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Between the monk and the layman

JeroenJeroen Do it with a smileNetherlands Veteran

Taking a bit of inspiration from the ‘anti-buddhism’ thread, I think this is an interesting theme to talk about. Western Buddhists are not really like what you see among Far Eastern lay people, and at the same time they also aren’t really monks. They are generally not so concerned with merit or a good rebirth, but they do meditate and most study some sutra’s. They don’t uphold the vinaya but many do go to retreats. They do uphold the five precepts but most are partial to eating meat or drinking the odd beer.

It seems like a lot of people build up their practice piecemeal from the available parts — sort of kit-buddhists if you see what I mean. But how do you know what parts of the practice are good for you? Should you stop watching violent movies? Should you become a vegan? Should you start spending all available time on meditation? Should you start dressing in ochre? Should you become a recluse? Should you stop all sexual activity?

In a way it’s great to have all this freedom. We can really do our best for our spiritual growth. But I think even a very mindfully aware practitioner is going to have a hard time discerning what is really beneficial. So there’s the conundrum, how do we make a modern, western-friendly Buddhist path?

Comments

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    The simple answer to your questions is to analyse the results of the actions you mention.
    Do they bring us peace and happiness? Or do they create turmoil and attachment in the mind?

    David
  • 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

    Simplify.
    If it feels good, do it. If in any doubt - don't.
    The 5 precepts have nothing religious about them, So you could say they are moral guidelines for anyone, Buddhist or not.
    Where does it say we should stop all sexual activity, by the way? As laypeople (pardon the pun) that's not an obligation, or something we need to commit to...

  • Shoshin1Shoshin1 Veteran
    edited April 2

    @Kerome said:
    So there’s the conundrum, how do we make a modern, western-friendly Buddhist path?

    By not trying to....

    Thus have I heard Change is inevitable ...Suffering optional The Buddha Dharma is not static, it flows with the times...It's very accommodating and has the ability/flexibility to adapt....

    I think Einstein said something along the lines of it being the Religion/Spiritual path of the future .... I guess he means it will stand the test of time

    howDavid
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    When Buddhism moved to other cultures in the past it took quite a while for it to establish its own flavor.

  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran
    edited April 3

    @Kerome said:
    Taking a bit of inspiration from the ‘anti-buddhism’ thread, I think this is an interesting theme to talk about. Western Buddhists are not really like what you see among Far Eastern lay people, and at the same time they also aren’t really monks. They are generally not so concerned with merit or a good rebirth, but they do meditate and most study some sutra’s. They don’t uphold the vinaya but many do go to retreats. They do uphold the five precepts but most are partial to eating meat or drinking the odd beer.

    This Buddhist is not too concerned with the next life and any merit I may accumulate I give away. I do have a regular meditation practice and study the suttas, sutras and discourses. Our equivalent of the Vinaya is the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and the equivalent of the Five Precepts is the Five Mindfulness Trainings. After working with the Five for 2 years with the Sanghas support we can take the Fourteen as laypeople or if the aspiration is there as well as the support of the Sangha, they can be taken as a monastic. The only difference in the laypersons commitment to the Fourteen and the Monastics is sexual activity but even the layperson is expected to be in a loving and committed relationship. Another difference aside from vows of conduct is a Monastic can only work at Sangha building and only uses alms for support. I will never walk away from my family but will still work at Sangha building. As a layperson I also get to support the Monastics and can still Sangha build. I do not eat meat or drink alcohol.

    It seems like a lot of people build up their practice piecemeal from the available parts — sort of kit-buddhists if you see what I mean.

    Easier to do in this age of information. We are very lucky but must also be more discerning.

    But how do you know what parts of the practice are good for you?

    Trial and error... Advice from respected teacher and peers...

    Should you stop watching violent movies? Should you become a vegan? Should you start spending all available time on meditation? Should you start dressing in ochre? Should you become a recluse? Should you stop all sexual activity?

    These are all pretty personal and the reasoning behind whatever choice will be personal.

    In a way it’s great to have all this freedom. We can really do our best for our spiritual growth. But I think even a very mindfully aware practitioner is going to have a hard time discerning what is really beneficial. So there’s the conundrum, how do we make a modern, western-friendly Buddhist path?

    Before a path is followed it must be forged. To make a modern, western-friendly Buddhist path all we have to do is be friendly, modern, western Buddhists and see what comes of it. Personally, I would drop the "western" distinction unless someone is looking to see where everyone is at on a map.

