Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

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Friendly Inquirer
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Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

Post by Friendly Inquirer »

I am a Mahayana Buddhist, though I have a great deal of respect for Theravada Buddhism, and my favorite Buddhist country is Thailand, especially for its Dhammakaya and Thai Forest movements.

Having said that, I have some friendly questions regarding Theravada Buddhism that I've been wanting to ask for a long time. My questions are specifically related to Theravada Buddhism as it's commonly practiced in Theravada countries.

Firstly, what is the meaning and purpose behind devotionalism to the Buddha in Theravada, if it's believed that, since passing away into final Nibbana, he's inaccessible to us in the here and now?

Please forgive me if I'm wrong that the view of Nibbana being extinction and oblivion is not common in Theravada countries, though it is a common Western view.
Others still take it even further, for example the famous Ajahn Mun, who stated that the Buddha even talked to him during his deep meditation experiences, suggesting that the Buddha is at some place in a Buddha-land or Buddha-field. A sizable number of Thai Theravada Buddhists believe that Ajahn Mun and his Dhamma successor, Ajahn Boowa, were fully enlightened arahants. This view is also similar to notions found in other Dharmic paths and also in Mahayana Buddhism.
http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=Nibbana
Furthermore, why is there a common stereotype that Theravada is primarily a monastic movement, not intended for lay people? The fact that countries like Thailand and Cambodia are 95% Theravadan sort of calls this stereotype into question.

This passage from the Pali scriptures strongly suggests that the Dhamma is for everyone, whether monastic or laity:
Bhikkhus, the Dhamma well proclaimed by me thus is clear, open, evident, and free of patchwork. In the Dhamma well proclaimed by me thus, which is clear, open, evident, and free of patchwork, those who have sufficient faith in me, sufficient love for me, are all headed for heaven.
http://www.wisdompubs.org/book/middle-l ... pama-sutta
I've also seen this translated as "...are all headed for heaven or beyond."

Another thing worth noting is that, like in Mahayana countries, only a minority of Buddhists in Theravada countries engage in seated, silent meditation on a regular basis. Even in Theravadan monastic communities, such meditation is traditionally done by a minority of monks on a regular basis.

Please forgive me if I'm wrong on this. I just don't like it when Western Theravadans, like Western Zennists, look down on other Buddhists for not meditating, especially considering that the vast majority of Asian Buddhists, whether Mahayana or Theravada, don't fit their narrow definition of Buddhism.

Another thing worth mentioning is that Western Theravadans might look at devotion to Guanyin or Avalokitesvara and other Mahayana practices for health and good luck to be superstitious, but one would have to ignore the devotion to Avalokitesvara that continues to this day in countries like Shri Lanka, as well as the widespread devotion to Phra Phrom, the four-faced Buddha, in Thailand.

The last question I have for now is this. I am thinking about buying a Thai amulet on Ebay for spiritual protection. Have you ever known of a Mahayana Buddhist who wore a Thai amulet? Would that be a good idea? I know that there's a good number of Chinese Mahayana Buddhists living in Thailand who've adopted Thai Buddhist practices.

Thank you for letting me ask these questions. The primary reason why I became a Mahayana Buddhist is because none of the local Theravada priests spoke English fluently. Things might have turned out a lot differently in other circumstances. :anjali:

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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Re: Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala »

Does the Buddha exist?
“Can he be pointed out as being here or there?”
“The Blessed One has passed away and nothing remains to form another individual. He cannot be pointed out as being here or there just as the flame of a fire that has gone out cannot be poin­ted out as being here or there. Yet his historical existence can be known by pointing out the body of the doc­trine preached by him.”

Devotional practices, as long as they are done with awareness and right understanding, are a kind of meditation called Buddhānussati, recollecting the virtues of the Buddha.

The only way that Ajahn Mun could have talked to the Buddha is by recollecting his own previous life during that era, as the Buddha does not exist anywhere now.

Theravāda Only for Monks
Nope. Lay people are urged to meditate and gain various stages of insight and the Noble Path if they can. Without practice, there can be no liberation in this era. The time when merely listening to discourses was sufficient to gain enlightenment is long past.

Four Types of Capacity for Path Attainment

Personally, I believe amulets and holy threads are only for the superstitious.

