Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

General forum on the teachings of all schools of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Topics specific to one school are best posted in the appropriate sub-forum.

How to give westerners an understanding of Buddhism the best way?

Pure modern scientific approach, leaving out prayers and rituals
3
7%
Mainly teaching of old scriptures and the connected meditations
1
2%
Combination of old scriptures, rituals and modern science
9
20%
Classical scriptures and traditional rituals & meditation
19
43%
Mainly devotional practice like chanting, prayers & rituals
1
2%
Nothing of these
11
25%
 
Total votes: 44

mikenz66
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by mikenz66 » Wed Apr 13, 2016 4:51 am

Kim O'Hara wrote: I would like to add that this is pretty much true for any teacher trying to teach any bunch of willing adults anything at all, whether it yoga or tennis or calligraphy: you have to start from where the students are at and introduce skills and concepts at the best rate they can absorb them.
Teaching something which is wrong is never a good idea, because you have to un-teach it later. That wastes a lot of the students' (and your) time and costs you credibility. But bypassing some of the stuff they are not ready for, so that they can move ahead with what they are ready for, is good practice. ...
Sure. Any subject you have to start off with the simple stuff, otherwise you'd never get anywhere. So in teaching students Physics we start with the simpler bits, such as Newton's laws. Then later we tell them that these need to be modified at high speeds (relativity) or at small scales (quantum mechanics). So, we could say that we teach them material that is ultimately "wrong" (Newtonian mechanics), but on the other hand Newtonian Mechanics is:
1. A good enough approximation to design bridges, planes, and so on.
2. Without mastering that "wrong" theory, it would be very difficult to learn the better ones.

:anjali:
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Kim O'Hara » Wed Apr 13, 2016 5:13 am

mikenz66 wrote:... in teaching students Physics we start with the simpler bits, such as Newton's laws. Then later we tell them that these need to be modified at high speeds (relativity) or at small scales (quantum mechanics). So, we could say that we teach them material that is ultimately "wrong" (Newtonian mechanics), but on the other hand Newtonian Mechanics is:
1. A good enough approximation to design bridges, planes, and so on.
2. Without mastering that "wrong" theory, it would be very difficult to learn the better ones.

:anjali:
Mike
Okay, so here's a subtle point that many students will not be ready for :tongue: (bear with me, folks):
Is Newtonian physics really wrong, or is it an approximation which is entirely valid within its limits but needs to be outgrown in the long term?
I believe the latter is true and you turn round later and say, "These laws are accurate descriptions at everyday scales but don't describe what happens at very small scales or very high speeds, so we need a much more complicated model," OWTTE. That is, you don't 'un-teach' Newtonian physics but add to it an alternate theory with a wider range of applicability. If so, you are doing exactly what I have suggested is good practice :smile: rather than what I have suggested is bad practice.

:namaste:
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by mikenz66 » Wed Apr 13, 2016 5:47 am

Yes, exactly. For normal civil and mechanical engineering, like sending a rocket to the moon, or building a bridge, Newton's laws are perfectly fine. It would be a huge waste of effort to use the relativistic equations.

On the other hand, you need to apply both special and general relativistic corrections to the atomic clocks on the GPS satellites for them to run synchronously with the ones on earth, and the location you get on your phone app depends on those corrections having been made (not in the phone, on the satellites).

:coffee:
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by DGA » Wed Apr 13, 2016 11:28 am

Daizan wrote:Hello DGA,

I personally can't advocate teaching something that I don't believe. How about you?
Respectfully, I think you're missing the point.

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Daizan » Wed Apr 13, 2016 5:08 pm

My point is that "the point" is too simplistic to be useful, and I suspect that's why it refuses to come down to earth, like where I tried to take it with my real life example, and instead dwells quantum mechanics and the like.

Seriously though, I defy anyone to figure out the real point of this topic as presented. I include Ayu, the topic presenter, in that challenge.

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Wed Apr 13, 2016 5:17 pm

Daizan wrote:My point is that "the point" is too simplistic to be useful, and I suspect that's why it refuses to come down to earth, like where I tried to take it with my real life example, and instead dwells quantum mechanics and the like.

Seriously though, I defy anyone to figure out the real point of this topic as presented. I include Ayu, the topic presenter, in that challenge.
I gave you very specific responses, in particular I even addressed the "no self" incident you mentioned, and similar things I've been around. The others gave very specific responses as well.

Rather than challenging us, I think you should provide more clarity on just what it is *you* are trying to say first.

Actually, if anyone has oversimplified, I believe it is you, in the assumption that "teaching Buddhism" is some all or nothing proposition.
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Daizan » Wed Apr 13, 2016 5:34 pm

Hi Johnny,

Earlier you wrote:
a big part of teaching anything is being able to skilfully correct misconceptions, part of which is knowing when to push out some misunderstanding and when to let it lie - just like the incident at the Zen center you describe, it did not happen there because someone went all "learn it all at once" on them. The best Dharma teachers I've been around in interactive conversations/teachings know exactly how much, when, and where to to focus.
It was no great feat of wisdom to know that attempting to explain the Buddhist view in that situation would have been a futile effort. I knew that, the leadership there knew that (and is probably why they didn't address the question). The girl who did try was a university student with some background in Eastern religious studies, if I recall correctly. I would credit that abundance of knowledge in combination with a lack of practical experience in these kinds of situations for her attempt, and failure. She in fact did go "learn it all at once" on him.

