Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby manas » Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:14 am

tiltbillings wrote:
chownah wrote:It might be good for people to undestand that Thai temples IN THAILAND have as a primary purpose to provide social centers


Yes; this is a problem.
For whom?
Hi Tilt,

it is a problem in the sense that if the temple's primary purpose is as a social center, rather than a place for the practice and dissemination of Buddha Dhamma, that people might see the Dhamma itself in that way, seeing it as something external to oneself (ie like a temple building), rather than as something that should really be taken to heart. So, they could (conceivably) go to their local temple day in day out for their whole lives, but totally miss the Dhamma...

Just my opinion, of course...

:anjali:

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby alan » Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:22 am

What we need is a leader. Someone who can speak with authority, and focus the message effectively.

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:24 am

manasikara wrote:it is a problem in the sense that if the temple's primary purpose is as a social center, rather than a place for the practice and dissemination of Buddha Dhamma, that people might see the Dhamma itself in that way, seeing it as something external to oneself (ie like a temple building), rather than as something that should really be taken to heart. So, they could (conceivably) go to their local temple day in day out for their whole lives, but totally miss the Dhamma...

Just my opinion, of course...

:anjali:
It is never that simple of either/or. It would be nice if the majority of the monastics were better trained and actually did some sort of meditation practice and were concerned about teaching the Dhamma from a place of more than rote learning. It is difficult to make generalizations about another culture based upon how we think things should be. That a local vihara/temple serves as a social center may not be a bad thing, and it is not that some degree of reverence for the Dhamma is not part of it all, but I suppose it would also be nice if the local temple/vihara could also serve as a place of serious learning.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:25 am

alan wrote:What we need is a leader. Someone who can speak with authority, and focus the message effectively.
We need good, experienced teachers. I am not wild about the idea of a single charismatic leader.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby Anagarika » Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:27 am

To my mind, Gombrich's lecture is really him just pointing out the elephant in the room.

Ajahn Brahm made the comment once in an interview, to the effect that "we have the best product. (he was speaking of religions and spiritual instruction). We need to promote it." I am paraphrasing what Ven. Ajahn Brahm said. Ajahn Brahm may be speaking of, and he himself representative of, the emergence of a modern Theravada...firmly wedded to the orthooxy, but not afraid to venture forth into the world, and share and promote, and indeed act with engagement, through what is known in the Tipitaka.

I live in the US. In this country, Zen has a foothold due to its emergence during the 1960's the time of the beat poets, the hippies, the Kerouacs and the Ginsburgs. Motorcycle Maintenance. Vajrayana took hold through the evangelism of the misogynist and alcoholic (sorry) Chogyam Trungpa, who brough "crazy wisdom," and other forms of tantric and ecstatic ' Buddhism.'

What did Theravada have to present? Theravada really didn't come to America. Rather, folks like Jack Kornfield went to Thailand and lived with the snakes, the scorpions, one meal a day of boiled frog soup, and Ajahn Chah. Theravadins like Dr. Kornfield and Ajahn Brahm came back to the West, and have somewhat quietly illuminated the field.

Zen offers flower arranging, kyudo, and anything cool or trendy has a "Zen flavor." Vajrayana offers Green Tara and tantra. Theravada is a steaming bowl of boiled tree frogs. :)

Well, being trendy and Zenny doe snot bring us closer to Dhama, and tantra may be fun, but it's not Dhamma, either.

What Theravada needs to do is what Ajahn Brahm is doing...break out of the mold a bit, offend some of the hierarchy, tell some jokes, engage with people, and really make an effort to help people understand that that the boiled down form of Buddhism, the Tipitaka, holds the key to freedom from suffering.

If Richard G needs any inspiration for what the solution may be to the problems he raisis in his fine lecture, one example of the path forward is Ajahn Brahm. There needs to be more like him.

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby alan » Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:38 am

Nice analysis, and I like you style, soup.
But I can live without A.B.'s dumb jokes. They tend to be juvenile. Don't see him as a leader.

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby alan » Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:47 am

Tilt,
While I'm sure you're right that a charismatic personal leader can be problematic, we are so lost now that just about anything would help. There is no face to Therevada, no one who speaks for it, and no organizing central principle. We are wandering and disorganized.

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby Ben » Mon Nov 14, 2011 4:08 am

Hi all,
For me personally, I think Bhikkhu Bodhi is an excellent international role model. There is more to him than scholar and translator.

http://www.buddhistglobalrelief.org/main.html

kind regrds,

Ben
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby chownah » Mon Nov 14, 2011 4:12 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Chownah,

