Buddhism in a secularised world

Discuss the application of the Dharma to situations of social, political, environmental and economic suffering and injustice.
User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
Posts: 10317
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA
Contact:

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sat Nov 23, 2019 7:10 am

Queequeg wrote:
Sat Nov 23, 2019 6:48 am


Maybe. I don't think so. Its basically Madhyamaka. There's one interpretation of Nagarjuna that he just taught Emptiness. There's another that interprets even his teachings on emptiness as implying something else. Emptiness, after all, is not nothing. Its referred to as Suchness.
Whose interpretations are you talking about? I don't know anyone (including Tibetan Loppons and Khenpos I've taken teachings from) who has studied Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita literature who would say something like "Nagarjuna taught only emptiness"..it is impossible to separate emptiness and appearance. I am wondering who exactly (other than non-Buddhists or those who have very poor understanding) assume that the teachings on emptiness imply there is no form. that's actually just wrong view.
Proprietary? Talking about not being able to think outside of a paradigm. Do you know anything about Ekayana? I'm going to guess not. By the time Buddhism was transmitted to Tibet, the Ekayana teachings had been overshadowed by later developments. If you're interested - its there in the early Mahayana texts - Lotus, Avatamsaka, Vimalakirti, etc. the Buddhism was first transmitted to China.
No need to put me down is there?

I'm forced to assume it's a proprietary teaching - in terms of "suchness" meaning something removed from emptiness, or somehow generated by emptiness. I'm not hugely familiar with the Lotus or Avatamsaka, I've just perused them, but is there not some simple way you can explain the distinction you are trying to make? because from my point of view it actually just appears that you are assuming a more nihilistic interpretation of Sunyata than what is practically taught in Indo-Tibetan traditions, and then claiming that "suchness" is some innovation undoing the claimed nihilism. it is not unique to any Buddhist vehicle I'm aware of that emptiness does not imply nothingness. So maybe I'm missing something, but you are not explaining what exactly you think I'm missing. Perhaps it's something like the empty-empty, empty-other type debate in Tibetan Buddhism? I'm going to assume this is a rough analog to what you're talking about.

I mean I'm familiar with Ekayana in a Wikipedia way, but that's about it, so if you want me to understand more about how it relates to your points on"suchness" vs. emptiness, explain it.
[

I'd suggest it was adaptable into what you say you see in the States because of what it was coming from Japan. The austere aesthetics and stripped down doctrines associated with zen didn't just happen post WWII. That goes back to the middle ages.
I would tend to disagree, having practiced Western Zen myself and having at least been mildly exposed to some more traditional interpretations. I think it's more accuratel to say that those tendencies are the product of a Western, almost protestant take on the inherited Zen austerity, combined with the secular worldview mentioned in this article.
That the Secular perspective is this monolithic problem that affects all Western Buddhists. Look, she's making an argument in an article about a particular aspect of the Western Buddhist experience. She makes good points. I think a good deal of the problem is that Buddhism for her is Tibetan Buddhism, which is far out no matter what the standard. And its one of the badges of identity, as far as I can tell, for Tibetan Buddhists. Am I wrong to point this out? Seems obvious to me.
What is "far out" about Tibetan Buddhism here that it would make it unique, and disconnected to the larger Buddhist experience? Thanissaro Bhikku has written on these things too, and he's pretty far removed from our "far out" ness, being a Theravadin. Plenty of non- Tibetan Buddhist have written similar things in fact. It's really easy from an outsider perspective to assume Tibetan Buddhism is a lot wilder and crazier than it is in practice.
I think he was pretty serious for a while. But as I wrote, his "Buddhist" path was "dubious."

But, if you're going to go there, I'd say the Buddhist path a lot of Westerners take up is dubious, tinged with all the baggage brought to it, all the orientalist ideas, the interest in foreign food and clothing (what does Simon call them? Momo Buddhists?)
Sure, but firstly, there are plenty of Tibetan Buddhists not involved in any of the "momo" aspect in particular, and anyway, even the "momo" Buddhist of today have a sophisticated view of Dharma in comparison to what was around back then. I'm assuming the same thing is present in other forms of Buddhism as well. I mean, some of Kerouac almost borders on Buddhist caricature by today's standards.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low

User avatar
Queequeg
Global Moderator
Posts: 9218
Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:24 pm

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by Queequeg » Sat Nov 23, 2019 8:44 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Sat Nov 23, 2019 7:10 am
Whose interpretations are you talking about? I don't know anyone (including Tibetan Loppons and Khenpos I've taken teachings from) who has studied Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita literature who would say something like "Nagarjuna taught only emptiness"..it is impossible to separate emptiness and appearance. I am wondering who exactly (other than non-Buddhists or those who have very poor understanding) assume that the teachings on emptiness imply there is no form. that's actually just wrong view.
Well, people do. Nagarjuna is apparently addressing those with this distorted idea of emptiness in Mulamadhyamikarika. Whether its because they're non-Buddhist or have a poor understanding or something else. It also serves as a rhetorical post against which the right view can be defined. I think suchness as its sometimes called - or middle way - or any number of names - its probably convergent with unity of emptiness and appearance.

