One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby christopher::: » Tue Jan 12, 2010 11:57 pm

We may hold the ideal of arahant, buddha or boddhisattva in our minds, and this is useful, but does that idea/belief determine our outcomes? I think Goldstein's point/perspective is that certain things we cannot know definitively. You can hold a belief, but that's what it is, a belief, an idea. The path, method, is what matters. HOW we practice is most crucial, not our differing IDEAS of what the outcomes of that practice will be.

For myself i've come to similar conclusions. I just really don't know. More important for me is the path, the dhamma as expressed in day-to-day practice...

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.


: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: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby LauraJ » Wed Jan 13, 2010 12:08 am

I sincerely am not sectarian that I know of. I really appreciate, for example, HHDL's contributions to the Rime movement in Tibetan Buddhism.

That said, am I the only one who feels like, "If it's not broken, don't fix it?" I feel uncomfortable with the idea of too much change to accommodate any different region, culture, person, etc. where Buddhism takes root.

Please tell me if this sounds restrictive, rigid, or sectarian. But I honestly wouldn't want a Theravadan to change his/her thing to accommodate me, nor would I want to change my own religion to melt and blend with others. Different is fine, and it's interesting!

Kindly,
Laura
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby LauraJ » Wed Jan 13, 2010 12:10 am

christopher::: wrote:We may hold the ideal of arahant, buddha or boddhisattva in our minds, and this is useful, but does that idea/belief determine our outcomes? I think Goldstein's point/perspective is that certain things we cannot know definitively. You can hold a belief, but that's what it is, a belief, an idea. The path, method, is what matters. HOW we practice is most crucial, not our differing IDEAS of what the outcomes of that practice will be.

For myself i've come to similar conclusions. I just really don't know. More important for me is the path, the dhamma as expressed in day-to-day practice...


Christopher, I feel that you're in a potentially opportune and fruitful position. Much metta to you :heart:
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby meindzai » Wed Jan 13, 2010 1:19 am

christopher::: wrote:We may hold the ideal of arahant, buddha or boddhisattva in our minds, and this is useful, but does that idea/belief determine our outcomes?


Of course. It's like asking if driving to New york will land you in L.A. or not. You'll end up in New York.

I think Goldstein's point/perspective is that certain things we cannot know definitively. You can hold a belief, but that's what it is, a belief, an idea. The path, method, is what matters. HOW we practice is most crucial, not our differing IDEAS of what the outcomes of that practice will be.


Our beliefs and ideas are crucial to determining how we practice. Mahayana and Theravada practice based on entirely different assumptions which result in different kinds of practices. And each of those are meant to lead somewhere - to an outcome. They are not just aimless wandering. The idea that the practice is more important than the outcome does not come from Buddhism, but a western idea based on romanticism. Buddhism teaches suffering, and a goal - the end of suffering, and a path leading to it. Theravada teaches a path to personal liberation and Mahayana teaches a path to Buddhahood for the sake of saving others. That's the reality of the different schools we have. There are similarities. There are differences.

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby meindzai » Wed Jan 13, 2010 1:25 am

LauraJ wrote:I sincerely am not sectarian that I know of. I really appreciate, for example, HHDL's contributions to the Rime movement in Tibetan Buddhism.

That said, am I the only one who feels like, "If it's not broken, don't fix it?" I feel uncomfortable with the idea of too much change to accommodate any different region, culture, person, etc. where Buddhism takes root.

Please tell me if this sounds restrictive, rigid, or sectarian. But I honestly wouldn't want a Theravadan to change his/her thing to accommodate me, nor would I want to change my own religion to melt and blend with others. Different is fine, and it's interesting!

Kindly,
Laura


I think a little bit of cross-polination and cultural tinkering is ok and inevitable. But the different schools I feel need to exist to meet the various proclivities people have.

-M
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby christopher::: » Wed Jan 13, 2010 2:12 am

Hi Laura and Meindzai.

