there are, IMO, serious cultural differences between Asians and Westerners that require different teaching methods. Of course, some techniques work in both cases, concentration on an object is concentration on an object in both kinds of culture but there are also more subtle techniques and explanations that will work for people grown up in one culture and not for those in the other. I would like to dedicate this threat to the differences in cultures and the behaviour and thinking patterns, the conditioning, we all experience due to it and discuss possible different approaches to make use of them to learn dhamma.
I think a good starting point is this report by Ajahn Sucitto:
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One thing I have learned in my Western culture is not to lie. A lie is when one says f.e. "yes" but actually means "no". However, in the Thai culture this is the correct behaviour as saying "no" is considered impolite. Of course, in the Thai culture one can disagree with someone, too, just not verbally. One has to talk with one's body to give shade and meaning to one's verbal expressions.
it is interesting to observe the differences that come from this simple difference in culture. One is that the Thais are much more aware of body language than Westerners, both of the body language of others as of their own.Confrontational speech is a complete no-no, and one has to listen carefully for signs of reluctance, evasiveness or low enthusiasm.
I think this is a British understatement. The Western body language must seem primitve and childlike to them. Not to be expected in adults. Confusing in their meaninglessness. An intercultural problem. But there is also a spiritual difference originating from this difference in culture: Out of this necessity Thais are much more aware of their body languge, an awareness that can be used for mindfulness meditation. I think as a Thai one can easily learn to keep mindfulness on a dayly basis just by staying mindful on the different social roles one has to play within one day.Even more confusing for them, the body language of the West is a monotone.
But this won't work for Westerners. Westerners in general are, in my observation, almost completely unaware of the roles they play. When I point to them that now they act and react as their mother or father would have in a similar situation they are often surprised, only realizing this fact after some time of self-observation. A slightly higher awareness have - of course - actors. From the point of view of Westerners all Thais are actors and actresses, not letting their inner feelings and emotions show naturally but acting them.
So paying attention to the roles one plays over the day (and Westeners do so, too, just more unware) won't give as fast spiritual results for Westerners. But there are aspects of the Western culture that work just as well, though differently. Western cultures pay a lot of attention to one's imagination. The West feeds it's children with physical food and ... stories. Beginning with fairy tales and going on to Theatre, books, movies, fantasy role playing games... the Western culture requires a growing control, lucidity, awareness and detachment to one's imagination. And just like the Thais feel the Westerners body language as primitive the Westerners can't really understand that the Thais imagination is still on the level of that of a small child, something that shows in the necessary censorship of the Thai government regarding Western movies.In her upbringing it was important not to show uneven or disturbing moods. This evenness is a social grace; it keeps whatever’s happening within from spilling out, and it preserves a safe sense of separateness. It’s quite the opposite from the West where expressing how you feel is considered a sign of being open and willing to meet the other person on an emotional (or even physical) level.
As the article by Ajahn Sucitto shows there are pros and contras regarding both kinds of cultures in a social way. But I think there are also pros and contras regarding lucidity, control, detachment and midnfulness. Because the Thai culture requires lucidity towards one's physical behaviour this aspect is much more lucid than in Westerners and one can easily build on it spiritually. On the other hand, while not as lucid physically, the lucitiy regarding imagination is more flexible and thus more detached in Westerners. Westerners being used to absorb themselves in different characters via imagination since childhood don't see that much difference not only between age and social status but also gender and personality. One can absorb oneself just as much in a male character as in a female one, or in animals or extraterrestrians, fairy, demon, gargoyle and so on. This - of course - also shows itself in dreams and mind made bodies - someone who can absorb him or herself in a completely different body in imagination will also find it less difficult to do so in dream or in the mind made realm. And these kind of experiences will also reflect in the social again, as one can experience a male body as well as a female one in dream and the mind made realms ... what is the point of identifying with being a man or a woman in the physical so much as the Asians do?
So it seems to me that to alter some of the arguments and teachings that base on the Thai culture to the Western one would be beneficial to the Western students.