One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

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

Post by cooran » Wed Jan 13, 2010 9:53 am

Yes, I agree. It took me many years of cyber-sanghas before I found a monastery close enough to attend with an Abbot for whom I have the greatest respect.

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by tiltbillings » Wed Jan 13, 2010 9:55 am

Sanghamitta wrote:In short we need flesh and blood Sangha a lot more than we need comparative religion.
If it is an either-or choice a good teacher and good friends are what is needed.

I am not unsympathetic to Goldstein's effort here. He is an excellent teacher who has done - continues to do - the work. He is solidly grounded in Theravada and as a teacher of vipassana he deals with people coming to retreats from any number other Buddhist traditions. Of some of those traditions, he has practiced them with qualified teachers, though he would not claim to be expert in them. What he is looking for, and I can see his book as part of a dialogue, is for a way for Buddhists of various traditions to talk with each other without getting lost in sectarian squabbling, and he is commenting on what is already started which is the various traditions borrowing from each other. (On ZFI there is a thread about practicing metta with zazen.)

Is this borrowing a good thing? It could be, if done with care and respect. Will it lead to a unique Western Buddhism? Maybe, or more likely it will lead to a cross fertilization of the various traditions. I am, however, not an it-is-all-one sort of person. I don’t think it-is-all-one at all. What Goldstein seems to looking for in this is some basis of commonality in all of this. Is he successful? Damdifino, but there is value in reading his book for those who are interested in this sort of thing, whether or not one agree with his position.

Outside of this, Goldstein is an excellent Theravadin vipassana teacher.
>> 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 10:15 am

Surely, and it was in his capacity as a Theravadin vipassana teacher that I first came across his work. I can see that we cant simply pretend to be Thais or Sri Lankans ( or for that matter Japanese or Tibetan either ) and that a distictively western Buddhism is likely to emerge, (and in contrast to some I dont see that this will happen by marching stoutly into the cul-de-sac of rationalism and secularism, if they were the way forward the west would be Nibbana already ) I do suspect though that a refering back to reliable sources concerning what was actually taught by the Buddha will produce more fruit than abstract ideas of cohesion which might be commendable but owe more to an internalisation of the Gettysburg Address than to Buddhist pragmatism. It comes down imo to what works. And if what works for you is an amalgam of Zen and vipassana, or Guru Yoga and Kasina practice then fine. That certainly is the FWBO position. I know from experience that mixing doesnt work for me. It raises more questions than it answers.
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 tiltbillings » Wed Jan 13, 2010 10:37 am

Sanghamitta wrote: It comes down imo to what works. And if what works for you is an amalgam of Zen and vipassana, or Guru Yoga and Kasina practice then fine. That certainly is the FWBO position. I know from experience that mixing doesnt work for me. It raises more questions than it answers.
I do not disagree.
>> 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 nowheat » Wed Jan 13, 2010 11:10 am

