"The Broken Buddha" by Ven.Dhammika and other scandals

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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tiltbillings
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by tiltbillings » Fri Nov 13, 2009 3:54 pm

I have seen, in the USA, Tibetan and Zen groups just as culturaly rigid as the Thai group in the photo and I have seen Theravadin groups as relaxed as the Tibetan group photo. What basis do we use for making a generalization?
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

PeterB
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by PeterB » Fri Nov 13, 2009 3:58 pm

In my ( fairly extensive ) experience of both , Tibetan groups tend to be a lot more rigid and conservative than those associated with Thai temples, dont let the jeans and tees fool you.

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by poto » Fri Nov 13, 2009 4:18 pm

tiltbillings wrote:I have seen, in the USA, Tibetan and Zen groups just as culturaly rigid as the Thai group in the photo and I have seen Theravadin groups as relaxed as the Tibetan group photo. What basis do we use for making a generalization?
I didn't mean to present it as universal.

There are other Theravadin groups locally that are much better and more relaxed. Perhaps I should have mentioned that as well. I didn't mean to represent it as only or all Theravadin groups, just as an example of a widespread problem that exists here and that I have encountered personally.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis

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tiltbillings
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by tiltbillings » Fri Nov 13, 2009 4:20 pm

poto wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:I have seen, in the USA, Tibetan and Zen groups just as culturaly rigid as the Thai group in the photo and I have seen Theravadin groups as relaxed as the Tibetan group photo. What basis do we use for making a generalization?
I didn't mean to present it as universal.

There are other Theravadin groups locally that are much better and more relaxed. Perhaps I should have mentioned that as well. I didn't mean to represent it as only or all Theravadin groups, just as an example of a widespread problem that exists here and that I have encountered personally.
Some Theravadin temples are really meant for ethnic groups they serve - a little bit of home in a strange land.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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poto
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by poto » Fri Nov 13, 2009 4:26 pm

PeterB wrote:In my ( fairly extensive ) experience of both , Tibetan groups tend to be a lot more rigid and conservative than those associated with Thai temples, dont let the jeans and tees fool you.
I agree. I was first drawn to Tibetan Buddhism, but have since moved away due to that underlying rigidity. I still have a lot of respect for the Tibetans and their teachings, but it just wasn't right for me.

I will say though, that it's not just that one Thai temple, there's also a local Sri Lankan temple that is pretty much all Sri Lankan with almost no Westerners. This is the problem I'm talking about. Temples that serve one ethnic group and only cater to that culture. I'm not saying that it's impossible to learn Dhamma at the ethnic temples, just that the way it's presented can push people away. It doesn't seem suited to the West and I would hope that one day it will be reformed.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by poto » Fri Nov 13, 2009 4:30 pm

tiltbillings wrote: Some Theravadin temples are really meant for ethnic groups they serve - a little bit of home in a strange land.
Yes, I understand that. However, most of these ethnic temples advertise themselves as "bringing Dhamma to the West", which I think is misleading. To be more accurate I would say they are bringing Dhamma to Asian expatriates in the West. It doesn't do much to spread Buddhism here or help Westerners who are interested in Buddhism.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by tiltbillings » Fri Nov 13, 2009 4:43 pm

poto wrote: It doesn't do much to spread Buddhism here or help Westerners who are interested in Buddhism.
That very well may not be their function; or at least how the monks and temple leaders see it, if their purpose is to serve the local ethnic group. Also, to adapt to a very different culture is not an easy thing without first really understanding the culture. I'd cut the ethnic temples a lot of slack in terms of adapting to and appealing to Westerners, though I have seen some do a really great job. It all depends upon the monks and temple leaders.

Missionary temples are another thing. They would be expected to be accomodation to Western culture, but it would also be a two way street.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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poto
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by poto » Fri Nov 13, 2009 5:44 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
poto wrote: It doesn't do much to spread Buddhism here or help Westerners who are interested in Buddhism.
That very well may not be their function; or at least how they monks and temple leaders see it, if their purpose is to serve the local ethnic group. Also, to adapt to a very different culture is not an easy thing without first really understanding the culture. I'd cut the ethnic temples a lot of slack in terms of adapting to and appealing to Westerners, though I have seen some do a really great job. It all depends upon the monks and temple leaders.

Missionary temples are another thing. They would be expected to be accomodation to Western culture, but it would also be a two way street.
I would hope they would eventually move towards being more like the ones that do a really great job.

I get it that a foreign monk may not understand the culture or language at first, but how many years of living here does it take to learn and adjust? Is it unreasonable to expect that at some point these culturally isolated temples would become more open and inclusive of Western Buddhists?

If they remain unchanging, surely they will die out.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by Vardali » Fri Nov 13, 2009 6:39 pm

I haven't read the book, but I think I will now, after reading this thread.
poto wrote:I've long felt that Buddhism in the West would greatly benefit if it were freed from Asian cultural traditions and customs that are irrelevant to the actual Dhamma.
My sentiments exactly. I vaguely remember a talk by Joseph Goldstein where he characterises the different "Western" types of interests leading to Buddhism, and one of them was the factor of showing off something considered "exotic". For me, this cultural "appendix" is rather an inconvenience because it makes it harder for me to distinguish between the intended teaching and its relative cultural and historical context. A cultural and historical context, that my frame of reference has not been atuned to.

This is why I do appreciate the work of teachers who can actually "translate" the Buddhist teachings and relevant practice into Western thinking and perception, i.e. the frame of reference that I can easily relate to.

