Is our modern era conducive or inhibitory to the path?

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom
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Sati1
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Is our modern era conducive or inhibitory to the path?

Postby Sati1 » Wed Feb 19, 2014 5:19 am

It is commonly said that this is a degenerate time for the teachings of the Buddha. Nevertheless, I see plenty of reasons to actually consider this a bright time for those who have a potential interest in finding a deeper meaning to life and eventually embark on the path:

1-teachings about almost any topic are available for free online as PDFs in English
2-other followers can be contacted from anywhere in the world, as in this forum
3-lessons can be learned anywhere in the world from highly qualified teachers, as on Dharmaseed or Buddhist Geeks
4-with the advent of machines, robots, computers and the internet, new time is made available in one's day-to-day life for practice (eg with washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and online shopping)
5-with better medical care, including painkillers, people who would previously not be able to practice due to illness and intense pain can now practice
6-with birth control it is easier not to have children
7-books can be purchased online far from a Buddhist library
8- with mobile devices, one can study any ext available online from anywhere on the road

I understand that there are some obstacles that this time also presents, such as more distractions and the spread of materialism, Christianity and oppressive regimes in some parts of the world. Still it seems to me that for anybody who has that initial interest to find out more about "what life is all about" there could not be a better time in human history than now.

Any thoughts?
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)

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Re: Is our modern era conducive or inhibitory to the path?

Postby culaavuso » Wed Feb 19, 2014 6:01 am

Sati1 wrote:It is commonly said that this is a degenerate time for the teachings of the Buddha. Nevertheless, I see plenty of reasons to actually consider this a bright time for those who have a potential interest in finding a deeper meaning to life and eventually embark on the path:


To paraphrase Charles Dickens, it is the best of times and it is the worst of times. It is an age of wisdom and an age of foolishness.

Sati1 wrote:1-teachings about almost any topic are available for free online as PDFs in English


This means that the true Dhamma and the counterfeit Dhamma (SN 16.13) are both easy to find. Unfortunately, it does not mean they are necessarily easy to distinguish.

Sati1 wrote:2-other followers can be contacted from anywhere in the world, as in this forum
3-lessons can be learned anywhere in the world from highly qualified teachers, as on Dharmaseed or Buddhist Geeks


Similar to #1 above, this means that those who can teach the path can be found and that those who would lead others astray can be found just as easily. Discernment is required in order to distinguish one from the other. This is a bit of a catch-22, since discernment is something developed along the path. It takes a long time of observing others to truly know their traits (AN 4.192).

Sati1 wrote:4-with the advent of machines, robots, computers and the internet, new time is made available in one's day-to-day life for practice (eg with washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and online shopping)


This means time is free but it also means that hardships are less often encountered. That freedom can be used to cultivate deep states of renunciation or to cultivate deep states of sensuality. Technology can make one's decisions more potent, which amplifies the ethical consequences whether positive or negative. Without hardships it is much less likely that sufficient motivation to escape suffering and samsara will arise to establish a course upon the path. Similarly, without hardships it is much more easy to delude oneself into believing more progress has been made simply because the conditions may not arise that demonstrate various unskillful mental activities clearly. Without the arising of sufficient stress, the conviction in following the path does not arise (SN 12.23)

Sati1 wrote:5-with better medical care, including painkillers, people who would previously not be able to practice due to illness and intense pain can now practice


Illness and intense pain can be motivating factors and teachers, not purely hindrances along the path. Entirely healthy and pain free living can encourage the "typical healthy person's intoxication with health" (AN 5.57).

Sati1 wrote:I understand that there are some obstacles that this time also presents, such as more distractions and the spread of materialism, Christianity and oppressive regimes in some parts of the world. Still it seems to me that for anybody who has that initial interest to find out more about "what life is all about" there could not be a better time in human history than now.

Any thoughts?


