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TOPIC: Buddhism as Western Romaticism

Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 09:00 #11286

I thought this was intriguing. Why do Buddhist themes seem to resonate with us here in the West? Because they're also Western themes. So, do we adopt Buddhism more easily, and on our terms, because of a familiar romantic frame set? Thanissaro Biku:

www.tricycle.com/feature/romancing-buddha
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 11:09 #11302

I read it here, first:
meaningness.com/metablog/bad-ideas-from-dead-germans -- and subsequent

and meaningness.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/the...-consensus-overview/

I'm sure, should you encounter him at BG, David Chapman could regale you...
Last Edit: 26 Apr 2013 11:11 by Kate Gowen. Reason: add reference
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 11:35 #11303

Interesting. I know David Chapman has gone on about similar things in the past, but I find his style hard to get. This article made sense to me, though.
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 13:40 #11311

When British scholars first encountered Buddhist texts, they made an early translation mistake that sort of set the tone of what was to come in the meeting of West and East: they translated "Bodhi" as "Enlightenment" rather than the more correct "Awakening." Since they admired what they saw as the Buddha's philosophical realism, they attached to his ideas the rationalism of the European Enlightenment.

Now, 3 centuries later, we have Western Romantic Buddhism, which is often couched in terms of "self-actualization" and other Western psychological concepts, without regard to what the Buddha actually taught and what generations of monks have actually practiced.
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 14:05 #11314

I like David Chapman's take on consensus Buddhism. Basically, it's about being "nice." And as he says, niceness kind of sucks as a serious ethical system:

"Within Consensus Buddhism, there is a huge emphasis on emotional safety. It’s non-confrontational, unconditionally supportive, peaceful, supposedly-inoffensive. This may be appropriate for children, or for people who are severely emotionally damaged. It’s repulsive and ridiculous as an approach for grownups."

Thank you, Kate, for the links.
Last Edit: 26 Apr 2013 14:16 by Chris Marti.
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 14:37 #11316

Chris Marti wrote:
I like David Chapman's take on consensus Buddhism. Basically, it's about being "nice." And as he says, niceness kind of sucks as a serious ethical system:

"Within Consensus Buddhism, there is a huge emphasis on emotional safety. It’s non-confrontational, unconditionally supportive, peaceful, supposedly-inoffensive. This may be appropriate for children, or for people who are severely emotionally damaged. It’s repulsive and ridiculous as an approach for grownups."

Thank you, Kate, for the links.

Yeah, I have mixed feelings about that.
a) because it is a massive generalization (compare your mental image of a typical "nice Buddhism" practitioner who you actually don't know personally with everyone going out six degrees of separation who you actually know who practices any form of meditation)
b) because it disdains the importance of this exact function: to offer a way for ex-Christians and ex-Jews to be spiritual without dealing with the stuff they didn't like in their home religions: largely involving any feelings of guilt, punishment, fear, etc. (When we went around the group of 35 adults at the Buddhist center**, this was exactly the "reason i'm a Buddhist" everyone gave: "I was raised (Christian/Jewish) but I left it because of (angry God, scary hell, guilt/shame, rules I couldn't understand, judgemental stuff). Here I find a place where I can have community, a relationship with Wholeness, have a spiritual practice (ritual, prayer and meditation), an intellectual life on subjects of interest (dharma teachings/scripture)... and feel at home and safe." It's a needed function, not a problem.
c) it implies that we'd be better off if everyone were cranky - but the fact is 99% of people spend all day being cranky, ranting, raving, whining, being hateful towards others, condemning this and that, not liking everything, wishing so and so would die a miserable death.... To have .05% of the population choose to be nice or be taught to be nice is not the worst thing to happen to society.

** This was a Tendai Buddhist center run by a Japanese-trained abbot. When/if people's practice deepened beyond that sort of thing described above, which was true for a handful, they moved into deeper training, retreats, etc and did appropriate practices. I respect that he recognized and supported the fact that many people simply need a "church on Sunday" kind of engagement at some points in their lives, and it was okay for them to be where they were.

