Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

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Ben
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by Ben » Mon Oct 26, 2009 10:31 am

Hi Peter,
PeterB wrote:There is a real movement in terms of therapy towards incorporating elements of Buddhist meditative techniques into the the more existentialist therapies, CBT, Gestalt etc. This I see as positive.
I no longer share your assessment that it is so positive. The reason comes following my wife's recent workshop on MBCT and having read some of 'The Happiness Trap' which is a sterilisation of Buddhist meditation, decontextualised from what I consider essential facets of the path - refuge and sila and repackaged as a proprietary therapy. And I don't think its such a good thing to have a practice decontextualised. It begs the question whether it is possible to generate sati (let alone sammasamadhi) outside of a moral framework. I might be wrong, but i don't think its possible.
How do I talk to someone who has a MBCT-informed view on the nature of 'mindfulness' meditation? Its a work in progress!
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

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

PeterB
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by PeterB » Mon Oct 26, 2009 10:59 am

Perhaps I should have introduced a little more cautious qualification Ben, I see those trends as having a positive aspect to them. As I see it any move away from simply reaching for a precription pad when an overworked medic is presented with a troubled client is a positive move. However I would agree that just to remove techniques from their context will in the end be very limited in effect. If all we do is make people functional in terms of conventional reality, then we will have done them only a limited favour. I suppose I was looking at the issue from a medical perspective. In reality most people will encounter diluted Dhamma in a " workshop" with a bit of Vipassana and a bit of positive thinking thrown in, that is a recipe for utter confusion.


I think as I have said, that the variants of CBM are a good tool in the toolbox of a therapist, but a Buddhist therapist needs to recognise the limits of therapy. Our job is not to deny the existence of dukkha, or the means to the end of its arising, and thats the Eightfold Path in its entirety.

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zavk
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by zavk » Tue Oct 27, 2009 4:30 am

Hi friends

Quite coincidentally I received an email over the weekend about an upcoming mindfulness training program organised by an Australian MBCT organisation.

http://mindfulnesscentre.com/about-us.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

If you have a quick read of the link above, you'd find that the director has trained under some prominent Western insight meditation teachers, including Australian teacher Patrick Kearney, a former monk of the Mahasi tradition who is also a consultant for the organisation and whom some members here hold in high regard.

I don't know about the specifics of MBCT approaches. I do not think that there is anything inherently 'wrong' about such approaches. These approaches can be a means for individuals to engage with 'conventional' reality skillfully. Where it departs from Buddhism, I suppose, is that Buddhism further posits an 'ultimate' reality. However, as I understand it, we are taught that we need to engage with 'conventional' reality skillfully in order to touch 'ultimate' reality. So in this regard, I don't think we can unambiguously dismiss MBCT and other similar approaches as unbeneficial.

But this does not mean that they are beyond critique. Ben makes a good point about the importance of a framework of morality. If such approaches merely appropriate meditation practice for the purpose of strengthening a kind of self-centered individualism, then I think they need to be interrogated on the ethics (or lack thereof) of their actions.
With metta,
zavk

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Ben
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by Ben » Tue Oct 27, 2009 4:57 am

Hi Zavk
zavk wrote:If such approaches merely appropriate meditation practice for the purpose of strengthening a kind of self-centered individualism, then I think they need to be interrogated on the ethics (or lack thereof) of their actions.
Indeed!
The Latin concept of conscientia is the original root from which all later terminologies in English and the Romance languages developed. This in turn is derived from cum ("with", "together") and scire ("to know"). In classical antiquity, as well as in the scholastic philosophy ofthe Christian Middle Ages, conscientia typically referred either to a moral conscience or to knowledge shared by certain groups of people - again, most commonly of moral ideas. Interestingly, being truly conscious was connected to moral insight. (Isn't it beautiful that becoming conscious in the true sense could be related to moral conscience? Philosophers would have a new definition of the entity they call a zombie - an amoral person, ethically fast-asleep but with eyes wide open.)
-- Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel: the science of the mind and the myth of the self
kind regards

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

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

Individual
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by Individual » Tue Oct 27, 2009 6:46 am

alan wrote:Hi friends. I've recently been thinking about how to approach people who espouse Buddhist beliefs from a very self-help, psychological perspective. Many of their ideas sound good to our western ears, yet are not in accordance with the Dhamma. How to relate to them without sounding like a fundamentalist? When is it right speech to point them to the original teachings?
If you feel a necessity to correct them, you are a fundamentalist, aren't you?
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by Individual » Tue Oct 27, 2009 6:52 am

zavk wrote:If such approaches merely appropriate meditation practice for the purpose of strengthening a kind of self-centered individualism, then I think they need to be interrogated on the ethics (or lack thereof) of their actions.
I think it would depend, though, on the nature of such "self-centered individualism".

