Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

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

Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby Dan74 » Tue Nov 15, 2011 11:31 am

In my time as a student buddhist society secretary, I recall we asked a number of ethnic monks to come and give a talk. As long as we could provide transport, all obliged. So like others have said, if asked monks do tend to share the Dhamma to the best of their ability, which is more in some cases than others.

Should there be more effort made to reach out to Westerners? Maybe. Some temples are already run off their feet catering to their ethnic community's needs. Others are more on the lazy side.

C'est la vie...

PS. On retro's side of town, I only know of an active Vietnamese temple of Ven Phuoc Tan (where Lawrence Mills (Phra Khantipalo) stayed for some time) who does a lot of work in Vietnamese community but also does things with Westerners. He is more Mahayana though, I believe. On this side of town, there is Dhammasukkha of Ven U Pandita I mentioned earlier who runs classes in English. So things do happen. I am sure there are many more I am not aware of. Of course the quality of the monks and their level of commitment to the Dhamma varies, but so does the quality and commitment of the lay practitioners. ;)
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby Kim OHara » Tue Nov 15, 2011 11:55 am

retrofuturist wrote: ...So if this isn't about the Triple Gem, which "culture" are we actually dealing with here? The "pilgrim" culture that's excited about Gombrich's challenge and gives it the big thumbs up? The "chownah" culture whose first response was to take umbrage at the English imperialists? The "ven. Appicchato" culture who acknowledges that Gombrich makes a good point but is skeptical it will be heard by those who would do well to hear it? Just as there is no homogenised Western culture, there is no homogenised Asian culture either... we're dealing with people, individuals... many views.

What we do have in common though is our common Buddhist heritage - the Dhamma of the Buddha. That seems the most appropriate medium by which we could be "trying to find common ground". If that involves relinquishing some "comfort", we should not be surprised - the Dhamma does go against the grain, and always has.

Hi, Retro, all,
Something that I was going to write in response to Alan earlier to day (but the internet dropped out) seems just as appropriate here:
Kim wrote:'We' is a construct, a figment of the way the language works.
Each of us has attitudes and priorities we share with others, but action can only start with the individual. Each of us should act on his/her beliefs, act in accordance with the dhamma as he/she understands it.

...which is another way of saying it's pointless trying to impose a universal solution on multifarious people; also of saying that it would be far better to go out and talk to the real people we can perhaps share with, rather than setting up a line of imaginary stereotypical strawmen and deciding whether or not they should be knocked over.

Or something like that. :smile:

:namaste:
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Nov 15, 2011 12:25 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:...which is another way of saying it's pointless trying to impose a universal solution on multifarious people; also of saying that it would be far better to go out and talk to the real people we can perhaps share with, rather than setting up a line of imaginary stereotypical strawmen and deciding whether or not they should be knocked over.

I agree. I think it's better to try find common ground by interacting with, and trying to understand, people on their own terms before rushing to propose solutions to the real or imagined shortcomings of their Dhamma culture...

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Nov 15, 2011 12:30 pm

retrofuturist wrote:What we do have in common though is our common Buddhist heritage - the Dhamma of the Buddha. That seems the most appropriate medium by which we could be "trying to find common ground". If that involves relinquishing some "comfort", we should not be surprised - the Dhamma does go against the grain, and always has.

On that point, I've found it good exercise to let go of the craving to know what exactly is going on in situations where people are not speaking English... There are positive and negative aspects of all situations...

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby daverupa » Tue Nov 15, 2011 12:43 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote:...which is another way of saying it's pointless trying to impose a universal solution on multifarious people; also of saying that it would be far better to go out and talk to the real people we can perhaps share with, rather than setting up a line of imaginary stereotypical strawmen and deciding whether or not they should be knocked over.

I agree. I think it's better to try find common ground by interacting with, and trying to understand, people on their own terms before rushing to propose solutions to the real or imagined shortcomings of their Dhamma culture...

:anjali:
Mike


daverupa wrote:It's worth spending quite a bit of time on solving these deep problems; "hopefully things will change" can only occur when people comprise the change, a fact which demands earnest personal engagement.


I conveyed a similar idea earlier, but notice how "impose" and "shortcomings" have made an appearance as part of the argument, when this way of engaging with the topic was never introduced except by those arguing against it.

