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Dare we update the dharma?

KeromeKerome Love, love is mysteryThe Continent Veteran
edited November 2019 in Buddhism Today

I came across this article in Lions Roar,

https://www.lionsroar.com/dare-we-update-the-dharma/

I think it is a really good question. In a way the dharma contains a lot of old material, things that were relevant 2500 years ago such as gods and cosmology. But do we dare to formulate a new version? It is difficult to know what is essential to the teaching, and what is merely window dressing that has accumulated through people’s superstitions.

I thought the article was interesting because it takes a different view, that we should consider any current update to be no different from past Buddhist adaptations to different cultures. Very refreshing, and relatively liberated.

Comments

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    In the article it lists a number of things the author would like to keep unchanged...

    Many aspects of the dharma have never been “updated” or changed—nor should they be. These include Buddhism’s emphasis on the primacy of mind, its realistic account of suffering, its insight into impermanence, its detailed analysis of mind and emotions, its subtle exposition of psychological and moral causation, its insight into no-self/emptiness, its stress on meditation, its vision of spiritual freedom, its inspiring artistic expressions, and its altruistic ethics. All these fundamentals have carried across generations and continents, and they need no revision.

    Which I thought was a good start.

    Dhammika
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    Some things you can update and others you can’t. I think at best you could arrive at a kind of core teaching, and then around that a lot of other material which is older and not updated. For example can you imagine trying to update the Dhammapadda? These things are composed entirely in verse.... so I don’t think you could entirely separate the updated material from a matrix of other Buddhist content.

    Look at what happened with mindfulness, im sure a lot of practitioners are not aware that it was originally a Buddhist teaching. Perhaps psychologists looking for new areas of psycho-babble will try to take other portions of the Buddhist thought and strip it of its context, im not sure if that would even be a bad thing.

    There is a saying that in any of the buddha’s teachings all the rest of his dhamma can also be found. That might mean that out of all the people learning corporate mindfulness now a portion will end up as Buddhists in all but name... eventually...

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think The Void Veteran

    I agree too that there are some aspects that should be updated, or adapted to the culture, and some things that shouldn't.

    I would say that it would be best if changes are made by people who have actually gained the spiritual realizations and can speak from first hand experience whether the changes are staying true or not, rather than a scholarly effort.

    A couple comments about points made in the article. In adopting more western attitudes I'd prefer it if sanghas didn't become so political, let people do that in their own time. Doing so basically turns off a large portion of people who could benefit from the teachings but have a different politics. I've been to a teaching where a guest teacher had us chant the protest song "We Shall Overcome" rather than Buddhist chants. And some argue that being political is essential to being a "good" Buddhist. Saying everything touches politics isn't the same as making everything political. When Buddha accepted women as monastics that had a social and political impact, but he didn't do it for political reasons. He wasn't trying to score political points for his team or take down his rivals.

    About the existence of conservative Buddhists
    https://www.lionsroar.com/elephant-in-the-meditation-room/

    And then regarding hierarchies. Its true that hierarchies often become corrupted and people can think that just because someone is high on a hierarchy that they are automatically fit to be there or better in some way. I think there is an important point that Roger Jackson makes against pure egalitarianism. I think hierarchies of genuine competence are valuable and should be implemented and maintained. I think a teacher with decades of practice experience opinion is worth more than someone new to the sangha.

    Vastmind
  • DhammikaDhammika Veteran
    edited November 2019

    Some things you can update and others you can’t. I think at best you could arrive at a kind of core teaching, and then around that a lot of other material which is older and not updated. For example can you imagine trying to update the Dhammapadda? These things are composed entirely in verse.... so I don’t think you could entirely separate the updated material from a matrix of other Buddhist content.

    DHAMMIKA: Every modern translation is, in essence, an update and interpretation. See the different word choices and phrasings of the Dhammapada as translated by Gil Fronsdal or Bhante Sujato’s recent release of his mammoth re-translation project of Early Buddhist texts at http://suttacentral.net. We are constantly dealing with re-focusings and re-interpretations. (See this thread for someone taking cranky issue with Bhante Sujato’s translation in one instance: https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=34985)

    In the end, after we experience the teachings, their interpretations and translations and watered down versions and, in my case, my muddled, stumblebum attempts to put them into practice, it would be good to keep Bhante Gunaratana’s North Star observation in sight:

    "Don't get lost in the details of practice and forget the big picture. Always make sure your efforts actually bring more wholesome states
    ."~Bhante G

    ("Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness," p. 192)

    Keromeelcra1go
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited November 2019

    Dare we update the dharma?

