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Neo-Buddhism

So I have been reading the book 'Handbook For Mankind' and Buddhadasa Bhikkhu seems like my kind of guy. He seems comes across as a no-nonsense kind of teacher and I personally can really relate to what he talks about.

This is about a section where he talks about 'Neo-Buddhism' and what it actually means to be a Buddhist in his opinion. I am curious to hear of your opinion of some of these extracts.

'Buddhism means the teaching of the Enlightened One. A Buddha is an enlightened individual, one who knows the truth about all things, one who knows just "what is what," and so is capable of behaving appropriately with respect to all things. Buddhism is a religion based on intelligence, science, and knowledge, whose purpose is the destruction of suffering and the source of suffering. All paying of homage to sacred objects by means of performing rites, rituals, making offerings, or praying is not Buddhism. The Buddha rejected the celestial beings, then considered by certain groups to be the creators of things, and the deities supposed to dwell, one in each star in the sky. Thus we find that the Buddha made such statements as these:

"Knowledge, skill, and ability are conducive to success and benefit and are auspicious omens, good in their own right, regardless of the movements of the heavenly bodies. With benefits gained from these qualities, one will completely outstrip those foolish people who just sit making their astrological calculations." If the water in the rivers such as the Ganges could really wash away sins and suffering, then the turtles, crabs, fish and shellfish living in those sacred rivers ought by now to be freed from their sins and suffering too" And: If a man could eliminate suffering by making offerings, paying homage, and praying, there would be no one subject to suffering left in the world, because anyone at all can pay homage and pray. But since people are still subject to suffering while in the very act of making obeisances, paying homage, and performing rites, this is clearly not the way to gain liberation"

Rites and ceremonies of this kind have become so numerous that they now completely obscure the real Buddhism and its original purpose. Take for example the procedure of becoming ordained a monk. There has come into existence the ceremony of making gifts to the newly ordained bhikku. Guests are invited to bring food and to watch proceedings, and as a result, there is much drunkenness and noise. ceremonies are performed both at the temple and in the home. The new bhikku leaves the Order only a few days after having been ordained, and may become an even stronger temple hater than he was before. It must be borne in the mind that there was none of this at the time of the Buddha. It is a later development.

All this presenting of gifts to newly ordained bhikkhus, this performing of ceremonies, including all sorts of celebration, these we are foolish enough to call Buddhism! Furthermore we choose to make much of them, thinking nothing of spending all our own money, or other people's on account of them. This 'Neo-Buddhism' is so widespread as to be almost universal. The Dhamma, the genuine teaching that once was paramount, has become so overlaid by ceremony that the whole objective of Buddhism has been obscured, falsified and changed. Ordination, for instance, has become a face saving gambit for young men whom people have been pointing at for never having been ordained, or a prerequisite to finding a wife(as having been a monk is considered a sign of maturity), or is done with some other kind of ulterior motive. In some places an ordination is regarded as an opportunity for collecting money, for which job there are always people on hand to help. It is some way of getting rich. Even this they call Buddhism and anyone who goes and criticizes this is considered to be ignorant of Buddhism or opposed to it.


He does talk about what Buddhism essentially is in its purest form, but I am not in the mood for typing out more and more. He goes on to talk about how this type of Buddhism is a cancer, a tumour which has developed in Biddhism and thrived in many forms. Offshoots and sects that are even involved in sensuality. To conclude
Those of us interested in furthering Buddhism, whether as a foothold for all people, or for our own private well being, must know how to get hold of the true essence of Buddhism and not just grab at some worthless outgrowth|

I understand that with time things change as that is inevitable, things get added and things get removed, but the teachings of the Buddha lead directly to the fruit of the path and that is something that should be kept pure IMO.
Inc88TBRulh

Comments

  • Very interesting material, Tom. As a beginner to Buddhism, and currently focusing on the Soto Zen tradition, I'm finding myself questioning the idea of rituals, rites, offerings etc. and what use or benefits such things really have. That's not to say I'm rejecting them outright, but I do wonder how much of Buddhism as it's practiced in various traditions strays from what the Buddha actually taught. I think due to the wealth of information out there, it can be a bit overwhelming trying to get to the root of these things.