First off, yes, there are many differences in practice. But at the core i believe there are more similarities, the 3 pillars, 8 FP, 4NT, 7 Factors of Awakening, the precepts are crucial and central, for all of us. If you don't have these in your practice, you won't obtain positive results, imo..

We may simply disagree about this but i believe that outcomes cannot be known, what you can know and what we need to practice are the above. You used a phrase earlier, meindzai, that was nice...

meindzai wrote: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.


This is what i believe happens quite often, an outcome arises spontaneously when conditions are met. A vow may or may not have been made, the outcome may or may not have been chosen beforehand.

And sometimes- not in all cases or for everyone- there may be something emphasized in another school or tradition which is going to be crucial or helpful for you. It doesn't mean you "switch" but that over time we might be drawn to other teachings.

This is definitely what has happened for me. There are certain things that have been emphasized (as goals) in Zen Buddhism that i feel i can best cultivate by going back to Theravadin teachings and teachers. Bodhichitta is an example. Clearly Sanghamitta and i dont agree about this, but i believe the practice of the brahmaviharas to be central and extremely helpful in cultivating the mental attitudes and daily actions that lead to the "spontaneous" arising of bodhichitta.*

Goldstein mentioned some of the ethical problems that have arisen with teachers. We've seen a lot of this in Zen Buddhism, and it stems mostly from a disregard for the basics of ethical conduct, the precepts. These basics are taught (and emphasized) with more completeness in Theravada, imho. Mindfulness is another practice that while emphasized in Zen is not as deeply rooted in the Buddha's teachings, such as the Satipatthana Sutta, as it could be, in my opinion...

So this is where teachers like Goldstein, Gil Fronsdal and Thich Nhat Hanh (who have a deeper understanding of the Pali Canon) can be very helpful to some Mahayana practitioners. They point us to the roots of Mahayana, to the essentials of practice without which it may be impossible for some of us to realize our "bodhisattva" goals.

Perhaps?

Maybe?

:anjali:

*note: I'm not sure but i think this is what Thich Nhat Hanh has said, actually, when he's talked about the importance of the brahmaviharas for Mahayana Buddhists.
"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: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Jan 13, 2010 7:43 am

meindzai wrote: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.
The story of Sumedha, which developed after the death of the Buddha, shows Sumedha, on the verge of becoming an Arahant, taking a vow to become a sammasambuddha in front of the Buddha Dipankara from whom Sumedha received a prophecy that his vow will succeed.

Out of this story, along with the later (after the death of the Buddha texts such the Buddhavamsa and Cariyaapi.taka ( http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-PHIL/jeffrey2.htm ) a bodhisatta path was developed. It was rather limited in that a person who wished to follow it would need to make a vow in front of a living Buddha. This model, with some tweeking, is found in the earliest Mahayana bodhisttva sutras such as the Ugra. It was a path for the very few (men), and it was not a path, as the Ugra portrays it, in opposition to the path of the arhat. That came with other Mahayana texts that put the idea of becoming a Buddha into opposition with the goal of being an arhat, and, of course, along with that oppositional stance came a significant devaluation of the arhat and a deification of the Buddha. The bodhisttva path became the only real path to take.

The point of this excursus is to point out that the bodhisttva path is not something the Buddha directly taught. At best it is something that was initially derivative and then evolved as the result of any number of conditions. Either in the comparatively spare Theravadin version or in the highly intricately complex Mahayana version, we see something very inspiring, very lofty, but it is something that we cannot find any real evidence that the Buddha taught. If he had felt a need to teach a way to sammasambuddha-ness, it would have been obvious from the beginning. As the Buddha stated, he was not a closed-fisted teacher.

