cultural differences and teaching

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cultural differences and teaching

Postby Freawaru » Tue Mar 23, 2010 11:48 am

Hello All,

there are, IMO, serious cultural differences between Asians and Westerners that require different teaching methods. Of course, some techniques work in both cases, concentration on an object is concentration on an object in both kinds of culture but there are also more subtle techniques and explanations that will work for people grown up in one culture and not for those in the other. I would like to dedicate this threat to the differences in cultures and the behaviour and thinking patterns, the conditioning, we all experience due to it and discuss possible different approaches to make use of them to learn dhamma.

I think a good starting point is this report by Ajahn Sucitto:

http://sucitto.blogspot.com/2010/03/kno ... u-are.html

One thing I have learned in my Western culture is not to lie. A lie is when one says f.e. "yes" but actually means "no". However, in the Thai culture this is the correct behaviour as saying "no" is considered impolite. Of course, in the Thai culture one can disagree with someone, too, just not verbally. One has to talk with one's body to give shade and meaning to one's verbal expressions.

Confrontational speech is a complete no-no, and one has to listen carefully for signs of reluctance, evasiveness or low enthusiasm.


it is interesting to observe the differences that come from this simple difference in culture. One is that the Thais are much more aware of body language than Westerners, both of the body language of others as of their own.

Even more confusing for them, the body language of the West is a monotone.


I think this is a British understatement. The Western body language must seem primitve and childlike to them. Not to be expected in adults. Confusing in their meaninglessness. An intercultural problem. But there is also a spiritual difference originating from this difference in culture: Out of this necessity Thais are much more aware of their body languge, an awareness that can be used for mindfulness meditation. I think as a Thai one can easily learn to keep mindfulness on a dayly basis just by staying mindful on the different social roles one has to play within one day.

But this won't work for Westerners. Westerners in general are, in my observation, almost completely unaware of the roles they play. When I point to them that now they act and react as their mother or father would have in a similar situation they are often surprised, only realizing this fact after some time of self-observation. A slightly higher awareness have - of course - actors. From the point of view of Westerners all Thais are actors and actresses, not letting their inner feelings and emotions show naturally but acting them.

In her upbringing it was important not to show uneven or disturbing moods. This evenness is a social grace; it keeps whatever’s happening within from spilling out, and it preserves a safe sense of separateness. It’s quite the opposite from the West where expressing how you feel is considered a sign of being open and willing to meet the other person on an emotional (or even physical) level.


So paying attention to the roles one plays over the day (and Westeners do so, too, just more unware) won't give as fast spiritual results for Westerners. But there are aspects of the Western culture that work just as well, though differently. Western cultures pay a lot of attention to one's imagination. The West feeds it's children with physical food and ... stories. Beginning with fairy tales and going on to Theatre, books, movies, fantasy role playing games... the Western culture requires a growing control, lucidity, awareness and detachment to one's imagination. And just like the Thais feel the Westerners body language as primitive the Westerners can't really understand that the Thais imagination is still on the level of that of a small child, something that shows in the necessary censorship of the Thai government regarding Western movies.

As the article by Ajahn Sucitto shows there are pros and contras regarding both kinds of cultures in a social way. But I think there are also pros and contras regarding lucidity, control, detachment and midnfulness. Because the Thai culture requires lucidity towards one's physical behaviour this aspect is much more lucid than in Westerners and one can easily build on it spiritually. On the other hand, while not as lucid physically, the lucitiy regarding imagination is more flexible and thus more detached in Westerners. Westerners being used to absorb themselves in different characters via imagination since childhood don't see that much difference not only between age and social status but also gender and personality. One can absorb oneself just as much in a male character as in a female one, or in animals or extraterrestrians, fairy, demon, gargoyle and so on. This - of course - also shows itself in dreams and mind made bodies - someone who can absorb him or herself in a completely different body in imagination will also find it less difficult to do so in dream or in the mind made realm. And these kind of experiences will also reflect in the social again, as one can experience a male body as well as a female one in dream and the mind made realms ... what is the point of identifying with being a man or a woman in the physical so much as the Asians do?

