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

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Ayu
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Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Ayu » Sun Apr 10, 2016 6:04 pm

How is the best approach to teach westerners what Buddhism is all about?
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Rishin » Sun Apr 10, 2016 6:52 pm

Surely it will depend on the individual?

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Ayu » Sun Apr 10, 2016 7:02 pm

Rishin wrote:Surely it will depend on the individual?
Yes, for sure.

But if someone runs a dharmacenter: which approach will be most successful for to have as a result of the teachings real healthy stable Buddhists?
I must say, I have no idea myself. Maybe it also depends on the qualities of the resident teacher.

So, this question can only be posed as: What would you individually prefer?
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sun Apr 10, 2016 7:07 pm

It depends on the demographic in a certain area, the teacher, etc.

I chose the combination answer, not because it's one I like (I'm actually really tired of the whole secular/scientific melding with Dharma thing), but because overall it is the one that I suspect most Westerners would respond to right off the bat.

It's worth noting though, many places basically have a "two track" system with their teachings and schedule, some practices that are generally for everyone (including non-Buddhists and those shopping around for a tradition), and practices which are for people who are more long-term.
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Wayfarer » Sun Apr 10, 2016 10:18 pm

A lot depends on the attitude of those being taught. Some are naturally inclined to be sceptical about 'anything religious' although if they are interested in learning about Dharma, maybe not so much. But the way I approach the subject when I give talks on the subject is that I acknowledge that there are supernatural elements in the Buddhist tradition. I tell people not to either believe or disbelieve, but to interpret such aspects of the tradition in context - what do they mean, how they fit into the overall logic of the narrative and the history of the tradition.

When I did comparative religion at University, we had quite a few lessons on how to deal with the miraculous stories in religious narratives in a scholarly way. One of them is 'bracketing' - which means something like suspending judgement as to whether you believe the story or not, but just exploring the story for its meaning.

Of course there will always be some aspects, and some people, which are going to make it difficult. #1 is 'do Buddhists believe in reincarnation?' which is a hot-button issue in Western presentations of Buddhism. I always approach that topic by differentiating the Buddhist view of re-birth from reincarnation. There are allegorical interpretations of re-birth, i.e. it is a 'moment to moment' reality in our lives. I leave it up to people to form their own views of such questions.

Also it might be good to have some familiarity with the books which address the subject of Buddhism and modernity in depth - such as Donald Lopez http://amzn.com/0226493199 and another is David Mcmahan http://amzn.com/0195183274.

Hope that is helpful, and good luck - it is a tough topic!

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Kim O'Hara » Sun Apr 10, 2016 11:06 pm

Most Westerners are not interested in 'Buddhism' or even in 'religion' but in being happier. Therefore, I think the most productive approach is to teach beginners' meditation 'for peace and relaxation', or words to that effect, with very little doctrine and then introduce more doctrine in more advanced meditation classes and retreats.
It's a model which many centres follow. The one I'm most familiar with is http://www.sakya.com.au/calmabidingmeditation in which the 8-week course is followed by regular weekly meditation and occasional retreats. But bear in mind that most people give up on their self-improvement efforts very quickly. If twenty people begin one of these 8-week courses, having more than five finish it is unusually good - but the same applies to a beginners' yoga or tai chi course - even a two-month gym membership.

The other model is the completely secular one, the therapeutic approach such as MBSR. Some people who who avoid the first kind because it's 'religious' or 'superstitious' will go along to learn the same techniques under the secular label but it seems to me that there is not way forward from secular meditation to the dharma. Saying after ten weeks, 'Hey, you know what, this stuff is really Buddhism and it's time for you to start chanting,' is not going to go down well with people who wanted to stay away from religion!

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

Post by Queequeg » Mon Apr 11, 2016 2:23 am

Kim is onto to something, though I'd suggest happiness is not just a Westerners concern - its human.

Beings want to be happy; they don't want to suffer.

There are a variety of reasons people are unhappy. If a person is in a position to think that focusing and relaxing are what's missing from life, they're probably doing pretty good. That's probably a relatively privileged life being lived.

Maybe this sounds too remedial, but maybe start with cause and effect. That's a neutral topic that is applicable at the most basic levels of Buddhist practice through the most advanced. A lot of people don't think clearly about cause and effect and its obvious when you look at their lives. At a samsaric level they make bad causes and end up with bad effects. (Actually, I think a lot of practicing Buddhists could stand to pay attention to Cause and Effect, too). They need a plan for approaching the navigation of cause and effect, at the samsaric level as well as outside the 6 realms.

Even this is too abstract an approach, though.

Buddhism spread in Asia not because it provided a path to enlightenment for the few highly motivated. It spread because it appealed to ordinary people with ordinary yearnings and led them to improve their lives. Look at the Jataka tales, which of all Buddhist literature, is probably the most explicitly directed to lay people. They teach basic values - not killing, not stealing, not lying, generosity, friendship, loyalty, kindness...

I bet that if every Buddhist strove to be kind, honest, reliable, generous, etc. in their daily dealings with people, it would cause people to become interested in Buddhism. When a person asks, "Why are you like this?" One can answer, "Because the Buddha taught this is the path to happiness." At that point, having seen an effect they want for themselves, they will be more open to the cause.
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

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Losal Samten » Mon Apr 11, 2016 11:11 am

  • As long as they do not authorise what has not been authorised already, and do not abolish what has been authorised, but proceed according to what has been authorised by the rules of training, they may be expected to prosper and not to decline.
Mahaparinibbana Sutta, DN. 16
Lacking mindfulness, we commit every wrong. - Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔
ཨཱོཾ་མ་ཏྲི་མུ་ཡེ་སལེ་འདུ།།

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by muni » Mon Apr 11, 2016 11:54 am

I see nobody clicked on the devotional part.
Maybe chanting and praying is not complete to call it devotional, however it can be part of it. The indescridable devotion for guru is something what can be very much misunderstood (clinging to Guru) but which is in some traditions crucial tool ( of course study has been there too). An Enlightened Guru is actually representing what we seek and therefore devotion in Guru is devotion in own nature which makes it to be recognized. That is actually devotion as liberating tool. People must be careful since the appreciation for "study" can be high valued ( while no need to reject neither, just as whatever help for insight), while it is impossible to be liberated by fabricated, cultivated dharma only. There is always an I, me behind.

