cultural differences and teaching

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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mikenz66
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by mikenz66 » Thu Mar 25, 2010 9:37 pm

Hi Freawaru,
Freawaru wrote:I think I would take years to learn how to bow and say "yes" while thinking "you have no idea" and still regard the teacher in question with respect (in the German sense, I mean). With politeness, yes, but not respect. And politeness is just not enough to learn from a teacher. Does anybody have a solution to this problem?
This seems a bit hypothetical. If you think a teacher has "no idea", why would you continue to interact with him/her?

Also, you seem to be making an assumption that all of the adaption is going to occur on one side (the Western). Asians are capable of seeing through cultural differences too...

Mike

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by Paññāsikhara » Fri Mar 26, 2010 2:08 am

Freawaru wrote:
Paññāsikhara wrote:I think that one of the difficulties in discussing the differences across cultures on the level of "buddhist teaching", is that what we may call the "sample groups" in both (or more) cultures are not necessarily on a par. eg. to take a group of Thai or Sri Lankan Buddhists for example, they may largely reflect a general sample of the Thai or Sri Lankan population as a whole. However, to take a group of Western Buddhists, more often than not, they are not that indicative of the population as a whole. It is sometimes the very non-norm characteristics of some Westerners that makes them look into Buddhism in the first place. On the other hand, a sample population of Western Christians may be more normative. So, I don't think that we can necessarily extrapolate any findings to the differences between cultures as a whole. As time progresses, and Buddhism becomes more normative in Western society, things may change viz this point, somewhat.

I also agree with MikeNZ, about "Asian vs Westerner", as if both were largely homogeneous groups. Both groups include a large range of different cultures. Maybe we may wish to narrow it down here to "Thai vs North American (?)". My own experiences as a Kiwi in China (where Taiwan, the PRoC and HK all also all quite different in many ways) doesn't suggest some of the points raised above, for example.
I agree that it is not easy to analyse cultures, neither one's own nor those that are alien to oneself, but I think this is a worthwhile topic nevertheless.
Oh, I definitely agree that it is a worthwhile topic, but just wanted to be careful about defining the parameters, so to speak.
It seems to me some aspects can be discerned and need to be understood (at least I need to understand because it bothers me). For example the issue of the Bhikkhuni order. Thais stress the point "respect" against it. But from the point of view of my culture the fact that women are treated differently and expected to behave differently (not to mention this wrong idea that women have to be better socially and men mentally) is already so deep in the disrespect realm that any argument of respect to anything borders on the absurd. That is - when I use the term respect in the German sense. But things are probably very different if the Thai meaning of respect is meant. As Ajahn Sucitto wrote Thais have already a problem adressing a Bhikkhu in english - what should they do if suddenly they have to adress a bhikkhuni in Thai? There is no set pattern of Thai respect how to behave to a bhikkhuni, maybe they wouldn't just not know how to behave, bow, address and speak and even how to think about her. And the same for any Thai who became bhikkhuni. Maybe she just wouldn't know what to identify with. She never saw a Thai bhikkhuni, and thus she wouldn't know what to be, she has no role model she can act according to.

In the West we would just say: "construe a ceremony and adress her in a female form of bhante" and that would be it. Life would go on as usual. There would be no need for all the complicated and sublte changes in the culture itself. Every change would just grow by itself after a while just as it did when women were allowed to study. But as far as I understand it this won't work for the Thais.
Well, this is a another major difference between Thai, and Chinese, for example. In China, there are more bhiksus than bhiksunis, by a large difference in some places. Most places in China, esp. in the more rural PRoC, the higher status is still given to the bhiksus, but NOBODY is saying that there should not be a bhiksuni tradition or anything even remotely close.

And, this is even pretty much the case for Chinese women who take Dharmagupta ordination, but effectively train with Theravada teachings (whether Nikayan or Agama). The rest of the lay and monastic communities have no problem at all with accepting them as bhikkhunis.

As such, as a westerner in a Chinese tradition, I usually have no problem at all with bhiksu/ni status or things like that. I don't have to put myself in a position whereby I am against the generally held Chinese Buddhist lay or monastic attitudes towards these things.

So, again, not a matter of "Asian", because it an issue where there are several very different "Asian" points of view on the subject.
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by jcsuperstar » Fri Mar 26, 2010 4:40 am

just to add something about pi. pe .pee how ever you want to spell it, it means older sibling, younger sibling is nong. everyone in thai society is pretty much either a pi or nong.
monks would be luang pi- venerable brother and older monks' luang por- venerable father, older than that you have luang ta venerable grandfather.
thai people pretty much know their status in society and act accordingly. it's about respect.
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the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by Kim OHara » Fri Mar 26, 2010 6:45 am

jcsuperstar wrote: Thai people pretty much know their status in society and act accordingly. it's about respect.
...and when they don't know, they ask.
I was amused during my (only) visit to Thailand by their need to know my age - which turned out to be a 'place in society' question: all else being equal, the younger of two people interacting should show respect to the older.
As a democratic, egalitarian Aussie I tended to sidestep the issue. :shrug: It might have seemed important to them but I never wanted it to shape the relationship.

