"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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mikenz66
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Nov 14, 2009 12:30 am

Hi Poto,
poto wrote: 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.
Yes, sorry if I sounded a little defensive. I just get a little tired of these general discussions that point out this or that fault in this or that country or temple (as in the topic of this thread), and seem to overlook the immensely positive effects of the spread of the Dhamma.

If you don't mind me asking a loaded question, are you talking about places where you have visited and interacted, or are you speaking in general?

My feeling is that the issues are complex and diverse. There is a big difference between how the Sri Lankans here do things, compared to the Thais. I don't really find talking about general theoretical issues particularly useful.
poto wrote: 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.
Yes, we've discussed things like that, but temple politics can be tricky...

And, to switch around a bit, one of the issues that the meditation teachers here are concerned about is getting the Thai people more active in meditation. We (not me personally!) invited a moderately famous Thai Ajahn here for the rains retreat, which really boosted participation by the locals. And he just took a New Zealand lay person back to Thailand with the aim of him ordaining...

Metta
Mike

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

Post by poto » Sat Nov 14, 2009 1:15 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hi Poto,
poto wrote: 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.
Yes, sorry if I sounded a little defensive. I just get a little tired of these general discussions that point out this or that fault in this or that country or temple (as in the topic of this thread), and seem to overlook the immensely positive effects of the spread of the Dhamma.

If you don't mind me asking a loaded question, are you talking about places where you have visited and interacted, or are you speaking in general?
I was speaking both of places I have visited and what I see as the larger general situation.

I do realize there are many good things that happen, and I don't mean to downplay or overlook the good things. I agree that it is immensely positive that the Dhamma is spreading. I just feel that certain aspects could be done better, and that talking about them in the open may lead to some progress and improvements.
mikenz66 wrote: My feeling is that the issues are complex and diverse. There is a big difference between how the Sri Lankans here do things, compared to the Thais. I don't really find talking about general theoretical issues particularly useful.
poto wrote: 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.
Yes, we've discussed things like that, but temple politics can be tricky...

And, to switch around a bit, one of the issues that the meditation teachers here are concerned about is getting the Thai people more active in meditation. We (not me personally!) invited a moderately famous Thai Ajahn here for the rains retreat, which really boosted participation by the locals. And he just took a New Zealand lay person back to Thailand with the aim of him ordaining...

Metta
Mike
Temple politics can indeed be tricky... with that I empathize.

It's great to hear about the ordination though. :twothumbsup:
"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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Dan74
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by Dan74 » Sat Nov 14, 2009 2:04 am

David N. Snyder wrote: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;
Yes, I've seen it too with a Soto teacher. But I think the point is not whether there is more ritual or less ritual, but whether the ritual is useful for practice. And this depends on the understnding of the said ritual and the attitude of the practitioner.

My memory of Ven Dhammika's book was more than the ritual he criticized some entrenched attitudes, like elevating and spoiling monks, laziness and arrogance among the monks, lack of a caring and compassionate attitude, nitpicking and cherry-picking interpretations of the Vinaya, etc.

There has been a thread here on the same topic before but it ended up being more about hats as I recall (maybe someone can find a link). Interesting that it is staying on topic the second time around.

_/|\_
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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by BlackBird » Sat Nov 14, 2009 2:26 am

I don't think bowing, or wearing modest clothing are superfluous at all, they were both around in the Buddha's time and have in my eyes quite important functions. It might be better to turn this around and ask why people think that bowing and wearing modest clothing isn't important? Why it's not worthy of being practised?

With regards to the actual superfluous rites and rituals - That have crept in over the centuries, such as holy water, incense, flowers etc - They provide for those who are simply concerned with faith and making merit - Which is probably a great degree of the Thai population, for example.

Don't underestimate the power of these simple things to bring some happiness to someone's day. When I was staying at Bodhinyanarama, a Thai lady brought her Cambodian neighbour in one day - They brought some food for lunch and came up to the Sala to receive a blessing. The Cambodian lady's story was quite heartbreaking. My friend Stepan told me her husband was a Kiwi who knew Cambodian and had gone over there and brought her back. His previous wife was a Thai lady, who had broken it off with him earlier. This time around the hubby thought he had it sussed, and kept his wife on a very tight leash - He wouldn't let her out of the house, she didn't know how to speak English or anything. Then he got sick, and died. His wife didn't even know where her passport was, nor any of her papers, she didn't know who to turn to after that, not being able to speak English. Luckily her neighbour (a Thai lady) could speak some Cambodian, so she was helping her out.

This lady was obviously in quite a state and situation. With no way of getting help and fear that if she sought help she might be deported.

When the monks chanted the blessing, got her to pour the holy water and administered her the 5 precepts, I could see the tears rolling down her face, she didn't have anything in this strange world, but the joy that those rituals brought her was enough to provide some comfort, that's all she wanted - some comfort, some reassurance.

