western cynicism/eastern credulity.

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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby PeterB » Mon Jan 24, 2011 10:13 am

I think eastern credulity is every bit as shallow. They are cultural variations on shallowness. Videos of flashing lights over Wats are shallow. Not going out in the dark because the boogie man will get you is shallow. Thinking that an amulet will land you a job is shallow.
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby meindzai » Mon Jan 24, 2011 4:10 pm

PeterB wrote:I think eastern credulity is every bit as shallow. They are cultural variations on shallowness. Videos of flashing lights over Wats are shallow. Not going out in the dark because the boogie man will get you is shallow. Thinking that an amulet will land you a job is shallow.


I agree with this, and in a sense the cynicism (or maybe it would be better to say "critical thinking") that the west brings to some aspects of Buddhism might be just what Buddhist culture needs. I'm talking a good healthy dose, and not the extreme of a Stephen Batchelor or other Dharma-Lites, but an educated understanding of the time and culture that Buddhism grew out of towards a better understanding of what the Buddha actually taught.

Also note that I said "Buddhist culture" and not "Buddhism" and certainly not "Dhamma." The last two do not need any adjustment. But many of the predominately Buddhist cultures have fallen over the years into dogmatism and superstition. The American version of shallowness in Buddhism is that it's commoditized and packaged for easy consumption. You can't really win, so perhaps the back-and-forth, the friction itself, is what's needed.

Americans (or more accurately "united statesians") who are Buddhist sometimes lament the lack of Dhamma here, becuase it is so few and far between, but actually this is the only country that has just about every major branch of Buddhism represented. Why would teachers come here to teach hopelessly over-analytical and cynical Americans when they could have stayed in "Buddhist" countries where their teachings would be more readily accepted?

Again this is the only country I can speak for, but I am always interested in hearing from my Australian friends, as I (like most Americans) know little to nothing of the culture there.

-M
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby PeterB » Mon Jan 24, 2011 4:17 pm

I wouldnt want to overegg the pudding too much, but Ajahn Chah once said that it was necessary for the real Dhamma to come west so that it could be reexported to Asia...
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby meindzai » Mon Jan 24, 2011 4:19 pm

PeterB wrote:I wouldnt want to overegg the pudding too much, but Ajahn Chah once said that it was necessary for the real Dhamma to come west so that it could be reexported to Asia...


lol. He would say that.

-M
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby Goofaholix » Mon Jan 24, 2011 6:38 pm

meindzai wrote:Americans (or more accurately "united statesians") who are Buddhist sometimes lament the lack of Dhamma here, becuase it is so few and far between, but actually this is the only country that has just about every major branch of Buddhism represented. Why would teachers come here to teach hopelessly over-analytical and cynical Americans when they could have stayed in "Buddhist" countries where their teachings would be more readily accepted?


A few times I've heard it said of and by Burmese teachers who teach westerners a lot that they do so because they like the way westerners approach the dhamma, their ability to question and dig deeper, compared with how easterners do.
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"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby Darren_86 » Mon Jan 24, 2011 7:14 pm

Peter,

To be honest, from an Eastern side point of view.

In the west, where objects are viewed through scientific lenses and more to christianity biased environment; might be the reasons for the different in opinions between us.

If you were to look into both Thai and Chinese Buddhism, the amount of Buddhist arts translated into drawings and carved into stones focussed mostly on Devas, Boddhisatvas, Buddhas, and so and forth. And why this? It's because this ancient religion has been absorbed into the culture for such a long time, nearly 2000 years ago, and has been part of our history; been told from generation to generation; hence easily accepted.

Comparing this to the west, Buddhism was only known there, for a hundred year (i assume) and it came from asia; to a more Christianity based country. In the west, the idea of devas,rituals for ancestors and things like these, werent heard off before Buddhism comes in, and to Christianity, this would mean worshipping the demon, hence being condemned, frowned upon and considered nonsense / the practice of villagers.

So there are two factors here, on the historical roots of this religion in the 'region - east or west' and the existing religion or thinking that exist in the east or west before Buddhism came in.

