Questions for longtime practitioners

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Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Sep 24, 2010 11:35 am

As a beginner, I'm very interested in the perspectives of those who have spent considerably more time on the path. If you've been practicing for, say, 20 or more years, maybe you could share some thoughts on (any of) the following:

--How have your views of Buddhism and Buddhist practice changed over the years? What expectations did you have going into it and what have you learned?

--Do you feel there has been a beneficial change in your life because of your practice? has it reduced your suffering? have you made progress towards your spiritual goals?

--Any obstacles along the way? dark nights of the soul? crises of faith? how did you overcome them?

--What would you do differently if you were just starting out?

-- Has your conviction in the Buddha's teachings become stronger? What about trust in your chosen tradition (whether Theravada or other), sub-tradition, sangha or teachers?

--What positive or negative changes have you seen within Buddhism, your school of Buddhism, or the dharma in the West?

Thanks as always,

:anjali:
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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby Lazy_eye » Sat Sep 25, 2010 10:50 pm

Hmm, did I make the time window too large? What if we say 10 years instead of 20? ;)

I had the impression there were some veterans among the ranks...

if there's a better way to frame the question(s), or if the thread is just plain ill-conceived, don't hesitate to say!
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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby Sobeh » Sun Sep 26, 2010 12:02 am

--How have your views of Buddhism and Buddhist practice changed over the years?

The trend for me since about 1995: Zen --> Kundalini, et al --> Mikkyo/Shingon --> Vajrayana in general (now including Tibet) --> Theravada, et al

(--)What expectations did you have going into it and what have you learned?

No expectations per se; the overarching lesson has had to do with how various sorts of Buddhists respond to question and critique.

--Do you feel there has been a beneficial change in your life because of your practice? has it reduced your suffering? have you made progress towards your spiritual goals?

Certainly... although this question can be rephrased as "Does it work for you? [] YES [] NO" which leaves little room for commentary.

--Any obstacles along the way? dark nights of the soul? crises of faith? how did you overcome them?

Sure, although details would depend on which event... for example, Pema Chodron was much more useful over long stretches of depression than similar Theravadan fare available to me at the time. I would still recommend her writings.

--What would you do differently if you were just starting out?

Having said the above, I'd avoid Mahayana almost altogether. I'd certainly skip on the Zen.

-- Has your conviction in the Buddha's teachings become stronger? What about trust in your chosen tradition (whether Theravada or other), sub-tradition, sangha or teachers?

It's gone from interesting to a surety to a conviction, with respect to the Dhamma; the choice of tradition was made for me on account of a critical epistemology which admits the majority of the Nikayas while rejecting all later Sutras, Tantras, Shastras, etc.

--What positive or negative changes have you seen within Buddhism, your school of Buddhism, or the dharma in the West?

It's too huge a question, it seems to me, since books have been written on it...
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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby Ben » Sun Sep 26, 2010 1:38 am

Hi LE
I intended to respond earlier, however, this last day I've been a bit busy. I'll try and get around to a considered response sometime this evening.
kind regards

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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Sun Sep 26, 2010 9:43 am

Lazy_eye wrote:As a beginner, I'm very interested in the perspectives of those who have spent considerably more time on the path. If you've been practicing for, say, 20 or more years, maybe you could share some thoughts on (any of) the following:


Some big questions here, but what pops into my head straight away is the importance of keeping an open mind. Easier said than done. :smile:

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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby Ben » Sun Sep 26, 2010 10:13 am

Lazy_eye wrote:As a beginner,

We're all beginners mate.

Lazy_eye wrote:--How have your views of Buddhism and Buddhist practice changed over the years? What expectations did you have going into it and what have you learned?

A lot. When I was a teenager, my view of Buddhism was informed by Robert Pirsig, DT Suzuki, Alan Watts, and some of the works of "Zen poets" without any explanation as to their meaning. In those early years I was very interested but thanks to the Zen literature, had no idea how to meditate. So, i developed my own which was a pretty close facsimile of what I practice now. In the last 25 years I have been practicing under the guidance of my teacher, SN Goenka. I've always been practice oriented but in the last few years i have benefited greatly from studying the ancient texts and scholarly authors and the works of some teachers and scholars not from within my own tradition. Further, my exposure to other practitioners, particularly practitioners from other traditions, have been incredibly beneficial.

