Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

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

Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby pink_trike » Wed Oct 28, 2009 5:57 am

Ben wrote:Thanks Pink but can you back that up with anything?
Thanks

Ben

I'd have to do some digging...most of my materials are buried in 30 years worth of book, paper, and this increasingly worthless memory - not easily searched. I'm remembering that period as one notable for scientific advances that peak in the middle of the period - related to advanced mathematics, astronomy, and a great explication of ancient "mythical" knowledge (nearly all of which had to do with the movements of the heavens and the heavenly bodies)...and then the later period known for it's corruption by the rise of Christian mythology with all their extreme piety and obsession with morals.

I seem to remember some professor droning on about how consciousness and conscientia have sanskrit roots related to "skei", which is also the root of "science" with the base meaning of "separate" or "sort". Analysis. A way of seeing/knowing. Con.science. That which is commonly known (sorted) about the totality of the world (science). I'm researching this soon for the project I'm working on...if I run across anything more concise, I'll post it.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby zavk » Thu Oct 29, 2009 4:57 am

Individual wrote:
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


Oh certainly. If this were the kind of 'self-care' that they are encouraging then it is of course very skillful. By self-centered individualism I was referring to--well, I'm sure you know... that kind of self-centeredness that leads to all kinds of unwholesome attitudes and actions.

----------------------------

Now that I have some time, let me string together a more detailed response to Alan's question:

alan wrote:So my point is...all these people think they are right. How to best talk Dhamma to people who really care, but are coming from a blind spot? (That would be from a new age, self-help perspective).
Ajaan Thanissaro has an excellent article "The roots of Buddhist Romanticism" which I found very helpful. Does anyone else know of similar info? I would love to know. Thankyou


You might find this book interesting, Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion

The book has two aims: Firstly, to challenge constructions of spirituality that promote the subsuming of the ethical and the religious (by 'religious' they are not referring to institutional religiosity but the transformative potential of religious teachings) in terms of an overriding economic agenda. Secondly, to challenge their essentialist accommodationist orientation as these dominant constructions of spirituality often promote accommodation to the social, economic and political mores of the day and provide little in terms of a challenge to the status quo or to a lifestyle of self-interest and ubiquitous consumption.

The authors write:

One response to the emergence of capitalist spirituality might be to argue that this not 'true' or real spirituality. Such a move would imply that there is something easily identifiable as 'spiritual' in the world that would correspond to the real or proper usage of the term. In any case, whose construction of the term are we to take as the normative standard by which all others are to be judged? Rather, we wish to challenge the individualist and corporatist monopoly of the term spirituality and the cultural space that this demarcates at the beginning of the twenty-first century for the promotion of the values of consumerism and corporate capitalism. We do this, not because we wish to appeal to some kind of ancient 'authentic' or 'true' spirituality to which they do not conform (as if that or any definition could encompass the historical phenomena captured by the diverse uses of the term 'spirituality'), but rather to open up a contested space that will allow alternative, more socially engaged, constructions of the term to express themselves.


Browsing through Amazon.com, we can identify examples of capitalist spirituality in such books as: What Would Buddha Do At Work? 101 Answers to Workplace Dilemmas; Building A Business the Buddhist Way; Enlightened Management: Bring Buddhist Principles to Work; Mindfulness and Money: The Buddhist Path of Abundance; The Tao of Negotiation; The Tao of Sales, or The Tao of Trading...

Needless to say, I have not read all of these books. So it is possible that some of them are in fact advocating a more ethical and socially-responsible engagement with money-making enterprises--but IMO, a title like 'Mindfulness and Money: The Buddhist Path of Abundance' sounds quite suspect. In any case, the popularity of these books do lend support to the authors' arguments about the growing corporatist monopoly of spirituality or what they call the 'rebranding of religion'.

Anyway, the book has a chapter on 'Psychology and the Politics of Spirituality' that investigates the consequences of forcing spirituality into the frameworks of modern psychology.It also has a chapter on 'The Privatisation of Asian Wisdom Traditions' that interrogates New Age appropriations of Buddhism, Taoism and yoga. In that chapter, they write:

Buddhism entered the Euro-American cultural landscape as a consequence of European colonial expansion in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As such, its reception in the western world was intimately bound up with 'the desire to gain control in all sense, over the newly acquired domains. From the very beginning, then, the transculturation of 'Buddhism' into a western context became embroiled in already existing tensions within western societies between Enlightenment rationalism and Romanticism, between science and religion and between the established Church and its critics.


In line with their arguments about the impossibility to locate a definitive, 'true' spirituality, the authors here note that Western Buddhism does not have an inherent true 'self', but is rather something that emerges out of the interplay of various sociocultural process--we could say that Western Buddhism is shaped by various aggregates.