Regards,

Darren
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby PeterB » Mon Jan 24, 2011 7:19 pm

I suspect Darren that Dhamma is beyond both what I have called western cynicism and eastern credulity.
I think both are potential barriers that need to be got around.
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby Ben » Mon Jan 24, 2011 9:35 pm

Hi Peter

At one point, I found myself more at home among the Buddhists of Myanmar than back in the West. There's something about practicing with people for whom the Dhamma is a lived experience, rather than an intellectual head-trip. It put a lot of things for me into perspective. We know that devotion is the first of the five balas and it conditions wisdom. My own experience has been - greater the devotion, greater the wisdom. Interestingly my teacher talked about this on my recent course, and talked of 'enlightened devotion' - devotion that is not characterised by blind belief but by discernment and knowledge. Its an important factor and unfortunately one that isn't taken very seriously in the west.
The other side of the coin of course is that I also witnessed many people in Myanmar engaged in Nat worship. Looking around Shwedagon in the pre-dawn, there were a lot of people engaged at their relevant planatery (astrological) posts worshiping nats. And I also agree with Meindzai's assesment that honest and positive criticism of the Dhamma is a good thing.
So there could be room to move on both sides.

Ben
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby PeterB » Mon Jan 24, 2011 10:04 pm

It would be of great interest if you expanded more on that Ben..
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Jan 24, 2011 10:22 pm

Greetings Ben,

Ben wrote:At one point, I found myself more at home among the Buddhists of Myanmar than back in the West. There's something about practicing with people for whom the Dhamma is a lived experience, rather than an intellectual head-trip.

I suspect this would have had more to do with being in the company of Buddhists who follow the Dhamma, compared to Australians who are largely blasé about spiritual development.

I suspect also that Western Buddhists are more susceptible to the "intellectual head-trip" in the absence of a local Buddhist presence to demonstrate the endeavour/actualisation of the teaching, and that enlightenment isn't the spiritual equivalent to solving a Rubick's Cube.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby PeterB » Mon Jan 24, 2011 10:47 pm

Sure I am not arguing a case for westerners being not shallow. I am just saying that east or west is capable of shallowness....its just that eastern shallowness is exotic and mysterious and involves being gullible. Western shallowness is about stuff and power.
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby Sylvester » Tue Jan 25, 2011 1:26 am

I wonder if this archetype of the "Western cynic" might not simply be an accident of the type of Westerner who would be drawn to Buddhism in the first place. Someone quite fed-up with Theism and with a modicum of an enquiring mind is not going to lose that enquiring mind when he/she approaches Buddhism.

As for the credulous Easterner, I'm not sure if that is a malaise that afflicts only Easterners. I think tonnes can be found in Bible Belts anywhere in the West.
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby Hanzze » Tue Jan 25, 2011 1:39 am

_/\_
Last edited by Hanzze on Tue Feb 01, 2011 2:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby Reductor » Tue Jan 25, 2011 5:49 am

Sylvester wrote:As for the credulous Easterner, I'm not sure if that is a malaise that afflicts only Easterners. I think tonnes can be found in Bible Belts anywhere in the West.


Hah. I was going to say something about that: there are a lot of western Christians who are both cynical and credulous. They believe in God, angles, demons, the inherent evil of non-christians... and the almighty dollar.

At least up here.

So far I've found few cynical or credulous western Buddhists; although I only know those that are online, lacking a physical sangha as I do.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

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To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby Goofaholix » Tue Jan 25, 2011 7:59 am

Sylvester wrote:As for the credulous Easterner, I'm not sure if that is a malaise that afflicts only Easterners. I think tonnes can be found in Bible Belts anywhere in the West.


Perhaps Buddhism attracts the cynics among us.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby PeterB » Tue Jan 25, 2011 8:12 am

Hanzze wrote:
PeterB wrote:I wouldnt want to overegg the pudding too much, but Ajahn Chah once said that it was necessary for the real Dhamma to come west so that it could be reexported to Asia...

Dear PeterB, that is very important. But the only way is that it comes to the west. Which means, that it origins in the east. So it is only possible, for those who learned it in the east to understand the different. And as a Asian would not easy understand the west to teach it in the right way, I guess it is needed to learn it from somebody who have the "natural" possibility to teach and that is not possible for a stranger.
And it is also very needed that Asians get understand the western confusion to reteach the Dhamma it in Asia in the right way.

The places to learn in a proper way are very rare and may disappear soon.

_/\_
with loving kindness

It might come with loving kindness...but I am afraid that doesnt help me know what you are on about.
i think loving kindness IS what loving kindness DOES and that if you really want to show loving kindness you will work on your English.
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby PeterB » Tue Jan 25, 2011 8:17 am

Sylvester wrote:I wonder if this archetype of the "Western cynic" might not simply be an accident of the type of Westerner who would be drawn to Buddhism in the first place. Someone quite fed-up with Theism and with a modicum of an enquiring mind is not going to lose that enquiring mind when he/she approaches Buddhism.

