The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby Mr Man » Wed May 29, 2013 8:16 am

I guess teachers can only teach what they know, what they are familiar with and what they have been taught. I'm sure most legitimate teachers would teach what they have found useful and what they would perceive as being useful to others.

Possibly some practices also require a greater supervision and this isn't practicable in you average teacher/lay student relationship. Also possibly some teaches are guiding other practices but this is on a more ad-hoc basis.

I imagine many lay theravadins practice some kind of reflection on the qualities of the triple gem, brahma viharas, sila, mortality, elements etc. and I'm sure guidance can be found if one has the inclination.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed May 29, 2013 8:49 am

daverupa wrote:They are simply not given equal attention in the Nikayas; after all, the Samyutta Nikaya has an anapanasati samyutta, but no mention of kasinas at all...


Yes, anapanasati is referred to more frequently in the suttas. Though most references to samatha, samadhi and the jhanas don't specify a meditation object atall.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed May 29, 2013 9:24 am

chownah wrote:....it seems that the contemplation of the colors is pretty simple and there seems to be no reason why it need be restricted to Buddhist venues in that it seems it can be explained and done with no reference to anything strictly Buddhist in origin or nature.


All that applies to breathing meditation too. ;)
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby daverupa » Wed May 29, 2013 10:55 am

Spiny Norman wrote:
chownah wrote:....it seems that the contemplation of the colors is pretty simple and there seems to be no reason why it need be restricted to Buddhist venues in that it seems it can be explained and done with no reference to anything strictly Buddhist in origin or nature.


All that applies to breathing meditation too. ;)


This is precisely why having a method "satipatthana-d" for us in the Nikayas is so valuable.

SN 54.6 wrote:"There is that mindfulness of in-&-out breathing, Arittha. I don't say that there isn't. But as to how mindfulness of in-&-out breathing is brought in detail to its culmination, listen and pay close attention. I will speak."
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    "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: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby Sekha » Wed May 29, 2013 10:57 am

mettafuture wrote:
Sekha wrote:The very weak point of your assertion here is that you consider that the public should adapt itself to the teaching

Practice can't do any good if we insist on clinging to the sense pleasures of our cultures.

I think it is worthwhile here to re-situate what we are talking about: "western" meditation teachers, by which I assume is understood meditation teachers who teach primarily or to a large extent to westerners. If we are indeed in this context, it must not be forgotten that those teachers are constantly in contact with "non-buddhists first-timers", and therefore there is no room in this situation for discussing what the students should be like. The average person living in a capitalist industrialized country is generally a hedonist, because hedonism is a key characteristic of capitalist societies since Edward Bernays introduced it in the 1920s (by the way few Asians know hedonism had merely a marginalized place in "western" culture prior to that). So any good meditation teacher has to take this fact in consideration and make his teaching easily acceptable.

Your remark would be appropriate in the context of buddhist lay people learning meditation over an extended period of time, like for example lay people following Pa Auk teachings in Malaysia or Taiwan. It is not so in the context of western countries. This process happens naturally as a result of practice, and it is not reasonable to expect it to have already happened in the first place. If it doesn't happen at all though, the practice should be questioned seriously.


mettafuture wrote:
You cannot change the whole western culture to make it adaptable to the ways in which asian buddhist teachers like to teach.

That wasn't my point.

Well, the fact that people should be different seemed very much to be your point in the quote I just commented above.


mettafuture wrote:My point: We shouldn't selfishly care only about the meditations that appeal to the majority.

Can you explain what you mean by this? I don't see how caring for the majority of people is being selfish.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby chownah » Wed May 29, 2013 2:15 pm

mettafuture wrote:
chownah wrote:It seems you are presenting this Sutta quote as an indication that kasinas are mentioned there.

Yes I am.

Upon reading the Sutta it seems obvious that the perceiving of colors it mentions has nothing to do with kasinas at all and is just an explanation of what 'perception' means.

Perception is being explained within the context of the kasinas.

It seems that you consider any mention of color whatever to be a talk about kasinas. Is this your stance?....that any mention of color whatever is a talk about kasinas?

The 5th kasina is blue, the 6th is yellow, the 7th is red, and the 8th is white.

"And why do you call it 'perception'? Because it perceives, thus it is called 'perception.' What does it perceive? It perceives blue, it perceives yellow, it perceives red, it perceives white. Because it perceives, it is called perception."

