Modernity & Tradition

Discuss the application of the Dharma to situations of social, political, environmental and economic suffering and injustice.
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Nicholas Weeks
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Modernity & Tradition

Post by Nicholas Weeks » Fri May 08, 2015 2:33 pm

A recent talk by Samdhong rinpoche on the evils of modernity:

http://samdhongrinpoche.com/en/modernity-and-tradition/
Glorious one, creator of all goodness, Mañjuśrī, his glorious eminence!
Manjushri-namasamgiti

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Nicholas Weeks
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Re: Modernity & Tradition

Post by Nicholas Weeks » Sat May 09, 2015 4:06 pm

An excerpt:
When I read Hind-Swaraj of Mahatma Gandhi for the first time about 20-25 years ago, I could not understand it. Although I did not feel that Gandhiji was conveying incorrect things, yet I could not comprehended as to why Gandhiji was rejecting the modern civilization in its entirety. At that time I held different views. While I believed that the western civilization was not beneficial us, yet there was a feeling that we could introduce some elements of modernity in our civilization and this could be beneficial for us. That is why I could not understand Gandhiji’s strong and vociferous opposition to it. After that I had opportunity to visit and study many (so-called) developed countries of the world. I also had direct interface with very backward countries, called the third world. After seeing and evaluating both the worlds, I reached to the conclusion that Gandhiji was right.
Glorious one, creator of all goodness, Mañjuśrī, his glorious eminence!
Manjushri-namasamgiti

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Re: Modernity & Tradition

Post by Karma_Yeshe » Sat May 09, 2015 6:48 pm

Nicholas Weeks wrote:A recent talk by Samdhong rinpoche on the evils of modernity:

http://samdhongrinpoche.com/en/modernity-and-tradition/
Thanks for posting :anjali:

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Re: Modernity & Tradition

Post by Nicholas Weeks » Sat May 09, 2015 10:26 pm

Rinpoche gives six areas of conflict between the two; the first three begin so:
Society vs Individual: In tradition, society was considered more important than an individual. In tradition the accepted principles is that if required, in the interest of society, an individual should be willing to make sacrifices. In modern civilization norms, the individual has prime importance. In this world view, society is expected to suffer, if necessary, to protect the rights of individual.
Duty vs Rights: In tradition, the emphasis is on duty and not on right. In today’s world the priorities have reversed. Everybody talks about rights, not duties. The United Nations has also proclaimed a Charter of Human Rights. There is no declaration of Human Duties.
Mind vs Body: Above mentioned two differences are at the level of society. But this difference between mind and body is visible both at the level of society and an individual, a fact which Gandhiji considers significant. At the individual level the difference exists between the mind and the body. While modernity accords greater importance to the physical conveniences, the traditional civilization gives priority to mental peace and purity of thoughts.
Glorious one, creator of all goodness, Mañjuśrī, his glorious eminence!
Manjushri-namasamgiti

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Re: Modernity & Tradition

Post by sattva » Wed May 20, 2015 11:13 pm

Interesting article. Thanks for posting. :namaste:

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Re: Modernity & Tradition

Post by gloriasteinem » Thu May 21, 2015 8:39 pm

Nicholas Weeks wrote:A recent talk by Samdhong rinpoche on the evils of modernity:

http://samdhongrinpoche.com/en/modernity-and-tradition/
It's an interesting topic. I personally find a lot of good things in our modern civilisation, including rights, individualism, etc. I don't think one should abandon his/her rights just because he/she has duties. For example lgbt rights, these are specific for the modern western type of civilisation. It's important because otherwise people get hurt. It is strange though, that some people, even heterosexual, think that gay rights are excuse for sexual promiscuity. There is no such thing. Monogamy is found important among gay communities. And promiscuity is understood as derogatory. It is like that.

About harmony and competition. I personally cannot say competition is a bad hing, but I'd prefer harmony through competition.

Also I found this text simplistic.
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Re: Modernity & Tradition

Post by Wayfarer » Fri May 22, 2015 4:24 am

I thought the article made some good points (although it had some editing errors in it.) But the problem is not with 'modernity' per se, but with scientific materialism, in my opinion.

The global economy simply couldn't exist without many of the technologies and techniques devised by modern industrial economics. Such applications as medicine, transport, food and energy production, and so on, are indispensable for supporting the enormous populations that have developed all over the world. So it is simplistic to simply hark back to 'tradition' if that means trying to dismantle or overturn the existing social and economic order.

