Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

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

Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby fig tree » Sat Oct 24, 2009 6:28 am

alan wrote:Many of their ideas sound good to our western ears, yet are not in accordance with the Dhamma. How to relate to them without sounding like a fundamentalist? When is it right speech to point them to the original teachings?

My sense is that it depends a lot on what kind of connection they describe themselves as having. Someone who is only in the market for psychological insights or just includes the Buddha among various things they find cool :thumbsup: is not necessarily looking to be told they're borrowing from him the wrong way, but has left the door open for you to say you also get psychological insights or find the Buddha cool. If they quote :quote: the Buddha as saying something, like "there's no such thing as right or wrong", it seems to me that leaves the door open for you to ask where they heard or read that, or to say, in the Pali canon it describes him as saying something different, like urging people to refrain from wrong livelihood and so on. Knowing a bit about other traditions can help.

I think one can almost completely leave it up to the other person to decide how much they want to talk about it. One day I was walking down the street when a guy also walking along (looking a bit perplexed, certainly not like he was trying to preach to me) said to me, everybody wants to go to Heaven, don't they? I didn't have much time to explain to him that Buddhists have a different goal, but I said a few words to that effect before he walked another way.

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby catmoon » Sat Oct 24, 2009 6:39 am

fig tree wrote: One day I was walking down the street when a guy also walking along (looking a bit perplexed, certainly not like he was trying to preach to me) said to me, everybody wants to go to Heaven, don't they? I didn't have much time to explain to him that Buddhists have a different goal, but I said a few words to that effect before he walked another way.

Fig Tree


Don't forget the Pureland folks. They are Buddhists, aren't they?
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Oct 26, 2009 4:49 am

Hi Alan,

I think it's a similar problem to interacting with anyone. Think carefully about whether you are trying to be most helpful, or in proving some sort of point. At work I can see people getting in tangles about all kinds of things in destructive ways. If I can point out something helpful, using language they can understand, I do that. Otherwise I let it go...

I should add that I'm also often impressed by the intuition some non-Buddhists have about various issues. Which is another reason not to "lecture" them, or assume that I am "better".

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby fig tree » Mon Oct 26, 2009 7:44 am

catmoon wrote:
fig tree wrote: One day I was walking down the street when a guy also walking along (looking a bit perplexed, certainly not like he was trying to preach to me) said to me, everybody wants to go to Heaven, don't they? I didn't have much time to explain to him that Buddhists have a different goal, but I said a few words to that effect before he walked another way.

Fig Tree


Don't forget the Pureland folks. They are Buddhists, aren't they?

Definitely. I thought about elaborating about Buddhists who seek rebirth in a higher realm, but I decided just to leave it the way I wrote it.

Buddhists who wish to be reborn into a pure land are as far as I know (almost?) always doing it as a means toward another goal which they also have, namely ultimate awakening, a goal that they would be glad to achieve in this life if the opportunity arose. Assuming I die as an ordinary person, I too would wish to be reborn somewhere that would offer excellent opportunities for reconnecting with the dhamma and eventually awakening, so we are not altogether different that way.

The guy seemed to be talking about Heaven as the ultimate goal. If we'd had more than a few seconds' conversation, it would've made sense to say that heavens are supposed to be nice but temporary and so on.

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby Dan74 » Mon Oct 26, 2009 8:00 am

I think it is futile to debate with folks and try to prove that their Buddhism is not right. Sure if they say "Buddhism is like this (insert some New Agey feel-good adamma)" you should say "No, I don't think so." Then if they are curious to find out why, it's good to bring out some quotes from the suttas (I take that you are Theravadin) that show that Dhamma is about liberation rather than making some samsara padding or creating more imaginings to escape from the responsibilities here and now.

The Buddha himself advised against trying to argue and persuade people. However, if they are interested, of course, it's important to provide them with the right information.

It's good to also refer them to a reputable teacher (in whatever tradition they trust) because they are not going to be New Agey and will basically reinforce the Buddha's message in a way that maybe more palatable to these people.