Can you explain the difference between kasina contemplation and self hypnosis if in fact you do see a difference?

No I won't explain it because it has nothing to do with the original topic of this discussion. If you'd like to discuss and debate the color kasinas, you should probably start a new thread. Personally, I only meditate on the first 4 kasinas (the elements), metta, and the breath.

What I'm discussing here is whether the Sutta quote you presented infact is mentioning the color kasinas as you have asserted here and before. Now you say that perception is being explained within the context of the kasinas. It is hard for me to think that you have carefully read the Sutta because it seems obvious that what is being explained is that when someone remembers a past life it is really the aggregates at play and one of the aggregates is perception and the explanation of what is perception is that it is what perceives and as examples of what it perceives are colors.....there is no talk about meditation or contemplation at all. It all stems from remembering past lives and how this is really the aggregates at play and an explanation of the five aggregates. I hope you can show me that I am in some way overlooking something. I don't mind being shown to be wrong so anyone out there who can show me how the Sutta in question is talking about the kasinas I would be glad to here it.

It does seem that whenever any of the colors included as a katsina are mentioned that you interpret this to be a mention of the color kasinas.....sometimes a color is just a color......makes me wonder about your statistics about how many times this or that appear on the Suttas.

I'm still wondering about the difference between kasina contemplation and self hypnosis. Maybe some meditation are hesitant to teach a method for self hypnosis since many people have a bias against hypnosis...by dispelling the idea that kasina contemplation is self hypnosis you might encourage more people to teach it.....but perhaps they are the same....I don't know.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby mettafuture » Wed May 29, 2013 5:39 pm

Mr Man wrote:I guess teachers can only teach what they know, what they are familiar with and what they have been taught. I'm sure most legitimate teachers would teach what they have found useful and what they would perceive as being useful to others.

Very good point. My criticisms only apply to a small number of teachers who purposely withhold details about what the Buddha taught, and how he taught. Anapanasati isn't the only meditation, rebirth isn't merely a state of mind, the Kalama Sutta doesn't say "believe nothing", and so on.

Sekha wrote:The average person living in a capitalist industrialized country is generally a hedonist, because hedonism is a key characteristic of capitalist societies since Edward Bernays introduced it in the 1920s (by the way few Asians know hedonism had merely a marginalized place in "western" culture prior to that). So any good meditation teacher has to take this fact in consideration and make his teaching easily acceptable.

If you're trying to appeal to a room full of hedonists, you should probably start with a seemingly culture-neural practice like breath meditation. But if someone is having a lot of difficulty with breath meditation, or if you're teaching to 2nd or 3rd year students, I don't see why some of the other meditation practices can't be taught.

mettafuture wrote:My point: We shouldn't selfishly care only about the meditations that appeal to the majority.

Can you explain what you mean by this? I don't see how caring for the majority of people is being selfish.

Caring only for the majority, and not sharing the teachings that could help the minority (and the majority as well) is selfish. Completely overlooking the practices that the Buddha prescribed specifically to the laity, and consciously choosing only a handful of the practices that were prescribed to monks, is cherry-picking.

Or do you feel that anapanasati should be the only meditation that's taught? What harm is there in raising the recollections, elements, and/or the divine abodes to a higher priority?

chownah wrote:there is no talk about meditation or contemplation at all.

I never said there was. I was simply showing that the kasinas were mentioned. "the Samyutta Nikaya has an anapanasati samyutta, but no mention of kasinas at all." And some of you probably don't realize that the elements are kasinas as well. They take up an entire book in the Samyutta Nikaya.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby daverupa » Wed May 29, 2013 5:59 pm

mettafuture wrote:I was simply showing that the kasinas were mentioned.


The color kasinas are definitely not mentioned, and the elements are not described as kasinas. In particular, the dhatu samyutta does not contain the term at all, and practice in terms of elements is described in fundamentally different ways in the Samyutta Nikaya, compared with kasina instruction.

Completely overlooking the practices that the Buddha prescribed specifically to the laity, and consciously choosing only a handful of the practices that were prescribed to monks, is cherry-picking.


Satipatthana is the cherry to pick, as both monastics and laity are said to have practiced this; all these various methods are just ways of doing that, of suppressing the hindrances and developing the awakening factors.
    "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: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby mettafuture » Wed May 29, 2013 6:29 pm

daverupa wrote:The color kasinas are definitely not mentioned, and the elements are not described as kasinas. In particular, the dhatu samyutta does not contain the term at all, and practice in terms of elements is described in fundamentally different ways in the Samyutta Nikaya, compared with kasina instruction.

