Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

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Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by tonysharp » Sun May 12, 2019 8:05 pm

After being a Theravada Buddhist for about 12 years, I'm starting to question my compatibility with this school. In the communities I frequent, renunciate practices like Satipaṭṭhāna are heavily emphasized over traditional lay and devotional practices. Furthermore, the mere mention of using the teachings to help others elicits criticism. "We shouldn't engage in mundane affairs. We should focus on eliminating our own defilements." In some Mahayana circles, the Theravada has a reputation for being stifling and selfish. I can't help but wonder if there's some truth to this.

Theravada Buddhism initially drew my interest because it was often framed as rational and secular, something that appealed to my intensely anti-religious sentiments at the time. Thanks to meditation, and study of the Tipitaka, these sentiments have softened, and I’m now open to overtly spiritual teachings and practices. Although such teachings and practices (which, in my view, align better with lay life) exist in Theravada, it's difficult to find support or resources for them.

Frankly, I feel that it might be time for me to find another Buddhist school to follow, but I’m not sure which direction to go. Ideally, I’d prefer a school that didn’t immediately require temple visits (commuting outside of work is an impediment), and would be welcoming to someone of a darker complexion. I’ve started watching a video on the Lotus Sutra, a scripture that’s revered by the Nichiren, Zen, and other schools. It’s quite intriguing.

Any thoughts or suggestions are welcome.

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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by SunWuKong » Sun May 12, 2019 9:57 pm

Nice post! I myself am going through some re-alignment of my views and affiliations. I'm not quite sure what the end of it will be, but i favor equal status for women and men, laity and cloistered. In fact, I don't recognize monks and nuns as anyone different or special.

Working on one's own defilements is not contradicted by helping others or sharing the Dhamma. This is an entirely false and shameful view not supported anywhere in the Suttas. If you read carefully, you'll find the suttas much closer to the early Mahayana.

Also, I'll have to be honest, the tradition of Vipassana meditation was re-invented by Theraveda in the last 2 centuries at best, as meditation had fallen into decadence along with the rest of southern Buddhism. That having been said, everything you've learned can be useful to you as you move forward. The suttas and working on defilements you can carry forward with you.

I'm not entirely sure, but as far as an actual sect, only Pure Land sects abolish distinction based on the householder/renunciate divide. However, there are many Lay movements in all schools. Good luck with your journey!

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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by mikenz66 » Sun May 12, 2019 9:59 pm

Hi Tony,

Do you find this to be the case in off-line communities? Clearly some on-line communities attract particularly single-minded types. As you said, many come via a rational and secular route, and perhaps some of that focus is a reflection of that background. Of course, on-line communities are not necessarily representative of Buddhism, or the sub-categories, as a whole.

:heart:
Mike

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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by tonysharp » Sun May 12, 2019 10:35 pm

SunWuKong wrote:
Sun May 12, 2019 9:57 pm
I'm not quite sure what the end of it will be, but i favor equal status for women and men, laity and cloistered.
Amen to that.
Working on one's own defilements is not contradicted by helping others or sharing the Dhamma. This is an entirely false and shameful view not supported anywhere in the Suttas.
I concur. The Buddha, clearly, opposed selfish practice.

"The individual who practices for his/her own benefit and for that of others is, of these four, the foremost, the chief, the most outstanding, the highest, & supreme." — AN 4.95
Good luck with your journey!
Thank you.
mikenz66 wrote:
Sun May 12, 2019 9:59 pm
Do you find this to be the case in off-line communities?
Hi Mike,

I haven't spent as much time in the off-line communities. The personal instruction I received was primarily breath meditation, and contemplation of metta and the elements.
Of course, on-line communities are not necessarily representative of Buddhism, or the sub-categories, as a whole.
You're right. Honestly, the mere thought of trying to find a teacher and temple again makes me sick to my stomach. I'm emotionally exhausted from a lot of things right now. If possible, I'd rather just have some texts, commentary, and instruction (that don't slant toward renunciation) so I can practice alone for a couple months.
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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by SunWuKong » Sun May 12, 2019 11:52 pm

If you think it possible for lay-members dwell in nibanna, you are not Theravada. If you think it unlikely that lay-members can find the Path to Nirvana, you probably aren't Mahayana.

This might help actually, if you forget the crap they told you and just do this: http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books/Ajahn_ ... amadhi.htm
Last edited by SunWuKong on Mon May 13, 2019 12:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by Wayfarer » Sun May 12, 2019 11:55 pm

Look into Zen - that would be my recommendation. Extensive literature, online teaching resources, great philosophical depth and subtlety. My all time favourite Buddhist spiritual book is To Meet the Real Dragon, Gudo Wafu Nishijima, Sōtō Zen.
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by Dorje Shedrub » Mon May 13, 2019 12:02 am

I came from a Theravada background but found that Tibetan Buddhism (particularly Dzogchen) was more suitable for me. I particularly enjoy the opportunity to participate by webcast in my community, since I live far from sangha.

