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The preoccupation with contemporary teachers

DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
edited September 2014 in Philosophy

As an example, a few years back I went on an intensive anapanasati retreat, where we worked with the 4 tetrads. There are a number of commentaries to the Anapanasati Sutta, two of the better known ones are "Breath by Breath" by Larry Rosenburg and "Mindfulness with breathing" by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu.
Larry's book is actually a commentary on Buddhadasa's approach, so in effect it's a commentary on a commentary and therefore arguably less authentic. But nearly everyone on the retreat had read Larry's book, and hardly anyone had read Buddhadasa's book, which I found rather puzzling.

It seems to me that often people are preoccupied with contemporary teachers just because they are contemporary, and sometimes just because they happen to be fashionable.

Kundo

Comments

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    Perhaps. We live in the contemporary world, so it's natural that we like to look for things in contemporary language and from people we can observe/question. But just because something's contemporary doesn't mean it isn't useful.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited September 2014

    I didn't say that contemporary wasn't useful. In the OP example I think people did find Larry Rosenburg's commentary useful, but I suspect they would have found Buddhadasa's commentary more useful if they had bothered to read it.

  • @SpinyNorman said:
    I didn't say that contemporary wasn't useful. In the OP example I think people did find Larry Rosenburg's commentary useful, but I suspect they would have found Buddhadasa's commentary more useful if they had bothered to read it.

    And if there was a youtube video him talking about the book, most of them would have seen that and figured it was just as good as reading the actual book. Just goes to show.

    Buddhadragon
  • How much more useful does something need to be? You're talking about breathing in and out here. Rosenburg's book is excellent in my view. The rest comes down to whether one bothers to practice what he's learned from reading it.
    There are examples where critsizing a contemporary teacher might be warranted, although I don't see how being overly critical could help someone's practice, honestly, but this isn't one of them IMO.

  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    People sometimes think that "contemporary" is easier to read.

    I have been savouring Buddhaghosa's "Visuddhi Magga" for a month now, and actually it's far easier to understand than I had anticipated. I don't think any contemporary author could improve on his explanations nor render them more palatable.

    My staple authors, anyway, are Max Müller, T. W. Rhys-Davids and F. L. Woodward, so what should I know!
    I'm stuck in a Victorian time-loop...

  • howhow Veteran Veteran

    Contemporary teachers can offer some values that past teachers can not easily match.

    Everything changes. Contemporary teachers can respond aptly to changing conditions that long dead teachers simply can not. In addition, being able to observe both the questioner and the answerer, in a Dharma exchange, can more easily illuminate living examples of the Buddha/Dharma than the words in books can.

    A practice is us looking for the Dharma, where ever we happen to be. This is not me saying out with the old and in with the new.....or vise versa.
    It is about advising that we watch ourselves for our preferences and possible attachments that simply move us from worldly traps into equally limiting spiritual ones.

    VastmindlobsterAgatha
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @DhammaDragon said:
    People sometimes think that "contemporary" is easier to read.

    Yes, and that's one of the assumptions I'm wanting to challenge here.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @Cinorjer said:
    And if there was a youtube video him talking about the book, most of them would have seen that and figured it was just as good as reading the actual book. Just goes to show.

    Yes, or maybe reading about it on a Buddhist discussion forum. ;) .

    CinorjerKundo
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @robot said:

    Rosenburg's book is excellent in my view.

    What other commentaries on the Anapanasati Sutta have you read to compare it to? I think Rosenburg's commentary is OK, but I don't think it's the best.

  • @SpinyNorman said:

    Perhaps if I have found that I have used his teaching to their conclusion and I'm still confused, I might try something else. I don't see that happening. He's done a pretty good job. What didn't you like about his book? Where was it lacking?

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited September 2014

    I found it all rather long-winded and woolly. Do you actually use the 4-tetrad approach to anapanasati? And have you read any other commentaries?

  • @SpinyNorman said:
    I found it all rather long-winded and woolly. Do you actually use the 4-tetrad approach to anapanasati? And have you read any other commentaries?

    Here are some of my books. I've read others! Honest!
    Everyone in my family has at least one degree except me. I'm not really intimidated by scholars.
    Look, I'm a self taught kind of guy. Give me some basic instructions. I'll take it from there.

  • I find Buddhadasa fascinating. It's about the quality of the analysis, not the name, culture, era, or anything like that.

  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    I have a very hard time with understanding the nuances of meaning in any but contemporary language. Shakespeare, for instance, is beyond me. So is Jane Eyre and I barely grasped Little Women before chucking the book (I'm pretty sure I did due to boredom anyway). I DON'T UNDERSTAND, I just get confused and really, really unsure of myself unless the language is 'contemporary'. It's a limitation, some goof-up in my brain, kind of like my difficulty with some kinds of maths. Give me a calculator and I aced higher math, but I have good reason to not trust myself when it comes to basic computation :( . Just the way my brain is wired, and this limitation includes 'getting it' with older translations of suttas. I am a "Living Bible" kind of gal :( , and would need a Living Pali Canon sort of translation to make hide nor hair of it. Thanissaro Bikkhu and Bikkhu Bohdi are two fellows I rely on to make sense of the suttas and their commentaries.

    So my preference for contemporary teachers is functional :( .

    lobster
  • @Hamsaka I have a way of just perservering even if I don't understand some things. I just take what I can and move through the reading. I don't look anything up in the dictionary. With that method I have read some books in German that I only understood a part of what the book had said.

    Hamsaka
  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    @Jeffrey said:
    Hamsaka I have a way of just perservering even if I don't understand some things. I just take what I can and move through the reading. I don't look anything up in the dictionary. With that method I have read some books in German that I only understood a part of what the book had said.