Some positive examples:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .wlsh.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
[The Blessed One was at Saavatthii]

At this time King Pasenadi of Kosala was on the upper terrace of the palace with Queen Mallikaa. And the king asked her: "Mallikaa, is there anyone dearer to you than yourself?"1

"Your Majesty, there is no one dearer to me than myself. And you, sire, is anyone dearer to you than yourself?"

"Nor is there anyone dearer to me, Mallikaa, than myself."

Then the king went down from the palace and visited the Blessed One [and told him the whole story.] And the Blessed One, understanding, thereupon uttered this verse:

Though in thought we range throughout the world,
We'll nowhere find a thing more dear than self.
So, since others hold the self so dear,
He who loves himself should injure none.
Same idea reiterated:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Don't sacrifice your own welfare
for that of another,
no matter how great.
Realizing your own true welfare,
be intent on just that.
For people who are "self-centered" or "individualists", rather than belittling them for not believing what you might believe, the more pertinent question is: How is what they believe and do not in their best interest, from their point-of-view? If you can't answer that, you are a silly dogmatist.
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra

alan
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by alan » Wed Oct 28, 2009 1:37 am

I'm sorry, but I can't make sense of those 2 posts.
-note the passive tone-

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pink_trike
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by pink_trike » Wed Oct 28, 2009 2:37 am

Ben wrote:
The Latin concept of conscientia is the original root from which all later terminologies in English and the Romance languages developed. This in turn is derived from cum ("with", "together") and scire ("to know"). In classical antiquity, as well as in the scholastic philosophy ofthe Christian Middle Ages, conscientia typically referred either to a moral conscience or to knowledge shared by certain groups of people - again, most commonly of moral ideas. Interestingly, being truly conscious was connected to moral insight. (Isn't it beautiful that becoming conscious in the true sense could be related to moral conscience? Philosophers would have a new definition of the entity they call a zombie - an amoral person, ethically fast-asleep but with eyes wide open.)
-- Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel: the science of the mind and the myth of the self
The bolded part is actually a bit sloppy, imo. I'm aware of no reasons to believe that conscientia was primarily or commonly understood as having to do with morality in classical antiquity. It literally means "knowledge of a thing shared with another". Christianity seems to have appropriated the term and loaded morality on it at a later date, but for most of what is defined as classical antiquity the term would have most commonly been associated with areas of knowledge that have nothing to do with morality, or at best only related tangentially.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.

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Ben
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by Ben » Wed Oct 28, 2009 4:54 am

Thanks Pink but can you back that up with anything?
Thanks

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

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

Individual
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by Individual » Wed Oct 28, 2009 5:09 am

Etymology Dictionary seems to confirm what Ben said:

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=conscience" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
c.1225, from O.Fr. conscience, from L. conscientia "knowledge within oneself, a moral sense," prp. of conscire "be mutually aware," from com- "with" + scire "to know." Probably a loan-translation of Gk. syneidesis. Sometimes nativized in O.E./M.E. as inwit. Rus. also uses a loan-translation, so-vest, "conscience," lit. "with-knowledge."
Conscious is said to be rooted in a different word, though:

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=conscious" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
c.1600, from L. conscius "knowing, aware," from conscire (see conscience); probably a loan-translation of Gk. syneidos. A word adopted from the Latin poets and much mocked at first. Sense of "active and awake" is from 1837.
Seems to be the same word, but with a different variation. Conscientia and Conscius are both from "Conscire".

Although conscientia may have been used in a primarily moral sense, was conscius used in the same manner? Probably not.
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by pink_trike » Wed Oct 28, 2009 5:57 am

Ben wrote:Thanks Pink but can you back that up with anything?
Thanks

Ben
I'd have to do some digging...most of my materials are buried in 30 years worth of book, paper, and this increasingly worthless memory - not easily searched. I'm remembering that period as one notable for scientific advances that peak in the middle of the period - related to advanced mathematics, astronomy, and a great explication of ancient "mythical" knowledge (nearly all of which had to do with the movements of the heavens and the heavenly bodies)...and then the later period known for it's corruption by the rise of Christian mythology with all their extreme piety and obsession with morals.

I seem to remember some professor droning on about how consciousness and conscientia have sanskrit roots related to "skei", which is also the root of "science" with the base meaning of "separate" or "sort". Analysis. A way of seeing/knowing. Con.science. That which is commonly known (sorted) about the totality of the world (science). I'm researching this soon for the project I'm working on...if I run across anything more concise, I'll post it.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.

