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Thread: Devotion in Buddhism

  1. #1
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    Hello, all. Something that has exercised my mind for many years is the subject of devotion in Buddhism. I'm very concerned about this, because the truth is, I don't experience any feelings of devotion to the Buddha, (when say, bowing to the rupa, at the beginning of a meditation practice). I am aware that the early followers of the Buddha must have loved and revered him very much, of course, but sometimes, I wonder whether I am just deceiving myself in thinking that I am attempting to follow the Buddhist way.

    Many, many years ago, I had the privilege and good fortune to have the acquaintance of a realised teacher. Even to be in his presence lifted the tone of the mind, and, many times on the way home after a group meeting (which included meditation), I would experience things that I knew had been a result of the atmosphere I had been in that evening. I could sit and start a meditation practice (once, this happened even while I was waiting for a train to my work, on a quiet railway station), and a blue disc would appear "on the screen" (in front of my closed eyes, so to speak).

    Even then, I would ask myself whether there was something wrong with me, in that I experienced no devotional feelings, despite many wonderful things happening (Honestly, I'm not just making this up). I think that my good fortune was wasted on me, in that there were many, many things in my outlook that needed to change. Frequently, however, a bit of wisdom is gained only in old age.

    I feel that this "coldness" is because, primarily, I am a very intellectual person. What I mean by this is that my reasoning powers operate in me much more readily than emotions do. I suppose that the correct description of someone like me is "an iceberg". One reason/cause of this is that, in childhood, it was always tacitly implied, in our family, that emotions were "soft", silly, and appropriate objects of derision. Though my parents did their very best for us in our struggling, poverty-stricken lives, they were not demonstrative. They were just practical. Even the "religion" (Jehovah's Witnesses, for pity's sake) in which I was raised was not a devotional sect (in the way that, say, the Methodists or Catholics are). It was all an intellectual, brain-washing process, and, as long as one understood and believed "the Truth" (as they described their system —ha, ha!), that was enough. ("The truth shall make you free" could be quoted from the Bible, so it was enough for one to study, and to make sure that all one's beliefs were correct.)

    This coldness has affected relations with my wife and children, in that I must seem to be an undemonstrative "cold fish", even though I have always sought and worked for the welfare of them all. Yet, I laugh fairly readily (if something merits this), and have a keen sense of humour.

    Despite the lack of warmth in my nature (and this is rather strange), there are times when to read or hear of a kind deed can bring me to tears, or it can make me feel as if I want to cry, though this is swiftly covered over by the practical concerns of the moment. Tears are not so bad if there are no others to see them, but, if there are, it can be very embarrassing.

    However, my main concern, now (since I see very few people, being long retired and not very mobile) is with what I call my Buddhist practice. In daily life, I try to be principled, fair, considerate etc., and am very willing to help anyone that I can. I try to keep the precepts and the recommendations of the dharma. However, I see my Buddhist (meditation) practice to be lacking in something. It is respectful, thoughtful, but not devotional. This bothers me a great deal.

    Sometimes, I wonder whether those that call themselves "secular" Buddhists are similar to me (in that they may simply have an intellectual appreciation of the truth of Buddhism). I should appreciate any responses to what has been posted here. Thanks in anticipation of this.
    With kind regards,
    Ig.

    PS: The person that I refer to as a teacher, in my younger days, is no longer alive. I have tried, as well as I can, to express my problem, but I'm not certain that it has been expressed in the best way. Here goes!

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by Ignoramus

    Something that has exercised my mind for many years is the subject of devotion in Buddhism. I'm very concerned about this, because the truth is, I don't experience any feelings of devotion to the Buddha, (when say, bowing to the rupa, at the beginning of a meditation practice). I am aware that the early followers of the Buddha must have loved and revered him very much, of course, but sometimes, I wonder whether I am just deceiving myself in thinking that I am attempting to follow the Buddhist way.
    Dear Ig,

