What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

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What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby Dugu » Mon Nov 02, 2009 7:09 am

Can anyone give me a run down on the significant difference between the two?
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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Nov 02, 2009 2:51 pm

I have outlined the major differences here at Dhamma Wiki:

http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=Theravada Theravada

http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?tit ... _Theravada Classical Theravada

http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?tit ... _Theravada Modern Theravada

Admittedly, you will see my bias toward Modern Theravada, but I also acknowledge that Classical Theravada is probably best at preserving the Theravada position.
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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Nov 02, 2009 7:27 pm

I think that It's reasonably easy to define Classical or "Standard" Theravada:
Priority is given to:
1. Tipitika (including Abhidhamma);
2. Canonical Commentary;
3. Later teachings.
As I understand it, a Mahayana (or any other) teaching that doesn't contradict 1 or 2 is fine. It would be tested against the Canon just the same as a teaching from a present-day Theravada teacher would be.

Modern is whatever one wants to define, but, as David's links say, it would generally imply disagreeing with some of the above, i.e. downplaying the Abhidhamma and Commentary.

It's a bit too much of a black-white definition in my view. I think that there are a number of up-to-date Classical Theravada teachers. In particular, the Burmese teachers (Ledi Sayadaw, Mahasi Sayadaw, etc) whose teachings form the basis of much modern "vipassana" or "insight" meditation, teach methods heavily based on the Classical Commentary.

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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby cooran » Mon Nov 02, 2009 8:04 pm

Thanks Mike.

Classical Theravada = Standard Theravda. Modern Theravada = whatever on wants to define.

There seems to have been a move by those favouring Mahayana and "Modern" Theravada to make a definition of Classical Theravada mean"frozen, out-moded" or "not what I'd like Theravada to be". Fortunately, this hasn't taken off.

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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Nov 02, 2009 9:34 pm

[quote="Chris"]Thanks Mike.

Classical Theravada = Standard Theravda. [quote]

Whose standard Theravada? Ven Mahaboowa's? Sujin's? Ajahn Chah? Mahasi Saydaw? Etc, etc, etc?
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: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Nov 02, 2009 11:06 pm

Hi Tilt,

Perhaps that's a useful thing to focus on.
tiltbillings wrote:Whose standard Theravada? Ven Mahaboowa's? Sujin's? Ajahn Chah? Mahasi Saydaw? Etc, etc, etc?

Mahasi Sayadaw and Khun Sujin cleary pay/paid a lot of attention to the Classical teachings, though they come to rather different conclusions on some details.

The Thai Forest monks you mention (or, at least, their disciples), tend to be rather negative about the Classical Commentaries and the Abhidhamma, though I understand that Ajahn Chah actually did do a lot of study in his early days. Also, as has been pointed out in other threads, by Ven Gavesako and others, teachers in Thailand don't spend a lot of effort classifying exactly where various ideas come from.

And of course much of that sort of classification would be distracting coming from a teacher. As I said, the Burmese teachers, and therefore many of the lay "insight" teachers (such as Joseph Goldstein, etc) clearly use a lot of Commentarial and Abhidhammic concepts in their teaching (Goldstein, of course, learned it from U Pandita). And the common instructions of spreading metta first to oneself, then a respected person, and so on, is from Commentary (not Suttas), and is explained in great detail in the Visuddhimagga (including the question of: "Why are we teaching it like this if the Buddha didn't teach it this way?").

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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Nov 02, 2009 11:13 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Hi Tilt,

Perhaps that's a useful thing to focus on. . . .

So, in other words, there is a very wide range of stuff that could be called "standard Theravada" that does not always agree with each other.
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.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Nov 02, 2009 11:18 pm

Hi Tilt,

Nice to talk, but I'm always worried you have a "trick question" up your sleeve... :thinking:
tiltbillings wrote:So, in other words, there is a very wide range of stuff that could be called "standard Theravada" that does not always agree with each other.

Yes, which was why my definition was in terms of approach to the Tipitika/Commentaries/later teachings, rather then the conclusions one draws...

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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Nov 02, 2009 11:23 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Yes, which was why my definition was in terms of approach to the Tipitika/Commentaries/later teachings, rather then the conclusions one draws...