The time when the Buddha was alive may have been a better time in human history for a life of practicing the path, at least for those who were fortunate enough to take him as their teacher. However, as long as we have the teachings and the community he established it is wise to make the most of this rare human birth. (SN 56.48)

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Re: Is our modern era conducive or inhibitory to the path?

Postby chownah » Wed Feb 19, 2014 8:19 am

Sati1,
Right now is the very best time for you to follow the path.
chownah

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Re: Is our modern era conducive or inhibitory to the path?

Postby Mkoll » Wed Feb 19, 2014 5:41 pm

Great analysis culaavuso. I also agree with many of the OP's points.

In the end, as always, the motivation and determination of an individual human being can overcome all obstacles and distractions. The Buddha himself is the proof of concept, if you accept it, of this. Each must walk their own path.
Peace,
James

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Re: Is our modern era conducive or inhibitory to the path?

Postby Babadhari » Wed Feb 19, 2014 6:11 pm

a great essay by Bhikku Bodhi on this topic:
As Western technology and its offshoot, the consumerist culture, spread to the far corners of the world, the breakdown of meaning and the sense of self-alienation became endemic to many lands, and today this sense of meaninglessness has reached a truly global scale. The culture of narcissism, which exalts the reckless quest for self-aggrandizement, has spread its tentacles everywhere, leaving behind the same debris: agitated minds and hollow lives. Bent on quick and easy gratification, we pass our lives perpetually shadowed by a fear that all our achievements are worthless, unable to deliver any deep and stable satisfaction. And when this fear reveals itself, the abyss opens up, the realization that we have wasted our lives in the pursuit of empty dreams. Thus the high incidence of mental illness, drug dependence, alcoholism, and suicide, particularly in the more affluent parts of the world.

It is a telling sign that despite the impressive achievements of science and technology, a culture built on mere mastery over external nature is far from successful in meeting the deep demands of the human spirit. For those adrift in the sea of meaninglessness, the Buddha's teaching offers a sense of meaning stemming from a profound spiritual tradition that combines metaphysical depth with psychological astuteness and the highest ethical standards. Without calling for blind faith in dogmatic creeds or speculative postulates, the Buddha points directly to the invariable universal laws that underlie happiness and suffering. He insists that we can discover these laws for ourselves, simply by clear reflection on our own immediate experience, and he offers us methods of practice by which we can gradually dig up the buried roots of suffering and cultivate the causes culminating in the highest happiness...........................

'Navigating the New Millenium' by Bhikkku Bodhi
Aflame with the fire of passion, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion.
Aflame, with birth, aging & death, with sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs ......

Seeing thus, the disciple of the Noble One grows disenchanted. SN 35.28

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Re: Is our modern era conducive or inhibitory to the path?

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Feb 19, 2014 6:46 pm

In my opinion, conducive.

Like anything there are pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages include some false Dhamma teachings, but the positive far outweighs the negative. There are numerous Suttas translated into many languages on the internet, e-books and other material, mostly at no charge to readers. This is the information age. I'm old enough to remember when information was a commodity. Some held onto their information and knowledge like a prized-possession. Now some people go to forums and ask questions and there are numerous people ready to provide the information and teachings to help the person. People are not possessive about it any more because they know that it can be found out anyway through wikepedia, google or another online source. And it is sometimes quite easy to expose the false information from those that try to mislead.

100 years ago there were about 100 Western-born convert Buddhists (guesstimate). Today there are over 10 million. Nuff said.

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Re: Is our modern era conducive or inhibitory to the path?

Postby Sati1 » Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:29 pm

Thank you all for your thoughts. It is indeed interesting to see how there are both favourable and unfavourable features for Dhamma practice in our time. In the end it probably comes down to our personal motivation: if we are determined to walk the path, then the internet, forums, etc can be of tremendous help. For others who are sunk deep in the distractions of the modern world it will probably be more difficult now than it would have been in the past to meet the Dhamma. Although of course (as David mentioned), there was actually not much of Dhamma at all in the West until relatively recently.

:anjali:
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)


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