Two Buddhisms?

Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 9/16/12 4:25 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/16/12 4:10 PM

Two Buddhisms?

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I've just finished reading MCTB and although I'm planning to read it again (and continue practicing all the while), I've been looking at other books to "fill out the corners". Sometimes I find that even the same thing said with a slightly turn of phrase can open up understanding.

But when I look in the relevant section of the bookstore, it's as if there are two completely different fields with the same label of "Buddhism". On the one hand there are a few books that seem to be talking the same talk we see in MCTB. The others, much more numerous and dominated by authors like Thich Naht Hahn, are talking about something else -- something to do with being good, to others and to oneself perhaps?

I tried a simple, and highly unscientific test. As I picked up each book, I looked in the index, if there was one, to see if it mentioned jhanas. And I made sure to look under "D" for "dhyāna" too. As I say, I wasn't exactly being scientific, but I was taking "jhana" as a proxy for "talking about the kind of thing Daniel talks about in MCTB".

The vast majority of books didn't mention the subject *at all*. I mean, not a mention. I know jhanas are not necessarily the essential component of Buddhism but it did feel a bit like I was looking at books on Quantum Mechanics and not finding "Schroedinger" in the index. The books ranged from utter newbie books, covering Buddhism as a whole, to those I imagine are more focused. In fact I think I found only one with the word in the index -- a book by B. Allan Wallace. And then there were two more that didn't have an index, but their table of contents quickly led me to a section on meditation that was precise and practical enough to mention jhanas (one by Kornfield and one by Mipham). But that was three out of, I dunno, fifty or more.

As I say, I know jhanas are not the central core of Buddhism, and even to the extent that they are important it doesn't mean they have to be mentioned in every book. But three out of fifty is telling, no?

What is a beginner such as myself to make of this? Why are the gutsy, practical aspects of what Daniel describes *so* invisible in most of the popular books? It's as if one was trying to learn a martial art and the majority of teachers spoke only of how to tie your belt knot or how to think about violence abstractly, while only a tiny minority mentioned anything about actually smacking someone else on the chin or avoiding getting kicked in the head oneself!
Sam S, modified 9 Years ago at 9/16/12 9:41 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/16/12 9:41 PM

RE: Two Buddhisms?

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There are indeed "Two Buddhisms." The tradition of Buddhism that is more concerned with Jhana would be Theravada Buddhism. The books that you seem to be looking into (along the lines of Thich Nhat Hanh et al.) are in the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, which is not overtly concerned with Jhana.

The "gutsy, practical aspects" of MCTB are dealin with a certain progression of meditative development and its fruits. There are also very practical manuals on Mahayana Buddhism, but it is not the same progression - though you should know, non-dual realisation is far less mappable and systematic. You may want to look into "Hoofprint of the Ox" by Sheng-yen for something along those lines.
Jigme Sengye, modified 9 Years ago at 9/17/12 11:41 AM
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RE: Two Buddhisms?

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To some extent, this is an issue of terminology. Other Buddhist traditions might simply use different technical terms or have different standardized translations. For example, some books from Tibetan traditions might use terms like "single-pointed concentration" to describe the 1st jhana, but not use the actual term "jhana". Also, the progressions of some of meditations from other traditions get described in different ways, either because the maps from those traditions have a much greater scope than the "progress of insight" map we mostly talk about here (like the bhumi maps) or look for different signs in their maps or because the meditations are very different (like visualization and mantra recitation or a devotional meditation) on the surface and are only similar once you do both and experience the similarity in the progression through the stages of each system. This would lead to technical meditation manuals on these systems sounding somewhat different. For example, in Vajrayana, they might talk about single-minded devotion, one-taste, blessings or the lineage, union with the diety, or some other jargon, which from a Theravada background, don't necessarily sound like meditative attainments, but are.

It's also a business issue. Serious meditators who practice 2 hours or more a day and are aiming for concrete attainments aren't a very big market. These people tend to have very different needs and interests from the people who are interested in starting meditation to reduce stress, want psychotherapy-lite or who are in interested in Buddhism as an alternative to whatever faith-based religion they are currently finding lacking. The majority of the books will tend to reflect the wants of the majority of the consumers.
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Simon T, modified 9 Years ago at 9/18/12 2:15 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/17/12 9:27 PM

RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Edit: I realized I read OP post a bit too fast and get his point wrong which was more about Vipassana Jhanas. It seems that outside U Pandita lineage, the concept of Vipassana Jhanas isn't very well known.