</rant>
Last Edit: 26 Apr 2013 14:44 by Ona Kiser. Reason: typos
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 14:42 #11317

Did you read the essay, Ona? It's not about being cranky or being nice. It's about accepting things and people as they are and not putting an unrealistic sugar coating on interpersonal relationships. It's about not making the mistake of painting a superficial ethical patchwork over a complex, serious process based system called "Buddhism" that pre-existed the 1960's hippie movement but has to some extent been co-opted in the West by same.
Last Edit: 26 Apr 2013 14:47 by Chris Marti.
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 14:55 #11318

Yes, I've read them. I'm just not clear on "the problem" - that people use religious traditions to fit whatever perspective they are living from? That people then get stereotyped ideas about what Buddhism is, or what Christianity is, based on these broad or popular manifestations? Most Christians never have really lived the teachings of Christ, what reason there are thousands of books out there repeating and repeating the teachings, in the faint hope that maybe a few more people will stop puttering around in wrong understandings of it.

There are plenty of Asian Buddhists who engage with Buddhism basically as a form of idolatry/magic/folk practice, not with any understanding of insight. Westerners slot it into a conceptual framework that is comfortable for them.

Very few people will ever engage with deeper spiritual seeking, because it's hard, it's painful, it's weird, and it destabilizes their deeply clung-to stuff. It's the human condition.

(If you read the Gospels with this eye, you can see most of the time Jesus is banging his forehead in despair, because nobody listens to what he's trying to explain.)
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 15:00 #11320

Looks like you two are in violent agreement.
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 15:03 #11321

But Ona, that's not the issue Chapman's describing on the page I linked to. He' saying that an ethical system of a less than serious, comprehensive nature is being presented as Buddhism when it is not. He's saying the pasting on of a shallow ethics - an ethics he actually agrees with BTW - is not fair to Buddhism because it's NOT Buddhism. He's not saying the ethics is wrong. He's saying there is a misrepresentation happening, and that's what's wrong.
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 15:05 #11322

"Looks like you two are in violent agreement."

I think so, too, just not if it's presented by David Chapman :cheer:
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 15:06 #11323

So what's the solution?
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 15:06 #11324

Chris Marti wrote:
"Looks like you two are in violent agreement."

I think so, too, just not if it's presented by David Chapman :cheer:

:side:
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 15:12 #11326

"So what's the solution?"

There's a solution? (only half joking)

I think knowing how Western Buddhism has grown up is the main thing. It means knowing there is something being added or subtracted to the originals that showed up here. That's all. It's not a huge deal because a lot of good has come from the Western co-option of Buddhism. By the same token, some other things have come from it, too. The "mushroom culture" made famous by Dan Ingram is possibly an example of this - the substituting of vague psychological "stuff" for a real investigative, life changing practice.

Hope this helps...
Last Edit: 26 Apr 2013 15:26 by Chris Marti.
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 15:30 #11327

Ona Kiser wrote:
So what's the solution?

David's proposed solution is reviving Buddhist tantra.
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 15:35 #11328

It might help to post why Chapman says that:

For me, the heart of the Tantric path is not magical methods or esoteric concepts. It is an attitude; a stance; a way of being. It is the attitude of passionate and spacious engagement with this world. It is an ecstatic and agonizing love-affair with everyday reality.

I remain in violent agreement with David Chapman on this :P
Last Edit: 26 Apr 2013 15:38 by Chris Marti.
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 15:43 #11329

BTW - I think one can see, from what Chapman says in both essays (the one I linked to and the one Eran linked to), where Chapman finds the notion that "nice" is not the way to pursue the practice of Buddhism. Nice is good for relating to other human beings, most of the time, but it is not the best way to practice. Reality, this life, is not "nice" in the same way that the mainstream Western Buddhists built their Buddhism. You cannot hide from the good, the bad or the ugly and, in fact, the bad and the ugly are more likely to teach you something useful and meaningful to your life.
Last Edit: 26 Apr 2013 15:44 by Chris Marti.
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 15:46 #11330

I'll throw in some vintage Chapman as well, from his work on www.meaningness.com
I have coined the word “meaningness” to express the ambiguous quality of meaningfulness and meaninglessness that we encounter in practice. According to the stance that recognizes meaningness, meaning is real but not definite. It is neither objective nor subjective. It is neither given by an external force nor a human invention.

I call this a “complete stance” because it acknowledges two qualities: nebulosity or indefiniteness, and pattern or regularity. A complete stance does not deny any aspect of meaningness.