Lazy_eye wrote:--Do you feel there has been a beneficial change in your life because of your practice? has it reduced your suffering? have you made progress towards your spiritual goals?

Yes, yes and yes. They are subjective responses to qualitative questions so I can't give you much of a qualification that would indicate how much things have changed. I guess one acid test is to consider how much one continues to react blindly to external stimuli. Someone cutting you off in traffic...
There's a lot less heat and its short lived - if at all. Another acid test is whether you notice the development of certain positive qualities in your life. Such as generosity, tolerance, patience, humility, compassion and gratitude. And they are just some. On another note, there's a great deal more clarity.

Lazy_eye wrote:--Any obstacles along the way? dark nights of the soul? crises of faith? how did you overcome them?

Everyday can be difficult until you realise that its all good. I turned my back on my practice for awhile after a very intense period sitting with and serving with my teacher in India in 89/90. A conspiracy of events occured and when i returned to Melbourne, sitting was just too difficult. I knew I would return to the Dhamma and fortunately, I did.
Another anecdote...
Sitting in a small darkened meditation cell for hours, days, weeks at a time with nothing but the awareness of breath or sensations - it makes the modern 'hardcore' movement, limpwristed in comparison. The path of insight is not easy, not easily won, and quite often - not pleasant. Dark night of the soul? More like a descent into hell.

Lazy_eye wrote:--What would you do differently if you were just starting out?

Don't know. Zen wasn't for me but it may have been an important conditioning factor.

Lazy_eye wrote:-- Has your conviction in the Buddha's teachings become stronger? What about trust in your chosen tradition (whether Theravada or other), sub-tradition, sangha or teachers?

For sure. But its not a blind obsequious devotion. With respect to my own teacher, my conviction has grown but it is characterised by an intense critical examination of his teachings. With respect to the lineage and the Buddha (and including my own teacher), there is a deep and abiding gratitude and appreciation for the Dhamma.

Lazy_eye wrote:-- What positive or negative changes have you seen within Buddhism, your school of Buddhism, or the dharma in the West?

The Dhamma is incredible and unique. Buddihsts are...human beings. One disappointing thing that i have seen which i have spoken out a bit lately is the appearance of people claiming ariya attainment. Out of respect to you, I won't rehash those criticisms here as there are plenty of threads around where it has or is being discussed.
kind regards

Ben
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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby beeblebrox » Sun Sep 26, 2010 7:29 pm

I started with Zen like others, too. :tongue: Though, I was introduced to it in a bit odd way. When I was 11 or so I got this birthday card. It had a Zen theme... and Garfield (the cat who likes lasagna) was meditating right on the front of it. He also was levitating.

I forgot what it said exactly, but when my little sister (around 6 or 7) saw it, she said "That's you, Greg!" She delighted in this apparently uncanny resemblance between me and the cat. I was mystified. I didn't look like the cat, and I never meditated. I said, really? And she said yes, it's you! I thought that was a bit funny, and then just left it at there.

I still remember her reaction and still wonder about it every now and then. :tongue: I guess this somehow led me to studying Zen, and then practicing it. I'm heavily leaned towards studying (reading books, really).

I finally started meditating seriously around 5 or 6 years ago. It's basically Kodo Sawaki style. ("It's good for nothing. The samadhi is really useless, but do it anyway. Just sit there. If you think you attain the samadhi, you shouldn't be proud of that. Don't be so stupid. That's really a completely useless thing.") Of course, that's only half the story.

I shifted to studying Theravadan Buddhism (on here, basically) after I was really bothered by this long-time zen practitioner's view of things (eternalism, basically). I tried debating this with him, but couldn't keep up with him because apparently his own knowledge surpassed mine. (He studied for 30 years or something.)

So, I came here to study up and get some fundamentals under my belt... and right now, I couldn't care less about what that guy thinks. I appreciate him for (unintenionally or not) bumping me towards this direction.

