Books and Teachers

Whether you're exploring Buddhism for the first time or you're already on the path, feel free to ask questions of any kind here.

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Sep 04, 2013 2:25 pm

I still believe though that liberation itself doesn't include having a guru as a prerequisite.


Set aside a guru, with all of the constructions that entails, but what about a living teacher? Is it not only the praktyekabuddhas who can be self enlightened? Or does that mean enlightened even in the absence of texts?
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 04, 2013 2:51 pm

JKhedrup wrote:
I still believe though that liberation itself doesn't include having a guru as a prerequisite.


Set aside a guru, with all of the constructions that entails, but what about a living teacher? Is it not only the praktyekabuddhas who can be self enlightened? Or does that mean enlightened even in the absence of texts?


It means liberation in the absence of living Buddhadharma in the world.

In our case we got the Buddha's teachings still present in the world for us to use.
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Sep 04, 2013 2:56 pm

I understood that "absence of living Buddhadharma" to be the absence of teachers and practitioners, not texts. But of course, if you have a different opinion I am interested in hearing it!
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Location: the Netherlands and India

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 04, 2013 3:03 pm

JKhedrup wrote:I understood that "absence of living Buddhadharma" to be the absence of teachers and practitioners, not texts. But of course, if you have a different opinion I am interested in hearing it!


Pratyekabuddhas can be described as being in a time "when not even the name Buddha is known".

What that means is that they become liberated when Buddhadharma is not known in the world, neither the textual nor oral traditions. That does not preclude the possibility of having received teachings in a past life however.

Of course there are multiple interpretations of the term, just looking at the dictionaries.
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby smcj » Wed Sep 04, 2013 4:27 pm

I still believe though that liberation itself doesn't include having a guru as a prerequisite.

Some people can teach themselves music. Some people need to go to a music school. With Dharma however, you don't know how the instrument (yourself) is to be tuned or what it is supposed to sound like. That makes being self-taught problematic.

Can it be done? Sure. But not by me.
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Astus » Wed Sep 04, 2013 4:36 pm

JKhedrup wrote:I understood that "absence of living Buddhadharma" to be the absence of teachers and practitioners, not texts. But of course, if you have a different opinion I am interested in hearing it!


It is said in the Pure Land tradition that the last sutra to remain is the Larger Amitabha Sutra for another 100 years after all the others are gone. And even after that people will attain birth in Sukhavati for some time just by the name. Noble beings are already gone by the time of the Dharma ending age except for adventurous bodhisattvas visiting this realm. Even in the Dharma semblance age Buddhists mostly act out of customs rather than realisation. Also, in Chinese Buddhism it is believed that the first sutra to disappear is the Surangama Sutra.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby smcj » Wed Sep 04, 2013 4:50 pm

The ones that were entirely trained in Tibet before it fell are all gone.

I don't really think the pre-invasion Tibetans were somehow better than what you have now. They had unique qualities in being raised in basically pre-modern conditions with an entirely Buddhist cosmology and outlook on life, but that doesn't necessarily mean they somehow were more realized than us modern westerners or those Tibetans raised under the PRC.

Think of pre-PRC Tibet as a sterile petrie dish.
It is easy to aggrandize dead masters, especially in the hagiographical literature which has a tendency to stretch the truth or speak of miracles.

I've witnessed miracles firsthand. No second-hand stories. I know of a small handfull of lamas still alive today that can read minds, etc. I don't put that in the category of "miracles" however. That's just an accomplished practitioner. In fact, I've read texts where that level of accomplishment is considered "pre-Dharmic". Dharma realization comes after that level of meditational accomplishment.

The westerners are trying hard, but few are really becoming accomplished.

So you're basically saying we're an inferior breed of practitioners?

As a generalization, to date, yes. Hopefully to be corrected at some point in the future.
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 04, 2013 5:43 pm

smcj wrote:Think of pre-PRC Tibet as a sterile petrie dish.


You mean a Shangri La?



So you're basically saying we're an inferior breed of practitioners?

As a generalization, to date, yes. Hopefully to be corrected at some point in the future.


I don't think in the present generations many folks in the west would ever see a western Buddhist clergyman/woman in the same light as an Asian. It wouldn't matter how many academic qualifications and years of retreat they've done. When they're from your culture, you can easily see all their personal flaws and failings.

It is easy to aggrandize people from foreign, exotic lands, especially when they don't speak English very well, and have a whole following of people to describe all the miracles they've performed. Easterners are "spiritual" while westerners are "materialistic" as the old Victorian dichotomy goes. This kind of bias is still in effect.
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Sep 04, 2013 6:52 pm

Dear Astus,

I hope that is true! It certainly paints a more hopeful picture of the dharma ending age than what one usually hears.

It is said in the Pure Land tradition that the last sutra to remain is the Larger Amitabha Sutra for another 100 years after all the others are gone.