So it seems to me that to alter some of the arguments and teachings that base on the Thai culture to the Western one would be beneficial to the Western students.
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Mar 23, 2010 8:21 pm

Hi Freawaru,

Interesting article.

I don't have much to add, except to say that in my view it is a mistake to talk about just "Asian vs Western". There's a huge difference between Thai and Chinese behaviour, for example, and I've found it quite jarring to to get on a plane from Thailand to Hong Kong full of Chinese people after being in Thailand for a few weeks.

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Mar 23, 2010 9:59 pm

Greetings,

I've not visited these places to be able to provide personal comment, but further to venerable Sucitto's blog entry and venerable Dhammika's 'Broken Buddha', I do think it's unfortunate that local behaviours, customs and societal expectations are being taken as the Dhamma itself, to the point where Theravadins in different countries do not feel much sense of brotherhood. The notion of a Buddhism delineated by regional boundaries seems foreign to the Dhamma of the Buddha.

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby rowyourboat » Tue Mar 23, 2010 11:03 pm

Sri Lankan's have more faith in karma and rebirth- there is less difficulty in accepting these concepts. The usefulness of nirvana is not endlessly questioned. Meditation is respected by all levels of society and not something that those in the fringes of society do. They are more likely to follow instructions and put in greater effort to reach the goal. Foulness of the body meditation, impermanance is more easily accepted, denying sense pleasures is more easily accepted. However the down side is that they are also susceptible to corrupt monks- question less- have less understanding of 'why Buddhism'.
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby Goofaholix » Wed Mar 24, 2010 1:44 am

interesting thread

Freawaru wrote:Hello All,
Of course, some techniques work in both cases, concentration on an object is concentration on an object in both kinds of culture


I'm not so sure that's true. Generally SE Asians (I'm not sure if this is true of North Asians) find concentration much easier that we westerners do, they can often achieve jhanas quite quickly wheras we find them difficult to impossible.

As for the rest being as I am married to a Thai i can make a few observations.

I haven't noticed any difference in body language, maybe my wife has. What I have found though is differences in how we use tone of voice. We use tone of voice to express emotion and perhaps some of that subtlety that Thais are supposed to be exhibiting in body language. Thai is a tonal language, different tone means a different word, if an emotion needs to be expressed then another word is added.

So when they speak english their english sounds pretty flat to us, just like our body language seems flat to them I suppose. I find if I express myself with a subtle note of sarcasm, annoyance, tiredness, impatience etc my wife generally won't pick up on it. I find this is a good thing as generally small issues just go away and don't become big issues, wheras a western woman is more likely to want to "have a talk" about what's going on.

I think how they approach practice is different also. Westerners want to understand, define, categorise, compare, and contrast, and so we have endless discussions on the Internet about whether this or that teaching is true, whether this or that is correct doctrine etc.

Asians don't approach it that way, they just accept the teaching as best they understand it and trust their teachers and get on with it. Of course this has lead to a lot of superstitions getting in there and the vast majority of Asian Buddhist aren't so much interested in practiciong the path to awakening but I'm not talking about them. I think practice oriented Asians generally just accept the teaching as best they understand it and trust their teachers and get on with it.

In Thai culture social harmony and how you fit into society and family is very important, wheras is western culture individualism and standing on your own two feet is much more stressed. Thais never do anything alone, they're always in a group, this is true in monasteries also wheras western Buddhists in particular are much more included to a hermit like lifestyle. Thais will lean on each other more and help each other more, this has a negative side though as I find they are a nation of givers and takers, the takers are constantly taking advantage of the givers.
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby Paññāsikhara » Wed Mar 24, 2010 2:51 am

I think that one of the difficulties in discussing the differences across cultures on the level of "buddhist teaching", is that what we may call the "sample groups" in both (or more) cultures are not necessarily on a par. eg. to take a group of Thai or Sri Lankan Buddhists for example, they may largely reflect a general sample of the Thai or Sri Lankan population as a whole. However, to take a group of Western Buddhists, more often than not, they are not that indicative of the population as a whole. It is sometimes the very non-norm characteristics of some Westerners that makes them look into Buddhism in the first place. On the other hand, a sample population of Western Christians may be more normative. So, I don't think that we can necessarily extrapolate any findings to the differences between cultures as a whole. As time progresses, and Buddhism becomes more normative in Western society, things may change viz this point, somewhat.