It seems people see the Gombrich piece as challenging the way ASIAN CULTURE does things; but that's a red herring. It's challenging the way THERAVADAN BUDDHISTS have historically, and up to today, done things. That they have been mostly enmeshed in an Asian culture is purely incidental, and by speaking about these things I do so with Western biases, but as a Buddhist. This is the playing field within which we should communicate, not some culture or emergent tradition.

This incessant nation/culture/etc. talk is precisely the problem.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Nov 15, 2011 3:03 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Tilt,

tiltbillings wrote:It is a matter trying to find common ground in trying to understand and work with other cultures whose response to things can be quite different than Western cultures.

I don't know where all Dhamma Wheel members live, but I know at least three participants in this topic to date who live in Asia...
Oh, well. You still do not quite get it.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Nov 15, 2011 3:14 pm

daverupa wrote:This incessant nation/culture/etc. talk is precisely the problem.

I totally agree. I don't see why it keeps getting raised. Since I spent some time living in Asia speaking almost exclusively English so for me to complain, for example, that Thai people speak Thai in their Wats would be hypocritical... It's just something one has to deal with, not some nationalistic conspiracy on the part of the Thai Sangha...

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby daverupa » Tue Nov 15, 2011 5:23 pm

mikenz66 wrote:some nationalistic conspiracy on the part of the Thai Sangha...


...this was never claimed, or even obliquely mentioned. Do you perceive this to be a claim made somewhere in this thread, or by offline others in connection with this topic?
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Nov 15, 2011 6:46 pm

daverupa wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:some nationalistic conspiracy on the part of the Thai Sangha...


...this was never claimed, or even obliquely mentioned. Do you perceive this to be a claim made somewhere in this thread, or by offline others in connection with this topic?

OK, perhaps I misunderstand the reason for quoting for example:
viewtopic.php?f=14&t=10426#p159182
Gombrich wrote:Rather than teaching Buddhism to the indigenous people of their host countries, they mainly run cultural centres for the Buddhist immigrants from their countries of origin, centres which indeed operate largely in Sinhalese, Burmese, Thai, etc., not in the language of the country where the missions operate. To run such a centre is not in itself an unworthy thing to do: in the modern world most countries regard providing cultural attachés and consular services as part of their diplomatic mission. But if this is the main and central activity of the mission, it points to an extremely serious underlying weakness in the Theravāda Buddhism we find in the world today: its parochial nationalism.

And viewtopic.php?f=14&t=10426&start=20#p159361
daverupa wrote:I think this speech trumps The Broken Buddha by couching the key problem - parochial nationalism - amidst very important modern ethical and moral issues (women, bhikkhunis, political murder, war, etc.).

If I've misunderstood,then I am pleased, since I don't see people using their own language and organising their institutions in their own way either particularly surprising or evidence of "parochial nationalism".

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby daverupa » Tue Nov 15, 2011 7:17 pm

mikenz66 wrote:I don't see people using their own language and organising their institutions in their own way either particularly surprising or evidence of "parochial nationalism".


And yet:

mikenz66 wrote:That there is parochial nationalism is undeniable. But, to me, Thai people are parochial nationalists in much the same way as people in most countries are. They have their country and their culture and they are proud of it.


Despite an apparent about-face, your focus seems to be on the immigrant temple environment. Very well.

The criticism here was that cultural performance and continuity were inappropriate as primary functions of Buddhist temples. That these temples perform these functions was not described as a problem in and of itself; the problem is that a Thai Buddhist temple (to use one nation as an example) is Thai first and Buddhist second.

Indeed, Thai ritual behavior (extra cloth so monks can receive gifts from women, for example) is touted as fulfilling Buddhist principles, which is simply false as there is no Vinaya precedent for this misogyny. The prevention of female ordination is another such issue that results from this culture-first attitude - i.e. parochial nationalism. (Need we remind ourselves of the WPP fiasco over bhikkuni ordinations in Australia?) Furthermore, these are only some of the problems addressed in the article.

Do you still insist that your local anecdote somehow allays these institutionalized deficiencies?
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Nov 15, 2011 9:44 pm

Greetings,

daverupa wrote:I conveyed a similar idea earlier, but notice how "impose" and "shortcomings" have made an appearance as part of the argument, when this way of engaging with the topic was never introduced except by those arguing against it.