Does this statement come from the Pure Land Sutras themselves, commentaries, or both?
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Posts: 2328
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Location: the Netherlands and India

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Will » Wed Sep 04, 2013 7:20 pm

This dichotomy is understandable, but not really necessary. Assuming a good motive, devotion & practice, Dharma texts will lead to a spiritual friend (like it or not).

Focus on our own experiential (pondering & meditating) Dharma, which is based on the written Dharma, both of which are based on a heart-felt devotion to the Triple Jewel (or just Buddha alone) will lead to wisdom. If our understanding is correct we will progress and in time (short or long) attract a good knowing advisor. If our understanding is not correct, but our motive & devotion are, then a wise advisor will still appear - eventually.
One should refrain from biased judgments and doubting in fathoming the Buddha and the Dharma of the Buddhas. Even though a dharma may be extremely difficult to believe, one should nonetheless maintain faith in it. Nagarjuna
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Astus » Wed Sep 04, 2013 8:12 pm

JKhedrup wrote:Does this statement come from the Pure Land Sutras themselves, commentaries, or both?


It is in the Larger Sutra:

"In the future, the Buddhist scriptures and teachings will perish. But, out of pity and compassion, I will especially preserve this sutra and maintain it in the world for a hundred years more. Those beings who encounter it will attain deliverance in accord with their aspirations."
(Three Pure Land Sutras, p 61; tr. Inagaki)
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby smcj » Wed Sep 04, 2013 8:20 pm

Think of pre-PRC Tibet as a sterile petrie dish.

You mean a Shangri La?

No, not a Shangri La. Tibet was past its prime as a society and was in decline. The septic tank of b.s. had overflowed and the flood of sewage was creeping up the monastery walls. But there was still the ethic of preserving the pristine Dharma.

As an example I will use the lama that was sent to us California hippies to teach meditation. He was born in 1931. Then in 1948, at the age of 17, he and a group of his peers took a vow to spend the rest of their lives on a cloistered retreat. They were sealed off into a section of the monastery where their food, water, and Dharma instruction were passed through the sealed door. That was it. Nothing else in, nothing else out. So in the early '50s when the Chinese walked into Kham they were not told about it. When things got tense and threatening, they were not told about it. They were on retreat, and to be insulated from samsara. It was 1959 before they found out. The first they knew that there was a problem was when the monastery came under direct attack, with explosions, screams, gunfire and the like. So they broke open the sealed door to see what was going on, and with no understanding of what was happening, with people dying and chaos all around him, this lama took off for the hills on foot with no provisions and just the thought, "the 3 Jewels will protect me."

Do you know of any equivalent opportunity for practice anywhere in the world today?

As a generalization, to date, yes. Hopefully to be corrected at some point in the future.

I don't think in the present generations many folks in the west would ever see a western Buddhist clergyman/woman in the same light as an Asian. It wouldn't matter how many academic qualifications and years of retreat they've done. When they're from your culture, you can easily see all their personal flaws and failings.

It is easy to aggrandize people from foreign, exotic lands, especially when they don't speak English very well, and have a whole following of people to describe all the miracles they've performed. Easterners are "spiritual" while westerners are "materialistic.

Actually I think that when a Westerner gains deep realization it will be easier to tell because we know the mud puddle his lotus grew out of.
**********************************************************************
For the record, I do not advocate anyone participating here change anything about the way they go about their lives or their practice. That is their karma, they do as they please. But for newbies and people that have yet to establish themselves in practice, I believe that they should be given access to non-dismissive information in regards to what is still available--barely--for instruction. Much has been said in this thread about the disappearance of the Dharma. We may be witnessing it as we speak. But it's not gone yet, and the outcome is not a foregone conclusion.
A human being has his limits. And thus, in every conceivable way, with every possible means, he tries to make the teaching enter into his own limits. ChNN
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Astus » Wed Sep 04, 2013 8:58 pm

smcj wrote:Do you know of any equivalent opportunity for practice anywhere in the world today?


There are strong retreat oriented communities in both Theravada and Mahayana countries. Some follow the traditional dhutanga, some a different type of practice. There are also hermits in mountains and forests. One can not only learn from such people but even join them. As I hinted before, Tibet is not the only Buddhist place on this planet.

Also, it is not even a strictly Buddhist phenomenon that people completely withdraw from the world (an example).
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby smcj » Wed Sep 04, 2013 9:10 pm

Astus wrote:
smcj wrote:Do you know of any equivalent opportunity for practice anywhere in the world today?


There are strong retreat oriented communities in both Theravada and Mahayana countries. Some follow the traditional dhutanga, some a different type of practice. There are also hermits in mountains and forests. One can not only learn from such people but even join them. As I hinted before, Tibet is not the only Buddhist place on this planet.

Also, it is not even a strictly Buddhist phenomenon that people completely withdraw from the world (an example).