:namaste:
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by Goofaholix » Fri Mar 26, 2010 8:46 am

Freawaru wrote:Are you sure this is not just due to the fact that westerners have less body-awareness in general and thus the breath (or nostrils) are more difficult objects to focus on than for people from at least some Asian cultures? It is my observation that using focus on auditive signals such as music or mantra leads to access concentration with relative ease in the case of westerners. And for jhana the object of focus to reach access concentration is irrelevant.
I think it's because they know how to relax and let go, they are not constantly striving to make something happen as we do.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by Freawaru » Sat Mar 27, 2010 9:09 am

PeterB wrote:Does this differ from the habitual identifications made by western Buddhists Freawaru ?
I would suggest only in kind, not in degree.
Exactly. Thus it might be necessary to reconsider some techniques that work in one culture but not in the other.

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by Freawaru » Sat Mar 27, 2010 9:31 am

Hi again, :smile:
mikenz66 wrote:Hi Freawaru,
Freawaru wrote:I think I would take years to learn how to bow and say "yes" while thinking "you have no idea" and still regard the teacher in question with respect (in the German sense, I mean). With politeness, yes, but not respect. And politeness is just not enough to learn from a teacher. Does anybody have a solution to this problem?
This seems a bit hypothetical. If you think a teacher has "no idea", why would you continue to interact with him/her?
I wouldn't - and a very "western" reaction it would be, right? I mean, I could be wrong....
Also, you seem to be making an assumption that all of the adaption is going to occur on one side (the Western). Asians are capable of seeing through cultural differences too...

Mike
You know some conditionings are very hard to see through and respect (in the Thai sense) is one of them - for the Thais I mean. We have been discussing "Anna and the King of Siam" for, what?, half a year or so on the internet and the best results were that some Thais accepted that the insult was not intended on the western side - and this only in those Thais who had intense and prolonged contact with the western culture (such as living in one for several years). The very idea that westerners don't have the concept of respect is unthinkable to most and there were very, very few who were willing to even consider western concepts such as poetic licence. Too much emotion. And this was just a movie! Respect to Buddha, respect to Dhamma, respect to Vinaya - who can detach from one's own conditioning and emotional responses to consider that neither Buddha nor Dhamma nor Vinaya are about respect in the first place?

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by Freawaru » Sat Mar 27, 2010 9:45 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:
Oh, I definitely agree that it is a worthwhile topic, but just wanted to be careful about defining the parameters, so to speak.
i don't know much about the Chinese culture (well, I like martial arts movies and the cuisine and things like that but nothing really deep). I only know about the "respect" problem because my Thai friend and me had so many discussions about it and the issue with the "Anna and the King of Siam" story. Do you know wether the Chinese have artistic licence in their culture (or something similar to the Thai respect at that?)
Well, this is a another major difference between Thai, and Chinese, for example. In China, there are more bhiksus than bhiksunis, by a large difference in some places. Most places in China, esp. in the more rural PRoC, the higher status is still given to the bhiksus, but NOBODY is saying that there should not be a bhiksuni tradition or anything even remotely close.

And, this is even pretty much the case for Chinese women who take Dharmagupta ordination, but effectively train with Theravada teachings (whether Nikayan or Agama). The rest of the lay and monastic communities have no problem at all with accepting them as bhikkhunis.
Thank you for your observations :smile:

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by jcsuperstar » Sat Mar 27, 2010 9:50 am

Goofaholix wrote:
Freawaru wrote:Are you sure this is not just due to the fact that westerners have less body-awareness in general and thus the breath (or nostrils) are more difficult objects to focus on than for people from at least some Asian cultures? It is my observation that using focus on auditive signals such as music or mantra leads to access concentration with relative ease in the case of westerners. And for jhana the object of focus to reach access concentration is irrelevant.
I think it's because they know how to relax and let go, they are not constantly striving to make something happen as we do.
i think the average Asian is about equal to the average westerner as to whether or not they'll be any good at meditation or not.
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by Freawaru » Sat Mar 27, 2010 11:01 am

jcsuperstar wrote:just to add something about pi. pe .pee how ever you want to spell it, it means older sibling, younger sibling is nong. everyone in thai society is pretty much either a pi or nong.
As far as I understood it one is both, depending on whom one communicates with. A bit like we are son or daughter to our parents and mother or father to our children. But it goes deeper than that. I recall I asked my friend what a Thai does if he or she does not know the age of someone they just met. The answer was that one has to do everything possible to get out of this awkward situation. It is more easy in a group - in this case one can pay attention to how the others address this person and because one know who is pe and who is nong to oneself one finally finds out.
monks would be luang pi- venerable brother and older monks' luang por- venerable father, older than that you have luang ta venerable grandfather.
thai people pretty much know their status in society and act accordingly. it's about respect.
Yes, but respect in this sense does not exist in the West. Can you describe the reason why it is so important in Thailand?

