One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

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One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby christopher::: » Mon Jan 11, 2010 5:52 am

I recently found this interview with Joseph Goldstein, on Beliefnet. Your thoughts on his perspective?

:anjali:

A Dharma Melting Pot
Interview by Deborah Caldwell

A genuine Western Buddhism is now being born, according to Joseph Goldstein, co-founder of Insight Meditation and one of America's most respected Buddhist teachers. The birth pangs include controversy and conflict-- and fear that genuine teachings may vanish as traditions converge in a "dharma melting pot" of American practice. But Goldstein believes there is a potential for the essence of Buddhism to actually flourish in the West, particularly in the United States.


Why is this movement, an emerging Western Buddhism, coming to light now?

Something unique is happening in the last 20 to 30 years, especially in America. So many different Buddhist traditions have come here and practitioners are interacting with each other in ways that haven't happened in 1,500 years. In Asia, the traditions are isolated from each other. If you go to Thailand and ask a Thai monk about Tibetan Buddhism, it's very unlikely he would know anything about it.

But with globalization such a factor in the world, isn't there any of that cross-fertilization happening in Asia?

Not as much as here. Here, people can practice with teachers in different traditions. So it goes beyond the study aspect. In a country like Burma, Thailand, or Tibet there are very few practitioners of the other traditions. But here, in a way, it's become like a great dharma melting pot and some very interesting questions arise from that.

Why is the United States a richer dharma melting pot than, say, Western Europe?

Well, this is also happening in Western Europe, but my sense is that the nature of American society is very fluid, very open, and not so tradition-bound. There is a lot of experimentation and inquiry that goes on here that is part of our culture, even more than in Western Europe.

What are the controversies that arise as a result of this weaving together of various strands of Buddhism?

The most basic question is, Is it a good idea? There's the fear, and I think it's a consideration worth having, about whether something gets lost if we do this. Does the integrity of a tradition get lost if you mix it with other traditions? Does it become a thin soup rather than an enriched soup?

What are some specific differences among the various strands?

The deepest philosophical issue is the one I mention in the book, and that is the nature of enlightenment and freedom. Is it something that transcends awareness? Is it a state beyond awareness? Or is pure awareness itself freedom? That's the nutshell question. Some traditions say awareness itself is a conditioned phenomenon and that ultimate freedom goes beyond even that. The other traditions say pure awareness is freedom.

So the former is a little deeper than the latter?

Well, the proponents of the former think that. But the latter think the proponents of the former think the opposite. There are great masters in each tradition expressing these views. I respect all of them and value all of them--but they say different things.

What do you believe?

What I came to is that framing it in terms of who's right is the wrong question. That was the breakthrough for me. I began to see that all the teachings from all the traditions are best seen as skillful means for liberating the mind, rather than ultimate statements of truth. If you take them as ultimate statements of truth, then if there are differing views, one is right and one is wrong and one is higher and one is lower. But if you take them as skillful means, then the question is, What can I learn from this teaching? And I found that approach much more useful.

This all points to the limitation of concept. All these teachings are in words. Words are concepts and aren't the actual experience of truth itself. It's like the famous example of fingers pointing at the moon. There could be many different fingers pointing in many different directions. If we look at the fingers we could get into a big conflict about which finger is right. We will start examining which is fatter and which is thinner, which is shorter which is longer. But if we take the finger and think of it as a skillful means for experiencing the moon, then we can learn from all of them. So that was my resolution of the conflict.

The second level of resolution was a mantra I came to for myself. With regard to the nature of the fully enlightened mind, my mantra is: Who knows? It's like, maybe there are people who know, but I didn't know. So rather than just ascribing to some belief system, I use that mantra to keep an open mind. That "Who knows?" isn't a "Who knows?" of confusion. It's a "Who knows?" of openness.

How does this questioning play out on a pragmatic level? Does it mean Buddhists get into more arguments with each other in the West than the East?

Well, the learning method in the West is quite different from the East. In the West, there is a much greater questioning of authority. In the East, there is a greater acceptance of authority. Each side has a strength and a weakness. Neither is better than the other. The danger of simply accepting authority leads to blind belief. And we've seen in some religious communities that spiritual authorities who might not be fully enlightened do harmful things.

Such as?

Misuse of power, sexual improprieties. I'm not saying this is typical, but I'm saying it can happen and has happened, as it happens in every religious tradition. It's the nature of power, authority. So blind belief, unquestioning authority allows for that more.

