I thought it might be interesting to discuss this Wikipedia article in more depth on here:
Basically it lays out the history of the modern Buddhist movements in the US, Europe and in some reform-minded places in the Far East. It’s a little long but I found it very interesting because it gives you a great overview of how Buddhism has been evolving over the last century or so, it seems there are some fresh winds blowing.
This quote struck me as particularly pertinent:
For many western Buddhists, the rebirth doctrine in the Four Noble Truths teaching is a problematic notion. According to Lamb, "Certain forms of modern western Buddhism [...] see it as purely mythical and thus a dispensable notion." Westerners find "the ideas of karma and rebirth puzzling", states Damien Keown – a professor of Buddhist Ethics. It may not be necessary to believe in some of the core Buddhist doctrines to be a Buddhist, though most Buddhists in Asia do accept these traditional teachings and seek better rebirth. The rebirth, karma, realms of existence and cyclic universe doctrines underpin the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism. It is possible to reinterpret the Buddhist doctrines such as the Four Noble Truths, states Keown, since the final goal and the answer to the problem of suffering is nirvana and not rebirth.
I find the whole history of Buddhist modernism very compelling because it is a discussion of how Buddhism is reshaping itself to a western view of an afterlife, which is itself in flux if you look at some of the literature in the NDE field.
Odd that "Westerners find it puzzling". Reincarnation was an accepted process in Christianity, until the Church cottoned on that eternal Damnation was one way of screwing the flock over and establishing an iron-fisted control over sinners...
On another forum where atheism and religion in general are discussed extensively, atheists (and I'm one) often state that if it (whatever "it" is in a discussion) can't be actually evidenced, then it is at least highly suspect. Well, we can't evidence karma. So I do find it suspect. But in a sense, that's the beauty of Buddhism -- we aren't forced to believe any particular thing to still be Buddhist.
But I have referred to this general topic previously, if not here in other places, as something we need to be careful about. Sometimes it's what I call "pop Buddhism". Or not really understanding what Buddhism actually is. Something that happened once before happened to me again just the other day...when I told someone I was Buddhist, they said they were too, and mentioned a particular "temple" in California; when I went to the temple's website, it didn't mention Buddha at all, but talked about finding god through yoga; I guess it was supplanting the eastern concept of yoga onto Buddhism made -- in that person's mind yoga = Buddhism.
People should follow their own path...but when the path strays too far from traditional Buddhism, then my preference would be that they call it something else...not Buddhism.
But, my path says to take wisdom where one finds it.
In a sense this phenomenon of change in Buddhism is nothing new. When I meet with the Theravada monks at my local temple and discuss things, they often remind me that there is a difference between true Buddhism and cultural Buddhism. Animists have long adapted to Buddhism to their liking in much of Southeast Asia.
This is not necessarily the case, for the sake of a point-counter-point. But it is not your fault for believing it. Elaine Pagels has been spreading bad scholarship in this area since the 1970s, and is a New York Times bestseller.
Gnostic scriptures dating from 200-600 years after the historical Jesus teach about reincarnation. No early Christian texts from the first century feature reincarnation or emanating aeons, Sophia or the Monad.
Now Jesus could well have taught these things still, but they do not enter into the written canon of Christianity until 100+ years after the earliest of Christian scriptures, both orthodox, like the oldest of the authentic Pauline Epistles, or heterodox, like the Greco-Syriac tradition of sayings literature that would eventually become the Coptic manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas.
The hierarchical system of Zen has attracted severe criticism in the west, because of the misconception of the role and degree of awakening of Zen teachers. The term rōshi has been applied to implicate a certified state of awakening, implying impeccable moral behaviour. Actual practice shows that this has not always been the case.
In a similar way Tantra has a bhumi system of awakening.
Theravada gives precedance to men over women, junior monks over senior nuns and sangha over laity.
There are many areas where reform and updating are required and possible from Western understanding. Pop buddhism is like lip service christianity, cultural judaism or superficial santeria ...
Depth comes from ... ?
Yes, the unwillingness of the Supreme Sangha in Thailand to legitimize Buddhist nuns is wrong-headedness. But on the other hand, it has nothing to do with the average lay person practicing Buddhism on a daily basis.
During a Dharma talk at Kagyu Samye Ling, in the Scottish borders, given by Lama Katen, he said, rebirth was not up for debate- it is part of the Buddhist docrine. Adding it is not to pick and choose...
We also had a guess spee who helped research Dr Ian Stevenson book by investigating cases in Sri Lanka and then Burma...
Stories of children reciting obsure mantras, and some remembering their previous deaths- which seemed if it was a violent death- then people tended to remember it more.
Twas interesting stuff...