I think we're all talking about this:

Whatever is dependently co-arisen
That is explained to be emptiness
That, being a dependent designation
Is itself the Middle Way.
MMK 24-19
No need to engage in put downs.
You use terms like proprietary - which I don't know if you meant it, but, in this context, it comes across kind of demeaning.
You are failing to explain it with anything but annoyance and vague references, so I'm forced to assume it's a proprietary teaching - in terms of "suchness" meaning something removed from emptiness, or somehow generated by emptiness. I'm not hugely familiar with the Lotus or Avatamsaka, I've just perused them, but is there not some simple way you can explain the distinction you are trying to make? because from my point of view it actually just appears that you are assuming a more nihilistic interpretation of Sunyata than what is practically taught in Indo-Tibetan traditions, and then claiming that "suchness" is some innovation undoing the claimed nihilism. it is not unique to any Buddhist vehicle I'm aware of that emptiness does not imply nothingness. So maybe I'm missing something, but you are not explaining what exactly you think I'm missing. Perhaps it's something like the empty-empty empty-other type debate in Tibetan Buddhism?
Um, again, you started with the "proprietary". I don't think I was expressing annoyance before that. I did get annoyed at this characterization.

Check yourself, dude.

Ekayana is probably most closely related to the Lotus, and specifically to the explanation of upaya and the three vehicles found there. In that discourse, the Buddha denies that sravakayana, pratyekabuddhayana and bodhisattvayana are distinct paths but that rather they are all provisional teachings (upaya) that lead prepare beings to hear the single Ekayana. This is different from what I understand is the view that prevails in Tibet that the vehicles are distinct paths.

Whatever I'm talking about in terms of emptiness, it doesn't involve nihilism. That's all I can say about that.
What is "far out" about Tibetan Buddhism here that it would make it unique, and disconnected to the larger Buddhist experience? Thanissaro Bhikku has written on these things too, and he's rpretty far removed from our "far out" ness.
Guru yoga, all the yidams, and samayas, etc. etc. not to mention the art. I didn't say it was disconnected from the larger Buddhist experience but rather it looks wild and eccentric from the Secular Western view. Is that really controversial?
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

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

User avatar
Queequeg
Global Moderator
Posts: 9218
Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:24 pm

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by Queequeg » Sat Nov 23, 2019 8:46 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Sat Nov 23, 2019 7:10 am
I think he was pretty serious for a while. But as I wrote, his "Buddhist" path was "dubious."

But, if you're going to go there, I'd say the Buddhist path a lot of Westerners take up is dubious, tinged with all the baggage brought to it, all the orientalist ideas, the interest in foreign food and clothing (what does Simon call them? Momo Buddhists?)
Sure, but firstly, there are plenty of Tibetan Buddhists not involved in any of the "momo" aspect in particular, and anyway, even the "momo" Buddhist of today have a sophisticated view of Dharma in comparison to what was around back then. I'm assuming the same thing is present in other forms of Buddhism as well. I mean, some of Kerouac almost borders on Buddhist caricature by today's standards.
I'm sorry I brought up Kerouac. He was a bad example.
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

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

User avatar
Dan74
Former staff member
Posts: 2700
Joined: Mon Oct 08, 2012 3:59 pm

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by Dan74 » Sat Nov 23, 2019 11:44 am

Not a comment on the above discussion but the article itself, fwiw.

The point for me was that we bring unspoken and unconscious assumptions to our practice that mould it and more or less determine the outcomes.

Even on the cushion, we tend to think we know what's going on and what's likely/supposed to happen. As we cling to these expectations, and our need for control, this materialism in the background, our weltanschauung, determine our moment-to-moment experience.

About a month ago, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the top Swiss daily, published an article by its Africa correspondent and ethnologist, David Signer, on his immersion in the world of African witchcraft and how it challenged his assumptions. I think something like that is needed for Dharma practice. At some stage we need to relinquish our grip on any specific worldview and allow things to unfold in their unpredictable way. It takes a special kind of a leap of faith to relinquish all faith, especially faith in the normality of a cause-and-effect universe.

User avatar
Kim O'Hara
Former staff member
Posts: 4065
Joined: Fri Nov 16, 2012 1:09 am
Location: North Queensland, Australia

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by Kim O'Hara » Sat Nov 23, 2019 1:01 pm

Dan74 wrote:
Sat Nov 23, 2019 11:44 am
Not a comment on the above discussion but the article itself, fwiw.

The point for me was that we bring unspoken and unconscious assumptions to our practice that mould it and more or less determine the outcomes.

Even on the cushion, we tend to think we know what's going on and what's likely/supposed to happen. As we cling to these expectations, and our need for control, this materialism in the background, our weltanschauung, determine our moment-to-moment experience.