On the other side, the danger of always questioning authority is that we might not surrender enough to a teaching and practice it to some level of completion in order to find out for ourselves if it's a value. This kind of skeptical doubt is obstructive.

So you've got differing personalities among Buddhists in America trying to figure out the best way?

Yes, and just as in politics there is a liberal to conservative spectrum, it's that same spectrum in spiritual endeavors.

Does it break down among immigrant versus convert lines?

There are two main divisions in Buddhism in America. One is called ethnic Buddhism-people from Asia who've settled here, such as the Thai, Burmese or Tibetan community who follow their own traditions. The other is Americans who may have gone to Asia and practiced there, come back, and started teaching in this country. Like me, and others like me. We're taking the teaching from Asia but we are not Asian, so very different things happen.

You write in the book about the Three Pillars at the heart of Western Buddhism? What are they?

One is mindfulness and the practice of mindfulness. If we're not mindful, then no insights are possible. The second is compassion. And I think this is also a theme in all of the Buddhist schools. The Buddha was known as The Compassionate One. The third is wisdom. That's enlightenment, which frees the mind.

One of the critics of your book said this period of Buddhism in America isn't special. It's no more or less "one dharma" than any other previous era of Buddhism. How do you respond?

Well, it's not a new Buddhism. People may have thought it would be and so they're disappointed. What I think is different is that there are people who are more open to taking elements from different traditions and weaving them together into their own practice. For example, I know many people, myself included, whose basic grounding was Theravada Buddhism, which is from Burma and Thailand. But in recent years they've also been studying Tibetan Buddhism and seeing that it's possible to take elements from both of these traditions and incorporate into one practice.

Can you give an example?

The mindfulness practice is very highly developed in the Theravada tradition. What's emphasized in the Tibetan school is the concept of bodhicitta-the aspiration to be awakened in order to benefit all others. That concept is in Theravada Buddhism, but it's not highlighted. Previously, I realized my practice would inevitably help others because I would be more kind and loving, but this put the motivation of helping others right at the beginning of the practice, not just a consequence. That was powerful for me and changed how I held my own practice.

I'm not suggesting that one is better than the other because this is all a matter of individual temperament, and what's important for each person at a particular time. It might be appropriate for people to stay within one tradition, and for other people for whom it could be helpful to learn from others.
"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)."
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby Sanghamitta » Mon Jan 11, 2010 9:44 am

My perspective is that some with sympathy to the Mahayana will agree with the general thrust of Goldsteins view, and that those whose understanding of the Dhamma is based on Classical Theravada.... may not.
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Jan 11, 2010 12:28 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:My perspective is that some with sympathy to the Mahayana will agree with the general thrust of Goldsteins view, and that those whose understanding of the Dhamma is based on Classical Theravada.... may not.

From what I read, a lot of Mahayanists do not.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby Sanghamitta » Mon Jan 11, 2010 12:57 pm

I think that is the risk run by anyone whose motives in assuming commonalities are not matched by the realities inherent in the situation. The risk that is, of being viewed with some reservation by all sides. I am sure that Goldstein is a good guide to basic Dhamma , from what I have read, but there seems to be an inbuilt need that some have to accomodate all views no matter how problematic that is, rather than getting on with it. Whatever "it" happens to be. I am increasingly of the view that for some people the creation of of a Pan Buddhist view is simply the form that Dukkha takes in their case. Its a form of not wanting things to be the way they are. It is of the heart rather than based on the pragmatic. I mean apart from the feelgood factor in all being folks together, what actual benefit is like to be gained from a Theravadin attempting to shoehorn the Bodhisattva concept ( in the Mahayana understanding of that concept ) into her/his practice ? Its not that modern western Theravadins havent given thought to the idea before laying it to one side..
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby christopher::: » Mon Jan 11, 2010 2:18 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:I think that is the risk run by anyone whose motives in assuming commonalities are not matched by the realities inherent in the situation. The risk that is, of being viewed with some reservation by all sides. I am sure that Goldstein is a good guide to basic Dhamma , from what I have read, but there seems to be an inbuilt need that some have to accomodate all views no matter how problematic that is, rather than getting on with it. Whatever "it" happens to be. I am increasingly of the view that for some people the creation of of a Pan Buddhist view is simply the form that Dukkha takes in their case. Its a form of not wanting things to be the way they are. It is of the heart rather than based on the pragmatic. I mean apart from the feelgood factor in all being folks together, what actual benefit is like to be gained from a Theravadin attempting to shoehorn the Bodhisattva concept ( in the Mahayana understanding of that concept ) into her/his practice ? Its not that modern western Theravadins havent given thought to the idea before laying it to one side..


