Modern Theravada description

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

Modern Theravada description

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Dec 31, 2008 4:16 pm

The following was originally described by a user at e-sangha and then modified by me at e-sangha and also in:
http://www.theravadabuddhism.org/


This “progressive” form of Buddhism and Theravada is sometimes known as “progressive Theravada” or “Modern Theravada.” But according to Modern Theravadins, there is nothing that is really “modern” or reformist about these views. According to Modern Theravadins, these views come directly from the Pali Canon and the teachings of Buddha.

The Classical Mahavihara Theravada takes a little more literalist view and highly values the commentaries and can be seen as playing a vital role in the preservation of the Dhamma, regardless if you are a Modern Theravadin or not. The Classical Theravada allows for fewer or no new "re-interpretations" which may be best for preserving the Dhamma in a pluralistic society where some teachings can get watered down. We are all learning and both the Classical and Modern Theravada are valued.


1. There is an equal importance to the practices of meditation, sutta study, discussion, and devotional practices. But there is especially an emphasis on meditation and sutta study over rites, rituals, and ceremonies.

2. Men and women can practice together in a monastic environment.

3. The Dhamma can be taught in English or other language of the local community.

4. An international electronic sangha can exist.

5. All Buddhist traditions are not only vehicles toward complete perfect enlightenment but that they can teach each other.

6. Lay persons can not only teach other lay persons but can teach monks as well.

7. Women can teach men . . . and monks.

8. Women can become fully ordained bhikkhunis (nuns), if they so choose.

9. One can interpret the planes of existence as physical places or as mental states and neither view precludes one from being called a Buddhist.

10. A tendency to move toward vegetarianism and concern for the environment. Modern Theravadins would most likely be vegetarian or at least mostly vegetarian.


Notes/sources for above:

There are several suttas that provide support for the above, but listed below are some examples for each point above:

1. “It is bhikkhus, because he has developed and cultivated one faculty that a bhikkhu who has destroyed the taints declares final knowledge thus. What is that one faculty? The faculty of wisdom.” Samyutta Nikaya 48

“And which are the five lower fetters? Self-identity views; uncertainty; attachment to rites, rituals, and ceremonies; sensual desire; and ill will.” Anguttara Nikaya 10.13

2. In the modern world, there may not be enough centers to provide for gender segregation of monastic communities, especially in countries that are predominantly non-Buddhist. This is in keeping with the Buddha’s wish for the Dhamma to be spread far and wide:

“Wander forth, O bhikkhus, for the welfare of the multitude, for the happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare, and happiness of devas and humans. Let not two go the same way. Teach, O bhikkhus, the Dhamma that is good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end, with the right meaning and phrasing.” Samyutta Nikaya 4.453

3. “I allow you, O Bhikkhus, to learn the word of the Buddhas each in his own dialect.” Cullavaga, Vinaya

4. Also in keeping with spreading of the Dhamma, as number 2 above, Samyutta Nikaya 4.453

5. “Another person has practiced the making of merit by giving as well as by moral discipline to a high degree; but he has not undertaken the making of merit by meditation. With the breakup of the body, after death, he will be reborn among humans in a favorable condition. Or he will be reborn in the company of the devas of the Four Great Kings.” Anguttara Nikaya 4.241-243

6. “But he who lives purely and self assured, in quietness and virtue, who is without harm or hurt or blame, even if he wears fine clothes, so long as he also has faith, he is a true seeker.” Dhammapada, chapter 10, verse 142

“There is no fetter bound by which Citta the householder could return to this world.” Samyutta Nikaya 41.9 (Citta was a non-returner and a lay man)

“I say there is no difference between a lay follower who is liberated in mind and a bhikkhu who has been liberated in mind, that is, between one liberation and the other.”
Samyutta Nikaya 55.54

7. “The bhikkhuni Dhammadina is wise, Visakha, the bhikkhuni Dhammadina has great wisdom. If you had asked me the meaning of this, I would have explained it to you in the same way that the bhikkhuni Dhammadina has explained it. Such is its meaning and you should remember it.”
Majjhima Nikaya 44.31 (On the occasion of bhikkhuni Dhammadina giving a Dhamma talk to a man with the Buddha listening.)

8. “I will not take final Nibbana till I have nuns and female disciples who are accomplished, till I have laymen and laywomen followers who are accomplished.”
Digha Nikaya 16.3.8

9. Mara’s three offspring are named Lobha, Dosa and Moha, meaning Greed, Hatred and Delusion (mental states). Samyutta Nikaya 1 Mara-samyutta

10. “Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.” Anguttara Nikaya 5.177

“He should not kill a living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should he incite another to kill. Do not injure any being, either strong or weak, in the world.”
Khuddaka Nikaya, Sutta Nipata, Dhammika Sutta
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Re: Modern Theravada description

Postby Will » Wed Dec 31, 2008 4:38 pm

So aside from #9 re: planes as mental states, there are no other doctrinal differences between modern & classical?

Also I thought the suttas made clear that the jhanas (mental conditions) are doorways to the deva realms? So why would the classical think a meditative, mental doorway would lead to a physical place?
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Re: Modern Theravada description

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Dec 31, 2008 5:03 pm

Will wrote:So aside from #9 re: planes as mental states, there are no other doctrinal differences between modern & classical?

Also I thought the suttas made clear that the jhanas (mental conditions) are doorways to the deva realms? So why would the classical think a meditative, mental doorway would lead to a physical place?


Yes, I suppose that is the only 'doctrinal' difference, the rest is mostly politics.