As for the credulous Easterner, I'm not sure if that is a malaise that afflicts only Easterners. I think tonnes can be found in Bible Belts anywhere in the West.


I am sure that at least initially many westerners are attracted to Buddha Dhamma because they see it as rational..which it is of course.
But I would distinguish between irrational and non rational.
I dont think we can avoid the non rational, we are engaged with issues that do not readily surrender themselves to the rational mind always.
However I dont think the Buddha ever encouraged the pursuit of the irrational.
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby Sylvester » Tue Jan 25, 2011 9:06 am

I think that's a good distinction Peter.

But, my experience suggests that some converts to Buddhism who have fled the Church are not able to make the distinction. Some baulk at the requirement for faith, even if Theravada qualifies it an "informed" faith. It may be the result of exposure to Hume's rejection of all forms of metaphysics, such that all things not immediately verifiable, are consigned to the "synthetic a priori" heap as useless. Perhaps the influence of Logical Positivism is also at play.

Rebirth and the workings of kamma across lives come to mind. The difficulty with cynicism will of course be its demand to verify the "revealed" truths of Buddhism (such as the above 2). If there is no accepting of these 2 axioms as having any truth value, cynicism will not accept them as even "non-rational". I think it boils down to a resistance to accept some working hypothesis for "life" as a matter of faith, and acting on that faith to experiment.

Now, what would a Westerner be like, if neither Hume nor the Positivists feature in his/her world view?
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby PeterB » Tue Jan 25, 2011 9:09 am

me.
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Re: western cynicism/eastern credulity.

Postby Hanzze » Tue Jan 25, 2011 9:40 am

Scenes Change, but the Mind Remains the Same

One would think that to relinquish all worldly life and take the robes and bowl of a forest monk should put an end to the concerns of possessions for a time. No longer the owner of car and stereo, books and wardrobe, the monk is free. But the movement of the attached mind is like a heavy flywheel that only slows down imperceptibly.

Therefore, some of the new Western monks soon became attached to their robes and bowl and monk's bag. Carefully, they dyed their robes just the right color or contrived ways to become owners of the newer, lightweight, stainless steel begging bowls. Concern and care for and even attachment to only two or three possessions can take a lot of time when one has little else to do but meditate.

Several of the Western monks who had been world travelers before ordination, extravagantly free in their dress and their lifestyle, soon found the surrender and conformity of the monastery oppressive and difficult. Heads are shaved just alike, robes are worn just alike, even the way to stand and to walk is prescribed. Bows to senior monks are performed just this way, the begging bowl is held in just such a manner. Even with the best intentions, a Westerner can find this surrender frustrating.

One particular monk had been not only a regular traveler, but as he described himself, a "costume" hippy, with bells and flowery embroidered capes, fancy hats, and long braids. The monastic conformity became so difficult after a few weeks that he was awakened in the middle of the night by a violent dream in which he had taken his golden robes and tiedied them red and green and had painted flowers and Tibetan designs over his black begging bowl.

Achaan Chah laughed when he heard this story the next morning. Then he asked about freedom in America. Did it have to do with hair style, with clothes? Perhaps, he reminded the monk as he sent him back to his meditation, there is a deeper meaning to freedom. His task was to discover that liberation beyond all circumstances and times.

For each who experiences this greed in the circumstances of renunciation and simplicity, it is a lesson illuminated as never before. The difficulty with possessiveness and desire is quite independent of external circumstances-it takes root in the heart and can take charge in any situation, with any quantity of goods. Until it is thoroughly understood and the lesson of relinquishment deeply learned, the new outer form becomes only another arena in which habits of greed play.

Achaan Chah is well aware of the power of the forest life to illuminate and at times exacerbate problems rooted in the mind / heart. His mastery is to use the ascetic discipline to allow monks to confront and work directly with their own problems of greed or judgment, hatred or ignorance. And his teachings always turn the monks back to their own minds, the source and the root of all trouble.


Holy Ceremonies and Hot Days

Since the time of the Buddha himself, monks have been called upon to perform ceremonies, to make blessings, or to bring comfort in times of difficulties in the lives of 'lay disciples. The Buddha himself is said to have employed the tradition of soothing the hearts of his disciples with holy water and blessings.