    Thanks for posting :)
  • Very interesting material, Tom. As a beginner to Buddhism, and currently focusing on the Soto Zen tradition, I'm finding myself questioning the idea of rituals, rites, offerings etc. and what use or benefits such things really have. That's not to say I'm rejecting them outright, but I do wonder how much of Buddhism as it's practiced in various traditions strays from what the Buddha actually taught. I think due to the wealth of information out there, it can be a bit overwhelming trying to get to the root of these things.

    Thanks for posting :)

    Thanks Craig and I am happy you have found something positive to walk upon, the path.
    Basically deep down I think I always have been (since being a 'buddhist') hardcore. By that I mean really traditional and it should be pure and down to the point. What is important is the peeling away of ignorance and finding the true nature of things, I think there are too many fads, hindrances and cobber-codge (yea I just made up a word) out there in Buddhism today. In that book he also said that since the day the Buddha died things have been added, taken away or changed and that is inevitable, but he thinks it is necessary to come back to the Buddhas teachings purely and simply.
  • My guess is that rituals and worship have their uses and benefits as long as we don't imagine that they are ends in themselves.

    But an hadith of the prophet Mohammed tells us 'An hour's contemplation is worth a year's worship'.

    Good advice I'd say.

    blu3reeNirvanaInvincible_summer
  • Florian said:

    My guess is that rituals and worship have their uses and benefits as long as we don't imagine that they are ends in themselves.

    But an hadith of the prophet Mohammed tells us 'An hour's contemplation is worth a year's worship'.

    Good advice I'd say.

    Like I said I have been contemplating my view on Buddhism recently, do I belong to a certain school or not etc. I don't as of yet, I prefer a couple but still take things from all areas. However, deep down I am hardcore meaning I believe if I am going to be doing this it needs to be done the way it was laid down 2,500years ago. No ifs, no buts. I have seen in the UK a little but more so here in Thailand all of this ritual and sacred crap. There is this well at a really beautiful place I went to with two friends not long ago and it is meant to be sacred. My Thai friend wanted to hang from with in it (it was quite deep) so I could take a photo. All of these Thai people were in shock and only after I showed my friend a sign saying about it being sacred he got very scared and started praying. To each their own, pic related.
    1772 x 1181 - 2M
  • black_teablack_tea Explorer
    edited February 2013
    I'm sure the need for ritual varies from person to person. I can see benefits from it personally -- perhaps it encourages more respect, being humble, brings home the point that this is really important stuff here. And of course, there are all sorts of different rituals, some of which maybe more beneficial than others. I agree that worship and ritual alone aren't going to get the job done, yet I'm also not for just tossing things away with no thought. If people are getting some good out of the ritual in question is it a bad thing? And how does one define something like 'prayer'? -- Prayer can mean slightly different things depending on the religion in question.

    Another thing to consider is that everything was written down after the fact (some stuff was earlier than others, but still), so again I'm not so sure it's that simple to say this is exactly the way it was 2500 years ago, either, and things naturally evolve over time anyway.

    I don't have an issue with ritual or things feeling religiousy -- in fact, I find it personally helpful up to a point. If the day to day rigamarole gets too complicated, then it only gets in the way. But a somewhat devotional feel can also help the ego take a step back. I don't have a problem with people not needing this stuff, but I do have a problem with the idea that a 'pure' stripped down approach is the right way to do things. One of Buddhism's strong points in my mind is the fact that there are many different variations -- it gives more people a chance to connect.

    Thanks for posting this. It's an interesting discussion.
    JeffreyBunksNirvana
  • Florian said:

    My guess is that rituals and worship have their uses and benefits as long as we don't imagine that they are ends in themselves.

    But an hadith of the prophet Mohammed tells us 'An hour's contemplation is worth a year's worship'.

    Good advice I'd say.

    Florian, I think you've hit the nail on the head.

    I once lamented to a monk in Bangkok how difficult it was to find a Thai Buddhist temple in American in most places. And he reminded me that the temple we were in, and all the paraphernalia, and even the statue of Buddha had nothing to do with what Buddhism really is.

    But on the other hand, does it do any harm? And I think as you pointed out, usually no, but potentially it could.