IMO, David's views on tantra are very much related to the concept of meaningness. The obvious response to the world (from the meaningness stance) is the above "passionate and spacious engagement". Spaciousness allows room nebulosity and engaged curiosity enjoys and utilizes the patterns that are there. More than that, because meaning is nebulous but not completely lacking the response is intense fascination with everything or an "agonizing love-affair with everyday reality."
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 15:53 #11331

Chris Marti wrote:
Reality, this life, is not "nice" in the same way that the mainstream Western Buddhists built their Buddhism. You cannot hide from the good, the bad or the ugly and, in fact, the bad and the ugly are more likely to teach you something useful and meaningful to your life.

Yes and (or perhaps just reframing this from the other way) if nice is an important value than we're likely to end up stuck repeatedly. For example see the inability of mainstream Buddhism to deal with money issues, sex issues, power issues, attainments, lack of diversity, etc. The main problem is that you can't have a meaningful conversation about these topics without someone (or many) feeling hurt in some way so that nice response is to sweep it all under the rug. This works for a while but eventually someone trips over the rug and then you have a total mess :)
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 16:38 #11332

Eran wrote:
Chris Marti wrote:
Reality, this life, is not "nice" in the same way that the mainstream Western Buddhists built their Buddhism. You cannot hide from the good, the bad or the ugly and, in fact, the bad and the ugly are more likely to teach you something useful and meaningful to your life.

Yes and (or perhaps just reframing this from the other way) if nice is an important value than we're likely to end up stuck repeatedly. For example see the inability of mainstream Buddhism to deal with money issues, sex issues, power issues, attainments, lack of diversity, etc. The main problem is that you can't have a meaningful conversation about these topics without someone (or many) feeling hurt in some way so that nice response is to sweep it all under the rug. This works for a while but eventually someone trips over the rug and then you have a total mess :)

I will have a special investigative session on what log it is in my own eye that makes Mr. Chapman drive me nuts. My shit.

But as to the above I'm sorry, but this is not a Buddhist problem. It's not even a "religion" problem. It's a human problem. No tradition, system, institution, etc deals with this stuff successfully. Heck, the small non-profit committees I've been on can't even deal with this stuff.

The miracle is that somehow human beings manage to continue surviving and living in somewhat functional civilizations despite ourselves.
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 16:55 #11333

Most things that trouble us are human problems, aren't they? But there are subsets of human problems. This subset is "Western Buddhism being taught in a way that does not foster an optimal practice because it has an ill-formed ethical system that favors nice over effective."

:P
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 17:16 #11334

Ona Kiser wrote:
But as to the above I'm sorry, but this is not a Buddhist problem. It's not even a "religion" problem. It's a human problem. No tradition, system, institution, etc deals with this stuff successfully. Heck, the small non-profit committees I've been on can't even deal with this stuff.

Isn't the whole point of Buddhist practice (possibly not institutions) to deal with this human problem?
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 17:28 #11335

Eran wrote:
Ona Kiser wrote:
But as to the above I'm sorry, but this is not a Buddhist problem. It's not even a "religion" problem. It's a human problem. No tradition, system, institution, etc deals with this stuff successfully. Heck, the small non-profit committees I've been on can't even deal with this stuff.

Isn't the whole point of Buddhist practice (possibly not institutions) to deal with this human problem?

That's usually the point of every good idea.
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 20:21 #11337

My guess is that one of David's specific targets is the kind of amorphous, superficial, wooly-minded (and not infrequently passive-aggressive) New Age "philosophy" that cloaks itself in whatever pre-existing tradition makes for good advertising at the moment: Yoga, Advaita, Daoism, Shamanism, Buddhism, or My Very Own Revolutionary Revelation That Transcends All Previous Methods. His teacher, Ngak'chang Rinpoche, has had a lot to say about "artificial Buddhist personality" and its iniquities. I'm sure David agrees-- as do I.

Remember, David has been "in the game" for something like 30 years at this point, and he's very analytical and philosophically inclined by temperament and education; he's been an Aro student for 20 years, or near to that.
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Buddhism as Western Romaticism 26 Apr 2013 21:21 #11344

Aro would be more popular if it had special pants and tank tops, like yoga. :evil:
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