I also agree with MikeNZ, about "Asian vs Westerner", as if both were largely homogeneous groups. Both groups include a large range of different cultures. Maybe we may wish to narrow it down here to "Thai vs North American (?)". My own experiences as a Kiwi in China (where Taiwan, the PRoC and HK all also all quite different in many ways) doesn't suggest some of the points raised above, for example.
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Mar 24, 2010 6:44 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:"... as if both were largely homogeneous groups. Both groups include a large range of different cultures.

Yes, let me elaborate from my experience.

In the Chinese mainland it is common to come across loud, obnoxious-seeming behaviour much as one would expect from some Westerners (... specific references deleted ...) kidding around. This might not be so obvious if you've been to China and stayed in big hotels, but in one incident I recall my friend negotiating a mini-bus price at Huang Shan (a famous mountain). To me it sounded like a big noisy argument, which actually caused me to back off a little, but in the end it was just my friend beating the price down a little (form 14 to 12 yuan if I recall --- I complained that it was a waste of time and why didn't we pay the price they asked, to which my friend looked rather perplexed. Like in Life Of Brian "You've got to haggle..").

Another time I was in Thailand on a visit to one of my partner's friend's mother. The conversation sounded quite amicable to me, but I later learned that it was quite a stressful experience where she felt she was being grilled about various issues.

These differences can be tricky for foreigners who think they can read the people. In particular, the Thai (or Japanese) approach of trying to seem agreeable even when one is actually really irritated is potentially quite dangerous...

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby chownah » Wed Mar 24, 2010 3:13 pm

In terms of teaching in Thailand: If you want to ask a question and actually get an answer generated by the person you are questioning then you must pose your question so that there is no perceivable preconceived answer.....don't say "do you agree" because the answer will be "yes"....don't say "should we continue to the end of the chapter" because the answer will be "yes"....don't say "should we stop now" because the answer will be "yes"................the strong overarching Thai desire in a public interaction is to be in agreement and saying "yes" is often taken as the best bet for agreement.....and this goes double or treble for agreeing with anyone who is teaching .....the traditional Thai social heirarchy holds monks at the top followed by H. M. the King followed by teachers.......with teachers haveing such high ranking because originally it was the monks who did the teaching so this established the high standing which has remained even though teaching is by and large done by lay people now.......also as a westerner ( I guess you are a westerner) you are viewed as being of higher status in that you are perceived as being rich................all of this adds up to a very very strong desire to always agree with you when in a public situation....a difficult thing to handle for western teachers who think they are getting straight answers and then are very suprised later when they find out ( if they ever do) the dynamic.....
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Mar 24, 2010 11:10 pm

Hi Chownah,

That's a good point, that also applies to Chinese students (I have little experience with Thai students). A useful strategy is to set it up so they are arguing with each other. Chinese are some of the most argumentative people in the world --- as long as they are arguing with equals. With a teacher they may well clam up in the way you describe, for similar reasons...

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby Freawaru » Thu Mar 25, 2010 10:28 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hi Freawaru,

Interesting article.

I don't have much to add, except to say that in my view it is a mistake to talk about just "Asian vs Western". There's a huge difference between Thai and Chinese behaviour, for example, and I've found it quite jarring to to get on a plane from Thailand to Hong Kong full of Chinese people after being in Thailand for a few weeks.

