Against the Flow

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

Against the Flow

Postby zamis » Sat Jan 24, 2009 2:07 pm

I wonder if we might have a simple, friendly, and productive discussion on these words from an introduction by Thanissaro Bhikkhu to Upasika Kee Nanayon's book An Unentangled Knowing: The Teachings of a Thai Buddhist Lay Woman


Study after study has shown that mainstream Buddhism, both lay and monastic, has adapted itself thoroughly to the various societies into which it has been introduced — so thoroughly that the original teachings seem in some cases to have been completely distorted. From the earliest centuries of the tradition on up to the present, groups who feel inspired by the Buddha's teachings, but who prefer to adapt those teachings to their own ends rather than adapting themselves to the teachings, have engaged in creating what might be called designer Buddhism. This accounts for the wide differences we find when we compare, say, Japanese Buddhism, Tibetan, and Thai, and for the variety of social roles to which many women Buddhists in different countries have found themselves relegated.

The true practice of Buddhism, though, has always been counter-cultural, even in nominally Buddhist societies. Society's main aim, no matter where, is its own perpetuation. Its cultural values are designed to keep its members useful and productive — either directly or indirectly — in the on-going economy. Most religions allow themselves to become domesticated to these values by stressing altruism as the highest religious impulse, and mainstream Buddhism is no different. Wherever it has spread, it has become domesticated to the extent that the vast majority of monastics as well as lay followers devote themselves to social services of one form or another, measuring their personal spiritual worth in terms of how well they have loved and served others.

However, the actual practice enjoined by the Buddha does not place such a high value on altruism at all. In fact, he gave higher praise to those who work exclusively for their own spiritual welfare than to those who sacrifice their spiritual welfare for the welfare of others (Anguttara Nikaya, Book of Fours, Sutta 95) — a teaching that the mainstream, especially in Mahayana traditions, has tended to suppress. The true path of practice pursues happiness through social withdrawal, the goal being an undying happiness found exclusively within, totally transcending the world, and not necessarily expressed in any social function. People who have attained the goal may teach the path of practice to others, or they may not. Those who do are considered superior to those who don't, but those who don't are in turn said to be superior to those who teach without having attained the goal themselves. Thus individual attainment, rather than social function, is the true measure of a person's worth.


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/kee/dynamic.html

I came across Upasika Kee Nanayon's work very recently. Her writings resonate of Ajahn Chah for me: simple, alight in wisdom. The essay, in part quoted above, describes Upasika Kee Nanayon as autodidactic.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's contrast between Buddhism and "mainstream" or "designer" Buddhism may carry more weight for someone who is a solitary practioner. In forums like this one, and as I've recently encountered in Buddhist magazines, there is so much scholarly discussion and hair- splitting of matters which are not essential. So much twisting and spinning of meditation and teachings in commercial avenues, so much feel good fluffy stuff.... and supposedly Buddhism is growing in the West.

This essay tells us what we should already know, individual attainment is essential. Attainment in morality, concentration, and wisdom: the seeing of suffering, its origin, its cessation, and perfecting the path to its cessation. A handful of simsapa leaves. But even here in a Buddhist environment, this very simple direct teaching gets lost in complexities of linguistic acrobatics. A mind play. How much Buddhism is found in Western Buddhism?
"You're almost at the end of your lease in this burning house and yet you continue latching onto it as your self. It tricks you into feeling fear and love, and when you fall for it, what path will you practice? " Upasika Kee Nanayon

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Re: Against the Flow

Postby genkaku » Sat Jan 24, 2009 3:40 pm

Dear zamis -- Thank you very much for that excerpt. It was so refreshing -- especially for someone as lazy as I am about reading. How kind of him to say what many may not want to hear. Wish I'd said that! :)

It is hard not to get swallowed up by 'domesticated' Buddhism. There's a hell of a lot to be said for being kinder and more thoughtful than we have in the past. Not only is there a lot to be said for altruism, there are a lot of people saying it. The Dalai Lama is an apparent example. "My religion is kindness," he said, and it's hard not to fall in love with the statement and perhaps try to emulate it as a kind of altruism.