Great thread, great contributions. I'm here using Sanghamitta's thoughtful posts as a springboard for my own thoughts, not necessarily directing my comments solely at Sanghamitta.
Sanghamitta wrote:... I don't doubt the motivation of those who would have us examine the claims of various traditions, I do wonder if for some people at least it isn't more attractive to pursue these attempts at inclusion rather than getting down to the nitty gritty of following one to its conclusion. There is endless distraction to be found in comparing and contrasting. It feels more dhammic than does shopping. I'm not sure it is though.
Speaking only for myself, the endless distraction of comparing and contrasting is exhausting and not fun: it's work. I am amused by the fact that Buddhism is pushing me to study a great many things I avoided in school: comparative religion, debating techniques, philosophy, even physics! I have never liked “arguing” even when it's just mild-mannered debate, but the process here in these forums, illuminates so much that it's worth doing. And, taking a point of yours I quote below, understanding what's actually in the Pitakas as opposed to what we think is there, or an outgrowth of those beliefs, seems important to me, because I believe (and more and more, see) that the Buddha's teaching is whole and complete, and misunderstandings tend to detract from it.
Sanghamitta wrote:To pursue the practises described by the Buddha including perhaps vipassana and samatha, dilegently to their conclusion, would lead to a condition where one be an examplar and therefore an includer, in a much more effective way imo than simply holding endless discussion which compare and contrast traditions. We have all the tools we need.
Which is really the point of the whole practice of Buddhism, isn't it. And I understand that slicing and dicing words and ideas isn't the point, and a lot of the discussion may be more about the “face of Buddhism” than its heart – though surely both are being examined, and the heart further revealed or obscured in the process. The face is actually quite important to getting those who would seek and do need what the Buddha taught to “Come and see.” A divisive front is not useful. Having all fronts dressed in what appear to be superstitious practices and beliefs will exclude many who are specifically seeking the ground-contacting, uncluttered dhamma.
Sanghamitta wrote:... 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.
Surely compassion for others is in the Pitakas, and the Buddha's sangha is charged with the responsibility to go out and teach, for the benefit of others. Bodhicitta may take this concept much further, but the practice of the path taught in the Pitakas brings us quite naturally to the same sort of place, doesn't it, where we want to help others see things as they really are?

A blending of the two stereotypical views that one has to work on one's own path and enlightenment, or one should work on others just seems like logic, to me, something that follows naturally from what the Buddha taught. As well, actual practice tells us that the two are for the most part inseparable: first, one has to work for one's own enlightenment to have any direct experience to speak *from*; and second, since compassion for others is an outgrowth of the development of insight and wisdom (and speaking purely on a practical level – since the Buddha was a very pragmatic man – silent and withdrawn monasticism cannot be the only way or the dhamma will be lost) efforts to bring the teaching to others are part of the path, too. Why should the emphasis be so much more on one than the other? Most of us may start with the one and move towards the other, but it seems as though continued growth in one's practice is best served by developing both one's own practice and outreach to others simultaneously. And, perhaps not coincidentally, this fuses with Western views on the place of religion in our lives quite well.

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by Aloka » Wed Jan 13, 2010 11:46 am

.

My own view is that if people want to stick with one tradition that's fine - and certainly I think its probably a good idea to try to understand one tradition properly first, before skipping about between the different traditions. One could end up getting confused and not really be practising any of them - whilst perhaps even attempting to be a 'jack of all trades' in a purely superficial way.(not sure if that expression is known outside of the UK !)

However, contradicting my previous statement to some extent, as an offline practitioner of Vajrayana for many years, I can honestly say that investigating Theravada recently and reading the Pali Canon is very pleasurable - and I am constantly delighted by what I'm discovering. I see this as enhancing my practice at the moment, rather than detracting from it.

I'm not saying that the different traditions should be mixed up into one pot called 'new buddhism' though, just that there should be general appreciation and understanding rather than rigidity.

.

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by Sanghamitta » Wed Jan 13, 2010 1:26 pm

Depends what you mean by " understanding" a tradition Aloka. Surely the only way to truly understand a tradition is to follow it to its conclusion. At which point my guess would be that all rafts would be abandoned.
I am glad that you are benefitting from your exploration of the Theravada.
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 christopher::: » Wed Jan 13, 2010 2:27 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Depends what you mean by " understanding" a tradition Aloka. Surely the only way to truly understand a tradition is to follow it to its conclusion. At which point my guess would be that all rafts would be abandoned.
I am glad that you are benefitting from your exploration of the Theravada.
You might be right, but how about benefiting from a tradition, as a form of practice? I cannot say anything of Tibetan Buddhism, but many of us here at DW who come from Mahayana traditions are here in part because Theravadin teachers and teachings are providing us with something beneficial. Do I understand Theravada? No way. But i think that's a main point Goldstein is offering/suggesting, you don't have to understand or even agree with some things from other traditions to benefit from their methods of practice. Meditation, mindfulness, concentration, recognition of dependent origination and anatta. One Dharma doesn't refer to the differences, but rather to the commonalities of our practice...
"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 Sanghamitta » Wed Jan 13, 2010 2:32 pm

I am unsure what you mean by "benefiting from a tradition as a form of practice ".