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Oct 26, 2009 8:03 am

fig tree wrote:
Buddhists who wish to be reborn into a pure land are as far as I know (almost?) always doing it as a means toward another goal which they also have, namely ultimate awakening, a goal that they would be glad to achieve in this life if the opportunity arose.



Yes, that is the basic gist of it.

The general idea is that one either realizes liberation in the Pureland itself, under the guidance of the Buddha and bodhisattvas there,
OR, that one advances a great deal along the path, and later returns to this Saha (and similar) world system(s) as a bodhisattva, to liberate others.

One of the big appeals of such a path, was that many believed that it was not possible, or at least extremely difficult, to accomplish this in the "Dharma ending age".
My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: Huifeng's Prajnacara Blog.
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby PeterB » Mon Oct 26, 2009 8:49 am

I think that their may be a difference in "talking" to a new age Buddhist and communicating online with such. In the flesh speech is actually very condensed. Facial expression and body language as well as vocal tone, carry a lot of information in addition to the content of speech. It is possible to say a lot in a very short time. Written language is much slower and less nuanced and relatively impersonal. A problem I have when communicating online with those who approach the Dhamma from a new age perspective is that of weighing the need for socially acceptable behaviour against the thought that they are possibly doing themselves and others unwitting harm. On another site that I have visited there is a regular visitor who is firmly in the new age camp. She denies that the Buddha taught Anatta, and if he did its because it was a long time ago and things have changed and 2012 is approaching ...etc etc. A link to her site shows that she believes that white lions are ascended masters etc etc. Now, does one simply ignore this and wait for something from her that one can agree with, or what ? Suffice it to say that the only person that challenged any of her statements ,publically at least, was me, and it started to look personal ( which it wasnt ) and I recieved a courteous PM telling me to lay off her, that what she said was of course bonkers half the time, but that we should not discourage her. So I stopped responding unless she addressed me personally.. I feel that I probably went off on a mission which was unskillful to some degree, but that simply allowing these ideas ( there is a whole heap of other speculative stuff that I will not go into here ) to go unchallenged ( at least publically ) is also unskillful . Its unresolved as far as my own feelings are concerned.
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Oct 26, 2009 9:29 am

Hi Peter,
PeterB wrote: I feel that I probably went off on a mission which was unskillful to some degree, but that simply allowing these ideas ( there is a whole heap of other speculative stuff that I will not go into here ) to go unchallenged ( at least publically ) is also unskillful . Its unresolved as far as my own feelings are concerned.

It's a problem isn't it? How many forums can you do this on? :coffee:

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby PeterB » Mon Oct 26, 2009 9:49 am

Even if we confine ourselves to one Mike, which is my intention..Perhaps its ego , but I find it hard to see assurances ( for example,) that the world is going to change for the better/worse at some specific time in the near future hard to ignore. Its the newbies I keep thinking of. Then again my mind tells me, I am sure that they are also exposed to enough of the real deal to form their own views or they wouldnt be joining a Buddhist forum to start with....

I see I dragged the thread somewhat off topic. Returning to it. There is a real movement in terms of therapy towards incorporating elements of Buddhist meditative techniques into the the more existentialist therapies, CBT, Gestalt etc. This I see as positive.
I dont think that this is new age per se . although I am sure that there is a lot of pop psychology around too. I just dont think that Buddhist inspired therapies should be conflated with the Dhamma, which is not just a series of effective techniques , but comes balanced with Sila and with a knowledge of the Suttas and other source material. I have said before the object of therapy is to adjust us to the world. Which may well be a good thing if we are dysfunctional.
The Dhamma however is our means of liberation.
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby Clueless Git » Mon Oct 26, 2009 9:55 am

alan wrote: Anyone want to answer my question?

This one?
It is being taught as a psychology, as a way to relax, as away to communicate with your peers. All good things, in there own right. But is this Dhamma?

Probably not actualy Dhamma, no.

But relaxation brings calmness of mind, communication skills require the development of empathy (a bit of the old "see yourself in other ..") and so on and so forth ..