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zavk
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by zavk » Thu Oct 29, 2009 4:57 am

Individual wrote:
zavk wrote:If such approaches merely appropriate meditation practice for the purpose of strengthening a kind of self-centered individualism, then I think they need to be interrogated on the ethics (or lack thereof) of their actions.
I think it would depend, though, on the nature of such "self-centered individualism".

Some positive examples:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .wlsh.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Oh certainly. If this were the kind of 'self-care' that they are encouraging then it is of course very skillful. By self-centered individualism I was referring to--well, I'm sure you know... that kind of self-centeredness that leads to all kinds of unwholesome attitudes and actions.

----------------------------

Now that I have some time, let me string together a more detailed response to Alan's question:
alan wrote:So my point is...all these people think they are right. How to best talk Dhamma to people who really care, but are coming from a blind spot? (That would be from a new age, self-help perspective).
Ajaan Thanissaro has an excellent article "The roots of Buddhist Romanticism" which I found very helpful. Does anyone else know of similar info? I would love to know. Thankyou
You might find this book interesting, Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion

The book has two aims: Firstly, to challenge constructions of spirituality that promote the subsuming of the ethical and the religious (by 'religious' they are not referring to institutional religiosity but the transformative potential of religious teachings) in terms of an overriding economic agenda. Secondly, to challenge their essentialist accommodationist orientation as these dominant constructions of spirituality often promote accommodation to the social, economic and political mores of the day and provide little in terms of a challenge to the status quo or to a lifestyle of self-interest and ubiquitous consumption.

The authors write:
One response to the emergence of capitalist spirituality might be to argue that this not 'true' or real spirituality. Such a move would imply that there is something easily identifiable as 'spiritual' in the world that would correspond to the real or proper usage of the term. In any case, whose construction of the term are we to take as the normative standard by which all others are to be judged? Rather, we wish to challenge the individualist and corporatist monopoly of the term spirituality and the cultural space that this demarcates at the beginning of the twenty-first century for the promotion of the values of consumerism and corporate capitalism. We do this, not because we wish to appeal to some kind of ancient 'authentic' or 'true' spirituality to which they do not conform (as if that or any definition could encompass the historical phenomena captured by the diverse uses of the term 'spirituality'), but rather to open up a contested space that will allow alternative, more socially engaged, constructions of the term to express themselves.
Browsing through Amazon.com, we can identify examples of capitalist spirituality in such books as: What Would Buddha Do At Work? 101 Answers to Workplace Dilemmas; Building A Business the Buddhist Way; Enlightened Management: Bring Buddhist Principles to Work; Mindfulness and Money: The Buddhist Path of Abundance; The Tao of Negotiation; The Tao of Sales, or The Tao of Trading...

Needless to say, I have not read all of these books. So it is possible that some of them are in fact advocating a more ethical and socially-responsible engagement with money-making enterprises--but IMO, a title like 'Mindfulness and Money: The Buddhist Path of Abundance' sounds quite suspect. In any case, the popularity of these books do lend support to the authors' arguments about the growing corporatist monopoly of spirituality or what they call the 'rebranding of religion'.

Anyway, the book has a chapter on 'Psychology and the Politics of Spirituality' that investigates the consequences of forcing spirituality into the frameworks of modern psychology.It also has a chapter on 'The Privatisation of Asian Wisdom Traditions' that interrogates New Age appropriations of Buddhism, Taoism and yoga. In that chapter, they write:
Buddhism entered the Euro-American cultural landscape as a consequence of European colonial expansion in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As such, its reception in the western world was intimately bound up with 'the desire to gain control in all sense, over the newly acquired domains. From the very beginning, then, the transculturation of 'Buddhism' into a western context became embroiled in already existing tensions within western societies between Enlightenment rationalism and Romanticism, between science and religion and between the established Church and its critics.
In line with their arguments about the impossibility to locate a definitive, 'true' spirituality, the authors here note that Western Buddhism does not have an inherent true 'self', but is rather something that emerges out of the interplay of various sociocultural process--we could say that Western Buddhism is shaped by various aggregates.