The Dhamma protects one who practises it, not one who does not practise it.
Dhammo: virtuous conduct; dhammacārī: one who practises the dhamma; have: indeed rakkhati: takes care of, guards.

Dhamma takes care of the person who practises it. It does not take care of the person who does not practise it; it only takes care of the person who practises it.

Suciṇṇo: properly practised; dhammo; sukhaṃ: happiness, well-being; āvahati: brings

Properly practised, Dhamma brings happiness to the person who practises it.

Dhammacārī: one who practises the dhamma; duggati: bad destination, miserable realms; nagacchati: does not go, is not reborn; esa: this; dhamme suciṇṇe: properly practised dhamma, virtuous conduct; anisaṃso: benefit
From the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta

199. Then the Blessed One addressed the Venerable Ānanda, saying, “The twin Sal trees are all one mass of bloom with flowers out of season; all over the body of the Tathāgata these drop and sprinkle and scatter themselves, out of reverence for the successor of the Buddhas of old. Heavenly mandārava flowers, too, and heavenly sandalwood powder come falling from the sky, and all over the body of the Tathāgata they descend and sprinkle and scatter themselves, out of reverence for the successor of the Buddhas of old. Heavenly music sounds in the sky, out of reverence for the successor of the Buddhas of old, and heavenly songs come wafted from the skies, out of reverence for the successor of the Buddhas of old! It is not thus, Ānanda, that the Tathāgata is rightly respected, revered, honoured, venerated, or revered. However, a monk or nun, a male or female disciple, who fulfils the greater and lesser duties, who practises correctly, living in accordance with the Dhamma, rightly respects, honours, venerates, and reveres the Tathāgata with the highest reverence. Therefore, Ānanda, be constant in fulfilling the greater and lesser duties, practising correctly, live in accordance with the Dhamma. Thus, Ānanda, should it be taught.”
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Friendly Inquirer
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Re: Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

Post by Friendly Inquirer »

Thank you, Bhikkhu, for your response.
Bhikkhu Pesala wrote: The only way that Ajahn Mun could have talked to the Buddha is by recollecting his own previous life during that era, as the Buddha does not exist anywhere now.
It appears that it's commonly believed and taught otherwise in traditionally Theravadan countries, as evidenced by the Dhammawiki article, especially if one reads it as a whole.
Bhikkhu Pesala wrote: Lay people are urged to meditate and gain various stages of insight and the Noble Path if they can.
Traditional Theravadan practices aren't limited to seated, silent meditation. Even among monks, only a minority of Theravadans have traditionally meditated in that way on a regular basis. Please forgive me if I'm wrong, but it's modern Theravada and Western Theravada which have placed such a strong emphasis on silent meditation as the primary Buddhist practice.
Bhikkhu Pesala wrote: Personally, I believe amulets and holy threads are only for the superstitious.
Please forgive me if I'm wrong, but the reason why Thai amulets are so popular in the first place is because of well-respected monks who've personally blessed them for the sake of spiritual protection. Are these monks superstitious as well?

Though I am a Mahayana Buddhist, I strongly defend Theravada Buddhism as it's practiced in Theravada countries. As a Western convert to Buddhism, I don't presume to know Buddhism better than 95% Buddhist-majority countries that have been practicing Dhamma for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

santa100
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Re: Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

Post by santa100 »