My original post:

There is a strong influence of the Mahasi Sayadaw lineage in the pragmatic dharma community but also in centers like IMS. Mahasi technique is all about developing concentration and insight at the same time and Samadhi is even frowned upon. In one of his talk, Chanmyay Sayadaw, of the Mahasi lineage, is asked if it's possible to develop a mental illness by doing meditation. His answer is that they are doing vipassana, not Samadhi, hence there is no danger. That's a very telling statement from a man with a deep knowledge of the stages of insight. From his point of view, the risk of getting attach to the pleasure of Samadhi is seen as more problematic than getting stuck in the dukkha nanas. Inquired about learning Samadhi, his answer was that it's not taught in Myanmar and one has to travel to Thailand. I guess he is not a big friend of Pa Auk Sayadaw, which forbid against doing vipassana before someone mastered the first 4 Samadhi Jhanas.

A woman who studied with Pa Auk wrote a book about the first fourJhanas (Focused and fearless). I didn't find the book very interesting but it's the only one I found specific about Samadhi.
Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 9/17/12 11:12 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/17/12 11:12 PM

RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Sam S:
There are indeed "Two Buddhisms." The tradition of Buddhism that is more concerned with Jhana would be Theravada Buddhism. The books that you seem to be looking into (along the lines of Thich Nhat Hanh et al.) are in the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, which is not overtly concerned with Jhana.

So in what way are they both Buddhism? Do they share ends, even if they don't share means?
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Florian, modified 9 Years ago at 9/18/12 7:47 AM
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RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Robert McLune:
What is a beginner such as myself to make of this? Why are the gutsy, practical aspects of what Daniel describes *so* invisible in most of the popular books? It's as if one was trying to learn a martial art and the majority of teachers spoke only of how to tie your belt knot or how to think about violence abstractly, while only a tiny minority mentioned anything about actually smacking someone else on the chin or avoiding getting kicked in the head oneself!


Because we humans will do anything at all to avoid looking too closely at our situation, at our selves, at the society we live in and so on. Any distraction is good enough.

And yet, many of us feel that itch which drives us to take that closer look. Distractions which will allow us to pretend taking a closer look are therefore really subtle and popular.

I like your MA analogy, though in my more disillusioned moments I'll say that even getting the belt tied is too practical, and they're sitting in the cinema watching Kung Fu movies, collecting signed photos of the actors, and discussing the relative merits of grappling vs. punching in Mixed Martial Arts: arm-chair fighters, arm-chair meditators ;)

My favorite analogy is the one from Jed McKenna's books: sitting in a car, making "brr" noises and turning the wheel and pretending to go at great speed - but the car doesn't even have a motor, and when we get out, we're still in the same spot.

Here's my criteria: does a teacher keep reminding the student that no-one can do the student's work for them? Is an author writing in such a way that it's clear that the reader is the main character in the story, that it's the reader's story being told? Are friends encouraging each other to look at their own experience, rather than try to re-live someone else's, even a friend's?

Great discussion!

Cheers
Florian
Sam S, modified 9 Years ago at 9/18/12 9:57 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/18/12 9:57 AM

RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Robert McLune:
So in what way are they both Buddhism? Do they share ends, even if they don't share means?


That's right; they both share the ends of liberation from suffering through realisation of no-self.
Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 9/18/12 6:33 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/18/12 6:33 PM

RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Sam S:
There are indeed "Two Buddhisms." The tradition of Buddhism that is more concerned with Jhana would be Theravada Buddhism. The books that you seem to be looking into (along the lines of Thich Nhat Hanh et al.) are in the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, which is not overtly concerned with Jhana.

My understanding is that Zen is within the Mahayana "branch", correct? Now so far the only place I've been able to find in which to practice with others is a local Zen center. I quite like it, and the rituals and stuff, but again it's nothing like what gets discussed on DhO. For one thing, I wouldn't want to overstress the "with others" in the above! Sure, we all sit in the same room, but there's very little other connection. Once, during a rare discussion session where people were talking about themselves, I was talking about my practice but it was as if I'd said something naughty. Most people were talking about their anxieties, or their childhood experiences. Kinda like a shared therapy session.

I don't have a teacher (yet), but if I picked someone from the Zen tradition is it likely I'd find their approach at odds with MCTB? One small example. When I sit, I'm not too concerned about whether my eyes are closed or open -- if I had to pick I'd go for closed. Also, I'm trying to do the noting thing I heard about originating (I think) with Mahasi Sayadaw. Both are different from Zen, where they have an "eyes open" approach, and where they count breaths and don't note.

Crucially, those things seem to matter to them. I don't think they'd entertain "but I read in this weird book about this other stuff".