Let me say: Altruism is good.

Let me repeat: Altruism is good.

Let me say it again: Altruism is good.

No kidding, altruism is good. It is good for society. It is good for the one exhibiting it. Yes, altruism is very good stuff.

But...

Domesticated Buddhism is not so good. For those who are serious in their practice, they must go where the dangers lurk, where undomesticated Buddhism flourishes, where compassion and clarity are more than a pat on the head and a good command of the texts. I am not saying anything is mistaken or wrong or naughty. I am saying that without entering the undomesticated realms that dwell in the heart, well, altruism flourishes and Buddhism wilts.

The domestication of Buddhism presents what may be a very good platform for the limitlessness of Buddhism. But the fact is that those who are serious will have to leap off that platform. Remaining on that platform is referred to in Zen as "nesting" -- securing a perch without ever taking flight.

My experience is that it is in formal practice that the willingness to take flight grows. Goodness is good, but is goodness enough? It's a serious question, I think. And it is in formal attentive practice that the question gains force and, somehow, MUST be answered. It is not enough to imagine or praise flight. It is only enough to fly. When you fly, the sky's the limit and the limitless is your home ... a home without the domestication or any other attribute of either safety or danger.

I am not, with all this blither, trying to disdain domestication or elevate the undomesticated. That would just be more domestication. I just think that the courageous and patient practice that we practice does not find its meaning in some nicely-tinted religion or made-up "compassion." Start with altruism -- sure. But go the extra step, dare yourself, de-domesticate what has been so nicely domesticated. Go ahead and fly ... and don't doubt for a moment that such flight could ever be right or wrong. It's just flying, after all.

Obviously you pressed my buzzers. Sorry for so many words.
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Re: Against the Flow

Postby zamis » Sat Jan 24, 2009 5:35 pm

Thank you your insightful post Genkaku.

Below is the Aguttara Nikaya Book of Fours Sutta #95 mentioned by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
"Monks, these four types of individuals are to be found existing in the world. Which four? The one who practices neither for his/her own benefit nor for that of others. The one who practices for the benefit of others but not for his/her own. The one who practices for his/her own benefit but not for that of others. The one who practices for his/her own benefit and for that of others.

"Just as a firebrand from a funeral pyre — burning at both ends, covered with excrement in the middle — is used as fuel neither in a village nor in the wilderness: I tell you that this is a simile for the individual who practices neither for his/her own benefit nor for that of others. The individual who practices for the benefit of others but not for his/her own is the higher & more refined of these two. The individual who practices for his/her own benefit but not for that of others is the highest & most refined of these three. The individual who practices for his/her own benefit and for that of others is, of these four, the foremost, the chief, the most outstanding, the highest, & supreme. Just as from a cow comes milk; from milk, curds; from curds, butter; from butter, ghee; from ghee, the skimmings of ghee; and of these, the skimmings of ghee are reckoned the foremost — in the same way, of these four, the individual who practices for his/her own benefit and for that of others is the foremost, the chief, the most outstanding, the highest, & supreme.

"These are the four types of individuals to be found existing in the world."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.095.than.html

Through my readings, I've encountered similar themes. Ayya Khema, Bhante Rahula come immediately to thought. There are many more people who are curious about Buddhism, who buy the cool beads and zafus, pay for the tours, trips, and fashionable retreats, than there are the ones who simply sit. And having simply sat, continue to simply sit, sit and sit. To simply sit is the hardest thing for some. Perhaps that is why there is so much commerical opportunity in Buddhism in the West and why we can read over and over how "difficult" Buddhism is. We want to sit and have an experience. We want to sit without the preliminaries. We want to sit vicariously through another's sitting. Upasika Kee Nanayon brings this point to light over and over in the short works I've read. She didn't have the hindrances of the beads, zafus, tours and intensive new-age retreats.

The difference in reading Upasika Kee Nanayon (like in reading Ajahn Chah, Ayya Khema, Master Linji, in short, teachers with attainment), and the babble of the rest is the clarity and simplicity that pours through the words. On the subject, Master HanShan Dequing called it "graspng at other's understanding and clouding one's own entrance to enlightenment."

