Modern Theravada

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Modern Theravada

Postby greggorious » Mon Apr 15, 2013 7:40 pm

Is the term 'Modern Theravada' a contradiction in terms? Afterall Theravada means 'Teaching of the elders'. I've noticed this term being applied to teachers such as Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Tara Brach etc, who seem to incorporate Theravada, Zen and Tibetan into their teachings and call it modern Theravada.
"The original heart/mind shines like pure, clear water with the sweetest taste. But if the heart is pure, is our practice over? No, we must not cling even to this purity. We must go beyond all duality, all concepts, all bad, all good, all pure, all impure. We must go beyond self and nonself, beyond birth and death. When we see with the eye of wisdom, we know that the true Buddha is timeless, unborn, unrelated to any body, any history, any image. Buddha is the ground of all being, the realization of the truth of the unmoving mind.” Ajahn Chah
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby reflection » Mon Apr 15, 2013 8:33 pm

It may be, but it's just a way of describing a path of practice by people who think everything is better once it has a label. :tongue:
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Apr 15, 2013 9:11 pm

Here are some possible definitions:

1. The "Teaching of the Elders" with a modern twist; open to teachings from Zen, Mahayana, Vajrayana, & modern scholars
2. The modern movement of getting back to / focusing on the earliest teachings, i.e. Suttanta (whereas classical Theravada has an almost equal affinity toward the Abhidhamma and Commentaries at the same level as the Suttas)
3. Theravada, with a concern for some modern social issues; egalitarianism, bhikkhuni ordinations, gay rights, environmentalism, etc.
4. All of the above.
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Mon Apr 15, 2013 9:18 pm

5. A hotch-potch of the teacher's personal opinions, labelled as "Modern" to make it look like he/she is not old-fashioned or narrow-minded and as "Theravāda" to give it an air of authority and orthodoxy.
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby Digity » Mon Apr 15, 2013 9:42 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:5. A hotch-potch of the teacher's personal opinions, labelled as "Modern" to make it look like he/she is not old-fashioned or narrow-minded and as "Theravāda" to give it an air of authority and orthodoxy.

Lol! I think this pretty much sums it up!
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby greggorious » Mon Apr 15, 2013 10:08 pm

I don't understand what Bhikku said, though it sounded a little bitter.
"The original heart/mind shines like pure, clear water with the sweetest taste. But if the heart is pure, is our practice over? No, we must not cling even to this purity. We must go beyond all duality, all concepts, all bad, all good, all pure, all impure. We must go beyond self and nonself, beyond birth and death. When we see with the eye of wisdom, we know that the true Buddha is timeless, unborn, unrelated to any body, any history, any image. Buddha is the ground of all being, the realization of the truth of the unmoving mind.” Ajahn Chah
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby Ben » Mon Apr 15, 2013 10:17 pm

Greg,

The important thing is once you have found a teacher or approach that you have confidence in is to engage with the Dhamma and practice sila, samadhi, and panna.
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby reflection » Mon Apr 15, 2013 10:36 pm

Some things in Buddhism, and perhaps Theravada especially, can really benefit from some modernization. So, not so bad. Not so bad at all.
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby Digity » Tue Apr 16, 2013 1:37 am

I just don't like the pick and choose mindset and sometimes when I think "modern" I think watered down to be palatable for today's society.
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby Dan74 » Tue Apr 16, 2013 1:42 am

Ben wrote:Greg,

The important thing is once you have found a teacher or approach that you have confidence in is to engage with the Dhamma and practice sila, samadhi, and panna.
kind regards,

Ben


:goodpost:
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby Samma » Tue Apr 16, 2013 2:33 am

Basically it seems like what they are saying is they accpet much of historical theravada or have that background, but don't want to accept certain aspects. Thus the modern qualifier...whatever it means. Like secular buddhism too right?

Maybe this will help with some background. I wonder what Gil would say now around this topic.
At a vipassana teachers’ meeting at Spirit Rock Center in September 1993, the thirty or so attending teachers were asked if they considered themselves teachers of Theravada Buddhism. Surprisingly, of this group only three clearly identified themselves with the tradition from which their practice came, that is, the ancient Theravada school of Buddhism that survives predominantly in Southeast Asia. At similar meetings at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, most of the attending vipassana teachers likewise did not consider themselves Theravada teachers. In September 1994, the dozen teachers directly involved-with teaching at Spirit Rock debated whether or not Spirit Rock should be considered a Theravada center. After the various reasons for and against such an identification were expressed (e.g., the benefits of being connected to a specific lineage versus the difficulties of relating to the life-denying, other-worldly and dua1istic aspects of the tradition), it became clear that the majority of the teachers did not want such a label, preferring to see the center as inspired by, but independent from, the Theravada tradition.
http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/ ... theravada/


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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Apr 16, 2013 2:15 pm

I've listened to dozens of dhamma talks over the years, mostly (though not exclusively) from teachers associated with IMS, Spirit Rock or other "modern Theravada" currents. And my experience is that there's quite a range.

