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Interview with Thanissaro
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12/5/13 6:26 AM
A friend emailed this and it caused some interesting discussion in a PM group:

http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma3/interview1.html



A Question of Skill
An Interview with Thanissaro Bhikkhu
by Insight Magazine Online

Thanissaro Bhikkhu, also known more informally to many as Ajaan Geoff, is an American-born Theravada monk who has been the abbot of Metta Forest Monastery near San Diego, CA, since 1993. He teaches regularly at BCBS (Barre Center for Buddhist Studies) and throughout the US and has contributed significantly to the Dhamma Dana Publications project with his books Wings to Awakening, Mind Like Fire Unbound, and a new free-verse translation of the Dhammapada.


Ajaan Geoff, thirty years ago you were a student at Oberlin College. Now you're the abbot of a Buddhist monastery near San Diego. Could you tell us a little about how you got from there to here?

The route was a lot less roundabout than you might think. Like many college students, I was obsessed with deciding what to do with my life. Business, government, academia: I couldn't see myself finding happiness in any of them. I didn't want to lie on my deathbed, looking back at a life frittered away. Fortunately, in my sophomore year, I was introduced to Buddhist meditation, and I took to it like a duck to water.

After graduation I decided to take a break in my education to go teach in Thailand—to get some perspective on my life, and maybe find a good meditation teacher. While I was there I met Ajaan Fuang, perhaps the first truly happy person I had ever met. He embodied the dharma [the teachings of the Buddha] in a way that I found appealing: wise, down-to-earth, no-nonsense, and with a sly sense of humor. Whatever happiness and wisdom he had, he told me, was due entirely to the training. That was when I realized I had found something to which I could devote my entire life. So I ordained to train with him, and I've never regretted my choice.

Ajaan Fuang trained you as a meditation monk, but for the past several years you've also been translating and explaining the Pali sutta(s)[the early Buddhist texts]. How do you find that studying the suttas helps with meditation?

The Buddha in the suttas asks all the right questions. We all know that what we see is shaped by the views we bring to things, but we're often not aware of the extent to which our views are shaped by the questions we ask ourselves. The Buddha had the good sense to see that some questions are skillful—they really do point you to freedom, to the total cessation of suffering—while others are unskillful: they take you to a dead end, tie you up in knots, and leave you there. The suttas are helpful in showing how to avoid getting involved in unskillful questioning. If you listen carefully to their advice and take it to heart, you find that it really opens your eyes to how you approach meditation and life in general.

There are currents in modern dharma teaching that de-emphasize the importance of the historical discourses. One might say, for example, “Don't we often hear that the Buddha said not to believe texts and traditions?”

Well, he didn't say to reject them out of hand, either. Have you ever noticed how American dharma is like the game of Telephone? Things get passed on from person to person, from one generation of teachers to the next, until the message gets garbled beyond recognition.

I once received a postcard on which the sender had rubber-stamped the message, “‘Don't believe anything outside your own sense of right and wrong.'—The Buddha.” That was apparently meant to be a quote from the Kalama Sutta, but when you actually read the sutta, you find that it says something much more sophisticated than that: You don't believe something just because it's handed down in the texts or taught by your teachers, but you don't accept it just because it seems logical or fits in with your preferences, either. You have to put it to the test, check it in terms of actual cause and effect. If you then find that it leads to harm and is criticized by wise people, you stop doing it. If it's beneficial and praised by wise people, you stick with it. Notice, though, that you don't go solely by your own perception of things. You look for wise people and check your perceptions against theirs. That way you make sure you're not simply siding with your own preconceived notions.

And so the suttas can serve as kalyana mitta(s), or “wise friends?”

There is no real substitute for spending time in close contact with a really wise person, but the suttas can often be the next best thing—especially in a country like ours where wise people, in the Buddhist sense of the term, are so few and far between.

You mentioned that the suttas label certain questions as unskillful. Some of these may be fairly obscure philosophical issues that no longer interest anyone, but can you point to any that are relevant to meditators at present?


The big one is, “Who am I?” There are dharma books telling us that the purpose of meditation is to answer this question, and a lot of people come to meditation assuming that that's what it's all about. But the suttas list it as a fruitless line of inquiry.

Why is that?

Good question (laughs). As far as I can see, the response is this: What sort of experience would give you an answer to that question? Can you imagine any answer to that question that would put an end to suffering? It's easier to be skillful in any given situation when you don't saddle yourself with set ideas about who you are.

Might the anatta doctrine be considered the Buddha's answer to the question, “Who am I?”?

No. It's his answer to the question, “What is skillful?” Is self-identification skillful? Up to a point, yes. In the areas where you need a healthy, coherent sense of self in order to act responsibly, it's skillful to maintain that sense of coherence. But eventually, as responsible behavior becomes second nature and you develop more sensitivity, you see that self-identification, even of the most refined sort, is a form of clinging. It's a burden. So the only skillful thing is to let it go.

How would you respond to those who say they get a sense of oneness with the universe when they meditate, that they're interconnected to all things, and that it relieves a lot of suffering?

How stable is that feeling of oneness? When you feel like you've come to the stable ground of being from which all things emanate, the suttas ask you to question whether you're simply reading that feeling into your experience. If the ground of being were really stable, how would it give rise to the unstable world we live in? So whatever it is you're experiencing—it may be one of the formless states—it's not the ultimate answer to suffering.

On an affective level, a sense of connectedness may relieve the pain of isolation, but when you look deeper, you have to agree with the Buddha that interconnectedness and interdependence lie at the essence of suffering. Take the weather, for instance. Last summer we had wonderful, balmy weather in San Diego—none of the oppressive heat that usually hits in August—and yet the same weather pattern brought virtually non-stop rain to southern Alaska, drought to the Northeast, and killer hurricanes with coffins floating out of their graves in North Carolina. Are we supposed to find happiness in identifying with a world like this? The suttas are often characterized as pessimistic in advocating release from samsara, but that's nothing compared to the pessimism inherent in the idea that staying interconnected is our only hope for happiness.Yet so many people say the desire for release is selfish.

Which makes me wonder if they understand how we can be most helpful to one another. If the path to release involved being harmful and cold-hearted, you could say it was selfish; but here it involves developing generosity, kindness, morality, all the honorable qualities of the mind. What's selfish about that? Everyone around you benefits when you can abandon your greed, anger, and delusion. Look at the impact that Ajaan Mun's quest for release has had for the last several decades in Thailand, and now it's spreading throughout the world. We'd be much better off if we encouraged one another to find true release so that those who find it first can show the way to anyone else who's interested.

And the way to that release starts with the question, “What is skillful?”

Right. It's the first question the Buddha recommends that you ask when you visit a teacher. And you can trace this question throughout the suttas, from the most basic levels on up. There is a wonderful passage where the Buddha is teaching Rahula, his seven-year-old son [Ambalannhika Rahulovada Sutta, M 61]. He starts out by stressing the importance of being truthful—implying that if you want to find the truth, you first have to be truthful yourself—and then he talks about using your actions as a mirror. Before you do anything, ask yourself: “Is what I intend to do here skillful or unskillful? Will it lead to well-being or harm?” If it looks harmful, you don't do it. If it looks okay, you go ahead and give it a try. While you're doing it, though, you ask yourself the same questions. If it turns out that it's causing harm, you stop. If not, you continue with it. Then after you've done it, you ask the same questions—“Did it bring about well-being or harm?”—and if you see that what originally looked okay actually ended up being harmful, you talk it over with someone else on the path and resolve never to make that mistake again. If it wasn't harmful, you can take joy in knowing that you're on the right track.

So the Buddha is giving basic lessons in how to learn from your mistakes.

Yes, but if you look carefully, you'll see that these questions contain the seeds for some of his most important teachings: the role of intention in our actions; the way causality works—with actions giving immediate results along with long-term results; and even the four noble truths: the idea that suffering is caused by past and present actions, and that if we're observant we can find how to act more and more skillfully to a point of total freedom.

And how would you apply this to meditation?

