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Thread: On "comfort food Buddhism"

  1. #1
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    On "comfort food Buddhism"

    An interesting article, discussing Thich Nhat Hanh's "comfort food buddhism":

    http://speculativenonbuddhism.com/20...food-buddhism/

    I agree with much of this, and agree that this type of Buddhism that veers toward the cliché and self help is actually quite deceptive. I find that this is often the case with Tibetan Buddhist books; there is a great deal of focus on "happiness."

  2. #2
    Treeleaf Unsui Myozan Kodo's Avatar
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    Hi Kirk,
    Interesting.

    Too much emphasis on sweetness and happiness and I think it's an idealised teaching; too much of a focus on suffering and radical impermanence and it veers toward nihilism. It takes a skilful teacher to truly walk the middle way of Shakyamuni.

    Just my humble opinion.

    Gassho
    Myozan
    Myozan Kodo
    Ordained Soto Zen Priest in Training
    Dublin, Ireland

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.
    "Here the way unfolds."

  3. #3
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Happiness is the biggest selling point for Tibetan Buddhism.

    I think there's nothing wrong in stating that happiness is part of the experience, but people then to think that Tibetans have the key to ultimate happiness.

    Maybe it's not too bad that people come to Buddhism looking for something to make them feel good, but I have seen some folks that get disappointed when they realize that there is a long way to go before achieving happiness.

    Great article. Thank you.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Please remember I am only a priest in training. I could be wrong in everything I say. Slap me if needed.

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Mr. Spock

  4. #4
    Hi Kirk,

    Well, some of what TNH writes might seem on the surface to be mush and pablum, but I might say that sometimes "still waters run deep", and that seemingly sweet and light approaches to teaching might be an entrance way to something hard as diamonds and tough as nails. To quote that great Bodhisattva, Mary Poppins ... sometimes "a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down". I would say that Thich Nhat Hanh is such a teacher, a gentle being who is simultaneously uncompromising in either his approach to Buddhism or his approach to social action.

    Even in Tibetan Buddhism's emphasis on "happiness" ... such words might disguise the real teaching of the Dalai Lama and most Tibetan Teachers I know (same message as here at Treeleaf, in fact) that the point of this Practice is not the attaining of a happy happy ha ha happy happiness all the time, but of a certain subtle Happiness (big "H") that transcends and fully contains both the happy times and the sad, smiles and tears, the rainy days and sunny days, as judged by small human eyes in this life of Samsara.

    So, don't be deceived by the soft and light outer appearances.

    Gassho, J

    PS - I do agree that this practice is not so much about being "in the moment" (a term bandied about, but little understood) as it is about "being one with the moment just as it is". Another shade of meaning. I have written about that here ...

    It seems to me that many people in Zen Practice have come to confuse "being present/mindful in the moment" (for example, "when drinking tea, just drink tea" ... a sometimes appropriate and lovely way to experience life) ... with "being at one with the moment" (allowing and merging with conditions of life "just as they are"). The two are not quite the same, and are often confused, and the latter is much more at the heart of this Shikantaza Path ...

    Yes, I believe that there are times to be "mindful" ... and there are times not. Sometimes when I eat, I just eat ... when I sip tea, I just sip tea ... when bowing, just bowing ... fully absorbed in that action. A wonderful, insightful practice. When doing one thing, just do one thing with all one's body-and-mind.

    At other times, I just grab a sandwich and a coke while reading the newspaper and thinking about the job I have to do. That's life too. Nothing wrong with it.

    (I do not know where the idea started among some folks that the 'goal' of this practice is to live the first way every moment of every day. If would be pretty awful (if not harmful) to live like that all or even most of the time. What's wrong with also sometimes reading the paper, thinking about work, while grabbing a quick sandwich? There is a place for all of that.)

    In my view, the heart of this Practice is merely "being at one" with self-life-world just as it is ... dropping the resistance, barriers, separation between our "self" and all the circumstances in which that "self" imagines it finds itself in ... until even the walls between "self" and "life-world" (or self and itself) soften or even fully drop away ...

    In fact ... all of the above ... from the wholeness of "just drink tea" to "just eat your sandwich and read the paper" to "just be with life as it is, a Peace encompassing both war or peace (even as we struggle to end the wars and make peace)" are Enlightenment when seen with a Buddha's Eye.
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-02-2012 at 12:47 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Kyonin View Post
    Maybe it's not too bad that people come to Buddhism looking for something to make them feel good, but I have seen some folks that get disappointed when they realize that there is a long way to go before achieving happiness.
    Good point Kyonin ... I too have seen this, unfortunately it seemed like they were looking for a "quick & easy fix" to their suffering.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    ... that the point of this Practice is not the attaining of a happy happy ha ha happy happiness all the time, but of a certain subtle Happiness (big "H") that transcends and fully contains both the happy times and the sad, smiles and tears, the rainy days and sunny days, as judged by small human eyes in this life of Samsara ...
    Thank you Jundo ... I can't remember if this is right, but someone once said, "If you are not smiling during zazen, your zazen is not correct. If you are not crying during zazen, your zazen is not correct".