    I think in particular of my once favorite Buddhist temple, which happens to be right in the heart of Bangkok's modern shopping district -- literally right in between two of Southeast Asia's largest and most modern shopping malls. Sort of in the back is a wiharn that is a 24/7 place to meditate. It's a very quiet place, and I used to love to just go there and think, but I also watched the Thais who came in there. More than many temples, they mostly seemed to use that particular place as a place of focus. In fact, at least in that wiharn, there were no places for candles or incense, etc. So, the ritualistic aspect of Thai Buddhism was pretty much absent. It was usually a place where a dozen or two people were meditating. Occasionally a monk was present.

    But, ritualism attracts some people more to their religion. So what's wrong with that, too.

    I guess it kinda reminds me of, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". If the ritualism works for some of us. Fine. Better to be somewhat ritualistic than not Buddhist at all.

    Lucy_Begood
  • Tom, I think there is a difference between making an offering to cultivate giving and joy... a difference between that and taking refuge in offerings to Gods. The former is done to cultivate the mental state, but we do not go so far as to the latter.

    This all makes sense, Dhamma Dhatu's favorite teacher.
  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited February 2013
    Tom, I don't think this is too unusual for Theravadan monk/scholars. They seem to enjoy a lot of hand-wringing about how Theravada has gone to h*ll in a handbasket, how absurd and empty some of the rituals and rules are, etc. There's an interesting essay called "Broken Buddha", by well-known scholar S. Dhammika, that is in much the same vein as what you're reading; a lot of clucking and fussing about monks who aren't serious about their vocation, or who join for a brief period, then leave, rituals that have become ossified and meaningless, etc. He has an interesting section on how Mahayana picked up on certain of the Buddha's teachings and developed a whole doctrine, where Theravada focussed on other things. Anyway, here's an interesting exerpt:

    Asian Theravadins expect you to follow their traditions and not question
    them. You can point out that certain practices or ideas are not in the Tipitaka or are even contrary to
    it but it will make no difference. Right or wrong, inane or practical, that’s how it has always been
    done and that’s what you must do. In 1996 I traveled in Europe for the first time thus giving me the
    opportunity to see how Theravada was understood and practiced there. Theravada in Asia might be
    hidebound and fossilized I thought but at least Westerners will have been able to separate the fruit
    from the peel, the gift from the wrapping, the Buddha from ‘the thick uneven crust’ surrounding
    him. To my astonishment and despair I found that this was not so. Most groups, centers and
    monasteries I visited adhered to such practices with even more tenacity than in Asia. I finally had to
    admit that this is Theravada and reluctantly and with some sadness decided that I could not be a part
    of it any longer. I decided
    that I did not have to align myself with any school. Now I follow the Buddha’s teachings to the best
    of my understanding and to the best of my ability.


    He says some very similar things to Budhadasa. I find these screeds to be interesting and thought-provoking. I thought the part I bolded might be helpful to some of our members who wonder if or when they have to decide on a "school".

    Thanks for sharing.

    http://www.buddhistische-gesellschaft-berlin.de/downloads/brokenbuddhanew.pdf
    chela
  • I think what's very important to remember about rituals is that you could watch 2 monks (or lay people, for that matter) going through a ritualistic chanting. But what may be going on inside the mind of one may be totally different than what's going on inside the mind of the other. So I neither endorse or criticize rituals...in general. Veyr much a case by case topic.
    FlorianInvincible_summer
  • edited February 2013
    This is an insightful thread. It touches on what I was asking about in another thread recently-- about how the more I learn about traditional rituals that seem to abound in Buddhism, the more confused I become. I think more precisely-- they distract from the core teachings. That doesn't mean I think they are wrong because who am I to tell another person they are wrong in the way they "do" Buddhism? I haven't even barely begun to learn about any of this. But, still...if you even know the basic story of the Buddha and how he tried out ceremonial worshipping and all sorts of seeking-ways and rejected those ways, it does seem perplexing.

    For those of us who want to practice Buddhism in a stripped-down, basic way, does that make this like Protestant Buddhism?
  • chela said:



    For those of us who want to practice Buddhism in a stripped-down, basic way, does that make this like Protestant Buddhism?

    Interesting thought...to some extent I would say yes.

  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited February 2013
    chela said:


    For those of us who want to practice Buddhism in a stripped-down, basic way, does that make this like Protestant Buddhism?