Later in the chapter:
Many of the New Age authors who appeal to Asian wisdom traditions are right to challenge traditional 'other-worldly' stereotypes of traditions such as Buddhism and Taoism, as the example of the worldly Buddhist 'saint' Vimalakirti and a detailed analysis of Taoist philosophy and history demonstrate quite well. We are being misled however when they interpret such teachings as implying an accommodation to one's individualistic desires and the world as it is. Buddhist teachings aim at undercutting our individual 'religions of the self' by deconstructing the 'self' that is the object of our devotion. By contrast, the kind of New Age teachings that we commonly find sold to us as 'Asian spirituality' reflects a very western cultural obsession with the individual self and a distinct lack of interest in compassion, the discipling of desire, selfless service to others and questions of social justice.
I think some the above ideas relate to what you asking. The book is an interesting read. It is based on scholarly research but is written for a non-specialist audience. I highly recommend it.

If you wish to explore further Thanissaro's ideas about the influence of Romanticism in Western Buddhism, you might want to check out this recent book, The Making of Buddhist Modernism.

From the publisher website: http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/s ... 0195183276" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
A great deal of Buddhist literature and scholarly writing about Buddhism of the past 150 years reflects, and indeed constructs, a historically unique modern Buddhism, even while purporting to represent ancient tradition, timeless teaching, or the "essentials" of Buddhism. This literature, Asian as well as Western, weaves together the strands of different traditions to create a novel hybrid that brings Buddhism into alignment with many of the ideologies and sensibilities of the post-Enlightenment West.

In this book, David McMahan charts the development of this "Buddhist modernism." McMahan examines and analyzes a wide range of popular and scholarly writings produced by Buddhists around the globe. He focuses on ideological and imaginative encounters between Buddhism and modernity, for example in the realms of science, mythology, literature, art, psychology, and religious pluralism. He shows how certain themes cut across cultural and geographical contexts, and how this form of Buddhism has been created by multiple agents in a variety of times and places. His position is critical but empathetic: while he presents Buddhist modernism as a construction of numerous parties with varying interests, he does not reduce it to a mistake, a misrepresentation, or fabrication. Rather, he presents it as a complex historical process constituted by a variety of responses -- sometimes trivial, often profound -- to some of the most important concerns of the modern era.
McMahan's work again demonstrates that we cannot easily argue that our understanding of Buddhism in contemporary times is the 'true' or most 'accurate' one. Rather, contemporary (Western) Buddhism emerges out of the interplay of various social, cultural, and historical processes--not unlike how we understand the 'self' as shaped by various aggregates.

This means that we cannot easily beat down New Age interpretations of Buddhism by saying that 'We're got the true version, you've got the false one. I'm right, you're wrong.' As Individual suggests, we risk slipping into dogmatism and even fundamentalism if we do so. But this does not mean that we cannot respond to misappropriations of the Dhamma, pointing out flaws where they are to be found. IMO, we do this not merely in terms of 'true/false' but in terms of 'skillful/unskillful' or 'wholesome/unwholesome'.

As the book Selling Spirituality argues, New Age interpretations often ignore the ethical principles underlying religious traditions like Buddhism. So even though we cannot trumpet our interpretation of Buddhism as the definitive one that sets the normative standard against which all other expressions of Buddhism are judged, we can nevertheless evaluate those other representations in terms of their skillfulness/unskillfulness or wholesomeness/unwholesomeness. We can evaluate New Age (or other) representations in terms of whether they follow the guidelines of sila or not, whether they are in accord with the FNT or not, whether they lead to the relinquishment of the Three Poisons of delusion, greed and hatred or not.

However, the question remains: How are we to do this? I do not have an easy answer. As I see it, it is an issue of skillful means. We can only do what we can in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. Sometimes we may be able to have friendly dialogues with others, sometimes we may not. Sometimes it might be productive to speak out, sometimes it might be better to remain silent....

In any case, I think the argument in Selling Spirituality offers a helpful suggestion. As noted above, the aim is to allow for more ethically and socially responsible forms of spirituality to express themselves. Perhaps in some instances (as others in this thread have already suggested), the most skillful thing we can do is simply remain firm in our practice, and allow the Dhamma to express its transformative potential through our actions.
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by alan » Tue Nov 03, 2009 5:17 am

You must have put a lot of thought into that answer. Or at least time. So now I hope you will forgive me when I say I have no idea what you are talking about. Can you summarize it in, say, 10,000 words or less?

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by pink_trike » Tue Nov 03, 2009 5:24 am

alan wrote:You must have put a lot of thought into that answer. Or at least time. So now I hope you will forgive me when I say I have no idea what you are talking about. Can you summarize it in, say, 10,000 words or less?
But it's only 877 words now. :popcorn:
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.

alan
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by alan » Tue Nov 03, 2009 5:30 am

Ok then how about 877 words, give or take a few hundred!

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