I am also unsure how to answer without seeming simply unfriendly. You see I cant talk for the other Theravadins on the forum Christopher, but I have studied the Mahayana Sutras in some depth. I have met Zen teachers and Lamas.
I have read quite a number of books including commentaries by well known Mahayana teachers including Nagarjuna and so on. Those things that you mention are all found in the Theravada. The 4nt's The 8 FNP. Dependant Origination, mindfulness etc etc .They are examined in great depth in the Pitakas and in the commentaries. I can see that a Zen Buddhist or Vajrayana student would get great benefit from going to the source of these teachings. But what, and dont misunderstand me, this is neither triumphalist nor rhetorical what would you see a Theravadin gaining from Zen or the Vajrayana ? You see I dont accept after examining the evidence that the historical Buddha taught anything remotely like Buddhadhatu or Bodhicitta, so what else is there that we can learn from ? Seriously ?
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 meindzai » Wed Jan 13, 2010 6:26 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:I am unsure what you mean by "benefiting from a tradition as a form of practice ".

I am also unsure how to answer without seeming simply unfriendly. You see I cant talk for the other Theravadins on the forum Christopher, but I have studied the Mahayana Sutras in some depth. I have met Zen teachers and Lamas.
I have read quite a number of books including commentaries by well known Mahayana teachers including Nagarjuna and so on. Those things that you mention are all found in the Theravada. The 4nt's The 8 FNP. Dependant Origination, mindfulness etc etc .They are examined in great depth in the Pitakas and in the commentaries. I can see that a Zen Buddhist or Vajrayana student would get great benefit from going to the source of these teachings. But what, and dont misunderstand me, this is neither triumphalist nor rhetorical what would you see a Theravadin gaining from Zen or the Vajrayana ? You see I dont accept after examining the evidence that the historical Buddha taught anything remotely like Buddhadhatu or Bodhicitta, so what else is there that we can learn from ? Seriously ?
I think we're along the same lines here. My interest actually started in Mahayana and I delved into Theravada for more background. When I studied Mahayana Sutras I felt like I was starting in the middle of a movie and couldn't grasp the plot.

As far as the benefit going the other way around - I think it's possible, but not quite in the same way. The benefits of cross-polination I've seen have less to do with traditions and Sutras than with the cultures and attitudes that have developed around the different schools. For example, I've found that Zen masters are actually very good people-readers and psychotherapists, often with a very deeply cultivated sense of stillness and equanimity. Tibetan masters are often very cultivated in the Brahma viharas in a way that seems palpaple. (Though I also feel the same way about Bhante Gunaratana)

Zen stories seem to find their way into Theravada teacher's talks. Not because they're mahayana, or even because they are zen. They're just really good stories. We're not just dealing with doctrinal stuff but culture here.

I might say we are forming a single Buddhist culture - which is ok. But that's not the same thing as saying that the differences in the doctrines and teachings of the various schools are negligable.

-M

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by Sanghamitta » Wed Jan 13, 2010 6:42 pm

I think that the Dhamma tends to find ways of expressing itself ( sorry if that comes across as all anthropomorphic ) in each of the cultures it takes root in.
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 Sanghamitta » Wed Jan 13, 2010 6:55 pm

I realise that my last but one post might read as dismissive, which wasnt the intention, so let me rephrase. What do you see as lessons that a Theravadin can take from the Mahayanist ?
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 LauraJ » Wed Jan 13, 2010 10:46 pm

Aloka wrote:.

My own view is that if people want to stick with one tradition that's fine - and certainly I think its probably a good idea to try to understand one tradition properly first, before skipping about between the different traditions. One could end up getting confused and not really be practising any of them - whilst perhaps even attempting to be a 'jack of all trades' in a purely superficial way.(not sure if that expression is known outside of the UK !)