It seems people see the Gombrich piece as challenging the way ASIAN CULTURE does things; but that's a red herring. It's challenging the way THERAVADAN BUDDHISTS have historically, and up to today, done things. That they have been mostly enmeshed in an Asian culture is purely incidental, and by speaking about these things I do so with Western biases, but as a Buddhist. This is the playing field within which we should communicate, not some culture or emergent tradition.

This incessant nation/culture/etc. talk is precisely the problem.

:goodpost:

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)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby chownah » Wed Nov 16, 2011 1:48 am

retrofuturist wrote: The "chownah" culture whose first response was to take umbrage at the English imperialists?
............
...........
What we do have in common though is our common Buddhist heritage -

I can see why you are calling this my culture....but really I think you are mistaken. I do not take umbrage at Englis imperialists. I think your comment was meant to describe thoughts of western imperialism as being a journey into fantasy. It is easy for people living within the realms of imperialist powers to discount the effects of imperialism....after all the imperialist actions taken by those powers is and has been external so it is not felt by those internal. The bulk of Asia is a different matter entirely. Think of a map of Asia and then think Pakistan+India+Bangladesh+Burma+Hong Kong+Macau+Singapore+Malaysia+Who Have I Forgotten=Ruled by Great Britain not so long ago.....then think Laos+Cambodia+Vietnam=Ruled by France not so long ago....then think Phillipine Islands=Ruled by Spain not so long ago....then think Virtually all of East Asia=Conquered by Japan not so long ago.......Imperialism has been the history of Asia....Imperialism has left a deep mark in all of the cultures of Asia.....violence as a result of imperialist actions is still playing out today on the border of Thailand and Cambodia where the French established their own border when they stole vast territiories from what was then part of Thailand...this territorial grab was resulted in a border which arbitrarily assigned owership of land with no regard for the cultures of the people who lived across that border....people are still dieing form it today. Even beyond this....go to the individual level....Thailand is full of foreigners who want to tell Thai people how to run their lives....from Christian missionaries to foreign businesses to expats who want to teach Thais the error of their ways and to show them the right way to build a house, to raise rice, to husband animals, to organize their society, how to practice their Buddhism....and goodness knows that everywhere in the world there is a need to improve on these things but Thai people see westerners approaches to these things as being arrogance...and from what I have seen in some/many/most situations of this kind they are correct. Thais want to maintain their cultural identity......and there are alot of wonderful things in Thai culture....things that westerners would benefit to learn....there are also some not so wonderful things...things that westerners would benefit to learn from....

You say what we have in common is our common Buddhist heritage. You are wrong. We do not have a common Buddhist heritage culture....it is shear fantasy to think that Buddhists throughout the world have a common Buddhist heritage culture....Buddists can't even agree on some of the most fundamental points of doctrine.....and clearly it all diverges from there....there is no common Buddhist heritage.

chownah
P.S. Think Vietnam+Laos+Cambodia=Bombed by the United States of America not so long ago.....I try to be an equal opportunity finger pointer....sorry for this serious omission above.
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby chownah » Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:12 am

Thai ritual behavior (extra cloth so monks can receive gifts from women, for example) is touted as fulfilling Buddhist principles, which is simply false as there is no Vinaya precedent for this misogyny.

This practice, while being ridiculous, is not carried out with misogyny...at least not from anything I have seen. But then I have only observed a very small number of monks and how they interact with women.....if you have some evidence of misogyny in the Thai monkhood then please bring it forward....I think this is really a very serous charge you are making and that it is groundless....have you had and face to face dealings with Thai monks?
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:12 am

Greetings Chownah,

chownah wrote:I think your comment was meant to describe thoughts of western imperialism as being a journey into fantasy.

Actually, it was only meant to demonstrate that there is no single homogenized "Asian culture" we are dealing with. The small sample of three (and the difference in your thoughts on the subject vis-a-vis pilgrim & ven. Appicchato) was sufficient to show that. As I have said though, this is about Theravada Buddhism... and having it framed it as a supposed attack on "Asian culture" by "Western culture" is quite unfortunate, and is a complete red herring, as Daverupa pointed out above.