    The term "Buddhist fundamentalist" has been tossed around, on occasion. But I don't think of simply "following the Buddha's teachings to the best of my understanding and the best of my ability" (as Dhammika put it, above) as fundamentalism. It's never really occurred to me to put a label on it, other than "Buddhism". I don't think it matters, really, as far as our own progress is concerned, what label we put on what we're doing.

    Lucy_Begood
  • Dakini said:

    The term "Buddhist fundamentalist" has been tossed around, on occasion. But I don't think of simply "following the Buddha's teachings to the best of my understanding and the best of my ability" (as Dhammika put it, above) as fundamentalism. It's never really occurred to me to put a label on it, other than "Buddhism". I don't think it matters, really, as far as our own progress is concerned, what label we put on what we're doing.

    I would agree that labels don't really matter. However, labels do make identification and communication a bit easier, which is why we can't seem to get away from them.

  • Some people are energized by rituals. Anything in your day where you wake up to the escape of samsara is a good act. Chanting the heart sutra is done to wake you up to shunyata. One might not understand the sutra first, but later it is blazed in your consciousness.

    And then there is the dispute over who is 'authentic' Buddhist. :rolleyes:
  • Jeffrey said:

    Some people are energized by rituals. Anything in your day where you wake up to the escape of samsara is a good act. Chanting the heart sutra is done to wake you up to shunyata. One might not understand the sutra first, but later it is blazed in your consciousness.

    And then there is the dispute over who is 'authentic' Buddhist. :rolleyes:

    I guess anything that does help to e3scape samsara is ultimately a positive thing, but with this topic I consider there to be many different levels we are looking at here. That could be ranging from monks chanting to Buddhist scam projects, there are a lot of fads, silly rituals and other things in between. At the end of the day to each their own, who am I or anybody for that matter to say this is wrong and that is right. I do really like the ideas and opinions Buddhadasa Bhikkhu seems to have though and I respect him for what I have read so far,
  • DaftChrisDaftChris Spiritually conflicted. Not of this world. Veteran
    Buddhism is what you make of it.

    There is no "right" or "wrong" way of practice.
  • Well, I think you go too far. I'm sure there are some wrong ways to practice Buddhism.
    Invincible_summer
  • DaftChrisDaftChris Spiritually conflicted. Not of this world. Veteran
    vinlyn said:

    Well, I think you go too far. I'm sure there are some wrong ways to practice Buddhism.

    I meant more like "regardless if you pray and burn incense in front of statues if Buddha and Boddhisattvas, or if you simply meditate, there is no wrong way to practice".

  • DaftChris said:

    vinlyn said:

    Well, I think you go too far. I'm sure there are some wrong ways to practice Buddhism.

    I meant more like "regardless if you pray and burn incense in front of statues if Buddha and Boddhisattvas, or if you simply meditate, there is no wrong way to practice".

    Ok, that's reasonable.

    But keep in mind that in SE Asia, Buddhism is often "mixed" with animism.

  • vinlyn said:

    DaftChris said:

    vinlyn said:

    Well, I think you go too far. I'm sure there are some wrong ways to practice Buddhism.

    I meant more like "regardless if you pray and burn incense in front of statues if Buddha and Boddhisattvas, or if you simply meditate, there is no wrong way to practice".

    Ok, that's reasonable.

    But keep in mind that in SE Asia, Buddhism is often "mixed" with animism.

    Well in Thailand is by mixed you mean 30% animism, 60% mystic/superstition and 10% Buddhist practice yea :lol:
    vinlynInvincible_summer
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman Spam, wonderful spam Veteran
    chela said:

    For those of us who want to practice Buddhism in a stripped-down, basic way, does that make this like Protestant Buddhism?

    I don't think this is straightforward because Buddhism is always expressed through the culture of time and place, and modern Buddhism is no exception. So trying to separate an "essence" from it's cultural trappings is very difficult - even assuming there was agreement on what the "essence" actually is.
    riverflowchela
  • riverflow said:

    The guitarist Robert Fripp said, 'Discipline is never an end in itself, only a means to an end,' and that is also how ritual functions in Buddhism. The entirety of the Buddhadharma--all its doctrines and rituals, bowing, chanting, robes, gathas, incense, candles, and even meditation itself are all upaya, skilful means. I was reading Sheng Yen recently who said something to the effect that we use these delusions in order to overcome delusions.