About a month ago, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the top Swiss daily, published an article by its Africa correspondent and ethnologist, David Signer, on his immersion in the world of African witchcraft and how it challenged his assumptions. I think something like that is needed for Dharma practice. At some stage we need to relinquish our grip on any specific worldview and allow things to unfold in their unpredictable way. It takes a special kind of a leap of faith to relinquish all faith, especially faith in the normality of a cause-and-effect universe.
:good:
I agree with what you have said although I would have put it slightly differently, e.g. perhaps "we bring unspoken and unconscious assumptions to our practice that limit the possible outcomes."
And Heumann's central point does reflect my own ongoing experience. I often feel that I have to push back - hard - against rationalist materialist hegemony to make some space for a sense of ... the transcendent, I guess comes closest to what I want to say, but I haven't really got words for the non-materialist alternative worldview which occasionally struggles out from under the habits and expectations of daily life.

:namaste:
Kim

User avatar
Queequeg
Global Moderator
Posts: 9218
Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:24 pm

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by Queequeg » Sat Nov 23, 2019 3:23 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:
Sat Nov 23, 2019 1:01 pm
. I often feel that I have to push back - hard - against rationalist materialist hegemony to make some space for a sense of ... the transcendent,
I used to read a bedtime book to my kids called We're Going on a Bear Hunt...

Can't go over it. We can't go under it. Oh, no, we have to go through it.


.
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

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

User avatar
Queequeg
Global Moderator
Posts: 9218
Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:24 pm

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by Queequeg » Sat Nov 23, 2019 4:43 pm

what I was trying to put my finger on was a very real tension, a discord between what our Tibetan teacher had been saying and what the community seemed to be hearing. It was visible right there in the structure of the retreat, palpable in the response to my question, and familiar—at least to me, and I imagine to others as well—in everyday practice. This tension points to an issue of key significance in the transplantation and adaptation of the dharma to the modern West, to what is an often overlooked and important difference between Buddhism as it has been traditionally practiced and Buddhism as it is practiced in the West today.
Just to point out. This retreat was at the Garrison Institute. This tells us, this was likely attended by upper middle class people paying a couple thousand dollars for a few days in a spa and access to Bold Face Names (at least in the Bobo Buddhist world). It was a chance to immerse into this alternate world and escape from their frenetic NYC lives. What I referred to above, she's over generalizing her experience as the "translpantation and adaptation of the dharma to the modern West." Her version of Buddhism, which I respect many here share, is not the overall experience, or arguably the widest experience. For instance, the emphasis on bardos, rebirths, etc. does not feature as prominently in other forms of Buddhism. Outside of the Tibetan system there's no tulku system, for instance. We don't have to make sure our teacher is an authentic reincarnation of another sage with the proper authorizations to trust in them. Even from my background in East Asian Buddhism, the concern seems out of proportion. How much more so for Westerners, and how much more is a Westerner going to be taken aback by it if THAT is what we are supposed to accept as the benchmark for Buddhism.

Her point about the secular materialist view predominating her world, doesn't necessarily predominate everywhere else, or even in the way she describes it.

Her biggest point, which is a good one, but not necessarily novel to the encounter of Buddhism and the West (two loaded big terms of questionable practical application), is the problem of cultural momentum of the West being out of step with Buddhist teachings. But take away the specifics of the Secular view, and you just have the gradual path of Buddhism that has been there since the Buddha started turning the Wheel. When we look at the Buddha's teachings - some of the things he said were out of step with his contemporaries. When the Buddha lived, Arya was descriptive of ones birth. Its only later that we see Arya is a moral quality, and this is due to the Buddha's redefintion. His disciples had to struggle against the momentum of their assumptions just as much as a Westerner immersed in the Secular View must struggle. Buddhism does not fit with any cultural system, and that held in Buddha's day, as well as in Garrison, New York in 2012.

I know that many of the features of Tibetan Buddhism that are foreign and exotic to the average Secularist. Obviously, as I don't follow TB, I'm not convinced those teachings are necessary to Buddhism. I know from experience that not all forms of Buddhism emphasize rebirth, especially in the way that Tibetans do and which is particularly at odds with the Secular view. So my point is, the author's take is a particular Western Buddhist concern, not a Western Buddhist concern generally. She's confusing methods that are largely culturally specific, with more subtle levels of Buddhist teaching (the Ekayana :smile: ).

And when that chasm is set aside, I think that older stratas of Buddhism that are more readily applicable to a more elemental experience are not as incongruent with Western Secularism. They take basic aspects of experience - breathing, analysis of the six senses, etc. without needing to appeal to brilliantly colored deities dancing in fire to make an impact. What the author may be dismayed to find is that her assumptions about what Buddhism is fail to gain traction. That doesn't mean all forms of Buddhism will fail to gain traction.
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

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
Posts: 10317
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA
Contact:

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sun Nov 24, 2019 2:21 am

queequeg wrote:Um, again, you started with the "proprietary". I don't think I was expressing annoyance before that. I did get annoyed at this characterization.


