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Talking to other Buddhists

KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonderThe Continent Veteran

I was just having an interesting discussion with a fellow Buddhist on how it seems to be so that every western Buddhist tends to have their own unique Buddhism. It’s rare to find a pure adherent of one school. While you could argue that western Buddhism owes much to theosophy and H.P. Blavatsky, there have been subsequent waves in the Sixties with Shunryu Suzuki, Chogyam Trungpa and Alan Watts, and again recently with Thich Nhat Hanh, Stephen Batchelor and so on.

So I was examining my Buddhism, and I came to the conclusion that such as it is, is a mixture of Tibetan Gelugpa teachings, books of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen, and the Theravada of Ajahn Chah. These are different sources that I got interested in, and they seem to have left the deepest impressions. I have also drawn upon other sources but they have mainly become a kind of supporting body. Some of it was older, such as the anthologies of Edward Conze, and some of it modern, like the writings of Stephen Batchelor.

What it comes down to is when you are discussing Buddhism with another Buddhist you spend a lot of time defining terms, and its often not as simple as saying “I am a Theravadan”. That kind of convenient shorthand has fallen by the wayside in the west, but it is also not feasible to give another Buddhist a complete reading list of where your intellectual curiosity has taken you.

BunkspersonShoshin1TheEccentricAlex

Comments

  • Thank you @Kerome for opening this thread up.

    I was going to start a similar post and title it something like "A Non-Sectarian, a Theravadin, a Zennith, and a Perennial walk into a bar..."

    I've heard this criticism -excessive mixing / not adhering to one path- from both Western and non-Western Buddhists. They both suggest that not sticking to one way will lead to confusion. This excessive "cherry-picking", i.e. taking the bits you like of each school, can end up creating a very unstable and unefficient mix, prolonging your stay in Samsara.

    In my case I do not see the problem. I would say that as long as the 4 Noble Truths, the 8 Fold Path and the Five Precepts remain "under consideration" there should not be an issue.

    Or should it? Here is when I ask: are we necessarily doing something wrong perhaps by creating these "unique" and "individual" patchwork Buddhist practice? But taking into consideration Buddhism's own history, we can appreciate how to became influenced and re-written successively. I think a classic and good example of this is the Vajrayana path, with their Hindu / Bon elements. I also see certain positive aspects of not adhering or having to strictly pick one path.

    As I've said in another thread. When I study, I'm Theravadin (Ajahn Sona, Ajahn Punadhammo, Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu, Ajahn Chah) and when I sit, I'm Zen (Mostly Howish with a pinch of Rinzai and Dogen). Without forgetting Trungpa Rinpoche. The first Buddhist texts I ever read were his: The Path of Individual Liberation: The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma, V. I; Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.

    KeromepersonShoshin1how
  • 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

    I'm a Non-Secular Secular Buddhist. Maybe. I dunno...

    BunksKerome
  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran

    @コチシカ said:
    I've heard this criticism -excessive mixing / not adhering to one path- from both Western and non-Western Buddhists. They both suggest that not sticking to one way will lead to confusion.

    I’m not sure we are doing so much “cherry-picking”... I don’t really look at a book and say I like this, I think I’ll accept it into my canon. I read or listen to a teaching, and only afterwards do I realise whether it made an impression on me. You could say that that is selection by demagoguery, but I think I do enough testing-the-teachings that i am not so easily led astray.

    I think it is about coherence of the teachings. If you start mixing Pure Land with Tibetan Dzogchen you’ll end up with some rather strange bridgings I think. But perhaps even then for certain subsections of the teachings it might work.

    In my case I do not see the problem. I would say that as long as the 4 Noble Truths, the 8 Fold Path and the Five Precepts remain "under consideration" there should not be an issue.

    It’s often true that we only really stick with just a few core teachings. Who can work at digesting a hundred sutra’s at the same time.

    Or should it? Here is when I ask: are we necessarily doing something wrong perhaps by creating these "unique" and "individual" patchwork Buddhist practice?

    I think it all has the same roots. As long as you learn and you practice, and you keep testing the teachings, then you can’t really go wrong.

    コチシカ
  • ChoephalChoephal UK Veteran

    Of course life seldom cooperates when we attempt to build a box for ourselves or others.😊
    For example Ajahn Amaro, Abbott of Amaravati Monastery, in the Ajahn Chah Forest Sangha tradition and thus logically Theravadin.. is a Dzogchen student.

    コチシカ
  • コチシカコチシカ Veteran
    edited March 10

    Hm. Second unrelated reference to Dzogchen this week... It is time to add some Dzogchen to my brew.... !

    Also @Kerome , I think the cherry-picking came from the following cognition:

    "Hm...Theravadins are cool. Such a beautiful practice, direct and simple, with their intellectual stuff too if you want. But...celibacy... renunciation...no music.... hmm... look at these Zen dudes. With their curious and stoic practice and approach, but with some certain permissions regarding creative dispersion. Hmm... but what is is this?! (confused regarding Vajrayana's approach)."

    I know have an urge to study Dzogchen. The patchwork grows and grows... I wonder if the thread is Samsaric.

    BunksKeromehow
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran

    I'm reading a pan Buddhist dictionary and one thing I noticed is that a lot of historical people borrowed elements. I don't remember specific things from reading but I have a sense. For example imagine a Japanese Buddhist hearing about Chan or even esoteric practices going to China and then studying those. Then they hear about the Chinese precursor to Tendai. Then they go back to Japan and bring all of those to their community.

