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.