Is Zen a sub-optimal choice? Or are there perhaps, just like Buddhism overall, two Zens?
Sam S, modified 9 Years ago at 9/18/12 9:02 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/18/12 9:02 PM

RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Robert McLune:
My understanding is that Zen is within the Mahayana "branch", correct? Now so far the only place I've been able to find in which to practice with others is a local Zen center. I quite like it, and the rituals and stuff, but again it's nothing like what gets discussed on DhO. For one thing, I wouldn't want to overstress the "with others" in the above! Sure, we all sit in the same room, but there's very little other connection. Once, during a rare discussion session where people were talking about themselves, I was talking about my practice but it was as if I'd said something naughty. Most people were talking about their anxieties, or their childhood experiences. Kinda like a shared therapy session.


Yes, Zen is a major tradition within the Mahayana. There's a lot of variation in Zen, and no two centers are going to be the same, so I'm not sure how much I can comment on the one that you've visited. But I suppose I can say some things from my own experience (I live at a Zen center).

First of all, I don't think you can get a real feel for the Sangha until you've been with them for a while. In Zen especially, relationships within the community tend to grow very organically and subtly. Just sitting with people for long periods of time can establish a connection that transcends words - it sounds wooey and "spiritual", I know, but it's actually a very palpable and utterly profound thing when you experience it. It's definitely not like the community you'll find on this or any other internet forum.

As for people talking about their own psychology more than their practice: Zen methods tend to be very direct, intuitive, and harsh, and can therefore mobilise the unconscious to a degree that other practices may not. As such, psychological openness is a very important and fruitful facet of Western Zen practice. We also don't tend to discuss our own practice outside of the dokusan room, at least in very practical terms. This is also important because the teacher-student relationship is a crucial element in the way we practice and is also tailored for each individual specifically, and it can be thus unhelpful to compare notes with others who are working in a different context.

I don't have a teacher (yet), but if I picked someone from the Zen tradition is it likely I'd find their approach at odds with MCTB? One small example. When I sit, I'm not too concerned about whether my eyes are closed or open -- if I had to pick I'd go for closed. Also, I'm trying to do the noting thing I heard about originating (I think) with Mahasi Sayadaw. Both are different from Zen, where they have an "eyes open" approach, and where they count breaths and don't note.


It's true that the Zen approach doesn't appear, on the surface, to have too much in common with MCTB-type practices. Also, the four path attainments are quite different from the way progress and realisation happens in Zen. Nonetheless, you will ultimately traverse the same territory. Also fyi, counting the breath is a preliminary practice to either koan work or shikantaza.

Is Zen a sub-optimal choice? Or are there perhaps, just like Buddhism overall, two Zens?


In my opinion, Zen is the optimal choice! But it really depends on your own trajectory. I would at least give it a good try, though.
Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 9/18/12 9:15 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/18/12 9:15 PM

RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Sam, excellent thank you!

Sam S:

Is Zen a sub-optimal choice? Or are there perhaps, just like Buddhism overall, two Zens?

In my opinion, Zen is the optimal choice!

Can you say some more about that? For all practical purposes, Zen is all I have right now, so it would be nice to hear about its particular strengths. I'm not trying to set up a competition, but presumably the different manifestations of Buddhism exist for what their founders and adherents consider good reasons. So what exactly are the Zen raisons d'être?
Sam S, modified 9 Years ago at 9/18/12 11:24 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/18/12 11:24 PM

RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Robert McLune:
Can you say some more about that? For all practical purposes, Zen is all I have right now, so it would be nice to hear about its particular strengths. I'm not trying to set up a competition, but presumably the different manifestations of Buddhism exist for what their founders and adherents consider good reasons. So what exactly are the Zen raisons d'être?


When taught and practiced properly, Zen is a very direct and relatively quick way to attain full enlightenment. In noting practice, for comparison, we objectify phenomena and gradually develop insight into their characteristics of suffering, not self, and impermanence. In Zen, we harness and develop our latent sense of direct spiritual inquiry, cultivating it to a degree of true immensity - over time, this energy of questioning finds its way not only into our dream state, but ultimately even into the state of deep sleep. This creates the conditions for an explosion of wisdom - a deep and penetrating enlightenment. The three characteristics of phenomena are thus immediately realised by the deepest level of consciousness, the alaya-vijnana. Furthermore, we don't simply discover that different phenomenal aggregates do not constitute a "self," but also that they do not fundamentally exist - they do not have any trace of identity in and of themselves. This is the realisation of Shunyata (emptiness). Some call it non-dual realisation because, without any identity in themselves, there can also be no differentiation between phenomena. The world is seen in its true condition of absolute equality, non-dualistically.

