Help needed with an essay question.

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Help needed with an essay question.

Postby ellen west » Tue Aug 04, 2009 9:19 am

Hi all

Hope everyone is well and having a good day (and for those who are not - tomorrow is only an earth spin away).

I was wondering if anyone would like to comment on a question that I am struggling with. The question is in three parts and I think I have got to grips with parts 1 & 3. However, I am slightly concnerned about the lack of knowledge I have surrounding part 2.

Anyhow, this is the whole question...

1) What do the various representations of enlightened figures tell us about how Buddhists perceive the ideal of enlightenment?
2) Why is there so much variation?
3) What uses might these representations be put to?


Any comment or direction to answering this question would be most appreciated.

Love to all

ellen

x
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Re: Help needed with an essay question.

Postby appicchato » Tue Aug 04, 2009 9:29 am

Without wanting to appear facetious, or anything like it, it's human nature...we got all kinds here (planet Earth), with new variations appearing daily...who think they've got 'it' figured out...hardly...

Tough to write an answer for an essay question with a succinct answer like this, but that's my read...and hope you do well...
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Re: Help needed with an essay question.

Postby genkaku » Tue Aug 04, 2009 12:09 pm

Strange to think: If you tell someone that there is a difference between reading books about playing the piano and actually playing the piano, most would agree like a shot; it would be a d'oh observation.

But if you tell someone that there is a difference between an intellectual or emotional approach to Buddhism and the experience that Buddhism invites, right away there is a segue back to intellectual or emotional appreciations ... sort of like a dog chasing its tail. It's not naughty or bad, it just seems to be what happens.

Buddhism, in a nutshell, makes observations about the world we live in (The Four Noble Truths) and then, assuming anyone finds those observations useful or appropriate, it makes suggestions about the best ways to put those observations to work (The Eightfold Path). To extend the piano analogy, it's as if someone told you, "This is a piano. It makes beautiful music." And if you wanted to create beautiful music, there would be instructions on how to play this piano. Whether anyone follows those instructions or not is entirely up to them ... do they want to make some effort or do they simply want to talk? Do they want the theory or do they want the experience?
Imagining that the experience of playing the piano could be adequately captured in words would be a fool's errand.

But the fact is that we are all fools to start out. It's just the way we have been brought up. It's our habit. Not better or worse ... just a habit. But when we find that past habits don't really succeed in providing a peaceful and contented experience (a beautiful music), then at last there may be some willingness to make some actual-factual effort.

When it comes to the matter that Buddhists sometimes call "enlightenment" or "enlightened beings," these are just tentative references to what beautiful music might be. But no one in their right mind confuses "beautiful music" with beautiful music. The notion that someone else might be enlightened is just a way of inviting a personal effort ... to make their own beautiful music.

To the intellectual and emotional way of thinking, there are a lot of variations on beautiful music. Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms ... the list goes on and on. But as a matter of experience, there is only this beautiful music, this moment, this enlightenment. There is no escaping beautiful music ... but as a matter of encouragement and inspiration, we speak in a variety of ways of that which is neither various nor singular ... the experience of beautiful music.

Sorry for all the blither.

1) What do the various representations of enlightened figures tell us about how Buddhists perceive the ideal of enlightenment?

The representations are just ways of pointing out capacities and misperceptions that anyone might experience. They are, like all spiritual endeavor, advertising.

2) Why is there so much variation?

The intellectual and emotional mind sees many variations, but, as appicchato points out, this just relates to human nature. Human beings aren't lock-step clones looking for a cookie-cutter religion ... they are wide open as the sky, looking for beautiful music in infinite ways. If human beings cannot be boxed, why would Buddhism attempt to box them? Buddhism is as if we went to a restaurant: You order eggs, I order spaghetti ... it's not a matter of better and worse since both of us receive nourishment. Nourishment is just another form of beautiful music.

3) What uses might these representations be put to?


Such representations are only as useful as whatever effort you might be willing to expend. Buddhism isn't in the adoration business. It isn't into the limitations that the intellect provides. It is in the experience business. Anyone can worship or adore a piano (or the intellect), but in order to make your own beautiful music, practice, and the experience it brings with it, is probably more sensible. Experience trumps explanations and belief and it is practice that provides experience. So in one sense, the representations of 'enlightened' beings encourage and inspire us, but as a matter of experience, they are utterly useless. No one who knows how to play the piano worries about whether someone else plays the piano. S/he just plays and makes beautiful music.

Sorry for so much talk. I hope some of it is useful.
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Re: Help needed with an essay question.

Postby Individual » Tue Aug 04, 2009 2:29 pm

ellen west wrote:Hi all

Hope everyone is well and having a good day (and for those who are not - tomorrow is only an earth spin away).

I was wondering if anyone would like to comment on a question that I am struggling with. The question is in three parts and I think I have got to grips with parts 1 & 3. However, I am slightly concnerned about the lack of knowledge I have surrounding part 2.

Anyhow, this is the whole question...

1) What do the various representations of enlightened figures tell us about how Buddhists perceive the ideal of enlightenment?
2) Why is there so much variation?
3) What uses might these representations be put to?


Any comment or direction to answering this question would be most appreciated.

Love to all

ellen

x

Good question. I don't have time right now to give a detailed answer, but one thing I could add: The case of Angulimala demonstrates that enlightenment is possible for everyone, regardless of circumstance. The fact that enlightenment is not tied to circumstance results from variation. Now, although the outward appearance is superficially varied, the path to realization, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, the path of non-craving, of letting go, is always the same.
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra
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Re: Help needed with an essay question.

Postby Macavity » Tue Aug 04, 2009 4:13 pm

ellen west wrote:1) What do the various representations of enlightened figures tell us about how Buddhists perceive the ideal of enlightenment?


Are you asking about their representation in Buddhist art and sculpture? Or literary depictions of them? Or both?
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Re: Help needed with an essay question.

Postby Individual » Tue Aug 04, 2009 4:20 pm

Macavity wrote:
ellen west wrote:1) What do the various representations of enlightened figures tell us about how Buddhists perceive the ideal of enlightenment?


Are you asking about their representation in Buddhist art and sculpture? Or literary depictions of them? Or both?

Those two representations tend to go together, since Indian art is primarily symbolic (i.e. of things written in the suttas) rather than aesthetic.
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra
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Re: Help needed with an essay question.

Postby Macavity » Tue Aug 04, 2009 6:16 pm

Individual wrote:Those two representations tend to go together,


Sure, they are related, and it would be difficult to give an account of the evolution of Buddha images without referencing Buddhist texts; e.g., a Burmese myatmuni-style Buddha image would be incomprehensible without a knowledge of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. But the reverse is not the case; for example Nathan Katz' book Buddhist Images of Human Perfection is an entirely text-based comparison of the Arahant, Bodhisattva and Mahasiddha, that doesn't concern itself at all with the graphic or plastic arts.
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Re: Help needed with an essay question.

Postby ellen west » Mon Aug 10, 2009 10:28 am

Thank you all for taking time to read my e-mail and for offering advice. Special thanks to Genkaku for the piano metaphor.

metta

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