Perhaps "it" for Goldstein (and some others) is providing a "form" of basic Theravadin-rooted dhamma instruction that is open and welcoming to those who may not feel as comfortable with other more traditional forms?

Lama Surya Das seems to be taking a similar approach, and probably not coincidentally there are similar complaints among "traditional" Tibetan Buddhists about his presentation of the dhamma...

Same could be said of Thich Nhat Hanh in Zen, and others, probably...
"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)."
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby Sanghamitta » Mon Jan 11, 2010 2:53 pm

His final para talks about those for whom it is appropriate to stay within one tradition. In the end it is maybe a matter of individual choice or need. I know that in my own case I have no desire to mix traditions. Following just one is a full time job and although I dont doubt the motivation of those who would have us examine the claims of various traditions, I do wonder if for some people at least it isnt more attractive to persue these attempts at inclusion rather than getting down to the nitty gritty of following one to its conclusion. There is endless distraction to be found in comparing and contrasting. It feels more dhammic than does shopping. I'm not sure it is though.
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby christopher::: » Mon Jan 11, 2010 3:42 pm

Doesnt the path of mindfulness- if practiced properly- address that? Specifically- as taught in the Satipatthana Sutta, and in conjunction with the 7 factors of Awakening....
"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)."
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby Sanghamitta » Mon Jan 11, 2010 3:59 pm

Address what ?
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby christopher::: » Mon Jan 11, 2010 11:15 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Address what ?


"There is endless distraction to be found in comparing and contrasting."

Listening to Goldstein, he spends most of his time teaching the nitty gritty of vipassana, the "how" of dhamma practice as described by the Buddha. These larger issues of inclusion, comparing, are not the primary focus of his teaching. And yet, by being "inclusive" he makes his instructions welcoming to folks who have backgrounds (and interest) in other traditions...

: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)."
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Jan 12, 2010 8:38 am

Doing the Vipassana ( plus perhaps Samatha ) he recommends until its completion and/or the rest of ones life would be the most profound form of inclusion. Imo.
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Jan 12, 2010 8:49 am

Sanghamitta wrote:Doing the Vipassana ( plus perhaps Samatha ) he recommends until its completion and/or the rest of ones life would be the most profound form of inclusion. Imo.

Would you be kind enough to clarify what you mean here.
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: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Jan 12, 2010 9:06 am

To persue the practises described by the Buddha including perhaps vipassana and samatha, dilegently to their conclusion, would lead to a condition where one be an examplar and therefore an includer, in a much more effective way imo than simply holding endless discussion which compare and contrast traditions. We have all the tools we need.
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby christopher::: » Tue Jan 12, 2010 9:40 am

I think your points are valid. But i also think Goldstein makes a good point here:

The mindfulness practice is very highly developed in the Theravada tradition. What's emphasized in the Tibetan school is the concept of bodhicitta-the aspiration to be awakened in order to benefit all others. That concept is in Theravada Buddhism, but it's not highlighted. Previously, I realized my practice would inevitably help others because I would be more kind and loving, but this put the motivation of helping others right at the beginning of the practice, not just a consequence. That was powerful for me and changed how I held my own practice.

I'm not suggesting that one is better than the other because this is all a matter of individual temperament, and what's important for each person at a particular time. It might be appropriate for people to stay within one tradition, and for other people for whom it could be helpful to learn from others.


I can only speak for myself, a person who is coming more from a Mahayana background- that I've recently been drawn very strongly to the Theravadan approach to mindfulness practice. Goldstein doesn't draw sectarian lines, he points out similar ideas in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism when discussing Vipassana practice. There's no sense of us and them, this being better then that.

That inclusiveness is welcoming. What's central though is not the inclusiveness as much as the core teaching, which is vipassana. Lots of people are inclusive and welcoming, Eckhart Tolle is rather inclusive, but what is he offering as a teaching?

