An interview with Prof. McMahan: Context Matters

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

An interview with Prof. McMahan: Context Matters

Postby Anagarika » Wed Nov 13, 2013 4:56 pm

This was posted on Facebook today, via Tricycle Magazine. Prof. David McMahan has edited a new volume Buddhism in the Modern World which looks interesting, and asks as one of its questions:

"An expert on Buddhism’s encounter with modernity, McMahan suggests that we approach the subject by considering a monk in ancient India. “He has left his family behind; he is celibate; he doesn’t eat after noon; he studies texts that give him a skeptical view of the phenomenal world and its value. Is his practice really exactly the same,” McMahan asks, “as that of a contemporary secular mindfulness practitioner who is meditating to excel at work or to be more compassionate to her children?”"

See http://www.tricycle.com/interview/context-matters

My comment, FWIW:

I'm very glad to see such an interesting article. I've not read anything by Prof. McMahan before, but I will start to pay better attention to his scholarship. I particularly appreciate his focus on the collision between modern secular influences, and that of the teachings of the Suttas, especially on sati or mindfulness. Prof. McMahan identifies the differences between what the Buddha taught as samma sati, or right mindfulness, (wise and discerning ethical judgments and judgments on the value of various things) and the stripped down consumer version of mindfulness that is now part of the western Buddhist menu (nonjudgmental awareness):

"Bare awareness may be a starting place, a way of focusing and concentrating the mind. But this broader context supplies the rationales and aims of practice. Even in the most secularized contemporary mindfulness movements, there are lots of these values and attitudes that enter in because it doesn’t really work without some kind of conceptual and ethical orientation."

The problems inherent in western mindfulness practice without an ethical and value based ethos are just a slice of the western Buddhist pie that needs to be examined carefully. I, for one, feel the Buddha's Sutta based teachings are timeless and that the example of the renunciate bhikkhu/bhikkhuni holds a relevant place in a modern world increasingly bent on greed, anger, consumerism, and delusion. It's my view that Buddhism need not fundamentally adapt and change to the modern world, but that the modern world pay some real attention to what the Buddha taught as Dhamma 2600 years ago. While the Buddha embraced the idea that some aspects of practice could adapt to different cultures and times, at no time did he suggest that the Dhamma be changeable or malleable to suit modern tastes. In fact, the loss of the core Dhamma and Vinaya was one of the Buddha's concerns as he approached his passing. I am glad that Prof. McMahan is devoting his scholarship to some of these important issues, and look forward to hearing much more from him.
User avatar
Anagarika
 
Posts: 691
Joined: Thu Sep 22, 2011 11:25 pm

Re: An interview with Prof. McMahan: Context Matters

Postby Mkoll » Thu Nov 21, 2013 10:58 am

Essentially, I see Western "mainstream" Buddhism summed up in the quote below.

Suhemanta

When the goal has 100 marks and bears 100 signs, the person who sees but one part is a fool, but he who sees 100 is clever.

-Verse 106 from the Theragatha, trans. by K.R. Norman
Peace,
James
User avatar
Mkoll
 
Posts: 3841
Joined: Wed Dec 05, 2012 6:55 pm
Location: California, USA

Re: An interview with Prof. McMahan: Context Matters

Postby Samma » Fri Nov 22, 2013 12:14 am

I'd note his words on interconnectedness near the end mirrors much of what I wrote in this thread:
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=18553
His book Making of Buddhist modernism has a chapter on the topic. He is articulate and I would recommend the book to anyone.

Good to see someone like him historically situate modern mindfulness movements of various sorts compared to other points in history, largely focusing on how they differ. Hopefully we can start reviving the best of the past, not simply coming up with modern revisionary renderings that some find appealing.
Samma
 
Posts: 169
Joined: Thu Feb 14, 2013 11:47 pm

Re: An interview with Prof. McMahan: Context Matters

Postby Sokehi » Thu Nov 28, 2013 5:26 am

BuddhaSoup wrote: I, for one, feel the Buddha's Sutta based teachings are timeless and that the example of the renunciate bhikkhu/bhikkhuni holds a relevant place in a modern world increasingly bent on greed, anger, consumerism, and delusion.


Well said :anjali:
Get the wanting out of waiting

What does womanhood matter at all, when the mind is concentrated well, when knowledge flows on steadily as one sees correctly into Dhamma. One to whom it might occur, ‘I am a woman’ or ‘I am a man’ or ‘I’m anything at all’ is fit for Mara to address. – SN 5.2

If they take what's yours, tell yourself that you're making it a gift.
Otherwise there will be no end to the animosity. - Ajahn Fuang Jotiko

https://www.youtube.com/user/Repeataarrr
User avatar
Sokehi
 
Posts: 405
Joined: Sat Jun 16, 2012 4:27 pm
Location: Germany


Return to Theravāda for the modern world

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests