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so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???

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Hello,

I am considering a fairly recent blog post by Shinzen Young, where he refers to himself as a post-buddhist. I am puzzling over this concept and its implications, but I will try very hard to avoid misattributing any ideas to Shinzen, or otherwise creating a strawman.

To me, the idea of being post-buddhist implies being a western, secular humanist. And if one is a humanist, and is undertaking meditation to reduce suffering in only this life, then isn't there a tension with the traditional ideas of renunciation?

To me, there are obvious implications, and implications that are less clear. Obviously, 'post-buddhists' are likely not going to be joining monastic orders or talking about reincarnation.

But I think the implications that are less clear are more interesting. Would a post-buddhist cultivate revulsion towards the body (i.e. 32 parts)? Wouldn't revulsion be a proper attitude (by the Pali cannon) which would be at odds with our modern, secular worldview?

Would a "post-buddhist" have more difficulty seeing all formations as unsatisfactory, and turning towards a fruition experience? By my limited understanding and experience, the stage of equanimity involves at least some ongoing degree of renuncitation and restraint. And if formations are not unsatisfactory, then couldn't someone be stuck and not fully "learn" from the stages of the knowledge of suffering. I am wondering if the lack of belief in reincarnation sort of takes some of the wind out of renunciation, basically.

These are very speculative questions, which are not intended to criticize anyone. I'd welcome anyone's considered thoughts. If this has been addressed better elsewhere, please let me know.

RE: so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???
Answer
8/28/13 10:33 AM as a reply to Mike H..
Hey howdy,
interesting questions. without looking up what shinzen's definition of "post buddist" is i can say that i consider myself one.

the fact that i have gained much of my understanding about this life through buddhist teachings does not diminish my definition of it in the least. as i like to say, gotama was not a buddhist.

the particular "METHODS" which you allude to in your questions are still applicable to whatever part of the path you are on and are only methods and should not be confused with either a particular stage of accomplishment or tied to any particular dogma or "ism".

you mention "reincarnation". did gotama talk about that? if so, did he believe in reincarnation?

cheers

tom

RE: so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???
Answer
8/28/13 10:56 AM as a reply to Mike H..
These are good questions that usually go unasked.

Not all forms of Buddhism are renunciate. Sutric Buddhism is renunciate. Tantric Buddhism, not so much. David Chapman has written a lot about this subject on his blogs. I suggest looking him up.

The Mindfulness Movement wants to wed some aspects of Buddhist meditation with psychotherapy and Baby Boomer ethics (political correctness, multiculturalism, sexual liberation, and feminism). In my opinion, this is an uneasy fit, for the simple reason that the Buddha didn't just come up with a meditation technique. He came up with a path of liberation, and it's clear from everything he said about it that the Buddha intended this path to be one of renunciation, all the parts (ethical, theoretical, and technical-meditative) supporting one another.

Now, there's renunciation, and there's renunciation. The Buddha had many lay followers. He did not expect them to follow the same rules he laid down for the monks. But there are a lot of things in sutric Buddhism - even prescriptions for the Buddha's lay followers - that clash with Western liberal mores. Again, I'd point you to David Chapman's writings on this subject. He explains it a lot better that I would.

You ask a specific question about the fruition experience. In my own experience, I did not find it necessary to submit to a high degree of renunciation in order to have this experience. I was able to experience it in my daily life without abstaining from sex or alcohol. All that was necessary was that I get my mind calm and quick enough to see experience comprehensively in terms of the three characteristics. It's probably the case that the threshold will be different for different people to get the mind calm enough. For some, it will only happen on retreat whilst observing all the precepts.

But the Buddha doesn't talk about fruitions. He says things which sound like he's talking about fruitions, but he doesn't talk about them or about stream entry in the same way the Mahasi people do. And the Mahasi-style meditation doesn't seem to be the same kind of meditation the Buddha taught. So there may be an apples and oranges problem here. I'm not certain.

The way the Buddha describes the high paths (above stream entry) leaves little doubt that we're dealing with a path of renunciation here. Progress is measured in terms of the non-arising of, amongst other things, sensual desire. It's hard to know exactly what was meant by this phrase in the context in which it originated. We're translating ancient texts from languages no longer spoken. But the overall impression on gets from the way the Buddha speaks about liberation in general, it is almost certainly measured by the degree to which you're detached, not just from worldly things, but from otherworldly things as well. This makes sense philosophically. If everything in the world is conditioned and in a state of becoming, then the deathless (nibbana) would be something apart from the world. Avoiding sensual pleasures is a means of releasing one's grasp on the world so you can be free. Jhana meditation completes this relinquishment. This is why the higher paths are described as progressive forms of detachments from things.

In my unexpert opinion, you can achieve to the taste of nibbana offered by stream entry without submitting permanently to a strict program of renunciation, but I don't see how it's possible to follow the program all the way out to Arahat. It seems to imply subtler and subtler forms of renunciation that are only possible if you've already abandoned the gross forms of attachment that are implied by intimate relationships and other worldly pursuits.

RE: so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???
Answer
8/28/13 11:05 AM as a reply to tom moylan.
tom moylan:
Hey howdy,
the particular "METHODS" which you allude to in your questions are still applicable to whatever part of the path you are on and are only methods and should not be confused with either a particular stage of accomplishment or tied to any particular dogma or "ism".


Thanks Tom. Quick thoughts in response.

I think that meditation methods are frequently tied to viewpoints or dogma, at least historically. Cultivating revulsion to the body -- for example -- would seem to be a renunciate approach to the world, more consistent with encouraging celibacy. I've read conflicting opinions as to whether lay people should even practice this.

So basically, is a post-buddhist going to depart from a traditionalist, even subtly, when selecting meditation methods?? For an easy example, Kenneth Folk has the '3 speed transmission,' which seems to draw from different traditions rather than just one. Shinzen has the basic mindfulness system.

Are these methods showing a departure, or a tension, with the theravadan tradition of renunciation? Is it like, "well, if you reorganize your neurons, the issue of renunciation just falls into line / is a secondary concern?' To me, traditional theravada keeps coming back to renunciation. Maybe that is just my personal struggle at the moment.

RE: so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???
Answer
8/28/13 12:09 PM as a reply to Mike H..
Hi Mike,

To start with the object of your sentence:

refers to himself as a post-buddhist.


because a specific subject (any specific person who considers themselves "post-xyz") doesn't seem important at the moment.

What does "post-buddhist" mean and what does it mean to call oneself post-anything? (To be clear, the prefix "post-" means "subsequent to" or "after"?)

This definition allows a person to define themselves with clear dependence on something (the very large field of Buddhism) without offering clarity on what the person is now (or became "subsequent to buddhist"). So such a person currently presents themselves as an unspecified effect of a specified cause (buddhism), maybe like a calf hanging close to the cow, thinking "I'm post-bovine." We're not sure how, yet; nothing is offered so one can only see the "parent" cause (cow) of the effect (calf).

Each "post-buddhist" then has in common the cause, but their own subsequent states are likely to be a diversity of thoughts/experiences/dependent effects.

When I study, I don't really have time/money to study something vague and to ask many, many questions to help such a person shape themselves clearly for themselves. So I prefer to study with someone who has come to the point of skills mastery and who can teach their own field clearly knowing what that field is*** or to study with someone who clearly doesn't know but who wants study mates in that unknown area emoticon.


For me, I just study some buddhism, its practical advice and practices for ending suffering, and I enjoy learning more about various schools of ontology.

***as Tom notes: "gotama was not a buddhist". He seems to have been a clear teacher able to write down a short eight-point plan with a clear goal: cessation of dukkha, experience of nibbana.

RE: so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???
Answer
8/28/13 12:21 PM as a reply to Mike H..
To me, traditional theravada keeps coming back to renunciation. Maybe that is just my personal struggle at the moment.
Since you're writing a few times about revulsion of the body (perhaps referring to a part in the Satipatthana) I think you're not along in the struggle to understand that advice and the craving it seeks to treat.

Cultivating a sense of revulsion for the body in Satipathana could be considered one of Gotama's tools of psychology. What are some ways humans get into big stress between each other? Eh, lust. So the exercise in taking up the body (and the forms to which one is attracted so passionately one lacks restraint/composure) in its actual function and in its sickened or decaying states is just to remind a person, "Hey, this person (or thing or other condition) you think you can't live without and which condition is clouding over your reasonability right now and which may cause you to take any number of unskillful actions? Try to remember that that same attractive body is likely to show you its repulsiveness soon enough, too. How nuts do you want to act for that? How much trouble is it worth?"

So, that revulsion practice is just developing equanimous view while passions are hot and obscuring our "common" sense. emoticon If that's the struggle to which you refer, you're definitely not alone in that =]

RE: so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???
Answer
8/28/13 12:21 PM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
Fitter Stoke - I agree largely with your sentiments. I am interested in your comment about fruitions maybe not being in the cannon, but unfortunately I wouldn't know enough to comment on it.

Katy - I acknowledge that the issue of labeling oneself as a post-buddhist is really important. Labels don't really address the alleviation of suffering.

To me, this issue really comes down to 'how do i follow the instructions' and 'whose instructions do i follow?'. For instance, I like to adhere fairly closely to Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions. But if I am taking this stance that I don't believe in reincarnation, and that this is more about 'evolving my neurology' or something, then I am bound to disagree with many things Mahasi Sayadaw wrote.

And more subtly, I might not be doing as good of a job as following Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions, because on a sort of philosophical level, I am just a western humanist.

RE: so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???
Answer
8/28/13 12:48 PM as a reply to Mike H..
But if I am taking this stance that I don't believe in reincarnation, and that this is more about 'evolving my neurology' or something, then I am bound to disagree with many things Mahasi Sayadaw wrote.
I would not worry so much about this one or a similar event called "rebirth".

I was not interested in this for a long time. When I was interested in it, I looked into it.

Down to earth and practically confirmable right now, I think I heard the Dalai Lama say, "You want to know my past, look at me now. You want to know my future, look at me now." (maybe others have said this?) One can take a very local, practical, apparently actual view of re-birth in what life one is living and giving rise to in every moment via our thoughts and these consequent actions.

What do you/others think?


And more subtly, I might not be doing as good of a job as following Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions, because on a sort of philosophical level,
Are you trying to find a teacher in whom you can have confidence to follow and train?

RE: so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???
Answer
8/28/13 1:15 PM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
Katy - To address my personal practice, I am pretty happy following Mahasi Sayadaw's teachings now. I am meaning to pick up some books by his successor (Pandita) as well. I am feeling a good deal of equanimity now (as opposed to a few months ago, or a year ago! eek!) so I don't have the same agitation about changing methods/teachers.

As for the 32 parts, I think this meditation has its place, IMO. It seems to also help me grasp 'not self' much more easily, when doing vipassana. And, maybe as you suggest, the 32 parts can help moderate people's inclinations, even if they aren't celibate monks/nuns.

As for the whole 'rebirth' question, I don't mean to over-emphasize that in my posts. Your point is interesting as well. I think generally that the Buddha was a pragmatist, so sort of metaphysical questions just shouldn't be as important as practical ones.

RE: so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???
Answer
8/29/13 10:13 AM as a reply to Mike H..
Ok. Well, back to your interest in whether there is tension for a Western secularist studying meditation in a Buddhist framework and that framework's reference to reclusiveness and renunciation and lives. Are you wondering if ultimately in this, your only life, if you may need to become monastic or hermetic (& and renounce all sensual pleasures) to relalize this stated framework's outcomes: ending dukkha, understanding phenomena and experienciby nirvana?

Or would you say more to explain that tension you're considering?

RE: so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???
Answer
8/29/13 3:26 PM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
katy steger:
Are you wondering if ultimately in this, your only life, if you may need to become monastic or hermetic (& and renounce all sensual pleasures) to relalize this stated framework's outcomes: ending dukkha, understanding phenomena and experienciby nirvana?

Or would you say more to explain that tension you're considering?


Well, I suppose my original post is really just an example of a modern-day meditator struggling with the idea of renunciation.

My original post stemmed from my attempting, lately, to follow the five precepts more strictly. And trying out parts of the 8 precepts on upostha days, which seems to be uncommon in America.

To be frank, it seems like the routine of following the five precepts generally, and then the 8 on retreats or on uposatha days, makes one very different from most americans. And yet, I am wondering if this sort of rule-following, traditionalist renunciation is a very, very valuable training tool. I mean, not eating dinner or using cosmetics seems so arbitratry and needlessly traditional at first, but really it is not arbitrary at all.

Does that lead to monasticism for me? No, I have a family and like listening to music and eating dinner, thanks. But I think it really comes down to sila, which is tied up with some degree of renunciation, outside the norm in modern America.

As Ingram says in MCTB, morality is the first and last training, which I think I am just accepting now, after a couple of years of practice.

RE: so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???
Answer
8/30/13 8:42 AM as a reply to Mike H..
(...)
To be frank, it seems like the routine of following the five precepts generally, and then the 8 on retreats or on uposatha days, makes one very different from most americans. And yet, I am wondering if this sort of rule-following, traditionalist renunciation is a very, very valuable training tool. I mean, not eating dinner or using cosmetics seems so arbitratry and needlessly traditional at first, but really it is not arbitrary at all.
(...)

I don't know what most Americans are doing, but ethical precepts between religions and secular humanism seem to have a fair bit of overlap (refrain from killing, cheating, lying...) and the country is kind of religious and/or secularist. So I tend to assume that lots of people are basically adhering to some degree of their tradition's "precepts", but I don't know actually. It's not something I can size up fixedly even for a moment. So I just feel like my neighbors are doing whatever they find best in a given moment and their circumstances. Dunno.

(...)
says in MCTB, morality is the first and last training, which I think I am just accepting now, after a couple of years of practice.
(...)
Oh, yeah. Not arbitrary at all emoticon and deep, simple, challenging in subtle behaviours. Each tradition/civil society can see that to move into lying/deceiving, cheating/stealing, killing, sexual abuse, intoxication--- these things cause strife. Strife makes it hard to meditate. Lacking meditation/contemplation one never attends to "What am I?" etc.

I am curious: do you work with a particular model in your practice?

Cheers and thanks for the post.

RE: so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???
Answer
8/30/13 10:15 AM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
katy steger:


I am curious: do you work with a particular model in your practice?



Thanks but I'm not sure what aspect of practice you would be referring to. If you are asking re sila, then I try to follow the 5 precepts generally. I am improving but could do better. Otherwise I do vipassana in the Mahasi Sayadaw manner. I try to follow his instructions from the books as precisely as possible, although I might try to focus on one of the three doors. Lately I am thinking a lot about the doctrine of not-self, and I found a very helpful book on it by Sayadaw U Silananda.

RE: so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???
Answer
9/2/13 10:10 PM as a reply to Mike H..
I found a very helpful book on it by Sayadaw U Silananda
Is that "no inner core"?

If you are asking re sila, then I try to follow the 5 precepts generally.
I wasn't but, yes, I agree: sila's vital and "the wholesome states" help meditation and sati happen whereas the unwholesome mental states cause impediments to practice and the arising of useful practice factors (like interest, joy, comfort, tranquility, energy...).

RE: so, if one is a "post buddhist" what about renunciation???
Answer
10/31/13 3:35 PM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
katy steger:
Ok. Well, back to your interest in whether there is tension for a Western secularist studying meditation in a Buddhist framework and that framework's reference to reclusiveness and renunciation and lives. Are you wondering if ultimately in this, your only life, if you may need to become monastic or hermetic (& and renounce all sensual pleasures) to relalize this stated framework's outcomes: ending dukkha, understanding phenomena and experienciby nirvana?

Or would you say more to explain that tension you're considering?


Katy, I'm very curious about this as well. Many of the Western secularists who post here have attained nirvana and still enjoy sensual pleasures, are not monastic, and do not practice renunciation. So my question is whether:

a) the parts of the framework that refer to renunciation are just religious dogma that can be removed,
b) one who does not renounce pleasure follows a somewhat different path but one still comparable to the original one,
c) renunciation can be interpreted to mean that we can enjoy sensual pleasures but not cling to them,
or d) something else?