I should add that putting the question aside is not the same as presenting something that you don't believe yourself.

And I thought that I made myself clear when I wrote that "the point" is too simplistic to be useful.

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by DGA » Wed Apr 13, 2016 6:18 pm

DGA wrote:
Daizan wrote:Hello DGA,

I personally can't advocate teaching something that I don't believe. How about you?
Respectfully, I think you're missing the point.
Daizan, when I said you were missing the point, I meant you were missing the point about what "truth" means in Buddhism. I'd assume you were familiar with the two truths, but because upaya was a new one for you, that would be presumptuous. So: what, for you, is the truth?

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Daizan » Wed Apr 13, 2016 6:53 pm

Upaya is not news, now that I think about it. Zen is replete with it.

I respectfully decline to indulge further abstractions, like quantum mechanics or the meaning of truth, and opt to stand firm on the topic and its practical applications. If that means I'm done here then I wish everyone the best and wave a heartfelt fare-thee-well as you pass me by.

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Queequeg » Wed Apr 13, 2016 6:57 pm

Daizan wrote:Upaya is not news, now that I think about it. Zen is replete with it.

I respectfully decline to indulge further abstractions, like quantum mechanics or the meaning of truth, and opt to stand firm on the topic and its practical applications. If that means I'm done here then I wish everyone the best and wave a heartfelt fare-thee-well as you pass me by.
Talk about abstraction. What does that mean? :rolling:

The Question posed at the head of this thread:

"How to give westerners an understanding of Buddhism the best way?"

Ayu admitted that the question was not well posed.

Based on the above exchanges, I think the question can be restated like this:

How can we most effectively present Buddhism to Westerners?

The question is problematic for a variety of reasons, the least of which is, what is a "Westerner"?

I think in general terms, the most relevant characteristic of a Westerner we are presently assuming is that Westerners are people who are settled on a positivistic materialist assumption about the nature of reality, which eventually boils down to nihilism expressed at best as something like humanistic existentialism, but usually something considerably less generous and principled: life as framed in a soft nihilism and played out as a series of impulsive reactions to stimuli.

Actually, I think that describes not just Westerners, but pretty much all of us with a few extraordinary exceptions. "Western" or "Eastern" or "African" etc. has more to do with how we involuntary beings manifest through particular cultural habits and customs. :soapbox:

This second problem may be more pertinent to the manner in which I posed the question, but I think it bears on the original question:
"What does it mean to present Buddhism effectively?"

I would propose that it means, how can Dharma be presented to optimize the chances that it will be internalized by Westerners and put into practice?

***

If the above is correct about "Westerners" being materialists cum nihilists, emptiness might not be the ideal teaching to start with. Instead, it might be best to start with some sort of "Self"-ish teaching like what JD referred to above.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

I think each human being has things to find out in his own life that are inescapable. They’ll find them out the easy way or the hard way, or whatever.
-Jerry Garcia

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Wed Apr 13, 2016 7:14 pm

And I thought that I made myself clear when I wrote that "the point" is too simplistic to be useful.
Lol, so is your complaint! I mean really, saying " if you can't teach everything perfectly at once, you are not teaching what you say you are" is also a bit over simplified, isn't it?

My problem is, I don't think you've made a very good good argument that upaya = incomplete teaching, if that is even what you are implying.
Qeequeg wrote:If the above is correct about "Westerners" being materialists cum nihilists, emptiness might not be the ideal teaching to start with. Instead, it might be best to start with some sort of "Self"-ish teaching like what JD referred to above
Bodhicitta, refuge are good places to start i'll bet.

Of course, people do much better with interdpendence than emptiness, even though they are expressions of the same thing, I've seen one go over really well and the other get weird looks, even when being taught together in a complimentary way, by exceptionally skilled teachers. There are just areas that seem so loaded for westerners..so it comes back to the OP really.
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by DGA » Wed Apr 13, 2016 7:26 pm

Daizan wrote:Upaya is not news, now that I think about it. Zen is replete with it.

I respectfully decline to indulge further abstractions, like quantum mechanics or the meaning of truth, and opt to stand firm on the topic and its practical applications. If that means I'm done here then I wish everyone the best and wave a heartfelt fare-thee-well as you pass me by.
I'm glad you remember now what "skillful means" means. And yes, you're right about its role in Zen. If you've any familiarity with Zen at all, you've surely been exposed to the parable of the burning house from the Lotus Sutra that Queequeg reminded you with earlier in this thread.

You've stated that you object to people not telling the truth, but here you refuse to specify what you mean by truth. When you make these objections, are you referring to absolute or relative truth? (also familiar territory for a Zen student.) This isn't an abstraction; this is a functional matter.

