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I wanted to make a thread to talk about the interactions between modern secularism and Buddhism that we see both in this subreddit and in other places. This is not intended to be a thread about whether secular Buddhism really Buddhist, but rather is a thread about navigating interactions between secularism and Buddhism.

For clarity's sake, this is motivated both by recent changes in my own life (namely, renewed scientific questioning), as well as a couple recent threads here. None of what I say is novel, but I wanted to re-open the conversation. I'm also tired, so this may not be super coherent.

Anthropologically, Buddhism consists of a whole bunch of historically conditioned and culturally inherited symbol systems which say various things about the nature of reality. Assuming that we're sympathetic to this tradition, we have two main options for how to engage with it. I will provisionally name them Guardianship and Engagement. Guardianship involves faithfully receiving the cultural transmission of the teachings, adhering to what it says, correcting yourself when you deviate from it, and sharing it unchanged with other people. Engagement involves seeing whether the teachings are actually personally convincing to you, and whether their message about the nature of reality holds up to critical scrutiny.

Realistically, these are not totally separate categories, and most practitioners will do a bit of both. There will probably be a couple key issues that they Engage with until they satisfy their critical evaluation, at which point they will then accept the rest of the teachings on the basis of faith. This negotiation may be ongoing, and may shift somewhat throughout the practitioner's life.

The issue I want to raise is the basic opposition between these two attitudes. Ultimately, I want to defend them both.

It's clear that Guardianship in the West has been extremely shaky so far. The average lay Buddhist, in my experience, knows very little about the history of their tradition, its full rituals, its detailed practice guidelines, and a variety of other culturally transmitted facts. Part of this is certainly due to a language barrier; you have to know at least one relevant Buddhist language to gain access to the full heritage of a tradition. Anyway, my point here is that there is value in faithfully reproducing the lineage as you've received it (i.e. Guardianship). Besides the alleged soteriological value in doing so, it is also the only way to have a solid basis for Engagement; you can't properly evaluate whether Buddhism is personally convincing if you've only received half of the picture.

However, this often isn't how people have historically actually engaged with Buddhism. They have engaged with it much more personally. People would hold opposing views, and would duke it out in debate. Some people would hold wrong views, but would be defeated in argument by the Buddha or another figure, and so would change their views. Sutras are often structured as logical arguments for specific positions, and famous works like the Bodhisatvacaryavatara and Mulamadhyamakakarika seriously try to defend their brand of Buddhism from opposing views using logical reasoning. The Guardianship attitude dutifully records these arguments, and creates a catechism out of them, but IME fails to seriously Engage with them. A more Engaged approach would seriously consider, "Was that argument against a particular wrong view actually convincing?"

I think that by and large, Secular Buddhism is a result of a more Engaged kind of interaction with Buddhism than Guardianship. The cultural context in which Buddhism has come to the West is a context of secularism, where no one religion reigns supreme and where it is not possible to naively believe in a specific faith without encountering the opposing views of many other religions and of science. The secular Buddhists I've encountered tend to be people who observe that Buddhist teachings about reality conflict with certain scientific findings and principles of logic, and so they continue to adhere to the things that pass the bar of science/logic, while jettisonning the rest.

Some people dismiss this as heresy and degeneration, but IMO it is among the most "real" engagement with Buddhism that has happened during the modern transmission to the West. The received teachings are, in many ways (e.g. verifying rebirth or karma) on the losing side of the debates occurring nowadays. In the past, that has been a justification for Buddhists changing their views to a new specific subsect. So why not now? And why do people who follow Guardianship admit the sancticity of past Engagement with the teachings, but not the validity of modern-day Engagement? It is obviously guided simply by whether it is part of the received tradition; in other words, tradition is made absolute.

For example, we know analytically that having two eyes is evolutionarily advantageous because it allows for stereoscopic vision, and also that goes hand-in-hand with bilateral symmetry (rather than e.g. the radial symmetry of a starfish). However, the Abhidharmakoshabashya records one commentator saying that we have two of each sense organ because that's what's most beautiful. This theory is not at all convincing to me, first of all because it lacks evidence and mechanisms-of-action, and secondarily because I find other kinds of biological symmetry to be beautiful. So why accept it? I don't.

Anyway, to get back to my main point -- I think that both approaches have value, and that people should tolerate and respect Buddhists of each stripe. Those who Guard the teachings might want to contemplate how those who are more Engaged with the teachings could be working off information they don't know. Likewise, those who are more Engaged with the teachings might want to contemplate how those who Guard the teachings might have received a tradition which is particularly robust to secular criticism, and that perhaps their faith is tested, not naive. As I've said, these approaches are extremes rather than cut-and-dry categories, but I think people will understand what I mean.

I'm personally still very early on both in receiving teachings and in engaging with them; I only hope that people here continue to respect both approaches for their merits.

submitted by /u/Temicco
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Reddit - Buddhism.. by /u/colourfulsoul369 - 2h ago

I'm curious about opinions from other Buddhist practitioners about people who simply drain or suck energy. I know that western therapy advocates strongly distancing or cutting ties if you can, however to me this no longer seems at all compassionate or accepting(to the other person) or satisfactory (in terms of learning about ourselves) and I'm wondering if there's better way.