Certainly I agree with the article that there are some respects in which 'modern civilization' is dangerious and even irrational and ought to be thoroughly criticized on that basis. But you can't reverse history or turn the clock back. That is why scientific materialism, which is the attempt to put science in the place of religion, is the real problem, in my view - not 'modernity' as such.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Modernity & Tradition

Post by Nicholas Weeks » Fri May 22, 2015 2:33 pm

This graph is a good one:
Prof. A.K. Saran, in his book The Traditional Thought has very concisely brought out the characteristics of modernity. In the Introduction of the book he writes: "Novelty, Self-grounding and Violence are synonymous with Modernity." Modernity seeks novelty in everything – in clothes, speech, behavior or anything that we use. It should not only look new and be very different from others, but this novelty should trace its origin only in modernity and not in tradition or nature. Thus, this novelty should be a standalone phenomenon unconnected with any existing process or reality. Because novelty feels threatened by any connections with any source or foundation as it contests its very basis of being or existence as entirely new, unconnected with the past. Therefore, it has to stand on its own which is “Self-grounding” i.e., it does not need any connection or support from any tradition or reality for its existence. A plant needs a combination of inputs and environment to grow, flower and perish. But in modernity its various attributes seem to be born out of nowhere (in sky or atmosphere) and exists on their own. In order to achieve and sustain these two attributes, violence becomes central. This may take the form of violence or exploitation, directly or indirectly. This is what the reality of modernity is.
Glorious one, creator of all goodness, Mañjuśrī, his glorious eminence!
Manjushri-namasamgiti

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Re: Modernity & Tradition

Post by Crazywisdom » Fri May 22, 2015 3:40 pm

Damn. I agree.
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The criticisms of others are like wrathful mantras. Fast purification. Welcome it. -can’t remember who

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Re: Modernity & Tradition

Post by dzogchungpa » Fri May 22, 2015 4:47 pm

Crazywisdom wrote:Damn. I agree.
Some of those Tirthika Traditionalists are alright. :smile:
There is not only nothingness because there is always, and always can manifest. - Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

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Re: Modernity & Tradition

Post by Lazy_eye » Sat May 23, 2015 3:01 am

Nicholas Weeks wrote:This graph is a good one:
Prof. A.K. Saran, in his book The Traditional Thought has very concisely brought out the characteristics of modernity. In the Introduction of the book he writes: "Novelty, Self-grounding and Violence are synonymous with Modernity." Modernity seeks novelty in everything – in clothes, speech, behavior or anything that we use. It should not only look new and be very different from others, but this novelty should trace its origin only in modernity and not in tradition or nature. Thus, this novelty should be a standalone phenomenon unconnected with any existing process or reality. Because novelty feels threatened by any connections with any source or foundation as it contests its very basis of being or existence as entirely new, unconnected with the past. Therefore, it has to stand on its own which is “Self-grounding” i.e., it does not need any connection or support from any tradition or reality for its existence. A plant needs a combination of inputs and environment to grow, flower and perish. But in modernity its various attributes seem to be born out of nowhere (in sky or atmosphere) and exists on their own. In order to achieve and sustain these two attributes, violence becomes central. This may take the form of violence or exploitation, directly or indirectly. This is what the reality of modernity is.
A problem that I have with this line of argument is that many traditional societies are also violent and exploitative. Hunter-gatherers, for instance, in some cases decimated entire ecosystems within a few generations, not to mention hunting animals to extinction. Raider societies (like the Golden Horde) were certainly "traditional" but hardly non-violent. Traditional farming societies may have been relatively more peaceful; still, they are plagued by multi-generational feuds and quarrels over land, and of course farming is not exactly "non-exploitative." So I'm not sure the simple dichotomy being proposed here stands up to examination.

Maybe it would be helpful if we talked about some specific examples of non-violent, non-exploitative societies, how those societies developed and sustain themselves, and in what way they could work as models. Bhutan, maybe? Pre-PRC Tibet? Some Scandinavian countries?

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Re: Modernity & Tradition

Post by Urgyen Dorje » Sat May 23, 2015 4:24 pm

One of my favorite critics of modernism is the great American poet and Buddhist yogi Gary Snyder. He has said that if we wish to understand our situation, then we should study anthropology and biology-- not philosophy, of which he said: "three-fourths of philosophy and literature is the talk of people trying to convince themselves that they really like the cage they were tricked into entering.” While there certainly is a place for the nice things modernity has provided us (my wife's life was recently saved by modern medicine (looking at my shelves of books on tech, maths, and philosophy)), his point is well made. In his essay Etiquette of Freedom, Snyder poses something of a koan: do you believe you are an animal? It's not a koan in the sense of huatou, but in the sense of being something one can gnaw on and unpack for a lifetime. We're certainly mammals, primates[, and there's much that goes along with that. We've also been hunter-gatherers for orders of magnitude longer than we've been following the political philosophy of Montesquieu. Call it karma or call it genetics, but we're built to live in groups of fifty or a hundred close kin including multiple generations. We're built to be continually active with great physical stamina. We're built to have a large amount of liesure time. We're built to subsist on fresh locally obtained food. We're built to enjoy a dyamic oral tradition that contextualizes our existence within the community and the world. We're built to have a deep knowledge, appreciation, and reliance on the natural world.