Such things are of the dhamma, if not actualy the dhamma, I think.
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby Ben » Mon Oct 26, 2009 10:31 am

Hi Peter,
PeterB wrote:There is a real movement in terms of therapy towards incorporating elements of Buddhist meditative techniques into the the more existentialist therapies, CBT, Gestalt etc. This I see as positive.

I no longer share your assessment that it is so positive. The reason comes following my wife's recent workshop on MBCT and having read some of 'The Happiness Trap' which is a sterilisation of Buddhist meditation, decontextualised from what I consider essential facets of the path - refuge and sila and repackaged as a proprietary therapy. And I don't think its such a good thing to have a practice decontextualised. It begs the question whether it is possible to generate sati (let alone sammasamadhi) outside of a moral framework. I might be wrong, but i don't think its possible.
How do I talk to someone who has a MBCT-informed view on the nature of 'mindfulness' meditation? Its a work in progress!
metta

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby PeterB » Mon Oct 26, 2009 10:59 am

Perhaps I should have introduced a little more cautious qualification Ben, I see those trends as having a positive aspect to them. As I see it any move away from simply reaching for a precription pad when an overworked medic is presented with a troubled client is a positive move. However I would agree that just to remove techniques from their context will in the end be very limited in effect. If all we do is make people functional in terms of conventional reality, then we will have done them only a limited favour. I suppose I was looking at the issue from a medical perspective. In reality most people will encounter diluted Dhamma in a " workshop" with a bit of Vipassana and a bit of positive thinking thrown in, that is a recipe for utter confusion.


I think as I have said, that the variants of CBM are a good tool in the toolbox of a therapist, but a Buddhist therapist needs to recognise the limits of therapy. Our job is not to deny the existence of dukkha, or the means to the end of its arising, and thats the Eightfold Path in its entirety.
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby zavk » Tue Oct 27, 2009 4:30 am

Hi friends

Quite coincidentally I received an email over the weekend about an upcoming mindfulness training program organised by an Australian MBCT organisation.

http://mindfulnesscentre.com/about-us.html

If you have a quick read of the link above, you'd find that the director has trained under some prominent Western insight meditation teachers, including Australian teacher Patrick Kearney, a former monk of the Mahasi tradition who is also a consultant for the organisation and whom some members here hold in high regard.

I don't know about the specifics of MBCT approaches. I do not think that there is anything inherently 'wrong' about such approaches. These approaches can be a means for individuals to engage with 'conventional' reality skillfully. Where it departs from Buddhism, I suppose, is that Buddhism further posits an 'ultimate' reality. However, as I understand it, we are taught that we need to engage with 'conventional' reality skillfully in order to touch 'ultimate' reality. So in this regard, I don't think we can unambiguously dismiss MBCT and other similar approaches as unbeneficial.

But this does not mean that they are beyond critique. Ben makes a good point about the importance of a framework of morality. If such approaches merely appropriate meditation practice for the purpose of strengthening a kind of self-centered individualism, then I think they need to be interrogated on the ethics (or lack thereof) of their actions.
With metta,
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby Ben » Tue Oct 27, 2009 4:57 am

Hi Zavk
zavk wrote:If such approaches merely appropriate meditation practice for the purpose of strengthening a kind of self-centered individualism, then I think they need to be interrogated on the ethics (or lack thereof) of their actions.

Indeed!
The Latin concept of conscientia is the original root from which all later terminologies in English and the Romance languages developed. This in turn is derived from cum ("with", "together") and scire ("to know"). In classical antiquity, as well as in the scholastic philosophy ofthe Christian Middle Ages, conscientia typically referred either to a moral conscience or to knowledge shared by certain groups of people - again, most commonly of moral ideas. Interestingly, being truly conscious was connected to moral insight. (Isn't it beautiful that becoming conscious in the true sense could be related to moral conscience? Philosophers would have a new definition of the entity they call a zombie - an amoral person, ethically fast-asleep but with eyes wide open.)
-- Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel: the science of the mind and the myth of the self

kind regards

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby Individual » Tue Oct 27, 2009 6:46 am

alan wrote:Hi friends. I've recently been thinking about how to approach people who espouse Buddhist beliefs from a very self-help, psychological perspective. Many of their ideas sound good to our western ears, yet are not in accordance with the Dhamma. How to relate to them without sounding like a fundamentalist? When is it right speech to point them to the original teachings?