Ekayana is probably most closely related to the Lotus, and specifically to the explanation of upaya and the three vehicles found there. In that discourse, the Buddha denies that sravakayana, pratyekabuddhayana and bodhisattvayana are distinct paths but that rather they are all provisional teachings (upaya) that lead prepare beings to hear the single Ekayana. This is different from what I understand is the view that prevails in Tibet that the vehicles are distinct paths.
That part I knew, but it has nothing in particular to do with the "suchness vs emptiness" thing you pointed at earlier, that I can see. So basically, presenting me with your Ekayana triumphalism as an answer is probably about as productive as me presenting you with my Dzogchen triumphalism, both are based on provisional vs. definitive vehicles, and rely on our respective points of view and acceptance of the doctrinal points we follow for validation.
Whatever I'm talking about in terms of emptiness, it doesn't involve nihilism. That's all I can say about that.
I can't tell what you're talking about, because you didn't explain it. You simply claimed that East Asian vehicles "take suchness as the base" in contrast to...something undefined, as well as not defining how you separate suchness and emptiness. It's fine, I think I understand what you mean, but this is exactly why I used the term proprietary, I have never heard such a claim specifically made, and would be unfamiliar with the doctrine that espouses it.
Queequeg wrote:
Sat Nov 23, 2019 4:43 pm


Just to point out. This retreat was at the Garrison Institute. This tells us, this was likely attended by upper middle class people paying a couple thousand dollars for a few days in a spa and access to Bold Face Names (at least in the Bobo Buddhist world). It was a chance to immerse into this alternate world and escape from their frenetic NYC lives. What I referred to above, she's over generalizing her experience as the "translpantation and adaptation of the dharma to the modern West." Her version of Buddhism, which I respect many here share, is not the overall experience, or arguably the widest experience. For instance, the emphasis on bardos, rebirths, etc. does not feature as prominently in other forms of Buddhism. Outside of the Tibetan system there's no tulku system, for instance. We don't have to make sure our teacher is an authentic reincarnation of another sage with the proper authorizations to trust in them. Even from my background in East Asian Buddhism, the concern seems out of proportion. How much more so for Westerners, and how much more is a Westerner going to be taken aback by it if THAT is what we are supposed to accept as the benchmark for Buddhism.
Nothing she says in the article is specific to Tibetan Buddhism, including the above quote. Other than the fact that she mentions her teacher is Tibetan, the points she makes are things that have to do with the confrontation of any traditional Buddhist teaching with modernity. So, I feel like you are choosing to question her background and presumed identity, rather than the issues she brings up in the article. For instance, an issue she talks about is the existence of liberation outside of the conventional sense of "well being" that secular practices consider the only real goal of meditation. This is not anything specific to Tibetan Buddhism, quite obviously it gets to the clash between any traditional Dharmic presentation and modernity. Most of the rest of her points center around this idea, not around any ideas specific to Tibetan Buddhism, much less to Vajrayana practice specifically - which is not all of "Tibetan Buddhism", btw. Another issue she brings up is the "shrinking" of transcendent experiences to private, "psychological" events. Again, this is a thing having to do Buddhism period, not Tibetan Buddhism specifically.
Her point about the secular materialist view predominating her world, doesn't necessarily predominate everywhere else, or even in the way she describes it.
You didn't point out how, other than to claim her presumed religious identity limits her perception. Why? Did she say something in the article that indicates this, or is it just your own biases talking? She isn't talking about people doing Deity Yoga or Sang...she is talking about basic assumptions of Buddhism vs. basic assumptions of modernity.

I know that many of the features of Tibetan Buddhism that are foreign and exotic to the average Secularist. Obviously, as I don't follow TB, I'm not convinced those teachings are necessary to Buddhism. I know from experience that not all forms of Buddhism emphasize rebirth, especially in the way that Tibetans do and which is particularly at odds with the Secular view. So my point is, the author's take is a particular Western Buddhist concern, not a Western Buddhist concern generally. She's confusing methods that are largely culturally specific, with more subtle levels of Buddhist teaching (the Ekayana :smile: ).
This statement appears to be more based on your own disdain for Tibetan Buddhist adherents and practitioners, and/or on your preference for the Lotus Schools than on any specific issues.
And when that chasm is set aside, I think that older stratas of Buddhism that are more readily applicable to a more elemental experience are not as incongruent with Western Secularism. They take basic aspects of experience - breathing, analysis of the six senses, etc. without needing to appeal to brilliantly colored deities dancing in fire to make an impact. What the author may be dismayed to find is that her assumptions about what Buddhism is fail to gain traction. That doesn't mean all forms of Buddhism will fail to gain traction.
The world of Tibetan Buddhism is much larger than Deity yoga and Tulku politics (deities are not exactly exclusive to Tibetan traditions anyway, though certainly it's practices approach them in a different way), you are basically caricaturing the tradition in order to claim it is much narrower than it is, again presumably so that you can disprove her points by approaching her presumed background and identity and rather than her words. You are IMO, coming close to disparaging another tradition here with comment about "needing to appeal to colored deities dancing in a fire", there could be some ugly assumptions underlying a statement like that, however it was intended.