It's very easy to romanticize and idealize indigenous societies, and as LazyEye has said, these societies have their own problems. Idealizing indigenous peoples is also not good for them as we end up caricuaturing them-- which doesn't help them. That said, I think Snyder's critique is dead on. Do you believe you are an animal? If your basic mamalian psycho-social-biological needs aren't being met, if you're operating contrary to how you're genetically designed, then you're not going to be happy and healthy.

I have great admiration for Samdhong Rinpoche and his approach to Gandhian satyagraha. I was fortunate to hear him speak at the International Tibetan Buddhism Conference at Emory, and consider him one of my gurus. I believe Samdhong Rinpoche's critique and Gary Snyder's go hand in hand. The farther we stray from our basic human biological needs, which includes basic social and psychological needs, then the farther we will stray from tradition. We'll value our heritage less as well as our older and younger people. We'll get caught up in OOH SHINEY and discard the continuity and value of commuinty and family for individuation and novety. We'll trade sufficiency for consumption for the sake of consumption.

Anthropology and archeology tells us that the agrarian revolution brought radical social changes to the hunter-gatherer. Agriculture required specialization of tasks and this stratified society into classes. Gender inequity, poverty, slavery, large scale aggression and war all come from this consolidation of resources and social specialization. As the commons is enclosed we see larger radical changes in social structure. By that time these changes had large scale ecological impacts. Extinction of bears in the UK, deforestation of the mediterranean. Then with the industrial revolution even more radical changes to social structure and even more radical environmental impacts. Families are now torn apart so that everyone can work seven days a week, slave economy, environmental destruction and exploitatation. We see our first animal species who have evolved to adapt because of polution. I think the interesting question now is that we have new risks to our way of being. Democratic government coopted by special intersets, the destruction of privacy, and a potential upcoming technological singularity...

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Re: Modernity & Tradition

Post by maybay » Sat May 23, 2015 8:22 pm

Perhaps you can't turn back time, but on the other hand time is both patri-linear and matri-cyclic, and certainly in the west we know about revolutions, so we are seeing the rational enlightenment coming full circle as the specialist fields of knowledge converge and the basis for professors and universities coming under scrutiny. Just see how finance and technology are converging in bitcoin, or how technology and society who fell out in the industrial revolution are converging once again through advanced communications. Please read Habermas for a more uptodate understanding.

Despite whatever happens, at the heart of the matter is the question of values. If I live at the cross-roads of multiple distributed systems like food supply chains of which I have only a basic understanding, and yet they seem to function and provide me with services without requiring much from me, then I would become more individualistic. It's only natural to adapt to my environment. Are people less important to me than if we were living in a desert community? Of course. Does that mean I'm a lesser person? Maybe! Is that such a bad thing? I don't know!
People will know nothing and everything
Remember nothing and everything
Think nothing and everything
Do nothing and everything
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Re: Modernity & Tradition

Post by Urgyen Dorje » Mon May 25, 2015 8:27 pm

the question of "modernity versus tradition" has been discussed in a variety of quarters for some time. some frame it in terms of "modernity", which has a specific intellectual context. the methods and fruits of the western enlightenment aren't going anywhere, and i don't think that's something to wish for. some, like my heroine ardundhati roy, frame things in the context of globalism. others in the context of materialism or capitalism. others in the context of deep ecology. regardless of the methods of analysis it's really the same fundamental question: is what we've given up (or had taken from us) worth what modern civilization has provided us (or thrust upon us)?

it's an interesting question as straight up yes/no answers are generally suspect. we can't go back as many green anarchist theorists would suggest. the population density of the world is too high for us to subsist as hunter gatherers, a lifestyle which actually has the least ecological impact. we can't throw the global economy in neutral and expect to live in collectives or at least with sustainable growth without crashing markets and breaking supply chains for basic human nededs and the subsequet violence that would come of that. we also can't presume that everything is copacetic with globalism as we hurl towards global ecological disaster and people are being exploited, either to create or consume products, or as plausible targets to justify global military hegemonies-- generally in areas with the most biodiversity and the richeste human and natural resources, all of which are vulnerable to said ecological disaster.

satyagraha is part of our samaya as buddhists, but it's also probably the only possibilty for saving this planet. it is that everything is grey that the message of people like samdhong rinpoche is so important. we have no choice but to live and work in a time and place that is simultaneously immensely productive, creative, helpful, supportive, and healing-- while being, at the same time, destructive, exploitive, wasteful, and degenerate. even if we can't fix everything or form a revolution like gadhiji was able to, we can and must know, speak, and demand the truth. we need to face the evil in the good and the good in the evil.

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