As a side note: butter does not come from curds. Butter comes from the fattiest part of the cream. With agitation the fat separates from the liquid, (what is called buttermilk afterward) until it forms fat globs which are pressed together to squeeze out the additional liquid so that the fat holds firmly and smoothly together. Curd comes from the coagulation of milk, as in the process of making cheese. It has to do with the souring or acidifying of the milk, which is not the case with butter. Does anyone else notice these things?
"You're almost at the end of your lease in this burning house and yet you continue latching onto it as your self. It tricks you into feeling fear and love, and when you fall for it, what path will you practice? " Upasika Kee Nanayon

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Re: Against the Flow

Postby genkaku » Sat Jan 24, 2009 7:30 pm

Dear zamis -- I am at work just now and don't have as much time as I'd like, but I will say I have spent much of the day basking in the light of that excerpt you first posted. It's been like a vacation in Tahiti ... one I will no doubt have to pay for down the line, but in the meantime, baskbaskbask. :)

More when there's more time, but again, thanks so much.
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Re: Against the Flow

Postby kc2dpt » Sat Jan 24, 2009 7:48 pm

zamis wrote:I wonder if we might have ... friendly ... discussion on these words...

No, it is not possible. Why? Because you have already started out in an unfriendly way.

In forums like this one ... there is so much scholarly discussion and hair- splitting of matters which are not essential. So much twisting and spinning of meditation and teachings in commercial avenues, so much feel good fluffy stuff.... and supposedly Buddhism is growing in the West.

See? You start right off by insulting those of us who participate in discussions on this forum. And then you ask us to participate in a discussion with you? That is not friendly. Sorry.

Personally, I do not find the discussions on forums like this one to be anything like the "domesticated Buddhism" spoken of in Ven. Thanissaro's quote. At least not in the discussions I frequent. I find instead many good, knowledgeable people helping each other stay on the track of good, fruitful practice. Does this sometimes involve scholarly discussion and hair-splitting of matters? Yep. And there is nothing wrong with that when the aim is cultivating right view and developing right effort in line with the Buddha's teachings. :meditate:
- Peter

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Re: Against the Flow

Postby zamis » Sat Jan 24, 2009 10:03 pm

Dear Peter, thank you for your honesty. I have in fact considered myself a thread killer/ extraneous poster to be ignored on many ocassions and have wondered if I was perceived as unfriendly/ ignorant, etc.... More often lately it has been easier to stay away from forums for this and other reasons. Being removed from most Buddhist interaction, immersed in solitary study and practice, I must come across in a strange way. It has come to light recently because I have been more active in volunteer work.

Coming across Upasika Kee Nanayon's writings has been timely and perfectly suited to the conditions encountered with other Buddhists of the past seven months. And Thanissaro Bhikkhu's introduction brought up the salient points I couldn't voice on my own. Buddhism goes against the flow of our society - not a lightening bolt. I'd think most honest practioners can see this point for themselves early. But it also goes against mainstream Buddhism - this is more subtle but a point you've helped underscore.
"You're almost at the end of your lease in this burning house and yet you continue latching onto it as your self. It tricks you into feeling fear and love, and when you fall for it, what path will you practice? " Upasika Kee Nanayon

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Re: Against the Flow

Postby genkaku » Sat Jan 24, 2009 10:31 pm

How much Buddhism is found in Western Buddhism?


PS. Dear Zamis -- This question strikes me as unnecessarily confrontational and somewhat elite. It presumes that there are parameters to something called "Buddhism" as over against something called "Western Buddhism." It amounts to the same tendency I think you find distasteful in others ... the willingness to quote books and confine to handcuffs something that -- where it has any fulfilled meaning at all -- is more like the wind.

No criticism intended -- just telling you what I hear/imagine. But to the extent that it is accurate, I think that what pops the compare-and-contrast bubble is the recognition of how fortunate we are to have a practice that pops bubbles...a practice we can actually practice irrespective of the books on the shelves or the wisdom from the lecturn.