I don't think it's that those sort of things are a problem - they only become a problem where they inhibit the proliferation of the Dhamma.
[My reply: If people want a socially engaged Buddhism (people want this in varying degrees) then it would seem that "those sort of things" would be lauded as being exemplary and essential to the "proliferation of the Dhamma"....goodness where does the "problem" part of it come in?]
For example - the nearest Theravada vihara to me (albeit still 30-40km or so away) is Sri Lankan. All the Dhamma services given are in Sinhalese only. Seeing a gap in my local area, monks from another vihara have started doing a bit of a Dhamma circuit, where they visit different locations to teach the Dhamma on a rotating schedule... but once again - Sinhalese only. The choice of language for the Dhamma talks and other services presented by both institutions underpin their intent -i.e. servicing Melbourne's Sri Lankan community (comfort) - not servicing Melbourne's potential Theravada community (challenge).
[My reply: If Sinhalese monks are like Thai monks (I don't know if they are...this is only an assumption) then they probably are not able to teach Dhamma in English...have you ever spoken to one about Dhamma and thus been able to get an idea about how capable they might be? Also, Thai culture (and I gather this is true for alot of Asian cultures) produces people who do not try to inject their ideas onto other people...if this is true of Sinhalese too then their monks will probably need a really large amount of encourageing to get them to try to promote Dhamma....has anyone really kept bugging them to do this?.....has anyone gone to the monks and actually asked them to teach in English?.....has anyone knowledgeable in Dhamma who speaks English gone to the monks and asked if they could teach Dhamma at the temple?.....my guess is that no one has done these things......]

This is the kind of thing that Gombrich is speaking about - how can Theravada spread (other than via the Internet?) if "missions" to other countries aren't up for the "challenge" of disseminating the Dhamma into new domains? If they opt for "comfort", they're only ever going to be "preaching to the converted", and even then... the choice of language utilised by their institutions demonstrates quite clearly their primary purpose for being there, and it's not to extend the Dhamma out to the natives.
[My reply: In Thailand, monks only preach to the converted...everyone is Buddhist already...it is an entirely foreign idea that there might be someone who comes to a temple who does not already know about what is going on there.....any Thai person can go into any Thai temple (I think this is true) and know what is going on....and I would like to raise an important issue that being why is it that when a group of monks run a Thai style temple in a foreign country it is seen as "comfort"....why isn't it seen as providing a way for Thai people to practice their beliefs?.....this is a good thing isn't it?.....isn't it good that monks should provide what Thai people need for their practice?....so why are people speaking so negatively as if this was some luxuious "comfort",,some sort of "frilly excess"?....for goodness sakes people this is their Buddhist practice!!!!....those overseas monks are providing the living example of the triple gem!!!!......please try to support this and try not to denigrate it!!!!....don't put down the good things that Thai monks are doing in foreign countries just because YOU THINK THEY SHOULD BE DOING MORE......]

I suggest that all you English speaking Buddhists who believe in spreading the Dhamma to go to a temple where English is not used and push a little bit to get some English stuff presented either by the monks or others......gets some English texts and make them available at the temple......ask permission to have an open house to attract people......don't expect Thai monks to think of these things....from what I have seen this stuff is way beyond anything they have experienced....but this is all speculation on my part in that I have never been in a Buddhist temple in a western country.....
Also, consider a Thai temple in an asian country.....you've got a group of Thais who are culturally taught to not impose on other people...and these Thai monks are living as a minority in another culture's territory and the culture of that territory has taught those people to not impose on other people (meaning not impose on the Thai monks) so obviously it is highly likely that there will be little influence across cultural lines.....this is Asia....this is not the west where hot headed individualists are constantly poking their noses in to places uninvited and in doing so cause a disturbance of the social calm!!!!! :tongue:
chownah
Last edited by chownah on Mon Nov 14, 2011 4:23 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby Kim OHara » Mon Nov 14, 2011 4:13 am

alan wrote:Tilt,
While I'm sure you're right that a charismatic personal leader can be problematic, we are so lost now that just about anything would help. There is no face to Therevada, no one who speaks for it, and no organizing central principle. We are wandering and disorganized.

I haven't got time just now to respond fully but here are some dot points:
• Like Tilt, I am not keen on the one charismatic leader.
• I think the absence of central authority in Buddhism is one of its strengths, as compared to (e.g.) Catholicism, because it means local groups are freer to find solutions and practices which work locally.
• The path is, fundamentally, an individual one, and absence of central authority accords with that.
• Who is the 'we' that is lost? There are tens of millions of contentedly un-lost Buddhists around the world.
• The fact that they are practicing in dozens or hundreds of ways is not a problem for them and I see no reason to call it a problem for anyone else.
• And it gives any 'lost' Buddhists a choice of styles of practice.

:namaste:
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby Gena1480 » Mon Nov 14, 2011 4:21 am

i have read this paper
and i really don't understand what is the point.
what are his question? about Theravada
is his questions about discipline of monks?
is his questions about the Dhamma?
is his questions about the practice?
what are his main questions.
correct if i'm wrong
but he is saying that Theravada is spreading in wrong way/or to slow
or his main point that Theravada should engage in worldly affairs
Theravada has a selling product its called insight meditation about the Suffering
the selling product is 4 noble truth, which cant be sold.

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Nov 14, 2011 7:12 am

tiltbillings wrote:
daverupa wrote:
Yes; this is a problem.
For whom?