    Dare we not ...
    https://www.lionsroar.com/buddhisms-next-40-years-a-time-of-reformation/

    On a personal level I cherry pick. Is it useful, relevant, working?
    Otherwise it goes in the bin marked, 'bin there' ...

    Don't get lost in the details of practice and forget the big picture. Always make sure your efforts actually bring more wholesome states
    Indeed. Wholesome states. Wholemeal dharma - cherry pie. Yum 😉

    ... actually gained the spiritual realizations and can speak from first hand experience

    Ah ha. Recipe follows:

    Take your ingredients
    bake in kindness, wisdom and virtue
    share with fiends 🤗 friends 💗🙏🏽🦞

    VastmindDhammika
  • FosdickFosdick in its eye are mirrored far off mountains Alaska, USA Veteran

    Same old dharma, always new.

    ShoshinDhammikalobster
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited November 2019

    My personal opinion is that the Dhamma itself is timeless, but the package it's wrapped it may vary with time and place and colloquial terminology. Focus on the moon, not the finger.

    VastmindDhammikalobsterperson
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    It depends on how you teach things... the dharma we are talking about is what is taught to those who wish to study. If you had a series of foundation texts that showed an updated version of the dhamma, then you’d be a lot further along.

    But what tends to happen now with books that are written about the dhamma is that they are read by the author’s students and some of the curious intelligentsia, and not really accepted as a starting point for learning.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    Yes the whole series of “the next 40 years of Buddhism” that Lions Roar is doing is very worth reading. It’s a lot of articles arranged around a number of topics, good stuff.

    https://www.lionsroar.com/buddhism-the-next-40-years/

  • SuraShineSuraShine South Australia Explorer
    edited December 2019

    @federica said:
    Drop the archaic, keep the pertinent. The New Testament would be a pamphlet if they did that...

    The New Testament should ALWAYS have been just the four gospels. The rest is only commentary....

  • SuraShineSuraShine South Australia Explorer

    @Jason said:
    My personal opinion is that the Dhamma itself is timeless, but the package it's wrapped it may vary with time and place and colloquial terminology. Focus on the moon, not the finger.

    Personally I think that's very sage advice for all spiritual and religious paths

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    @FeistyGibblets said:

    @Jason said:
    My personal opinion is that the Dhamma itself is timeless, but the package it's wrapped it may vary with time and place and colloquial terminology. Focus on the moon, not the finger.

    Personally I think that's very sage advice for all spiritual and religious paths

    I, as well. I apply this to all the paths I practice, using Dhamma as an all-encompassing term.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @FeistyGibblets said:

    @federica said:
    Drop the archaic, keep the pertinent. The New Testament would be a pamphlet if they did that...

    The New Testament should ALWAYS have been just the four gospels. The rest is only commentary....

    I’m really in favour of modern translations from the ancient Greek, there are a lot of mistranslations in the classical texts, such as the word ‘sin’ which meant ‘to miss the mark (as in with an arrow)’ but which has taken on a different meaning in modern English. The life of Jesus was a fascinating episode.

    SuraShine
  • SuraShineSuraShine South Australia Explorer

    @Kerome said:
    I’m really in favour of modern translations from the ancient Greek, there are a lot of mistranslations in the classical texts, such as the word ‘sin’ which meant ‘to miss the mark (as in with an arrow)’ but which has taken on a different meaning in modern English. The life of Jesus was a fascinating episode.

    It's true - there are currently over 500 translations of the Christian Bible alone. Thinking it was faithfully translated without error is naive at best. But ancient Greek is likely not a true translation as it was originally rendered in Aramaic, then Ancient Hebrew. The New Testament then was translated into Ancient Greek. Both Ancient Hebrew and Ancient Greek are such rich languages compared with Latin and English - IMO of course.

    lobster
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    In terms of updating the dharma, there are some things which are hard to judge. For example the teachings around rebirth — orthodoxy says you have been reborn many times, however personal inquiry says there is no way to verify any of this. So what do you do when you try to update this to modern times?

  • DhammikaDhammika Veteran
    edited December 2019

    Not sure if the Buddha or a commentator said it, but maybe something along these lines @Kerome: “If you want to know what your past lives were like, look to the present moment. If you want to know what your future lives will be like, look to the present moment.”

    lobster
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