The particular hallmark of Zen, however, is that we do not consider this realisation of Shunyata in itself to constitute enlightenment - or, at least, not a thorough-going or truly "Zen" enlightenment. True enlightenment is discovering that the world of equality (non-dual, Absolute) and the world of differentiation (dual, relative) are themselves exactly the same - that there is absolutely no differentiation between delusion and enlightenment. This is the state of Zen, the world of Thusness. It is completely beyond conceptual understanding, and as such can only be reached expediently through the spirit of full-body-and-mind inquiry. At the completion of training, the ten fetters should not merely be seen through instantly as they arise, but should have no ground whatsoever upon which to arise in the first place. Enlightened awareness is fully present both in the waking, the dreaming, and the deep sleep state.
Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 9/19/12 12:38 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/19/12 12:38 AM

RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Sam S:
[...]True enlightenment is discovering that the world of equality (non-dual, Absolute) and the world of differentiation (dual, relative) are themselves exactly the same - that there is absolutely no differentiation between delusion and enlightenment. This is the state of Zen, the world of Thusness. It is completely beyond conceptual understanding[...]

Thanks again Sam. I doubt I'm understanding it -- although, as you say, it may be beyond that -- but it sounds ...well, "cool" is probably inappropriate, but still it fits :-)

And are you an arahat, if you don't mind me asking?
Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 9/19/12 12:50 AM
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RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Simon T.:
There is a strong influence of the Mahasi Sayadaw lineage in the pragmatic dharma community but also in centers like IMS. Mahasi technique is all about developing concentration and insight at the same time and Samadhi is even frowned upon. In one of his talk, Chanmyay Sayadaw, of the Mahasi lineage, is asked if it's possible to develop a mental illness by doing meditation. His answer is that they are doing vipassana, not Samadhi, hence there is no danger.

Thanks Simon. I heard a similar message from a Mahasi-connected monk.

He never goes as far as saying *not* to do samatha (one outcome of which is, I think, samadhi, yes?). But he makes it sound like it is really not necessary at all, as a thing separate from vipassana. In he end he says "it's up to you", but makes it clear there is no specific need to do samatha (again, as a thing separate from vipassana) first, prior to vipassana.

What do people think of that?

And how do people make the choice (as to whether to do samatha)? If vipassana -- or rather it's outcome -- is really The Point, then why waste time with what sound like nothing more than some cute mind tricksiness? Is it that samatha is to vipassana what futsal (a kids training game) is to soccer? The point of kids kicking a ball around is to play soccer, not futsal. But it has become clear that first playing futsal helps you when you finally get to play soccer. In fact it's *better* to do futsal then soccer, than just lots and lots of soccer.

Sorry, were we talking about meditation? :-)
Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 9/19/12 12:53 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/19/12 12:53 AM

RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Florian Weps:
Here's my criteria: does a teacher [...]

Thanks Florian. Obviously it can be difficult, especially for a newbie, to suss out a teacher at a glance. Any thoughts on how long one should spend before deciding to chuck one, if appropriate, and look for another? A month? Three? A year? Obviously if they require you to dance nekkid in the street after only a day then it may be OK to part company. I'm talking about the regular situation where nothing obviously bad is going on.
Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 9/19/12 1:04 AM
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RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Sam S:
There are indeed "Two Buddhisms." The tradition of Buddhism that is more concerned with Jhana would be Theravada Buddhism. The books that you seem to be looking into (along the lines of Thich Nhat Hanh et al.) are in the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, which is not overtly concerned with Jhana.

Do you think Thich Nhat Hahn is an arahat? Will he have worked through -- attained -- the stuff we read about in MCTB but it's just that he and his tradition doesn't talk about it? Or is it that Mahayana is Just Not Into It at all?

I read Brad Warner's blog from time to time, and he doesn't seem too enamoured with Thich Naht Hahn. (That said, I doubt Thich Naht Hahn is particularly devastated by that :-) ) Have you read Warner's stuff? Where does he fit into the spectrum of MCTB-ishness-or-not?
Sam S, modified 9 Years ago at 9/19/12 2:12 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/19/12 2:12 AM

RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Robert McLune:
And are you an arahat, if you don't mind me asking?



Nope, not by any standards! Probably live with some, though, depending on how you define the term.
Sam S, modified 9 Years ago at 9/19/12 2:20 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/19/12 2:20 AM

RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Robert McLune:
Do you think Thich Nhat Hahn is an arahat? Will he have worked through -- attained -- the stuff we read about in MCTB but it's just that he and his tradition doesn't talk about it? Or is it that Mahayana is Just Not Into It at all?