    Gassho
    Michael
    真 眼

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  6. #6
    If I remember correctly, in one of his books Thich Nhat Hanh describes how a student of his became addicted to peaceful samadhi and the solitude of his kuti. After trying unsuccessfully to get the student to leave his kuti, Thich Nhat Hanh torched it to drive the student out. That sounds pretty steely.

    Gassho, kojip
    大山

  7. #7
    I would think it took a lot of study/inner work for Hahn to reach the state of enlightenment he has reached.

    I feel his books reflect his realisation that us Westerners are often a million light years away from such a state of being within our
    daily lives. Following Hahn's teaching requires total focus combined with a simplicity (which can come across as deceptively easy).

    He rarely goes further than to sow the seeds of buddhist thought
    - leaving us to do the watering (some with intellectual rainfall as in the speculative
    buddhist site) - others with a shower of 'mindfullness training'.

    I feel Hahn is a great respector of the individual - his books can be read by anyone - it is not necessary to have a degree in analytic
    philosophy (not many people do - but the assumption in a lot of speculative buddhism is that folks have the brain power/time/inclination
    to endlessly discuss)


    But Buddhism is also for the overstretched worker. the busy mum, the person who is broken up with emotional problems, etc, etc. Hahn holds his hand
    out to all of humanity - so though I could quibble with some of the simplicity - I forgive it because he is egalitarian - and who am I to judge whether another
    human being is just taking a quick fix or has found a 'method' - a 'way of being' that helps them fundamentally lead a better life?

    Gassho

    Willow

  8. #8
    I know a little people of Thich Nhat Hanh's sangha; those whom I know are very soft to themselves and all the beings. One day, in the review of their sangha, a nun explained her sadness because she had had to use chemical weed killers on the weed of the road. Two years later, when herbs reappeared, she decided to let them live.
    Kosen

  9. #9
    Senior Member Nenka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by willow View Post
    I feel Hahn is a great respector of the individual - his books can be read by anyone - it is not necessary to have a degree in analytic
    philosophy (not many people do - but the assumption in a lot of speculative buddhism is that folks have the brain power/time/inclination
    to endlessly discuss)


    But Buddhism is also for the overstretched worker. the busy mum, the person who is broken up with emotional problems, etc, etc. Hahn holds his hand
    out to all of humanity - so though I could quibble with some of the simplicity - I forgive it because he is egalitarian - and who am I to judge whether another
    human being is just taking a quick fix or has found a 'method' - a 'way of being' that helps them fundamentally lead a better life?

    Gassho

    Willow
    Yes. I've been trying to figure out what it was about that blog post that bothered me, and this is it. Thank you.

    Gassho

    Jen
    The result is not the point; it is the effort to improve ourselves that is valuable. There is no end to this practice. --Shunryu Suzuki

  10. #10
    I was thrilled when my kids took their first steps. Maybe they'll run marathons someday. Maybe not. Either way, those first steps were very good in themselves.

  11. #11
    We have also had threads about the rough and wrathful "Samurai" style of Zen Practice, with yelling and slapping and various forms of breaking down the "self" through a headlong attack on the Ego. Much like physical and verbal abuse by a drill sergeant at a marine "boot camp", the point is to collapse pride, selfishness and other facets of ego to allow space for what will then come.

    This is definitely not our style either at Treeleaf, where we take the Wise and Compassionate Middle Way ... for a trickle of water and easy wind can pierce a stone wall or a mountain as well as dynamite, while the latter often simply makes a broken mess of things, and pieces hard to put back together. The cruel and aggressive style (not limited to hard Rinzai training, by the way, but found very commonly in the "boot camp" atmosphere of Japanese Soto Training monasteries ... and even in some Western Soto and Rinzai communities) can also open the way to simple "hazing", physical, sexual and psychological abuse, sadism disguised as "spiritual training", "power trips" and the like in the wrong hands. That is another reason we do not go such way ... and the examples of abuse are many. This has been discussed in a few threads such as here.