Just my two cents.
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Re: Against the Flow

Postby Jechbi » Sat Jan 24, 2009 10:33 pm

Well, I like cheese curds.
:namaste:
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: Against the Flow

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Jan 24, 2009 11:59 pm

Greetings Zamis,

The main thing I take from this is that the Dhamma involves the renunciation of the world... which is counter-cultural by its very nature.

It is indeed "against the flow", as per this topic's title.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
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Re: Against the Flow

Postby Element » Sun Jan 25, 2009 12:32 am

zamis wrote:This essay tells us what we should already know, individual attainment is essential. Attainment in morality, concentration, and wisdom: the seeing of suffering, its origin, its cessation, and perfecting the path to its cessation. A handful of simsapa leaves.

Hi Zamis

For me, the article was an extreme view.

The article is correct in that our priority is individual attainment. This is the foremost attainment.

However, once attained, one naturally will give a priority to helping others.

Buddha said in MN 8: "One stuck in the mud cannot pull another out of the mud. That is impossible".

With metta

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Re: Against the Flow

Postby Cittasanto » Sun Jan 25, 2009 9:03 am

Hi Element,

Element wrote:However, once attained, one naturally will give a priority to helping others.

Buddha said in MN 8: "One stuck in the mud cannot pull another out of the mud. That is impossible".


I agree with the last line, but not all Enlightened beings Helped others to be enlightened, and The Buddha, nearly didn't also according to the Enlightenment story If I remember correctly.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"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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Re: Against the Flow

Postby bodom » Sun Jan 25, 2009 1:41 pm

I strongly, strongly recommend Pure and Simple: The Buddhist Teachings of a Thai Laywoman by Upasika Nanayon. It is one of my all time favorite books and it always seems to be an endless source of wisdom and motivating factor for me.

http://www.amazon.ca/Pure-Simple-Buddhi ... 086171492X

Here are some of her online works:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/kee/index.html

:namaste:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Against the Flow

Postby zamis » Sun Jan 25, 2009 1:52 pm

genkaku wrote:
How much Buddhism is found in Western Buddhism?


PS. Dear Zamis -- This question strikes me as unnecessarily confrontational and somewhat elite. It presumes that there are parameters to something called "Buddhism" as over against something called "Western Buddhism." It amounts to the same tendency I think you find distasteful in others ... the willingness to quote books and confine to handcuffs something that -- where it has any fulfilled meaning at all -- is more like the wind.

No criticism intended -- just telling you what I hear/imagine. But to the extent that it is accurate, I think that what pops the compare-and-contrast bubble is the recognition of how fortunate we are to have a practice that pops bubbles...a practice we can actually practice irrespective of the books on the shelves or the wisdom from the lecturn.

Just my two cents.


Dear genkaku, these matters are hard to pinpoint. When one is ready to leap into a debate anything said can be used as weaponry against its intention. As a former rhetorician, I find it impossible to imagine that we communicate as often as we think we do. Even in sincerity.

In the essay, Thanissaro Bhikkhu goes on to describe some of the bias in the commentaries as written by what he calls "scholarly" monks. The practioners, men and women monastics, left little or no record. This schism lends itself to your statement above, that I prescribe parameters to Buddhsim. Buddhism does indeed have parameters. It is only upon reaching the far shore that we can ditch the raft. It is only by following the Noble Eightfold Path, that we can locate the stream. It is by the precepts founding base in morailty that we can recognize the water (or the wind).
"You're almost at the end of your lease in this burning house and yet you continue latching onto it as your self. It tricks you into feeling fear and love, and when you fall for it, what path will you practice? " Upasika Kee Nanayon

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Re: Against the Flow

Postby zamis » Sun Jan 25, 2009 1:55 pm

Jechbi wrote:Well, I like cheese curds.
:namaste:



Fresh curds are delicious (so is the whey).
"You're almost at the end of your lease in this burning house and yet you continue latching onto it as your self. It tricks you into feeling fear and love, and when you fall for it, what path will you practice? " Upasika Kee Nanayon

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Re: Against the Flow

Postby zamis » Sun Jan 25, 2009 2:00 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Zamis,

The main thing I take from this is that the Dhamma involves the renunciation of the world... which is counter-cultural by its very nature.