There are definitely some teachers who fit Bhante's description -- offering a personal and idiosyncratic "hodgepodge" of practices and beliefs. I do note that these teachers tend not to identify themselves as Theravada specifically...more as vaguely-defined "insight" or "meditation" specialists.

There are others who adhere closely to the Pali Canon, while formulating the teachings in a way suitable for a predominantly secular and lay audience. These are the ones I like best, personally, and the ones whose talks I most often return to. Usually it turns out that they have done some serious study in Burma, Sri Lanka or Thailand, under the direction of a respected master.

And there are some teachers who have not only done serious study in the Theravada tradition, but also gone off and practiced with a Dzogchen guru, Zen master and so on. Sometimes this variety of experience can lead to a hodgepodge; sometimes it can make for a very well-informed teacher.

I notice that modern Theravada teachers are less authoritarian tone and also prefer gentler ways of dealing with unwholesome qualities. For example, you don't hear so much talk of "suppression" -- more of "noting", "accepting", "giving space" and so on. One thing that I find interesting is that you can find this split in secular psychology/therapy also. Many years ago I suffered from a debilitating form of OCD that was characterized by intrusive, disturbing thoughts, and I got to know the various cognitive strategies quite well. Some advocated tough, suppressive measures, others the gentler approach. I used the latter, successfully, so I may be somewhat biased in favor of this approach! But different cases may require different medicine.
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby Mr Man » Tue Apr 16, 2013 2:51 pm

For me theravada is intrinsically linked with monasticism.
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed Apr 17, 2013 9:20 am

Buddhism isn't immune from the trends of fashion. ;)
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby Paribbajaka » Wed Apr 24, 2013 1:27 pm

I think it's a disservice both to the Dhamma and to practitioners to crticize attempts at modernization as a "watering down" of the teaching or creating a "hodge podge" or similar sentiments.

Like every living religious tradition, Theravada must constantly adapt or die. This is the nature of the religion business, and every society, culture, and generation will adapt the religion to their own needs. This is nothing new. Thai monks give away lucky amulets and winning lottery numbers, things I'm fairly certain the historical Buddha would frown upon, but because it happens in Thailand and it's acceptable to the orthodox Theravada community. Meanwhile if, say, a western monk begins ordaining nuns again a schism erupts and people begin crying heresy. The Brahma Viharas are loving kindness, compassion, wisdom, equanimity, and empathic joy, yet people get hung up on who isn't wearing the right clothes and who isn't pointing their feet the right way and *gasp* who is doing a practice applicable to 21st century life instead of attempting and failing to do it the way they did 2,500 years ago. I'd say the whole loving each other and being happy thing may be a little more important than sticking rigidly to the way it's always been done when historical evidence again and again shows that our conception of the way it was always done is not as clear as had previously been thought

When the Lord Buddha saw Sigalaka worshipping the six directions, he didn't reprimand him or teach him pure Dhamma, he provded a Buddhist frame for Sigalaska to continue his practice. No "watering down", no "muddying", no fear that foreign practices would pollute his pure practice, but accomadating and adapting instead of excluding and isolating. Even in traditional Theravadin countries, animistic and shamanistic practices were integrated into the Dhamma instead of being thought of as impure influences.

Every religion must make a decision: does it want to remain the same or does it want to remain alive? Due to the wider access to knowledge through technology and modern society, people are no longer willing to accept answers based on authority or tradition (something else the spoke on I think). So no, modern Theravada is not an oxymoron, it's simply the tradition and its adherents evolving together as has been the case throughout the history of humanity. Sorry for the :soap:
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby Digity » Wed Apr 24, 2013 2:20 pm

Paribbajaka wrote:I think it's a disservice both to the Dhamma and to practitioners to crticize attempts at modernization as a "watering down" of the teaching or creating a "hodge podge" or similar sentiments.