Friendly Inquirer wrote:Firstly, what is the meaning and purpose behind devotionalism to the Buddha in Theravada, if it's believed that, since passing away into final Nibbana, he's inaccessible to us in the here and now?
Welcome to DW. In order to find an accurate answer to the question, it's important to investigate the exact meaning of the question's terms, like "devotionalism" or the Buddha being "accessible to use in the here and now". Devotionalism has various different meanings to different people. Devotion to some would mean burning incense, making offering in the hope of getting some blessing or merit in return. To others, it means looking up to the Buddha and follow His teaching to cultivate one's virtues, meditation, and wisdom. So to the former, sure, it'd matter a lot if the Buddha is "accessible" to one, to listen and address his prayer and needs. To the latter, "accessibility" is no longer relevant. Ok, now moving onto the meaning of "accessible", some believe that there's some sort of spirit/essence/nature of the Buddha still hanging around after His PariNibbana. Nothing can be found in the Suttas that supports this view. In Theravada, the Teaching and Disciplines the Buddha left behind is His accessibility.
Please forgive me if I'm wrong that the view of Nibbana being extinction and oblivion is not common in Theravada countries, though it is a common Western view.
Well, any one can claim they're Theravadin or Mahayanist or whatever. But a serious Theravadin would place heavy emphasis on the Teaching, not the teacher, no matter how world-renowned he is, let alone common popular view/belief from any group of people. Ajahn Mun is a great teacher, but his words would need to be thoroughly examined and verified just like everyone else without exception. Afterall, this is in accordance with what the Buddha taught us to do in His Four Great References.
Furthermore, why is there a common stereotype that Theravada is primarily a monastic movement, not intended for lay people? The fact that countries like Thailand and Cambodia are 95% Theravadan sort of calls this stereotype into question.
Of course, that's why it's a stereotype, a misconception. However, the reason is probably from the names back during the Early schools period of Sthaviravada/Theravada (sect of the Elders) versus Mahasanghika/Mahayana (sect of the Others)..
The last question I have for now is this. I am thinking about buying a Thai amulet on Ebay for spiritual protection. Have you ever known of a Mahayana Buddhist who wore a Thai amulet? Would that be a good idea? I know that there's a good number of Chinese Mahayana Buddhists living in Thailand who've adopted Thai Buddhist practices.
Again, people have all the freedom to claim what school of Buddhism they're from. But if one is serious in following the Path, it's important to learn and cultivate in accordance with the Buddha's Discourses and Disciplines. And according to the Buddha's teaching, the best way to protect oneself from harm is not thru protective charms or amulets, it's thru the sincere practice of moral virtues and the development of loving-kindness toward all beings:
From AN 11.16 - Metta Sutta:
Monks, for one whose awareness-release through good will is cultivated, developed, pursued, handed the reins and taken as a basis, given a grounding, steadied, consolidated, and well-undertaken, eleven benefits can be expected. Which eleven?

"One sleeps easily, wakes easily, dreams no evil dreams. One is dear to human beings, dear to non-human beings. The devas protect one. Neither fire, poison, nor weapons can touch one. One's mind gains concentration quickly. One's complexion is bright. One dies unconfused and — if penetrating no higher — is headed for the Brahma worlds.

Friendly Inquirer
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Re: Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

Post by Friendly Inquirer »

santa100 wrote:
Friendly Inquirer wrote:Firstly, what is the meaning and purpose behind devotionalism to the Buddha in Theravada, if it's believed that, since passing away into final Nibbana, he's inaccessible to us in the here and now?
Welcome to DW. In order to find an accurate answer to the question, it's important to investigate the exact meaning of the question's terms, like "devotionalism" or the Buddha being "accessible to use in the here and now". Devotionalism has various different meanings to different people. Devotion to some would mean burning incense, making offering in the hope of getting some blessing or merit in return. To others, it means looking up to the Buddha and follow His teaching to cultivate one's virtues, meditation, and wisdom. So to the former, sure, it'd matter a lot if the Buddha is "accessible" to one, to listen and address his prayer and needs. To the latter, "accessibility" is no longer relevant. Ok, now moving onto the meaning of "accessible", some believe that there's some sort of spirit/essence/nature of the Buddha still hanging around after His PariNibbana. Nothing can be found in the Suttas that supports this view. In Theravada, the Teaching and Disciplines the Buddha left behind is His accessibility.
Thank you for your response. What this article demonstrates is that a variety of positions or interpretations on who or what the Buddha is after his PariNibbana can be supported by the Pali scriptures:

http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=Nibbana

As for the purpose behind Theravadan devotionalism, while some practice it for the sake of gaining material things like a new spouse, better health, a better job, etc., others practice it for more spiritual things, such as the inner strength and peace necessary to live out the Buddha's teachings in one's daily life.

I don't think there's anything wrong with petitioning the Buddha for things like inner strength and inner peace, and for the guidance to do what's right in one's daily life, and most Buddhist teachers and lay people in Theravada countries would probably agree with me on this.

