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Modernish Theravada History - Dhamma Wheel

Modernish Theravada History

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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mikenz66
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Modernish Theravada History

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Nov 27, 2009 8:01 pm

A recent entry on Ven Sujato's blog:
Reform http://sujato.wordpress.com/2009/11/25/reform/
Is worth reading if you are completely unfamiliar with the developments in Burma and Thailand in the 19th and 20th Centuries: In Thailand the founding of the Dhammayut sect by King Monkut, and thoroughly established by one of his sons, and the beginnings of the various Forest groups; in Burma the developments in meditation instruction by the likes of Ledi Sayadaw, Mahasi Sayadaw, U Ban Kin, Goenka, Pa Auk Sayadaw, etc. Ven Sujato's Blog covers some of this, perhaps a little superficially. He also mentions the question of translation to local languages, which he claims was actually precipitated by the early English translation efforts.

One thing that I think is useful to have an overview of is that the Thai and Thai-derived meditation teachers who are well-known in the west (such as the Ajahn Chah group, Ven Thanissaro, etc) are the ones who tend to be the "Suttas + personal experience" type, derived from the Forest groups, whereas the Burmese teachers (and hence many western "vipassana" instructors, such as Joseph Goldstein) are much more Abhidhamma/Commentary based.

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Mike

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Nov 27, 2009 8:04 pm


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Re: Modernish Theravada History

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby Kare » Fri Nov 27, 2009 8:46 pm

Well ... I don't know ... Everybody says the Burmese are especially strong on the abhidhamma, and that may be true.

Maybe I did not look close enough - but I did not find much that was specific abhidhamma in the teaching of U Janaka, who was a pupil of Mahasi Sayadaw.

The meditation teacher that most actively has used abhidhamma in her teaching, is probably Achaan Naeb from Thailand. And one of the least "abhidhammic" meditation teachers is Dr. Thynn Thynn from Burma.

So these generalities should be taken with some reservations.
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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby Ben » Fri Nov 27, 2009 8:48 pm

Thank you Mike for alerting us of Ajahn Sujato's blog and his brief history of 'modern' Buddhism.
It may prove to be a valuable resource, particularly those curious and new to the path.
metta

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Nov 27, 2009 8:59 pm

Last edited by mikenz66 on Fri Nov 27, 2009 9:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

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Mettāya,
Kåre

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby cooran » Fri Nov 27, 2009 10:00 pm

Additionally, I am not very impressed with Ajahn Sujato's blog entry.

Meditation began in Burma as a response to the psychic shock of being invaded by the British and the very different world view they and their accompanying Christian clerics presented. Lay Meditation was not common in any of the Buddhist countries - nor had been for millenia. It was usually the province of the ordained sangha.

But, in response to the search for something specifically buddhist which could be 'reclaimed' by the Burmese, King Mindon and the Court began to practise meditation.

It grew from there.

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby BudSas » Fri Nov 27, 2009 10:53 pm


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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby Cittasanto » Fri Nov 27, 2009 11:11 pm

Hi Mike,
I was re-reading a part of his history of mindfulness the other night, the part where he suggests the original satipatthana is basically the Vibbangha version found in the Abhidhamma (minus the Abhidhammic slant in presentation, but the areas covered are the original areas, I think that is a reasonably accurate way of representing it anyway?) although I feel he may be too strict in his decoding of what was in the original offering; I don't think he will be far off.
reflect that regarding the Meditation center approach of Goenka I think it may actually be along a similar line to the original training, not exactly the same but similar in many aspects, remembering that the Patimokkha developed over 45years or there about, so the original bhikkhus would of been essentially what we now call novices, but that is if I am understanding the development correctly.

EDIT - maybe I should point out I am being general and not taking the reasons for the starting up of the lay centers into account but rather how they have developed.


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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Nov 28, 2009 1:39 am

Thanks everyone for the interesting input.