The Buddha taught different ideas in different ways.

daverupa wrote:Satipatthana is the cherry to pick, as both monastics and laity are said to have practiced this; all these various methods are just ways of doing that, of suppressing the hindrances and developing the awakening factors.

Contemplation of the elements is an integral part of Satipatthana, and the kasinas are an integral part of the Mahāsakuludāyi Sutta.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby Sekha » Wed May 29, 2013 7:32 pm

mettafuture wrote:If you're trying to appeal to a room full of hedonists, you should probably start with a seemingly culture-neural practice like breath meditation. But if someone is having a lot of difficulty with breath meditation, or if you're teaching to 2nd or 3rd year students, I don't see why some of the other meditation practices can't be taught.

Glad to see you have eventually come to a more nuanced stance. We agree on this. For your information, the room is ALWAYS full of hedonists, because every living being who is not in the fourth jhana is a hedonist deep inside.


mettafuture wrote:Caring only for the majority, and not sharing the teachings that could help the minority (and the majority as well) is selfish.

You may want to look up the definition of "selfish" in a dictionary.


mettafuture wrote:Or do you feel that anapanasati should be the only meditation that's taught?

I think it is a very good start. Especially in case one has difficulties and is subject to mental derangement:
AN 6.115 wrote:cetaso vikkhepassa pahānāya ānāpānassati bhāvetabbā.
To abandon mental derangement/confusion, anapanassati should be developped



mettafuture wrote:What harm is there in raising the recollections, elements, and/or the divine abodes to a higher priority?

Your suggestion is inappropriate.
> The recollections are not suitable for non-buddhists
> The four elements may by themselves arouse doubts in western minds who rely primarily on modern science to shape their idea of the world in general and of the nature of matter in particular.
> Practicing metta by itself without practicing first another technique that digs deep inside the subtle layers of the mind brings poor results imo. The effect remains only at the surface. I think the real metta meditation is practiced on the basis of the sukha engendered by the first jhana. Metta is just a "protective" meditation, not the main one until this level has been reached.

I suggest you try to understand the context that incorporates what you are dealing with before emitting sweeping judgements.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby daverupa » Wed May 29, 2013 8:10 pm

mettafuture wrote:Contemplation of the elements is an integral part of Satipatthana, and the kasinas are an integral part of the Mahāsakuludāyi Sutta.


That's MN 77, nothing to do with SN. (What's up with moving the goalposts?)

Now, the element meditation attached to satipatthana illustrates a piecemeal view of the body; the simile employed is of a butcher who, when cutting up an animal, ends up calling it by various cuts of meat and no longer by the name of the animal. So, too, the instructions call for us to consider this very body as just the four elements.

Please cite a kasina instruction you are familiar with so we can make a comparison.
    "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: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby mettafuture » Wed May 29, 2013 8:21 pm

Sekha wrote:For your information, the room is ALWAYS full of hedonists, because every living being who is not in the fourth jhana is a hedonist deep inside.

Not always. The retreat might consist of 2nd or 3rd year students, ex-Christians who have already adopted a stance against hedonism and aren't opposed to devotional practices, etc.

To abandon mental derangement/confusion, anapanassati should be developed

Karen Andrews gives a nice overview on how to apply different objects of meditation based on the book Knowing and Seeing by Pa Auk Sayadaw.

The recollections are not suitable for non-buddhists

It would probably make more sense if the student first investigated the Dhamma. If their intuition and reason tells them that the teachings are valid, they could then take the triple refuge, and begin recollections practice to fortify their confidence in the teachings, and to weaken the first 3 fetters.

They could later work on their hindrances. If they're plagued by thoughts of ill-will, practice metta. If they're obsessed with physical beauty, contemplate the individual components of the body. And once their hindrances have weakened, and their mind has become more settled, they could do some breath meditation or something else.

But I understand that it would be difficult to suggest this route for everyone, but a similar route could be presented as an option.

The four elements may by themselves arouse doubts in western minds who rely primarily on modern science to shape their idea of the world in general and of the nature of matter in particular.

There's nothing unscientific about the elements. They're just broad categories of the components that comprise our world.

daverupa wrote:That's MN 77, nothing to do with SN.