Rebirth not up for debate with feudal indoctrinating lamas? Of course not. Might that be a mark of intolerant ignorance? ... just like ... oh I dunno ... for example, 'Allah knows best' ...
Tee hee. 'Buddha Akbar' as we western infidel jihadhi boddhisattvas say ...
... and now back to the modern world view ...
But then what about ehi passiko, the idea of coming and seeing for yourself whether the dharma is true? Of karma and rebirth very little can be seen, and I’ve never heard anything about a child in the Netherlands being born chanting mantra’s. So some scepticism is only natural.
I think it’s very possible to strip the story of the Buddha of a lot of supernatural elements and come up with something that is still Buddhist. Although of course the message that you only have this life to achieve enlightenment in is bound to be quite shocking to Asian Buddhists - suddenly it becomes logical for everyone to want to be a monk, to renounce... and then who will fill the almsbowls during the rounds? Rebirth solves the problem of urgency quite well.
The way teachers like HHDL and Thich Nhat Hanh deal with this is interesting. HHDL has gotten quite close to science and the scientific method in his Mind and Life conferences, and you’d hope that some of the scientific scepticism has rubbed off. Thich Nhat Hanh almost never talks about karma or rebirth, preferring to take a mind centric approach and talk of seeds in the store consciousness and what we choose to water.
Both of them seem to de-emphasise those teachings, without dropping them entirely.
Without reading the link, I think change is inevitable and can be needed and positive. I've noticed some tendency to change certain things without really understanding or respecting the benefits of existing structures or definitions.
I was listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast and he was redefining the meaning of enlightenment to mean a much more watered down version than traditionally meant. It didn't seem to me that he had a proper appreciation of the depth of the meaning behind enlightenment and was redefining it because it made more sense to him.
There is a natural tension between conservation and adaptation, both are needed. If someone gets too entrenched in one aspect or the other, imo it leads to bad outcomes.
@Kerome @lobster I fully agree with the investigation in whether the dharma or practice is true... And I was quite surprised when Lama Katen said that; but just repeating what he said...
I think what the Buddha and others have said about the meditative practice and compassion helping - I found that to be true. I personally cannot see if he was correct about so much, why he would add other parts....
But agreed- the whole thing is a personal investigation.
I think that Westerners (perhaps more than Easterners...not sure) have been raised with this idea that they have to accept a religion lock, stock, and barrel. I have learned to take wisdom where I find it. The wisest religion to me is Buddhism. Doesn't mean I buy everything lock, stock, and barrel.
So would you consider that you are partaking in “a la carte” Buddhism? That was another part of the ‘Buddhist modernism’ article, as a thing that westerners do. I personally think it is more a question of what more mature people do, relatively few adults absorb a whole religion and stick to all of it.
As we may know humility, protecting and caring for the weak and impoverished and killing warlocks and witches is part of Dharma Christianity. In a similar way we have Buddhists here who are secular, kind to witches, magickal yidams, yogis and friendly towards strange methodologies classed as Buddhism ...
Fashion, preference, need, applicabilty, legality etc. all change the nature of what we practice ...
Some consider the whole of Mahayana a later contivance to changing needs, vajrayana and zen as historical reforms ...
The dharma comes West. We are ignorant in some areas. Knowledgeable in others. Same as ever ...
look with mercy on those who today
are fleeing from danger,
homeless and hungry.
... and now back to the 3.5 jewels (includes Lamas)
I will answer in a minute. But first I will ask a couple of questions.
Did Buddha ever say that it is mandatory that you agree with him on everything written in Buddhist scriptures, or else there will be stern consequences...such as going to hell?
When you have gone to a Buddhist temple, either here or in Asia, did a monk ever ask you to confess your sins or he would not deal with you in a Buddhist manner?
Yes, you may call that a la carte Buddihism, or cherry picking. But just accepting everything shows no contemplation, no thought, and as far as I personally am concerned, no brain.
And yet, some posters who hate cherry picking say they pick and choose which of the Five Precepts they follow. I have heard the excuse that the Five Precepts are actually training vows...if you decide to accept them. I asked several Theravada monks training for what. And their answer was training not to lie, training not to kill, training not to kill, training not to drink or take drugs, and training not to commit sexual misconduct.
To me there are a few basics that if you don't follow them then you probably shouldn't say, "I'm a Buddhist", but instead should say something like "I follow some Buddhist principles" or "I am influenced by many Buddhist principles". The Four Noble Truths. The Noble Eightfold Path. The Five Precepts. And no fudging.
BUT THAT'S JUST ME.
Thanks for letting us know.
I always listen to lamas with great attentiveness. Just like reading a book or web page. However as you say, just because it is said, written or reported does not make it relevant or applicable.
