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Thread: An interesting and critical talk regarding Mindfulness

  1. #1

    An interesting and critical talk regarding Mindfulness

    Hello dear fellow Treeleafers,

    the following talk is quite interesting IMHO, although at times very academic (maybe it's because an academic gives the talk in front of people who are members of academia ), nevertheless it raises some very important questions:


    Hans Chudo Mongen

  2. #2
    Hi Hans,

    I listened twice today. I would disagree with his central premises:

    I believe that he too easily discounts the "enlightened while yet of this world/freedom in this life/samsara is nirvana" perspective of the Mahayana (carried over into Zen, especially in the West) as somehow a watering down of original Buddhist Teachings that "this world must be escaped". I would see this more as a development, a new way of expression, that opened amazing doors (and actually improved upon) the original formulation in many ways. That development is continuing and flowering as Buddhism has evolved to fit modern times and given us something very wonderful.

    Furthermore, there was plenty of basis in the old South Asian and Mahayana Traditions to allow for such developments ... the Prajnaparamita literature just being one source ... such that it is not just a "modern development". (Shown, by the way, by his very citation of 8th century Zen practices as very similar to modern practices!)

    Also, his description of 8th Century Zen meditation (and what he calls "bare attention") is very simplistic and quite narrow in its description of what he thinks such meditation is about (as just some reaching of a "pre-conceptual thoughtless tabula rasa" state). For example, not only is Shikantaza not about such a state (in my understanding), but his objection seems to be that it is just different from, and a "watering down" of, old Theravada goals of meditation such as reaching Jhana states. I think he is just trying to be provocative and the argument is a bit ridiculous.

    The fact that his cites for support the objections of the so-called "Critical Buddhists" ... a tiny movement that has been largely discredited ... is further evidence.

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 12-03-2013 at 04:18 AM.

  3. #3
    Hello Jundo,

    to me there is always a great problem when academics try to talk about developments intimately related to individual experiences that cannot be put into words easily. My bottom line impression after having watched it was very close to what you wrote Jundo, however I found it thought provoking nevertheless because a number of topics are being raised (especially towards the end of the talk) that some people might not have considered beforehand.

    I am not very interested in his conclusions per se, but in questions like "how does my practise fit into a consumerist world?"; "what would I be willing to give up to follow this path?"; "how much of my practise follows convenience and wishful thinking?" which arise out of critical appraisals like Mr. Sharf's.


    Hans Chudo Mongen
    Last edited by Hans; 12-02-2013 at 02:43 PM.

  4. #4
    I have only been able to hear the first 5 minutes of this (I will listen to the rest later as I'm off to lecture - academics eh!!) but it sounds as if it about Buddhism and Depression ( forgive me if I am wrong). It brought to mind a talk I heard recently by Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke on Taigen Leighton's site, which I found interesting. I understand that Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke is Vice Abbott of Berkley ZC



  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Hans View Post

    I am not very interested in his conclusions per se, but in questions like "how does my practise fit into a consumerist world?"; "what would I be willing to give up to follow this path?"; "how much of my practise follows convenience and wishful thinking?" which arise out of critical appraisals like Mr. Sharf's.


    Hans Chudo Mongen
    Good questions that we are all wrestling with ... but which I think Buddhists have been wrestling with for thousands of years in one way or another.

    An important book on this topic ... of how many of the beliefs and practices which we take to be "Buddhism" in the West are actually fairly modern inventions or interpretations ... is this (I know you are familiar Hans):

    The Making of Buddhist Modernism

    Yet, while reading it, I was left feeling that many of the "modern inventions" are pretty good! (For example, the more democratic, less sexist, more scientific, less superstitious interpretations common in the West). Furthermore, there is plenty to be found in the old Traditions to support much of it (For example, even if most Buddhists of old were pretty sexist, still the basis for a transcending of sexual inequality has always been present in the doctrines).

    Also, I happen to be doing some reading lately on how our very idealized, romantic picture of monks of old may be just that: very idealized and romantic. It is open to question how much they were "more advanced" or that different from modern "screwed up and imperfect" Buddhist human beings, except for the fact that they are long dead. Buddhist Historian and Archaelogist Gregory Schopen makes an interesting observation in this collection of his papers:

    There was, and is, a large body of archaeological and epigraphical material, material that... records or reflects at least a part of what Buddhists-both lay
    people and monks-actually practiced and believed.' There was, and is, an equally large body of literary material that ... has been
    heavily edited, it is considered canonical or sacred, and was intended-at the very least-to inculcate an ideal.

