Western cultural adaptations

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

Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby binocular » Wed Mar 12, 2014 4:12 pm

Kare wrote:Western = wrong
Eastern = right

Is this how your dictionary looks?

Nope, and it's telling you suspect that.

Born and raised as s a white European, I do experience Buddhism as a distinctly foreign religion, and myself foreign to it. And while I can intellectually understand that this is just my particular conditioning, it is also not something I can just gloss over.
My having an interest in Buddhism doesn't seem to trump that conditioning, though.

I may be many things, but I am not an Asian supremacist. My dislike of certain Western ideas and practices is independent of and predates my interest in Buddhism.


Instead of staring blindly at the Eastern/Western dichotomy, take a closer look at what the Buddha did and said.

I don't know what the Buddha did and said, I wasn't there. I can only speculate and take things on faith. Which for me is a huge part of the problem.

He lived his life as a teacher, motivated by compassion. He wanted his teachings to be of help.

Even if we go with that, we can probably only say that he wanted his teachings to be of help in regard to a particular purpose.

Surely the Buddha wasn't interested in helping slaughterers develop more effective slaughtering techniques (even though slaughterers may be interested in getting help with that), nor was he interested in helping people develop better means for armed warfare (even though people interested in warfare may be interested in getting help with that).


So how can asking how the teachings can be of help, be the "wrong question"?

Because it is at least incomplete. Like I said above - help in regard to a particular purpose.

I suppose we can say that the Buddha was interested in helping people realize the complete cessation of suffering, but that he was disinterested in helping them in some other areas of life.


You are missing the point. A close study of the history of Buddhism reveals that all the living traditions are adaptions. There is no unadapted Buddhism to be found. Therefore the question is not 'adaption or no adaption?'. It is: Do you want to step into an illfitting adaption made for others, or do you want an adaption that is tailored for your own size?

Thank you, I can make an adaptation that fits my own size. And while this may give me a good ego-boost and a sense of "self-realization" - who knows whether it leads to a complete cessation of suffering or not.

I'm just not that much of an individualist, I guess, to value my own creation above some ideal of pure unadapted Buddhism. I don't know if that pure unadapted Buddhism exists, but it is important to me to think that on principle, it does exist, and is what is worth striving for.
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby binocular » Wed Mar 12, 2014 4:20 pm

tiltbillings wrote:And Venerables Anayalo and Nanananda and Joseph Goldstein among others who clearly fit this bill: As Ven. Thanissaro suggests, we take these teachings and then apply them to our own lives. He notes that like Michael Jordan, we study and practice, we dedicate, and improvise where necessary to apply these practices to our own experience to determine what works best. One example of this might be meditation/jhana, and how with solid instruction, we then incorporate these teachings into our own experience, and mold them into a practice that brings about release from the fetters. We can then compare the scholarship, the investigations, and the results of practice to what is being offered in the western marketplace, and determine for ourselves what is authentic and useful, and what might be an adaptation or cultural fetter that leads to an aberration.

For all our efforts to get to the heart of the Buddha's Dhamma, we are going to adapt it.

"Making the Dhamma your own" and adapting the Dhamma are two different things, though.

It is paramount to make the Dhamma one's own as per the above essay.

An adaptation, especially a cultural adaptation, is an attempt to rewrite it and reconceptualize it altogether, and then declare it to be "the only true Dhamma, ever, for everyone."
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Mar 12, 2014 4:37 pm

binocular wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:And Venerables Anayalo and Nanananda and Joseph Goldstein among others who clearly fit this bill: As Ven. Thanissaro suggests, we take these teachings and then apply them to our own lives. He notes that like Michael Jordan, we study and practice, we dedicate, and improvise where necessary to apply these practices to our own experience to determine what works best. One example of this might be meditation/jhana, and how with solid instruction, we then incorporate these teachings into our own experience, and mold them into a practice that brings about release from the fetters. We can then compare the scholarship, the investigations, and the results of practice to what is being offered in the western marketplace, and determine for ourselves what is authentic and useful, and what might be an adaptation or cultural fetter that leads to an aberration.

For all our efforts to get to the heart of the Buddha's Dhamma, we are going to adapt it.

"Making the Dhamma your own" and adapting the Dhamma are two different things, though.

It is paramount to make the Dhamma one's own as per the above essay.

