2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

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2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby soapy3 » Sat Mar 22, 2014 1:38 pm

Hello everyone.

I'm trying to answer some questions for myself, but I am interested in the polite and non-hostile opinions of others.

The monks Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu have similar backgrounds. Both monks are men raised in the West, both are about the same age, and both were/are part of the Thai Forest tradition. I know that Ajahn Brahm spent 10 years in the Thai Forest as a student of the famous Ajahn Chah.

That is where the similarities end.

Thanisarro Bhikkhu seems to be closer to the suttas, at least his translations of them. His message seems to be a bit grim and is often expressed in fundamentalist-sounding language. To put it crudely and possibly unfairly Thanisarro Bhikkhu seems to be saying that all things in life are banal and meaningless, that we should cultivate a sense of urgency to movate ourself to escape having another life, and that our time here should be spent in sense restraint noticing how disatisfactory every aspect of this life is, as well forcefully blotting unwholesome mental states.

Ajahn Brahm seems to be further away from the suttas, but he has joked that people think he is making things up and when he explains where his views come from it seems as if his views are the result of him being very well acquainted with the suttas having spent a lot of time thinking about them and coming up with his own interpretations that are in his own words, but that technically fit the available translations. Where Thanisarro Bhikkhu seems to be retreating from life, grim, and encouraging people to get as close to monastic lifestyle as possible, Ajahn Brahm seems to have a very warm, positive demeanor and an interest in helping live their lay lives in a happier way.

I have two questions.

Have I painted either of these men views and teachings unfairly in your opinion?

In your opinion, do either of these monks teach a "Buddhism" that is closer, less close, or not close at all to what Theravada Buddhism actually is?
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby Ben » Sat Mar 22, 2014 1:46 pm

Theravada is not monolithic. There is a very wide variety of approaches that is described as Theravada.
As to whether either one is closer to what the historical Buddha taught, that is impossible to know. But in the scheme of things, they have far more in similarity than they are different.
My advice to you is to find a teacher that appeals to you and devote yourself to that teachers approach exclusive
For at least a year.
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in mountain clefts and chasms,
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saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby Anagarika » Sat Mar 22, 2014 2:37 pm

I can certainly echo what Ben has posted, above. Theravada can mean different things in various contexts. There are many posts here on Dhamma Wheel that discuss fluently the variations in Theravada.

As for your descriptions of Thanissaro Bhikkhu, and that of Ajahn Brahm, I can offer my own opinion. I'll be brief, as to answer fully would take me more time and thought than a Saturday morning will allow.

I have attended Wat Metta where Ven. Thanissaro is the Abbot. He teaches from the Pali Canon, and primarily from the Suttas and Vinaya. He is seen by some as "orthodox," and perhaps humorless ( at least as compared to Ajahn Brahm), but I can tell you that he is a terribly interesting person, with a keen sense of humor. He has a huge smile, and enjoys the environment and people at Wat Metta, especially the Thai people that are part of his lay sangha. He's strict with his young monks in training, but also fatherly to them. My view is that he has spent his teaching life trying to get the meaning of the Buddha's teachings via the Suttas as right as he can, and then tries to pass along that knowledge the way a concerned parent or coach might try to teach their charges. Rather than life being banal and meaningless, I feel he tries to illuminate the possibility that life is rather amazing and has unlimited potential, but only if we are willing to suppress our defilements and do the work necessary to achieve release. To use another analogy, if you were an athlete trying to make the Olympics would you want a negligent coach that joked and farted around, or a coach that would teach technique, encourage you and at the same time, give you a kick in the arse when needed to move you forward?

As for Ajahn Brahm, my view is that he is a solid Dhamma scholar, and a dedicated teacher. He has incorporated humor as a means to impart his teachings. He has been very effective in reaching a large audience, both in Australia, and worldwide, by bringing the Dhamma of the Canon, as well as the commentarial texts, to a large mass of people that otherwise would have had little interest in Theravada Buddhism. Because I feel he reaches out further from the Suttas than does Ajahn Geoff, Ajahn Brahm has a different take on certain subjects, such as jhana, where he teaches a commentarial type (VM) deep jhana vs. a Sutta jhana as does Ven. Thanissaro. Ajahn Brahm also quite capably talks on subjects that come up in lay life and psychology, and integrates Dhamma with psychology, sociology, physics, so as to make these lessons applicable to people in distress. He has more of an engaged approach ( ie prison ministry, engagement with politicians) than does Ven. Thanissaro, who seems to stay somewhat clear of what the west would call "engaged Buddhism."