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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by Mönlam Tharchin » Mon May 13, 2019 5:15 am

Just a shout-out from EnValo on your Reddit post :smile:

I started with secular breath meditation and now I'm in the Pure Land school. I think a good number of us Mahayana/Vajrayana types on here started somewhere else.
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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by humble.student » Mon May 13, 2019 7:39 am

You may want to take a look at the book "The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity" since it addresses all those mundane matters.
And whoever is telling you this stuff could do with reading it too.

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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by £$&^@ » Mon May 13, 2019 9:14 am

Mönlam Tharchin wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 5:15 am
Just a shoutearn from the earn-out from EnValo on your Reddit post :smile:

I started with secular breath meditation and now I'm in the Pure Land school. I think a good number of us Mahayana/Vajrayana types on here started somewhere else.
I started off identifying wi th Theravada simply because at that time in the UK there was little other flesh world choice. it stood me in good stead. there is much to learn from the Theravada. Even if we eventually go in another direction.Thre are a lot of good and sincere meditators among them.
My name is Simon John Ellis. Husband of a Buddhist wife. Father of a Buddhist son. And I will have Enlightenment in this life or the next.

( Or the next..or the next....)

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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by tonysharp » Mon May 13, 2019 1:02 pm

I spent most of yesterday researching and meditating on various schools. Currently, Tibetan Buddhism and Zen have resonated with me the most. Leaving Theravada isn't something that I've decided to do, or wish to complete, on a whim; I've contemplated this for several months. While I still have great respect for the Tipitaka, I've come to see it more as a template than a clear roadmap for practice. This is evident, to me at least, by the abundance of commentaries and techniques that can be derived from the same texts. The standard dhamma talk is, essentially, subjective commentary, or the personal opinions of the speaker. We're all relying on the wisdom of people other than Gautama Buddha. Considering this, I figure, "Why restrict myself to Theravada just because it's the oldest school?" It doesn't make sense for me to do this anymore.
SunWuKong wrote:
Sun May 12, 2019 11:52 pm
If you think it possible for lay-members dwell in nibanna, you are not Theravada.
Intuitively, I don't see why this shouldn't be possible.

Thanks for the article. I've bookmarked it.
Wayfarer wrote:
Sun May 12, 2019 11:55 pm
Look into Zen - that would be my recommendation. Extensive literature, online teaching resources, great philosophical depth and subtlety. My all time favourite Buddhist spiritual book is To Meet the Real Dragon, Gudo Wafu Nishijima, Sōtō Zen.
Thank you very much.
Dorje Shedrub wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 12:02 am
I came from a Theravada background but found that Tibetan Buddhism (particularly Dzogchen) was more suitable for me. I particularly enjoy the opportunity to participate by webcast in my community, since I live far from sangha.
Oooh, webcasts. That sounds like a really nice ice breaker.
Mönlam Tharchin wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 5:15 am
Just a shout-out from EnValo on your Reddit post :smile:
:hi:
I started with secular breath meditation and now I'm in the Pure Land school. I think a good number of us Mahayana/Vajrayana types on here started somewhere else.
In retrospect, I'm thankful for the way Theravada was marketed in English speaking countries. Otherwise, my angry atheist former self likely wouldn't have started on this path. I think Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor was my first book on Buddhism.
humble.student wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 7:39 am
You may want to take a look at the book "The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity" since it addresses all those mundane matters.
I've added it to my wishlist. Thank you.
And whoever is telling you this stuff could do with reading it too.
:lol:

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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by Kim O'Hara » Mon May 13, 2019 1:14 pm

Hi, Tony,
The "selfish Theravada" stereotype is unfair but it has some truth in it, or it wouldn't be a stereotype. :thinking:
That said, you will find the same attitude amongst some Buddhists of all schools - perhaps least in Thich Nhat Hanh's Engaged Buddhism (intro here - viewtopic.php?f=116&t=31129#p491917) - but the Mahayana Bodhisattva ideal counteracts it in a way you don't see in Theravada.

If you don't want to engage in real-world groups, there's no need to restrict yourself to a single school. Why not continue to hang around here (and the Theravada sister-site, too, if you like) for a while and read whatever comes up? If you find yourself increasingly drawn to one or other of the schools, that's the time to focus your reading and activity.

:namaste:
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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by £$&^@ » Mon May 13, 2019 1:32 pm

It might be worth pointing out that being attracted to certain schools, for example the Vajrayana, leaves you no choice but involvement with real life groups. The basic entry level of Vajrayana starts there.

To what degree you continue that involvement once you have received the teachings, might vary.
My name is Simon John Ellis. Husband of a Buddhist wife. Father of a Buddhist son. And I will have Enlightenment in this life or the next.

( Or the next..or the next....)

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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by tonysharp » Mon May 13, 2019 2:35 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 1:14 pm
If you don't want to engage in real-world groups, there's no need to restrict yourself to a single school.
Hi Kim,

I haven't quite ruled out going to another real-world group. It's just that walking uninvited into a private organization, and being among large groups of people I don't know, makes me miserable. Before I force myself to do that again, I'd like to spend some time reading and researching first.