Because the life of study and ceremony has taken the place of genuine practice for most monks in Thailand, Achaan Chah usually jokes about these ceremonies as diversions on the Path. Nevertheless, he will also use ceremonies when they are helpful. One very hot afternoon he had been invited to town to give a Dharma talk and a blessing ceremony for some devoted lay students. After the preliminary chanting and Dharma discourse, Achaan Chah proceeded to chant over a brass bowl of water connected by a string through the hands of the eight monks accompanying him (remnants of the ancient Hindu sacred thread) to a large image of the Buddha in meditation. The chanting over the water was completed with an offering of candles and incense, and Achaan Chah stood up with a palm leaf to sprinkle this water as a blessing on the house and on those who came to hear the Dharma.

One young Western monk in the party was growing impatient in the heat and yet more impatient with the ceremony. "Why do you bother with such obviously useless ceremonies like this when they have nothing to do with practicer he whispered to Achaan Chah. "Perhaps because," the teacher whispered back, "it's a hot day and all these people want a cool shower."


Learning to Tech

Makkha Puja is an important Buddhist holiday celebrating the coming together of 1,250 enlightened disciples in the Buddha's presence. At this meeting, he told them to "wander forth" spreading the Dharma "for the good, the benefit, and the awakening" of beings everywhere.

To celebrate this holiday, Achaan Chah and his many hundred monks sit up all night in meditation with the village lay supporters. In a typical year the great hall is filled with perhaps a thousand villagers. They sit for an hour, then Achaan Chah or one of his chief disciples, who are all abbots of their own monasteries, gives an inspiring Dharma talk. Again they sit for an hour, alternating sitting and talks all night long.

One of the earliest Western students of Achaan Chah was seated among the group of new monks feeling the inspiration and joy and difficulty of this night long celebration and practice. At the completion of one hour of sitting in the middle of the night, Achaan
Chah announced to the villagers that they would now hear a talk in their native Lao language by the Western monk. The monk was as surprised as the viJ1agers, but having no chance to prepare or to get nervous, he sat in front of the assembly and spoke of
the inspiration that had brought him to ordain and of the new understandings of the Dharma he had gleaned from practice. After this experience, he was rarely ever nervous about speaking before a group.

Achaan Chah later explained that Dharma teaching must flow unprepared from the heart and from inner experience. "Sit, close the eyes, and step out of the way," he said. "Let the Dharma speak itself."

On another occasion, Achaan Chah asked Achaan Sumedho, his senior Western monk, to speak. Sumedho talked for a half hour. "Speak a half hour more," said Achaan Chah. A half hour later, Achaan Chah said "Speak more still:' Sumedho continued, becoming increasingly boring. Many of the listeners started to doze. "Surrender to speaking," Achaan Chah cajoled. "Just do it." After struggling on for several hours, SUI11edho had learned to bore his listeners thoroughly and was never again afraid of their judgments when he talked.

Achaan Chah asked a monk who was leaving if he was planning to teach when he got back to the West. No, he had no particular plans to teach Dharma, he replied, although if someone asked, he would do his best to explain how to practice.

"Very good," Achaan Chah said, "it is beneficial to speak about the Dharma to those who inquire. And when you explain it," he went on, "why not call it Christianity. They won't understand in the West if you say anything about Buddha.

"I speak of God to Christians, yet I have not read their books. I find God in the heart. Do you think God is Santa Claus, who comes once a year with gifts for children? God is Dharma, the truth; the one who sees this sees all things. And yet God is nothing special-just this.

"What we are really teaching is how to be free from suffering, how to be loving and wise and filled with compassion. This teaching is the Dharma, anywhere in any language. So call it Christianity. Then it will be easier for some of them to understand."

Achaan Chah had this advice for an aspiring Dharma teacher:
"Don't let them scare you. Be firm and direct. Be clear about your own shortcomings, and acknowledge your limits. Work with love and compassion, and when people are beyond your ability to help, develop equanimity. Sometimes teaching is hard work. Teachers become garbage cans for people's frustrations and problems. The more people you teach, the bigger the garbage disposal problem. Don't worry. Teaching is a wonderful way to practice Dharma. The Dharma can help all those who genuinely apply it in their lives. Those who teach grow in patience and understanding."

Achaan Chah encourages his students to share what they learn. "When you have learned the truth, you will be able to help others, sometimes with words but mostly through your being. As for conversing about Dharma, I am not so adept at it. Whoever wants to know me should live with me. If you stay for a long time, you will see. I myself wandered as a forest monk for many years. I did not teach-I practiced and listened to what the masters said. This is important advice: when you listen, really listen. I do not know what else 'to say."

He had said enough to last us a long time.


Ajahn_Chah_A_Still_Forest_Pool
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_
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