Later in the chapter:

Many of the New Age authors who appeal to Asian wisdom traditions are right to challenge traditional 'other-worldly' stereotypes of traditions such as Buddhism and Taoism, as the example of the worldly Buddhist 'saint' Vimalakirti and a detailed analysis of Taoist philosophy and history demonstrate quite well. We are being misled however when they interpret such teachings as implying an accommodation to one's individualistic desires and the world as it is. Buddhist teachings aim at undercutting our individual 'religions of the self' by deconstructing the 'self' that is the object of our devotion. By contrast, the kind of New Age teachings that we commonly find sold to us as 'Asian spirituality' reflects a very western cultural obsession with the individual self and a distinct lack of interest in compassion, the discipling of desire, selfless service to others and questions of social justice.


I think some the above ideas relate to what you asking. The book is an interesting read. It is based on scholarly research but is written for a non-specialist audience. I highly recommend it.

If you wish to explore further Thanissaro's ideas about the influence of Romanticism in Western Buddhism, you might want to check out this recent book, The Making of Buddhist Modernism.

From the publisher website: http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/s ... 0195183276

A great deal of Buddhist literature and scholarly writing about Buddhism of the past 150 years reflects, and indeed constructs, a historically unique modern Buddhism, even while purporting to represent ancient tradition, timeless teaching, or the "essentials" of Buddhism. This literature, Asian as well as Western, weaves together the strands of different traditions to create a novel hybrid that brings Buddhism into alignment with many of the ideologies and sensibilities of the post-Enlightenment West.

In this book, David McMahan charts the development of this "Buddhist modernism." McMahan examines and analyzes a wide range of popular and scholarly writings produced by Buddhists around the globe. He focuses on ideological and imaginative encounters between Buddhism and modernity, for example in the realms of science, mythology, literature, art, psychology, and religious pluralism. He shows how certain themes cut across cultural and geographical contexts, and how this form of Buddhism has been created by multiple agents in a variety of times and places. His position is critical but empathetic: while he presents Buddhist modernism as a construction of numerous parties with varying interests, he does not reduce it to a mistake, a misrepresentation, or fabrication. Rather, he presents it as a complex historical process constituted by a variety of responses -- sometimes trivial, often profound -- to some of the most important concerns of the modern era.


McMahan's work again demonstrates that we cannot easily argue that our understanding of Buddhism in contemporary times is the 'true' or most 'accurate' one. Rather, contemporary (Western) Buddhism emerges out of the interplay of various social, cultural, and historical processes--not unlike how we understand the 'self' as shaped by various aggregates.

This means that we cannot easily beat down New Age interpretations of Buddhism by saying that 'We're got the true version, you've got the false one. I'm right, you're wrong.' As Individual suggests, we risk slipping into dogmatism and even fundamentalism if we do so. But this does not mean that we cannot respond to misappropriations of the Dhamma, pointing out flaws where they are to be found. IMO, we do this not merely in terms of 'true/false' but in terms of 'skillful/unskillful' or 'wholesome/unwholesome'.

As the book Selling Spirituality argues, New Age interpretations often ignore the ethical principles underlying religious traditions like Buddhism. So even though we cannot trumpet our interpretation of Buddhism as the definitive one that sets the normative standard against which all other expressions of Buddhism are judged, we can nevertheless evaluate those other representations in terms of their skillfulness/unskillfulness or wholesomeness/unwholesomeness. We can evaluate New Age (or other) representations in terms of whether they follow the guidelines of sila or not, whether they are in accord with the FNT or not, whether they lead to the relinquishment of the Three Poisons of delusion, greed and hatred or not.

However, the question remains: How are we to do this? I do not have an easy answer. As I see it, it is an issue of skillful means. We can only do what we can in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. Sometimes we may be able to have friendly dialogues with others, sometimes we may not. Sometimes it might be productive to speak out, sometimes it might be better to remain silent....

In any case, I think the argument in Selling Spirituality offers a helpful suggestion. As noted above, the aim is to allow for more ethically and socially responsible forms of spirituality to express themselves. Perhaps in some instances (as others in this thread have already suggested), the most skillful thing we can do is simply remain firm in our practice, and allow the Dhamma to express its transformative potential through our actions.
With metta,
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby alan » Tue Nov 03, 2009 5:17 am

You must have put a lot of thought into that answer. Or at least time. So now I hope you will forgive me when I say I have no idea what you are talking about. Can you summarize it in, say, 10,000 words or less?
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby pink_trike » Tue Nov 03, 2009 5:24 am

alan wrote:You must have put a lot of thought into that answer. Or at least time. So now I hope you will forgive me when I say I have no idea what you are talking about. Can you summarize it in, say, 10,000 words or less?

