I'm wondering if you could help clear up a question that arose in some discussions I had with a friend on another forum. I've brought this topic up before, but one can never have enough clarity...
My friend insists that it is useless to embark on any kind of yogic practice until or unless one has permanently renounced worldly life. His argument is that you can't make any progress in insight until you have mastered the jhanas, and you can't master the jhanas while you have any sense desires, so you have to sever all worldly attachments before you can even think of making progress in meditation.
My understanding, drawn from some threads we've had here, is that one can make progress via retreats or even, in some cases, by finding some time/space for meditative seclusion amid the hustle of daily life. The jhanas serve to temporarily dispel the hindrances and establish stability/serenity so one can proceed. Also, it's not necessarily true that one has to master samatha before you can begin vipassana -- it's not so linear. There are lay-oriented groups such as IMS which are serious about meditation but whose members (as well as some of the teachers) live as householders. There's also the "mass meditation" phenomenon in Burma, plus we have the Buddha's own teachings about the possibilities for laypersons.
I'm not out to prove my friend wrong (he won't budge in any case!) but am just seeking to work out my own understanding and make some decisions about my practice. I think it's quite possible that Western Buddhism emphasizes the "yogic" aspect too much, and doesn't pay enough attention to the cultivation of Right view and sila. On the other hand, if all the householder should do is concentrate on being a virtuous person, one might as well be a Christian or Muslim (i.e. adhere to the mainstream religion of one's community), since all the major religions teach basic morality, how to get to heaven, etc.
If you have some sutta references to bring to bear on this question, I'd be especially grateful. Are differences between the Burmese and Thai Forest traditions relevant here? For a lay practitioner, is one more "open" than the other in terms of the possibilities for progress?
I may also post this at another forum, just to get the "pan-Buddhist" perspective.