Metta
Mike


I agree. I just didn't want the thread to be only about Thai and German :wink:

Of course, each country and culture is different from the others, even within one culture there can be differences between north and south, east and west and so on. But it seems to me that there are some aspects of the way it is taught (not the dhamma itself) that are fit for tranditional Buddhist cultures - such as the "respect" in Thailand - but problematic in cultures with a different history. What I would like is to find these aspects because it seems to me that the Thai (and other traditional Buddhist cultures) sometimes confuse their cultural conditioning with Dhamma. As a teaching that leads to Liberation Dhamma has, IMO, to be independent of any cultural conditioning and thus it's teachings should be interpreted in a sense that is detached from the cultural conditioning. Of course, this is not easy, one result of cultural condioning is the the belief that this conditioning is absolutely right and the only good one, which then leads to the belief that it is Dhamma somehow - but when analysing one's mental mechanisms and patterns from a level of insight it is seen that it is just one of many possible ones. I think it is the insight into and the analysis of these conditionings that are adressed in Dhamma rather than any specific conditioning itself.

When we have found those conditionings and discerned them from the Dhamma itself it should be possible to find better ways to teach Dhamma to students of other cultures.
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby Freawaru » Thu Mar 25, 2010 11:02 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

I've not visited these places to be able to provide personal comment, but further to venerable Sucitto's blog entry and venerable Dhammika's 'Broken Buddha', I do think it's unfortunate that local behaviours, customs and societal expectations are being taken as the Dhamma itself, to the point where Theravadins in different countries do not feel much sense of brotherhood. The notion of a Buddhism delineated by regional boundaries seems foreign to the Dhamma of the Buddha.



Exactly.

Take for example the idea that correct acting according to one's culture leads to a better rebirth. I don't recall the sutta's name (maybe someone else can provide it) about the actor and the realm of rebirth. It was not the deva realm if my memory is correct. But instead of teaching this the conditioning of the Asian cultures only claim that actors in the sense of a job will be reborn in the animal realm (if my memory is correct) and acting according to one's cultural conditioning will lead to a better rebirth. The idea of describing the rebirth according to one's jobs is, IMO, absurd in the sense of Dhamma. In cultures where one can have one job today and a completely different one tomorrow, where actors can become president and so on - it simply makes no sense. But in cultures where one's birth destines one's job due to cultural conditioning it makes perfect sense and it is no wonder the sutta in question is interpreted in these terms in these cultures. But, IMO, the real meaning of "actor" is the part of us that acts according to our cultural conditioning (whatever it is). This conditioning is animalic, instictive, in the sense that it is a genetic diposition that makes humans social animals and humans learn these patterns during childhood and later. Just as cats only eat what they learned to eat while young human social conditioning is largely set during childhood and thus instinctive. And this instinct to act according to one's conditioning does not lead to a deva rebirth. This is why I think the "actor" in the suttas refers to this context and not to one's job.

An interpretation of this sutta in the correct context would, IMO, lead to students observe, analyse, question and finally detach from their cultural conditioning. A step towards Liberation. On the other hand the interpretation that one is reborn according to one 's job only leads to further identification with the false self as far as I can observe the process. One does not identify so much with one's individual self as in the West, yes, but one identifies with one's social status, gender, age, job, culture and that is no better in the sense of Dhamma. Even when just saying "hello" the Thais stress their own gender. Talking with others they differ between gender and age (even when it is only one day) and social status and things I would probably never think about. These things that should be an-atta are constantly given importance instead of detachment. This is not Dhamma, IMO, but often taken as such because of the wrong interpretation of scripture. So it is, IMO, neither useful to teach in "Western" cultures nor in the "East". Only identification of, observation of and detachment from cultural conditioning is Dhamma.
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby PeterB » Thu Mar 25, 2010 2:40 pm

Does this differ from the habitual identifications made by western Buddhists Freawaru ?
I would suggest only in kind, not in degree.
When western Buddhists interact they may be influenced by a huge number of factors in assuming a sense of superiority/inferiority.
Even most absurdly, in recent years what the persons eats...
As well as the more obvious pay grade issues, and in the UK at least, social class and accent.
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby Freawaru » Thu Mar 25, 2010 8:29 pm

Goofaholix wrote:interesting thread

Freawaru wrote:Hello All,
Of course, some techniques work in both cases, concentration on an object is concentration on an object in both kinds of culture


I'm not so sure that's true. Generally SE Asians (I'm not sure if this is true of North Asians) find concentration much easier that we westerners do, they can often achieve jhanas quite quickly wheras we find them difficult to impossible.