Every now and then I still get really bothered by some people's view of things (here and there). Sometimes their views make me wish that I wasn't ever interested in Buddhism in the first place (silly, I know). I view this as an opportunity to practice equanimity, and get rid myself of my own tendencies.

I'm still bent toward Zen (or Chan, really), but now I try to base my own understanding on Thervada. There's definitely been some benefits, but I still feel like I have a long way to go.
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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Sep 27, 2010 4:40 am

As a social scientist, I always like surveys, so I'll answer some.

Lazy_eye wrote:--How have your views of Buddhism and Buddhist practice changed over the years? What expectations did you have going into it and what have you learned?


Too many expectations at first, but fortunately I was soon humbled; maybe the whacks with the stick did their job.

--Do you feel there has been a beneficial change in your life because of your practice? has it reduced your suffering? have you made progress towards your spiritual goals?


Yes.

--Any obstacles along the way? dark nights of the soul? crises of faith? how did you overcome them?


Some expectations and misunderstandings, but further practice and study helped me overcome them.

--What would you do differently if you were just starting out?


Nothing. All of the ups and downs were good learning experiences; but then again, I don't like to look back.

-- Has your conviction in the Buddha's teachings become stronger? What about trust in your chosen tradition (whether Theravada or other), sub-tradition, sangha or teachers?


Definitely, stronger conviction in the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha and the Theravada.

--What positive or negative changes have you seen within Buddhism, your school of Buddhism, or the dharma in the West?


Positive: The Dhamma is flourishing. Its arrival to the West has helped make it a truly international, world religion. "East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet" no longer applies and this is a good thing. There are highly accomplished monks and nuns from all backgrounds, races, and nationalities. Buddhism has been gaining in popularity and has also avoided the momentary fad syndrome of other lifestyles, such as Kabbalah, Eckhart Tolle, Chopra, etc. Buddhism is here to stay for a long time.

Negative: The politics that sometimes occurs within any organization; misogyny, for example that some monks and organizations do not accept the ordinations of bhikkhunis. But I think this will / is being corrected already as there are now over 1,000 bhikkhunis in the world and people can see their sila and practice is at a very high standard.
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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby lojong1 » Mon Sep 27, 2010 5:46 am

Dark nights of the soul can be quite 'loud' to people with dibba-sota/divine ear (sorry B). I'm not sure I came out the right side of mine, so I'm watching this space.
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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby legolas » Mon Sep 27, 2010 6:42 am

--How have your views of Buddhism and Buddhist practice changed over the years? What expectations did you have going into it and what have you learned?

I just had a vague idea when I was at school that if truth can be discovered it would be in Buddhism. I had no definitive expectations. Progress is all about relinquishing and not about gaining.


--Do you feel there has been a beneficial change in your life because of your practice? has it reduced your suffering? have you made progress towards your spiritual goals?

Yes, yes and yes.


--Any obstacles along the way? dark nights of the soul? crises of faith? how did you overcome them?

All the time. No dark nights except self inflicted ones. No, even when doubts about practice or teachers arose, I never doubted the Buddha.


--What would you do differently if you were just starting out?

Go straight to my current teachers and miss out the middlemen.

-- Has your conviction in the Buddha's teachings become stronger? What about trust in your chosen tradition (whether Theravada or other), sub-tradition, sangha or teachers?

Yes. No, I have learned to be selective.

--What positive or negative changes have you seen within Buddhism, your school of Buddhism, or the dharma in the West?

I have seen the emergence of teachers who are prepared to question tradition and base their teachings on the Buddha's actual words, this to me is the greatest thing to happen and a source of immense joy and appreciation. As for negatives, the idea that "vipassana" can be reduced to a set of physical and mental ritualistic "meditations" I personally find quite appalling and an indictment of the 20th century, quick cure approach to life.

All the best
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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby Sanghamitta » Mon Sep 27, 2010 8:06 am

I did not answer because of the sheer volume of material asked for.
I will have a stab at the positive and negative changes in Dhamma in the west since I encountered it.