"Tibetan Buddhism" as an entity includes people like B. Allan Wallace and the Dalai Lama, as much as it does a traditional Ngakpa teacher emphasizing Deity yoga, different rites etc. There are literally thousands of techniques taught in the tradition, plenty have little to nothing to do with Deity Yoga, and plenty involve things like observation of breath and the senses.

There are also lots of Tibetan teachers and centers involved in more "standard" meditation practices who strongly emphasize broad Mahayana practices, and things like dialogues with science and scientists etc. Your view of what constitutes Tibetan Buddhism seems to be heavily skewed based on your personal dislike of it, and is demonstrably inaccurate. You are mainly using that to criticize her, rather than taking issue with her actual points.

The rebirth thing you might have somewhat of a point with, but rebirth is a background assumption of any traditional version of Buddhism, however it is emphasized. Without it there is no samsara, and no need to transcend it. It's certainly true that Tibetan Buddhism has it more at the forefront in places, but unless it's been purposefully removed or backgrounded for the purposes of modern presentation, eventually people digging deeper into other vehicles will encounter some of the the same issues brought up in the article, Tibetan Buddhism did not invent the notion of Samsara, nor the notion of liberation from it.

BTW, IME rebirth comes frequently in Western Zen circles, mainly so that people can talk about how they never think about it ;)
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low

User avatar
LastLegend
Posts: 3539
Joined: Sat Mar 19, 2011 3:46 pm
Location: Washington DC

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by LastLegend » Sun Nov 24, 2019 3:36 am

Our nature is the same whether it’s Tibetan or East Asian Buddhism, just different ways of explaining things and different practices leading to reveal nature. The issue we all have is self; it’s a big hindrance to any path.

Mind only school is valid as long as people don’t grasp to the idea of mind only. Samsara is an illusion but there are also Buddha lands. They are different appearance: deluded and non deluded. Because of truly empty nature, it’s possible to have appearance.
Clear!
Make personal specific vows to [for example, absorb karma of sentient beings], so that they can reach enlightenment quickly. With deep faith and trust, effects will be experienced immediately. If we can’t fulfill our vows, no problem Buddhas will help us do us; thus generate merit and strength to speed us up and lead us straight to unborn wisdom. This is not a matter of truth or not but faith and willingness. That’s what I was taught. Be aware take karma of sentient beings can be overwhelming. Only do what we are capable of.

narhwal90
Posts: 871
Joined: Mon Jan 25, 2016 3:10 am

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by narhwal90 » Sun Nov 24, 2019 1:51 pm

Perhaps part of what Q was getting at is the issues presented are "1st World Problems" eg something that upper middle class folks worry about because they don't have to worry about houses, food, medical care and so on.

If secular buddhist practices help the homeless guy living in a cardboard box free himself a bit from resentment, maybe help the addict who lives in the collapsed house next to him get something to eat and go to a NA meeting then it sounds a lot like what a bodhisattva is supposed to be doing. In other words if a secular practice works when the instruction is followed- reduction of suffering- then for my money its conforming to dharma. Personally I agree that a secular buddhism which addresses only the mechanics of calming the mind limits its effectiveness and anticipate continuing evolution of the practices.

Personally I don't care much about transcendence or rebirth (whatever those things might actually mean) but maybe others find those topics of great importance so I'm glad traditions exist which emphasize them. What if we're all wrong and the traditions are themselves expedients, all the pretty clothes and refined practices just elaborations of something fundamentally simpler?

User avatar
Dan74
Former staff member
Posts: 2700
Joined: Mon Oct 08, 2012 3:59 pm

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by Dan74 » Sun Nov 24, 2019 4:07 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:
Sat Nov 23, 2019 1:01 pm
Dan74 wrote:
Sat Nov 23, 2019 11:44 am
Not a comment on the above discussion but the article itself, fwiw.

The point for me was that we bring unspoken and unconscious assumptions to our practice that mould it and more or less determine the outcomes.

Even on the cushion, we tend to think we know what's going on and what's likely/supposed to happen. As we cling to these expectations, and our need for control, this materialism in the background, our weltanschauung, determine our moment-to-moment experience.

About a month ago, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the top Swiss daily, published an article by its Africa correspondent and ethnologist, David Signer, on his immersion in the world of African witchcraft and how it challenged his assumptions. I think something like that is needed for Dharma practice. At some stage we need to relinquish our grip on any specific worldview and allow things to unfold in their unpredictable way. It takes a special kind of a leap of faith to relinquish all faith, especially faith in the normality of a cause-and-effect universe.
:good:
I agree with what you have said although I would have put it slightly differently, e.g. perhaps "we bring unspoken and unconscious assumptions to our practice that limit the possible outcomes."
And Heumann's central point does reflect my own ongoing experience. I often feel that I have to push back - hard - against rationalist materialist hegemony to make some space for a sense of ... the transcendent, I guess comes closest to what I want to say, but I haven't really got words for the non-materialist alternative worldview which occasionally struggles out from under the habits and expectations of daily life.