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...ll=1#post25261

    However, although we (Taigu too, most certainly!) do not practice the hard, violent "boot camp" style ... and although we feel it can teach the wrong violent and breaking lessons ... and although I think it is rife for abuse in the wrong hands (here is a warning to all of us, of a Zen Buddhist community that went VERY wrong) ....

    http://icsahome.com/infoserv_respond...b.asp?ID=29888

    ... I still feel that it may be RIGHT for the psychological needs of some folks who might benefit from a "tough love" approach (assuming that it is compassionate "tough love" and not sadism in disguise). Some may need their medicine with "Mary Poppins" sugar, and some perhaps with gasoline or TNT. To each their own medicine in the prescription and dosage they need. I will stay with the trickling water that pierces and fills great mountains.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 08-27-2012 at 02:04 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  12. #12
    Senior Member Nengyo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    We have also had threads about the rough and wrathful "Samurai" style of Zen Practice, with yelling and slapping and various forms of breaking down the "self" through a headlong attack on the Ego. Much like physical and verbal abuse by a drill sergeant at a marine "boot camp", the point is to collapse pride, selfishness and other facets of ego to allow space for what will then come.

    In my experience, without heavy outside control, systems that employ "hazing," tough love, or mental toughening type practices have a habit of spiraling out of control. Each successive generation remembers that it was much harder and the people were much tougher when they went through, so they feel compelled to up the intensity when they become in charge. The way the military avoids this is by having strict published guide lines, well trained trainers, outside observers, and dual chains of command. Even then it sometimes goes wrong.

    Lucky for me I did all the tough love training I'll ever need (back when it was hard) and I'm quite happy with the treeleaf way.
    Try not to be a jerk-- one of the Buddhas

  13. #13
    I have to say I kind of love the author of that article. hahahhah

    I don't really know enough about TNH to critique him or to agree with this author's assessment. What I have read (his take on the Heart Sutra and from studies during Jukai), I've liked. What I like in particular, is the attitude of questioning stuff and the stance against a lot of self-help nonsense in pop-culture Buddhism.

    Gassho,

    Risho
    Last edited by Risho; 08-27-2012 at 06:40 PM.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    (I do not know where the idea started among some folks that the 'goal' of this practice is to live the first way every moment of every day. If would be pretty awful (if not harmful) to live like that all or even most of the time. What's wrong with also sometimes reading the paper, thinking about work, while grabbing a quick sandwich? There is a place for all of that.)
    I don't know if this is where it came from, or whether this is what you're talking about in any case, but I came by this paragraph a night or 2 ago.

    Joko Beck "Nothing Special" p178:

    The more we label our thoughts and keep coming back to whatever's going on in our experience, the better. Moving into a more experiential life will sometimes go very slowly and sometimes very quickly, depending on the intensity of practice. When we realize that we need to practice twenty-four hours a day, it's impossible to avoid the experiential level.

  15. #15
    What Joko is pointing to is different than the new term of "mindfulness" of just focusing on drinking tea or doing whatever you are doing. Thoughts arising and vanishing is the nature of the mind. Buddhist mindfulness is more an awareness of our mental states as they happen. For example, "Oh there's anger", etc. In Zazen, we just let thoughts come and go without grasping or pushing away. One of the things that zazen teaches is not to get so invested in those thoughts. We see those thoughts, and if we can watch them (in a way) without being "owned" by them (for lack of a better term) then we can begin to see what's going on in our mind... .what kind of thoughts are in our minds, what we believe, what propels us, our habitual mindset. When we see this, the harmful things we think about ourselves and others, the grandiose bs we think of ourselves and others, how we put ourselves up or use self-deprecation, separate ourselves all in an attempt to strengthen our egos.... these things can drop away of themselves.

    Jundo posted the following, which is perfect to bring up now. I really really really really like this post; it's in this thread: http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...ght=twin+wings

    Re: watching thoughts V S Labelling thoughts ?
    Hi,

    I believe that "thought labeling", and becoming able to identify the tricks of the "mind theatre" between our ears, is a vital part of Buddhist practice in almost all schools. However, here we just do not engage in that practice --during-- Shikantaza Zazen itself, for that is a special practice with the flavor Taigu described (and which I discuss a little more in the link at the end of this post). However, in daily life, we should practice such "insight" practices, and become aware of the "Mind Theatre" as it acts up in various life situations. Let me explain a bit more ...

    I have sometimes written about how Buddhist practice moves on twin wings ...

    Buddhist Practice is usually described as flying upon the twin wings of ?amatha (calming thoughts and emotions, illuminating and dropping body-mind) and awareness and understanding of vipa?yan? (insight and awareness primarily into the nature and workings of 'self' and mental functions). That is true in Zen practice no less than most other forms of Buddhist practice.

