One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
Sanghamitta
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by Sanghamitta » Tue Jan 12, 2010 11:05 am

Christopher::: If you wish to see the concept of Bodhicitta as a natural development arising from the Buddhas teaching then that is of course your view and you are entitled to it. I see no reason to believe that such a concept was ever part of the Buddhas teachings as found in the Pitakas. If I did I would presumably be a Mahayana practitioner. I think that this discussion is shortly going to run the risk of becoming circular, so I will leave it at this point.
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by christopher::: » Tue Jan 12, 2010 11:36 am

Sanghamitta wrote:Christopher::: If you wish to see the concept of Bodhicitta as a natural development arising from the Buddhas teaching then that is of course your view and you are entitled to it.
It seems possible, was my point. I really don't know, just find this to be a reasonable perspective. Doesn't mean it's true...
I see no reason to believe that such a concept was ever part of the Buddhas teachings as found in the Pitakas. If I did I would presumably be a Mahayana practitioner.


I didn't mean to make it sound like that, just that i thought the roots (primary ingredients of cultivation) could be found there. As a Theravadin Buddhist you may disagree, but even if someone did agree (that the concept of bodhichitta is rooted in the Buddha's original teachings) that wouldn't make that person a Mahayana practitioner, would it?

A Jewish person might acknowledge that Christian and Muslim beliefs are rooted in Jewish teachings, but that doesn't automatically make them a Christian or Muslim, does it?

Take care, Sanghamitta.

: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

meindzai
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by meindzai » Tue Jan 12, 2010 4:29 pm

The Theravada ideal is the Arahant. The Mahayana ideal is the Bodisattva - someone on their way to Buddahhood. Without this distinction a lot of confusion will arise. (Ignoring the rare Theravada Bodhisattas for the moment)

My understanding of Mahayana is that one is developing certain qualities (like compassion) and paramis and storing up oodles and oodles of merit through countless lifetimes without entering upon any of the four stages of awakening. If one has entered stream entry one essentially gets flung off the Bodhisattva path and on their way to Arahantship - at which point they cannot become a Buddha.

As Theravadan's we "believe" that that Buddha did not teach the path to becoming a Buddha, but the path to Arahantship. But to me that doesn't exclude the idea of Bodhisattvahood as a viable path. The Buddha's goal was to get people to awaken as quickly as possible, but he also understood tha after a certain point in time the teachings would disappear and another Buddha would appear in the world to propagage the Dhamma again. Mahayanists are essentially saying they are up for that task, so rather than work on eliminating defilements and so forth leading to stream entry, they are storing up merit and developing paramis. There might be some technical issues with this from a Theravada POV which would make a discussion in itself.

If you put yourself in the time and place of the Buddha, say as one of the characters we run across in the canon, it doesn't seem to me that the idea of Bodhicitta would be present - since one is already in the presence of a Buddha. So I can't any way for that teaching to be in the early canon. To me it makes sense that it would have developed later, after the Buddha's death, ("oh s***! We're outta Buddhas! Gotta make more!")

-M

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by Sanghamitta » Tue Jan 12, 2010 5:22 pm

So, basically Meindzai, your view is that only the Mahayana can produce a Sammasambuddha ?
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by meindzai » Tue Jan 12, 2010 7:34 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:So, basically Meindzai, your view is that only the Mahayana can produce a Sammasambuddha ?
No, I don't believe that. Mahayanists might? What I think though is that if one aspires to Buddhahood, rather than arahantship, then you're not going to find a lot of information in the Pali canon about how to do so.

I mentioned that there are Theravadans who have taken a Bodhisattva/Bodhisatta vow (at which point'd I'd love to link to the e-sangha post about it- sigh!). Though I don't know if Sammasambuddha's have necessarily taken a vow in a prior life at all, or if it can be a spontaneous process that simply occurs when the conditions are met.

-M

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by christopher::: » Tue Jan 12, 2010 11:57 pm

We may hold the ideal of arahant, buddha or boddhisattva in our minds, and this is useful, but does that idea/belief determine our outcomes? I think Goldstein's point/perspective is that certain things we cannot know definitively. You can hold a belief, but that's what it is, a belief, an idea. The path, method, is what matters. HOW we practice is most crucial, not our differing IDEAS of what the outcomes of that practice will be.

For myself i've come to similar conclusions. I just really don't know. More important for me is the path, the dhamma as expressed in day-to-day practice...
What do you believe?

What I came to is that framing it in terms of who's right is the wrong question. That was the breakthrough for me. I began to see that all the teachings from all the traditions are best seen as skillful means for liberating the mind, rather than ultimate statements of truth. If you take them as ultimate statements of truth, then if there are differing views, one is right and one is wrong and one is higher and one is lower. But if you take them as skillful means, then the question is, What can I learn from this teaching? And I found that approach much more useful.