Negatives;
Superficiality
in some regards. In the pre Internet age contact with the dhamma was harder to come by, which led to a sense of the importance of using such contact with intent that was not solemn, but was serious.
Eclecticism.
People have always explored different schools, and sometimes switched .But generally people would decide which vehicle met their needs and then use it to deepen their practice, rather than add a pinch of this and that. Which meant that when people met students of other traditions there was a mutually supportive atmosphere, rather than a blurring of tradition.
A preoccupation with certain doctrines like Rebirth.
There used to be a largely unspoken realisation that Rebirth was an obstacle for some..and so the emphasis shifted to other things. Battle lines were not drawn up. Defense shields were less in evidence. It was assumed that certain teachings would fall into place as overall familiarity grew. There was no assumption that unless you "believed" a particular teaching that your Buddhism was suspect.
Individualism...
When i first encountered Dhamma it was simply accepted that you did not try to figure all this out alone..that you sought out the physical company of those who knew more than you did.
Claims. As Ben has pointed out....it was virtually unknown for claims of attainment to be made, When they were, which was extremely rare, it was assumed that the claimer was a nutjob. See " Lobsang Rampa".

Confusion with lifestyle choices.

When I first encountered Dhamma many Buddhists had adopted a vegetarian diet, but few of them proclaimed themselves to be " Vegetarians" and attempted to convert other Dhamma students to becoming Vegetarians with a capital "V".

Positives.

The Internet
has made aspects of Dhamma much more widely available.

Accessibility
There are far more teachers in far more venues.

Scholarship
Levels of scholarship are far more aligned to practice not just academic.

Development of a western Dhamma.
Various elements are coming together and forming a western view which retains the essence of Dhamma while gently distancing itself from Asian cultural forms.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby m0rl0ck » Mon Sep 27, 2010 8:05 pm

--How have your views of Buddhism and Buddhist practice changed over the years? What expectations did you have going into it and what have you learned?


I look at it more as a means to an end now. I had ridiculous expectations :) and they are still a problem. My biggest lesson has been that its absolutely necessary to practice with complete honesty, sincerity and surrender.

--Do you feel there has been a beneficial change in your life because of your practice? has it reduced your suffering? have you made progress towards your spiritual goals?


Yes. I wonder if i would have survived without it. Im generally happy these days :)

--Any obstacles along the way? dark nights of the soul? crises of faith? how did you overcome them?

Yes.

--What would you do differently if you were just starting out?


Id relax, and probably practice more and waste less time debating and studying buddhist doctrine.

-- Has your conviction in the Buddha's teachings become stronger? What about trust in your chosen tradition (whether Theravada or other), sub-tradition, sangha or teachers?


Apropos of this question there is a lovely quote by Lin Chi that someone brought to my attention, id heard it before, but it seems to strike a chord with me, especially lately:

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him! If you meet the patriarchs or the arhats on your way, kill them too… Bodhidharma was an old bearded barbarian… Nirvana and Bodhi are dead stumps to tie your donkey to. The sacred teachings are only lists of ghosts, sheets of paper fit for wiping the pus from your boils.-Lin-chi


Everybody occasionally needs a place to tie their donkey :) And yes my trust in my teacher has increased.
If the quote doesnt give it away i have been a chan / zen practioner and the way has been demonstrated to me to be what it represents itself to be. Faith and conviction arent really issues for me any more.

--What positive or negative changes have you seen within Buddhism, your school of Buddhism, or the dharma in the West?


The potential for the dharma to degenerate into psychology is alarming to me. (Batchelor et. al.)
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Joshu replied, "Throw it away!"
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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby BubbaBuddhist » Mon Sep 27, 2010 9:02 pm

I've practiced for +- 25 years I guess, with differing levels of intensity. I'll give an honest answer: the things that have made the most positive improvements in my life haven't had anything to do with Buddhism. Most of the truly useful insights I've learned I've gleaned from great literature and poetry, or from knowing really smart people. I've found Buddhism to be an interesting intellectual pastime, and most of the people involved with Buddhism to be interesting on various levels, but few of them particularly "deep." Or profound. I've had very good teachers, access to a Theravada sangha, and at one time almost took the robe. But I saw that if I did this it would have been a mistake. Because I really like the world and the people in it..