Like every living religious tradition, Theravada must constantly adapt or die. This is the nature of the religion business, and every society, culture, and generation will adapt the religion to their own needs. This is nothing new. Thai monks give away lucky amulets and winning lottery numbers, things I'm fairly certain the historical Buddha would frown upon, but because it happens in Thailand and it's acceptable to the orthodox Theravada community. Meanwhile if, say, a western monk begins ordaining nuns again a schism erupts and people begin crying heresy. The Brahma Viharas are loving kindness, compassion, wisdom, equanimity, and empathic joy, yet people get hung up on who isn't wearing the right clothes and who isn't pointing their feet the right way and *gasp* who is doing a practice applicable to 21st century life instead of attempting and failing to do it the way they did 2,500 years ago. I'd say the whole loving each other and being happy thing may be a little more important than sticking rigidly to the way it's always been done when historical evidence again and again shows that our conception of the way it was always done is not as clear as had previously been thought

When the Lord Buddha saw Sigalaka worshipping the six directions, he didn't reprimand him or teach him pure Dhamma, he provded a Buddhist frame for Sigalaska to continue his practice. No "watering down", no "muddying", no fear that foreign practices would pollute his pure practice, but accomadating and adapting instead of excluding and isolating. Even in traditional Theravadin countries, animistic and shamanistic practices were integrated into the Dhamma instead of being thought of as impure influences.

Every religion must make a decision: does it want to remain the same or does it want to remain alive? Due to the wider access to knowledge through technology and modern society, people are no longer willing to accept answers based on authority or tradition (something else the spoke on I think). So no, modern Theravada is not an oxymoron, it's simply the tradition and its adherents evolving together as has been the case throughout the history of humanity. Sorry for the :soap:


You make a good point. However, you can only go so far to adapt to new cultures. In the end, the core teachings must be preserved. My biggest issue with "modern" Buddhism is when it gets all "new-agey" about the teachings....or when teachers start picking and choosing from different forms of Buddhism and start constructing their own...they'll teach Theravada Buddhism, but also talk about "Buddha Nature", etc. Stuff like that tends to bother me. In the end, maybe it's a pure preference thing and everyone should just seek out those teachers who resonate with them the most.
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Apr 24, 2013 2:48 pm

How do folks here feel about the kind of approach developed at Amaravati -- what might be called "English Theravada," perhaps?

I have been listening to many talks from their site and they strike me as finding the optimal balance between tradition and modernity. It's still "Western/Modern Theravada" though, so there are probably some differences of emphasis compared to practice in South Asia.
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby Paribbajaka » Wed Apr 24, 2013 3:27 pm

Digity wrote:You make a good point. However, you can only go so far to adapt to new cultures. In the end, the core teachings must be preserved. My biggest issue with "modern" Buddhism is when it gets all "new-agey" about the teachings....or when teachers start picking and choosing from different forms of Buddhism and start constructing their own...they'll teach Theravada Buddhism, but also talk about "Buddha Nature", etc. Stuff like that tends to bother me. In the end, maybe it's a pure preference thing and everyone should just seek out those teachers who resonate with them the most.


I actually agree on all points. I practice Theravada because it is what can most reliably traced back to the Buddha. With that said, I also think staying relevant is important and that tradition and modernity can be compatible. Attachment to views is still attachment!

And as much as the new agey Buddhists bug me, I try I remember that at least some of them will eventually stick to a firmer practice. When I started practicing it was with the very secularized, very western rationalist aspects we see currently around, but through contact with good teachers and my own progress settled in to a more traditional viewpoint . I think we should redirect everyons varied entries to the Dhamma without losing sight of what the core of the Dhamma is.
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby Digity » Wed Apr 24, 2013 3:35 pm

When I think of watered down Buddhism I think of the new-agey, airy-fairy, everything is perfect in the present moment type stuff. Sure, I understand that these sort of teachings do touch on some truth, but it's usually kind of deluded thinking and not really touching on the core of the Buddha's teachings. That's why I worry about adapting the teachings too much. You have to really trust the person who are doing the adapting. They have to have a really solid understanding of the teachings. You gave the example of the Buddha and the six directions….the thing is, it was the Buddha who did that. He knew what he was doing. Now you're handing off this responsibility to far less enlightened individuals and that's where you can run into problems. That's why I think it's best to stay as close to the original teachings as possible, because the Buddha is gone now. If you keep modernizing and changing you can go down a slippery slope, because you can't always trust whose leading the way in this new age.
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Re: Modern Theravada

Postby binocular » Wed Apr 24, 2013 3:39 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:5. A hotch-potch of the teacher's personal opinions, labelled as "Modern" to make it look like he/she is not old-fashioned or narrow-minded and as "Theravāda" to give it an air of authority and orthodoxy.


I don't get this, though. If those teachers are so sure they know better than the Buddha, better than the Pali Canon and the tradition, why don't they just call it after themselves? Why rely on the traditional name for authority and orthodoxy?
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