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Thread: Robert H. Sharf - Mindfulness or Mindlessness (ASI 2013)

  1. #1

    Post Robert H. Sharf - Mindfulness or Mindlessness (ASI 2013)

    I heard his dharma talk via the San Francisco Zen Center podcast, but could not find a copy in the internet available yet. But I did find his presentation in 2013 and uploaded in youtube that touches on the same topic.

    From the youtube description:

    Buddhist scholars have shown that the form of "mindfulness meditation" (sometimes called satipatthāna or vipassanā meditation) that has become popular in the West is, at least in part, a relatively modern phenomenon; it can be traced to Burmese Buddhist reform movements that date to the first half of the twentieth century. The features that made Burmese mindfulness practice—notably the form taught by Mahasi Sayadaw (1904-1982)—so attractive to a Western audience are precisely those features that rendered it controversial in the Buddhist world. For example, Mahasi's technique did not require familiarity with Buddhist doctrine (notably
    abhidhamma), did not require adherence to strict ethical norms (notably monasticism), and promised astonishingly quick results. This was made possible through interpreting sati as a state of "bare awareness"—the unmediated, non-judgmental perception of things "as they are," uninflected by prior psychological, social, or cultural conditioning. This notion of mindfulness is at variance with premodern Buddhist epistemologies in several respects. Traditional Buddhist practices are oriented more toward acquiring "correct view" and proper ethical discernment, rather than "no view" and a non-judgmental attitude. Indeed, the very notion of an unmediated mode of apperception is, in many traditional Buddhist systems, an oxymoron, at least with respect
    to anyone short of a Buddha. (Indeed, it is a point of contention even in the case of a Buddha.) It is then not surprising that the forms of Burmese satipatthāna that established themselves in the West have been targets of intense criticism by rival Theravāda teachers in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. This doesn't mean that modern forms of "bare awareness" practice are without historical precursors. Both Tibetan Dzogchen and certain schools of Chinese Chan were, at least at first glance, similarly oriented toward inducing a mental state that was "pure," "unconditioned," "non-judgmental," and so on. Not surprisingly, these traditions were also subject to sharp criticism; they too were accused of heterodoxy—of promoting practices that contravened cardinal
    Buddhist principles and insights. My paper will begin with the parallels between the teachings and practices of these three traditions, and suggest that some of these parallels can be explained by historical and sociological factors. I will then move on to the philosophical, psychological, ethical, and soteriological objections proffered by rival Buddhist schools.
    I think folks may find it a bit dry, but I found it of interest, thought I share it here.

  2. #2

    Thank you for the link.

    "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

  3. #3
    Hi Erik,

    Well, the entire history of Buddhism is the history of refinements and "new ways to cook the soup". Thus the Mahayana (Great Vehicle of primarily Northern Asia) sprang from the so-called "Hinayana" (Lesser Vehicle). Much of what is called "Theravada" Buddhism of Southeast Asia these days is really a relatively recent innovation of the last couple of centuries. Furthermore, most folks don't realize that the South Asia Suttas, for the most part, are no older (and sometimes) much younger than the Mahayana Sutras, as much the works of human authors interpreting Buddhist Teachings, and very contradictory among themselves, offering a variety of Teachings suited to different audiences.

    Second, various Teachings on Non-Judgement can be found even in the Suttas, for example ...

    There is, bhikkhus, a not-born, a not-brought-to-being, a not-made, a not-conditioned. If, bhikkhus, there were no not-born, not-brought-to-being, not-made, not-conditioned, no escape would be discerned from what is born, brought-to-being, made, conditioned. But since there is a not-born, a not-brought-to-being, a not-made, a not-conditioned, therefore an escape is discerned from what is born, brought-to-being, made, conditioned.
    Third, the Vipassana Practices encouraged in the school of Mahasi Sayadaw are very different from Zazen Practice too!

    Yes, Buddhism has evolved over the years, comes in many flavors, and many of the flavors and evolutions of so-called "Buddhist Modernism" are good. I sometimes write this:


    There is a wonderful history book which had a major impact a few years ago ... The Making of Buddhist Modernism ...

    Many of the modern interpretations of Buddhism so common in the West today are actually the product of Western and Asian moudernizers of the late 19th and 20th century ... such as the equality of women (unusual in traditional, class bound Asian societies), the ability of non-monastic lay folks to engage in Practices such as Zazen, the emphasis on Buddhism as a "scientific" system and the Buddha as a humanist or psychologist who did not emphasize religious aspects, and the emphasis on charity (other than the traditional emphasis on lay donations to monastics). The latter always existed, but has been greatly emphasized in response to competition from Christian missionaries, Judeo-Christian values in the West and such.

    But that does not mean that, just because something is relatively new or a reform, it is a bad thing at all. Further, I believe that all such changes are in total harmony with Traditional Buddhist Values and Teachings.

    I do not recommend the above book to anyone but Buddhist history geeks, but here is a further description and commentary by David Chapman for those interested ...


    - "Zen" pretty much developed in China around the 6th Century when Indian Buddhism met Chinese culture and sensibilities, and then kept developing and evolving right to today. It moved on to Japan and Korea, changed a bit more, and now to the West. It is the same, but different, different but the same in many ways. It is not exactly what and how the historical Buddha taught. In fact, in some ways it is an improvement, with the Buddha something like our "Henry Ford" or the "Wright Brothers"! (At least we think so. That is one reason that Mahayana Buddhists, the "Great Vehicle", for thousands of years have been calling all that Indian stuff "the Lessor vehicle" ... although no longer PC to do ... and why Zen folks have implied that their way was a "Special Transmission" different from all that the historical Buddha taught other folks who needed their Buddhism in other packages.).

    - Zen is Ultimately Timeless. Truly, if one encounters Enlightenment right here, right now, on one's Zafu, then we might say all the Buddhas and Ancestors are "Real" beyond small human ideas of "true or false", and all the Buddhas and Ancestors are sitting on the Zafu as you are sitting. If one pierces the Wisdom manifested in a Koan story, it does not matter that the event depicted never actually took place, for one is manifesting the Wisdom in the Koan even if written by someone simply to depict that Wisdom.


    However, the Heart of the Buddha's teachings ... the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, Non-Self, Non-Attachment, the Middle Way, etc. etc., ... All are here now as much as there then!! When we are sitting a moment of Zazen ... perfectly whole, just complete unto itself, without borders and duration, not long or short, nothing to add or take away, containing all moments and no moments in "this one moment" ... piercing Dukkha, attaining non-self, non-attached ... then there is not the slightest gap between each of us and the Buddha.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-24-2014 at 04:05 AM.

  4. #4
    Buddhist history geek here. 🙋😊😊

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