:namaste:
Kim
Yes. To me, it mould and it limits.

In a way it may be extremely naive of me to think one could let go of our conditioning in any profound sense. For me, maybe not so much making room for the transcendent, as punching holes in the wall of our various bits of firmware and letting 'the transcendent' or whatever it is, simply shine through.

User avatar
Queequeg
Global Moderator
Posts: 9218
Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:24 pm

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by Queequeg » Sun Nov 24, 2019 7:34 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Sun Nov 24, 2019 2:21 am
queequeg wrote:Um, again, you started with the "proprietary". I don't think I was expressing annoyance before that. I did get annoyed at this characterization.


Ekayana is probably most closely related to the Lotus, and specifically to the explanation of upaya and the three vehicles found there. In that discourse, the Buddha denies that sravakayana, pratyekabuddhayana and bodhisattvayana are distinct paths but that rather they are all provisional teachings (upaya) that lead prepare beings to hear the single Ekayana. This is different from what I understand is the view that prevails in Tibet that the vehicles are distinct paths.
That part I knew, but it has nothing in particular to do with the "suchness vs emptiness" thing you pointed at earlier, that I can see. So basically, presenting me with your Ekayana triumphalism as an answer is probably about as productive as me presenting you with my Dzogchen triumphalism, both are based on provisional vs. definitive vehicles, and rely on our respective points of view and acceptance of the doctrinal points we follow for validation.
Emptiness v. Suchness... as I wrote,
Queequeg wrote:
Sat Nov 23, 2019 8:44 am
I think suchness as its sometimes called - or middle way - or any number of names - its probably convergent with unity of emptiness and appearance.

I think we're all talking about this:

Whatever is dependently co-arisen
That is explained to be emptiness
That, being a dependent designation
Is itself the Middle Way.
MMK 24-19
But the suchness approach is part of the way the Ekayana is understood. Ekayana is not just a standalone doctrine. Its a broad scope for organizing all Buddhist teachings, and for that matter, all learning, Buddhist or non-Buddhist. I realize this is not something you are familiar with in any particular way, and discussion here is not going to go very far unless there is some interest on your part to learn about it. Unless there is that disposition on your part, no matter what I say will just be "Proprietary" gibberish to you, or triumphalism. You will not see that Ekayana is a response to kinds of problems, though not the particular problem, that the author of the article points out. Its what guided and framed the adaptation of Buddhism in China.

The author makes the argument that Buddhism has never had such an encounter with a civilization so at odds with Buddhist views. Respectfully, she does not seem to be aware of the centuries of struggle that eventually gave birth to uniquely Sinic Buddhism. When Buddhism was first introduced to China, it came up against an intellectual tradition every bit as developed as Buddhism. I'd also point out, some of the main traditions it came up against were hardly animistic or mythological in grounding. Confucianism from the start sets the spiritual aside and is concerned with the society of people. Its actually quite materialistic in outlook. That encounter might be informative about what is happening now. I think that sort of intellectualism in China defined what aspects of Buddhism would resonate and develop. Ekayana thinking, along with related teachings on Buddhanature and Tathagatagarbha, played a big part.
You are failing to explain it with anything but annoyance and vague references, so I'm forced to assume it's a proprietary teaching - in terms of "suchness" meaning something removed from emptiness, or somehow generated by emptiness. I'm not hugely familiar with the Lotus or Avatamsaka, I've just perused them, but is there not some simple way you can explain the distinction you are trying to make?
Ekayana, as I wrote, is a way to frame everything. Its not just a discrete teaching, but a way to organize the entirety of Buddhism, as well as one's individual experience.

Again, it says, everything, Buddhist and non-Buddhist, is upaya preparing beings to enter the Buddhayana. This stands in contrast to notions of separate paths for the Sravaka, Pratyakabuddha, and Bodhisattva. It even goes so far as to say that Bodhisattvas themselves, including great bodhisattvas like Maitreya, hardly have a clue about the real aspect of the Buddha's wisdom, BUT, that eventually all will become Buddhas and know this wisdom. I don't know if you can appreciate the implications of that - but as the Lotus itself acknowledges, this upends many ideas associated with Sravakayana teachings, as well as many Mahayana ideas - for instance, notions of icchantika and the ability of women to become enlightened. I understand that TB addresses these issues and comes to similar conclusions, but the way its done is different, and so the conclusions themselves while appearing similar are constructed differently.

Trying to explain this is not feasible here. But I will just say what this tells ME.