I'm far happier these days just living my life and taking easy pleasure in the simple things the world provides and not asking anything other than that. Not making things more complicated than they are or seeking this chimera called "enlightenment." I believe I would have arrived at exactly this same point in my life if I had never read a single sutta, because most of these lessons I've learned because I've had a rocky life and I had to learn to let go the hard way--not from reading books or from someone telling me if you hold onto something too tightly it will hurt when you lose it. I've known this since I was five years old.

Sorry if this isn't the answer you're looking for. But it's the honest truth, and it would be disrespectful of me to present myself as some sort of grassroots guru who after a quarter century possessed nuggets of insights to share with you. Many unlikable things I freely admit I am--a phony I ain't. Hope this helps.

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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby Lazy_eye » Mon Sep 27, 2010 10:04 pm

Thank you all for your thoughtful, candid answers. I can't express how helpful the "longer view" is for someone who is just starting out. It adds an essential context to the discussions we have here. Hope I wasn't being too pushy in my OP (and followup).

Very interested to see that several of you have moved among traditions, often with Zen as a starting point. That was mine too, FWIW.

Also, the role of the internet is fascinating to consider. I think any of us who has spent even a short time in the forums has seen both the positives and the negatives -- the healthy dialogue and the pitched battles, the potential to sharpen one's understanding of the dhamma, and the potential to get mired in confusion.

And yes, Ben, I can imagine how dismaying it would be, for someone who has really put in the effort, to see people lowering the bar. It reminds me of the Rosie Ruiz story -- the runner who won the Boston Marathon the easy way, i.e. by not running the whole race.

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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby Paññāsikhara » Tue Sep 28, 2010 2:45 am

Lazy_eye wrote:As a beginner, I'm very interested in the perspectives of those who have spent considerably more time on the path. If you've been practicing for, say, 20 or more years, maybe you could share some thoughts on (any of) the following:


Ok.

--How have your views of Buddhism and Buddhist practice changed over the years? What expectations did you have going into it and what have you learned?


My first take was in the context of other Indian religions and philosophies. Main change is simply depth. The last question is too broad.

--Do you feel there has been a beneficial change in your life because of your practice? has it reduced your suffering? have you made progress towards your spiritual goals?


Yes, yes and yes.

--Any obstacles along the way? dark nights of the soul? crises of faith? how did you overcome them?


Yes - Mara. No crises of faith, though. Overcome Mara with Dharma.

--What would you do differently if you were just starting out?


I usually don't ponder too much about such hypothetical questions. There is no going back. Next life is next life, not repeating this life.

-- Has your conviction in the Buddha's teachings become stronger? What about trust in your chosen tradition (whether Theravada or other), sub-tradition, sangha or teachers?


Yes. "Chosen tradition" - the teachings of the Buddha are my chosen tradition, I don't go for refuge to some school of sect. Likewise the Samgha, not some specific teacher or person.

--What positive or negative changes have you seen within Buddhism, your school of Buddhism, or the dharma in the West?


Hard to say, because it is usually more of the changes within ourselves as we see other parts of Buddhism, rather than Buddhism itself changing. ie. easy to project externally on this question.

Thanks as always,

:anjali:


Ok, thank you! :anjali:
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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby Monkey Mind » Tue Sep 28, 2010 4:34 am

[content deleted- changed my mind]
Last edited by Monkey Mind on Thu Sep 30, 2010 2:43 am, edited 1 time in total.
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as others are, so am I."
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Re: Questions for longtime practitioners

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Sep 28, 2010 8:41 pm

Paññāsikhara wrote:My first take was in the context of other Indian religions and philosophies. Main change is simply depth.


Venerable, thank you for your response!

You had a wonderful series of posts at E-sangha that recounted your "existential dharma drama". It's a shame these were lost along with so much else on that forum -- if you have the time and inclination, perhaps you might post the whole story again one of these days?

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