    I do think, however, that there could be some pitfalls in mixing and matching. For example you could get confused if different traditions are using words to mean different things and you don't ever talk to someone who focuses on a tradition to see how words are meant in that tradition. Perhaps some other common pitfalls.

    lobsterKeromeTheEccentric
  • Shoshin1Shoshin1 Veteran

    Talking to other Buddhists

    When Buddhism first took an interest in me, I was surprised to find there were different schools & sects...

    So I looked at the different versions of the 4NTs & 8FP from the different schools and sects, via books, youtube videos and in the flesh Dharma teachers ( who happened to be Tibetan )... I was looking for the thread which binds all the different versions together...

    So when attending at Dharma talk in person, watching on youtube or reading Dharma books from different schools and sects, I find it helps (for me) to look at how elements of the 4NTs & 8FP at entwined in the talk...

    If one gets too hung up on labels one may miss what the Dharma is all about...that is developing Wisdom & Compassion in everyday living.....

    I feel a song coming on...

    Some times I'm right and I can be wrong my own beliefs are in my Dharma .... The Theravada, the Mahayana, the Tibetan and Zen, it makes no difference of the labelling , cos I I I am an everyday Buddhist... ;)

    Different strokes for different folks

    コチシカlobsterhowKerome
  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran

    @Jeffrey said:
    I'm reading a pan Buddhist dictionary and one thing I noticed is that a lot of historical people borrowed elements. I don't remember specific things from reading but I have a sense. For example imagine a Japanese Buddhist hearing about Chan or even esoteric practices going to China and then studying those. Then they hear about the Chinese precursor to Tendai. Then they go back to Japan and bring all of those to their community.

    I do think, however, that there could be some pitfalls in mixing and matching. For example you could get confused if different traditions are using words to mean different things and you don't ever talk to someone who focuses on a tradition to see how words are meant in that tradition. Perhaps some other common pitfalls.

    There certainly is a parallel with how Buddhism has spread and has absorbed elements of different local traditions, which then in turn are carried again to different lands. What we have today is a fair bit removed from the original Indian tradition.

    But I think there is something quite beautiful about how each buddhist’s beliefs become a patchwork of different teachers’ influence and ideas. As long as you take the time to properly digest these things and make them your own, and can talk intelligently about them, they are still forms of Buddhist learning.

  • TheEccentricTheEccentric Veteran
    edited March 11

    I think a contributing factor behind this is the fact that a lot of western Mahayanins just aren't comfortable with leaving the early Buddhist scriptures/pali cannon/nikayas/agamas out of their study entirely, as how Asian Mahayanins often tend to.

    I'm defo a Mahayanist at heart, Theravada just doesn't really resonate with me as much. Most of my daily practice is Zazen, general mindfulness, mantra recitation + reading Sanskrit Sutras (esp. the 'Perfection of Widsom' sutras).

    But at the same time I love the Dhammapada etc., I find it really helpful and beautiful to read and naturally I sometimes want to read Shakyamuni speak in his own words. I get that to a lot of people it may seem like I'm mixing Theravada and Mahyana in an "impure" and unhelpful cherrypicky fashion.... but to me I'm just using the old Pali texts to draw on my knowledge of the "basic" stuff to build on my understanding of the "advanced" stuff....

    KeromelobsterBunks
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    As a cultist, with zero adherents, I know next t0 Nothing about other practitioners needs.
    https://yinyana.tumblr.com/post/35751898659

    Was it not the crypto-buddhist Jesus Dharma who said '£feed my fish'?
    https://www.sethbarnes.com/post/what-does-feed-my-lambs-mean

    ... eh ... may have gone wring again ...
    https://www.quantamagazine.org/zen-and-the-art-of-puzzle-solving-20210210/

    ah well ...
    https://yinyana.tumblr.com/post/35766530558

    TheEccentric
  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran

    I have clicked on all the links @lobster but I’m still just an inch shy of using @bunks’s bamboozled button... in a good way of course...

    lobster
  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran

    @TheEccentric said:
    I'm defo a Mahayanist at heart, Theravada just doesn't really resonate with me as much. Most of my daily practice is Zazen, general mindfulness, mantra recitation + reading Sanskrit Sutras (esp. the 'Perfection of Wisdom' sutras).

    But at the same time I love the Dhammapada etc., I find it really helpful and beautiful to read and naturally I sometimes want to read Shakyamuni speak in his own words. I get that to a lot of people it may seem like I'm mixing Theravada and Mahyana in an "impure" and unhelpful cherrypicky fashion.... but to me I'm just using the old Pali texts to draw on my knowledge of the "basic" stuff to build on my understanding of the "advanced" stuff....

    I understand what you mean. The Pali Cannon has a kind of down-to-Earth feel to it, while many Mahayana sutras are very flowery and heavenly, there is definitely a Chinese cultural influence to it. They are interesting counterpoints, which I feel could be very fertile ground for a practitioner of the one or the other.

    Personally I tend more towards Theravada, when I read much Mahayana scriptures I got the feeling that I was about to fly away on wings of mind, but that’s probably just me. But i do occasionally venture into the land of important Mahayana documents, I’ve read most of the Lankavatara Sutra and the Lotus Sutra.

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