I'm asking becauze there's a friend who I spend time with but just feel like the life is completely sucked out of me. She has an endless supply of legitamate problems and doesn't hesistate to vent even when i need a break and change the topic. She's also actually really nice and tries to be helpful too, but most times we meet she seems to say just one thing that totally undermines me and I never know if it's intentional either. I noticed actually that after spending time with her it really affects my self esteem and ability to be positive and trusting in my other relationships for a few days after, so I really do need a better way to go about this friendship.some Buddhist wisdom...

submitted by /u/colourfulsoul369
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As the title says. I am a very black and white person and a complete control freak. I need a strict routine in my own life to save my sanity yet I am deeply bothered by both the action and inaction of others when it doesn’t suit me. (Awful, I know)

What would a Buddhist approach be to deal not being able to control how other people act and how to make peace with it.

I’ve spent too much of my life agonising over this.

submitted by /u/ElusiveOne_
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I've been studying Buddhism on and off with my wife for the last 2 years both on our own and through a class and services at a nearby temple. We no longer live as close to the temple as we once did, and are interested in finding a livestream of a service (preferably Sundays), similar to when we lived close enough to attend the temple in person but now instead online.

Does anyone know of any live stream Dharma lectures (preferably Mahayana/Chan/Zen traditions but open to others) that occur weekly? I know there are tons of recorded videos and lectures out there on YouTube and elsewhere, but it would be refreshing to watch something live each week so we can get into a routine.

Thanks for any advice!

submitted by /u/Mheyms
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Seeing an ordination ceremony was very impactful for me, and one of the things that stuck out the most was the chanting. It was very powerful.

I know music can be a conduit for attachment to sense pleasures, but does that depend on the context? Many chants seem to have a musical nature (as does language in general, in my opinion).

My main sub-question, is do you think that music can be skillful means for one's practice in your opinion?

submitted by /u/supershott
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My demeanor as someone with low-energy and less than charasmatic persona (but a big heart), and my idealisations for a life where I am not bound to the "system" are increasingly affecting my dependability in jobs.

For some background, I'm originally from a small town in Alaska, and now live in the Portland Metro area. Most of my life I've been low-income, which really just equates to low-mobility in my case. Fortunately I have been able to travel internationally several times by my strong determination, however I never had the wherewithall to see byond those short excursion. I also suffer with grounding myself in this capitalistic world we live in and that seems inescapable. Without fiscal security, I feel trapped. I have completed some college, but due to mental and financial limitations, I am still without a degree or any certification. (This is not so much a bruise to my ego as it is to my wallet and opportunity jar for better paying jobs).

Since I was a child, I tended to take up interests with fervor and then that fervor fizzles out a few weeks or months later. Of course I'm not so fickle in everything that I do, but work-wise I have no goals in the typical sense. I am always working towards leaving, onto a life I would rather have. But then I have a proficiency to get comfortable chugging along in my situations (the buddhist way, no?) to where I almost lose that determination and maybe damage my reputation as dependalbe and determined worker. It's a cycle that frustrates me to no end! But my peace of mind and sanity is alwasy more easily found when I resign myself somewhat. I have embraced the transience of self, and within the last several months a lot of Buddhist methods have helped me to escape a year-long existential spiral in which I was the greatest antagonist in my own story. However, now I'm in a situation where I still have to pay rent and save money so I can get out of this metropolis that I've ended up in where my energy does not match the pace of the city. So, what do I do? Can anyone relate? (Also, I've never been fired, so far, and the longest job I've had was in High School, so that's kind of a scapegoat. But, I haven't worked anywhere over a year since).

Sorry if this seems all over the place. Feel free to ask any questions. And for reference as to where I see myself in the next few years: I hope to be able to live or work on a farm somewhere in Europe or Asia via the WWOOF organization. My holdups for not doing this now is my lack of savings, bueracratic necessities (passport, visas) and my brother graduating in a years time back in Alaska. International flights are quite pricey. BUT, I am not unhappy now. Just a bit impatient, something I have really dialed back since coming to Buddhism. Oh, and I am also nearly 22, and F. So I know I have time. But I feel like I'm so much older than I am (I don't mean that to be pretentious or lording), I just have never felt like your typical young adult. Anyways, I guess I would just like to know if any of you have struggled in this regard and what your advice might be. I love life, but I honestly can't stand the pace of life where I am.

Okay, that's all. Peace to all!

submitted by /u/safayam42
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Hi. I was wondering how to add teaching of self and self discovery into my own life to make me a batter person. I am not Buddhist myself but I am curious.

submitted by /u/xjmb08
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sure sexual desire gets in the way of enlightenment, but if it were to be done in a way that doesn't cause passion or desire, would it be for the best for all the souls that would be brought into the human realm?

submitted by /u/-tehnik
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