But it's only 877 words now. :popcorn:
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby alan » Tue Nov 03, 2009 5:30 am

Ok then how about 877 words, give or take a few hundred!
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby Ben » Tue Nov 03, 2009 5:39 am

As always, a great post, Zavk.
Selling spirituality looks like it'll go on the short list for my reading list.

The comment you quoted regarding the appropriation of Buddhism by the west (as the result of colonialisation), reminds me of a reported conversation a dhamma friend had about 20 years ago with a first-gen vietnamese or cambodian australian (Buddhist) who scornfully said to my dhamma-friend that the people in the west had no hope of understanding Buddhism. So it makes me wonder how much of Buddhism we have recrafted in our own image?
metta

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby alan » Tue Nov 03, 2009 5:51 am

How much of Buddhism have we "recrafted" in our own image?
Isn't that essential to my question?
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby alan » Tue Nov 03, 2009 6:12 am

"Appropriation".
"As a result of colonization".
No, I don't think you really believe that!
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby Ben » Tue Nov 03, 2009 6:33 am

What I believe, alan, is irrelevent.
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby alan » Tue Nov 03, 2009 7:35 am

Why, Friend?
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby Individual » Tue Nov 03, 2009 9:27 am

Zavk's long post about is sensible and insightful.
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby A Medic » Tue Nov 03, 2009 6:00 pm

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?



Maybe just suggest a good book to them, and leave it at that.
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby zavk » Tue Nov 03, 2009 10:27 pm

alan wrote:You must have put a lot of thought into that answer. Or at least time. So now I hope you will forgive me when I say I have no idea what you are talking about. Can you summarize it in, say, 10,000 words or less?


A lot of what I have written derives from writings that I have already done. So I usually just reproduce them in different ways when the opportunity arises. It is like I have bucket of Lego pieces and I just go nuts when given the chance to do something with them... :smile:

------------------------------

But yes to summarize it:

    - If you wish to explore criticisms about New Age spirituality, the book Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion might interest you. The book presents a good overview of the historical, social, and cultural processes that have shaped New Age spirituality. It also discusses the ethical and political implications of New Age spirituality (which seems to me is what you are trying to critique about New Age).
    - Contemporary Buddhism is also situated within the same conditions that have shaped New Age spirituality. So if you wish to explore further the relationship between contemporary Buddhism and New Age, you might want to also check out The Making of Buddhist Modernism.


alan wrote:How much of Buddhism have we "recrafted" in our own image?
Isn't that essential to my question?


    - It is quite difficult to give a succinct answer to this question, but I believe The Making of Buddhist Modernism answers most of your query. It is also elaborates in greater detail the ideas in Thanissaro's article which you have read (in fact, the book discusses the article in one chapter).


----------------------------------

I wrote an overview of the arguments in the two books to give you (and other readers) an idea of how they are like. Perhaps you wouldn't find the books engaging if you found the ideas above hard to follow. But then again, you did enjoy Thanissaro's article which does make some elaborate arguments, as he is wont to do. So maybe you might find these two books engaging after all.


The summary bit above is only 180 words. Succinct enough? :smile: :reading:
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby alan » Wed Nov 04, 2009 5:10 am

Succinct and right to the point. Excellent. I'll put that book on the top of my reading list.
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby zavk » Wed Nov 04, 2009 5:32 am

Hi Alan

I am, in fact, reading the book now--you are referring to The Making of Buddhist Modernism right? I'm really, really enjoying it. It is based on scholarly research but the writing is clear and non-jargonistic. The book really opens up ways of thinking about such recurring questions as: 'Did Buddhism really predate modern science? Do we really have access to a 'pristine' Buddhism?'

You could sample the Introduction chapter on Google Books before deciding to buy it or not: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=XU6 ... q=&f=false

There is a review of the book in the Journal of Global Buddhism: http://www.globalbuddhism.org/10/schedneck09.pdf

Anyway, I prefer to get my books from http://www.bookdepository.co.uk these days. It has free worldwide delivery. Books usually cost a few dollars more than Amazon but shipping is free and pretty quick too.
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby christopher::: » Wed Nov 04, 2009 9:57 am

zavk wrote:
McMahan's work again demonstrates that we cannot easily argue that our understanding of Buddhism in contemporary times is the 'true' or most 'accurate' one. Rather, contemporary (Western) Buddhism emerges out of the interplay of various social, cultural, and historical processes--not unlike how we understand the 'self' as shaped by various aggregates.

This means that we cannot easily beat down New Age interpretations of Buddhism by saying that 'We're got the true version, you've got the false one. I'm right, you're wrong.' As Individual suggests, we risk slipping into dogmatism and even fundamentalism if we do so. But this does not mean that we cannot respond to misappropriations of the Dhamma, pointing out flaws where they are to be found. IMO, we do this not merely in terms of 'true/false' but in terms of 'skillful/unskillful' or 'wholesome/unwholesome'.