Eckhart doesn't offer the dhamma.
"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)."
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Jan 12, 2010 10:02 am

Bodhicitta as described by the Vajrayana may or may not be Dharma, but I see no reason to see it as Dhamma. Does inclusion neccesitate the cultivation of qualities and means not found in the Pitakas ? If so then that inclusion would actually be an exclusion..wouldnt it ?
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby christopher::: » Tue Jan 12, 2010 10:55 am

But Buddha spoke of the brahmaviharas, frequently, as well as prajñā / paññā... This is probably a Mahayana view, but in that sense it may be that teachings of bodhichitta are very much rooted in the dharma, emerged as people practiced the Buddha's teachings down through the ages.

Sometimes i've felt that the brahamviharas are not given enough attention in some Mahayana Buddhist schools, and that without that attention bodhichitta can be difficult to cultivate...

Just my pov, of course.

: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)."
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Jan 12, 2010 11:05 am

Christopher::: If you wish to see the concept of Bodhicitta as a natural development arising from the Buddhas teaching then that is of course your view and you are entitled to it. I see no reason to believe that such a concept was ever part of the Buddhas teachings as found in the Pitakas. If I did I would presumably be a Mahayana practitioner. I think that this discussion is shortly going to run the risk of becoming circular, so I will leave it at this point.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby christopher::: » Tue Jan 12, 2010 11:36 am

Sanghamitta wrote:Christopher::: If you wish to see the concept of Bodhicitta as a natural development arising from the Buddhas teaching then that is of course your view and you are entitled to it.


It seems possible, was my point. I really don't know, just find this to be a reasonable perspective. Doesn't mean it's true...

I see no reason to believe that such a concept was ever part of the Buddhas teachings as found in the Pitakas. If I did I would presumably be a Mahayana practitioner.


I didn't mean to make it sound like that, just that i thought the roots (primary ingredients of cultivation) could be found there. As a Theravadin Buddhist you may disagree, but even if someone did agree (that the concept of bodhichitta is rooted in the Buddha's original teachings) that wouldn't make that person a Mahayana practitioner, would it?

A Jewish person might acknowledge that Christian and Muslim beliefs are rooted in Jewish teachings, but that doesn't automatically make them a Christian or Muslim, does it?

Take care, Sanghamitta.

: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)."
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby meindzai » Tue Jan 12, 2010 4:29 pm

The Theravada ideal is the Arahant. The Mahayana ideal is the Bodisattva - someone on their way to Buddahhood. Without this distinction a lot of confusion will arise. (Ignoring the rare Theravada Bodhisattas for the moment)

My understanding of Mahayana is that one is developing certain qualities (like compassion) and paramis and storing up oodles and oodles of merit through countless lifetimes without entering upon any of the four stages of awakening. If one has entered stream entry one essentially gets flung off the Bodhisattva path and on their way to Arahantship - at which point they cannot become a Buddha.

As Theravadan's we "believe" that that Buddha did not teach the path to becoming a Buddha, but the path to Arahantship. But to me that doesn't exclude the idea of Bodhisattvahood as a viable path. The Buddha's goal was to get people to awaken as quickly as possible, but he also understood tha after a certain point in time the teachings would disappear and another Buddha would appear in the world to propagage the Dhamma again. Mahayanists are essentially saying they are up for that task, so rather than work on eliminating defilements and so forth leading to stream entry, they are storing up merit and developing paramis. There might be some technical issues with this from a Theravada POV which would make a discussion in itself.

If you put yourself in the time and place of the Buddha, say as one of the characters we run across in the canon, it doesn't seem to me that the idea of Bodhicitta would be present - since one is already in the presence of a Buddha. So I can't any way for that teaching to be in the early canon. To me it makes sense that it would have developed later, after the Buddha's death, ("oh s***! We're outta Buddhas! Gotta make more!")

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Jan 12, 2010 5:22 pm

So, basically Meindzai, your view is that only the Mahayana can produce a Sammasambuddha ?
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby meindzai » Tue Jan 12, 2010 7:34 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:So, basically Meindzai, your view is that only the Mahayana can produce a Sammasambuddha ?


No, I don't believe that. Mahayanists might? What I think though is that if one aspires to Buddhahood, rather than arahantship, then you're not going to find a lot of information in the Pali canon about how to do so.

I mentioned that there are Theravadans who have taken a Bodhisattva/Bodhisatta vow (at which point'd I'd love to link to the e-sangha post about it- sigh!). Though I don't know if Sammasambuddha's have necessarily taken a vow in a prior life at all, or if it can be a spontaneous process that simply occurs when the conditions are met.

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