It made me think that not everyone's ready to strive for Nibbana. But that Buddhism has something to offer everyone. I say if rituals bring people happiness then that's fine, the problem in my eyes is when Buddhism is simply reduced to ritualism, not the acts unto themselves. Let's not chuck the baby out with the bathwater as they say.

metta
Jack
Last edited by BlackBird on Sat Nov 14, 2009 4:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta

Path Press - Ñāṇavīra Thera Dhamma Page - Ajahn Nyanamoli's Dhamma talks

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

Post by BlackBird » Sat Nov 14, 2009 2:33 am

I would also like to make it clear that I mean no disrespect Poto
:anjali: and metta to you

Jack
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta

Path Press - Ñāṇavīra Thera Dhamma Page - Ajahn Nyanamoli's Dhamma talks

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

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Nov 14, 2009 3:33 am

Hi Jack,
BlackBird wrote: Don't underestimate the power of these simple things to bring some happiness to someone's day.
I haven't seen anything quite so dramatic, but I do recall similar emotions in a Thai woman who came to our Wat after several months in NZ with her new husband and no contact with other Thai people.

It would also be foolish to underestimate the development of lay people who choose to practise largely by way of dana (making breakfast or lunch, etc). I look to some of them as better role models than a number of western "meditators" that I know.

Metta
Mike

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

Post by poto » Sat Nov 14, 2009 5:03 am

BlackBird wrote:that's all she wanted - some comfort, some reassurance.
That was a touching story, and thank you for sharing it. Though I couldn't help but to think that it's possible she could have been comforted and reassured without rituals.

I do agree with what Dan74 mentioned above. If rituals benefits a person and their practice then I see no problem.

On the subject of bowing and why I don't think it's very important. Firstly, just because it was around in the time of the Buddha, does not mean it is relevant today in all places and conditions. Mostly I've seen it mentioned before that bowing may help increase humility. While that may be true, I think there are plenty of other ways to gain greater benefit. In Ven. Dhammika's book, he mentions the story of the sick monk.
http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?tit ... g_the_sick" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Volunteering at a hospice may do more to foster humility, metta and compassion than countless bows or prostrations. Sitting on a cushion, and contemplating such things is good, but at what point do you get off your cushion and put your contemplation to use?

As for modest clothing. I work from home and I can't remember the last time I purchased new cloths. Most of the cloths I have are free or were gifts. I do not have any white pants. I do have one white shirt, but it has holes in it and is covered in specks of old paint. Basically, I do not have any desire to go out and buy a 'uniform' just so I can be considered acceptable. If I want to meditate, I meditate. Why should it matter so much what color clothes I have on? Why so much attachment to these rags we wear?
BlackBird wrote:I would also like to make it clear that I mean no disrespect Poto
:anjali: and metta to you

Jack
No worries. I'm just a grizzled old sack of meat. It's very difficult to offend or disrespect me. If anything I should try harder to make it clear that I mean no disrespect, as my speech tends to be bit rough sometimes.
"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 zavk » Sat Nov 14, 2009 6:12 am

poto wrote:
BlackBird wrote:that's all she wanted - some comfort, some reassurance.
That was a touching story, and thank you for sharing it. Though I couldn't help but to think that it's possible she could have been comforted and reassured without rituals.
Perhaps it is as Vardali puts it:
Vardali wrote: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.
Maybe those activities are within the frame of reference that she could relate to. Those activities may seem irrelevant to some of us because they don't fit within our frame of reference. But should we then insist that she sees things according to our frame of reference? Should we then impose our frame of reference on her? What are the ethical implications of doing so?

This, of course, doesn't mean that we cannot interrogate those frames of reference or exchange our understanding about our frames of reference with others. But as we are doing so, we need to keep in mind that frames of reference are not universal--they are dependent on conditions. Our frame of reference make sense to us only because they have been enabled by certain conditions. In the absence of those conditions they may not make much sense. In other words, our frame of reference (assuring as it might be) is really arbitrary, tentative, and dependently originated.

I've made this point in a previous thread:

Frames bring certain things into focus. They allow us to see things in a certain way. That's what frames do--they ENFRAME. This means that something will inevitably be left outside the boundaries of the frame. However, frames are not fixed nor are they unchanging. Even while we engage with what the frame brings into focus, we need to also be mindful of how frames work, lest we get ensnared by them.

I think this video expresses these ideas quite well:

With metta,
zavk

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

Post by poto » Sat Nov 14, 2009 7:33 am

zavk wrote:
poto wrote:
BlackBird wrote:that's all she wanted - some comfort, some reassurance.
That was a touching story, and thank you for sharing it. Though I couldn't help but to think that it's possible she could have been comforted and reassured without rituals.
Perhaps it is as Vardali puts it:
Vardali wrote: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.
Maybe those activities are within the frame of reference that she could relate to. Those activities may seem irrelevant to some of us because they don't fit within our frame of reference. But should we then insist that she sees things according to our frame of reference? Should we then impose our frame of reference on her? What are the ethical implications of doing so?
I did not intend to imply that any frame of reference should be imposed on anybody else. That would be wrong. I was just suggesting that it's possible to see things from a different angle, rather than only through the lens of traditional Asian culture.