In another recent topic - viewtopic.php?f=14&t=10445 - pilgrim anecdoctally observes a decline in the Theravada bhikkhu population in traditional Theravada countries over recent decades, so if Theravada Buddhism is facing a challenge in maintaining relevance in the face of modernity, then this is a relevant concern to Theravada Buddhists without anyone even mentioning the "Western" bogey man.

chownah wrote:You say what we have in common is our common Buddhist heritage. You are wrong. We do not have a common Buddhist heritage culture....it is shear fantasy to think that Buddhists throughout the world have a common Buddhist heritage culture....Buddists can't even agree on some of the most fundamental points of doctrine.....and clearly it all diverges from there....there is no common Buddhist heritage.

If all there is is refuge in the Triple Gem - then that is a start. If there is not even that, Theravada Buddhism may as well pack up and go home.

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: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby chownah » Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:27 am

It seems people see the Gombrich piece as challenging the way ASIAN CULTURE does things; but that's a red herring. It's challenging the way THERAVADAN BUDDHISTS have historically, and up to today, done things.

You are exactly correct....he is challenging the way Theravadan Budhists are doing things....this approach seems to have unfortunately left him blind to the multiplicity of Theravadan Buddhist Heritages (note, plural, "heritages") as he seems to think his own Theravadan Buddhist Heritage which seems to include a healthy dolop of proslytization is superior to theirs....like Lord of the Rings: One Theravadan Buoddhist Heritage to rule them all!!!!
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:30 am

Greetings Chownah,

chownah wrote:multiplicity of Theravadan Buddhist Heritages (note, plural, "heritages")

... or "diversity within the Theravada Buddhist heritage"?

To me, there is a big difference between the two - the former leads to factionalism and exclusion, the latter to tolerance and inclusion.

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: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby daverupa » Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:36 am

chownah wrote:This practice, while being ridiculous, is not carried out with misogyny...at least not from anything I have seen. But then I have only observed a very small number of monks and how they interact with women.....if you have some evidence of misogyny in the Thai monkhood then please bring it forward....I think this is really a very serous charge you are making and that it is groundless....have you had and face to face dealings with Thai monks?
chownah


Richard Gombrich wrote:We are therefore dealing not just with a misguided ritual obsession but with true misogyny, a horror and dread of women, a fear that the slightest contact with a female is seductive and may inspire lust.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby alan » Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:55 am

Asians are no longer leading the way. From what I've read, and experienced, they gave up that prerogative long ago. It's up to us now, and the most important thing is to establish a baseline. I'm with Retro, who, a few pages back before this thread degenerated into pointless bickering, suggested that we take the Buddha at his word and follow the suttas.
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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Nov 16, 2011 3:08 am

alan wrote:Asians are no longer leading the way. From what I've read, and experienced, they gave up that prerogative long ago.
Who did? And you base this upon what assessment?

t's up to us now, and the most important thing is to establish a baseline.
Us? And who is this "us"? And who determines what the supposed baseline is based upon what?

I'm with Retro, who, a few pages back before this thread degenerated into pointless bickering, suggested that we take the Buddha at his word and follow the suttas.
Which, of course, are embedded with a cultural matrix, and for most "us" we have to rely on translations, which require the translator to have have, themselves, dealt with the contexts of these texts.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Richard Gombrich - Comfort or Challenge?

Postby manas » Wed Nov 16, 2011 3:14 am

Richard Gombrich wrote:We are therefore dealing not just with a misguided ritual obsession but with true misogyny, a horror and dread of women, a fear that the slightest contact with a female is seductive and may inspire lust.
By him making this extreme statement, I feel justified in wondering whether Gombrich has any idea of how challenging it is to practice strict, long-term celibacy (for a normal male). We don't have the Buddha, or nearly as many Arahants around nowdays, to support our practice of strict brahmacariya (for those men who choose it). If monks have found a little extra way to safeguard their minds from lust arising, then why not? If Bhikkhunis requested the same procedure regarding offerings from male laymen, would we object, calling it 'misandry'? I think not!

I know this diverges a little from what people are currently talking about, but I add it because it shows once again how we need to be careful when reading critiques of Buddhist monastic culture if they are written by a scholar rather than a practitioner, even when that scholar is sympathetic to Buddhism. There can be certain things they misconstrue, imo.

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