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Thread: A secular approach to Dhamma teachings

  1. #11
    (Continuing from #10)

    Later, in the section "Literalism, Metaphor and Mystery," on page 208, there's the following conversation:


    JB: How would you respond to being called a Buddhist modernist who has simply dropped those parts of the Buddhist tradition that aren’t in accord with contemporary secular and largely Western assumptions? Recently I was talking to a Buddhist who was keen to say that the teaching of the Buddha with regard to the various worlds and rebirth is true both in the form and spirit. I was trying to say that it is the spirit that is important, the form is often metaphor. Such an approach I have read being described as that of a Buddhist modernist.

    AS: Everything I teach is in accord with the scriptures and the Four Noble Truths. That is our reference point and the teaching we use for meditation. I would not call myself a modernist, but maybe because of practice I can relate it to people’s experience in a modern time. Often when you read the suttas, many people would find those very difficult to relate to, because often the translations don’t mean much to them, or it makes it sound as if it has happened to the Buddha and to no one else, and it doesn’t reach your heart, doesn’t inspire you to realize that it is talking about your own existence. This was the Buddha’s whole purpose in teaching. It was to bring to our attention what existence really is.

    JB: When I read the scriptures with their references to the gods, they are always treated in a less than reverential way. There is that lovely passage where the Buddha is speaking to the Brahma God who says: ‘I was here from the beginning, I was the Creator.’ The Buddha turns around and says something like, ‘But you don’t know that.’ It made me burst out laughing when I read that. It does seem then the metaphorical way of handling references to supernatural beings is original to the texts themselves and not imposed on them, and is to be expected,bearing in mind the way the Buddha criticizes people for claiming certainty over views or opinions which are not certain.

    AS: Well of course that was the way people thought at that time.
    Christian cathedrals are full of angels, devils and hells.
    At that time people’s minds were conditioned to perceive the world through myths, symbols and metaphors. Our time on on the other hand is one in which we perceive the world through theories, logic and rational thought,scientific views and psychology.

    The cosmology of Buddhism however, from the highest heaven to the lowest hell, is simply a metaphor for the whole realm of human experience, from the most refined state of consciousness, which is neither perception nor non-perception, to the lowest form of misery,unmitigated pain and anguish which is the deepest hell.

    Though we may experience these extremes, most of our lives are lived in between that. So the animal, human and first levels of the deva realms are in that middle position. So you find that we relate to the animal kingdom a lot because we share an animal-type body, and then the Four Maharajas, the Protectors of the World, can be seen as ‘guardian angels’ or the powers of shame and moral dread which guide you from doing terrible things. So simple people take things quite literally, and the more sophisticated take them more metaphorically, but whichever way you take them, they are still quite helpful!

    Seriously though, to believe in deva worlds literally doesn’t seem necessary and the Buddha didn’t make that his teaching. The Four Noble Truths is what he taught – and he said that this is all you have to know. These other things are like trying to count all the leaves in the forest.


    http://cdn.amaravati.org/wp-content/...ealization.pdf


  2. #12
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    Yes, I think that 'existential' in the sense of experiential is key to understanding Buddhist practice. To actually do it and experience things for yourself brings a different quality from merely contemplating the metaphysical, although in fairness many argue that such contemplation results in equally important insights.

  3. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Element View Post
    There are unambiguous teachings of Ajahn Chah that refer to the modes of Dependent Origination as entirely in the here & now. Therefore, how exactly does your idea of "rebirth" occur if it does not occur via Dependent Origination?

    The correct view of Dependent Origination does not deny "re-birth". Instead, it deems "re-birth" to be the re-birth of "self-view", as explicitly defined in the suttas.

    SN 12.2 explicitly defines "birth" ("jati") as the production of the view of "beings" ("satta"). SN 5.10 states "beings" ("satta") is a view (ditthi). Similarly, SN 23.2 defines "a being" ("satta") as merely a state of craving & attachment.

    Ajahn Brahm & his excommunicated people, such as Ajahns Brahmali & Sujato, teach Dependent Origination incorrectly. Their views are the same as the view of Mara found in SN 5.10



    My understanding is Ajahn Chah only met Ajahn Mun a few times. My impression is the Ajahn Mun-Ajahn Chah connection may be exaggerated. Ajahn Mun certainly revived a very disciplined approach to Vinaya & meditation but Ajahn Buddhadasa probably influenced Ajahn Chah & his non-excommunicated disciples more than Ajahn Mun, at least in terms of Dhamma understanding (rather than Vinaya & austerity).



