format; this process was still somewhat ongoing, accounting for some of the differences between Nikaya/Agama arrangements, etc.

So, approaching all this in terms of School or Canon or Textual Strata is going to be strongly descriptive in terms of which culturally adaptive matrix we're each using to approach the Dhamma, I suppose.

:group:
Dave, I'm kind of tossing Abhidhamma to the curb, and focusing, as you pointed out, to the alignment of the Nikayas and the Agamas and strongly suggestive of a core cohesive Dhamma text. Yes, there is even a cultural adaptation with respect to Abhidhamma as part of the Canon, and I suppose my bias is with focusing on the Suttas and the Vinaya as the benchmark Dhamma.

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Kare
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Post by Kare » Wed Mar 12, 2014 12:18 am

daverupa wrote:
The Theravada Canon is one among many; a series of historical accidents brings it to us in its current form. Agreement across the Nikaya/Agama boundary is encouraging, and similarity in the early scholastic Abhidhammas is very encouraging news since they generally agreed on what to cite, but this means that for all intents and purposes the Second Council is a terminal point for what can be considered possible Buddhavacana by modern historical standards.

Within this body of material, there are certain additions and editorial efforts which have massaged the recited material into the Nikayic format; this process was still somewhat ongoing, accounting for some of the differences between Nikaya/Agama arrangements, etc.
Yes, finding the core Dhamma is no simple task, since there can be seen layers even in the canonical texts. They seem to be the results of a process, and at the same time they form a horizon that we struggle to see past. Efforts have been made trying to sort earlier and later in the canon(s). But it all seems to come down to what criteria you choose for sorting - linguistic or others.

Still, there is a lot of agreement between the Nikayas and Agamas, as you say. There is even some agreement across the Mahayana border. One list of dhamma factors that seem to be common to all the early schools (according to Warder), is the list of 37 bodhipakkhiyadhammas, which can be found in for instance MN 77. Perhaps we won't go far wrong if we take that one as our point of departure.

The 37 bodhipakkhiyadhammas may be situated at a place very close to the start of the 'telephone line'. I liked that telephone simile. If I may play a little more with that simile, we need to cut down on superfluous relay stations that complicate or even garble the message, and establish a line as direct as possible back to the starting point. But we still have to acknowledge that we are part of that line, since we are at the receiving end of it. And we should not just sit there passively, but take an active part in the conversation and have a dialogue with the text, as the philosopher Gadamer recommends. Only then can the text take an active part in our lives. And the telephone company has fairly reasonable fees for using this line. All they demand, is that we practice diligently ... :)
Mettāya,
Kåre

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Ben
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Post by Ben » Wed Mar 12, 2014 12:22 am

Kare wrote: All they demand, is that we practice diligently ... :)
Yes, but practice what?
“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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binocular
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Post by binocular » Wed Mar 12, 2014 8:10 am

David N. Snyder wrote:Additional ones?
Equating political correctness (esp. American style political correctness) with Right View and Right Speech.

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gavesako
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Post by gavesako » Wed Mar 12, 2014 8:27 am

A nice paragraph by Ven. Cintita:
A Western American Wanders into a Chinese Temple

How did it happen that Western Buddhists so quickly gained a monopoly on real Buddhism? We in the
West certainly don't seem to have gained much of a handle on Christianity over many centuries, and the
average citizen of my country is pretty clueless about science, history, and almost everything else
outside of popular entertainment. Yet we meditate and study Buddhist philosophy, while people in
Asian temples burn money and appease spirits through elaborate rituals. How were we the ones to
arrive at this precise understanding of something as sophisticated and refined as Buddhist thought and
practice?
A culturally European American walked into a culturally Asian Chinese temple. He had been reading
books on Buddhism, primarily by Asian adepts, had been favorably impressed and wished to develop
his personal experience in the matter. After entering, he was taken aback by the peculiarity and
anomaly in the practices and beliefs of the laity he encountered, by the formal style and insistence on
liturgy, by the presence of unfamiliar dramatic figures in temple statuary, by unfamiliar rites at temple
altars, by chanting the name of some guy he had never heard of and by hocus pocus all around. The
devout temple laity witnessed yet another dismayed European American run out the door and into the
street yelling something about an “egregious corruption of the Dharma.” What gives?
It is not much different when a culturally Chinese walks into a culturally European Buddhist center and
immediately encounters a laity intent on discovering their true selves, casual and disrespectful of
demeanor, sitting in a circle expressing themselves openly and freely, with no visible clergy or leader
present, before what seems to be an altar but on which a rock stands where the Buddha should be. He
sees that the devotees are engaged in some kind of modern dance practice involving an exchange of
papier-mâché masks constructed the previous week in which everyone is instructed to wear and the act
“spontaneously.” These casual free spirits are about to witness yet another polite Asian American
excuse himself respectfully and depart never to be seen again. What gives?

http://bhikkhucintita.files.wordpress.c ... sity2.pdf‎
:shock:
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

Access to Insight - Theravada texts
Ancient Buddhist Texts - Translations and history of Pali texts
Dhammatalks.org - Sutta translations

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binocular
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Post by binocular » Wed Mar 12, 2014 9:53 am

David N. Snyder wrote:Good posts from you, Kare, and the rest. Lots of things to consider.
And the results of this consideration are ...?

- - -
Kare wrote:The Buddha taught the Dhamma in order to help people. So how can the teachings be of help for you and for me?
Maybe that's not the right question. It seems like a characteristically Western question.

But it is no simple task. It may be difficult to decide if a certain point of practice or doctrine belongs to the core Dhamma or if it is the result of some Asian adaption. Therefore it is good to discuss what is the core, what is Asian adaptions, and what kind of adaptions we should make. Some of the adaptions we already have done may be good, others less so. But the principle stands. Western people have exactly the same right to adapt the Dhamma to their own lives as people in Asian cultures have been doing for thousand(s) of years. We need to study the Dhamma carefully to try to find the real core. And we should learn from the different adaptions made in the living traditions. Then we may be able to see how the core Dhamma can be fit into our own culture so that it becomes a living and transforming force in our lives. We can, and should, discuss and criticize this or that specific adaption. But this criticism should not turn into a criticism of the idea of process itself of making adaptions. "Pure and unadapted Buddhism" is a fiction that belongs in a museum.
The question is whether an adaptation can still deliver the originally promised result, namely, the complete cessation of suffering.

An adaptation certainly can help people in ways they wish to be helped, in ways they think they should be helped. But whether such help then results in the complete cessation of suffering is another matter.

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Kare
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Post by Kare » Wed Mar 12, 2014 10:39 am

Ben wrote:
Kare wrote: All they demand, is that we practice diligently ... :)
Yes, but practice what?
Good question. One suggestion: If we take the 37 bodhipakkhiyadhammas as our point of departure, it would make sense to base our practice on one of these 37 points. Satipatthana, the eightfold path, etc. ... I suppose we should be able to find something to practice.
Mettāya,
Kåre

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