If the bodhisattva path inspires one to practice, good, but what the Buddha taught was a way to the very same awakening he attained. The characterization of the goal of the path the Buddha taught, the arahant, as being for one-self only as opposed to practicing for all sentient being, the bodhisattva, is meaningless. The Buddha taught a path for us to wake up. How the Buddha;s teachings have been variously been reframed by differing schools is at best secondary to the simple core fact of needing to wake up.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Jan 13, 2010 9:19 am

So, if we except this, and by and large I do, the question becomes how in my case and in your case do we wake up ? Assuming for the sake of discussion that you are not fully awake..I certainly am not. What in my case and your case are the practices that waken rather than merely pacify, or that simply send us into fresh speculative thought or chasing abstract ideas. And how do we know that they , these practices are likely to lead to our awakening ? This it seems to me is where hands on instruction become vital. We it seems to me do not need to surrender to a guru, but we do need someone more experienced than us who can say " left a little, right a little, now try this ". Someone who can be our banker for a while handing us back our own resources as and when we need them. Someone who can see past our posturing and thinking and need to be seen in a particular way. Someone to whom we can say "Ok I have had enough of my reactive mind and its endless whining, I want out". In short we need flesh and blood Sangha a lot more than we need comparative religion.
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby cooran » Wed Jan 13, 2010 9:39 am

Hello Sanghamitta,

When you say Sangha - what do you mean? The Ordained Sangha? or did you really mean Parisa?

parisa [parisaa]:Following; assembly. The four groups of the Buddha's following that include monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/glossary.html#parisa

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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Jan 13, 2010 9:49 am

Hello Chris, yes you are right I should have been more clear. I meant both. The ordained Sangha, and important in a slightly different way, Parisa. And in my opinion invaluable as cyber Sangha is, it can never supplant either.

:anjali:
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby cooran » Wed Jan 13, 2010 9:53 am

Yes, I agree. It took me many years of cyber-sanghas before I found a monastery close enough to attend with an Abbot for whom I have the greatest respect.

with metta
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Jan 13, 2010 9:55 am

Sanghamitta wrote:In short we need flesh and blood Sangha a lot more than we need comparative religion.
If it is an either-or choice a good teacher and good friends are what is needed.

I am not unsympathetic to Goldstein's effort here. He is an excellent teacher who has done - continues to do - the work. He is solidly grounded in Theravada and as a teacher of vipassana he deals with people coming to retreats from any number other Buddhist traditions. Of some of those traditions, he has practiced them with qualified teachers, though he would not claim to be expert in them. What he is looking for, and I can see his book as part of a dialogue, is for a way for Buddhists of various traditions to talk with each other without getting lost in sectarian squabbling, and he is commenting on what is already started which is the various traditions borrowing from each other. (On ZFI there is a thread about practicing metta with zazen.)

Is this borrowing a good thing? It could be, if done with care and respect. Will it lead to a unique Western Buddhism? Maybe, or more likely it will lead to a cross fertilization of the various traditions. I am, however, not an it-is-all-one sort of person. I don’t think it-is-all-one at all. What Goldstein seems to looking for in this is some basis of commonality in all of this. Is he successful? Damdifino, but there is value in reading his book for those who are interested in this sort of thing, whether or not one agree with his position.

Outside of this, Goldstein is an excellent Theravadin vipassana teacher.
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 » Wed Jan 13, 2010 10:15 am

Surely, and it was in his capacity as a Theravadin vipassana teacher that I first came across his work. I can see that we cant simply pretend to be Thais or Sri Lankans ( or for that matter Japanese or Tibetan either ) and that a distictively western Buddhism is likely to emerge, (and in contrast to some I dont see that this will happen by marching stoutly into the cul-de-sac of rationalism and secularism, if they were the way forward the west would be Nibbana already ) I do suspect though that a refering back to reliable sources concerning what was actually taught by the Buddha will produce more fruit than abstract ideas of cohesion which might be commendable but owe more to an internalisation of the Gettysburg Address than to Buddhist pragmatism. It comes down imo to what works. And if what works for you is an amalgam of Zen and vipassana, or Guru Yoga and Kasina practice then fine. That certainly is the FWBO position. I know from experience that mixing doesnt work for me. It raises more questions than it answers.
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Jan 13, 2010 10:37 am

Sanghamitta wrote: It comes down imo to what works. And if what works for you is an amalgam of Zen and vipassana, or Guru Yoga and Kasina practice then fine. That certainly is the FWBO position. I know from experience that mixing doesnt work for me. It raises more questions than it answers.
I do not disagree.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby nowheat » Wed Jan 13, 2010 11:10 am

Great thread, great contributions. I'm here using Sanghamitta's thoughtful posts as a springboard for my own thoughts, not necessarily directing my comments solely at Sanghamitta.