That is interesting. So one could be a "classical Theravadin" claiming one's inspiration is from the "Tipitika/Commentaries/later teachings" but be at odds with others who make the same claim.
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.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Nov 02, 2009 11:25 pm

The other question: Is "classical Theravada" a living or a dead tradition?
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.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Nov 02, 2009 11:27 pm

(This is not aimed at the above posters, particularly not Tilt!)

Regarding the "modern" approaches, perhaps I could add that, while I think it is healthy to carefully examine the commentarial work (and the pronouncements of modern teachers) against the Tipitika, I find the attitude in some circles that the Commentaries are not relevant somewhat curious, since they are presumably, at least in some cases, transmissions of explanations by highly realised beings. They at least deserve to be read carefully and compared against modern interpretations of the Suttas. In many cases they seem to be the same sort of practical advice you'd expect from a modern teacher. Of course, this is not surprising if the ancient and modern teachers understand the Dhamma correctly...

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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Nov 02, 2009 11:30 pm

mikenz66 wrote:(This is not aimed at the above posters, particularly not Tilt!)

Regarding the "modern" approaches, perhaps I could add that, while I think it is healthy to carefully examine the commentarial work (and the pronouncements of modern teachers) against the Tipitika, I find the attitude in some circles that the Commentaries are not relevant somewhat curious, since they are presumably, at least in some cases, transmissions of explanations by highly realised beings. They at least deserve to be read carefully and compared against modern interpretations of the Suttas. In many cases they seem to be the same sort of practical advice you'd expect from a modern teacher. Of course, this is not surprising if the ancient and modern teachers understand the Dhamma correctly...

Mike

So, present day "classical Theravadins" would reject any sort of input from modern historical research.

Are commentaries the final word on what the sutta might mean? They can never be wrong?
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.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Nov 03, 2009 1:11 am

Hi Tilt,

I told you I was worried about tricky questions... :sage:
tiltbillings wrote:The other question: Is "classical Theravada" a living or a dead tradition?

Not according to my definition, because new ideas would be examined.
tiltbillings wrote:So, present day "classical Theravadins" would reject any sort of input from modern historical research.

Are commentaries the final word on what the sutta might mean? They can never be wrong?

Well, I can't really speak for "Classical Theravada", though I'm definitely not in the: "Forget the commentaries, Buddhagosa was just confused" camp.

As I said in another thread, it is not a logical impossibility that the Theravada got it correct, and the others got it wrong. In that case historical comparisons may not be as useful as they seem at first...

And even if the others are not wrong it might be more useful to stick to one coherent exposition from one source...

Also, as you know, figuring out exactly what the Suttas and Commentaries are actually saying is by no means a trivial task, so there is plenty of room for discussion of meaning and implications that could keep us going for a while yet...

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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby Ben » Tue Nov 03, 2009 3:26 am

Hi Tilt
My take on it is that there maybe a divergence of interpretation and focus claiming the Classical territory. Regardless of this seeming discrepancy, Classical Theravada seems to be those teachings which are in accord with the Tipitaka (inc. the Abhidhamma), the ancient commentaries and the works of later scholars who are also in keeping with the Tipitaka and ancient commentarial literature. Those teachers or teachings which criticise and/or abandon the abhidhamma and the commentaries I would consider 'modern'.
The fact that you have adherents of Sujin and practitioners of Mahasi Sayadaw, U Ba Khin et al, occupying the same territory, to me, seems to me that Classical Theravada is a spectrum of teachings where one or other teacher gives importance of one aspect over another.
Is the Classical a dead tradition? I don't think so.
Is the Classical informed by modern research and analysis? I think so.
Is the point of view outlined in the commentary the final word? First of all, I think the Buddha encouraged us all to discover the reality of nama and rupa for ourselves. Dhamma, seems to me, a path of self exploration. The commentaries are important because the help to explain and guide. But the final word should always be our own nana, knowledge. Secondly, I want to also point out that the origin of the 'commentarial tradition' began with the Buddha himself when he directed questions from younger monks to Mahakassapa 'the expositor' who would unpack the meaning of terse suttas the Buddha gave, and he often gave these explanations in the company of the Buddha. Forgive me if I don't provide a reference right now.
metta