    This is another way of expressing the Buddhist metaphor of using the raft to cross to the other shore. One should not cling to the raft, sure--but one has to get to the other side of the shore first! Why so quick to dump the raft?

    I used to be very resistant to much of Buddhist ritual, and I am still learning to accept some of them--others I have finally grown to accept and incorporate into my own practice. But I used to be a 'zazen only, please' Buddhist, and now it seems to me that this is like having only a flathead screwdriver in a toolshed--by itself it isn't so helpful. At any rate, I don't think its a good idea to so quickly dispense with the notion of ritual just because some people get hung up on it. There is nothing inherently wrong with ritual--rather it is what we make of it that matters.

    Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, 'A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that's unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.' I think Buddhist rituals can easily appear that way too.

    This is my opinion here, after seeing a lot of what goes on in what is meant to be the most Buddhist country in the world, I believe that as Buddhadasa Bhikkhu describes, a cancer has grown out of Buddhism in the form of these rituals, they may help some people in some kind of way too focus or whatever, but they have the power to lead many others off of the path and cause hindrances. All of this talk of meditation with music, praying, wearing cool amulets and throwing money into sacred wells, that is not Budhism IMHO. The path itself is all that is needed to get to the fruit of buddhism, simply and one step at a time. However one should not hate these rituals and fads of time as that will cause an attachment which causes suffering blablabla. Anyway I can't exactly talk the talk when I am hacking away at my leg on a Friday night can I, at least I can play the crazy card and say silly things and people won't shoot me down so much for it now.
  • edited February 2013
    riverflow said:


    At any rate, I don't think its a good idea to so quickly dispense with the notion of ritual just because some people get hung up on it. There is nothing inherently wrong with ritual--rather it is what we make of it that matters.

    Ritual and repetition become very important when one is trying to overcome extremely stressful situations, especially involving pain. We see ritual and repetition in every culture, religious or not. It's also a part of our everyday routines. You see it in your own morning routines (wake up, shower, dress, have coffee, meditate, drive to work, etc., repeat at least 5 more times that week); you see it in work, school, everywhere. But it is most prevalent in places of religious worship, and in places of stress (especially in places of both, like religious and poverty).

    One particular thing that really stands out in my mind is in natural childbirth. Ritual and repetition become crucial in order to move through that experience. These things can become quite uncomfortable to watch/hear from a bystander position-- I believe because it reminds us that there is something else in us-- something that is so primal and uncivilized that we can't really understand it. In my mind, I am quite certain that this is why, in the west, we have moved to a method of "normal" birth that requires numbing, medicating, speeding up, and ultimately, surgery. Someone else has to control this process-- someone else has to do the birthing (the Dr.)-- in order to prevent the mother from reaching this primal state.

    But in the end, the best thing is to do what is right for yourself. Only you can reconcile your own feelings, knowledge, and experiences. Ultimately it isn't what you chose to do, but how you process and settle your decisions/experiences.

    SabbyNirvana
  • FlorianFlorian Veteran
    edited February 2013
    riverflow said:

    The guitarist Robert Fripp said, 'Discipline is never an end in itself, only a means to an end,' and that is also how ritual functions in Buddhism. The entirety of the Buddhadharma--all its doctrines and rituals, bowing, chanting, robes, gathas, incense, candles, and even meditation itself are all upaya, skilful means. I was reading Sheng Yen recently who said something to the effect that we use these delusions in order to overcome delusions.

    Hey, one of favourite musicians, and talking sense as well.

    I've always hated ritual and ceremony but the one time I went to a group and found myself reluctantly going through a few small rituals I found them extremely effective. Something about discipline, state of mind, humility, shared experience and so forth. But as has been said, they are just a tool and a method, useful or not depending on the context. I expect we all have our little rituals that help our practice but are not necessary to it.

    It's an interesting thing that many of these questions about Buddhist practice can also be asked about practicing a musical instrument, and often are by pupils. Is this or that kind of practice necessary? Well no, there are no rules, but if many great players made use of them then they are probably useful.

    To be honest, I'd say that I could probably do with a year's worth of disciplined ceremony and ritual, even though I know that theoretically it would be unnecessary.