Good point about the doorways from the jhanas, but the Suttas make it sound like real physical places in many passages. Perhaps they are physical or perhaps it was skilful means by the Buddha?
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Re: Modern Theravada description

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:26 pm

Will wrote:So aside from #9 re: planes as mental states, there are no other doctrinal differences between modern & classical?

Also I thought the suttas made clear that the jhanas (mental conditions) are doorways to the deva realms? So why would the classical think a meditative, mental doorway would lead to a physical place?



well if you look at the first verse of the Dhammapada you will see why I suppose! why does rebirth need to be another life like reincarnation? or are we constantly going through the Birth, ageing, and death process?

my answer to these are - it is this life that matters so what would be the point in doing something for a fruit we can not experience in the here and now! if the Jhana levels are mental absorptions therefore Mind created (as the Buddha realised) the mind state associated with a particular type of deva being present isn't contradictory

Heaven and hell are no farther than a mind states arising away!

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Modern Theravada description

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Jan 01, 2009 12:25 am

Greetings,

I know TheDhamma is fond of lists ;) but rather than state a list of what being a "Modern Theravadin" entails I find it's more useful to think in terms of what issues exists where viewpoints deviate from the Classical Mahavihara perspective. According to venerable Dhammanando, these issues include:

the interpretation of certain Vinaya rules;
the necessity or otherwise of jhānic cultivation;
the soundness of this or that meditation method;
the validity of the Abhidhamma and Pali commentaries;
whether study or practice should take priority;
whether priority should be given to the Buddha-word or to the words of contemporary spiritual virtuosos;
the extent to which adaptation to modernity is desirable;
the appropriate attitude towards non-Theravada schools;
the contemporary relevance of the bhikkhusangha;
the question of bhikkhunī revival;


I would add interpretation of dependent origination as an issue to this list (unless you prefer to see it as an example of the fourth point). I would also add the question of whether to believe tradition explanations for the origins of texts or those obtained from modern textual analysis.

Either way, I don't think there's a hard'n'fast description of Modern Theravada other than that today as Theravadins we come across these kinds of issues and often have to side one way or the other for the sake of internal consistency within our practice. I see it a little like a political party that has its own internal 'left' and 'right' factions... they don't always agree with each other on every single point, but there's enough commonality between them (in this case, the massive set of literature comprised within the Sutta and Vinaya Pitaka) that they still fall under the same category and work towards similar goals using similar means.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Modern Theravada description

Postby Will » Thu Jan 01, 2009 12:49 am

Manapa wrote:
Will wrote:So aside from #9 re: planes as mental states, there are no other doctrinal differences between modern & classical?

Also I thought the suttas made clear that the jhanas (mental conditions) are doorways to the deva realms? So why would the classical think a meditative, mental doorway would lead to a physical place?



well if you look at the first verse of the Dhammapada you will see why I suppose! why does rebirth need to be another life like reincarnation? or are we constantly going through the Birth, ageing, and death process?

my answer to these are - it is this life that matters so what would be the point in doing something for a fruit we can not experience in the here and now! if the Jhana levels are mental absorptions therefore Mind created (as the Buddha realised) the mind state associated with a particular type of deva being present isn't contradictory

Heaven and hell are no farther than a mind states arising away!

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.


Will is a bear of very little brain, so he does not know what or why you suppose.

Manapa writes:
what would be the point in doing something for a fruit we can not experience in the here and now!


Do you really think we are that much in charge of every impulsive thought, feeling or word? And even if we were, are you crystal clear on what conditions are needed for the vipaka (is that the right word?) or result to occur only in this lifetime?

David: Are you teasing the Mahayana wannabe (me) or does the Theravada really have a notion of "skillful means"?
This noble eightfold path is the ancient path traveled by all the Buddhas of eons past. Nagara Sutta
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Re: Modern Theravada description

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Jan 01, 2009 12:55 am

Greetings Will,

The Pali term for "skilful means" is upāyakosallasampatti

According to Bhikkhu Pesala, it means..

“Skilful means” is the genius that is equal to the task whenever he undertakes to help others. Literally, it is the “attainment of special aptitude in strategy.” (source: http://www.aimwell.org/Books/Ledi/Uttam ... tions.html)

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
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Re: Modern Theravada description

Postby Will » Thu Jan 01, 2009 2:27 am

Thanks retro and even more grateful am I for that link to the Ledi Sayadaw book, which gives the bodhisatta ideal as found in the Theravada.
This noble eightfold path is the ancient path traveled by all the Buddhas of eons past. Nagara Sutta
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Re: Modern Theravada description

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Jan 01, 2009 3:07 am

Greetings Will,

I'm pretty sure Ben is a fan of that book, so I'm sure he'll be happy to discuss it in the thread I see you've created for it in the Classical section.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
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Re: Modern Theravada description

Postby Cittasanto » Thu Jan 01, 2009 10:38 am

Hi Will

Will Writes:
Will is a bear of very little brain, so he does not know what or why you suppose.

Ok I suppose if you look at the first verse of the Dhammapada you will see why it shifted from an actual place to a mental state! the Jhanas are mind born after all as the Buddha realised before his enlightenment then he remembered the meditation he done as a child at the Festival!

I quoted the first verse at the bottom of the last post!

Will Writes:
Do you really think we are that much in charge of every impulsive thought, feeling or word? And even if we were, are you crystal clear on what conditions are needed for the vipaka (is that the right word?) or result to occur only in this lifetime?


If we follow the instructions yes if we are swayed by the eight worldly winds then no, watch the mind and do what you want not what your thoughts, moods, feelings say to do!
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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