    But notice that this position, which gives overriding primacy to textual sources, does not even consider the possibility that the texts we are to study to
    arrive at a knowledge of "Buddhism" may not even have been known to the vast majority of practicing Buddhists-both monks and laity. It is axiomatically
    assumed that the texts not only were known but were also important, not only were read but were also fully implemented in actual practice. But no evidence
    in support of these assumptions, or even arguments for them, is ever presented. Notice too that no mention is made of the fact that the vast majority of
    the textual sources involved are "scriptural," that is to say, formal literary expressions of normative doctrine. Notice, finally, that no thought is given to the
    fact that even the most artless formal narrative text has a purpose, and that in "scriptural" texts, especially in India, that purpose is almost never "historical"
    in our sense of the term. In fact, what this position wants to take as adequate reflections of historical reality appear to be nothing more or less than carefully
    contrived ideal paradigms. This is particularly clear, for example, in regard to what these canonical texts say about the monk. But in spite of this, scholars
    of Indian Buddhism have taken canonical monastic rules and formal literary descriptions of the monastic ideal preserved in very late manuscripts and treated
    them as if they were accurate reflections of the religious life and career of actual practicing Buddhist monks in early India.

    From "Archaeology and Protestant Presuppositions in the Study of Indian Buddhism"

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 12-02-2013 at 03:51 PM.

  6. #6
    OT ... it's "tabula rasa".

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Nindo View Post
    OT ... it's "tabula rasa".
    Okay, the blank slate should spell-check.

  8. #8
    Thanks for the link Hans.

    Is Sharf suggesting some cultural cross-over between the depressive position (western) and the notion of dukkha?

    I think we experience dukkha - most of the time - but are not necessarily depressed by it. Depression is just one of a range of potential responses to dukkha. I'm not sure it works to reduce dukkha to a state of generalised hopelessness that is then translated as a western notion of depression? That position seems to marry depression with dukkha and instigates a further fall into the promotion of mindfullness an a cure all for everything we struggle with in the modern world?

    To be honest - I could fry my brains discussing the content of this lecture. It's very dense and does raise some interesting issues.

    I agree with much of what Jundo's says, and rely on being drawn back from the pesky snares of Critical Buddhism because for some reason I get drawn into their arguments which are no use to my actual practice at all


    Last edited by Jinyo; 12-03-2013 at 01:32 PM.

  9. #9
    Hello Willow,

    please don't fry your brain too much If questions and statements challenge us and help us illuminate our path, then that is good and skillful. If they become self serving mazes, they belong to Mara and should be left alone. Hardly anyone ever attained supreme awakening through a head ache alone. After all the questions have ignited our respones, WHAT DO WE DO?


    Hans Chudo Mongen

  10. #10
    Hello Hans,

    Yes - I'd consider myself well on the way to enlightenment if a stonking head-ache was a true indicator

    But sometimes it's difficult to know whether putting the intellectual work in is a waste of time - dancing around a maze - or might actually
    illuminate our path.

    One thing I'm clear about is 30 minutes of thinking non-thinking is way more beneficial than 30 mins intellectual thought.



  11. #11
    Just a ps. which might be of interest - I had a look at Robert Scarf's web site. He has an interesting article in Tricycle that resonated so much with the McMahan book on Buddhist Modernism that I wondered if he had contributed. I had a look and his work is referenced twice in the book.

    I found the article a lot more clearer than the video lecture.



  12. #12
    By the way, one point of the talk that stood out to me is, in fact, how much the description of the meditation style developed by the 8th Century Chan/Zen Masters resonates with Shikantaza Practice of open awareness. It is actually something that I have spoken about before. Historians have noted that the tradition of Shikantaza/Silent Illumination may be the older and more original style of Zen Meditation, centuries before the development of what is now called "Koan Instrospection/Kanhua " Zazen (not that they are not both fine ways of Zazen).

    Zen Historian Morten Schlutter has chronicled the history of Silent Illumination Zazen in his masterful (although I do not recommend it except for real Zen history geeks) "How Zen Became Zen" (p. 172-174):

    The new Caodong [Soto] tradition, then, seems to have simply adopted the type of meditation already common in Chan and elevated its importance. What made the silent illumination teachings of the Caodong tradition distinctive, therefore, was not the meditation technique or even its doctrinal underpinnings but its sustained, exhuberant celebration of inherent enlightenment and its persistent stress on stillness and de-emphasis on enlightenment as a breakthrough experience. In this way, the Caodong tradition did make meditation an end in itself: as long as meditation was approached correctly, nothing else was really needed. Thus, the silent illumination practice of the new Caodong tradition really did differentiate it from the rest of Chan ... . Even though the new Caodong tradition's teaching style was seen as distinctive, it did not entail, as I have argued above, a radical departure from earlier meditation techniques ...

    The kanhua Chan advocated by Dahui was, on the other hand, truly an innovation and represented a new style of Chan. As I argued in Chapter 5, Dahui developed what was essentially a new type of meditation out of existing gongan practices. In spite of Dahui's accusations that the Caodong masters and other Chan teachers with whom he disagreed were teaching a heterodox doctrine, it was Dahui himself who was unorthodox in his unabashed de-emphasis of inherent enlightenment and his new mediation technique strongly focused on working toward a moment of breakthrough enlightenment.
    That is not, by the way, meant in any way as a commentary on the superiority of inferiority of any practice method (or even with regard to any other form of Buddhist meditation of other schools, or other Buddhist practice). Everything is new and an innovation sometime in the history of Buddhism (and what comes later can often be an improvement on the earlier!). It simply means that Silent Illumination may have been closer to the earlier, mainstream of Chan practices.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 12-04-2013 at 02:54 AM.

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