  • This is my opinion here, after seeing a lot of what goes on in what is meant to be the most Buddhist country in the world, I believe that as Buddhadasa Bhikkhu describes, a cancer has grown out of Buddhism in the form of these rituals, they may help some people in some kind of way too focus or whatever, but they have the power to lead many others off of the path and cause hindrances. All of this talk of meditation with music, praying, wearing cool amulets and throwing money into sacred wells, that is not Budhism IMHO. The path itself is all that is needed to get to the fruit of buddhism, simply and one step at a time. However one should not hate these rituals and fads of time as that will cause an attachment which causes suffering blablabla. Anyway I can't exactly talk the talk when I am hacking away at my leg on a Friday night can I, at least I can play the crazy card and say silly things and people won't shoot me down so much for it now.

    And while I don't like to see the animism mixed in with Buddhism either, I also think we have to be careful not to get into that "my Buddhism is better than your Buddhism" way of thinking.

    DaftChrisInvincible_summer
  • vinlyn said:



    This is my opinion here, after seeing a lot of what goes on in what is meant to be the most Buddhist country in the world, I believe that as Buddhadasa Bhikkhu describes, a cancer has grown out of Buddhism in the form of these rituals, they may help some people in some kind of way too focus or whatever, but they have the power to lead many others off of the path and cause hindrances. All of this talk of meditation with music, praying, wearing cool amulets and throwing money into sacred wells, that is not Budhism IMHO. The path itself is all that is needed to get to the fruit of buddhism, simply and one step at a time. However one should not hate these rituals and fads of time as that will cause an attachment which causes suffering blablabla. Anyway I can't exactly talk the talk when I am hacking away at my leg on a Friday night can I, at least I can play the crazy card and say silly things and people won't shoot me down so much for it now.

    And while I don't like to see the animism mixed in with Buddhism either, I also think we have to be careful not to get into that "my Buddhism is better than your Buddhism" way of thinking.

    Fair point, but I would not call that Buddhism, and I would not call what I follow 'my' Buddhism, it would be the path. I see where you are coming from and how egos and 'sides' could easily form within the mind.
  • Tom, I don't really think we're very far apart on this. I guess I have just become more and more accepting of culture/history and its affects on religion. It bothers me far less that I routinely saw Thais "praying" at the statues of Hindu deities, than that they don't seem to realize that there is a difference. If you said to a Thai that had just finished "praying" at the Erawan shrine, "Oh, you're Hindu", they'd be greatly offended.

    I think when we are "out of the mainstream" of a religion that it's often okay, as long as we understand where we are
  • chela said:

    For those of us who want to practice Buddhism in a stripped-down, basic way, does that make this like Protestant Buddhism?

    I don't think this is straightforward because Buddhism is always expressed through the culture of time and place, and modern Buddhism is no exception. So trying to separate an "essence" from it's cultural trappings is very difficult - even assuming there was agreement on what the "essence" actually is.
    Don't be coy, Spiny. We all know what the basics are: the 4 Nobles, the 8-fold Path, mindfulness, the precepts, dependent origination, non-attachment, meditation. Another way to arrive at what the "essence" is (aside from reading the sutras, which, aside from differences between Mahayana and Theravada, don't have any animism, ancestor worship, divination, deity worship, etc.) could be to look at the different ways Buddhism is practiced around the world, and seeing what they all have in common. There are common denominators there.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman Spam, wonderful spam Veteran
    Dakini said:

    chela said:

    For those of us who want to practice Buddhism in a stripped-down, basic way, does that make this like Protestant Buddhism?

    I don't think this is straightforward because Buddhism is always expressed through the culture of time and place, and modern Buddhism is no exception. So trying to separate an "essence" from it's cultural trappings is very difficult - even assuming there was agreement on what the "essence" actually is.

    Another way to arrive at what the "essence" is (aside from reading the sutras, which, aside from differences between Mahayana and Theravada, don't have any animism, ancestor worship, divination, deity worship, etc.) could be to look at the different ways Buddhism is practiced around the world, and seeing what they all have in common. There are common denominators there.
    But Buddhism is so diverse, at one end of the spectrum there is secular Buddhism, at the other end Nichirin, and everything else in between. I don't think it's easy to work out what the common denominators are, and all these different Buddhist traditions have their own interpretations and their own idea of what the essence is. And even within traditions there is often disagreement about what is most important, it depends on which teacher you believe.
    DaftChris
  • TheswingisyellowTheswingisyellow Concept with meaning Samsara Veteran
    Tom,
    Thank you for the interesting discussion. I would on the whole agree with your post. We have 2600 years of human culture and ideas that overlay what we would call buddhism. Some folks need rituals for inspiration or hope and I think that is okay. As was posted earlier by @florian:
    Florian said:

    My guess is that rituals and worship have their uses and benefits as long as we don't imagine that they are ends in themselves.