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Daizan » Wed Apr 13, 2016 7:42 pm

"... it [understanding Buddhism, I'm assuming] might be best to start with some sort of "Self"-ish teaching..." - Qeequeg

How does teaching "modern science," or rather materialism/annihilationism, fit into this? Or have we, thankfully, abandon that theory.

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Wed Apr 13, 2016 7:57 pm

Daizan wrote:"... it [understanding Buddhism, I'm assuming] might be best to start with some sort of "Self"-ish teaching..." - Qeequeg

How does teaching "modern science," or rather materialism/annihilationism, fit into this? Or have we, thankfully, abandon that theory.

It isn't just modern science though, typically it's stuff like scientific data on meditation, and the parts of physics that line up with emptiness, used to teach emptiness. That is not the same thing as teaching annihilationism. It would become that if (like someone like Batchelor) you decided to apply "scientism" rather than science to throw out all the parts of Dharma you didn't like.
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Daizan » Wed Apr 13, 2016 7:59 pm

I've stated that I personally can't advocate teaching something that I don't believe, DGA. My meaning was poorly expressed by that statement however, now that I review it. Of course I can advocate teaching something I don't believe. What I meant to say was that I can't advocate others teaching what they don't believe. Or if you prefer, I wouldn't teach something that I don't believe, in good conscience. Why? Qeequeg said it well on the previous page, in my opinion, with: "Teaching something which is wrong is never a good idea, because you have to un-teach it later. That wastes a lot of the students' (and your) time and costs you credibility."

I can't think of a good reason to waste anyones time or compromise credibility in this way. Can you?
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Wed Apr 13, 2016 8:03 pm

Daizan wrote:I've stated that I personally can't advocate teaching something that I don't believe, DGA. My meaning was poorly expressed by that statement however, now that I review it. Of course I can advocate teaching something I don't believe. What I meant to say was that I can't advocate others teaching what they don't believe. Or if you prefer, I wouldn't teach something that I don't believe, in good conscience. Why? Qeequeg said it well on the previous page, in my opinion, with: "Teaching something which is wrong is never a good idea, because you have to un-teach it later. That wastes a lot of the students' (and your) time and costs you credibility."

I can't think of a good reason to waste anyones time or compromise credibility. Can you?
Daizan, can you further define teachings in this vein that you would consider to be nhilism, or just contrary to Dharma? Part of the problem here is that there is actually quite a range of people who teach this way, from Wallace to Batchelor, they are not by a long shot teaching the same thing, even though they are all using science as part of their presentation.
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by DGA » Wed Apr 13, 2016 8:11 pm

Hi Daizan,

I think I understand you better. But when you say
Daizan wrote:Of course I can advocate teaching something I don't believe.


and then you say
I wouldn't teach something that I don't believe, in good conscience.


it seems as though you are contradicting yourself.

however...
I can't think of a good reason to waste anyones time or compromise credibility. Can you?
On this point we agree completely. You can see our recent conversations in the Zen subforum that address this very issue.

Speaking for myself: as a rule, I don't much care what others do or say. I don't know much of anything and I'm not a Dharma teacher so my opinions don't count for much anyway. The only time I do try to engage is when someone who does have some teaching responsibility really slides off the rails--this is a problem because the wellbeing of many people will be affected. Again, recent conversations in the Zen subforum etc.

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Daizan » Wed Apr 13, 2016 8:12 pm

I don't know anything about Wallace but I know enough about Batchelor, to a reasonable degree I think, to believe that he believes what he teaches.

You and I seem to be miscommunicating, Johnny D.

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Wed Apr 13, 2016 8:18 pm

Daizan wrote:I don't know anything about Wallace but I know enough about Batchelor, to a reasonable degree I think, to believe that he believes what he teaches.

You and I seem to be miscommunicating, Johnny D.

I asked you a direct and relevant question a couple posts up, can you answer it?
Daizan, can you further define teachings in this vein that you would consider to be nhilism, or just contrary to Dharma?
I'm asking which teachings are nihilism by your definition, or contrary to Dharma based on the way they use science, and why. This is necessary information to answer any of the points you've made in the post so far, because we cannot say whether people "are teaching what they believe" without defining what they are actually teaching.
Last edited by Johnny Dangerous on Wed Apr 13, 2016 8:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Ayu » Wed Apr 13, 2016 8:23 pm

Daizan wrote:...

Seriously though, I defy anyone to figure out the real point of this topic as presented. I include Ayu, the topic presenter, in that challenge.
Sorry, I don't take up that gauntlet. As I wrote before, I'm not sure about the right & appropriate approach. That's why it makes no sense for me to discuss about right or wrong. It is very helpful for me to simply observe the discussion and the wider is the variety of thoughts and opinions, the better it is for my understandng of the whole issue.
I'm not interested in a final solution but in all of your different ancles of view, because I'd like to understand the quarrel in that Sangha better.

No need to argue. :smile:
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