Are you sure this is not just due to the fact that westerners have less body-awareness in general and thus the breath (or nostrils) are more difficult objects to focus on than for people from at least some Asian cultures? It is my observation that using focus on auditive signals such as music or mantra leads to access concentration with relative ease in the case of westerners. And for jhana the object of focus to reach access concentration is irrelevant.

As for the rest being as I am married to a Thai i can make a few observations.

I haven't noticed any difference in body language, maybe my wife has. What I have found though is differences in how we use tone of voice. We use tone of voice to express emotion and perhaps some of that subtlety that Thais are supposed to be exhibiting in body language. Thai is a tonal language, different tone means a different word, if an emotion needs to be expressed then another word is added.


Yes, this is my impression, too.

So when they speak english their english sounds pretty flat to us, just like our body language seems flat to them I suppose. I find if I express myself with a subtle note of sarcasm, annoyance, tiredness, impatience etc my wife generally won't pick up on it. I find this is a good thing as generally small issues just go away and don't become big issues, wheras a western woman is more likely to want to "have a talk" about what's going on.


I have discussed this with my Thai friend and according to her irony is unknown in the Thai culture. I tried to explain the concept to her but she seemed confused nevertheless. But in my culture irony is not just a means for communication - it is a way to understand something in a specific way (this situation is ironical .. , the irony of this is..., can you see the irony of it? ...) I suspect there is something in the Thai culture to replace the western concept of irony but I don't know it and it probably works differently. In any case it means that some deep set thinking patterns are different depending on the culture one is raised in.


In Thai culture social harmony and how you fit into society and family is very important, wheras is western culture individualism and standing on your own two feet is much more stressed. Thais never do anything alone, they're always in a group, this is true in monasteries also wheras western Buddhists in particular are much more included to a hermit like lifestyle. Thais will lean on each other more and help each other more, this has a negative side though as I find they are a nation of givers and takers, the takers are constantly taking advantage of the givers.


Only in a sense, I think. I mean, it seems to me that the givers - as you call them - give because that is how they want to be, it is their way of identificating with something. I recall, a week or so after I met my Thai friend she asked me if she could call me "pe". Of course, I was intrigued and asked what it meant and she tried to explain. It means something like friend or sister but has deeper shades than that. Even now I am sure I have not catched all the suble meanings of this Thai concept. I then told her that I could try my best to be a good friend to her in the way I know but I couldn't perform all the subtle behaviours and manners she was used to. And then she told me that she knew this (of course) - this was more about how she thought and acted towards me than me to her. I was really perplexed and I think at that moment I realized the first time how very different the Thai culture is from my own German one. I mean, in my culture it is said that respect has to be earned, but what the Thais call respect is more about how the one who pays respect behaves and thinks than about the reciever of the respect. She wanted to call me "pe" so she could use the patterns of Thai respect to me ... for herself. So she could relax into a well known pattern here in a culture as alien to her as the Thai to me. This is why I think "respect" in the Thai sense does not exist in my home country and the translation is confusing.

Unfortionately, I often read "respect" as an argument in Buddhist discussions and then I wonder: do they mean Thai respect? Because in that case that argument is wasted on me and - I fear - other westerners.
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby Freawaru » Thu Mar 25, 2010 9:04 pm

Paññāsikhara wrote:I think that one of the difficulties in discussing the differences across cultures on the level of "buddhist teaching", is that what we may call the "sample groups" in both (or more) cultures are not necessarily on a par. eg. to take a group of Thai or Sri Lankan Buddhists for example, they may largely reflect a general sample of the Thai or Sri Lankan population as a whole. However, to take a group of Western Buddhists, more often than not, they are not that indicative of the population as a whole. It is sometimes the very non-norm characteristics of some Westerners that makes them look into Buddhism in the first place. On the other hand, a sample population of Western Christians may be more normative. So, I don't think that we can necessarily extrapolate any findings to the differences between cultures as a whole. As time progresses, and Buddhism becomes more normative in Western society, things may change viz this point, somewhat.