    Difficult to reach Streamwinner while adhering to folk "rebirth" belief.



    There is no evidence the type of "rebirth" you are inferring actually exists. Importantly, this is a massive hindrance to stream-entry & comprehending the true teachings.



    This is wrong view. The Lokuttara Dhamma does not work in a way that "reaps rewards in the next life". The Buddha said his Lokuttara Dhamma is "akaliko" or "immediately effective". If the results are not being reaped in the here & now, it is not being practised properly.



    Samsara is the cycling & spinning of the mind in self-view. Please refer to SN 22.99.

    As for the mental defilements, it is you rather than "we" struggling with them. It is incorrect to impute your own problems onto others.

    Regards
    I apologize if my post came across as critical and judgmental, it was not my intent and I don't necessarily believe it warranted criticism or judgment in response.

    That being said, there are many clear cases in the suttas where the Buddha spoke of people passing from this plane of existence to another, when questioned on the destination of specific people who had passed (lay and ordained alike), he would state that they had passed to various deva realms, or hell realms, etc. due to the effects of their karma. The vast majority of the Digha Nikaya is devoted to stories about these realms and how rebirth of consciousness after death into a specific realm is affected by karma over many past lives. The monastics in my tradition speak of how precious it is to be born a human, where we have the right mix of defilements and purity to properly practice to discover nibbana. The Buddha's own awakening, and the awakening of various arahants, is well-documented to include seeing past lives "such was my name, such was my clan..." etc. over many eons.

    BUT - none of that matters. And this was essentially the point I was trying (perhaps unsuccessfully) to make.
    Emphasis on the here and now, on awakening in this lifetime, etc. as emphasized by the Ajahns is of course primary, and critical...but it does not require a DISBELIEF in actual rebirth, and I do not agree at all that a belief in actual rebirth is in any way contradictory to the teachings nor a hindrance to awakening - I think there are many clear examples in the suttas themselves, and then hopefully in the dhamma of various Buddhist teachers, to support this.

    One can take an agnostic position on rebirth, or have faith in rebirth, and still follow the practice to its ultimate goal. I'm personally not too terribly concerned with the idea of rebirth, my only reason for posting was to suggest that the Ajahns are not as dismissive of rebirth as some might like them to be, the posted quotes notwithstanding.
    I do see on one side people who put too much emphasis on rebirth (e.g. those from more of a folk religion background who are more concerned with entering a deva realm than they are in awakening, and therefore focus on ritual and making merit more than they do on practice), and I see others on the other side who feel it necessary to be dismissive of and atheistic on the topic of rebirth (especially in the Secular Buddhist area). Why is either position necessary to fully comprehend and follow the teachings to awakening? If I have a slightly more metaphysical belief than you, what does it matter if we're both following the same ideals?

    Again, my apologies if this attitude did not clearly come across in my post. I am basing my opinions on what I know of the teachings, which of course is very little compared to someone like Ajahn Sumedho.

  4. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aloka View Post
    Hi JMGinPDX,

    I noticed on another forum that you said you'd been investigating Buddhism since February 2016. So you're an expert on all things connected to the Theravada Thai Forest tradition now are you?
    Must I be an expert to have a position?
    I never suggested I know everything, so I'm confused as to your point with this statement.

    Thanks for the recommendation on the book! I'll take a look.

  5. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMGinPDX View Post
    That being said, there are many clear cases in the suttas where the Buddha spoke of people passing from this plane of existence to another, when questioned on the destination of specific people who had passed (lay and ordained alike), he would state that they had passed to various deva realms, or hell realms, etc. due to the effects of their karma.
    There is no evidence the Buddha spoke anything attributed to him, apart from what can be directly known & realised to end suffering. If the history of the constant changes in Buddhist doctrine are examined, it is obvious the monks & clergy after the Buddha were very liberal in modifying Buddhism.

    As for 'destinations', they merely reflect the state of mind of the deceased prior to the termination of life. As for 'realms', they are mental states (rather than other places), as described in many suttas.

    The vast majority of the Digha Nikaya is devoted to stories about these realms and how rebirth of consciousness after death into a specific realm is affected by karma over many past lives.
    The Digha Nikaya is the most criticsed & questionable of all Nikayas. Even reincarnationists such as Bhikkhu Sujato assert its primary purpose was to convert Brahmans to Buddhism & doubt much of the DN is the Buddha's worlds. The fact that the content of the DN stands out makes it questionable, as are other Jataka-style suttas.