    This article "Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha" by Ven Ajahn Sumedho (student of the late Ajahn Chah and previous abbot of Amaravati Monastery UK) might be worth reading:

    http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma2/bds.html

    Quote Originally Posted by Ignoramus

    Many, many years ago, I had the privilege and good fortune to have the acquaintance of a realised teacher.
    I wonder if you could be a little more specific about what you mean by "realised"... and what gave you that impression? Did he or his students say that he was realised? Also, was he a recognised Buddhist teacher in a particular Buddhist tradition/organisation ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ignoramus
    Even to be in his presence lifted the tone of the mind, and, many times on the way home after a group meeting (which included meditation), I would experience things that I knew had been a result of the atmosphere I had been in that evening
    That's not an uncommon experience for people in Buddhist groups. I used to be deeply involved with Tibetan Buddhism at one time - and I used to feel really "high" and "spaced out" (which is the only descriptive terminology I can think of right now!) after going to some of the teachings or empowerments given by different lamas, as did other students. I think a lot of it was probably connected to the group atmosphere, the colours, incense, sounds and images in a shrine-room... etc. I've also felt especially calm and peaceful after attending Theravada teachings by respected monks.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ignoramus
    I could sit and start a meditation practice (once, this happened even while I was waiting for a train to my work, on a quiet railway station), and a blue disc would appear "on the screen" (in front of my closed eyes, so to speak).
    Could you tell us what kind of meditation practice you were doing, please?


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    We always used to say 'give salutations to those to whom respectful salutation is due', or something like that. It is about thanking those who have given us the path and who help us along it, not about giving devotions to them in the religious sense. I think that was about the right balance.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aloka View Post
    Dear Ig,

    This article "buddha, dhamma, sangha" by ven ajahn sumedho (student of the late ajahn chah and previous abbot of amaravati monastery uk) might be worth reading:

    http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma2/bds.html
    Thanks, when i have more time, i will look at the article.

    Quote Originally Posted by aloka
    I wonder if you could be a little more specific about what you mean by "realised"... And what gave you that impression? Did he or his students say that he was realised? Also, was he a recognised buddhist teacher in a particular buddhist tradition/organisation ?
    No, he was not a recognised teacher in any organisation. If he had not been a powerful, silent "teacher" (in the way that I understand Ramana Maharshi was), he could not have had the effect on me (and others) that he did. There is no way that I could tell anyone else how I knew that he was a "realised" being. I don't want/need to prove what i stated, since it doesn't matter to me who accepts or does not accept it. After all, that was not the main drift of my posting, or the reason for it.


    Quote Originally Posted by aloka

    That's not an uncommon experience for people in buddhist groups. I used to be deeply involved with Tibetan buddhism at one time - and I used to feel really "high" or "spaced out"(which is the only descriptive terminology I can think of right now!) after going to some of the teachings or empowerments given by different lamas, as did other students. I think a lot of it was probably connected to the group atmosphere, the colours, incense, sounds and images in a shrine-room... etc. I've also felt especially calm and peaceful after attending theravada teachings by respected monks.
    I assure you, i was not referring to being "high" or spaced out. Nor was it a case of feeling calm or peaceful.

    Quote Originally Posted by Aloka
    Could you tell us what kind of meditation practice you were doing, please?
    It was attention to the breathing (the rise and fall of the abdomen, since, with the breath passing through the nostrils, tension in the head resulted.

    Last edited by Aloka; 02 Aug 19 at 15:57. Reason: formatting

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    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post
    we always used to say 'give salutations to those to whom respectful salutation is due', or something like that. It is about thanking those who have given us the path and who help us along it, not about giving devotions to them in the religious sense. I think that was about the right balance.
    yes, certainly. However, what i was referring to was reverence/devotion to the buddha, who i never met, of course. It occurs to me that the devotion and bowing etc. Is something that those who see buddhism as a religion (let's say, the general population of Thailand) and know very little about buddhist teaching or meditation. To many people like that (and this is not to sneer at them —far from it), the buddha-image is something that brings good luck, when rubbed. To these people, it is a kind of cultural thing to light incense etc. Of course, i too can put my hands together, can bow, etc. Yet, i feel that this is just posturing (though, perhaps, inculcating a good attitude) and it does not feel natural. I find it a bit awkward/phoney even to shake hands with someone, as am anything but demonstrative. It's rather a difficult subject to discuss, especially via a keyboard!