There is the Theravada Sangha of Thailand, and one of Burma, and Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, et al, and of the west, and in each culture you will find differences, but a large body of sameness. You will find, as in the case of Ven. Thanissaro and Ajahn Brahm, two different kinds of teachers teaching from essentially the same textbooks. I might suggest doing what Ben alluded to, and what I have tried to do, is to seek out as many competent and ethical teachers in Theravada that you can, and spend the time over months and years evaluating these teachers, and seeing which ones resonate with you and with others that you trust.
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby Virgo » Sat Mar 22, 2014 4:11 pm

Let the Dhamma be your teacher. :namaste:

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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Mar 22, 2014 5:01 pm

Let alone other schools of Buddhism, just Theravada on its own is not a one-size-fits-all. There are different meditation techniques, different approaches, as the other posters here have mentioned. There are 40 meditation subjects for just samatha meditation. The Visudhimagga and other texts outline other techniques for various temperaments.

I don't think Ajahn Brahm has 'gone away from the Suttas.' Do you have an example of where he may have done that?
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Mar 22, 2014 5:12 pm

For example, here is a pretty cool chart based on the suggested technique (of the 4 Foundations of Mindfulness) based on your personality:

Image
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby gavesako » Sat Mar 22, 2014 5:41 pm

People don't remember what Ajahn Brahm used to be like in his younger days: grim and withdrawn and praising monastic life above anything else in the strongest terms. :smile:
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby Goofaholix » Sat Mar 22, 2014 7:00 pm

The upshot is that two men have different personalities, and slightly different approaches, not a big surprise. These two aren't so different though, if you want a stark contrast try comparing Sayadaw U Pandita with Ajahn Chah for example.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Mar 22, 2014 7:19 pm

Good point. :)
As has been pointed out, different teachers have different backgrounds and personalities and their teaching style may suit different people. I think that all those mentioned above, and a number of others, are worthy of respect. In my view the big mistake would be to argue that one is right and the others are wrong. (As opposed to expressing a preference, which is fine. Personally my background leans me toward U Pandita, but I've had valuable instruction from AB and I find TBs perspectives illuminating.)

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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby Anagarika » Sat Mar 22, 2014 7:40 pm

gavesako wrote:People don't remember what Ajahn Brahm used to be like in his younger days: grim and withdrawn and praising monastic life above anything else in the strongest terms. :smile:


I recall him talking about leaving teaching after one year as a lay person in the English schools, and thinking that he must have really not wanted any part of lay life, or at least that he found the monastic life in Thailand to be a profound and welcome departure from his mundane lay life in England. I feel that a person really must be extraordinary to go forth at a relatively young age, and to stay in robes for adulthood. Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu!
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby waterchan » Sat Mar 22, 2014 10:07 pm

gavesako wrote:People don't remember what Ajahn Brahm used to be like in his younger days: grim and withdrawn and praising monastic life above anything else in the strongest terms. :smile:


In the very colorfully illustrated biography that was written for his 60th birthday, it is written that Ajahn Brahm's dhamma talks used to be mediocre and few people would come to them, and over the years he refined his speaking technique to become the icon he is today.

BuddhaSoup wrote:Ajahn Brahm has a different take on certain subjects, such as jhana, where he teaches a commentarial type (VM) deep jhana vs. a Sutta jhana as does Ven. Thanissaro.


He claims to teach from the suttas, though. The Visuddhimagga is referenced perhaps once or twice in his meditation book, but the suttas are referenced dozens of times.

Virgo wrote:Let the Dhamma be your teacher. :namaste:


The problem with that being there are roughly 192,723 interpretations of what "the Dhamma" is. My solution to this conundrum is to go with Ajahn Chah: "We don't see that everything around us is Dhamma, so we turn to teachings from the teachers." There, problem solved!
quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur
(Anything in Latin sounds profound.)
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby Anagarika » Sat Mar 22, 2014 10:47 pm

quote="BuddhaSoup"]Ajahn Brahm has a different take on certain subjects, such as jhana, where he teaches a commentarial type (VM) deep jhana vs. a Sutta jhana as does Ven. Thanissaro. [/quote]