This all points to the limitation of concept. All these teachings are in words. Words are concepts and aren't the actual experience of truth itself. It's like the famous example of fingers pointing at the moon. There could be many different fingers pointing in many different directions. If we look at the fingers we could get into a big conflict about which finger is right. We will start examining which is fatter and which is thinner, which is shorter which is longer. But if we take the finger and think of it as a skillful means for experiencing the moon, then we can learn from all of them. So that was my resolution of the conflict.

The second level of resolution was a mantra I came to for myself. With regard to the nature of the fully enlightened mind, my mantra is: Who knows? It's like, maybe there are people who know, but I didn't know. So rather than just ascribing to some belief system, I use that mantra to keep an open mind. That "Who knows?" isn't a "Who knows?" of confusion. It's a "Who knows?" of openness.
: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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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by LauraJ » Wed Jan 13, 2010 12:08 am

I sincerely am not sectarian that I know of. I really appreciate, for example, HHDL's contributions to the Rime movement in Tibetan Buddhism.

That said, am I the only one who feels like, "If it's not broken, don't fix it?" I feel uncomfortable with the idea of too much change to accommodate any different region, culture, person, etc. where Buddhism takes root.

Please tell me if this sounds restrictive, rigid, or sectarian. But I honestly wouldn't want a Theravadan to change his/her thing to accommodate me, nor would I want to change my own religion to melt and blend with others. Different is fine, and it's interesting!

Kindly,
Laura
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by LauraJ » Wed Jan 13, 2010 12:10 am

christopher::: wrote:We may hold the ideal of arahant, buddha or boddhisattva in our minds, and this is useful, but does that idea/belief determine our outcomes? I think Goldstein's point/perspective is that certain things we cannot know definitively. You can hold a belief, but that's what it is, a belief, an idea. The path, method, is what matters. HOW we practice is most crucial, not our differing IDEAS of what the outcomes of that practice will be.

For myself i've come to similar conclusions. I just really don't know. More important for me is the path, the dhamma as expressed in day-to-day practice...
Christopher, I feel that you're in a potentially opportune and fruitful position. Much metta to you :heart:
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Conquer the angry man by love. Conquer the ill-natured man by goodness. Conquer the miser with generosity. Conquer the liar with truth. -The Dhammapada

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by meindzai » Wed Jan 13, 2010 1:19 am

christopher::: wrote:We may hold the ideal of arahant, buddha or boddhisattva in our minds, and this is useful, but does that idea/belief determine our outcomes?
Of course. It's like asking if driving to New york will land you in L.A. or not. You'll end up in New York.
I think Goldstein's point/perspective is that certain things we cannot know definitively. You can hold a belief, but that's what it is, a belief, an idea. The path, method, is what matters. HOW we practice is most crucial, not our differing IDEAS of what the outcomes of that practice will be.
Our beliefs and ideas are crucial to determining how we practice. Mahayana and Theravada practice based on entirely different assumptions which result in different kinds of practices. And each of those are meant to lead somewhere - to an outcome. They are not just aimless wandering. The idea that the practice is more important than the outcome does not come from Buddhism, but a western idea based on romanticism. Buddhism teaches suffering, and a goal - the end of suffering, and a path leading to it. Theravada teaches a path to personal liberation and Mahayana teaches a path to Buddhahood for the sake of saving others. That's the reality of the different schools we have. There are similarities. There are differences.

-M

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by meindzai » Wed Jan 13, 2010 1:25 am

LauraJ wrote:I sincerely am not sectarian that I know of. I really appreciate, for example, HHDL's contributions to the Rime movement in Tibetan Buddhism.

That said, am I the only one who feels like, "If it's not broken, don't fix it?" I feel uncomfortable with the idea of too much change to accommodate any different region, culture, person, etc. where Buddhism takes root.

Please tell me if this sounds restrictive, rigid, or sectarian. But I honestly wouldn't want a Theravadan to change his/her thing to accommodate me, nor would I want to change my own religion to melt and blend with others. Different is fine, and it's interesting!

Kindly,
Laura
I think a little bit of cross-polination and cultural tinkering is ok and inevitable. But the different schools I feel need to exist to meet the various proclivities people have.

-M

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by christopher::: » Wed Jan 13, 2010 2:12 am

Hi Laura and Meindzai.

First off, yes, there are many differences in practice. But at the core i believe there are more similarities, the 3 pillars, 8 FP, 4NT, 7 Factors of Awakening, the precepts are crucial and central, for all of us. If you don't have these in your practice, you won't obtain positive results, imo..

We may simply disagree about this but i believe that outcomes cannot be known, what you can know and what we need to practice are the above. You used a phrase earlier, meindzai, that was nice...
meindzai wrote: I don't know if Sammasambuddha's have necessarily taken a vow in a prior life at all, or if it can be a spontaneous process that simply occurs when the conditions are met.
This is what i believe happens quite often, an outcome arises spontaneously when conditions are met. A vow may or may not have been made, the outcome may or may not have been chosen beforehand.

And sometimes- not in all cases or for everyone- there may be something emphasized in another school or tradition which is going to be crucial or helpful for you. It doesn't mean you "switch" but that over time we might be drawn to other teachings.