There are many occurrences in the scriptures of wrong view having bad consequences, which include going to hell.
That's not what I asked.
No indeed. The difference is subtle yet notable....
In discussions about Buddhism, I sometimes hear people talk in two different extremes. One extreme view is that in Buddhism almost anything goes...and I see that sometimes in what I guess is being referred to here as modernism in Buddhism...and mostly in the West. The other extreme are the people who seem to want to structure Buddhism like christianity, where it's often about crime and punishment.
In the Catholic Church, if you don't go to confession before communion, you will go to hell for taking communion without confessing you sins (assuming you have any at that point). I don't see anything like that in Theravada Buddhism. I've been in hundreds of Buddhist temples, and I have yet to have any monk ask me if I was worth to participate in the various ceremonies.
And Buddhist hell...Buddhists can't agree whether it's a real place, or whether it's in your mind.
But that's just my take on it.
I think for many of us born into a culture steeped in Abrahamic notions it is far too easy to deify karma without realizing it. All too often I hear people say that Buddhist views of karma mean somebody born with a disease is getting what they deserve from another life. So then that would mean that water freezing into ice deserves to freeze?
There would have to be quite a few different variables besides conscious volition going into the mix of conditions for a child to be born deaf for example.
It may be just a little dated now but I'd recommend The New Buddhism - The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition by James William Coleman. It came out in 2001 but it goes into extensive detail.
I see karma as causation. This is because that was. Rebirth is one of those things I put on the back burner because there are a few ways I could see it making sense. I figure if rebirth is a thing then it would make sense that it would be subject to karma or causation.
I'm agnostic though so I couldn't really cling to these kinds of views if I tried.
Interesting. Although I don't quite see how being agnostic means you can't cling to something.
Buddhism has a history of shaping it to the culture it moves into, yet without losing its essence or effectiveness.
Personally, when it comes to Buddhism I've come to the realisation that I have to live with the internal conflict of what is authentic, what comes from western culture, what comes from traditional Buddhist cultures, what is Buddhism and what is not.. and I have no way of actually knowing "the truth".
And even this view of mine is heavily influenced by postmodernism so it is kind of an oxymoron in itself.
It puts me in mind of a quote from a television programme I saw today, “that the monks were very aware of what was needed in western society, that we liked to meditate because it was good for stress relief, which was a problem in our culture”. They contrasted this with Buddhism in the Far East, where relatively few monks (even) meditate.
Agnostic just means knowing that we don't have all the information. It's hard to cling to a view when you know deep down the conclusion is conjecture.
I can cling to all kinds of things if I'm not careful but not beliefs. There is that which makes the most sense according to the information available and then there are many competing theories or possibilities.
Just curious -- in which Far Eastern countries do monks not even meditate?
This was according to a professor who teaches Buddhist studies at a Dutch university, I’m sorry he was not specific as to country. He did say that there were “revival movements” where monks focussed more on meditation, perhaps that can help you localise it.
I learnt to take nothing at face value. If someone says to me, 'thus have I heard' or, I'm not sure but I think ' I am far more open to their statement than when someone says"This is so, it is a well-known fact that..."
I’m really glad I read this thread—very interesting and educational.
In my opinion, “cherry picking” is a derogatory term for a pretty necessary process in spirituality. Testing the teachings, contemplating them, finding some instructional and others unhelpful. This is the day-to-day of a religious life, no?
You could say that, and certainly in Buddhism. Even in Christianity, which has one holy book, there are plenty of streams that disregard this or that part of it, and some sections such as Leviticus in the Old Testament are almost universally disregarded.
But I think the very personal “test the teachings” that we consider in Buddhism is not found anywhere else. It’s almost an early scientific view onto spiritual teaching. We end up with different streams according to how skeptic one is of the various claims.
I once had a discussion with a Tibetan monk about how necessary faith was in Tibetan Buddhism. He said, in the beginning, very necessary, later on, not so necessary. Which I thought was an interesting answer.
I would say it should be the day-to-day of a religious life. But for many religionists, perhaps most, it is not.
Is there anything in the fact that most Western Buddhists are converts? Someone who makes a deliberate conversion to a religion is going to think seriously about it. Is going to test it, going to contemplate it, etc.
Someone born into a religion is perhaps more likely to find the “traditional” elements of the religion very natural—the ceremony, the more cosmological beliefs—but perhaps less likely to delve into the more esoteric elements—philosophical nuances and so on.
Culture & Tradition must to play a big role when it comes to discrimination/ suppression/oppression in some Buddhist schools/sects, as it does in the Abrahamic religions ...and which for the most part I would say is a subtle form of "attachment"...that which flies under the radar....( a slap in the face of Dharma practice..)