:namaste:
£$&^@ wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 1:32 pm
It might be worth pointing out that being attracted to certain schools, for example the Vajrayana, leaves you no choice but involvement with real life groups. The basic entry level of Vajrayana starts there.
I understand. But, as far as I know, personal instruction isn't required to read up on the Lotus Sutra, the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra, or the Shōbōgenzō.

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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by £$&^@ » Mon May 13, 2019 2:38 pm

No, you are correct.
My name is Simon John Ellis. Husband of a Buddhist wife. Father of a Buddhist son. And I will have Enlightenment in this life or the next.

( Or the next..or the next....)

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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by tonysharp » Mon May 13, 2019 7:51 pm

I just realized, or maybe remembered, something kind of fun. The central practice of Pure Land Buddhism appears to be very similar to the Buddhanusati (recollection of the Buddha) practice that I do. For the longest time, maybe as an old atheist habit, I've reflexively dismissed Pure Land Buddhism. I should give it more serious consideration.

Regarding texts, bdkamerica.org has been an excellent resource. As far as I can tell, there's a free PDF linked to every collection. The translations are sharp and readable.

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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Mon May 13, 2019 8:02 pm

First off, welcome to DW.

Here's my two cents:

On the Tibetan end, if you internalized a lot of the Theravada teachings, then you already understand the foundational level of what is taught in Tibetan Buddhism. Don't discount the importance of what you've learned before to what you're developing into now. When I first learned of the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind I was already intimately familiar with them, because my first exposure was Pali Canon literature, which I read and studied pretty much exclusively for years.

Really this should be true of any Mahayana teaching. It's not that your time in Theravada was a waste, but it can now mature into something with a wider scope, and it seems that you would like it to. The view presented in that vehicle can be narrow, but it's narrow for a good reason. There's no need to set yourself against that narrowness or strictness, just know that it represents a particular mode of thought for particular circumstances.

So really what you have already learned is not something you need to leave behind at all, you are just seeing new stuff that is outside the scope of that teaching, but still includes it.

Also, read Ajahn Chah if you haven't...there are a number of the Forest Monk that practically read like Mahayana in places, in some ways I find them to be a nice bridge, and plus it's Ajahn Chah, he's awesome.
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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by Dan74 » Mon May 13, 2019 9:08 pm

Hello Tony :hi:

Most Buddhist Sanghas, IME, tend to be quite easy going and welcoming and I am a bit like you entering a new space with people I don't know. Retreats are also really great for bringing people together. So I would definitely encourage you to seek out flesh-and-blood Sanghas of all different (non-cultish) traditions and also treat the actual experience as practice, including all the emotions that arise.


As for Theravada, firstly I would echo Mike in saying don't take the online fora as representative. I've met some amazing Theravada teachers (Ajahns Sumedho, Brahm, Thanasanti, etc) and even though I would cal myself a Mahayana Buddhist, there is no doubt in my mind that there is heaps to learn from them.

Buddhism in general is best learned with some guidance since what tends to happen is us fitting it into some cool conceptual framework. Whereas what it is, is a radical transformative practice, which isn't easy and is not always comfortable. So we are not likely to walk this path of our own accord.

In any case, this place has some experienced people, so whether you seek out a flesh-and-blood Sangha or not, hope you stick around and that it benefits you.

_/|\_

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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by tonysharp » Mon May 13, 2019 10:14 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 8:02 pm
First off, welcome to DW.
Thank you. :hi:
Don't discount the importance of what you've learned before to what you're developing into now.
I certainly won't. I'll always be grateful for the teachings of the Pali Canon, which have made me a better person. Even the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta was immensely helpful. I won't be selling my Nikaya hardcovers anytime soon.
The view presented in that vehicle can be narrow, but it's narrow for a good reason. There's no need to set yourself against that narrowness or strictness, just know that it represents a particular mode of thought for particular circumstances.
Well said.

I've tried not to be too critical of Theravada. It undoubtedly has great teachings, communities, and representatives (Bhikkhu Bodhi is one of my favorite people). Nonetheless, I'm fairly certain that the person I am now is no longer a fit for this school. Aside from the friction with a few communities, I feel that there are pieces missing from my practice. The good news is that I've found clues to what these pieces might be by looking to the Mahayaha and Vajrayana schools.
Also, read Ajahn Chah if you haven't...
I think I've read his work before, but I can check again.
Dan74 wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 9:08 pm
Hello Tony
Hi Dan :hi:
So I would definitely encourage you to seek out flesh-and-blood Sanghas of all different (non-cultish) traditions and also treat the actual experience as practice, including all the emotions that arise.
Good advice. So I should basically crank up my equanimity. :D

Thank you.

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Re: Questioning My Compatibility With Theravada Buddhism

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Mon May 13, 2019 11:47 pm

tonysharp wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 10:14 pm

Also, read Ajahn Chah if you haven't...
I think I've read his work before, but I can check again.
https://www.ajahnchah.org/

Here ya go, lots of it is here, for free.
There's no hoarding what has vanished,
No piling up for the future;
Those who have been born are standing
Like a seed upon a needle.

-Guhatthaka-suttaniddeso

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