Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Ben
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by Ben » Tue Nov 03, 2009 5:39 am

As always, a great post, Zavk.
Selling spirituality looks like it'll go on the short list for my reading list.

The comment you quoted regarding the appropriation of Buddhism by the west (as the result of colonialisation), reminds me of a reported conversation a dhamma friend had about 20 years ago with a first-gen vietnamese or cambodian australian (Buddhist) who scornfully said to my dhamma-friend that the people in the west had no hope of understanding Buddhism. So it makes me wonder how much of Buddhism we have recrafted in our own image?
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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alan
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by alan » Tue Nov 03, 2009 5:51 am

How much of Buddhism have we "recrafted" in our own image?
Isn't that essential to my question?

alan
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by alan » Tue Nov 03, 2009 6:12 am

"Appropriation".
"As a result of colonization".
No, I don't think you really believe that!

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Ben
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by Ben » Tue Nov 03, 2009 6:33 am

What I believe, alan, is irrelevent.
“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..

alan
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by alan » Tue Nov 03, 2009 7:35 am

Why, Friend?

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by Individual » Tue Nov 03, 2009 9:27 am

Zavk's long post about is sensible and insightful.
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra

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A Medic
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by A Medic » Tue Nov 03, 2009 6:00 pm

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?

Maybe just suggest a good book to them, and leave it at that.

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zavk
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by zavk » Tue Nov 03, 2009 10:27 pm

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?
A lot of what I have written derives from writings that I have already done. So I usually just reproduce them in different ways when the opportunity arises. It is like I have bucket of Lego pieces and I just go nuts when given the chance to do something with them... :smile:

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

But yes to summarize it:
  • - If you wish to explore criticisms about New Age spirituality, the book Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion might interest you. The book presents a good overview of the historical, social, and cultural processes that have shaped New Age spirituality. It also discusses the ethical and political implications of New Age spirituality (which seems to me is what you are trying to critique about New Age).
  • - Contemporary Buddhism is also situated within the same conditions that have shaped New Age spirituality. So if you wish to explore further the relationship between contemporary Buddhism and New Age, you might want to also check out The Making of Buddhist Modernism.

alan wrote:How much of Buddhism have we "recrafted" in our own image?
Isn't that essential to my question?
  • - It is quite difficult to give a succinct answer to this question, but I believe The Making of Buddhist Modernism answers most of your query. It is also elaborates in greater detail the ideas in Thanissaro's article which you have read (in fact, the book discusses the article in one chapter).


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

I wrote an overview of the arguments in the two books to give you (and other readers) an idea of how they are like. Perhaps you wouldn't find the books engaging if you found the ideas above hard to follow. But then again, you did enjoy Thanissaro's article which does make some elaborate arguments, as he is wont to do. So maybe you might find these two books engaging after all.


The summary bit above is only 180 words. Succinct enough? :smile: :reading:
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by alan » Wed Nov 04, 2009 5:10 am

Succinct and right to the point. Excellent. I'll put that book on the top of my reading list.
Thanks.

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by zavk » Wed Nov 04, 2009 5:32 am

Hi Alan

I am, in fact, reading the book now--you are referring to The Making of Buddhist Modernism right? I'm really, really enjoying it. It is based on scholarly research but the writing is clear and non-jargonistic. The book really opens up ways of thinking about such recurring questions as: 'Did Buddhism really predate modern science? Do we really have access to a 'pristine' Buddhism?'

You could sample the Introduction chapter on Google Books before deciding to buy it or not: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=XU6 ... q=&f=false" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

There is a review of the book in the Journal of Global Buddhism: http://www.globalbuddhism.org/10/schedneck09.pdf" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Anyway, I prefer to get my books from http://www.bookdepository.co.uk" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; these days. It has free worldwide delivery. Books usually cost a few dollars more than Amazon but shipping is free and pretty quick too.
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by christopher::: » Wed Nov 04, 2009 9:57 am

zavk wrote:
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.
Great post, zavk, and i especially agree with your closing comments.

:anjali:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009

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James N. Dawson
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by James N. Dawson » Wed Nov 25, 2009 1:28 am

Alan,

At one time I think I felt like you about this. I felt a need to challenge those with a New Age approach to Buddhism. But as time went on, I realized that trying to do so only brought conflict and ill feeling. I also realized how much further I had to walk on the path, how enormous was my own task in learning, understanding and following the Dhamma, and purifying my own mind. The New Agers, I suppose, are doing their best, even though you and I might see their understanding as less than Dhamma.

Rather than struggle with the New Agers, you just have to find people who understand and support you on the path you believe is true. Until then, you may just have to walk alone, and be an island unto yourself.

Not to imply it was just a bunch of nonsense, but I didn't understand zvak's long post very well either. Maybe a little. But as I said in my intro, I'm slow.

James

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by Cittasanto » Wed Nov 25, 2009 9:03 am

AN 8.53 Gotami Sutta: To Gotami wrote:I have heard that at one time the Blessed One was staying at Vesali, in the Peaked Roof Hall in the Great Forest.

Then Mahapajapati Gotami went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, stood to one side. As she was standing there she said to him: "It would be good, lord, if the Blessed One would teach me the Dhamma in brief such that, having heard the Dhamma from the Blessed One, I might dwell alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, & resolute."

"Gotami, the qualities of which you may know, 'These qualities lead to passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulating, not to shedding; to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to aroused persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome': You may categorically hold, 'This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher's instruction.'

"As for the qualities of which you may know, 'These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome': You may categorically hold, 'This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher's instruction.'"

That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, Mahapajapati Gotami delighted at his words.
Blog, Suttas, Aj Chah, Facebook.

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.
John Stuart Mill

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Post by Cittasanto » Wed Nov 25, 2009 12:26 pm

alan wrote:It is being taught as a psychology, as a way to relax, as away to communicate with your peers. All good things, in there own right. But is this Dhamma?
these things in and off themselves are not Dhamma, even if they contain aspects of Dhamma that doesn't mean they are Dhamma.

Psychology and more genrally science can be a useful tool to use in understanding Dhamma, as can the cultural belief we are raised in, but the Dhamma is the Dhamma at the end of the day.

I think each of us do have our own path to lead, not everyone is suited to be a monastc and all that entails, not all of us are suited to practice as a lay person, or novice, and others are suited to these.

But saying the dhamma has to conform to X, or every 'religion' (including new age and other systems) is the same is also not true, the Dhamma is the Dhamma i.e. Buddhadhamma not the Dharmic faiths, and this has a very simple system as in my quote above, or the vinaya specific equivelent, but even thing which appear to conform with this may not be Dhamma, as an example, hindsight is a wonderful thing and is part of the buddhas advice in practice (advice to Rahula) but so is appropriate attention, so if someone says live in the now, don't go over the past or plan for the future, or in another way, we can't change the past and we can't control the future so don't bother with it or any similare approach is that really Dhamma? in simple terms th system is simple the workable application can be complex!

with new approaches such as Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) or other similar psychotherapy or pschology we need to ask ourselves if any aspects are Dhamma, and what use can these approces have when applying them, or even if they can be useful in explaining a practice, are there downsides to using them? people don't want to be counselled without being asked, or psycho-anlysed or any other assesment method so is the practice of this ever inapropriate (such as on a forum like this one)? or can aspects of that practice be utilised to some degree all the time which enables "us" (meaning anyone) to have a more productive experiance? or useful tool to use?
Blog, Suttas, Aj Chah, Facebook.

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.
John Stuart Mill

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