I'm not advocating a complete abandonment of rituals and traditions. I would just like to see other, more modern approaches considered and made more widely available here in the West.
"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 mikenz66 » Sat Nov 14, 2009 8:26 am

Hi Poto,
poto wrote: I'm not advocating a complete abandonment of rituals and traditions. I would just like to see other, more modern approaches considered and made more widely available here in the West.
Isn't this up to westerners to support then? From my point of view it's already happening (of course it depends on what you mean by "modern"). There are not only good lay groups, such as IMS and similar, but also good (and western-populated) monastic groups such as the Ajahn Chah affiliated monasteries. These will only grow with increased support from western lay people.

Metta
Mike

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

Post by zavk » Sat Nov 14, 2009 11:14 am

Hi Poto

Let me clarify that I do not think that you are suggesting that modern Buddhists should impose their views on traditional Buddhists. I understand that you are merely hoping to see the Dhamma presented from different angles.

But I agree with Mike that this is already happening. In fact, this has been happening since around the mid-nineteenth century. The encounter between Buddhism and modernity has brought about a rapid reconfiguration of the way the Dhamma is understood--a process greatly facilitated by Western attempts to harmonise the Dhamma with modern modes of understanding.

This process of 'Buddhist modernism' has in turn triggered a reconfiguration of the Dhamma in traditional Buddhist Asian countries. We have seen figures like Anagarika Dharmapala of Ceylon, Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma, and Bhikkhu Buddhadasa of Thailand (just to name a few) repositioning the Dhamma within a modern framework.

These figures from traditional Asian Buddhist countries, along with Western Buddhists scholars like Thomas Rhys-Davids, have been very influential in de-emphasising the religious, ritualistic aspects of (Theravada) Buddhism and reconfiguring it as a pragmatic and rationalist system. Their influence persists today in various lay oriented approaches to the Dhamma. In fact, without their efforts many of us probably wouldn't even have discovered Buddhism and we probably wouldn't even have a forum like DW, discussing the Dhamma in the way we do .

The aim of my previous post was simply to raise some rhetorical questions for further reflection.

Modern Buddhism has allowed us to engage with the Dhamma from 'different angles'. But this is possible only because of various historical, cultural, and social conditions coming together. This modern approach to the Dhamma has proven very effective for many modern folks in non-traditional Buddhist Asian countries. I am immensely grateful for that. I do find this modern approach more relevant to my experience and more 'effective' than certain traditional approaches. Like you, I find some traditional activities irrelevant to my experience. However, I also recognise that this modern approach is (as I've been trying to show) a thoroughly contingent one. It is not inherently more effective but is only so within certain contexts.

As I see it, this means that the modern approach does not--cannot--set the normative standard against which traditional forms of Buddhism are judged. This is something that I try to be mindful of as much as possible. The modern approach like the traditional one is context dependent. I understand that those traditional approaches evolved in response to the needs of different people under different circumstances. In the same manner, the modern approach is evolving in response to the needs of contemporary people under contemporary circumstances.

So as much as I prefer the modern approach, whenever I encounter more traditional expressions of Buddhism I try to use it as an opportunity to reflect on the conditionality of my understanding of the Dhamma. When I encounter aspects of the Dhamma that seem irrelevant to me, I take it as an opportunity to reflect on the boundaries of my Buddhist practice, to understand how it has come to be so, and also to question what I might have taken for granted or left out.

Once again, I have gone on spiel... I apologise. But I agree with what you have said, that we should by no means abandon rituals and tradition. I think they can tell us much about our own modern approach to the Dhamma, about how we ought to or ought not proceed. This is where ethnic Buddhists communities play a vital role in the ever-evolving ecology of the Dhamma. But to learn from these traditional expressions of the Dhamma, I believe we need to also see the conditionality of our own approach.


:anjali:
Last edited by zavk on Sat Nov 14, 2009 1:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
With metta,
zavk

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

Post by tiltbillings » Sat Nov 14, 2009 11:24 am

zavk wrote:
Once again, I have gone on spiel... I apologise.
Absolutely no need to. Thanks for the above; it was well worth reading.
>> 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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Re: "The Broken Buddha" by Ven. S. Dhammika

Post by Paññāsikhara » Sun Nov 15, 2009 1:03 am

:goodpost:

Good post, Zavk.
To me, I see most of the problems are not with a given approach per se, eg. traditional, modern, rational, religious, etc., but with the unexamined assumption that the given approach transcends context, and is universally applicable. Or, in more traditional Buddhist lingo, is paramattha (vs sammutti, not paramattha vs pannatti).
My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: Huifeng's Prajnacara Blog.

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

Post by catmoon » Tue Nov 17, 2009 6:57 am

Reading this thread really makes me wonder what an early Dalai Lama would make of the Western Buddhism of today. Would he find it horrifying? I wonder just how much things have changed.

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

Post by Sanghamitta » Tue Nov 17, 2009 8:29 am

Paññāsikhara wrote::goodpost:

Good post, Zavk.
To me, I see most of the problems are not with a given approach per se, eg. traditional, modern, rational, religious, etc., but with the unexamined assumption that the given approach transcends context, and is universally applicable. Or, in more traditional Buddhist lingo, is paramattha (vs sammutti, not paramattha vs pannatti).

:anjali:
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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