However, contradicting my previous statement to some extent, as an offline practitioner of Vajrayana for many years, I can honestly say that investigating Theravada recently and reading the Pali Canon is very pleasurable - and I am constantly delighted by what I'm discovering. I see this as enhancing my practice at the moment, rather than detracting from it.

I'm not saying that the different traditions should be mixed up into one pot called 'new buddhism' though, just that there should be general appreciation and understanding rather than rigidity.

.
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Post by christopher::: » Thu Jan 14, 2010 1:10 am

meindzai wrote:
Sanghamitta wrote:I am unsure what you mean by "benefiting from a tradition as a form of practice ".

I am also unsure how to answer without seeming simply unfriendly. You see I cant talk for the other Theravadins on the forum Christopher, but I have studied the Mahayana Sutras in some depth. I have met Zen teachers and Lamas.
I have read quite a number of books including commentaries by well known Mahayana teachers including Nagarjuna and so on. Those things that you mention are all found in the Theravada. The 4nt's The 8 FNP. Dependant Origination, mindfulness etc etc .They are examined in great depth in the Pitakas and in the commentaries. I can see that a Zen Buddhist or Vajrayana student would get great benefit from going to the source of these teachings. But what, and dont misunderstand me, this is neither triumphalist nor rhetorical what would you see a Theravadin gaining from Zen or the Vajrayana ? You see I dont accept after examining the evidence that the historical Buddha taught anything remotely like Buddhadhatu or Bodhicitta, so what else is there that we can learn from ? Seriously ?
I think we're along the same lines here. My interest actually started in Mahayana and I delved into Theravada for more background. When I studied Mahayana Sutras I felt like I was starting in the middle of a movie and couldn't grasp the plot.

As far as the benefit going the other way around - I think it's possible, but not quite in the same way. The benefits of cross-polination I've seen have less to do with traditions and Sutras than with the cultures and attitudes that have developed around the different schools. For example, I've found that Zen masters are actually very good people-readers and psychotherapists, often with a very deeply cultivated sense of stillness and equanimity. Tibetan masters are often very cultivated in the Brahma viharas in a way that seems palpaple. (Though I also feel the same way about Bhante Gunaratana)

Zen stories seem to find their way into Theravada teacher's talks. Not because they're mahayana, or even because they are zen. They're just really good stories. We're not just dealing with doctrinal stuff but culture here.

I might say we are forming a single Buddhist culture - which is ok. But that's not the same thing as saying that the differences in the doctrines and teachings of the various schools are negligable.

-M
Excellent observations, meindzai!
Sanghamitta wrote:I realise that my last but one post might read as dismissive, which wasnt the intention, so let me rephrase. What do you see as lessons that a Theravadin can take from the Mahayanist ?
Well, Goldstein answered that for himself. He's a Vipassana teacher of some depth, who has studied with both Theravadin and Tibetan Buddhist teachers, in some depth. There was benefit there for him, in his practice. You perhaps did not find any benefits, or different benefits.

Reflecting back on my own experiences, i feel there was a benefit each time i met someone from another tradition (even nonBuddhists) who practiced their tradition with integrity and sincerity. Each time that happened i observed commonalities in spiritual practices that i hadn't been aware of, came away with some stereotypes challenged. Which is always a good thing, imo.

Not that all paths are the same, i don't believe that. But spiritual practice done with sincerity, with an open mind and heart, with kindness and metta, does share commonalities.

: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 Sanghamitta » Thu Jan 14, 2010 10:19 am

I think that to approach other sentient beings with metta and karuna and mudita in a spirit of upekkha, is clearly in keeping with the teachings of the Buddha. If they are human sentient beings then this is true whether they are Buddhists, Athiests, Mormons or whatever. And that is a practice in itself of great value.
What I was wondering though is what do you think in terms of practice, of skillful means, a Theravadin can learn from Zen or the Vajrayana ?
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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