Sanghamitta wrote:... I don't 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 isn't more attractive to pursue 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.

Speaking only for myself, the endless distraction of comparing and contrasting is exhausting and not fun: it's work. I am amused by the fact that Buddhism is pushing me to study a great many things I avoided in school: comparative religion, debating techniques, philosophy, even physics! I have never liked “arguing” even when it's just mild-mannered debate, but the process here in these forums, illuminates so much that it's worth doing. And, taking a point of yours I quote below, understanding what's actually in the Pitakas as opposed to what we think is there, or an outgrowth of those beliefs, seems important to me, because I believe (and more and more, see) that the Buddha's teaching is whole and complete, and misunderstandings tend to detract from it.

Sanghamitta wrote:To pursue 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.


Which is really the point of the whole practice of Buddhism, isn't it. And I understand that slicing and dicing words and ideas isn't the point, and a lot of the discussion may be more about the “face of Buddhism” than its heart – though surely both are being examined, and the heart further revealed or obscured in the process. The face is actually quite important to getting those who would seek and do need what the Buddha taught to “Come and see.” A divisive front is not useful. Having all fronts dressed in what appear to be superstitious practices and beliefs will exclude many who are specifically seeking the ground-contacting, uncluttered dhamma.

Sanghamitta wrote:... 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.


Surely compassion for others is in the Pitakas, and the Buddha's sangha is charged with the responsibility to go out and teach, for the benefit of others. Bodhicitta may take this concept much further, but the practice of the path taught in the Pitakas brings us quite naturally to the same sort of place, doesn't it, where we want to help others see things as they really are?

A blending of the two stereotypical views that one has to work on one's own path and enlightenment, or one should work on others just seems like logic, to me, something that follows naturally from what the Buddha taught. As well, actual practice tells us that the two are for the most part inseparable: first, one has to work for one's own enlightenment to have any direct experience to speak *from*; and second, since compassion for others is an outgrowth of the development of insight and wisdom (and speaking purely on a practical level – since the Buddha was a very pragmatic man – silent and withdrawn monasticism cannot be the only way or the dhamma will be lost) efforts to bring the teaching to others are part of the path, too. Why should the emphasis be so much more on one than the other? Most of us may start with the one and move towards the other, but it seems as though continued growth in one's practice is best served by developing both one's own practice and outreach to others simultaneously. And, perhaps not coincidentally, this fuses with Western views on the place of religion in our lives quite well.
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby Aloka » Wed Jan 13, 2010 11:46 am

.

My own view is that if people want to stick with one tradition that's fine - and certainly I think its probably a good idea to try to understand one tradition properly first, before skipping about between the different traditions. One could end up getting confused and not really be practising any of them - whilst perhaps even attempting to be a 'jack of all trades' in a purely superficial way.(not sure if that expression is known outside of the UK !)

However, contradicting my previous statement to some extent, as an offline practitioner of Vajrayana for many years, I can honestly say that investigating Theravada recently and reading the Pali Canon is very pleasurable - and I am constantly delighted by what I'm discovering. I see this as enhancing my practice at the moment, rather than detracting from it.

I'm not saying that the different traditions should be mixed up into one pot called 'new buddhism' though, just that there should be general appreciation and understanding rather than rigidity.