It starts with your life. We all know that meditation involves disentangling yourself from the narratives of your life so that you can look directly at what you're doing in the present. Now, some narratives are easier to disentangle than others. If you're acting in unskillful ways in daily life—lying, having illicit sex, taking intoxicants—you'll find that you're creating some pretty sticky narratives, all coated with denial and regret. So you apply the Buddha's line of questioning to your day-to-day life in order to clean up your act and provide yourself with new narratives that are easier to let go.

At the same time, in doing this, you're developing the precise skills you'll need on the meditation cushion. Getting into the present moment is a skill, and it requires the same questioning attitude: observing what the mind is doing, seeing what works, what doesn't work, and making adjustments where needed. Once you get into the present moment, you use the same line of questioning to investigate the present, taking it apart in terms of cause and effect: present action, past action, present results. Once you've taken apart every mental state that clouds the brightness of your awareness, you then turn the same questions on that bright awareness itself, until there's nothing left to question or take apart any further—not even the act of questioning itself. That's where liberation opens up. So these simple questions can take you all the way to the end of the practice.

Was this how you were taught meditation in Thailand?

Yes. The one piece of advice Ajaan Fuang stressed more than any other was, “Be observant.” In other words, he didn't want me simply to follow a method blindly without monitoring how it was working out. He handed me Ajaan Lee's seven steps on breath meditation and told me to play with them—not in a desultory way, but the way Michael Jordan plays basketball: experimenting, using your ingenuity, so that it becomes a skill. How else can you expect to gain insight into the patterns of cause and effect within the mind unless you play with them?

Are there any other questions from the suttas that strike you as particularly relevant to the American dharma scene?

Two jump immediately to mind. One has to do with evaluating teachers. The suttas recommend that a student look carefully at a person's whole life before accepting him or her as a teacher: Does this person embody the precepts? Can you detect any overt passion, aversion, or delusion in what this person says or does? Only if someone can pass these tests should you accept him or her as a teacher.

This calls into question an attitude that's becoming increasingly prevalent here in the US. A teacher once said, not too long ago, “As long as a teacher points at the truth with one hand, it doesn't matter what he or she does with the other hand.” Now, is the dharma something you can point to with only one hand? Can the other hand ever really be invisible? There's a real drive at the moment to turn out teachers to fill the demand for retreat leaders, but if they feel they can afford a one-handed attitude, we'll end up with teachers who are little more than mindfulness technicians or yogi-herders: people whose job is to get students safely through the retreat experience, but whose personal life may be teaching an entirely separate lesson. Is that what we want?

If it is, we are setting people up for trouble. So far the mindfulness community has avoided many of the scandals that have ravaged other American Buddhist communities, largely because it hasn't been a community. It's more a far-flung network of retreat clientele. The teachers' personal lives haven't had that much direct bearing on the lives of the students. But now local communities are beginning to develop, where students and teachers have close, long-term contact with one another. Can we imagine that what each teacher does with that other hand is not going to have an impact on the students' lives and their respect for the dharma? If we don't start now to rely more on the suttas' method for evaluating teachers, we'll have to start reinventing the dharma wheel after people get hurt, which would be a great shame.

And the other question?

Renunciation. What do we have to give up if we want true happiness? Do we have unlimited time and energy to pursue an unlimited number of goals? Or do we need to sacrifice some of the good things in life in order to gain the most valuable form of happiness? This is a huge blind spot in American Buddhism.

Once, just out of curiosity, I went through a pile of Western dharma books and magazines, looking up the topic of renunciation. Most of them didn't even mention it. From the few that did, I learned that renunciation means, one, giving up unhealthy relationships; two, abandoning your controlling mindset; and three, dropping your fear of the unknown. Now, we don't need the Buddha to tell us those things. We can learn the first lesson from our parents, and the other two from a good therapist. But the Buddha recommended giving up a lot of things that most well-meaning parents and therapists would tell their children and patients to hold onto tightly. And yet you don't see any mention of this in American dharma.

Is that because Americans tend to live more comfortable lifestyles?

Not necessarily. Modern mass culture, whether Asian or American, is a lot more indulgent than traditional culture, but that may be because it's a lot more frenetic and stressed out as well. The Buddha himself said that, when he was starting out on the path of practice, his heart didn't leap up at the idea of renunciation. Nobody wants to hear that true happiness involves giving up the things we like, but at least in Asia there are dharma masters who, through their words and actions, keep pumping that lesson into the culture. So it's always there for honest, mature, reflective people to hear. But here in the West, the dharma has been so shaped by the marketplace that the lesson is very seldom modeled.

Last year Tricycle printed an article bemoaning how the dharma is being used to sell mass-market commodities, but a deeper problem is that the dharma has become a commodity itself. I was in a bookstore recently with a student, and as we looked at the many shelves filled with books on Buddhism, he asked me, “Do you get the impression that these books were written to make money?” How can you expect to learn the hard lessons of renunciation from a book that had to get past marketing directors and sales reps? And given the financial needs of most teachers, how can you expect even well-meaning teachers not to shape their message to conform with what people want to hear, as opposed to what they should hear?

You've written on what you call the “economy of gifts,” in which the dharma can be offered freely with no strings attached. How do you think such an economy could be implemented here in America?

It's a long, uphill process, but yes, it can happen. You have to start small—a few good monasteries here and there, a few dana-based organizations such as the Dhamma Dana Publication Fund and now the Dharma Seed Tape Library and eventually people will catch on to what a good thing it is. Of course, the fact that dharma is free doesn't necessarily guarantee that it's going to be top-quality, but at least it hasn't been filtered through the sort of bottom-line concerns that we needlessly take for granted. It's only when we appreciate the need to have the bottom line totally out of the picture that American dharma will have a chance to mature. Which makes me wonder if Dana-based dharma will always be something of a fringe phenomenon in our country.

From our discussion so far, you seem to see the Pali suttas as offering not only right questions, but also right answers.

The right answers are the skillful choices you make in your life as you pursue the right questions. I think it was Thomas Pynchon who said, “As long as they can get you to ask the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers.” There should be a corollary to that: As long as you honestly stick to the right questions, you're sure to arrive at answers that will make a difference.

Of course, many people in our society are uncomfortable with the notion of right and wrong--especially in the area of religion.


I don't think it's so much that they are uncomfortable with the notion of right and wrong. It's just that they've shifted their reference points. Being judgmental is now wrong; being non-judgmental is right. This, I think, comes from two factors. One is that we're tired of fervid monotheists who demonize anyone who differs from their view of The One True Way. We've seen the harm that comes from sectarian religious strife, and it's obviously pointless. So we want to avoid it at all costs. The other factor is that we ourselves have been subject to evaluation all of our lives, some of it pretty unfair—in school, at work, in our relationships—so when we come to retreats we want respite.

This becomes a problem, though, when people confuse being judgmental with the act of exercising judgment. And again, the difference is a question of skill. Being judgmental—hypercritical, quick to dismiss the opinions of others—is obviously unskillful. But in our rush not to be judgmental, we can't abandon our critical abilities, our powers of judgment. We have to learn how to use them skillfully. It's all very fine not to pass judgment when you're on the sidelines of an issue and don't want to get involved. But here we're all out on the playing field, facing aging, illness, and death. Our skill in exercising judgment is going to make all the difference in whether we win or lose. The team we're facing has never been taught to be uncritical. They play hard, and they play for keeps

The Buddha himself was quite critical of teachers who wasted their time—and that of their students—by asking the wrong questions. He was especially critical of those who misunderstood the nature of karma, because how we comprehend the power of our actions is what will make all the difference in how skillfully we choose to think and act. So refraining from judgment is not the answer to the question of how we face the differing teachings we find available. In fact, a knee-jerk nonjudgmental stance can often be a very unskillful way of passing judgment.

How so?

It's a refusal to take differences seriously, and that totally short-circuits any attempt to develop skill. You often find this associated with a lowest-common-denominator approach to the truth: the assumption that whatever the major traditions of the world hold in common must be true, while their differences are only cultural trappings. But that's assuming they're all asking the same questions, or that the only important questions are the ones they all ask. Where does that leave people who think outside the box?

I've seen some elaborate attempts to create a perennial philosophy from the common ground of the world's great traditions, but they center on the question, “Who am I?” That, they tell us, is the question at the heart of everyone's spiritual quest. But the training I got from Ajaan Fuang taught me to question the assumption that that's a fruitful line of inquiry. Does the fact that everybody else is asking it mean he was wrong?

Another approach is to assume that all traditions take you to the same place, but that they've found different skillful ways of doing it—the old “many paths lead to the top of the mountain” idea. But the reports we get from people who have been up this mountain say that it has plenty of wrong turns, false summits, and sudden drop-offs. One tradition will say, “When you reach this point, turn left.” Another will say, “If you turn left at that point you'll get stuck at a dead-end.” If we plan to stay on the valley floor, it's okay for us to stay out of the argument. But can we claim some sort of higher moral ground for not getting involved in the fray? Do we have more comprehensive maps of the mountain showing that dangers are imaginary, and that left turns and right turns are all okay?

Or suppose that one tradition says, “The summit looks like this.” Another says, “No, that's a false summit. The real one looks like this.” The first one responds, “No, you're at the false summit.” Do we know the limitations of language better than they do, so that we can dismiss their differences as purely linguistic? If we want to go up the mountain, we have to choose one guide or the other—or maybe a third guide, if we decide that the first two were both on the wrong path.

So how would you choose?

One, take a good look at the teachers. If people are skilled mountaineers, they should have no trouble negotiating the valley. Can they get around without injuring themselves or others? Has their experience of the summit been so overwhelming that they're willing to sacrifice personal comfort so that others can get there as well?

Two, look at the tradition. What kinds of questions does it focus on? What kinds does it allow? What kinds does it not allow? Why? Does it encourage the tenacity and maturity needed to stick to a hard line of questioning? Does it foster the kind of ingenious, observant mind that would recognize a false path or figure out a way past an unexpected obstacle?

Finally, take a good look at yourself. Are you up for the adventure? It may sound more than a little intimidating, but the Buddha asked of his students simply that they be honest enough to admit and learn from their mistakes, and sensible enough to give up a lesser happiness when they see that, by doing so, they'll gain a higher one. Are you up to that? If so, you've got what it takes.



RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/5/13 8:09 AM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
katy steger:
The route was a lot less roundabout than you might think. Like many college students, I was obsessed with deciding what to do with my life. Business, government, academia: I couldn't see myself finding happiness in any of them. I didn't want to lie on my deathbed, looking back at a life frittered away. Fortunately, in my sophomore year, I was introduced to Buddhist meditation, and I took to it like a duck to water.


This looks like aversion. I do agree that asking "what is skillful?" is a good question but I hope that renunciation doesn't mean that everyone has to be a monk. I don't think that is skillful.

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/5/13 9:00 AM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
katy steger:
A friend emailed this and it caused some interesting discussion in a PM group:

http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma3/interview1.html



[...]

Are there any other questions from the suttas that strike you as particularly relevant to the American dharma scene?

Two jump immediately to mind. One has to do with evaluating teachers. The suttas recommend that a student look carefully at a person's whole life before accepting him or her as a teacher: Does this person embody the precepts? Can you detect any overt passion, aversion, or delusion in what this person says or does? Only if someone can pass these tests should you accept him or her as a teacher.



Thanks Katy. I was just reading MN 95, which describes how to evaluate a teacher in this regard:

Canki Sutta:

"Here, Bhāradvāja, a bhikkhu may be living in dependence on some village or town. Then a householder or a householder's son goes to him and investigates him in regard to three kinds of states: in regard to states based on greed, in regard to states based on hate, and in regard to states based on delusion: 'Are there in this venerable one any states based on greed such that, with his mind obsessed by those states, while not knowing he might say, "I know," or while not seeing he might say, "I see," or he might urge others to act in a way that would lead to their harm and suffering for a long time?' As he investigates him he comes to know: 'There are no such states based on greed in this venerable one. The bodily behavior and the verbal behavior of this venerable one are not those of one affected by greed. And the Dhamma that this venerable one teaches is profound, hard to see and hard to understand, peaceful and sublime, unattainable by mere reasoning, subtle, to be experienced by the wise. This Dhamma cannot easily be taught by one affected by greed.'

"When he has investigated him and has seen that he is purified from states based on greed, he next investigates him in regard to states based on hate: 'Are there in this venerable one any states based on hate such that, with his mind obsessed by those states, while not knowing he might say, "I know," or while not seeing he might say, "I see," or he might urge others to act in a way that would lead to their harm and suffering for a long time?' As he investigates him, he comes to know: 'There are no such states based on hate in this venerable one. The bodily behavior and the verbal behavior of this venerable one are not those of one affected by hate. And the Dhamma that this venerable one teaches is profound, hard to see and hard to understand, peaceful and sublime, unattainable by mere reasoning, subtle, to be experienced by the wise. This Dhamma cannot easily be taught by one affected by hate.'

"When he has investigated him and has seen that he is purified from states based on hate, he next investigates him in regard to states based on delusion: 'Are there in this venerable one any states based on delusion such that, with his mind obsessed by those states, while not knowing he might say, "I know," or while not seeing he might say, "I see," or he might urge others to act in a way that would lead to their harm and suffering for a long time?' As he investigates him, he comes to know: 'There are no such states based on delusion in this venerable one. The bodily behavior and the verbal behavior of this venerable one are not those of one affected by delusion. And the Dhamma that this venerable one teaches is profound, hard to see and hard to understand, peaceful and sublime, unattainable by mere reasoning, subtle, to be experienced by the wise. This Dhamma cannot easily be taught by one affected by delusion.'

When he has investigated him and has seen that he is purified from states based on delusion, then he places faith in him; filled with faith he visits him and pays respect to him; having paid respect to him, he gives ear; when he gives ear, he hears the Dhamma; having heard the Dhamma, he memorizes it and examines the meaning of the teachings he has memorised; when he examines their meaning, he gains a reflective acceptance of those teachings; when he has gained a reflective acceptance of those teachings, zeal springs up; when zeal has sprung up, he applies his will; having applied his will, he scrutinizes; having scrutinised, he strives; resolutely striving, he realizes with the body the supreme truth and sees it by penetrating it with wisdom. In this way Bhāradvāja, there is the discovery of truth; in this way one
discovers truth; in this way we describe the discovery of truth. But as yet there is no final arrival at truth.

...The final arrival at truth, Bhāradvāja, lies in the repetition, development, and cultivation of those same things. In this way, Bhāradvāja, there is the final arrival at truth; in this way one finally arrives at truth; in this way we describe the final arrival at truth.


One thing I think is interesting is the cause-and-effect being described here. In dependence on finding a good teacher, one gains faith; gaining faith, one pays respect; ... one applies one's will ... strives .. and realizes the supreme truth. So it would seem that finding an appropriate teacher is quite important!

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/5/13 10:11 AM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Hi Richard,

Richard Zen:
katy steger:
The route was a lot less roundabout than you might think. Like many college students, I was obsessed with deciding what to do with my life. Business, government, academia: I couldn't see myself finding happiness in any of them. I didn't want to lie on my deathbed, looking back at a life frittered away. Fortunately, in my sophomore year, I was introduced to Buddhist meditation, and I took to it like a duck to water.


This looks like aversion. I do agree that asking "what is skillful?" is a good question but I hope that renunciation doesn't mean that everyone has to be a monk. I don't think that is skillful.
When I read that sentence I see the leading clause about his being a college student. If I meet a college student --- or any well person who lacks aversion --- I'll let you know emoticon

Also, maybe this idea of Thanissaro's seems like an expression of the speaker's aversion (in your view), but it may be conscientiousness in the view of another person-- the concern that if they don't heed their own calling, they will be regret it.

About your writing "I hope that renunciation doesn't mean that everyone has to be a monk. I don't think that is skillful."; while I don't intend to defend this monk's interview, I can say that no where in the interview is this said or suggested. You introduce that concern and note that you don't think it's skillful [that everyone be a monastic].

Are you averse to monastics or monasticism and/or can you read this without your own affective lens? Since you are the first first to express these ideas here, it seems you may want to address this somehow.

(To answer the question I put to you, too: I cannot read this without my own affective lens; I see some phrases herein to which I'm attracted and some that cause me pause, but that's my current state: affective and not per se skillfully. However, knowing my affective provocations is helping/training in reading anything with more equanimity and friendliness to hear another's account without outset-judgement ...I hope ;)


[edited: completing a quote, parenthetical phrases and in color]

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/5/13 10:01 PM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
katy steger:
Hi Richard,

Richard Zen:
katy steger:
The route was a lot less roundabout than you might think. Like many college students, I was obsessed with deciding what to do with my life. Business, government, academia: I couldn't see myself finding happiness in any of them. I didn't want to lie on my deathbed, looking back at a life frittered away. Fortunately, in my sophomore year, I was introduced to Buddhist meditation, and I took to it like a duck to water.


This looks like aversion. I do agree that asking "what is skillful?" is a good question but I hope that renunciation doesn't mean that everyone has to be a monk. I don't think that is skillful.
When I read that sentence I see the leading clause about his being a college student. If I meet a college student --- or any well person who lacks aversion --- I'll let you know emoticon


I'm looking at it from the point of emulation. I also don't want to believe that happiness can't happen without dropping difficult jobs.

katy steger:
Also, maybe this idea of Thanissaro's seems like an expression of the speaker's aversion (in your view), but it may be conscientiousness in the view of another person-- the concern that if they don't heed their own calling, they will be regret it.

About your writing "I hope that renunciation doesn't mean that everyone has to be a monk. I don't think that is skillful."; while I don't intend to defend this monk's interview, I can say that no where in the interview is this said or suggested. You introduce that concern and note that you don't think it's skillful [that everyone be a monastic].


Well since he's looking for a "higher happiness" I'm assuming he's in the higher and I'm in the lower. emoticon

My goals are different. I want a Stoic goal where a moderate amount of pleasure is okay and healthy. I also want to be a part of the normal world. I'm starting to succeed in this goal and like it. Buddhism has made major benefits but there's a point where I can't ignore the fact that I'm agnostic and really have zero beliefs about the afterlife (since it's speculation and probably always will be to living people who have never died before). Then you get discussions from Daniel and this site about The Powers, which to me is just different forms of passion, and hybrid Actualism practices that don't eliminate emotions but enhance simple pleasures of the senses. I don't think I'm alone in this. Is any pleasure automatically Greed? Can't I smell a flower and enjoy it? Is it a too low version of happiness?

katy steger:
Are you averse to monastics or monasticism and/or can you read this without your own affective lens? Since you are the first first to express these ideas here, it seems you may want to address this somehow.

(To answer the question I put to you, too: I cannot read this without my own affective lens; I see some phrases herein to which I'm attracted and some that cause me pause, but that's my current state: affective and not per se skillfully. However, knowing my affective provocations is helping/training in reading anything with more equanimity and friendliness to hear another's account without outset-judgement ...I hope ;)

[edited: completing a quote, parenthetical phrases and in color]


I am very aversive to monasticism and the view that complete eradication of passion and then dying this way (and not wanting to return) as almost laughable like people can't wait to die. I can't reconcile a life with healthy desire and interest with zero passion. Maybe I'm reading it wrong or maybe I'm not. Can I eradicate tanha without losing interest and desire?

Comments from Rob Burbea's talks also try to down play some of the stark language of Buddhism to not let people think you have to have a dull life with no colour or richness of variety. I want some kind of balance so that basic pleasure doesn't have to be guilt-ridden. Pleasure without addiction. If it's okay to enjoy then enjoy already! emoticon If it's inappropriate then I want no pull to do it and let it go easily.

BTW you don't have to worry about your affectiveness in your writing because I'm not typing this with huge anger at Thanissaro Bhikkhu but it's more like a haze as to what he's on about.

But the Buddha recommended giving up a lot of things that most well-meaning parents and therapists would tell their children and patients to hold onto tightly. And yet you don't see any mention of this in American dharma.


How much renunciation? Actually that could be a thread title. :thumbup:

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/6/13 10:47 AM as a reply to Richard Zen.
If I may chime in echo some points from Richard. Firstly, thanks to Katy for posting this which I enjoyed reading, and thanks to Richard for introducing me a while back to Rob Burbea who is very excellent.

I liked his discussion of skillful means, which seems like a useful corrective to many of the more "new age" intrepretations of buddhism in the west which I find problematic - such as"finding your true self" and "all is one" - which he criticises.

He places emphasis on setting high standards for a teacher, but it seems that the virtually the only kind of person that can meet this standard would be a monk. Perhaps like Richard, I am in conflict with whether I should be looking at a monk as setting a standard of how I should live my life. I have met some very wise monks, yet I can't see them as role models, particularly if their solution to the problems and complexity of life is to spend a lot of their lives sitting still with their eyes shut.

In the case of Thanissaro, though he doesn't mention it from the interview (perhaps he doesn't want to put the target audience off?), from my other knowledge about him, his belief in reincarnation is hugely important in determined how he lives his life. Since I take this to be an utterly bogus metaphysics it does make me question how seriously I should take the teachings of someone who has based his life around that belief. So, for example, it seems the underlying point of skillful means is to build positive karma.

edit:

quote from TB

“One reason the Buddha recommended conviction in rebirth as a useful working hypothesis is that, as we have noted, he had to teach that skillful human action was powerful and reliable enough to put an end to suffering; and his teaching on the consequences of skillful and unskillful action would be incomplete–and therefore indefensible–without reference to rebirth

“This is because the distinction he draws between skillful and unskillful is based on the consequences of the actions: The working-out of karma may always be complex, but skillful actions always lead in the direction of happiness and well-being; unskillful actions always lead in the direction of suffering and harm. This distinction provides not only the definition of these concepts, but also the motivation for abandoning unskillful actions and developing skillful ones in their place.

“This motivation is necessary, for while people are not innately bad, they are also not innately good . . . To develop skillful qualities, people need to see the dangers of unskillful behavior and the advantages of skillful behavior. Because actions can sometimes take many lifetimes to yield their results, a complete and convincing case that unskillful actions should always be avoided, and skillful ones always developed, requires the perspective that comes only from seeing the results of actions over many lifetimes.”

http://secularbuddhism.org/2012/03/20/thanissaro-bhikkhus-the-truth-of-rebirth-a-review-part-3/

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/6/13 8:13 AM as a reply to sawfoot _.
sawfoot _:
If I may chime in echo some points from Richard. Firstly, thanks to Katy for posting this which I enjoyed reading, and thanks to Richard for introducing me a while back to Rob BurbeaRob Burbea who is very excellent.


Yes thanks to Katy for posting. I'm just fed up with what isn't a part of my goal which is closer to eclecticism. I also didn't like Than's comment in an audiodharma talk where he openly insulted the lay practitioners with a dismissive remark to their attainments. I know that matches perfectly with his dislike of political correctness so it's consistent with his attitude but since he's a monk and the laity may have different goals that are quite secular there is this divide where one side is trying to co-opt the other instead of just stating the differences. Even Daniel has pointed out how people can disagree about the fetters and the hurricane ranch discussions show that practice doesn't make you into a sanitary being.

I don't believe anyone has a monopoly on truth so I just add what I think is useful in Buddhism to other things I like:

Eclecticism was first recorded to have been practiced by a group of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers who attached themselves to no real system, but selected from existing philosophical beliefs those doctrines that seemed most reasonable to them. Out of this collected material they constructed their new system of philosophy. The term comes from the Greek "ἐκλεκτικός" (eklektikos), literally "choosing the best",[2][3] and that from "ἐκλεκτός" (eklektos), "picked out, select".[4] Well known eclectics in Greek philosophy were the Stoics Panaetius and Posidonius, and the New Academics Carneades and Philo of Larissa. Among the Romans, Cicero was thoroughly eclectic, as he united the Peripatetic, Stoic, and New Academic doctrines. Other eclectics included Varro and Seneca.


In religion, Eclectics use elements from multiple religions, applied philosophies, personal experiences or other texts and dogma to form their own beliefs and ideas, noting the similarities between existing systems and practices, and recognizing them as valid. These ideas include life, karma, the afterlife, God and Goddess, the Earth, and other spiritual ideas. Some use a mix of Abrahamic, Dharmic, Neopagan, Shamanism, Daoic doctrines, New Age, religious pluralism, and Syncretism. Eclectics are most interested in what really works, personally and communally.


Eclecticism is a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases.

It can sometimes seem inelegant or lacking in simplicity, and eclectics are sometimes criticized for lack of consistency in their thinking. It is, however, common in many fields of study. For example, most psychologists accept certain aspects of behaviorism, but do not attempt to use the theory to explain all aspects of human behavior. A statistician may use frequentist techniques on one occasion and Bayesian ones on another.


When you get to Heidegger's Gelassenheit which includes all the existential possibilities along with mindfulness I feel like it's almost overkill and I'm getting satisfied.

When you listen to one of Rob Burbea's talks he plainly states (as others have here) that Buddhist meditation practice is to see how the brain fabricates experience and when you arise from this non-experience you experience life as fabricated and detach as much as you can. Now you could go the George Berkeley and Vasubandhu territory where everything is really just an empty dream or you could choose what I'm interested in which is that the brain takes detailed information from the universe but only selects a certain amount of survival information and then fabricates a more solid experience than reality holds. This allows me to look at things as real but to not ascribe permanent solidity to it (I'm also assuming many modern Buddhists fall into this belief as well). So for me stream-entry is a worthy goal but we all have to get on with our lives until "final nirvana" when we die. Other idiots like Sadhguru who makes fun of philosophers as unemployed men but totally ignores the irony that gurus/monks/priests could all be just describing themselves. Enjoying the beauty of a leaf is valuable (I mean this sincerely) but it is not enough. I like curiosity and science and this vast network of difference skills people have to share. I like getting passion to read and think and do things and now that I'm finding that clinging and emotions are not as connected as I thought they were when I started, there is opportunity to use emotions in healthy ways. I thank meditation for showing that because until last summer I thought clinging and emotions were one. Maybe they still are but it's such a lower level of clinging that it's hard to see.

From the eclectic perspective I think that all specialities have weaknesses when they encounter their opposites or new data and observations. When a monk goes beyond his specialty like monks telling laity how to live their lives you can tell. It's like a non-car person like me trying to tell a mechanic how to do his job. The mechanic will be annoyed that I insulted his/her intelligence and then not take me seriously. emoticon

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/6/13 9:30 AM as a reply to sawfoot _.
Sawfoot and Richard,

First thank you for your posts! I am looking forward to reading them slowly and considering your views this weekend, but I do want to 'out' Chris G above...
Sawfoot:
(...)thanks to Katy for posting this which I enjoyed reading (...)
because it was Chris that sent around the interview to a group of people who sit together in the DhO home retreat zone (see Bruno Loff's thread and the December 11-day practice thread, if you like).

Also, to Chris's except on how to find a teacher, thank you. I also want to bullet-point that one this weekend because the bullet points from AN 5.159 "How to teach the dhamma" have been so useful to how I approach learning anything these days.

Bye for now and thank you, gents,
Katy

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/6/13 10:40 AM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
He's my favorite western monk. I think we're lucky to have such noble beings among us. I listen to his talks while commuting and find them very beneficial in my practice. Thanks for sharing the interview.

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/17/13 9:51 AM as a reply to sawfoot _.
Hi SF:
He places emphasis on setting high standards for a teacher, but it seems that the virtually the only kind of person that can meet this standard would be a monk. Perhaps like Richard, I am in conflict with whether I should be looking at a monk as setting a standard of how I should live my life. I have met some very wise monks, yet I can't see them as role models, particularly if their solution to the problems and complexity of life is to spend a lot of their lives sitting still with their eyes shut.
I think the thing about a great teacher in lay life is they can go unnoticed.

So from the Majjhima Nikaya 95 excerpt from Chris, the apt teacher has
1. no state based on greed, ill-will and delusion (being ignorant or willfully blind (irresponsible) to one's own cause-and-effect), and

2. from the Anguttara Nikaya 5.159 a qualified teacher
a. knows to teach step-by-step
b. knows to teach clear understanding of cause-and-effect
c. knows to teach with compassion
d. knows not to take material gains from teaching
e. does not disparage self or others

In lay life, where are these attributes celebrated or even visible? And are these skills/bases common or uncommon?

A qualified teacher who is also a monastic, however, is seen throughout their monastic life by many, many people and at all times of the day. And while they, too, may be unnoticed, they are in a system, that in theory can and would celebrate their reliable basis in these skills.

In my life, I've met lay teachers who meet the above qualifications, but these people are easy to overlook. It can be easier to develop compassion (or overlook or willfully ignore) a willfully visible and unqualified teacher's transgressions, knowing I, too, have faults and try to learn what to do by seeing what not to do or to glean something skillful they DO offer amid their own uncertain path. When I thank teachers, I include the ones who show by their example what not to do, grateful they've trained me to look for and examine (and in myself as just a learner) and uphold lists like the above.

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/17/13 1:03 PM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Hi Richard,
I'm just fed up with what isn't a part of my goal which is closer to eclecticism. I also didn't like Than's comment in an audiodharma talk where he openly insulted the lay practitioners with a dismissive remark to their attainments...When a monk goes beyond his specialty like monks telling laity how to live their lives you can tell.
I agree and you can tell when a lay person is doing the same thing to the monastic community: I recently received a lay person's ("teacher's") mass call for money on top of their other incomes, stating "...as we’re already seeing, Buddhism in the West is predominantly a lay movement, taught by lay men and women for the benefit of laymen and women. And this is as it should be, as it must be. (...) Upasakas and Upasikas. We represent a new direction, a new thrust for the Buddhadharma in the world, one that is both modern and uniquely Western. " As it should be? Wow. What of the monastic traditions throughout the Americas? And what of the Buddhist monasteries in the West, who freely provided that teacher with the scholarly means and translations to understand the liturgical languages? (And this NPO company's financial reporting? Not (yet) forthright.)

So, Richard, may I speculate that you may agree that the issue is not one of monastic or lay garb, nor one of Buddhist, theistic, vedic, yogic any faith, any philosophy, any science?

That the issue is a question of how reliable is the teacher's own conduct, own self-study, in non-easy circumstances, every day? Monastics often have the pressure of being seen nearly all the time, but with technology we get that, too, increasingly. (is Katy spending more time surfing, sitting, working, doing...?) And does the would-be qualified teacher embody a reliable example to others? And do they pass on a reliable tool to others for any context or challenge?

<Sigh> Ignorant of cause-and-effect, the teacher doing so for material gain (any tradition, any realm, lay or monastic) has a gratifying but unreliable short-term gig.

Jeez, look at that little Malala; look at that self-criticizing Pope. This is not a lay/monastic issue, rather one of conceit, pretence and the authenticity or ardent self-study, finding tools that are good now and later, in easy and hard circumstances. The golden rule, for example: all traditions have it.


When you get to Heidegger's Gelassenheit which includes all the existential possibilities along with mindfulness I feel like it's almost overkill and I'm getting satisfied.
Yes, and when I see "all the existential possibilities" I think of the simplicity of the word for this in Gotama's study, "dhammas". Stuff. All the stuff broken down into four broad categories that a mind can know, including un-answerables.

And when I really study another tradition, I find other useful categorization. Like you and others, I do like a broad range, but I haven't got forever, so my study has to dive deep in something. Right now: it's meditative stabilization of seeing mind and cause-and-effect and I got this from Buddhism and I didn't get there in a buddhist vacuum, so I absolutely respect other traditions and secular humanism, even materialism, without any one being the icing on the other's cake, aka: without better/worse comparison. With study.

(...)Sadhguru who makes fun of philosophers as unemployed men but totally ignores the irony that gurus/monks/priests could all be just describing themselves
I do hear monks and nuns in several tradition clearly aware that their food and shelter are a result of the generosity of others. God, how many times has a monk or nun had to develop kindness in the face of my efforts to be generous but on my terms? This is very like your car mechanic example. Someone has to bear my conceited, conditional generosity until I can get over myself, no?

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/21/13 6:33 PM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
katy steger:
Hi Richard,
I'm just fed up with what isn't a part of my goal which is closer to eclecticism. I also didn't like Than's comment in an audiodharma talk where he openly insulted the lay practitioners with a dismissive remark to their attainments...When a monk goes beyond his specialty like monks telling laity how to live their lives you can tell.
I agree and you can tell when a lay person is doing the same thing to the monastic community: I recently received a lay person's ("teacher's") mass call for money on top of their other incomes, stating "...as we’re already seeing, Buddhism in the West is predominantly a lay movement, taught by lay men and women for the benefit of laymen and women. And this is as it should be, as it must be. (...) Upasakas and Upasikas. We represent a new direction, a new thrust for the Buddhadharma in the world, one that is both modern and uniquely Western. " As it should be? Wow. What of the monastic traditions throughout the Americas? And what of the Buddhist monasteries in the West, who freely provided that teacher with the scholarly means and translations to understand the liturgical languages? (And this NPO company's financial reporting? Not (yet) forthright.)

So, Richard, may I speculate that you may agree that the issue is not one of monastic or lay garb, nor one of Buddhist, theistic, vedic, yogic any faith, any philosophy, any science?


Sorry your post got lost in the recent hubbub and I just found it.

My problem with the monastic way is more like if the solution is for everyone to be a Monk/Nun in the future to reach pari-nirvana that would be the end of humanity. There's a perfectionism there that's so impractical and tends to look at lay life as inferior. I'm okay with some monasticism in that there will always be experts who devote themselves fully like a person who devotes themselves to a career completely at the expense of family, but for society to continue it's not acceptable for all. It creates a kind of agreed pretentiousness where clergy feel superior to laity and laity don't take monasticism seriously. I would include other religions as well.

katy steger:
When you get to Heidegger's Gelassenheit which includes all the existential possibilities along with mindfulness I feel like it's almost overkill and I'm getting satisfied.


Yes, and when I see "all the existential possibilities" I think of the simplicity of the word for this in Gotama's study, "dhammas". Stuff. All the stuff broken down into four broad categories that a mind can know, including un-answerables.

And when I really study another tradition, I find other useful categorization. Like you and others, I do like a broad range, but I haven't got forever, so my study has to dive deep in something. Right now: it's meditative stabilization of seeing mind and cause-and-effect and I got this from Buddhism and I didn't get there in a buddhist vacuum, so I absolutely respect other traditions and secular humanism, even materialism, without any one being the icing on the other's cake, aka: without better/worse comparison. With study.


That's fine but that works better for someone that wants to live a more monastic lifestyle. Trying for a career and family requires a lot more skills and it will interfere with pure practice time. Though the daily life practice was a lifesaver in that I could apply it to just about any task so I didn't have to give it up all the way. I recommend for people to go as far as they can and want to.

katy steger:
(...)Sadhguru who makes fun of philosophers as unemployed men but totally ignores the irony that gurus/monks/priests could all be just describing themselves


I do hear monks and nuns in several tradition clearly aware that their food and shelter are a result of the generosity of others. God, how many times has a monk or nun had to develop kindness in the face of my efforts to be generous but on my terms? This is very like your car mechanic example. Someone has to bear my conceited, conditional generosity until I can get over myself, no?


Uhhh, I don't think so. Money for a person is hours spent working in their lives they can never get back again. Generosity is good but it will always be on their terms precisely because they haven't given up mouths to feed/mortgages/child education/even personal enjoyment. Then there's just the savings for retirement to prevent being old and poor at the same time. This is why there's less charity when the economy is bad than when it's good. When a person is working their ass off and dealing with difficult people while trying to raise a family any superiority projected by religious leaders will be rejected with a lot of aversion.

In the end monasticism is a personal choice that a small percentage will partake of and I like to ask this question:

Is there a reason why the world is the way it is?

Usually there's an answer based on some kind of limitation or choice trade-off. Also society needs specialities in different areas.

Metta,

Richard

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/22/13 6:31 AM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
katy, the Upasaka whose newsletter you quoted happens to be one of my favorite teachers at the moment, and I don't understand why you're cynical of him. Because we believe Awakening is achievable by lay practitioners in this lifetime, while most Buddhists do not believe this, one solution to this misunderstanding is to have more lay practitioners who do not become monastics but still become Awakened. This way we have more counterexamples to the prevalent idea that "enlightenment is for monastics." Most Americans are simply unwilling to become monastic, and if they don't believe they can end suffering in this lifetime they aren't going to be Buddhists.

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/23/13 3:26 PM as a reply to Paul Bradford.
Dear Paul,
Paul Bradford:
katy, the Upasaka whose newsletter you quoted happens to be one of my favorite teachers at the moment, and I don't understand why you're cynical of him. Because we believe Awakening is achievable by lay practitioners in this lifetime, while most Buddhists do not believe this, one solution to this misunderstanding is to have more lay practitioners who do not become monastics but still become Awakened. This way we have more counterexamples to the prevalent idea that "enlightenment is for monastics." Most Americans are simply unwilling to become monastic, and if they don't believe they can end suffering in this lifetime they aren't going to be Buddhists.

Like your favourite teacher's call for money (after having already met their fundraising goal) you have some paper tigers in your writing (personal beliefs asserted as facts but without evidence):
1. "you're cynical of him"
Nope***. I have just asked him twice (2/2012, 11/2013) to be forthright about publishing the publicly filed 501(c)3 papers they must file with the IRS. When he or his groups asks me for money, I simply put to them the question again to be forthright about how they are spending/to publicly post their NPO financial reporting requirements, to not oblige me to file a Freedom of Information Act document to see what they must file with the IRS anyway.

I started to think about this question "what are these non-profit dharma organizations who are not sharing their mandatory financial reporting online doing?" when it was written that your teacher lives entirely on dana. I could see in public filings that this was not true, the existence of retirement funds and then-current businesses in their name. So I asked his students about this in private and conveyed it to your teacher respectfully and sincerely, and until you raised it, I kept it private. Knowing my own account, say what you will.

Many sentient beings cannot fundraise, yet are desperate in the face of pollution, habitat destruction, no health care, no childcare, reduced food/starvation, overhunting, poverty wages... do not have retirement funds nor businesses nor can they call for donations.

So I look closely at non-profit dharma groups that benefit from non-profit status, are hosted by the infrastructures we pay for (fire, police, trash pick-up, etc), whose needs are paid for by people, and I look more closely when they decline the invitation to publish their financials.
You, however, are making him public in this now. Is this wise? I have preferred till now to give him a few years to consider it.



2. "Because we believe Awakening is achievable by lay practitioners in this lifetime, while most Buddhists do not believe this"
To presume to know what most Buddhist or most-XYZ do not believe is one's overconfident belief in one's own belief. It is a seed with related consequential growth. Overconfident cause has a fruiting effect (like any cause gives an effect), cause-and-effect (aka: Patticasamupada ).

3. "...the prevalent idea that "enlightenment is for monastics."
To presume to know what is prevalent without evidence is to veil the world in one's own beliefs, to narrate a self-serving story. Again, for a cause there is an effect that arises from that cause and resembles it.

4. "Most Americans are simply unwilling to become monastic,"
To presume to know "Most Americans are XYZ" without evidence is to veil the world in one's own beliefs, to narrate a self-serving story. Again, for a cause there is an effect that arises from that cause and resembles it.