There is a level of Buddhist teaching beyond many of the culturally based teachings. There is a level of Buddhist teaching, arguably, beyond concerns about birth and death and rebirth. I think this is pointed to in the earliest Buddhist teachings - many of the 62 wrong views concern speculations about birth and death, whether the cycle is perpetual or finite. There are sutras in which the Buddha refuses to explain what happens after parinirvana and condemns speculation about where a person goes after their death, reserving that ability only for the Buddha. Sure there are the rebirth aspects of teachings on srotopanna and anagamin, etc. or the innumerable rebirths on the bodhisattva path, but the focus of practice is, at the refined levels, about a single moment of mind, this moment of reality, this suchness. In the absorption of this samadhi, what's birth and rebirth, or any of that other stuff? Its scaffolding to put us into the right groove so that we can see what the Buddha herself sees. Ekayana is a way to talk about this approach.

Its not triumphalism to bring this up as a response to this author's concerns. Its to suggest, "Buddhists have been in similar situations before, and this was a way to address the issue, and it worked. China for a while became a Buddhist nation."
Nothing she says in the article is specific to Tibetan Buddhism, including the above quote. Other than the fact that she mentions her teacher is Tibetan, the points she makes are things that have to do with the confrontation of any traditional Buddhist teaching with modernity. So, I feel like you are choosing to question her background and presumed identity, rather than the issues she brings up in the article. For instance, an issue she talks about is the existence of liberation outside of the conventional sense of "well being" that secular practices consider the only real goal of meditation. This is not anything specific to Tibetan Buddhism, quite obviously it gets to the clash between any traditional Dharmic presentation and modernity. Most of the rest of her points center around this idea, not around any ideas specific to Tibetan Buddhism, much less to Vajrayana practice specifically - which is not all of "Tibetan Buddhism", btw. Another issue she brings up is the "shrinking" of transcendent experiences to private, "psychological" events. Again, this is a thing having to do Buddhism period, not Tibetan Buddhism specifically.
Her point about the secular materialist view predominating her world, doesn't necessarily predominate everywhere else, or even in the way she describes it. You didn't point out how, other than to claim her presumed religious identity limits her perception. Why? Did she say something in the article that indicates this, or is it just your own biases talking? She isn't talking about people doing Deity Yoga or Sang...she is talking about basic assumptions of Buddhism vs. basic assumptions of modernity.
Its kind of the same problem she points to about being a Westerner - can't see it because of immersion. The way she talks about Buddhism is the way I've come to associate how people in Tibetan Buddhist circles talk about Buddhism. Its why I pushed back on her generalization of "Buddhism". She's all over the place with generalizations, talking about "traditional Asian worldview" without defining it, as though the "traditional Asian worldview" is categorically more accommodating to Buddhism, without considering that maybe it looks that way because Buddhism worked on those worldviews, whatever she has in mind, for centuries and left its mark on them.

Anyway, she overgeneralizes her experience. Which is whatever. She does make some interesting points, but her failure to take into account certain things that clearly are outside her scope of knowledge weakens her arguments. Framing secularism as a threat to the survival of Buddhism under the wave of secularism, while is serious, I'm not sure it poses the problem she thinks.
The world of Tibetan Buddhism is much larger than Deity yoga and Tulku politics (deities are not exactly exclusive to Tibetan traditions anyway, though certainly it's practices approach them in a different way), you are basically caricaturing the tradition in order to claim it is much narrower than it is, again presumably so that you can disprove her points by approaching her presumed background and identity and rather than her words. You are IMO, coming close to disparaging another tradition here with comment about "needing to appeal to colored deities dancing in a fire", there could be some ugly assumptions underlying a statement like that, however it was intended.
No, I'm not trying to limit what Tibetan Buddhism to some strawman. I'm pointing out, yeah, some of this stuff is going to seem far out to John Smith who has zero experience with anything but his American life. Imagine I said "Fudo Myoo dancing in a fire". I'm not disparaging it but pointing out, that stuff is weird, especially if I were to answer to someone like this John Smith, "Yes, its real." He's going to have a hard time hearing much else if he's told about, "this fellow is the rebirth of a guy who lived 100 years ago, and is again a rebirth of another guy..." If he's predisposed to think that's strange, he probably will have a hard time hearing:

Birth is suffering, separating from what one desires is suffering, not getting what one wants is suffering, being forced to associate with something you dislike is suffering, sickness is suffering, old age is suffering, death is suffering.
Suffering can be ended!
based on your personal dislike of it, and is demonstrably inaccurate.
No such personal dislike. I just don't buy a lot of it. I'm open to being convinced otherwise.