Yes, there are opportunities for retreat. Usually retreats are for a specific amount of time. The culture of Tibet encouraged and logistically supported people to do extended retreats to a degree not seen elsewhere. You don't see groups of 17 year olds committing to a lifetime of retreat these days, and being given the material support needed to do so (up until the society collapsed due to invasion).
A human being has his limits. And thus, in every conceivable way, with every possible means, he tries to make the teaching enter into his own limits. ChNN
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Astus » Wed Sep 04, 2013 10:15 pm

smcj wrote:The culture of Tibet encouraged and logistically supported people to do extended retreats to a degree not seen elsewhere. You don't see groups of 17 year olds committing to a lifetime of retreat these days, and being given the material support needed to do so (up until the society collapsed due to invasion).


Becoming a monk/nun is leaving home, leaving the secular world behind. It is the backbone of the Buddhist tradition, therefore it is very much supported by Buddhists everywhere. There are different types of monasteries, and among them you find those that are even more withdrawn and closed off from the world.

Some examples from China:

Amongst White Clouds - Official Trailer
The Chinese Hermit Tradition: An Interview with Red Pine
Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits

And from Thailand:

Thai Buddhist Forest Tradition, Thudong, Forest Monks and Hermits of Thaiand
With Robes and Bowl - Glimpses of the Thudong Bhikkhu Life

Outside of Buddhism, other religions also have monastic and eremitic orders, like the Roman Catholic Church.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby smcj » Wed Sep 04, 2013 11:09 pm

Astus wrote:
smcj wrote:The culture of Tibet encouraged and logistically supported people to do extended retreats to a degree not seen elsewhere. You don't see groups of 17 year olds committing to a lifetime of retreat these days, and being given the material support needed to do so (up until the society collapsed due to invasion).


Becoming a monk/nun is leaving home, leaving the secular world behind. It is the backbone of the Buddhist tradition, therefore it is very much supported by Buddhists everywhere. There are different types of monasteries, and among them you find those that are even more withdrawn and closed off from the world.

Some examples from China:

Tibetans do not have a monopoly on retreats and cloistered monks. However I stand by my statement that pre-PRC Tibet was a unique environment for Dharma practice both in scope and vitality--specifically for the Vajrayana. That mold has been broken. The likes of it will probably not be seen again.

Can the Vajrayana survive the modern world? Yes. Will it? I don't know. But the conclusion that the tradition of transmission through a succession of living masters has not yet disappeared, contrary to opinions expressed here. That may happen soon, but it hasn't happened yet.
Last edited by smcj on Wed Sep 04, 2013 11:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Karma Dorje » Wed Sep 04, 2013 11:25 pm

Indrajala wrote:I don't think in the present generations many folks in the west would ever see a western Buddhist clergyman/woman in the same light as an Asian. It wouldn't matter how many academic qualifications and years of retreat they've done. When they're from your culture, you can easily see all their personal flaws and failings.

It is easy to aggrandize people from foreign, exotic lands, especially when they don't speak English very well, and have a whole following of people to describe all the miracles they've performed. Easterners are "spiritual" while westerners are "materialistic" as the old Victorian dichotomy goes. This kind of bias is still in effect.


Only amongst the most superficial of people. My own teacher was a westerner that spent 40+ years in retreat by the end of his life. He was a bhikshu with impeccable morality and was very learned. If one wants to find flaws and failings in people, I am sure that even Lord Shakyamuni would not escape criticism. However, the process of projection onto the human guru is not a problem-- it is a key part of the practice. If we have an ounce of humility we are much more ready to see perfection in others before we see it in ourselves. A good lama will continuously throw these projections back on oneself, as well as undermine all of our pompous pretensions of being scholars or having accomplished anything.

The problem with the relative rarity of accomplished Westerner practitioners isn't any ethnic biased discrimination but rather that for the most part we haven't done enough retreat. Often, even if we do have some meditational experience, we end up getting caught up in gain and fame and end up trademarking their personal slogans, creating new dharma-lite programs or writing pop psychology books . However, there are most definitely Western lamas that have done extensive retreat, have dedicated students and are highly regarded by Tibetan lamas. They simply don't waste their time pontificating on Internet fora.
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby smcj » Wed Sep 04, 2013 11:37 pm

They simply don't waste their time pontificating on Internet fora.

Last year when the young Kalu R. came to L.A. I suggested to him that he join some of these forums anonymously, not to post, but to read how we are misunderstanding what is being taught. He didn't go for it.

Oh well...
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Karma Dorje » Thu Sep 05, 2013 1:18 am

If books were sufficient, why did so many of the learned scholars of Nalanda, where the collection of the teachings was perhaps more complete than at any other time in Buddhist history, forsake the library and go off to study with mahasiddhas in the cremation ground? Maybe they were onto something.
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Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Indrajala » Thu Sep 05, 2013 1:31 am

Karma Dorje wrote:If books were sufficient, why did so many of the learned scholars of Nalanda, where the collection of the teachings was perhaps more complete than at any other time in Buddhist history, forsake the library and go off to study with mahasiddhas in the cremation ground? Maybe they were onto something.


There were thousands of monks at Nalanda. How many do you believe forsook the library and went off to the cremation ground?
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