5. "(...), and if they don't believe they can end suffering in this lifetime they aren't going to be Buddhists
Is it anyone's place to adjudicate who is Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Muslim? Is it for the person to decide for themselves what they are? Again, for a cause there is an effect that arises from that cause and resembles it. Who are you to say for someone else what they will be?


Is your practice to
a) narrate self-serving, straw-man stories,
b) to judge others, or
c) to study your own mind closely?

The "results" of practice resemble one's own actions in practice (cause and effect), so it's useful to consider whether a, b, c is being practiced. What effect is worth creating/causing (in your evaluation, just to yourself)?


Best wishes.


_____
***And we have been in touch on another topic that we have in common and I have thanked him twice in this forum. You might review your story about what I think of this person.

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/23/13 8:06 PM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Hi Richard,

My problem with the monastic way is more like if the solution is for everyone to be a Monk/Nun in the future to reach pari-nirvana that would be the end of humanity. There's a perfectionism there that's so impractical and tends to look at lay life as inferior. I'm okay with some monasticism in that there will always be experts who devote themselves fully like a person who devotes themselves to a career completely at the expense of family, but for society to continue it's not acceptable for all. It creates a kind of agreed pretentiousness where clergy feel superior to laity and laity don't take monasticism seriously. I would include other religions as well.
Wow. Okay, has anyone else besides you asserted this in this thread?
I have never heard that lay or monastic is better; it's a choice suited to the person choosing. I have heard some people say to ordain can delay practice because there is so much work to do. I don't know. I'm a lay person who's had a lucky past few years to practice.

Anyway, I still don't understand why you carry around the weight of aversion to something you are not. Like, why deal with this? You are a family man, isn't that plenty of actual practice versus adding something speculative and draining?

You asked earlier along the lines of how far/how much to renounce? Well, what have you already given up or appreciated restraining or refraining from doing?


As for pretentiousness and the conceit of superiority, if these traits are isolated to and exist according to profession/ordination/laity, I'll be a monkey's uncle. emoticon

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/23/13 9:11 PM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
Yeah Richard, I don’t understand why you’re so down on the monastics. I’d read your early posts on this thread a while ago and didn’t really get where you were coming from. Since it looks like Katy is seeing the same issue I did, I’ll just say that it seems like you are going out of your way to do a drive-by on them.

If people want to join a monastery, why not. You don’t have to. May be you are giving up something by not doing so, but if you believe a lay person can get enlightened in this life (is there, at any time, any other?) and that is your goal, then why care about the monasticism.

If you don’t care about enlightenment or otherwise about achieving what the monastics are claiming or at least aiming at, then why care? Are you concerned that may be monastics may be able to achieve something that you won’t be able to, unless you become a monastic?

Doesn’t really matter to me, but I just wasn’t getting what you were saying.

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/23/13 9:50 PM as a reply to lama carrot top.
No I just think that the future is more towards the pragmatic dharma. Since the history of Buddhism the monastic thing has gotten in the way of actually spreading the practice. I want these practices to spread to cure depression in more people which equanimity and further practice can do. Trying to get to Pari-Nirvana isn't my goal because it's just metaphysical stuff like in any religion and if you talk to dogmatic people in any religion they talk as if they actually know what happens in the after-life.

The future to me is Mindfulness and cognitive therapy stripped of dogma and allowed to seep into different people's lifestyles and ethnic backgrounds.

Do I want to stop people from being monastics? No. If someone is inspired this way then they should go for it. This is their choice but the way they organize their lives is not practical for 99% of the population and why are the rest of us meditating? Obviously to reduce stress and to increase a happiness and development of morality that isn't shallow. Monks can be specialists that can give great advice but they will always be a niche specialist group in society. Most religions have a "this is the only way" vibe about them that I don't like and feel is a stumbling block.

I don't know what's so difficult to understand? It's not rocket science. Is it a drive-by if a monk acts as if their way is superior? I just find it archaic. Even some of the sniping between Buddhist groups shows the arrogance that can still permeate these cultures that screams for modernity. The book Saints and Psychopaths is another eye-opener. Bullies exist even in these societies. That's why I was drawn towards some of Rob Burbea's talks because he says "It's okay to smell and enjoy a flower". "When you have sex you don't have to be in the mode of seeing the 5 aggregates". Practicality and skillfulness is the most important thing for me. To me this is not even a "downer". It's exciting to see the possibilities within psychology and neurology.

Daniel's dream of a new Scientific Journal

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/23/13 11:08 PM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
Hi katy, when I used the word "cynical" I wasn't meaning to be accusatory. I just looked up the meaning of the word to see if I misused it but I don't think I did ("distrusting or disparaging the motives of others"). I suppose the word has a negative connotation but I see a healthy amount of cynicism as a good thing. Now that I think about it "skeptical" is a better word.

I've personally never met the man nor donated to his NPO, though the reason I've refrained from donating is because I would prefer to first achieve significant success along the Path and then make a decent-sized donation. As far as his financials I see where he said dana is "a primary source of livelihood" but I don't see anywhere saying he lives entirely on dana. I knew from brief conversations in podcasts posted on the site that his wife runs a bed-and-breakfast where they live. Anyway, if I achieve great success along the Path following his teaching, I will not hesitate to donate simply due to benefit he's given me in the form of hundreds of hours of great audio material posted on website for free. Because I am also cyncial, not just of him but all of Buddhism, I prefer to donate in this way.

As for the rest of my previous post I'm surprised you don't agree with my statements, and I think it's because our backgrounds differ. I live and have traveled around Southeast Asia, and can assure you the prevalent view here is that Enlightenment is a process which takes hundreds of thousands of lifetimes, and that non-monastics' main goal is to create good karma in their lifetimes because Enlightenment isn't really on the table. This is by far the majority view. I don't have textual evidence to support this but if you don't believe me I don't think it would be difficult to research this for yourself, or ask other people on this site, who I think will agree with me. It's great that we're starting to see more establishments in the U.S. that do meditation retreats and believe Enlightenment is an achievable goal. But even in the U.S, at least where I'm from, most of the Buddhist monasteries are run by immigrants who continue to hold the prevalent view of Southeast Asian countries.

I don't understand how you can disagree with me that most Americans are unwilling to become monastics. First of all most Americans aren't even Buddhists. But even of most Americans I've met who identify as Buddhist, most don't even have a daily meditation practice. I'm sorry I don't have any statistics to show you but I am convinced this is the prevalent view, and if you ask other people on this forum who were Buddhists before DhO I think they will agree with me. It's why Daniel Ingram's book is subtitled an Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book, because actually dedicating significant time to Buddhist practice is something unusual compared to the vast majority of the world's Buddhists who don't do this because they aren't really looking to become Awakened in this lifetime.

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
12/25/13 9:59 AM as a reply to Paul Bradford.
What Paul said reminded me of the book I read part of it a while ago called "Heartwood: The First Generation of Theravada Buddhism in America". The book compares the practices of buddhists who go to Wat Phila (a Thai monastery in US) with those to Cambridge Insight meditation center (run by lay teachers, actually the center I went to in the US). I don't remember exactly where, but at some points, the author mentions how people who go to Wat Phila did not believe that they would get enlightened by themselves but go there to support monks. The idea is quite diffetent from those at CIMC (and from being there myself, I agree), who believe that they can get enlightened in this lifetime. (Well ... I think some don't believe that but they just want to learn tools to deal with stress. The teachers there though always said that liberation is possible.)

I can undetstand what Paul and Richard suggested. Growing up in Thai culture, a lot of cultural things make it that way that monastics are superior. Peoplein Thailand tends to think that only monastics can get enlightened and see them as gods. People don't really want to bad mouth any monastics for fear of creating bad karma to themselves, even when monks might be doing appropriate things. Of course, with lots of news about many monks violating precepts, the situation is getting better.

With that said though, I would say that I have met Ajahn Geoff in person while at CIMC, and I think he is quite enlightened. I have a feeling that he can read mind also; his students seem to think so as well. Although I don't think his talks resonated with me that much then, he answered questions really well like he knew what he was talking about. Later, I also found those answers to be quite useful to my practice.

