Theravada by country

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Theravada by country

Postby clw_uk » Sun Mar 01, 2009 6:12 pm

Is there much of a difference in Theravada practice in different countries, so for example is there a difference between Theravada in Sri Lanka and Theravads in Thailand and even Theravada in the west?
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Re: Theravada by country

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Mar 01, 2009 6:23 pm

The major forms Theravada takes was discussed by Dr. V. A. Gunasekara in "Ethnic Buddhism and Other Obstacles to the Dhamma in the West":

Theravada Buddhism has taken four distinctive forms in the West and around the world, in modern times:

A. The Secular Buddhist Society Model. This is concerned with the intense study of the Dhamma in its original formulation as given in the Pali Canon, the development of norms of living in substantial conformity of the requirements of the Dhamma, and the encouragement of the observance of the Dhamma generally.

B. The Original London Vihara Model
. This model encompasses the objectives of the secular societies, but places greater emphasis on the necessity to accommodate ordained monks to expound the Dhamma. In its interpretation of the Canon it tends to place greater emphasis on Buddhaghosa's exegesis whereas the secular societies tend to go the original Canon itself.

C. The Lankarama Model. This is the ethnic Buddhist Model par excellence. Its main objective appears to be to cater to the spiritual needs of expatriate groups using the particular national models of Buddhism as practiced in their home countries without any consideration of its relevance to the universality of the Buddha's teaching or the external conditions in the host country.

D. The Meditation Centre Model. Here the Buddhist Institution is transformed into a centre for "meditation" under the guidance of a self-proclaimed "teacher". The meditation practiced is a simplified form of the first foundation of satipatthana ignoring all the preconditions which the Buddha was careful to lay down for the correct practice of this technique of mindfulness.

Dr. Gunasekara argues that models A and B are appropriate modes in following the teachings of Buddha whereas models C and D are departures from the teachings.

In my opinion:
Variations A and sometimes B and D tends to be a Modern Theravada which focuses on the Pali Canon and acknowledges that some of the suttas are not meant to be taken too literally. Variation B and sometimes C are a Classical Theravada which tends to use the literal word of the writings in the Pali Canon and the Commentaries.

So therefore, in as much as Modern Theravada goes toward model A and Classical Theravada goes toward model B, then both are excellent forms of practice for Buddhism in the West; or the East too for that matter.

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Re: Theravada by country

Postby Jechbi » Sun Mar 01, 2009 7:02 pm

TheDhamma wrote:D. The Meditation Centre Model. Here the Buddhist Institution is transformed into a centre for "meditation" under the guidance of a self-proclaimed "teacher". The meditation practiced is a simplified form of the first foundation of satipatthana ignoring all the preconditions which the Buddha was careful to lay down for the correct practice of this technique of mindfulness.

This may be off-topic to the OP, but it seems to me that Dr. Gunasekara is putting a gratuitously negative spin on type D.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Re: Theravada by country

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Mar 01, 2009 8:15 pm

That article by Dr Gunasekara is rather old, and seems to overlook (or perhaps precede) the establishment of, in particular, the Ajahn Chah Forest Monasteries in the West.

My experience in New Zealand of Theravada-oriented organisations has been with:

1. "Ethnic" (Thai and Sri Lankan) monasteries which primarily cater to their ethnic community, but do welcome Westerners (we have monks originally from Bangladesh and the USA in our Thai Wat).

2. "Western-oriented monasteries", specifically the Ajahn Chah lineage. These do get considerable support from the local Thai and Sri Lankan communities, but they are distinct from type 1.

3. "Secular Insight Meditation" along the lines of IMS in the USA and Gaya House in the UK.

Personally I prefer having my primary teachers from type1 or 2 organisations, but I do enjoy having some interaction with type 3 since different points of view are always helpful.

To answer another aspect, there are differences in detail between Sri Lankan, Thai, and Ajahn Chah Forest monestaries. The Dhamma is the same, but there are differences in form and accent in the chanting, and the "feel" of the communities is different.

Secular societies can be very different, and not necessarily what I would call "Theravada" or even "Buddhism". That's not an entirely negative statement. Many people can benefit from meditation in that context who would run screaming from an "Ethnic Monastery"...


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Re: Theravada by country

Postby jcsuperstar » Sun Mar 01, 2009 9:18 pm

mike seems to have summed it up fairly well.

i was a bit racist when i came to buddhism, as in i didnt want any western teachers. i had a feeling that (and in most cases i have been right, especially in regards to mahayana) it would be a watered down buddhism made to fit a western mind. i thought the asian model would be the real deal.

now i didnt have some romantic ideal of asians being little tan skinned yodas but i just had this idea that the closer i got to the source the closer i'd be to the source... whatever that means.

now in my interactions i've come across american buddhists who would show up around my asian teachers and then leave because they felt they were being taught how to be thai or japannese and not being taught buddhism. they felt that the teachers were supossed to just drop any ethnic baggage and present to them a dhamma that fit them perfectly.
good luck is all i can say, maybe theyll find what they want maybe they wont, but those sorts of people will always be disapointed sooner or later (or both). I on the other hand have only been presently surprized by the western teachers (all theravada monastics) i've encountered (mostly on the web). but i must also note they all ran off to asia or asian teachers in much the same way i have...
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