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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Nov 03, 2009 4:03 am

Hi Ben,

Perhaps you mean Mahākaccāna, as in:
MN18 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
and
MN 133: Venerable Mahākaccāna's Explation of the Single Auspicious Attachment
http://awake.kiev.ua/dhamma/tipitaka/2S ... tta-e.html

[A rather odd (not to mention mis-spelled) translation of the title, Thanissaro translates "Single Auspicious Attachment " as "An Auspicious Day" in his translation of MN131 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.131.than.html]


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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Nov 03, 2009 4:39 am

Greetings,

Whilst not specifically the question asked, in the context of the forums here at Dhamma Wheel, the Mahavihara Classical section is to be representative of Theravada as explained by the ancient Theravada commentarial tradition.

The Modern Theravada forums include that Classical perspective but also include the full breadth of Theravada perspectives that exist in modern times.

Any alternative perspectives that contradict the commentarial positions, are excluded from these Classical Theravada forums.

Metta,
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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby Ben » Tue Nov 03, 2009 5:44 am

Thank you Mike for your kind correction.
metta

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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue Nov 03, 2009 6:19 am

In my opinion, a very important current event, the bhikkhuni ordination issue seen here in this thread:

viewtopic.php?f=14&t=2545&start=20

provides some examples of some of the differences between the so-called Classical and Modern. The Modern view point includes Ajahn Brahm, Ajahn Sujato, and Bhikkhu Bodhi and use what some might call a "modern" interpretation to allow full bhikkhuni ordinations to occur once again (as they did during the time of Buddha), while the vast majority (nearly all?) of those holding the Classical view feel that the Vinaya is the final say and the monks could not agree what are minor rules at the First Council, end of story.
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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby BlackBird » Tue Nov 03, 2009 6:46 am

David N. Snyder wrote:provides some examples of some of the differences between the so-called Classical and Modern. The Modern view point includes Ajahn Brahm, Ajahn Sujato, and Bhikkhu Bodhi and use what some might call a "modern" interpretation to allow full bhikkhuni ordinations to occur once again (as they did during the time of Buddha), while the vast majority (nearly all?) of those holding the Classical view feel that the Vinaya is the final say and the monks could not agree what are minor rules at the First Council, end of story.


Hi David

I'm not sure the heart of the issue has much to do with the Vinaya at all, but perhaps more the cultural bodies the govern the Sanghas at present.

Anyway I'm sorry, my post is off topic here.

:anjali:
"And so, because this Teaching is so different from what Westerners are accustomed to, they will try to adapt the Teaching to their own framework. What they need to learn to do is not to adapt the Teaching to their own point of view but to adapt their own point of view to the Teaching. This is called saddhá, or faith, and it means giving oneself to the Teaching even if the Teaching is contrary to one’s own preconceived notions of the way things are."- Ven Bodhesako

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Re: What's the difference between Classical and Modern Theravada

Postby Ben » Tue Nov 03, 2009 6:57 am

Hi David

David N. Snyder wrote:In my opinion, a very important current event, the bhikkhuni ordination issue seen here in this thread:

http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 5&start=20

provides some examples of some of the differences between the so-called Classical and Modern. The Modern view point includes Ajahn Brahm, Ajahn Sujato, and Bhikkhu Bodhi and use what some might call a "modern" interpretation to allow full bhikkhuni ordinations to occur once again (as they did during the time of Buddha), while the vast majority (nearly all?) of those holding the Classical view feel that the Vinaya is the final say and the monks could not agree what are minor rules at the First Council, end of story.


Like you, I consider it a significant event as well.
However, and with great respect, I think its simplistic to label those who are in-favour of Bhikkhuni ordination as 'modern' and those who oppose it as 'Classical'.

One of the things with raising the Bhikkhuni Ordination event is that none of us are in a position of having all the facts. The situation appears to be quite delicate with potential far-reaching effects. My opinion is that which-ever camp we support, we should out of a sense of compassion and loving kindness, focus on supporting not only those sangha and lay members who share our particular stand, but those who disagree with us.
We're all the sons and daughters of the Buddha.
With metta and karuna

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