It is indeed "against the flow", as per this topic's title.

Metta,
Retro. :)

:focus:
That is how I've understood it, Retro.
"You're almost at the end of your lease in this burning house and yet you continue latching onto it as your self. It tricks you into feeling fear and love, and when you fall for it, what path will you practice? " Upasika Kee Nanayon

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Re: Against the Flow

Postby zamis » Sun Jan 25, 2009 2:08 pm

Element wrote:
zamis wrote:This essay tells us what we should already know, individual attainment is essential. Attainment in morality, concentration, and wisdom: the seeing of suffering, its origin, its cessation, and perfecting the path to its cessation. A handful of simsapa leaves.

Hi Zamis

For me, the article was an extreme view.

The article is correct in that our priority is individual attainment. This is the foremost attainment.

However, once attained, one naturally will give a priority to helping others.

Buddha said in MN 8: "One stuck in the mud cannot pull another out of the mud. That is impossible".

With metta

Element


Dear Element, that is in fact how the AN Book of Fours #95 describes the four types of individuals. The one who practices for personal attainment [and later?] helps others to their personal attainment, is the formost individual. Thanissaro Bhikkhu only went as far as the first three types of individuals (in order): the one who does not practice for personal attainment or for the welfare of others, the one who sacrifices his/her attainment for the welfare of others, and the one who practices for his/her own attainment.
"You're almost at the end of your lease in this burning house and yet you continue latching onto it as your self. It tricks you into feeling fear and love, and when you fall for it, what path will you practice? " Upasika Kee Nanayon

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Re: Against the Flow

Postby kc2dpt » Sun Jan 25, 2009 3:43 pm

zamis wrote:this is more subtle but a point you've helped underscore.

No, the point I underscored... and you apparently missed... is that not everyone who engages in dhamma discussion is engaging in "designer" or "fluffy" Buddhism and not everyone who feels aversion to dhamma discussion is "going against the flow". Sometimes rudeness is just rudeness.
- Peter

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Re: Against the Flow

Postby Prasadachitta » Sun Jan 25, 2009 4:39 pm

Hi all,

Sometimes I think we can loose perspective a little when it comes to our speculations about what is and what is not effective Dhamma practice. The Buddha represents the culmination of a beautiful and effective principle which we can all engage with to varying degrees. We could say objectively that this principle appears to be flowering more in one individual than in another and we could also say that some people appear a bit closer to what we see as its culmination. What I think is not really helpful is when we denigrate the uplifting and transformative effects which percolate down from the awakened beings. When a being like the Historical Buddha reaches the final release and knows the Deathless He/She lifts up all those who begin to have faith in the possibility of release. This includes those who go on nurturing their children and cultivating a healthy and secure lay community. The Buddha Gives the world meaning and shows the fundamental principle at work. When a being goes forth into complete renunciation and still exhibits a happy and uplifting manner all of us who have confidence in the reality of this happiness naturally begin to loosen our attachments in accordance with that confidence. This just naturally occurs. Simply having confidence in those who renounce is effective Dhamma practice. Likewise all the stuff some would denigrate as "designer" or "fluffy" Buddhism can be effective on many levels especially in connection with a degree of this confidence. We need Buddhas like flowers need Sun and if you are in a position to work on becoming one then please do it. Its a wast of time to belittle the flowers for not being the sunshine.

Metta

Gabriel
"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332
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Re: Against the Flow

Postby zamis » Sun Jan 25, 2009 8:13 pm

Peter wrote:
zamis wrote:this is more subtle but a point you've helped underscore.

No, the point I underscored... and you apparently missed... is that not everyone who engages in dhamma discussion is engaging in "designer" or "fluffy" Buddhism and not everyone who feels aversion to dhamma discussion is "going against the flow". Sometimes rudeness is just rudeness.


Dear Peter,
Nowhere did I say everyone. This discussion was not intended for rudeness. I apologize to everyone I've offended with this confrontational, unfriendly and rude post.
"You're almost at the end of your lease in this burning house and yet you continue latching onto it as your self. It tricks you into feeling fear and love, and when you fall for it, what path will you practice? " Upasika Kee Nanayon

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