I really have no idea about TNH's attainments. The connection between the MCTB four paths and Mahayana enlightenment is a complex and most likely controversial issue that I can't comment on authoritatively, having not completed either systems of training. The four paths seem to be intimately related to the movement of energy through the body, the attention wave, and vibrations, which are not necessarily components of Mahayana training - for better or worse. I don't think you can really practice meditation seriously, though, without going through this stuff.

I read Brad Warner's blog from time to time, and he doesn't seem too enamoured with Thich Naht Hahn. (That said, I doubt Thich Naht Hahn is particularly devastated by that :-) ) Have you read Warner's stuff? Where does he fit into the spectrum of MCTB-ishness-or-not?


I've read some of Warner's material. It seems to me that he is pretty unaccomplished, at least by the standards of my school.
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Florian, modified 9 Years ago at 9/19/12 4:07 AM
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RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Robert McLune:
Florian Weps:
Here's my criteria: does a teacher [...]

Thanks Florian. Obviously it can be difficult, especially for a newbie, to suss out a teacher at a glance. Any thoughts on how long one should spend before deciding to chuck one, if appropriate, and look for another? A month? Three? A year? Obviously if they require you to dance nekkid in the street after only a day then it may be OK to part company. I'm talking about the regular situation where nothing obviously bad is going on.


But is there anything obviously good going on? Find out whether you're making progress (this may not be easily answered). If so, stay. If not, and the teacher does not encourage you to do something about it, consider looking for a more demanding teacher.

Teachers need not be individual human beings either. At various times, a family pushing all your buttons can be a teacher, or a workplace. Some other challenge in your circumstances can be a teacher - finance, health, and so on. Some people I know have "inner teachers" whom they contact by various weird ways. A book can be a teacher, or a movie.

Cheers,
Florian
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Simon T, modified 9 Years ago at 9/19/12 4:11 AM
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RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Robert McLune:
Simon T.:
There is a strong influence of the Mahasi Sayadaw lineage in the pragmatic dharma community but also in centers like IMS. Mahasi technique is all about developing concentration and insight at the same time and Samadhi is even frowned upon. In one of his talk, Chanmyay Sayadaw, of the Mahasi lineage, is asked if it's possible to develop a mental illness by doing meditation. His answer is that they are doing vipassana, not Samadhi, hence there is no danger.

Thanks Simon. I heard a similar message from a Mahasi-connected monk.

He never goes as far as saying *not* to do samatha (one outcome of which is, I think, samadhi, yes?). But he makes it sound like it is really not necessary at all, as a thing separate from vipassana. In he end he says "it's up to you", but makes it clear there is no specific need to do samatha (again, as a thing separate from vipassana) first, prior to vipassana.

What do people think of that?

And how do people make the choice (as to whether to do samatha)? If vipassana -- or rather it's outcome -- is really The Point, then why waste time with what sound like nothing more than some cute mind tricksiness? Is it that samatha is to vipassana what futsal (a kids training game) is to soccer? The point of kids kicking a ball around is to play soccer, not futsal. But it has become clear that first playing futsal helps you when you finally get to play soccer. In fact it's *better* to do futsal then soccer, than just lots and lots of soccer.

Sorry, were we talking about meditation? :-)


I have very little knowledge of samatha, or absorption, so I cannot comment much on how it is done in the tradition that make use of it. Pa Auk requires of his yogi to master the 4th samatha jhana before moving to vipassana. I heard that the Sri Lankan school have similar approach. The story of the Buddha's Enlightement tell he used the 4th jhana to find Enlightement. People with experience with both samatha and vipassana could provide a better answer and explain the correspondence between samatha and vipassana jhanas.

I guess one way to look at it is as a training tool, assuming that once you start vipassana, you no longer bother doing absorption and even avoid doing it, as it is recommended by the Mahasi school. But I think the school that teach absorption are using it as a tool, a way to reach the strata of mind, as Kenneth Folk put it, and once in that strata of mind, start investigating.

What I would worry about with the school that teach samatha is that they might (pure speculation) disregard the stage of insight a yogi could be in. If someone is in re-observation and try to follow instruction for absorption religiously, it might quite well drive himself crazy.

the hybrid approach as we find it in the Mahasi school will tell to avoid absorption if you are tempted to go there. On the other hand, doing concentration practice on the sensation of pain is considered necessary once in a while. The Sunlun Sayadaw school put a lot of emphasis on that.
Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 9/19/12 10:08 AM
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RE: Two Buddhisms?

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Florian Weps:
Teachers need not be individual human beings either. At various times, a family pushing all your buttons can be a teacher, or a workplace.

I can relate to that. My wife, kids and my business all teach me stuff. No idea if it's good stuff, but they certainly get their message across :-)