    In a nutshell, Vipa?yan? might be described as insights and awareness, based on Buddhist psychology, as to how the mind works and plays it games. It is an understanding of the Skandhas (form, sensation, perception, mental formation, consciousness ... those words always sung in the Heart Sutra), how our thoughts and emotional reactions arise, how we label and divide the world. We should also understand the Buddha's ideas about how suffering arises within us, which is intimately tied to all that.

    However, unlike some schools of Buddhism, in Shikantaza we do not pursue any particular practices --during-- Zazen itself in order to cultivate such vipa?yan? insight ... and much insight naturally arises from Zazen as "Zazen does its thing". Perhaps we might say that, just in "just sitting" Shikantaza ... dropping thoughts of this and that, thus quieting the mind's "mind games" ... we develop a natural sensitivity and understanding of the mind's "mind games" (much like one first comes to really appreciate what "urban noise" is when one first drives out of the city to the middle of the desert or some other truly quiet place).

    Apart from "on the Zafu" sitting times, however, in the rest of our Buddhist studies and practice, it is good to contemplate and develop such insight, and come to identify the workings of the Skandhas and such within us day to day.

    For example, if you feel an angry or jealous thought arising within you during your day, it is very helpful to identify that as a "bit of temporary mind theatre" and "just the self judging and conflicting with another perceived self". That gives us some distance from the passing emotion, and we no longer see the emotion as quite as inevitable and "true" as we might have before.

    For example, in the case of anger ... We need to develop a sensitivity to how anger arises within us, the triggers which tend to set it off, the first feeling of it starting to arise and the cycle it follows until vanishing. We need to catch ourself more and develop the ability to say, "I am feeling the emotion of anger now, but it is only the mind created theater which is present in this moment ... it need not be so." We need to see it as a story the self writes for itself, "catch it" and thus not be "sucked in" and fooled as much. (Most people who feel anger do not realize it is just a mind created bit of theater which can be replaced by something else ... it is not the way things "have to be". E.g., most people think, when they become upset, that they have "reason to be upset, and it is true and justified", not an optional response to the circumstances). That realization and understanding of how our inner theater works is a step to developing the ability to "rewrite and change the story" at will.

    So, yes, "samatha/vipassana" are both important.
    This is all closely connected to the "Nurturing Seeds" Practice too ...

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1730

    However, the primary reason we do not incorporate such practices into Zazen itself is the nature of Shikantaza as a radical non-gaining, no ulterior motives practice ... which leads thus to gaining great Treasure ...

    viewtopic.php?f=23&t=2816

    Gassho, Jundo


    PS - I had a chat a few years ago with someone from Joko Beck's lineage on this (maybe Ezra) and yes, as a psychologist, she does incorporate certain "insight mediation" practices into Zazen sometimes. However, we do not here.

  16. #16
    disastermouse
    Guest
    I wanted to like this blog post because I don't much care for TNH - but when I got to his derision about the Children's Advice about drinking tea, I was reminded of the story (Pali Cannon?) where the Buddha said 'But when I sit, I know I am sitting, when I stand I know I am standing, and when I walk I know I am walking.'

    Mindfulness isn't all of the practice, but it can be an important part of it.

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    We have also had threads about the rough and wrathful "Samurai" style of Zen Practice, with yelling and slapping and various forms of breaking down the "self" through a headlong attack on the Ego. Much like physical and verbal abuse by a drill sergeant at a marine "boot camp", the point is to collapse pride, selfishness and other facets of ego to allow space for what will then come.

    This is definitely not our style either at Treeleaf, where we take the Wise and Compassionate Middle Way ... for a trickle of water and easy wind can pierce a stone wall or a mountain as well as dynamite, while the latter often simply makes a broken mess of things, and pieces hard to put back together. The cruel and aggressive style (not limited to hard Rinzai training, by the way, but found very commonly in the "boot camp" atmosphere of Japanese Soto Training monasteries ... and even in some Western Soto and Rinzai communities) can also open the way to simple "hazing", physical, sexual and psychological abuse, sadism disguised as "spiritual training", "power trips" and the like in the wrong hands. That is another reason we do not go such way ... and the examples of abuse are many. This has been discussed in a few threads such as here.