I also agree with MikeNZ, about "Asian vs Westerner", as if both were largely homogeneous groups. Both groups include a large range of different cultures. Maybe we may wish to narrow it down here to "Thai vs North American (?)". My own experiences as a Kiwi in China (where Taiwan, the PRoC and HK all also all quite different in many ways) doesn't suggest some of the points raised above, for example.


I agree that it is not easy to analyse cultures, neither one's own nor those that are alien to oneself, but I think this is a worthwhile topic nevertheless. It seems to me some aspects can be discerned and need to be understood (at least I need to understand because it bothers me). For example the issue of the Bhikkhuni order. Thais stress the point "respect" against it. But from the point of view of my culture the fact that women are treated differently and expected to behave differently (not to mention this wrong idea that women have to be better socially and men mentally) is already so deep in the disrespect realm that any argument of respect to anything borders on the absurd. That is - when I use the term respect in the German sense. But things are probably very different if the Thai meaning of respect is meant. As Ajahn Sucitto wrote Thais have already a problem adressing a Bhikkhu in english - what should they do if suddenly they have to adress a bhikkhuni in Thai? There is no set pattern of Thai respect how to behave to a bhikkhuni, maybe they wouldn't just not know how to behave, bow, address and speak and even how to think about her. And the same for any Thai who became bhikkhuni. Maybe she just wouldn't know what to identify with. She never saw a Thai bhikkhuni, and thus she wouldn't know what to be, she has no role model she can act according to.

In the West we would just say: "construe a ceremony and adress her in a female form of bhante" and that would be it. Life would go on as usual. There would be no need for all the complicated and sublte changes in the culture itself. Every change would just grow by itself after a while just as it did when women were allowed to study. But as far as I understand it this won't work for the Thais.
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby Freawaru » Thu Mar 25, 2010 9:27 pm

Hi Chownah and Mike,

good points. Thank you for your insights :smile:

chownah wrote:.........all of this adds up to a very very strong desire to always agree with you when in a public situation....a difficult thing to handle for western teachers who think they are getting straight answers and then are very suprised later when they find out ( if they ever do) the dynamic.....
chownah


Yes. And the other way round the same problem is faced. I have no idea how to handle a Thai teacher. I don't know how to say "yes" and give the proper subtle signals that in fact I mean "no". Should I just say "yes" the whole time and hope his body language intuition is good enough to know my thoughts? Or even better for him to be a telepath? I am used to straight questions and straight answers, efficiency, and an impersonal focus on the topic of discussion. I think I would take years to learn how to bow and say "yes" while thinking "you have no idea" and still regard the teacher in question with respect (in the German sense, I mean). With politeness, yes, but not respect. And politeness is just not enough to learn from a teacher. Does anybody have a solution to this problem?
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Mar 25, 2010 9:37 pm

Hi Freawaru,
Freawaru wrote:I think I would take years to learn how to bow and say "yes" while thinking "you have no idea" and still regard the teacher in question with respect (in the German sense, I mean). With politeness, yes, but not respect. And politeness is just not enough to learn from a teacher. Does anybody have a solution to this problem?

This seems a bit hypothetical. If you think a teacher has "no idea", why would you continue to interact with him/her?

Also, you seem to be making an assumption that all of the adaption is going to occur on one side (the Western). Asians are capable of seeing through cultural differences too...

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby Paññāsikhara » Fri Mar 26, 2010 2:08 am

Freawaru wrote:
Paññāsikhara wrote:I think that one of the difficulties in discussing the differences across cultures on the level of "buddhist teaching", is that what we may call the "sample groups" in both (or more) cultures are not necessarily on a par. eg. to take a group of Thai or Sri Lankan Buddhists for example, they may largely reflect a general sample of the Thai or Sri Lankan population as a whole. However, to take a group of Western Buddhists, more often than not, they are not that indicative of the population as a whole. It is sometimes the very non-norm characteristics of some Westerners that makes them look into Buddhism in the first place. On the other hand, a sample population of Western Christians may be more normative. So, I don't think that we can necessarily extrapolate any findings to the differences between cultures as a whole. As time progresses, and Buddhism becomes more normative in Western society, things may change viz this point, somewhat.