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by Freawaru » Sat Mar 27, 2010 11:07 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:
jcsuperstar wrote: Thai people pretty much know their status in society and act accordingly. it's about respect.
...and when they don't know, they ask.
Indeed. Can lead to awkward situation with Westerners. In my culture it is not considered polite to ask the age of a woman.
I was amused during my (only) visit to Thailand by their need to know my age - which turned out to be a 'place in society' question: all else being equal, the younger of two people interacting should show respect to the older.
As a democratic, egalitarian Aussie I tended to sidestep the issue. :shrug: It might have seemed important to them but I never wanted it to shape the relationship.

:namaste:
Kim
A typical western reaction. I felt strange about it at first, too, until I realized that I had no idea what this was all about.

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by Goofaholix » Sat Mar 27, 2010 7:49 pm

jcsuperstar wrote:I think it's because they know how to relax and let go, they are not constantly striving to make something happen as we do.
i think the average Asian is about equal to the average westerner as to whether or not they'll be any good at meditation or not.[/quote]

We weren't discussing whether they were good at meditation or not but whether they could achieve jhana. One can be very good at meditation and never achieve jhana simply because one is not interested in achieving jhana and is practicing an insight oriented technique.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Mar 27, 2010 8:20 pm

Freawaru wrote:Hi again, :smile:
Hi Freawaru,
mikenz66 wrote:Hi Freawaru,
Freawaru wrote:I think I would take years to learn how to bow and say "yes" while thinking "you have no idea" and still regard the teacher in question with respect (in the German sense, I mean). With politeness, yes, but not respect. And politeness is just not enough to learn from a teacher. Does anybody have a solution to this problem?
This seems a bit hypothetical. If you think a teacher has "no idea", why would you continue to interact with him/her?
I wouldn't - and a very "western" reaction it would be, right? I mean, I could be wrong....
I don't think it's particularly Western. Thai people are quite good at making the views felt in indirect ways.

And they certainly are not shy about complaining about people they don't like when they get a chance.

I think you might be confusing the surface stuff with how things really work.

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Mike

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by jcsuperstar » Sun Mar 28, 2010 3:06 am

Goofaholix wrote:
jcsuperstar wrote:I think it's because they know how to relax and let go, they are not constantly striving to make something happen as we do.
i think the average Asian is about equal to the average westerner as to whether or not they'll be any good at meditation or not.
We weren't discussing whether they were good at meditation or not but whether they could achieve jhana. One can be very good at meditation and never achieve jhana simply because one is not interested in achieving jhana and is practicing an insight oriented technique.[/quote]
this hasnt been my experience either.
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the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Post by Freawaru » Mon Mar 29, 2010 9:01 am

Hi Mike,
mikenz66 wrote: I don't think it's particularly Western. Thai people are quite good at making the views felt in indirect ways.

And they certainly are not shy about complaining about people they don't like when they get a chance.
Oh, I didn't want to imply that the Thais are not good at this. In my experience they know what they want and how to get it. In fact it is my impression that in some regards they know this better than the Germans who tend to follow their traditional views even when they are against common sense or political correctness at that. My impression due to that discussion about "Anna and the king" story was that the Thais are quite outspoken about their views. Guess I think of the Thais as more "western" than the Germans in this regard - and yes, I am aware of the irony of it.

No, what I referred to was this observation that I heard already several times and also from Asians:
Goofaholix wrote: I think how they approach practice is different also. Westerners want to understand, define, categorise, compare, and contrast, and so we have endless discussions on the Internet about whether this or that teaching is true, whether this or that is correct doctrine etc.

Asians don't approach it that way, they just accept the teaching as best they understand it and trust their teachers and get on with it. Of course this has lead to a lot of superstitions getting in there and the vast majority of Asian Buddhist aren't so much interested in practiciong the path to awakening but I'm not talking about them. I think practice oriented Asians generally just accept the teaching as best they understand it and trust their teachers and get on with it.
Coming back to the question of how to teach what: According to Ajahn Sucitto
Like paying respect, this separation is emphasised in monastic life.
"Paying respect" in the Thai way is emphasised in monastic life. Also for Westerners? How could this work as westerners have no idea about respect. What is the use of emphasising something unknown? As far as I understand it in Thai Theravada "respect" is part of the training (both lay and ordained) and I suspect there is a reason for it. But could this part of the training work for Westerners? Dunno, but when I look at the Thais when they "pay respect" it just looks completely different than when the Westerners do it. It is ... how can I put it ... aware, focused, full of something not completely dissimilar from pride, beautiful, at peace with the universe ... something along those lines. But the Westerners make it look like an exercise in the gym. Maybe I am wrong but this is my impression so far: there is something missing when the westerners do it and if this "something" is part of the training the training just won't work for Westerners as for Thai.

So what I would like to know is what *exactly* is conveyed and trained by "paying respect" in the Thai sense and to find something similar to replace it in my culture.

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