    SN 22.79 unambiguously explains what recollection of pubbe nivasa (past abodes) refers to. It is unrelated to reincarnation. Pleas read it, here: https://suttacentral.net/en/sn22.79

    The monastics in my tradition speak of how precious it is to be born a human,
    This is mere folk Buddhism. The meaning of human birth is described in SN 56.47. It has nothing to do with reincarnation. The word 'manussa' means 'high minded'

    where we have the right mix of defilements and purity to properly practice to discover nibbana.
    No. The suttas state only a small % of people can realise the Dhamma. These are the 'humans'. Please refer to SN 56.102 onwards & SN 56.47. The other people abide in the other realms. For example, psychopaths running Washington DC or chopping off heads in Syria are not "humans".

    The Buddha's own awakening, and the awakening of various arahants, is well-documented to include seeing past lives "such was my name, such was my clan..." etc. over many eons.
    You are merely parroting mere translations. Please start a thread where can discuss these stock phrases.

    The Pali does not state: "past lives". The words "pubbe nivasa" do not mean "past lives". "Kappa" means "period of time". "Name & clan" are identities people have in this life. "Nutriment" is multifold. These stock phrases can be interpreted according to their knowable reality.

    Why do you post what you post but chant each morning in a monastery the Homage to the Dhamma about sanditiko, akaliko, etc? Is this not a contradiction?

    BUT - none of that matters. And this was essentially the point I was trying (perhaps unsuccessfully) to make.
    It does matter because what you wrote is dishonesty. The suttas state noble speech is to only speak what you have realised & known for yourself.

    Emphasis on the here and now, on awakening in this lifetime, etc. as emphasized by the Ajahns is of course primary, and critical...but it does not require a DISBELIEF in actual rebirth
    Awakening cannot occur without right view of the teachings. "Jati" in dependent origination is not "physical rebirth". If this is not known via experience, there can be no enlightenment.

    and I do not agree at all that a belief in actual rebirth is in any way contradictory to the teachings nor a hindrance to awakening -
    But it is a hindrance, which is why enlightenment does not occur.

    I think there are many clear examples in the suttas themselves, and then hopefully in the dhamma of various Buddhist teachers, to support this.
    No. Your & others subjective interpretations of the suttas are not clear. To believe in unknowable things in contrary to the Buddha-Dhamma. Please refer to MN 95.

    One can take an agnostic position on rebirth,
    No. The only knowable rebirth is the rebirth of self-view.

    or have faith in rebirth, and still follow the practice to its ultimate goal.
    No. This is impossible. The ultimate practising is realising the Three Characteristics. Please refer to SN 22.59, where the five arahants arose.

    MN 60 and MN 117 state any inferred believe in reincarnation only results in developing morality and not the other path factors.

    I'm personally not too terribly concerned with the idea of rebirth,
    It is obvious you are. This is self-evident by your posts.

    my only reason for posting was to suggest that the Ajahns are not as dismissive of rebirth as some might like them to be, the posted quotes notwithstanding.
    A role of Ajahns is to lead lay people to a moral life. Please refer to DN 31, which states lay people are lead to heaven (and not Nibbana).

    Unlike Christianity, Buddhism does not have the same goal for all people since all people are not capable of reaching Nibbana, which was made clear in MN 26, after the Buddha's enlightenment when the Buddha finally made the decision to teach.

    I do see on one side people who put too much emphasis on rebirth (e.g. those from more of a folk religion background who are more concerned with entering a deva realm than they are in awakening, and therefore focus on ritual and making merit more than they do on practice),
    And?

    and I see others on the other side who feel it necessary to be dismissive of and atheistic on the topic of rebirth
    When the mind realises & knows what Dependent Origination really is then all of the reincarnation doctrines fall apart.

    Your objection to atheism simply shows the mind has not realised the heartwood of the Buddha-Dhamma.

    (especially in the Secular Buddhist area).
    Secular Buddhism is just a worldly trend and unrelated to right understanding of the suttas. Ajahn Buddhadasa & Ajahn Chah explained Dependent Origination correctly. Your objection to these two Ajahns shows you follow a different sect & doctrine.

    Why is either position necessary to fully comprehend and follow the teachings to awakening?
    MN 117 clearly states the reincarnation belief is tainted & not the noble path.