It's a case of the elephant called "Attachment"
"We all have Buddha Nature!" ...(Hmm and where does it say.some more than others... )
It's possible the religiously minded Western Buddhist ( those who were somewhat disenchanted with their old religion "Christianity-Judaism" ) approach Buddhism from a religion angle (taking on board the religious flavour and trappings-the supernatural and perhaps the superstitions ) and those for whom religion was not part of their lives may tend to view Buddhism more as psychology and the Dharma the tools for taking a psychological approach to dealing with the ups and downs of daily life, a mind exploration of sorts AKA inner science
But in the end we all seem to take Refuge In
The Buddha (an awaken mind)
The Dharma (the true nature of things)
The Sangha ( like-minded people)...
All paths (eventually) lead to a non-place called Knowing ...And..........
Maybe this recent dialogue is relevant. Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson met for 4 nights to hash out some differences in how to think about religion in the modern age. Most people here I assume are at least a little familiar with Sam, Jordan is a psychology professor and, imo, puts forward a compelling, though not totally convincing to me, argument in favor of religion from a metaphorical and psychological perspective (I suspect he has a deeper belief in Christianity, but never argues that point). Anyway, much of the discussion seems to be similar to ones we have here about interpreting Buddhist teachings in a metaphorical and psychological way.
They are a bit long at just over 2 hours each but I was totally engrossed and the time went by fast. There are 2 more nights scheduled to be released mid September. I thought the second night was more to the point but the first night provided an important base to the discussion.
Haven't a clue who either person is. Some of us Brits are so backward....
Maybe its cultural. I suspect it has more to do with introversion, I am interested in and energized by ideas and the exchange thereof rather than the social engagement of extroverts. The internet and new media of YouTube and podcasting has been like a new world to me, I can listen to people discussing deep ideas in long form rather than news snippets or personal stories about your day or the weather or such.
Anyway, maybe such things aren't everyone's cup of tea.
Indeed. Converts can be a little pompous, fanatical and self righteous. However thay can also aspire to be the best Buddhist since Cousin Ananda ...
Here is an earlier converation that may be relevant ...
This is certainly the experience I have seen from regularly attending a Therevadan Monastery supported by the local Sri Lankan community.
Most people I speak to visit once or twice a year for birthdays or on the anniversary of the death of a loved one (to give the merit created by cooking for the Sangha to that person).
But as far as meditation or keeping precepts go, it doesn't seem to be that common amongst most people who visit. They actually don't seem to know much about what the Buddha taught at all! Obviously that's a generalisation.
Thanks @person, that looks interesting although as you say lengthy.
Maybe you just mean it doesn't matter to you. But Sam Harris is a prominent atheist but also a long time meditator who has written a book and speaks on the practical benefits of spiritual practice and ethical behavior. Jordan Peterson is a moderately right of center professor of psychology and best selling author who talks about religion (particularly Christianity) from a metaphorical and psychological perspective similar to Joseph Campbell. He also speaks a lot on politics which would disagree with most here, but these videos stick to religion.
No I mean what I say - I've never heard of him. Maybe you should stop guessing at what I mean and just ask for clarification....
A sort of summary of what was talked about people could just watch the beginning where Sam and Jordan steelman each others arguments from the previous night and then the end where they summarize their own arguments. About 17-18 minutes total
You're not missing much. Peterson is, in my opinion, a right-wing scum bag. Harris has some good things to say on contemplativism and the way the brain works, but he really hates Muslims, advocates for the use of torture, and has a somewhat sexist attitude towards women.
Sounds like a fun guy to be with....
Some very interesting articles there on both these two figures.
I used to follow Harris quite a bit, right after the release of End of Faith. But over the years he started drifting more and more into areas I decided I didn't want to follow, especially when he began to focus on Islam and defended the use of torture. I started paying less and less attention. Recently, he took to defending Charles Murray's 'race science,' and I just can't be bothered with him anymore (if you're interested, you can check out the background and other references on the subject here).
As for Perterson, I didn't know who he was until a little less than a year ago, but I also have no time for his kind of intellectualism despite some good stuff in his views on religion and psychology (much in the vein of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung), especially when it comes to his sexist views of women (see here and here for quick examples) and his promotion of what I think are toxic views about masculinity (e.g., he thinks if men are pushed too hard to feminize they turn into fascists, so men really need to be manly men to be happy; that we need things like 'enforced monogamy' to make men happy and less violent; and that rigid gender norms are good because order is masculine and chaos is feminine, so patriarchy is good because men are more competent; etc.).
If other people are interested in them and get something good out of it, great. I just don't have the time to sort though all their bullshit to get a few kernels of truth when there are so many better thinkers out there.