An adaptation, especially a cultural adaptation, is an attempt to rewrite it and reconceptualize it altogether, and then declare it to be "the only true Dhamma, ever, for everyone."
Well, in making the Dhamma our own, we adopt it and adapt, which is an ongoing process dependent upon our intellectual understanding and insight arising from practice. As for "reconceptualizing," we are always reconceptualing. My understanding of the Dhamma now is radically different from what is was 45 years ago when I started down this path. As for 'then declare it to be "the only true Dhamma, ever, for everyone",' it seems that those who declare such are those fail to look the gift horse in mouth.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby binocular » Wed Mar 12, 2014 4:45 pm

tiltbillings wrote:My understanding of the Dhamma now is radically different from what is was 45 years ago when I started down this path.

Of course. And as long as you don't go out and claim that your understanding of the Dhamma is the only right one, ever, for everyone, there is no problem.

It's when people assume themselves to be authorities on "what the Buddha really meant" (which is what cultural adaptations tend to do) that we end up in the murky waters of sectarianism and all the suffering it brings with it.
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Mar 12, 2014 4:49 pm

binocular wrote:
It's when people assume themselves to be authorities on "what the Buddha really meant" (which is what cultural adaptations tend to do) that we end up in the murky waters of sectarianism and all the suffering it brings with it.
Why would a "cultural adaptation" lead to an assumption knowing "what the Buddha really meant?" Was Ajahn Chah a sectarian? This sentence of yours makes no sense.
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.

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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby Kare » Wed Mar 12, 2014 5:24 pm

binocular wrote:An adaptation, especially a cultural adaptation, is an attempt to rewrite it and reconceptualize it altogether, and then declare it to be "the only true Dhamma, ever, for everyone."


What gave you this strange idea? Is that how you regard the living traditions of Buddhism, since they all are cultural adaptations?
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Mar 12, 2014 6:19 pm

Mr Man wrote:
Ben wrote:Thanks for your response. What I was attempting was to explore what practice is or what it looks like given that Buddhism has been utterly transformed by its contact with the west and western ideas since the 19th century.
Hi Ben, Does this apply to the Thai forest tradition and also some of the other Thai folk/esoteric traditions + the non Theravada traditions? Perhaps it is relevant that although Thailand was certainly influenced by European ideas, it was never colonized. possibly the same goes for Tibet.

Put simplistically, Thailand avoided actual colonization by closely allying with England and adopting many trappings of English culture. In tandem with this, King Mongkut (as in "The King and I") led the charge in revising Buddhism, notably the founding of the Dhammayut sect.

See, for example:
http://sujato.wordpress.com/2009/11/25/reform/
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=2853
http://www.inebnetwork.org/thinksangha/ ... haisan.htm
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=2853

So, no, it would not seem reasonable from a historical point of view to see the modern Thai Forest movement as a more preserved, pure, version of Theravada than the modern Burmese and Sri Lankan movements. They are all the result of various reforms, and/or counter-reforms...

:anjali:
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby binocular » Wed Mar 12, 2014 6:31 pm

tiltbillings wrote:Why would a "cultural adaptation" lead to an assumption knowing "what the Buddha really meant?"

The Dhamma made one's own is known as being just that - the Dhamma made one's own, one's own private matter, without assumptions about that particular Dhamma being obligatory for everyone else.
A cultural adaptation assumes a lot more.

A full-blown example of the consequences of cultural adaptation can be seen in the numerous Christian schools, each of which claims to be the one and only right one, ever, for everyone.
From what I see, Buddhist schools are firmly on that same path like the Christian ones, each school toward total exclusivism and superiorism, each school assuming itself to be the one and only true and right Buddhism, and all the other inferior and less or more wrong. Just think of the term "Hinayana" and who uses it and in what context.


Kare wrote:What gave you this strange idea? Is that how you regard the living traditions of Buddhism, since they all are cultural adaptations?


There are people who in fact say, or at least imply things like "this Dhamma that I/we teach, is the only true Dhamma, ever, for everyone."

And this is not some rarity, it seems fairly common.

You can see it whenever scholars argue about Buddhist teachings - as to what is and isn't Buddhist. The no-self vs. not-self controversy is a prime example. You can see further examples by searching ATI for "buddha meant".
You can see it on forums like this when some views are silenced as being non-Buddhist and people in positions of power effectively functioning as being the ones to shape the public image of what counts for Buddhist and what doesn't.
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Mar 12, 2014 6:46 pm

binocular wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Why would a "cultural adaptation" lead to an assumption knowing "what the Buddha really meant?"

The Dhamma made one's own is known as being just that - the Dhamma made one's own, one's own private matter, without assumptions about that particular Dhamma being obligatory for everyone else.
That may be how one has adopted and adapted the Dhamma, trying to make it his/her own. Why do you assume that the Dhamma must be a private matter when we have the examples in the Nikayas that point to public teaching and public contention over what is true?
A cultural adaptation assumes a lot more.
Maybe, but there seems to be an assumption in what you are saying is the Dhamma must be understood in a particular way -- that is, not being exclusive, etc.