As the book Selling Spirituality argues, New Age interpretations often ignore the ethical principles underlying religious traditions like Buddhism. So even though we cannot trumpet our interpretation of Buddhism as the definitive one that sets the normative standard against which all other expressions of Buddhism are judged, we can nevertheless evaluate those other representations in terms of their skillfulness/unskillfulness or wholesomeness/unwholesomeness. We can evaluate New Age (or other) representations in terms of whether they follow the guidelines of sila or not, whether they are in accord with the FNT or not, whether they lead to the relinquishment of the Three Poisons of delusion, greed and hatred or not.

However, the question remains: How are we to do this? I do not have an easy answer. As I see it, it is an issue of skillful means. We can only do what we can in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. Sometimes we may be able to have friendly dialogues with others, sometimes we may not. Sometimes it might be productive to speak out, sometimes it might be better to remain silent....

In any case, I think the argument in Selling Spirituality offers a helpful suggestion. As noted above, the aim is to allow for more ethically and socially responsible forms of spirituality to express themselves. Perhaps in some instances (as others in this thread have already suggested), the most skillful thing we can do is simply remain firm in our practice, and allow the Dhamma to express its transformative potential through our actions.


Great post, zavk, and i especially agree with your closing comments.

:anjali:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby James N. Dawson » Wed Nov 25, 2009 1:28 am

Alan,

At one time I think I felt like you about this. I felt a need to challenge those with a New Age approach to Buddhism. But as time went on, I realized that trying to do so only brought conflict and ill feeling. I also realized how much further I had to walk on the path, how enormous was my own task in learning, understanding and following the Dhamma, and purifying my own mind. The New Agers, I suppose, are doing their best, even though you and I might see their understanding as less than Dhamma.

Rather than struggle with the New Agers, you just have to find people who understand and support you on the path you believe is true. Until then, you may just have to walk alone, and be an island unto yourself.

Not to imply it was just a bunch of nonsense, but I didn't understand zvak's long post very well either. Maybe a little. But as I said in my intro, I'm slow.

James
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Nov 25, 2009 9:03 am

AN 8.53 Gotami Sutta: To Gotami wrote:I have heard that at one time the Blessed One was staying at Vesali, in the Peaked Roof Hall in the Great Forest.

Then Mahapajapati Gotami went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, stood to one side. As she was standing there she said to him: "It would be good, lord, if the Blessed One would teach me the Dhamma in brief such that, having heard the Dhamma from the Blessed One, I might dwell alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, & resolute."

"Gotami, the qualities of which you may know, 'These qualities lead to passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulating, not to shedding; to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to aroused persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome': You may categorically hold, 'This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher's instruction.'

"As for the qualities of which you may know, 'These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome': You may categorically hold, 'This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher's instruction.'"

That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, Mahapajapati Gotami delighted at his words.
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Re: Talking to New Age/Western buddhists

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Nov 25, 2009 12:26 pm

alan wrote: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?


these things in and off themselves are not Dhamma, even if they contain aspects of Dhamma that doesn't mean they are Dhamma.

Psychology and more genrally science can be a useful tool to use in understanding Dhamma, as can the cultural belief we are raised in, but the Dhamma is the Dhamma at the end of the day.

I think each of us do have our own path to lead, not everyone is suited to be a monastc and all that entails, not all of us are suited to practice as a lay person, or novice, and others are suited to these.

But saying the dhamma has to conform to X, or every 'religion' (including new age and other systems) is the same is also not true, the Dhamma is the Dhamma i.e. Buddhadhamma not the Dharmic faiths, and this has a very simple system as in my quote above, or the vinaya specific equivelent, but even thing which appear to conform with this may not be Dhamma, as an example, hindsight is a wonderful thing and is part of the buddhas advice in practice (advice to Rahula) but so is appropriate attention, so if someone says live in the now, don't go over the past or plan for the future, or in another way, we can't change the past and we can't control the future so don't bother with it or any similare approach is that really Dhamma? in simple terms th system is simple the workable application can be complex!

with new approaches such as Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) or other similar psychotherapy or pschology we need to ask ourselves if any aspects are Dhamma, and what use can these approces have when applying them, or even if they can be useful in explaining a practice, are there downsides to using them? people don't want to be counselled without being asked, or psycho-anlysed or any other assesment method so is the practice of this ever inapropriate (such as on a forum like this one)? or can aspects of that practice be utilised to some degree all the time which enables "us" (meaning anyone) to have a more productive experiance? or useful tool to use?
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
With Metta
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"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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