    I would tend to agree with this. Knowing that one's ritual is just that a ritual and that any kind of liberation is going to found in oneself.
    ThailandTom

  • But Buddhism is so diverse, at one end of the spectrum there is secular Buddhism, at the other end Nichirin, and everything else in between. I don't think it's easy to work out what the common denominators are, and all these different Buddhist traditions have their own interpretations and their own idea of what the essence is. And even within traditions there is often disagreement about what is most important, it depends on which teacher you believe.

    Well, granted it wouldn't be easy. It would be a huge research and analysis project. But secular Buddhism still is about impermanence (observing the arising and ceasing of phenomena), compassion, dependent origination, meditation, the 4 Nobles & 8-fold Path, non-attachment, achieving equanimity. I think these things are at the core of most, if not all, traditions. Where traditions differ are in the "extras", like praying to deities, belief in multiple Buddhas, Bodhisattvas vs. Arhats, and what aspects of the basics they emphasize (some getting into a lot of arcane analysis of mind and reality, for example, or fixating on meditation as the path).

    idk, maybe I'm somehow oversimplifying things. But I think if you examined the traditions from a scholarly and anthropological perspective, you could see the cultural context of each, and peel that away, and then compare and contrast, and see what teachings are common to all of them, even though some emphasize meditation, others emphasize complex philosophizing, and others may emphasize charitable acts or asceticism. There's still a universal foundation of teachings at the core of each tradition, isn't there? The facts of the Buddha's life: discovering the MIddle Way, his observation that suffering arises from attachment, etc. guarantees that certain basic elements will be present in all traditions.

    However, I suppose if all traditions have now adopted some form of ritual, it would be easy to conclude that ritual is one of the core elements of Buddhism, as Tom's essay points out.

    hmm... :scratch:
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited February 2013
    My teacher says that she likes pure formless practice. That is our meditation, formless meditation. Having no form to it there is also no ritual. She says that she likes to practice this way. But many of her students like ritual so the sangha also incorporates ritual. It is simple, not complicated. There is a need for it and thus it is practiced. The need is as determined by the sangha.

    Does your sangha like ritual?
    ThailandTomInvincible_summer
  • Jeffrey said:

    My teacher says that she likes pure formless practice. That is our meditation, formless meditation. Having no form to it there is also no ritual. She says that she likes to practice this way. But many of her students like ritual so the sangha also incorporates ritual. It is simple, not complicated. There is a need for it and thus it is practiced. The need is as determined by the sangha.

    What is "formless meditation"? Does it still focus on the breath, or visualizations? What does "formless" mean in this context? Is that a word for ritual-free, or free-style?

  • On the in breath you don't have any should or shouldn't do. This is related to how enlightenment in part is none of our doing and just happens by itself.

    On the outbreath you notice thoughts as thinking and relax into space. Both are formless, the first breath because there is no method. Also the next breath because here you are having awareness of spaciousness which brings the quality of clarity to bear.
  • Barbara O'Brien's article about Ritual and Buddhism, The Purpose of Rituals in Buddhism

    http://buddhism.about.com/od/becomingabuddhist/a/ritual.htm

    I like the "Empty Your Cup" story.

    Be the Middle way. Be flexible.
    riverflow
  • I like your teacher by the sounds of things @Jeffey :D
  • I disagree with the article linked above. I don't know about other Buddhist traditions, but I think that ritual in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is for the purpose of bringing about an altered state of consciousness that can trigger insight, or allow faith in the "empowerment" (for example, a Medicine Buddha empowerment) to bring about seemingly miraculous results. The ritual sets the stage for accessing the power of mind and faith to bring about the desired change in the body or the mind. The mind and the power of belief have a remarkable capacity to heal, or to trigger insights. It's a matter of figuring out how to push the right buttons to get that to happen. I think the Tibetan rituals are designed to induce a state in which those buttons have the potential to be pushed.
    Florian
  • edited February 2013
    I would have to say that I largely agree with Riverflow. Ritual may be useful or a key part of some traditions, however do they not become something to cling to? I remember when I was an Anglican, the service became something immutable for many people and any change in the ritual itself was regarded with great suspicion and often rejected because people were too attached to the form.