There are people who in fact say, or at least imply things like "this Dhamma that I/we teach, is the only true Dhamma, ever, for everyone."
And this is not some rarity, it seems fairly common.
And that certainly can be a result in how they tried to make the Dhamma their own.
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.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby Kare » Wed Mar 12, 2014 7:05 pm

binocular wrote:
Kare wrote:What gave you this strange idea? Is that how you regard the living traditions of Buddhism, since they all are cultural adaptations?


There are people who in fact say, or at least imply things like "this Dhamma that I/we teach, is the only true Dhamma, ever, for everyone."

And this is not some rarity, it seems fairly common.

You can see it whenever scholars argue about Buddhist teachings - as to what is and isn't Buddhist. The no-self vs. not-self controversy is a prime example. You can see further examples by searching ATI for "buddha meant".
You can see it on forums like this when some views are silenced as being non-Buddhist and people in positions of power effectively functioning as being the ones to shape the public image of what counts for Buddhist and what doesn't.


It seems to me that you are hung up in your own sectarian fears, and you are creating a straw man whom you can pound at will. I am sure there are people around who say what you assert. But this has not been the theme of this discussion. If you do not like adaptations, feel free to not like them. That means, however, that you do not like any historical or living version of Buddhism - except, maybe, your own version?

My view is rather to have respect for the different adaptations of the Dhamma that people have made in different cultures. And it would be reasonable for western people to expect some respect for doing exactly what the Indians, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Tibetans etc. have done throughout history. But don't expect me to buy each and every adaptation made in those different cultures.

If you, on the other hand, ever should see or hear me saying this: "This Dhamma that I/we teach, is the only true Dhamma, ever, for everyone," I'd be most thankful if you stop me. But until then, don't misrepresent my views.
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Mar 12, 2014 7:25 pm

binocular wrote:You can see it on forums like this when some views are silenced as being non-Buddhist and people in positions of power effectively functioning as being the ones to shape the public image of what counts for Buddhist and what doesn't.


Not on this forum. We have had members complain that the 'theme' of the forum is too traditional and leave. We have had other members complain that the 'theme' is too secularized and they leave. So the team must be doing something right. We please no particular group or philosophical bent over another. :tongue:

binocular wrote:
David N. Snyder wrote:Good posts from you, Kare, and the rest. Lots of things to consider.

And the results of this consideration are ...?


Personally, I like Kare's analysis. (this in no way necessarily reflects the views of the forum or the team.)
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby Mr Man » Wed Mar 12, 2014 8:11 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Put simplistically, Thailand avoided actual colonization by closely allying with England and adopting many trappings of English culture. In tandem with this, King Mongkut (as in "The King and I") led the charge in revising Buddhism, notably the founding of the Dhammayut sect.

See, for example:
http://sujato.wordpress.com/2009/11/25/reform/
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=2853
http://www.inebnetwork.org/thinksangha/ ... haisan.htm
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=2853

So, no, it would not seem reasonable from a historical point of view to see the modern Thai Forest movement as a more preserved, pure, version of Theravada than the modern Burmese and Sri Lankan movements. They are all the result of various reforms, and/or counter-reforms...

:anjali:
Mike



Hi Mike,
I'm not sure if Thailand was ever closely allied with England although the elite were no doubt heavily influenced by European culture and this may well have been reflected in the administrative structure but Buddhism as it was/is practiced on the ground?

I was not suggesting that the Forest tradition (or the more esoteric/tantric/folk versions of Buddhism, which are common in Thailand) are more preserved or pure but just questioning if they have really been "utterly transformed by its contact with the west".

When I visit a local village temple in Thailand there is a strong tradition and practice which has certainly taken in many influences over the centuries, which certainly has aspects that connect with the traditions and teachings of pre-colonial India but the western influence is not so apparent accept in the superficial.
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Mar 13, 2014 5:41 am

Well, maybe "utterly transformed" is too strong (those were not my words), but one of the key points is that Dhammayut (which most of the Forest monks are part of --- with the notable exception of the Ajahn Chah group) is a 19th Century invention.

I'm not sure how one would assess the impact of interactions with the British in Thailand in comparison to actual colonization in Burma, for example, without having a detailed knowledge of the language and culture. I don't have an extremely detailed knowledge of the history, but it's clear from what I've read that King Mongkut instigated major reforms and modernizations in the 19th C in all areas (including Buddhism).