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    They do uphold the five precepts but most are partial to eating meat or drinking the odd beer.

    There's nothing in the Sutta's that states Buddhist lay people shouldn't eat meat either.

  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran

    @Bunks said:

    @Kerome said:
    They do uphold the five precepts but most are partial to eating meat or drinking the odd beer.

    There's nothing in the Sutta's that states Buddhist lay people shouldn't eat meat either.

    No, but that’s what I was getting at, western lay Buddhists do a lot of things that aren’t recommended for them to do. But if these things were truly beneficial for the path, would it not be better if everybody did them?

  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran

    Interestingly...

    The Sayings of Layman P'ang is an important Chinese Zen / Chan classic, a collection of short, sometimes enigmatic dialogs and poems from this unusual sage. He is one of the first of the great Chinese Buddhist masters to reject the life of a monk even after enlightenment, choosing instead to remain a simple "layman." That act opened the way for subsequent generations of non-monastic seekers, and householder sages.

    He did, however, reject wealth and worldly attachments as a snare. He was prosperous in his youth, but decided that he worried too much about his wealth, so he decided to get rid of it. Initially, he was going to give his wealth away, but then thought that whoever received his wealth would become as attached to it as he had. So, instead, he piled all his worldly goods on a boat, floated it out to the middle of a lake, and sank it.

    After that, he, his wife, and their children lived a simple life, supporting themselves by making bamboo utensils.

    Despite his subsequent poverty, he lived a rich life interacting regularly with many of the enlightened Buddhist masters of his era, and they honored him as belonging among them.

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

    @Kerome, that's the style I'll likely go with except if I had money to get rid of, I would give it as dana to the Sangha. Seems irresponsible to ruin it when people go hungry.

    lobster
  • LionduckLionduck Veteran

    In terms of the LAW, ther is really no differnce between a Priest, a Munk (Nun) and a ley person.

  • 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 waiting for the "walked into a bar" joke...

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

    @federica said:
    I'm waiting for the "walked into a bar" joke...

    Ouch

    federica
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @federica said:
    I'm waiting for the "walked into a bar" joke...

    Challenge accepted! :o

    A Priest, a nun and a ley line walk into a bar.
    "I am prissed!" says the Priest.
    "Well says the barman," you’ve had enough to drink and does not serve her.
    "I am none." says the Nun
    What will you have sister? asks the barman.
    "Nothing, serve the line," says none.
    "What will you have Ley?" asks the bar.
    "Just passing through ... ," says the Ley Line and starts to leave.
    "Well that is barred for sure," says the bar man.

  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran

    That is almost as bad as one of the anecdotes from Layman P’ang!

  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran

    @David said:
    @Kerome, that's the style I'll likely go with except if I had money to get rid of, I would give it as dana to the Sangha. Seems irresponsible to ruin it when people go hungry.

    Well, times were different back then. I’d probably donate it to Ecosia, to help with their tree planting efforts.

  • FoibleFullFoibleFull Canada Veteran
    edited April 8

    Those practices that help you focus, observe, learn and change are the ones that will benefit you. But it can take 5 to 10 years to start to change and SEE the benefit.

    Most Buddhists benefit best if they have a qualified teacher - usually a monk - to work with in person. We are fortunate to have a Tibetan monk with a Geshe degree teaching Buddhism in our city. I do as he teaches.
    I supplement this with teachings from Pema Chodron (mp3 downloads) and with Theravadan sources.

    All traditions of Buddhism are techniques to increase our awareness, and all growth and learning comes FROM our first-hand observation and awareness.

    I don't worry about rebirth. Rebirth is only a continuation of where you are NOW, so if you are taking care of where you are now, in THIS moment, in EACH moment we are living ... it follows into a good rebirth.

    And the Five Precepts are not "rules" .. they are actual learning tools. If I see a cookie jar on your counter, and have this craving for cookies sweep over me, I can either steal a few cookies ... OR I can rest in this craving and by being aware of it I will start to see the connection between craving and suffering. And this slowly brings me to being less-controlled BY my cravings. Just as getting burned by a hot stove makes us avoid a hot stove, seeing the connection between your attachments and aversions leads to breaking the strings that tie us to HAVING to follow these urges.
    All of the Five Precepts are there for a reason, and that reason is self-learning and inner change.

    As for our "path" every second we are alive, no matter what the situation is, we can be walking our path. It is not the externals but what goes on inside of us, that matters.

    lobsterRen_in_black
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