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...ll=1#post25261

    However, although we (Taigu too, most certainly!) do not practice the hard, violent "boot camp" style ... and although we feel it can teach the wrong violent and breaking lessons ... and although I think it is rife for abuse in the wrong hands (here is a warning to all of us, of a Zen Buddhist community that went VERY wrong) ....

    http://icsahome.com/infoserv_respond...b.asp?ID=29888

    ... I still feel that it may be RIGHT for the psychological needs of some folks who might benefit from a "tough love" approach (assuming that it is compassionate "tough love" and not sadism in disguise). Some may need their medicine with "Mary Poppins" sugar, and some perhaps with gasoline or TNT. To each their own medicine in the prescription and dosage they need. I will stay with the trickling water that pierces and fills great mountains.

    Gassho, J
    I agree wholeheartedly with this. I know from personal experience and observation that some people, including children, respond to violently rigorous training, including such "training" in their upbringing, very differently: whereas one person will be stirred into trying harder and better by such methods, another can be thoroughly demoralised by them and paralysed and gives up, losing the will to act, and so remains in a state of inaction. Similarly, the subject of violently rigorous training can become resentful and perverse, and will not move or act out of resentment and perversity; if this happens, he or she shouldn't be there and in many instances they will have lost any motivation to continue with this form of training, spiritual or not. It is horses for courses. Spiritual training is not a one-way only affair.
    Last edited by Foursquare; 09-01-2012 at 12:40 PM.

  18. #18
    I followed Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings and practices on mindfulness and walking meditation. I even have a group on mindfulness on Facebook. How did these all change my life? Now when I drink a cup of tea, I realize in the sense level that I am doing so, but for a short time. If I am not alone, I need to respond, help or do something else for the people I am with. So mindfulness has to be dynamic and complex, not only limited to sense data we are receiving. The point is not just tasting the tea, it is about wholesome speech, wholesome conduct. Not being attached to the tea cup or anything. It takes a lot of practice. I think that TNH's mentioned public talks and some popular books are bound to be somewhat limited compared to the kind of teachings that are for the ones who have chosen buddhism and who have the access to the Plumvillage Sangha to practice on a more regular basis. They are somewhat like a beginner's level approach.

  19. #19
    I just finished reading a very good book:

    Claude Anshin Thomas: At Hell's Gate: A Soldier's Journey from War to Peace

    The author saved his life with the Buddhist practices that TNH teaches after a post traumatic stress disorder because of the vietnam war.
    After I read this book, I cannot agree, that there is anything superficial about the way TNH teaches. To everyone who believes this I can recommend this book very much.

    Gassho
    Bianca
    Gassho,
    Bianca

  20. #20
    Hello everyone,
    Well, I think we can give the teachings of TNH whatever label we like, but if we not want to separate and value and judge, why not just appreciating this as a wonderful way to spread the dharma. I only had been sitting with a TNH group once and though this certainly not treeleaf style, it is impressive how live, vivid and - thats it - full of love these teachings and these group was. TNH for most of the time is not the medicine for me, but sometimes it is and I believe for many people its exactly the right thing. Hopefully this not comes as if I would judge it minor to our way, the opposite: different way, same heart. And I would like to quote this part from Jundo "still waters run deep".
    Gassho
    Myoku

  21. #21
    Senior Member Nenka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marla567 View Post
    I just finished reading a very good book:

    Claude Anshin Thomas: At Hell's Gate: A Soldier's Journey from War to Peace

    The author saved his life with the Buddhist practices that TNH teaches after a post traumatic stress disorder because of the vietnam war.
    After I read this book, I cannot agree, that there is anything superficial about the way TNH teaches. To everyone who believes this I can recommend this book very much.

    Gassho
    Bianca
    Thanks for this, I'm going to look it up.

    Since this thread came about, I've been looking up biographical info about TNH online. He's done a lot of work for peace, aided Vietnamese refugees during the 70s, and of course teaches. Does anyone know of any good books about him? Or if he's written an autobiography? He's written so many books it's hard to tell.

    Gassho

    Jen
    The result is not the point; it is the effort to improve ourselves that is valuable. There is no end to this practice. --Shunryu Suzuki

  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by Nenka View Post
    Thanks for this, I'm going to look it up.

    Since this thread came about, I've been looking up biographical info about TNH online. He's done a lot of work for peace, aided Vietnamese refugees during the 70s, and of course teaches. Does anyone know of any good books about him? Or if he's written an autobiography? He's written so many books it's hard to tell.

    Gassho

    Jen
    Hi Jen,

    I know this collection of writings with some biographical sections ...

    http://www.parallax.org/cgi-bin/shop...n&key=BOOKLFPC

    I am surprised that there do not seem to be more biographies, in English at least.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  23. #23
    Senior Member Nenka's Avatar
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    Thanks, Jundo.

    Gassho

    Jen
    The result is not the point; it is the effort to improve ourselves that is valuable. There is no end to this practice. --Shunryu Suzuki

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