Thanks for suggesting that, though!
The rebirth thing you might have somewhat of a point with, but rebirth is a background assumption of any traditional version of Buddhism, however it is emphasized. Without it there is no samsara, and no need to transcend it. It's certainly true that Tibetan Buddhism has it more at the forefront in places, but unless it's been purposefully removed or backgrounded for the purposes of modern presentation, eventually people digging deeper into other vehicles will encounter some of the the same issues brought up in the article, Tibetan Buddhism did not invent the notion of Samsara, nor the notion of liberation from it.
The emphasis is a much bigger issue than you're allowing for though. There are many forms of Buddhism that put rebirth as something that is there but, if Buddhism is true, then practice here and now will have good effects at death. The emphasis is on how one lives now with the understanding that it will have benefit beyond death without the need to put it front and center. And so the emphasis is on living a moral life in the Buddhist sense now. This is something I think you see in lay Buddhism in Asia much more. If Buddhism is going to take hold here, that's where it will make its impact and gain its roots. Not up in the air of the Garrison Institute.
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

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

User avatar
LastLegend
Posts: 3539
Joined: Sat Mar 19, 2011 3:46 pm
Location: Washington DC

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by LastLegend » Sun Nov 24, 2019 9:31 pm

Are you two okay!?

Unborn wisdom is not a thing, Zen, One vehicle, Mahayana, Tibetan, Aliens, American; yet because of distinction arises there are samsara, aliens, Asian, European, Buddha lands, demons, maras, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, worlds, etc. For us, that very distinction over time becomes a rigid messy self (perceptions, thoughts, grasping, etc).

While in teaching, there are things like union of appearance and nature for guidance that’s fine. Then I realize I get caught up with all of those views after reminders from my teacher, so I’ve stopped repeating those things. No, it’s not throwing the bath or baby or whatever, our unborn wisdom is naturally non-dual. Why do we need to practice? To gradually lessen clouds covering ‘it’ and to bring it ‘out’ more.

While we don’t know everything or Buddha’s wisdom, the question is how can we get to Buddha’s level? If everything is skill means, then why practice even practice is not real? Sorry Qq, you have to be certain or Dharma will confuse you. It appears that ‘nihilism’ is bugging you currently.

I am ready to receive the bullet.
Clear!
Make personal specific vows to [for example, absorb karma of sentient beings], so that they can reach enlightenment quickly. With deep faith and trust, effects will be experienced immediately. If we can’t fulfill our vows, no problem Buddhas will help us do us; thus generate merit and strength to speed us up and lead us straight to unborn wisdom. This is not a matter of truth or not but faith and willingness. That’s what I was taught. Be aware take karma of sentient beings can be overwhelming. Only do what we are capable of.

User avatar
LastLegend
Posts: 3539
Joined: Sat Mar 19, 2011 3:46 pm
Location: Washington DC

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by LastLegend » Mon Nov 25, 2019 12:28 am

Purely my view:

All of sutras, texts, emptiness, Mahaprajnaparamita, Nagarjuna, etc are meant for us to stop grasping and constructing duality. Now my experience, grasping and constructing can be very subtle. To me, it’s about discerning my mind completely ‘inside’ ‘out.’
Clear!
Make personal specific vows to [for example, absorb karma of sentient beings], so that they can reach enlightenment quickly. With deep faith and trust, effects will be experienced immediately. If we can’t fulfill our vows, no problem Buddhas will help us do us; thus generate merit and strength to speed us up and lead us straight to unborn wisdom. This is not a matter of truth or not but faith and willingness. That’s what I was taught. Be aware take karma of sentient beings can be overwhelming. Only do what we are capable of.

User avatar
Wayfarer
Former staff member
Posts: 4904
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: Sydney AU

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by Wayfarer » Mon Nov 25, 2019 12:51 am

One thing that could be said: there's a sense in which modern secular culture wants to make the world a safe space for ignorance. Harsh, but true. The point about all spiritual paths is that they start with recognising some profound deficiency about our normal state (which in Buddhism is the first noble truth. ) Then, in the traditional formulation that leads to revulsion, turning away, cessation, and eventually to Nirvāṇa.

Now secular culture by its very nature doesn't have that understanding. It is made for the convenience, pleasure, comfort and safety of ordinary people. And unless you sense what it is that is deficient about ordinary life, then you're never really going to hear the call of what is beyond all of that.

(All that said, there's still a place for secular Buddhism. I consider myself a secular Buddhist. But secular ideology is another matter.)
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi

User avatar
LastLegend
Posts: 3539
Joined: Sat Mar 19, 2011 3:46 pm
Location: Washington DC

Re: Buddhism in a secularised world

Post by LastLegend » Mon Nov 25, 2019 1:59 am

Blessing of Buddhas is true dharmakaya is all around. For now :lol: . Until tomorrow. :lol:
Clear!
Make personal specific vows to [for example, absorb karma of sentient beings], so that they can reach enlightenment quickly. With deep faith and trust, effects will be experienced immediately. If we can’t fulfill our vows, no problem Buddhas will help us do us; thus generate merit and strength to speed us up and lead us straight to unborn wisdom. This is not a matter of truth or not but faith and willingness. That’s what I was taught. Be aware take karma of sentient beings can be overwhelming. Only do what we are capable of.

Post Reply

Return to “Engaged Buddhism”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 14 guests