.
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Jan 13, 2010 1:26 pm

Depends what you mean by " understanding" a tradition Aloka. Surely the only way to truly understand a tradition is to follow it to its conclusion. At which point my guess would be that all rafts would be abandoned.
I am glad that you are benefitting from your exploration of the Theravada.
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby christopher::: » Wed Jan 13, 2010 2:27 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Depends what you mean by " understanding" a tradition Aloka. Surely the only way to truly understand a tradition is to follow it to its conclusion. At which point my guess would be that all rafts would be abandoned.
I am glad that you are benefitting from your exploration of the Theravada.


You might be right, but how about benefiting from a tradition, as a form of practice? I cannot say anything of Tibetan Buddhism, but many of us here at DW who come from Mahayana traditions are here in part because Theravadin teachers and teachings are providing us with something beneficial. Do I understand Theravada? No way. But i think that's a main point Goldstein is offering/suggesting, you don't have to understand or even agree with some things from other traditions to benefit from their methods of practice. Meditation, mindfulness, concentration, recognition of dependent origination and anatta. One Dharma doesn't refer to the differences, but rather to the commonalities of our practice...
"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: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Jan 13, 2010 2:32 pm

I am unsure what you mean by "benefiting from a tradition as a form of practice ".

I am also unsure how to answer without seeming simply unfriendly. You see I cant talk for the other Theravadins on the forum Christopher, but I have studied the Mahayana Sutras in some depth. I have met Zen teachers and Lamas.
I have read quite a number of books including commentaries by well known Mahayana teachers including Nagarjuna and so on. Those things that you mention are all found in the Theravada. The 4nt's The 8 FNP. Dependant Origination, mindfulness etc etc .They are examined in great depth in the Pitakas and in the commentaries. I can see that a Zen Buddhist or Vajrayana student would get great benefit from going to the source of these teachings. But what, and dont misunderstand me, this is neither triumphalist nor rhetorical what would you see a Theravadin gaining from Zen or the Vajrayana ? You see I dont accept after examining the evidence that the historical Buddha taught anything remotely like Buddhadhatu or Bodhicitta, so what else is there that we can learn from ? Seriously ?
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Re: One Dharma? Joseph Goldstein's Perspective

Postby meindzai » Wed Jan 13, 2010 6:26 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:I am unsure what you mean by "benefiting from a tradition as a form of practice ".

I am also unsure how to answer without seeming simply unfriendly. You see I cant talk for the other Theravadins on the forum Christopher, but I have studied the Mahayana Sutras in some depth. I have met Zen teachers and Lamas.
I have read quite a number of books including commentaries by well known Mahayana teachers including Nagarjuna and so on. Those things that you mention are all found in the Theravada. The 4nt's The 8 FNP. Dependant Origination, mindfulness etc etc .They are examined in great depth in the Pitakas and in the commentaries. I can see that a Zen Buddhist or Vajrayana student would get great benefit from going to the source of these teachings. But what, and dont misunderstand me, this is neither triumphalist nor rhetorical what would you see a Theravadin gaining from Zen or the Vajrayana ? You see I dont accept after examining the evidence that the historical Buddha taught anything remotely like Buddhadhatu or Bodhicitta, so what else is there that we can learn from ? Seriously ?


I think we're along the same lines here. My interest actually started in Mahayana and I delved into Theravada for more background. When I studied Mahayana Sutras I felt like I was starting in the middle of a movie and couldn't grasp the plot.

As far as the benefit going the other way around - I think it's possible, but not quite in the same way. The benefits of cross-polination I've seen have less to do with traditions and Sutras than with the cultures and attitudes that have developed around the different schools. For example, I've found that Zen masters are actually very good people-readers and psychotherapists, often with a very deeply cultivated sense of stillness and equanimity. Tibetan masters are often very cultivated in the Brahma viharas in a way that seems palpaple. (Though I also feel the same way about Bhante Gunaratana)

Zen stories seem to find their way into Theravada teacher's talks. Not because they're mahayana, or even because they are zen. They're just really good stories. We're not just dealing with doctrinal stuff but culture here.

I might say we are forming a single Buddhist culture - which is ok. But that's not the same thing as saying that the differences in the doctrines and teachings of the various schools are negligable.

-M
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