The suttas in the Samyutta Nikaya aren't the only ones that matter.

Please cite a kasina instruction you are familiar with so we can make a comparison.

The Mahāsakuludāyi Sutta.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby daverupa » Wed May 29, 2013 9:06 pm

mettafuture wrote:
daverupa wrote:That's MN 77, nothing to do with SN.

The suttas in the Samyutta Nikaya aren't the only ones that matter.


That wasn't the claim. Rather, are you able to see that there is in fact no reference to kasinas in the Samyutta Nikaya?

Please cite a kasina instruction you are familiar with so we can make a comparison.

The Mahāsakuludāyi Sutta.


Okay then. All I can find online is this translation, so it'll have to do:

Mahāsakuludāyi Sutta wrote:Again, Udayi, I have declared to my disciples the method for developing the ten kasina signs. One perceives the sign of earth, above, below, across without another, limitlessly...


Compare:

MN 10 wrote:And further, monks, a monk reflects on this very body, however it be placed or disposed, by way of the material elements: "There are in this body the element of earth, the element of water, the element of fire, the element of wind."

Just as if, monks, a clever cow-butcher or his apprentice, having slaughtered a cow and divided it into portions, should be sitting at the junction of four high roads, in the same way, a monk reflects on this very body, as it is placed or disposed, by way of the material elements: "There are in this body the elements of earth, water, fire, and wind."

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body...


These are not the same at all. The rarefied kasina references which do exist in the Nikayas are nowhere aligned with satipatthana, and it is not the case that this elements reference in MN 10 equates to a kasina reference.

Again - there is no parallel.
    "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: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby mettafuture » Wed May 29, 2013 9:40 pm

daverupa wrote:Rather, are you able to see that there is in fact no reference to kasinas in the Samyutta Nikaya?

But there are. And even if there weren't, that wouldn't make them any less relevant.

These are not the same at all.

Of course not. The section on the kasinas in that sutta isn't about developing the satipatthanas. It's about developing the eight bases for transcendence to reach the "consummation and perfection of direct knowledge." And the satipatthanas are apart of the big picture painted in the Mahāsakuludāyi Sutta.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby Sekha » Thu May 30, 2013 6:41 am

mettafuture wrote:
Sekha wrote:For your information, the room is ALWAYS full of hedonists, because every living being who is not in the fourth jhana is a hedonist deep inside.

Not always. The retreat might consist of 2nd or 3rd year students, ex-Christians who have already adopted a stance against hedonism and aren't opposed to devotional practices, etc.

Even Pa Auk Sayadaw is a hedonist (I have checked it myself), unless he is in the fourth jhana. Even a meditator in the third jhana is still a hedonist.


mettafuture wrote:
To abandon mental derangement/confusion, anapanassati should be developed

Karen Andrews gives a nice overview on how to apply different objects of meditation based on the book Knowing and Seeing by Pa Auk Sayadaw.

It doesn't change the slightest thing about the fact that the Buddha does recommend anapanassati in case the meditator has difficulties, according to this sutta, and that therefore criticism about the choice of anapanassati by default is unfounded.


mettafuture wrote:I understand that it would be difficult to suggest this route for everyone, but a similar route could be presented as an option.

You don't seem to really understand that in the west the public is primarily composed of non-buddhist first-timers and that the teachings are essentially tailored to suit them. What you are describing is a strategy for long term development (except for very rare individuals), which is not suitable in the context of a short retreat (say 10 days for example). Again this criticism falls through.


mettafuture wrote:
The four elements may by themselves arouse doubts in western minds who rely primarily on modern science to shape their idea of the world in general and of the nature of matter in particular.

There's nothing unscientific about the elements. They're just broad categories of the components that comprise our world.

That the world may be composed of only fire water air earth (and also aether - similar to space) is known in western culture as an archaic Greek theory that looks very childish nowadays. You won't change this idea that easily. Once more this shows a poor understanding of the context.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby Mr Man » Thu May 30, 2013 6:57 am

Hi Sekha
I think you must be using "hedonist" in rather an extreme way. A hedonist is someone who has made a conscious and active commitment to a life of hedonism.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby mettafuture » Thu May 30, 2013 7:52 am

Sekha wrote:Even Pa Auk Sayadaw is a hedonist (I have checked it myself), unless he is in the fourth jhana.

What...