For those for which the problems of language are a barrier to interacting with the often excellent teachers that may be found in institutions like my local Thai Wat.

"Services" are, of course, not such a problem once you know what is going on, since they are mostly Pali... But for a beginner to figure out exactly what chants are being used can be...

Dhamma instruction can be more of a problem, not because of unwillingness, but because of sheer disorganisation (I'm sure Ven A and Chownah will know what I mean...), and lack of people with good English.

There is also the (quite good) idea that one needs to ask to hear the Dhamma...

Also bear in mind that "community" is actually very useful part of successful Dhamma practice.

:anjali:
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby daverupa » Mon Nov 14, 2011 1:03 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
daverupa wrote:
Yes; this is a problem.
For whom?


People who aren't parochial nationalists.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Nov 14, 2011 4:03 pm

daverupa wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
daverupa wrote:
Yes; this is a problem.
For whom?


People who aren't parochial nationalists.
And who are these naughty people?
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby daverupa » Mon Nov 14, 2011 5:09 pm

tiltbillings wrote:And who are these naughty people?


The parochial nationalists?

Richard Gombrich wrote:Rather than teaching Buddhism to the indigenous people of their host countries, they mainly run cultural centres for the Buddhist immigrants from their countries of origin, centres which indeed operate largely in Sinhalese, Burmese, Thai, etc., not in the language of the country where the missions operate. To run such a centre is not in itself an unworthy thing to do:...


...so the word "naughty" doesn't actually apply, and it's anyone's guess why you bother using such sophomoric terms, but I digress:

...in the modern world most countries regard providing cultural attachés and consular services as part of their diplomatic mission. But if this is the main and central activity of the mission, it points to an extremely serious underlying weakness in the Theravāda Buddhism we find in the world today: its parochial nationalism. It is outrageous that the vast majority of Theravāda Buddhists, whether monastics or laity, consider only Buddhists of their own nationality to be true Buddhists; and whatever they may say in public, that is indeed what most of them think.


So, these faceless masses, these "most of them", these are the parochial nationalists to whom I referred. The sociological literature I've read backs up this claim; I can provide a reading list if you like, but the last time I brought up sociology you said I couldn't possibly know what I was talking about. I guess anecdotes trump the social sciences? As you like, tilt.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Nov 14, 2011 6:26 pm

daverupa wrote:So, these faceless masses, these "most of them", these are the parochial nationalists to whom I referred.

That there is parochial nationalism is undeniable. But, to me, Thai people are parochial nationalists in much the same way as people in most countries are. They have their country and their culture and they are proud of it. And, as Chownah said, for Thai people the local Wat is central to their community. Buddhism isn't some add-on that can be separated from general life.

To turn this issue around, should we be criticising Italian immigrants for not running classes in Catholic principles for the general Australian or American public?


:anjali:
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby daverupa » Mon Nov 14, 2011 7:17 pm

mikenz66 wrote:To turn this issue around, should we be criticising Italian immigrants for not running classes in Catholic principles for the general Australian or American public?


We, as lay Buddhists, should have no involvement with such Xian logistics. There's ample Buddhist fare for us to consider, without adding up tangential hypotheticals.

mikenz66 wrote:Thai people are parochial nationalists in much the same way as people in most countries are. They have their country and their culture and they are proud of it.


Precisely the problem - when the Dhamma takes a back seat to cultural pride. No national group is singled out by Gombrich as a more heinous example than another; the criticism is broadly applicable.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Nov 14, 2011 7:35 pm

daverupa wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:To turn this issue around, should we be criticising Italian immigrants for not running classes in Catholic principles for the general Australian or American public?


We, as lay Buddhists, should have no involvement with such Xian logistics. There's ample Buddhist fare for us to consider, without adding up tangential hypotheticals.

I was just trying to provide an example to make the point that it's rather odd to be demanding that an immigrant community should be providing religious instruction to the "locals". Whether that religion is Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hindu, etc...
daverupa wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:Thai people are parochial nationalists in much the same way as people in most countries are. They have their country and their culture and they are proud of it.

Precisely the problem - when the Dhamma takes a back seat to cultural pride. No national group is singled out by Gombrich as a more heinous example than another; the criticism is broadly applicable.

Nothing remotely heinous is happening. Just normal behaviour that one finds in every country. People have their own priorities, their own sense of community, and a sense of pride in their culture.

In any case, my experience with Thai and Sri Lankan monks is that they are more than willing to be helpful if asked.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby daverupa » Mon Nov 14, 2011 7:47 pm

1. No one said anything about demands, so that's a straw man.
2. The word "heinous" was not suggesting heinous events, it was denoting that no one cultural/national example was worse than another.
3. And the problem is not whether they can be asked or not.

These are all red herrings, alas.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Nov 14, 2011 8:59 pm

daverupa wrote:These are all red herrings, alas.

OK, since I seem to be completely missing the point, perhaps you could explain what it is that you would like Thai, Sri Lankan, etc, Buddhists to do differently.

:anjali:
Mike


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