    If I have a slightly more metaphysical belief than you, what does it matter if we're both following the same ideals?
    We are obviously not following the same ideals. You appear to be hedging 'personal' bets rather than abandoning self-view.

    Again, my apologies if this attitude did not clearly come across in my post. I am basing my opinions on what I know of the teachings, which of course is very little compared to someone like Ajahn Sumedho.
    I would say what you know of the teachings is very little compared to me. In fact, I would guess I probably know the suttas better than Ajahn Sumedho, who I doubt has studied the suttas as extensively as I have since Ajahn Sumedho has lived more meditatively & closely to a non-study tradition.

    You are only reading translations rather than understand the actual terms contained within. It sounds like your teacher is Bhikkhu Bodhi rather than Ajahn Sumedho.

    I have recommenced my thread about Dependent Origination to demonstrate my reincarnation atheism is not baseless.

    Kind regards
    Last edited by Element; 20 Apr 17 at 11:10.

  6. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMGinPDX View Post
    Thanks for the recommendation on the book! I'll take a look.
    I recommend this book for beginners: http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books5/Bh...f_Language.htm

    With metta

  7. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by JMGinPDX View Post
    Must I be an expert to have a position?
    I never suggested I know everything, so I'm confused as to your point with this statement.
    .

    Oops, I didn't intend to cause confusion.



  8. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Element View Post

    We are obviously not following the same ideals. You appear to be hedging 'personal' bets rather than abandoning self-view.

    I would say what you know of the teachings is very little compared to me. In fact, I would guess I probably know the suttas better than Ajahn Sumedho, who I doubt has studied the suttas as extensively as I have since Ajahn Sumedho has lived more meditatively & closely to a non-study tradition.
    It would go a long way if you didn't come across as condescending and egotistical.
    Your apparent high opinion of yourself smacks of self-view, in my opinion.
    That said I appreciate the sutta references and will investigate further.

    However, I think I'll continue to listen very closely to the Ajahns and read the suttas and evaluate what they say for myself, in line with the Buddha's admonition to Sariputta to not have blind faith, to keep what works and discard the rest. Nothing I've said was meant to come across as an absolute; I think it is as misguided to believe something unseen is absolutely not true as it is to believe it is completely true - both are acts of faith and not observation.

  9. #19



    I think its worth mentioning that the original article about Ajahn Sumedho in #1 of this topic was by someone who's an experienced practitioner and been closely involved with Amaravati Monastery for over 30 years, is on the committee of the Amaravati Monastery Lay Buddhist Association and has been leading meditation workshops, days, and retreats there for 15 years.

    (He is also a qualified schoolteacher, has an MA in Buddhist Studies, was secretary of the Network of Buddhist Organisations, from 2010 to 2013, completed a year as the NBO Development Officer in 2007 when he visited Buddhist organisations across the UK,and for five years he was the Buddhist representative on the Hertfordshire Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education.)

    As he's had a direct connection with Amaravati and its monastics for many years, its pretty certain that he knows a lot more about Ajahn Sumedho and his teachings than those on the internet from other places, who are much less experienced in these matters, yet quick to criticise.


  10. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMGinPDX View Post
    However, I think I'll continue to listen very closely to the Ajahns...
    This view is obviously not correct. The reason why is because there are so many different Ajahns. So what exactly are these "Ajahns" you keep referring to? Obviously, they are merely a small group or sect.

    The word "Ajahn" is a Thai word that means "teacher". For example, in Thailand, school teachers such as Aloka are called "Ajahn". If Aloka lived in Thailand. the children & ex-students would respectfully call her "Ajahn Aloka".

    In short, what the hundreds of thousands of different Ajahns teach is not always the True Dhamma. Buddhism is not different to any other religions, where the priests, etc, create their own teachings.

    The Lord Buddha said:

    In the course of the future there will be monks who won't listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — are being recited. They won't lend ear, won't set their hearts on knowing them, won't regard these teachings as worth grasping or mastering. But they will listen when discourses that are literary works — the works of poets, elegant in sound, elegant in rhetoric, the work of outsiders, words of disciples — are recited. They will lend ear and set their hearts on knowing them. They will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.

    In this way the disappearance of the discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — will come about.

    Thus you should train yourselves: 'We will listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — are being recited. We will lend ear, will set our hearts on knowing them, will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.' That's how you should train yourselves.

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipit....007.than.html

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