:anjali:
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby Spiny Norman » Thu Mar 13, 2014 9:32 am

binocular wrote:Agreed.

5. Compliance with modern Western science and culture, even at the expense of canonical references.


I observed in the other thread that many of the UK Buddhists traditions seem to have been specifically designed for a western audience, so in that sense they have western cultural assumptions "hard-wired" in. I'm not saying that's a bad thing though. ;)
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby Spiny Norman » Thu Mar 13, 2014 9:35 am

binocular wrote:An adaptation, especially a cultural adaptation, is an attempt to rewrite it and reconceptualize it altogether, and then declare it to be "the only true Dhamma, ever, for everyone."


I think all Buddhist traditions are cultural adaptations, but I do challenge the notion that contemporary adaptations are necessarily more "authentic" than traditional ones.
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby binocular » Thu Mar 13, 2014 1:36 pm

tiltbillings wrote:That may be how one has adopted and adapted the Dhamma, trying to make it his/her own. Why do you assume that the Dhamma must be a private matter when we have the examples in the Nikayas that point to public teaching and public contention over what is true?

What makes you think this is what I assume?

By "private matter," this is what I mean - http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ml#private
Essentially, an emphasis on what goes on inside, as opposed to focusing on the outside.


Maybe, but there seems to be an assumption in what you are saying is the Dhamma must be understood in a particular way -- that is, not being exclusive, etc.

Since different people have different karma, different applications of the Dhamma will take place in their lives respectively.
As such, what applies or "works" for one person, may not apply or "work" for another.

It's when people end up with things like "This is the only right way to practice meditation for everyone, everywhere" that we enter the domain of exclusivism and superiorism.

There are people who in fact say, or at least imply things like "this Dhamma that I/we teach, is the only true Dhamma, ever, for everyone."
And this is not some rarity, it seems fairly common.
And that certainly can be a result in how they tried to make the Dhamma their own.

And in the process of this, some other people got pushed out of Buddhist groups ...

But hey, by all means, it seems possible enough to turn even Buddhism into the sort of religion where the main thing is to keep said religion going, even if this means misery and death for those who try effort keep it going. In the spirit of revolution, devouring its own children.
Last edited by binocular on Thu Mar 13, 2014 1:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Mar 13, 2014 1:47 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:
binocular wrote:An adaptation, especially a cultural adaptation, is an attempt to rewrite it and reconceptualize it altogether, and then declare it to be "the only true Dhamma, ever, for everyone."


I think all Buddhist traditions are cultural adaptations, but I do challenge the notion that contemporary adaptations are necessarily more "authentic" than traditional ones.
I have not seen anyone here make that claim. So, with whom are you arguing?
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.

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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby binocular » Thu Mar 13, 2014 1:47 pm

Kare wrote:It seems to me that you are hung up in your own sectarian fears, and you are creating a straw man whom you can pound at will.

Then that's how it seems to you.

If you do not like adaptations, feel free to not like them. That means, however, that you do not like any historical or living version of Buddhism - except, maybe, your own version?

I guess I am one of the newer generations of people with an interest in Buddhism - part of the generation of people who came into contact with Buddhism via the internet, by first reading the Pali Canon, and not via contact with actual living Buddhist traditions.

I think starting with the Pali Canon makes for a very different basis of one's interest in Buddhism than starting off what appears to be the usual way, ie. via a particular Buddhist group or teacher.

It's not that I like or dislike the cultural adaptations - it's that they are foreign to me, given my background. It seems impossible to me now to try to fit myself into an existing Buddhist tradition.

And of course, like so many others, you can dismiss people like myself, suggesting that we have no clue, aren't real Buddhists etc.

But don't expect me to buy each and every adaptation made in those different cultures.

What are you talking about?

If you, on the other hand, ever should see or hear me saying this: "This Dhamma that I/we teach, is the only true Dhamma, ever, for everyone," I'd be most thankful if you stop me.

Heh. Whose karma to run over whose dharma ...

But until then, don't misrepresent my views.

Do quote me where I misrepresented your views.
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby binocular » Thu Mar 13, 2014 1:59 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:Not on this forum.

The people who have been silenced disagree.
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Re: Western cultural adaptations

Postby binocular » Thu Mar 13, 2014 2:09 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:I think all Buddhist traditions are cultural adaptations, but I do challenge the notion that contemporary adaptations are necessarily more "authentic" than traditional ones.

I think it all comes down to who one discusses this topic with and for what purpose.

Apart from academics and politicians who have to think and talk about these things as a matter of being eligible for a paycheck, everyone else has their specific unique interests invested in pondering this topic.
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