    I didn't think of that, perhaps I 'understand' more than I realize consciously?

    My favorite way to 'read' anything, fiction, nonfiction, Dharma, whatever, is to have my computer open and be googling like mad. Otherwise I can't anchor myself in what I am convinced the meaning IS. Seems like gathering other points of view (that I do 'grasp') and then heading back into the material settles me down and then I can get absorbed in the material. It's embarrassing that I do that with fiction :buck: too. I read the spoilers and THEN decide if I want to read the book.

  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    "Jane Eyre" and "Little Women" were two of my childhood favourite books.

    I read them hundreds of times.

    Shakespeare is extremely fascinating when you learn to read him. In fact, he's pure genius. Have no words for Shakespeare.

    Hamsakalobster
  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    I feel the dearth of proper edification in my life, that Shakespeare et al just never . . . made it in there :( . I'm not closed to the idea that I COULD grasp and ride the rhythms, and do have an appreciation of Shakespeare but I'm pretty sure it is superficial and not exactly relevant.

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    Re. the OP, when I was into reading, I always had the opposite problem ... being stuck on the old-timers and less impressed with the johnny-come-latelies. Over time, the gap seemed to narrow until I liked pretty much anyone who seemed to light my 'Buddhist' fire and helped put my butt on the cushion.

    Buddhadragonhow
  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    @Jeffrey said:
    With that method I have read some books in German that I only understood a part of what the book had said.

    Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges learnt German with Schopenhauer.

    And as much as I breeze through Thanissaro Bikkhu and Bikkhu Bodhi, @Hamsaka, I have a soft spot for Max Müller and I.B. Horner's translations.

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @DhammaDragon said: Shakespeare is extremely fascinating when you learn to read him. In fact, he's pure genius. Have no words for Shakespeare.

    >

    How amazing is this quotation?

    'Tis no less, I tell you, for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon."

    >

    Mercutio, in 'Romeo and Juliet' answering the Nurse's query as to the hour.
    He means it's midday....

    But the response is dripping with rude double-entendres and innuendo. Mercutio thinks of nothing but sex....The above quotation is so rude it should really not be interpreted on public forum....! Most of it can be guessed at, but even the 'innocent' words... aren't!

    JeffreyAgathaBuddhadragon
  • NirvanaNirvana aka BUBBA   `     `   South Carolina, USA Veteran

    When you are reading and "contemplating" an author or speaker, you are that source's "contemporary," in a basic (and radical) way. These two words are radically and etymologically related.
    Ajahn Chah is a very good "contemporary" Teacher, even though he's been gone over 22 years now from this physical realm. He speaks to me every day and scolds me in his gentle ways.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    @SpinyNorman said:
    I didn't say that contemporary wasn't useful. In the OP example I think people did find Larry Rosenburg's commentary useful, but I suspect they would have found Buddhadasa's commentary more useful if they had bothered to read it.

    OK, but why assume that? Just because it's contemporary? Because one's a monastic and one's not? Maybe Larry's commentary is just as good, or even better.

    Hamsaka
  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran

    We do have a way of revering the dead over the living.

    robot
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @Jason said:

    Maybe Larry's commentary is just as good, or even better.

    I don't think it's half as good, but that's not the point of the OP. What I'm questioning is the assumption that a modern take is automatically the best one.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @ourself said:
    We do have a way of revering the dead over the living.

    And vice versa.

  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:

    Really? I don't see it.

    Contemporaries are often times easier to relate to and can better get points across.

    I find that many times the message gets lost in translation so it's better to have someone that understands tell it in their own words rather than translate ancient texts word for word while still trying to retain the feel.

    ToraldrisJeffrey
  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    I don't think it's half as good, but that's not the point of the OP. What I'm questioning is the assumption that a modern take is automatically the best one.

    I missed the arrival of that assumption (modern better than . . . nonmodern)

    Is 'time' an indicator of implicit value? It probably is not. At least from a post-modern sensibility, it wouldn't be. If time were an implied value, we would be learning from history instead of repeating the same human foibles again and again within the spiral of our progress out of the Stone Age. Just my thinking.

  • @genkaku said:
    Re. the OP, when I was into reading, I always had the opposite problem ... being stuck on the old-timers and less impressed with the johnny-come-latelies. Over time, the gap seemed to narrow until I liked pretty much anyone who seemed to light my 'Buddhist' fire and helped put my butt on the cushion.

    I tend to be pragmatic too. Is it useful and functional, is it applicable to my present needs and understanding? I am informed by contemporary and traditional sources. Inspired by past, present and future [not yet available] dharma.

    If you can not make use of the wisdom of great teachings but are inspired by new age gurus, then I would suggest, the cliches of people like Deepak Chopra or [insert populist of choice] is far more valuable.

    As they say in British theatre, 'Bums on seats laddee' . . .
    :wave: .

  • There may well be folks who believe that modern teachers are better than earlier ones, but your example @SpinyNorman‌ is no evidence of that. You said yourself that you came away puzzled by what you believed was happening there. Did you actually talk to the others about why they hadn't read the other book?
    Take me for example. I have read Rosenburg's book but not Buddhadasa's. Why? Not because one guy is alive and the other one is dead. It is because Rosenburg's was available at Chapters. The other was not. And I'm not interested enough to search for it.
    One of the teachers that affected me the most, I mean really changed my life is Don Juan Matus. A guy who was as likely as not a product of Casteneda's imagination. Not much authenticity there. Can anyone assess the depth of my realization from my choice of teachers? Assuming that a teacher can be dead or nonexistent in the first place that is.
    This thread strikes me as another attempt to place one practice over another.

    lobsterAgatha
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