I also agree with MikeNZ, about "Asian vs Westerner", as if both were largely homogeneous groups. Both groups include a large range of different cultures. Maybe we may wish to narrow it down here to "Thai vs North American (?)". My own experiences as a Kiwi in China (where Taiwan, the PRoC and HK all also all quite different in many ways) doesn't suggest some of the points raised above, for example.


I agree that it is not easy to analyse cultures, neither one's own nor those that are alien to oneself, but I think this is a worthwhile topic nevertheless.


Oh, I definitely agree that it is a worthwhile topic, but just wanted to be careful about defining the parameters, so to speak.

It seems to me some aspects can be discerned and need to be understood (at least I need to understand because it bothers me). For example the issue of the Bhikkhuni order. Thais stress the point "respect" against it. But from the point of view of my culture the fact that women are treated differently and expected to behave differently (not to mention this wrong idea that women have to be better socially and men mentally) is already so deep in the disrespect realm that any argument of respect to anything borders on the absurd. That is - when I use the term respect in the German sense. But things are probably very different if the Thai meaning of respect is meant. As Ajahn Sucitto wrote Thais have already a problem adressing a Bhikkhu in english - what should they do if suddenly they have to adress a bhikkhuni in Thai? There is no set pattern of Thai respect how to behave to a bhikkhuni, maybe they wouldn't just not know how to behave, bow, address and speak and even how to think about her. And the same for any Thai who became bhikkhuni. Maybe she just wouldn't know what to identify with. She never saw a Thai bhikkhuni, and thus she wouldn't know what to be, she has no role model she can act according to.

In the West we would just say: "construe a ceremony and adress her in a female form of bhante" and that would be it. Life would go on as usual. There would be no need for all the complicated and sublte changes in the culture itself. Every change would just grow by itself after a while just as it did when women were allowed to study. But as far as I understand it this won't work for the Thais.


Well, this is a another major difference between Thai, and Chinese, for example. In China, there are more bhiksus than bhiksunis, by a large difference in some places. Most places in China, esp. in the more rural PRoC, the higher status is still given to the bhiksus, but NOBODY is saying that there should not be a bhiksuni tradition or anything even remotely close.

And, this is even pretty much the case for Chinese women who take Dharmagupta ordination, but effectively train with Theravada teachings (whether Nikayan or Agama). The rest of the lay and monastic communities have no problem at all with accepting them as bhikkhunis.

As such, as a westerner in a Chinese tradition, I usually have no problem at all with bhiksu/ni status or things like that. I don't have to put myself in a position whereby I am against the generally held Chinese Buddhist lay or monastic attitudes towards these things.

So, again, not a matter of "Asian", because it an issue where there are several very different "Asian" points of view on the subject.
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby jcsuperstar » Fri Mar 26, 2010 4:40 am

just to add something about pi. pe .pee how ever you want to spell it, it means older sibling, younger sibling is nong. everyone in thai society is pretty much either a pi or nong.
monks would be luang pi- venerable brother and older monks' luang por- venerable father, older than that you have luang ta venerable grandfather.
thai people pretty much know their status in society and act accordingly. it's about respect.
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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Mar 26, 2010 6:45 am

jcsuperstar wrote:Thai people pretty much know their status in society and act accordingly. it's about respect.

...and when they don't know, they ask.
I was amused during my (only) visit to Thailand by their need to know my age - which turned out to be a 'place in society' question: all else being equal, the younger of two people interacting should show respect to the older.
As a democratic, egalitarian Aussie I tended to sidestep the issue. :shrug: It might have seemed important to them but I never wanted it to shape the relationship.

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Re: cultural differences and teaching

Postby Goofaholix » Fri Mar 26, 2010 8:46 am

Freawaru wrote:Are you sure this is not just due to the fact that westerners have less body-awareness in general and thus the breath (or nostrils) are more difficult objects to focus on than for people from at least some Asian cultures? It is my observation that using focus on auditive signals such as music or mantra leads to access concentration with relative ease in the case of westerners. And for jhana the object of focus to reach access concentration is irrelevant.


I think it's because they know how to relax and let go, they are not constantly striving to make something happen as we do.
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