Apart from Ajahn Geoff, I have also benefited from other monastics as well. It's just a little difficult as females to get closed to them due to monastics rules. Also, they live life so differently from us that they might not be able to give as good suggestion as lay teachers do. What I found it hard to appreciate many monastics though is that many monks I have met since I got back to Thailand, who claims to be meditation teachers, do not seem to know dharma that well. It could be that the threshold for being teachers in SE asia is not that high, usually just attaining stream-entry. They sometimes don't even put effort into preparing their dharma talk and give mediocre advices. Do things that might not be appropriate. With those things going more and mote, less and less people start to doubt existence of monastic community, and it definitely did more harm than good.

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
1/21/14 5:22 PM as a reply to Paul Bradford.
Dear Paul,

Respectfully, please consider reading accurately. While you may just need to air your views, I suppose it's worthwhile responding in case you aren't only airing your views.


1) I have already indicated where I read the bit about dana and your teacher. I consulted this group in private a few years ago and they have amended their language for truthfulness. So, for a made-up example, if he has a retirement of $28k per year and he has donations of $30k per year, then, yes, he would live "primarily" on dana ($30k dana being the bigger half of $58,000 total annual income (donations from students + retirement income)).

My point is still not about dana here: it's about the deliberate act of not being forthright nor forthcoming in the reporting so far and obliging the host community to hunt for filings that their corporation must file anyway as a tax-exempt guest of the community and its services. They are not the only dharma group to act this way, undermining the civic trust and friendly potential between charitable corporation and community.

Do you want a world of non-profit corporations that are guests acting this way and adding needless investigative work for the host community?

It could be this way; so take a teacher who is not your favourite teacher, who is, say, your dreaded influence in the world, behaving as an obstinate corporation sitting in the community, using their services, undermining the friendly potential a charity has in its community, becoming a nuisance/ a weight on public services. Considering this behaviour as wide-spreading, what behaviour would you prefer your favourite teacher to role-model? What precedent would you like your favourite teacher to seed?


2) I have disagreed with you on a single point (see "Nope***") and not these other points where you write "you disagree (...)". It is not worthwhile for me to agree or disagree with you on speculative views or to refute your views of me even (cynical, skeptical, what next?) as this could go on forever and be useless.

The only sensible and final point I can reiterate is "Knowing my own account, say what you will." Truly, Paul, sometimes it's useful to have a target and if this thread and I are your target to shape and air your views, okay.



3) But I am pointing you to look at your own mind --- since you've decided to engage with me in this thread --- that presumption as a cause has an effect.

I'll use an adage: "Want to know my past? Look at me now. What to know my future? Look at me now." So you are clearly interested in buddhist meditation and its premise is dependent origination, aka: contingent identity, aka: cause and effect.

Why would I presume to point any buddhist meditator who engages with me to study their own mind more than speculate? or in lieu of speculating? Because if a person spends their time discursively perseverating on and creating speculative views (e.g., "Oh, those people will never be buddhists", "Oh, the world is mostly XYZ..." the result of these speculative seeds and sproutings at the end of life is to die without knowledge, just a mind full of condescending speculation.

At death the fruit of accumulated presumptive thinking isn't worth spit.

At death, without some actual knowledge (be it complete faith in someone/thing or investigation into one's own being or both) the mind naturally tends to panic, the person may feel quite alone, and/or wanting suddenly more life and more understanding, "What is this? What am I? What's happening?"


And to study one's own mind is not at all speculative, is rich and challenging and actual. This investigative seed and its sprouting, no matter how small a plant it is, figuratively speaking, is worthwhile in both living and in dying.

It is much easier to do what you're doing: speculate in gratifying stories.

I empathize with this gratification, but know for myself that to continue speculatively does not lead to well-being or a useful ontological understanding.

So I wish you best of luck and excellent teachers or the ability to read well various teachings.


Here are some criteria for identifying a qualified teacher from the Anguttara Nikaya 5.159 (To Udayi):
"It's not easy to teach the Dhamma to others, Ananda. The Dhamma should be taught to others only when five qualities are established within the person teaching. Which five?

"[1] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, 'I will speak step-by-step.'

"[2] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, 'I will speak explaining the sequence [of cause & effect].'

"[3] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, 'I will speak out of compassion.'

"[4] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, 'I will speak not for the purpose of material reward.'

"[5] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, 'I will speak without hurting myself or others.'[1]

"It's not easy to teach the Dhamma to others, Ananda. The Dhamma should be taught to others only when these five qualities are established within the person teaching."



EDIT: For anyone dropping into this thread and not reading it all, the teacher whose lack of financier forthrightness for their non-profit is a layperson who chooses to teach and is not the monastic teacher of the subject header here.

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
1/18/14 2:22 PM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
I'm a great fan of Ajaan Thanissaro. In fact, it is his down-to-earth meditation guidance and his open-minded emphasis on individuals' own interpretation and self-direction toward and into awakening that appeal to me even from within my cultural frame of reference as a post-modern American woman.

Nowhere in this interview or any other text that I've read or heard by him does he prescribe monasticism for everyone. In the current interview, he is simply answering the warm-up expository question about how he himself came to embrace that way of life. His answer is just honest and even a bit self-deprecating with regard to the young college graduate he was when he went on an adventure because he found secular professions constraining--for himself personally.

His lack of rigidity permeates the way he teaches the practice. In the interview in Richard Shankman's book, he avoids the "jhanna wars" by saying that it isn't so much which state someone attains that mattters as it is what one does with that state. He advises that--whatever strong experiences a practitioner has--he or she try to repeat it, master it, and then "put a post-it note on it." And then repeat this process with other experiences. He says that the practitioner can eventually rearrange his or her post-it notes into a coherent "map." Here and in all, he stresses the necessity for us to teach ourselves and arrive at our own combinations of practices, our own paths. Richard Shankman remarks several times during that interview on how "open-minded" Thanissaro is.

In that RS interview, Thanissaro is also asked if everyone, including those who do not go on long retreats (let alone become monks/nuns) can attain jhanna and awakening. His response? "I don't see why not." Instead of pointing primarily to some textual authorities as the "real thing" and others as false, he stresses honesty with oneself. Specifically, he says people can have liberating insights in Jhanna 1 without realizing that they are in jhanna, and that others can overinterpret and mistake strong experiences or blips of nonperception as Cessation. He repeats his main teaching that only we can know for ourselves "where" we are on the path, and we will set ourselves back if we aren't perfectly honest with ourselves about what suffering remains and what work remains to be done.

Ajaan Thanissaro is about as far from prescribing his way of life for everyone as can be. Not only does he support individuals' vigilant interpretation of experiences and responsibility for continually constructing (fabricating) the path of awakening, but he actually requires them of anyone wanting or purporting to be his student. He is not going to give the same rigid steps to every student and interpret results for the student by superior proxy. As he was taught by his teachers to think, reality-test, and map awakening for himself, so too he teaches others. So I have to conclude that the reactionary comments on this thread have a lot more to do with the commentators' categorical rejections and preemptive defenses than with anything AT himself is putting out there.

As for his way of life, I don't think it is one of ease and advantage-taking. He has provided considerable scholarship, teachings, meditation guides, and translations to all, particularly the laity, completely free of charge and copyright restrictions. I would be hard-pressed to construct a way of seeing his generosity as some sort of smug superiority and permanent withdrawal from responsibility in the world.

RE: Interview with Thanissaro
Answer
1/21/14 5:31 PM as a reply to Jenny.
Hi Jen,

Thanks for your thoughts. I excerpted some that I especially liked, which you wrote:

Jen
it isn't so much which state someone attains that mattters as it is what one does with that state.
(...)

only we can know for ourselves "where" we are on the path, and we will set ourselves back if we aren't perfectly honest with ourselves about what suffering remains and what work remains to be done.

(...)
if everyone, including those who do not go on long retreats (let alone become monks/nuns) can attain jhanna and awakening. His response? "I don't see why not."


Thank you
emoticonk


Also, an aside: I added an edit in purple to my last post in case there is any confusion when one enters the thread.