    It is difficult to cling lightly to such things, no?
    chela
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman Spam, wonderful spam Veteran
    Dakini said:

    But secular Buddhism still is about impermanence (observing the arising and ceasing of phenomena), compassion, dependent origination, meditation, the 4 Nobles & 8-fold Path, non-attachment, achieving equanimity.

    But that's a very Theravada-orientated list and not representative of the bigger picture which includes Pureland, Vajryana, Nichiren, etc. Given that doctrines and methods vary so widely it might be more productive to think about unity in terms of the goal of Buddhist practice, ie enlightenment.

    As for the OP I find Buddhadassa's views interesting, though I think he is prone to straw-man arguments, ie presenting stereotypical and misleading descriptions in order to criticise them. A good example is his diatribe against the Satipatthana method in the book "Mindfulness with Breathing".
    ThailandTom
  • NirvanaNirvana How about It ? `    `     `     ` `     `     ` Quiet Places `      ` Veteran
    edited February 2013
    @NMADDP, I really liked your link 5 posts above. I believe that this article by Barbara O’Brien in About.com (Ritual and Buddhism) handled Buddhadasa Bhikkhu’s objections handily:
    If you hold back, judging what you like and don't like about the ritual, there's no power. There's just you, cut off, closed up.
    For myself, I just don't get it when people don't see religions as the matrixes that they are —rather than as pure linear theories, as it were. I mean, such terms as “Buddhism,” “Christianity,” etc. encompass wide arrays of attitudes, beliefs, practices, and the like; they are not just ideas that people subscribe to. Rather, they are zones, areas, or territories that people inhabit, are travelling through, or belong to. The religions or spiritual traditions that people follow are more like dwelling places than mere opinions they subscribe to. Understanding and opinion are two radically different things, and the core of the fibers of the fabric that religious culture is made of is knowing, not opinion.

    <<All paying of homage to sacred objects by means of performing rites, rituals, making offerings, or praying is not Buddhism.>>
    I don’t know what language Buddhadasa wrote in, but this makes no sense to me in English. So there’s this pure “Prism” out there, instituted by Shakyamuni, which prohibits all performing of rites, participating in rituals, the making of offerings and prayer? Sounds like Islam to me; apparently Shakyamuni said he was the final prophet and no other Teacher would arise after him?

    <<Rites and ceremonies... have become so numerous that they now completely obscure the real Buddhism and its original purpose. >>
    Well, that thought was prevalent in the Christian West in Reformation times among the Protestants. However, 450 years later the Protestant churches are becoming more “Catholic” whilst the Roman Church has become much, much more lax about its rituals and such. However, in the West, the difference between the churches catholic and protestant is (speaking of bhikkhus) that the catholics —Roman and Anglican— still have their monasteries and their convents. The Noble Way of the Monk is usually the least cumbersome way fully to be able to follow the teachings of a Buddha or a Jesus. But part and parcel of the monastic world is an outer secular world which helps support the monastic. Now, perhaps if a lot of extra “stuff” has evolved or been added, it’s due in no small part to some reciprocity and interchange between those more knowledgable and those only able to appropriate some measure of the teaching in some different way.
    <<Those of us interested in furthering Buddhism, whether as a foothold for all people, or for our own private well being, must know how to get hold of the true essence of Buddhism and not just grab at some worthless outgrowth.>>
    Much of this so-called “worthless outgrowth,” I’d argue helped keep the monks fed and the message alive and flourishing. It’s not like the ancient texts themselves have been embellished with worldly nuggets to hide the Teaching; nay the Teaching has been preserved.

    <<The true essence of Buddhism>>? That's sheer sloganism or some phantom.

    The heart of the Buddha's teaching is not affected by "custom and ritual." Nay, those are the things that help Buddhist culture keep the Teaching alive. The Monk is still free to be a monk and the layman can seek his own liberation in his own way, and the uncurious will doubtless have countless lifetimes to "get it right."
    riverflowchela
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