Please note that I don't mean to dismiss or discount Asian culture (of any Buddhist country) which I find highly interesting but also rather more different to my personal experience, than, say, an intra-European exposure.


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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by DNS » Fri Nov 13, 2009 6:42 pm

Ven. Dhammika has raised some issues similar to this topic in today's post (Nov. 13, 2009):

http://sdhammika.blogspot.com/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by DNS » Fri Nov 13, 2009 6:51 pm

Not responding to any particular poster/post but some things I have noticed are that some predominantly non-Asian groups sometimes completely adopt an Asian culture in their practice. For example, some Soto / Rinzai Zen centers I have visited in the past where the chanting is done in Japanese, meditators wear robes, etc.

And then there are some predominantly Asian temples where the atmosphere is more "Western" in terms of culture. When looking at the different practices it is probably best to notice the differences based on Sutta interpretation, etc. and for this there is wide variation among all communities. See also what I wrote here recently:

http://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=Western_Buddhism" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by mikenz66 » Fri Nov 13, 2009 7:58 pm

Hi poto,
poto wrote: I will say though, that it's not just that one Thai temple, there's also a local Sri Lankan temple that is pretty much all Sri Lankan with almost no Westerners. This is the problem I'm talking about. Temples that serve one ethnic group and only cater to that culture.
I agree that this is a problem, but why confuse what is basically a language/social problem with ritual? The main reason we don't have more non-Thai people practising at our Wat is that the monks who can teach in English come and go, and the beginners drift off. As others have said, our Wat is there primarily to provide a service to the Thai community. The monks are very happy to teach westerners, and in addition to meditation run Thai classes (useful for people with Thai partners...). They could be better organised for non-Thai, but it's not a matter of deliberate exclusion...

The ritual is pretty minimal, unless you take chanting refugees and precepts as unnecessary ritual. Naturally most people will make an effort to dress slightly tidily.

As for white, I wear white on retreats. You have to wear something, and looser pants are a good idea, so I wouldn't wear jeans on a retreat for that reason. People come and go at our wat all the time, so wearing white is a signal that you're mediating and are not interested in chatting at that point.

[If I go on an "insight" retreat I substitute grey track pants for white, in order to "fit in"...]

Metta
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by Perry » Fri Nov 13, 2009 10:14 pm

I am a newbie on the subject compared to the majority (if not all) of you, but I would look to add that my local temple does double as a sort-of community centre for Sri Lankans in Letchworth Garden City and surrounding areas.

Even so, I was made most welcome as a Westerner and Bhante Samitha has been incredibly accommodating and understanding of my relative recentness in Buddhism.

Anyway, thanks for the reply, I've been a bit busy the past few days so haven't gone beyond the introduction but will definitely continue reading.

Thanks everyone.

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by mikenz66 » Fri Nov 13, 2009 10:33 pm

Thanks Perry,

That's my experience with my local Thai and Sri Lankan temples. They obviously cater to their community, but are very welcoming to anyone.

Perhaps when the level of support from the "non-ethnics" approaches that from the "ethnic community" they will become more "westernised". At present I "get" much more than I "give", I think.

It's a tricky problem. The Western Ajahn Chah monestaries are, to a large extent, possible because they automatically draw in "ethnic" support from Thai and Sri Lankan communities. When we have Ajahn Tiradhammo here for a retreat the Thai restaurants are falling over each other to provide lunch boxes for the participants so they have a chance to give Dana to a distinguished Ajahn...

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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by poto » Sat Nov 14, 2009 12:09 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hi poto,
poto wrote: I will say though, that it's not just that one Thai temple, there's also a local Sri Lankan temple that is pretty much all Sri Lankan with almost no Westerners. This is the problem I'm talking about. Temples that serve one ethnic group and only cater to that culture.
I agree that this is a problem, but why confuse what is basically a language/social problem with ritual? The main reason we don't have more non-Thai people practising at our Wat is that the monks who can teach in English come and go, and the beginners drift off. As others have said, our Wat is there primarily to provide a service to the Thai community. The monks are very happy to teach westerners, and in addition to meditation run Thai classes (useful for people with Thai partners...). They could be better organised for non-Thai, but it's not a matter of deliberate exclusion...

The ritual is pretty minimal, unless you take chanting refugees and precepts as unnecessary ritual. Naturally most people will make an effort to dress slightly tidily.

As for white, I wear white on retreats. You have to wear something, and looser pants are a good idea, so I wouldn't wear jeans on a retreat for that reason. People come and go at our wat all the time, so wearing white is a signal that you're mediating and are not interested in chatting at that point.

[If I go on an "insight" retreat I substitute grey track pants for white, in order to "fit in"...]

Metta
Mike
I'm glad that you've had such positive experiences. :)

I don't think that language issues are the only problem. I apologize, I'm not always the best at wording my comments. In the text you quoted I probably should have said, "This is one of the main problems I'm talking about." Also, I will agree that Thai Buddhism is generally not nearly as ritualized as say Tibetan Buddhism, but there are still issues. Some of my comments were speaking about faults with the whole of Buddhism here in the West, not only Theravada, sorry if I caused some confusion.

You mention in your Wat that English speaking monks come and go, and the beginners drop off. Has any thought ever been given to allowing or encouraging lay teachers? In my experience the ethnic temples don't seem to be too open to lay teachers. Yet, some of the lay groups that are peer led seem to be thriving.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis

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