As I've indicated above, I'm aware in a superficial sort of way how some of the 19th and 20th C developments in Burma and Thailand connect to the Dhamma that is readily available to Westerners.

The third important source is Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a key connection for English language Dhamma translations. The early English translations by the PTS were a result of Sri Lankan connection by way of T. W. Rhys Davids. Ven Nyanatiloka, a German, ordained in 1903 in Burma, but spent most of the rest of his life in Sri Lanka, where he and his various German (Nyanaponika), English (Nanamoli, Nanavira) and American (Bhodhi) successors produced many of the modern English translations by Scholar-Monks (as opposed to the Scholar-Academics who produced the early PTS translations - many of their later translations are by monastics, such as Venerables Narada's Abhidhamma translations, and some are co-published with Wisdom i.e. MN, SN. See ).

What is totally unclear to me is to what extent Ven Nyanatiloka and his successors (Western and Asian) reinvented the Dhamma and to what extent they drew from current Sri Lankan interpretations. I'm sure that this is explained in various scholarly books, but would anyone care to give an executive summary?

Metta
Mike

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby zavk » Sun Nov 29, 2009 12:12 am

HI Mike

As it turns out, I have been reading historical-critical books on modern Buddhism. IMHO, I think it helps our individual practice to have an awareness of how our understanding of Buddhism has been (and continues to be shape by) broader historical forces. I have compiled notes that address the questions you ask in this thread. I'll need to go pick out the salient points. Will post again.
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby jcsuperstar » Sun Nov 29, 2009 12:47 am

สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby zavk » Sun Nov 29, 2009 7:27 am

Hi JC

I've just finished two books recently: The Making of Buddhist Modernism by David McMahan and Buddhism and Science by Donald S. Lopez Jr.

I've mentioned The Making of Buddhist Modernism in previous posts. Even though it is aimed primarily at academic readers, it is written in a non-jargonistic manner. McMahan narrates a clear overview of the sociocultural history of contemporary Buddhism. I highly recommend this book. You can sample the first chapter or so in Google Books.

Buddhism and Science, despite its title, does not actually examine in detail Buddhist doctrine and scientific theories. Rather, it examines the meanings that have been ascribed to Buddhism and Science and the historical factors that have shaped the relationship between the two. In other words, it examines the history of how the categories of 'Buddhism' and 'Science' have been interpreted and linked together.

Another book is the anthology Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism Under Colonialism, edited by Donald S. Lopez Jr. The 'Introduction' by Lopez presents an insightful overview of how Orientalist scholarship of the colonial era has shaped some of the defining characteristics of contemporary Buddhism. The chapter 'Roads Taken and Not Taken in The Study of Theravada Buddhism' by Charles Hallisey deals with Theravada. It examines in particular the influence of T.W. Rhys-Davids' work on contemporary understanding of Theravada.

I've also read parts of The British Discovery of Buddhism by Philip Almond. I believe this was the first book to examine how Buddhism was shaped by Victorian modes of understanding to emerge as a rational, pragmatic and ethical system free from myth and ritual.

Curators of the Buddha takes some effort to get through as it is primarily addressing questions about scholarly methodologies, so it's full of academic jargon. I'm engaged in sociocultural research so I guess I'm paid to endure this kind of writing. But if you can get access to and don't mind reading this type of books, you might also find Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka by Richard Gombrich and Gananath Obeyesekere, and the journal article 'Buddhist Politics and Their Revolutionary Origins in Thailand' by Charles F. Keyes interesting. I haven't read these two texts but they are often cited, especially Gombrich and Obeyesekere.

I've been looking through the notes I have. Will post some relevant extracts from the books later.
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby zavk » Sun Nov 29, 2009 10:29 am

With metta,
zavk

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby jcsuperstar » Sun Nov 29, 2009 6:44 pm

thanks so much!
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: Modernish Theravada History

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Nov 29, 2009 7:23 pm

Thanks zavk!

Mike


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