He claims to teach from the suttas, though. The Visuddhimagga is referenced perhaps once or twice in his meditation book, but the suttas are referenced dozens of times.
[/quote][/quote]

I don't mean to suggest at all that he does not teach primarily from the Suttas. To his credit, he derives his teaching from the Suttas, and his Sutta lessons (on youtube) are valuable .
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby Monkey Mind » Sat Mar 22, 2014 11:59 pm

On a very practical note: Thanisarro's podcasts available on the Internet are consise and thorough, often 15 minutes or less. The title of the talk is a good summary of the content. Brahmavamso's podcasts are usually 65 minutes, and include a lot of jokes and cultural references, and often address several teaching points in one podcast. Many of the things discussed might be only loosely related to the title/ proposed topic.

I enjoy listening to them both. But I pick and choose based on my circumstance, e.g. how much time I have or what my level of concentration is.
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as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.

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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby waterchan » Sun Mar 23, 2014 12:19 am

^ I like listening to Thanissaro Bhikkhu's podcasts for the reason that they are concise and to the point. Also, he has a soothing voice! I understand why Ajahn Brahm's talks are 65 minutes and over, though. That's the average length of a traditional Dhamma talk, and the people who come probably expect that length of talk. Also, judging by the questions at the end of each talk, the typical audience there is very, um, what's a polite word for "newbie"? "Uninitiated"?
quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby rowboat » Sun Mar 23, 2014 2:38 am

(Tangent: I'd like to see more long dhamma talks by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Like this excellent four hour exposition on the five aggregates: http://mirror1.birken.ca/dhamma_talks/i ... egates.mp3 )
Rain soddens what is covered up,
It does not sodden what is open.
Therefore uncover what is covered
That the rain will not sodden it.
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby Jetavan » Sun Mar 23, 2014 9:58 pm

waterchan wrote:The problem with that being there are roughly 192,723 interpretations of what "the Dhamma" is. My solution to this conundrum is to....

And now there are 192,724 interpretations. :smile:
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby Spiny Norman » Mon Mar 24, 2014 9:17 am

soapy3 wrote:Thanisarro Bhikkhu seems to be closer to the suttas, at least his translations of them. .........
Ajahn Brahm seems to be further away from the suttas....


This is a theme which comes up regularly in debates on rebirth, ie whether one's understanding is based primarily on what the suttas say, or on the interpretations of contemporary teachers.
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby hermitwin » Mon Mar 24, 2014 10:25 am

AB has to cater to a much wider audience.

He travels to different countries and has a youtube channel.
Some of his fans are not even Buddhists eg Indonesian muslims.

But AB was the expert on the suttas in WPP。

I dont see any contradiction in the fundamentals.

The personality is very different.
You will seldom find a monk as cheerful and loves to tell silly jokes like AB.

I like both of them, IMO they are shining examples of the Thai forest tradition.
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby binocular » Mon Mar 24, 2014 11:34 am

rowboat wrote:(Tangent: I'd like to see more long dhamma talks by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Like this excellent four hour exposition on the five aggregates: http://mirror1.birken.ca/dhamma_talks/i ... egates.mp3 )


At http://dhammatalks.org/ there are two kinds of talks:

Evening Dhamma Talks
The talks on this page were given by Thanissaro Bhikkhu during the evening meditation sessions at Metta Forest Monastery. Each talk generally lasts between ten and twenty minutes.

Short (Morning) Dhamma Talks
These recordings of short Dhamma talks by Thanissaro Bhikkhu were given to the lay community of Metta Forest Monastery most mornings in both English and Thai. The English portion has been excerpted and offered here for downloading. The talks last about 3 to 5 minutes and are useful reminders for the practice.



For longer talks, see - http://www.audiodharma.org/teacher/16/
http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/179/
Tricycle has some talks too, but they are available under subscription.
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Re: 2 Buddhisms? Ajahn Brahm and Thanisarro Bhikkhu

Postby Cittasanto » Mon Mar 24, 2014 8:10 pm

Ben wrote:Theravada is not monolithic. There is a very wide variety of approaches that is described as Theravada.
As to whether either one is closer to what the historical Buddha taught, that is impossible to know. But in the scheme of things, they have far more in similarity than they are different.
My advice to you is to find a teacher that appeals to you and devote yourself to that teachers approach exclusive
For at least a year.

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