It doesn't change the slightest thing about the fact that the Buddha does recommend anapanassati in case the meditator has difficulties, according to this sutta

Anapanasati isn't recommended for any and all difficulties in that sutta. It's recommended to counter a specific kind of difficulty.

"Being easy to correct is to be developed for abandoning being difficult to correct. Good friendship is to be developed for abandoning bad friendship. Mindfulness of breathing is to be developed for abandoning mental distraction. These three things are to be developed for abandoning the former three things."
-- AN 6.115

What you are describing is a strategy for long term development (except for very rare individuals), which is not suitable in the context of a short retreat (say 10 days for example).

It usually takes more than 10 days to attain stream entry. And if stream entry isn't the minimal goal, what's the point?

That the world may be composed of only fire water air earth (and also aether - similar to space) is known in western culture as an archaic Greek theory that looks very childish nowadays.

It depends on how you teach it. Take the water element, for example. If you've gazed at a body of water like a lake or an ocean, and were calmed by the movement of the waves, you've done a form of water-kasina meditation.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby Sekha » Thu May 30, 2013 7:56 am

I admit I stretch the usual common gross meaning of "hedonism", and use it to describe the deep tendency to react positively to pleasantness and negatively to unpleasantness. I mean to say that even advanced teachers are still deeply driven by desire in their everyday life, in a rather subtle way of course. And I mean to say that a meditator even in the third jhana has still not abandoned enjoying pleasure (although we are talking in this case of a non-sensual pleasure). Abandoning pleasure is achieved only with entrance in the fourth jhana:
with the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the disappearance of previous joy and grief, one enters and abides in the fourth jhāna


I do not mention the case of anagamis of course.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby Sekha » Thu May 30, 2013 8:16 am

mettafuture wrote:
It doesn't change the slightest thing about the fact that the Buddha does recommend anapanassati in case the meditator has difficulties, according to this sutta

Anapanasati isn't recommended for any and all difficulties in that sutta. It's recommended to counter a specific kind of difficulty.

"Being easy to correct is to be developed for abandoning being difficult to correct. Good friendship is to be developed for abandoning bad friendship. Mindfulness of breathing is to be developed for abandoning mental distraction. These three things are to be developed for abandoning the former three things."

According to PTSD, vikkhepa means
1. disturbance, derangement
2. perplexity, confusion

and cetaso vikkhepa means
(upset of mind, unbalanced mind,) mental derangement

a-vikkhepa is widely known to mean (mental) stability

I do not always concur with B. Bodhi's translation, and I think it is quite misleading in this case. I think mental instability (or derangement) is more appropriate and that B. Bodhi has performed an undue interpretation of the term.


mettafuture wrote:
What you are describing is a strategy for long term development (except for very rare individuals), which is not suitable in the context of a short retreat (say 10 days for example).

It usually takes more than 10 days to attain stream entry. And if stream entry isn't the minimal goal, what's the point?

The minimal goal may be to introduce someone to the teaching of the Buddha. That alone is a big achievement.


mettafuture wrote:
That the world may be composed of only fire water air earth (and also aether - similar to space) is known in western culture as an archaic Greek theory that looks very childish nowadays.

It depends on how you teach it. Take the water element, for example. If you've gazed at a body of water like a lake or an ocean, and were calmed by the movement of the waves, you've done a form of water-kasina meditation.

I concede you could teach the four elements individually in this way. But you would still have a hard time explaining what they are in general, and it is understandable that teachers may prefer avoiding this difficulty at first.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby mettafuture » Thu May 30, 2013 9:04 am

Sekha wrote:I do not always concur with B. Bodhi's translation, and I think it is quite misleading in this case.

I think it's a fine translation.

The minimal goal maybe to introduce someone to the teaching of the Buddha. That alone is a big achievement.

I don't proselytize. But if someone shows an interest in Buddhism, I believe it's important that they get an authentic, gradual, and complete overview of the teachings.

I concede you could teach the four elements individually in this way. But you would still have a hard time explaining what they are in general, and it is understandable that teachers may prefer avoiding this difficulty at first.

The elements are similar to the aggregates (skandhas). They're not meant to be precise, scientific representations of the natural world, but broad categories used to help us see internal and external forms as a composition of parts rather than anything concrete or worth clinging to. I wouldn't try to teach something like the elements to a Western / skeptic / atheist on the first day of retreat though. The pitfalls of clinging should likely be explained first.
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