Furthermore I wish may each one get the neccesary liberating help. So this just about devotional. :smile:
May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness.
May they be free of suffering and the cause of suffering.
May they never be disassociated from the supreme happiness which is without suffering.
May they remain in the boundless equanimity, free from both attachment to close ones and rejection of others.

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Ayu » Mon Apr 11, 2016 12:16 pm

muni wrote:..., while it is impossible to be liberated by fabricated, cultivated dharma only. There is always an I, me behind.
Yeah. How I agree!

I find it quite difficult to phrase a poll correctly. Especially because there is no possibility to edit it.
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Astus » Mon Apr 11, 2016 12:26 pm

None of the above.

I believe in the direct way to point to the heart of the matter. Anyone can confirm for oneself that no matter what experience occurs, it's unreliable. Because it's unreliable, there is nothing worth grasping. Cultivating that is what regulating, relaxing, and realising are about.

All of the above.

Skilful means is the application of wisdom in all sorts of situations. One better follows wisdom than recipes.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Queequeg » Mon Apr 11, 2016 3:50 pm

Astus wrote:None of the above...
All of the above...
I agree with this, without the qualifications...
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

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by jake » Mon Apr 11, 2016 4:20 pm

Sorry, by why isn't science considered spiritual? It is for many scientists I know.
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Queequeg » Mon Apr 11, 2016 9:43 pm

jake wrote:Sorry, by why isn't science considered spiritual? It is for many scientists I know.
That's a good question.

I think in the context of this discussion, though, "Scientific" world view is the scientific materialist world view in which all phenomena are reduced to atoms bouncing off each other.
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

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by dreambow » Tue Apr 12, 2016 12:41 am

We can skip past the tedium of science and mathematics and admit that anything can happen. Enlightenment is not logical or illogical but surpasses
all intellectual reasoning and endeavour. The mind can 'rabbit' on endlessly and its still unexplainable.

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Kim O'Hara » Tue Apr 12, 2016 5:15 am

Queequeg wrote:
jake wrote:Sorry, by why isn't science considered spiritual? It is for many scientists I know.
That's a good question.

I think in the context of this discussion, though, "Scientific" world view is the scientific materialist world view in which all phenomena are reduced to atoms bouncing off each other.
I'm sure that's close to what the OP intended. One world-view centres on science, rationalism and materialism and the contrasting view centres on religion, mysticism, intuition and spirituality. In terms of the kinds of things the dharma teaches, they express themselves as rational humanism and a medicalised view of mental health (MBSR, etc) on one side with new-agey stuff and traditional religions (including Buddhism) on the other.

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

Post by muni » Tue Apr 12, 2016 8:02 am

Ayu wrote:
muni wrote:..., while it is impossible to be liberated by fabricated, cultivated dharma only. There is always an I, me behind.
Yeah. How I agree!

I find it quite difficult to phrase a poll correctly. Especially because there is no possibility to edit it.
Oh, its' fine Ayu, I would even not able to set up such a poll at all. :namaste:
May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness.
May they be free of suffering and the cause of suffering.
May they never be disassociated from the supreme happiness which is without suffering.
May they remain in the boundless equanimity, free from both attachment to close ones and rejection of others.

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

Post by Ayu » Tue Apr 12, 2016 12:19 pm

jake wrote:Sorry, by why isn't science considered spiritual? It is for many scientists I know.
I was refering to science as a term for the exclusive belief in everything that can be proved scientificly. That belief in it's pure form doesn't accept anything that isn't evidenced.
Last edited by Ayu on Tue Apr 12, 2016 2:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Typo
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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Astus » Tue Apr 12, 2016 4:04 pm

Ayu wrote:I was refering to science as a term for the exclusive belief in everything that can be proved scientificly. That belief in it's pure form doesn't accept anything that isn't evidenced.
That does not exist on the human level. Also, that kind of "pure science" is a methodology, a technique of investigation, not a claim or statement, so it is not in the same category as being spiritual, or any view. Not to mention the problem that if one can actually understand the scientific proof, it is not a matter of believing it or not. So, I think that the "scientific approach" is simply physicalism, another word for materialism, the extreme view of annihilation.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Approach in the West: Scientific vs Spiritual?

Post by Ayu » Tue Apr 12, 2016 4:18 pm

Astus wrote:
Ayu wrote:I was refering to science as a term for the exclusive belief in everything that can be proved scientificly. That belief in it's pure form doesn't accept anything that isn't evidenced.
That does not exist on the human level. Also, that kind of "pure science" is a methodology, a technique of investigation, not a claim or statement, so it is not in the same category as being spiritual, or any view. Not to mention the problem that if one can actually understand the scientific proof, it is not a matter of believing it or not. So, I think that the "scientific approach" is simply physicalism, another word for materialism, the extreme view of annihilation.
Or maybe it is another word for mysticism-phobia?

The background of my poll and question is a discussion I am observing in a Sangha: one side wants to have scientific approach only, leaving out all those traditional prayers and rituals. The other side finds that strange and disagrees.
I have decided to stick with love.
Hate is too great a burden to bear.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. -

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