This is definitely what has happened for me. There are certain things that have been emphasized (as goals) in Zen Buddhism that i feel i can best cultivate by going back to Theravadin teachings and teachers. Bodhichitta is an example. Clearly Sanghamitta and i dont agree about this, but i believe the practice of the brahmaviharas to be central and extremely helpful in cultivating the mental attitudes and daily actions that lead to the "spontaneous" arising of bodhichitta.*

Goldstein mentioned some of the ethical problems that have arisen with teachers. We've seen a lot of this in Zen Buddhism, and it stems mostly from a disregard for the basics of ethical conduct, the precepts. These basics are taught (and emphasized) with more completeness in Theravada, imho. Mindfulness is another practice that while emphasized in Zen is not as deeply rooted in the Buddha's teachings, such as the Satipatthana Sutta, as it could be, in my opinion...

So this is where teachers like Goldstein, Gil Fronsdal and Thich Nhat Hanh (who have a deeper understanding of the Pali Canon) can be very helpful to some Mahayana practitioners. They point us to the roots of Mahayana, to the essentials of practice without which it may be impossible for some of us to realize our "bodhisattva" goals.

Perhaps?

Maybe?

:anjali:

*note: I'm not sure but i think this is what Thich Nhat Hanh has said, actually, when he's talked about the importance of the brahmaviharas for Mahayana Buddhists.
"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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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by tiltbillings » Wed Jan 13, 2010 7:43 am

meindzai wrote:Though I don't know if Sammasambuddha's have necessarily taken a vow in a prior life at all, or if it can be a spontaneous process that simply occurs when the conditions are met.
The story of Sumedha, which developed after the death of the Buddha, shows Sumedha, on the verge of becoming an Arahant, taking a vow to become a sammasambuddha in front of the Buddha Dipankara from whom Sumedha received a prophecy that his vow will succeed.

Out of this story, along with the later (after the death of the Buddha texts such the Buddhavamsa and Cariyaapi.taka ( http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-PHIL/jeffrey2.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; ) a bodhisatta path was developed. It was rather limited in that a person who wished to follow it would need to make a vow in front of a living Buddha. This model, with some tweeking, is found in the earliest Mahayana bodhisttva sutras such as the Ugra. It was a path for the very few (men), and it was not a path, as the Ugra portrays it, in opposition to the path of the arhat. That came with other Mahayana texts that put the idea of becoming a Buddha into opposition with the goal of being an arhat, and, of course, along with that oppositional stance came a significant devaluation of the arhat and a deification of the Buddha. The bodhisttva path became the only real path to take.

The point of this excursus is to point out that the bodhisttva path is not something the Buddha directly taught. At best it is something that was initially derivative and then evolved as the result of any number of conditions. Either in the comparatively spare Theravadin version or in the highly intricately complex Mahayana version, we see something very inspiring, very lofty, but it is something that we cannot find any real evidence that the Buddha taught. If he had felt a need to teach a way to sammasambuddha-ness, it would have been obvious from the beginning. As the Buddha stated, he was not a closed-fisted teacher.

If the bodhisattva path inspires one to practice, good, but what the Buddha taught was a way to the very same awakening he attained. The characterization of the goal of the path the Buddha taught, the arahant, as being for one-self only as opposed to practicing for all sentient being, the bodhisattva, is meaningless. The Buddha taught a path for us to wake up. How the Buddha;s teachings have been variously been reframed by differing schools is at best secondary to the simple core fact of needing to wake up.
>> 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: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by Sanghamitta » Wed Jan 13, 2010 9:19 am

So, if we except this, and by and large I do, the question becomes how in my case and in your case do we wake up ? Assuming for the sake of discussion that you are not fully awake..I certainly am not. What in my case and your case are the practices that waken rather than merely pacify, or that simply send us into fresh speculative thought or chasing abstract ideas. And how do we know that they , these practices are likely to lead to our awakening ? This it seems to me is where hands on instruction become vital. We it seems to me do not need to surrender to a guru, but we do need someone more experienced than us who can say " left a little, right a little, now try this ". Someone who can be our banker for a while handing us back our own resources as and when we need them. Someone who can see past our posturing and thinking and need to be seen in a particular way. Someone to whom we can say "Ok I have had enough of my reactive mind and its endless whining, I want out". In short we need flesh and blood Sangha a lot more than we need comparative religion.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by cooran » Wed Jan 13, 2010 9:39 am

Hello Sanghamitta,

When you say Sangha - what do you mean? The Ordained Sangha? or did you really mean Parisa?

parisa [parisaa]:Following; assembly. The four groups of the Buddha's following that include monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/glossary.html#parisa" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by Sanghamitta » Wed Jan 13, 2010 9:49 am

Hello Chris, yes you are right I should have been more clear. I meant both. The ordained Sangha, and important in a slightly different way, Parisa. And in my opinion invaluable as cyber Sangha is, it can never supplant either.

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

Bhikku Bodhi.

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