If this is a forum primarily dedicated to modern Western Theravada, then please tell me where there's a forum or website where one can ask questions about traditional Asian Theravada Buddhism. I don't want to be disrespectful or disruptive, so please point me in the right direction. :anjali:

santa100
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Re: Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

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Friendly Inquirer wrote:If this is a forum primarily dedicated to modern Western Theravada, then please tell me where there's a forum or website where one can ask questions about traditional Asian Theravada Buddhism. I don't want to be disrespectful or disruptive, so please point me in the right direction.
Actually if you've followed the thousands of posts on DW, you'll notice there's no Western vs Asian Theravada differentiation here. Theravada is Theravada. It's extremely egalitarianistic that it doesn't really care if one is a world-renowned bhikkhu or a lay run-of-the-mill, white or blue collar, rich or poor, westerner, asian, or african, etc. The only thing it cares about is whether one's idea or claim is in line with the Buddha's words that was recorded in the Pali Canon and the Code of Discipline. Eastern view, Western view, Northern view, Southern view, whatever view doesn't matter as long as one can provide backup literature and sources from the Tipitaka.
I don't think there's anything wrong with petitioning the Buddha for things like inner strength and inner peace, and for the guidance to do what's right in one's daily life, and most Buddhist teachers and lay people in Theravada countries would probably agree with me on this.
As already mentioned, people are free to practice whatever they see fit. But one thing to keep in mind is that Argumentum ad populum doesn't mean anything to Theravada, as clearly pointed out previously.

Friendly Inquirer
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Re: Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

Post by Friendly Inquirer »

santa100 wrote:But one thing to keep in mind is that Argumentum ad populum doesn't mean anything to Theravada, as clearly pointed out previously.
It's not simply an argumentum ad populum if it goes back hundreds, if not thousands of years, in terms of what's commonly taught and practiced in traditionally Buddhist countries, whether Mahayana or Theravada countries. At that point, it's simply traditional Buddhist teachings and practices, whether they be Mahayana or Theravada.

The idea that a teaching or a practice cannot be legitimately Buddhist simply because it doesn't fit modern or Western preconceptions is itself a logical fallacy.
This book elucidates the complex cross-cultural genealogy of themes, ideas, and practices crucial to the creation of a new hybrid form of Buddhism that has emerged within the last 150 years. Buddhism modernism is not just Buddhism that happens to exist in the modern world but a distinct form of Buddhism constituted by cross-fertilization with western ideas and practices. Using primarily examples that have shaped western articulations of Buddhism, the book shows how modern representations of Buddhism have not only changed the way the tradition is understood, but have also generated new forms of demythologized, detraditionalized, and deinstitutionalized Buddhism. The book creates a lineage of Buddhist modernism that includes liberal borrowing from scientific vocabulary in reformulations of Buddhist concepts of causality, interdependence, and meditation. It also draws upon Romantic and Transcendentalist conceptions of cosmology, creativity, spontaneity, and the interior depths of the human being. Additionally, Buddhist modernism reconfigures Buddhism as a kind of psychology or interior science, drawing both upon analytic psychology and current trends in neurobiology. In its novel approaches to meditation and mindfulness, as well as political activism, it draws heavily from western individualism, distinctively modern modes of world-affirmation, liberal political sensibilities, and modernist literary sources. The book also examines this uniquely modern Buddhism as it moves into postmodern iterations and enters the currents of global communication, media, and commerce.
http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/1 ... 0195183276
If there's a website or forum that might be a better fit for someone wanting to learn about Theravada Buddhism as it's traditionally taught and practiced in Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, etc., please point me in the right direction. :anjali:

santa100
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Re: Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

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Friendly Inquirer wrote:The idea that a teaching or a practice cannot be legitimately Buddhist simply because it doesn't fit modern or Western preconceptions is itself a logical fallacy.
But I already made it clear to you that I and probably most of the folks here on DW don't even care about Western/Eastern preconceptions. We only care about the teaching of the Buddha as evidenced in most of my posts that always include ample suttas links and references. Matter of fact, I've never brought up these Western/Eastern differentiation. You did and so it seems to be an irony that you yourself already had a preconception about the Western preconception! So if you want an open discussion forum focusing on just the Buddha's teaching in the Pali Canon and the Code of Discipline, you're at the right place. Not sure if DW is the place for a Theravada that's "traditionally taught and practiced in Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, etc." for it sounds like an "Eastern" preconception to me. DW is the place for a Theravada that's taught and practiced by Buddhists all over the world for all cultures and countries.
Last edited by santa100 on Mon Jan 30, 2017 4:21 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