If you feel a necessity to correct them, you are a fundamentalist, aren't you?
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby Individual » Tue Oct 27, 2009 6:52 am

zavk wrote:If such approaches merely appropriate meditation practice for the purpose of strengthening a kind of self-centered individualism, then I think they need to be interrogated on the ethics (or lack thereof) of their actions.

I think it would depend, though, on the nature of such "self-centered individualism".

Some positive examples:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .wlsh.html
[The Blessed One was at Saavatthii]

At this time King Pasenadi of Kosala was on the upper terrace of the palace with Queen Mallikaa. And the king asked her: "Mallikaa, is there anyone dearer to you than yourself?"1

"Your Majesty, there is no one dearer to me than myself. And you, sire, is anyone dearer to you than yourself?"

"Nor is there anyone dearer to me, Mallikaa, than myself."

Then the king went down from the palace and visited the Blessed One [and told him the whole story.] And the Blessed One, understanding, thereupon uttered this verse:

Though in thought we range throughout the world,
We'll nowhere find a thing more dear than self.
So, since others hold the self so dear,
He who loves himself should injure none.


Same idea reiterated:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
Don't sacrifice your own welfare
for that of another,
no matter how great.
Realizing your own true welfare,
be intent on just that.

For people who are "self-centered" or "individualists", rather than belittling them for not believing what you might believe, the more pertinent question is: How is what they believe and do not in their best interest, from their point-of-view? If you can't answer that, you are a silly dogmatist.
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby alan » Wed Oct 28, 2009 1:37 am

I'm sorry, but I can't make sense of those 2 posts.
-note the passive tone-
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby pink_trike » Wed Oct 28, 2009 2:37 am

Ben wrote:
The Latin concept of conscientia is the original root from which all later terminologies in English and the Romance languages developed. This in turn is derived from cum ("with", "together") and scire ("to know"). In classical antiquity, as well as in the scholastic philosophy ofthe Christian Middle Ages, conscientia typically referred either to a moral conscience or to knowledge shared by certain groups of people - again, most commonly of moral ideas. Interestingly, being truly conscious was connected to moral insight. (Isn't it beautiful that becoming conscious in the true sense could be related to moral conscience? Philosophers would have a new definition of the entity they call a zombie - an amoral person, ethically fast-asleep but with eyes wide open.)
-- Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel: the science of the mind and the myth of the self


The bolded part is actually a bit sloppy, imo. I'm aware of no reasons to believe that conscientia was primarily or commonly understood as having to do with morality in classical antiquity. It literally means "knowledge of a thing shared with another". Christianity seems to have appropriated the term and loaded morality on it at a later date, but for most of what is defined as classical antiquity the term would have most commonly been associated with areas of knowledge that have nothing to do with morality, or at best only related tangentially.
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby Ben » Wed Oct 28, 2009 4:54 am

Thanks Pink but can you back that up with anything?
Thanks

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby Individual » Wed Oct 28, 2009 5:09 am

Etymology Dictionary seems to confirm what Ben said:

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=conscience
c.1225, from O.Fr. conscience, from L. conscientia "knowledge within oneself, a moral sense," prp. of conscire "be mutually aware," from com- "with" + scire "to know." Probably a loan-translation of Gk. syneidesis. Sometimes nativized in O.E./M.E. as inwit. Rus. also uses a loan-translation, so-vest, "conscience," lit. "with-knowledge."

Conscious is said to be rooted in a different word, though:

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=conscious
c.1600, from L. conscius "knowing, aware," from conscire (see conscience); probably a loan-translation of Gk. syneidos. A word adopted from the Latin poets and much mocked at first. Sense of "active and awake" is from 1837.

Seems to be the same word, but with a different variation. Conscientia and Conscius are both from "Conscire".

Although conscientia may have been used in a primarily moral sense, was conscius used in the same manner? Probably not.
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