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Ignoramus
    I assure you, i was not referring to being "high" or spaced out. Nor was it a case of feeling calm or peaceful
    Dear Ig,

    It doesn't really matter what it was, because lots of people have unusual "experiences" of one kind or another and there are even people posting on the internet who believe that they're enlightened. I honestly think its more important to let memories of our past experiences go again and focus on the here and now, rather than clinging on to them.


    Quote Originally Posted by Ignoramus

    It occurs to me that the devotion and bowing etc. Is something that those who see buddhism as a religion (let's say, the general population of thailand) and know very little about buddhist teaching or meditation. To many people like that (and this is not to sneer at them —far from it), the buddha-image is something that brings good luck, when rubbed. To these people, it is a kind of cultural thing to light incense etc. Of course, i too can put my hands together, can bow, etc. Yet, i feel that this is just posturing (though, perhaps, inculcating a good attitude) and it does not feel natural.
    That's a new one for me, I don't think I've seen a Buddhist of any nationality actually rubbing a Buddha statue for good luck!

    Here's a video of Ajahn Brahm with "Why do I bow before a Buddha statue?" (Just over 3 minutes)






    With metta,

    Aloka

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ignoramus View Post
    yes, certainly. However, what i was referring to was reverence/devotion to the buddha, who i never met, of course. It occurs to me that the devotion and bowing etc. Is something that those who see buddhism as a religion (let's say, the general population of Thailand) and know very little about buddhist teaching or meditation. To many people like that (and this is not to sneer at them —far from it), the buddha-image is something that brings good luck, when rubbed. To these people, it is a kind of cultural thing to light incense etc. Of course, i too can put my hands together, can bow, etc. Yet, i feel that this is just posturing (though, perhaps, inculcating a good attitude) and it does not feel natural. I find it a bit awkward/phoney even to shake hands with someone, as am anything but demonstrative. It's rather a difficult subject to discuss, especially via a keyboard!
    I know what you mean. I only went to the Buddhist centre near me after many years of meditating, and it took a long time before I got to understand that bowing or kneeling or whatever can take on a different aspect. It becomes, not subservience but genuine thanks, maybe the way you thank someone who has just saved your life, or helped you out in something important. Not only that but you become part of something else when you do bow. A bit like the difference between always singing alone and then suddenly finding out what it is like to sing in a choir. You gain as much as you give. Buddhist devotion can be like that because you aren't asking for anything, nor are you hoping to placate a God who needs devotion.

    Unlike living in a Buddhist country (I assume you are from the West) everyone was at the centre because they wanted to be, not merely because it is part of your culture to be there. They did stuff because they wanted to do it, not because it was a cultural given. Nobody minded whether I took part in any form of devotion or not, so I didn't for quite a long time until I came to terms with what it was I was doing, and then it was ok. I don't think there would be anything wrong with never taking part in such practices, but it may be useful to keep an open mind.

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    Thanks for all the friendly responses and good intentions that have appeared. I think that what philg has said is quite worth pondering over. I'm sorry to report that nothing seems to have changed. However, I shall continue to bow to the Buddha-rupa, before starting a meditation practice. I watched the short video that your recommended, Aloka (thanks for that), and it corresponds with how I see the matter.

    Through posting, I have come to realise that nothing is as helpful as actual discourse with a wise councillor. To exchange views on a forum may be very useful in some instances, but (where some subjects are concerned, at least), once one starts to type, it seems to send on "into one's head", and to make one feel that one is struggling to express what one feels. It just isn't the same as talking with someone. So, thanks again to you all, but I shall not be carrying on this particular thread any more.
    With every good wish to you all,
    Ig.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Ignoramus
    Through posting, I have come to realise that nothing is as helpful as actual discourse with a wise councillor. To exchange views on a forum may be very useful in some instances, but (where some subjects are concerned, at least), once one starts to type, it seems to send on "into one's head", and to make one feel that one is struggling to express what one feels. It just isn't the same as talking with someone.
    If that's how you feel and you're still looking in, it might be a good idea to investigate your nearest Buddhist centre or monastery and see if there's a teacher there that you can book an interview with, in order to have a chat about your practice.

    So, thanks again to you all, but I shall not be carrying on this particular thread any more.
    No problem, it was nice to chat to you. I'll close this topic now if you've finished with it. I hope you'll come back and still keep posting on the website though!

    Wishing you all the very best,

    Aloka

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