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santa100 wrote:
Friendly Inquirer wrote:The idea that a teaching or a practice cannot be legitimately Buddhist simply because it doesn't fit modern or Western preconceptions is itself a logical fallacy.
But I already made it clear you you that I and probably most of the folks here on DW don't even care about Western/Eastern preconceptions. We only care about the teaching of the Buddha as evidenced in most of my posts that always include ample suttas links and references. Matter of fact, I've never brought up these Western/Eastern differentiation. You did and so it seems to be an irony that you yourself already had a preconception about the Western preconception! So if you want an open discussion forum focusing on just the Buddha's teaching in the Pali Canon and the Code of Discipline, you're at the right place. Not sure if DW is the place for a Theravada that's "traditionally taught and practiced in Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, etc." for it sounds like an "Eastern" preconception to me. DW is the place for a Theravada that's taught and practiced by Buddhists all over the world for all cultures and countries.
If Western/Eastern isn't a proper distinction, maybe a better terminology would be traditional vs. modern. If there is a forum or website where one can learn about Buddhism as it's traditionally taught and practiced in Theravada countries, I'd greatly appreciate if one could point me in that direction. :namaste:

santa100
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Re: Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

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Well, not sure I understand why you put so much emphasis on those Western/Eastern, traditional/modern dichotomies, especially after mentioning you're from Mahayana, which is well-known for all the non-duality/non-differentiation practices you guys been doing! If all you care about is a Buddhism that is strictly, exclusively "traditionally taught and practiced in Theravada countries", then DW is probably not the place for this is the place for everyone, for all cultures and countries, where the Buddha's Teaching and Discipline takes precedence over any teacher's words or "traditional" beliefs and practices.

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Re: Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

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Friendly Inquirer wrote:If Western/Eastern isn't a proper distinction, maybe a better terminology would be traditional vs. modern. If there is a forum or website where one can learn about Buddhism as it's traditionally taught and practiced in Theravada countries, I'd greatly appreciate if one could point me in that direction. :namaste:
In my limited experience DW is probably the most traditionally oriented english speaking Theravada forum around. If you are fluent tin Thai, Burmese, or Sinhalese you might be able to find what you're looking for in those languages. Though I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't anything comparable as most Buddhists who were born into the religion learn from family, peers, local monks, or by osmosis and probably have little interest in discussing Buddhism on the internet with strangers the way us (mostly) converts do.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

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Goofaholix wrote:
Friendly Inquirer wrote:If Western/Eastern isn't a proper distinction, maybe a better terminology would be traditional vs. modern. If there is a forum or website where one can learn about Buddhism as it's traditionally taught and practiced in Theravada countries, I'd greatly appreciate if one could point me in that direction. :namaste:
In my limited experience DW is probably the most traditionally oriented english speaking Theravada forum around. If you are fluent tin Thai, Burmese, or Sinhalese you might be able to find what you're looking for in those languages.
I agree completely.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

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Re: Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

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From the Pali Canon the devotional section of the 40 meditation subjects comprises six subjects including the Buddha, and the function of those recollections is to gladden the mind when inspiration is needed. But this is a minor role compared to the overall direction of Theravada and it should be thought of as a different path to Mahayana. The primary practice is not emotional but mental with its investigation of mind states. “The Noble Eightfold Path” by Bikkhu Bodhi is a comprehensive introduction to the Theravada view. There you will see a description of mindfulness of feeling,the observation of which plays a major role in mental analysis.
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Re: Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

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Re: Please tell me more about Theravada Buddhism

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Goofaholix wrote:In my limited experience DW is probably the most traditionally oriented english speaking Theravada forum around. If you are fluent tin Thai, Burmese, or Sinhalese you might be able to find what you're looking for in those languages.
I'm an occasional reader of several Thai-language Dhamma forums. They're actually not much different from Dhamma Wheel. The content of the discussions is substantially similar to here, with the only conspicuous difference being the manner of interaction between members. Dhamma discussion among Thai Buddhists is generally more akin to a ballroom dance than to a debate.

For what the OP seems to be looking for it might be better to check out a forum for Thai amulet enthusiasts. Most of these are in Thai, but there is an English one here:

https://amuletforums.com/

Edit

I mean in particular the General Buddhism sub-forum of the above:

https://amuletforums.com/forums/general-buddhism.17/
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If ye thus walk in them, Māra will find no lodgement, Māra will find no foothold.”
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