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Reaching Out
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5/26/14 5:42 AM
My first post in DHO.  I'm trying to remain aware of the meditation talk/issues talk distinction and save the latter for later.  I want to make my presence known here as I develop my own "practice" and I'm open to any advice/suggestions/observations others may have to share about my case.

I'm very interested in the psycho-developmental potential of meditative practice, and I have some vague desire to dig more deeply into Buddhism.  My first attempt at meditating was at a local Zen Center two weeks ago, they told me to breath/count whatever and I kept losing focus.  The people there seemed fairly nice but I left Orthodox Christianity several years ago and I simply refuse to invest more time in seemingly meaningless chanting and repetition of phrases in languages I don't understood.  My body and soul was screaming "No!" during the ritual stuff that was going on there.  Know how far praying to Mary about my sins got me in terms of where I want to go now? Nowhere. Also too much forced overt ritualistic deference to leaders makes me stick up my inner middle finger. I'm like "OK, I get it" after a certain point.  Practice hard, theorize rigorously, and/or go home.  I'd much prefer to fail miserably at something I believe is worthwhile than dabble in BS that CAN'T go anywhere.  It's respect of one's own time and honor of one's mortality.

Earnest Becker's work (of which I am a big fan) already negatively biased me somewhat towards traditional ritualistic Zen Buddhism as a mind/will/personality destroyer in the wrong hands so I came in a bit wary of it.  Basically, in various monasters elders would beat students at random times and mind-fuck them until they had a breakdown and adopted the values of their masters, and then they were "enlightened."  


I'm already planning to carefully re-read (or slow read) MCTB and share what happens as I attempt to practice.

I'm reading the book Foundation of Buddhism by Rupert Gethin.  I have an academic interest in ontology/epistemology so I'm hoping to explore Buddhist thought in those arenas as well.

Thank you, Daniel, I'm very glad this community exists.  

PS: Just in case someone has an interest in Earnest Becker's work, there are two good video summaries, here and here.

RE: Reaching Out
Answer
5/26/14 9:49 AM as a reply to Max.
Welcome Max!
DhO has many different sides and on the whole I find it to be a pretty secular, pragmatic and eclectic place. Hopefully you will find support here in developing a practice, if that's what you want. Any thing to share about your experiences of sitting? Or what you hope to get out of it and why you think that is a reasonable hope?
-Jake

RE: Reaching Out
Answer
5/26/14 10:01 AM as a reply to . Jake ..
Jake

I've "sat" only one time, about two weeks at a Zen place, but was somewhat turned off for various reasons.  I am attracted to the clarity and pragmatic orientation of the approach outlined in MCTB.  I suppose an extremely strong but vague desire to grow as a person and see things as they are motivates me.  I have specific psychological issues/life problems I wish to work out, perhaps I will discuss them in the "Morality" section at some point, or not.

RE: Reaching Out
Answer
5/26/14 11:12 AM as a reply to Max.
 From the conventional point of view, things are usually thought to be there even when you can no longer experience them, and are thus assumed with only circumstantial evidence to be somewhat stable entities. Predictability is used to assume continuity of existence. For our day-to-day lives, this assumption is adequate and often very useful. 

For example, you could close your eyes, put down this book, and then pick it up again where you left it without opening your eyes. From a pragmatic point of view, this book was where you left it even when you were not experiencing it in any way. However, when doing insight practices, it just happens to be much more useful to assume that things are only there when you experience them and not there when you don’t. Thus, the gold standard for reality when doing insight practices is the sensations that make up your reality in that instant. Sensations not there at that time do not exist, and thus only the sensations arising in that instant do exist. In short, the vast majority of what you usually think of as making up your universe doesn’t exist the vast majority of the time, from a pure sensate point of view. This is exactly, precisely and specifically the point. Knowing this directly leads to freedom. MCTB 17

This seems very important, saving here to ponder.  "Every sensation is of finite duration" is how I would put it (because it rhymes.)

Also, "Sensations start, sensations stop, thoughts start, thoughts stop, where is the senser, where is the thinker?"

RE: Reaching Out
Answer
5/26/14 12:46 PM as a reply to Max.
Hello Max,

Welcome to the DhO. Your story rings very close to my own. Grew up in the Bible Belt of the southwest in the 1950s and 60s, and share many of the very same thoughts you have just expressed in your post. Having faith and confidence in the one who is guiding you can make all the difference in the world as far as how quickly you are able to make progress toward awakening. The one I finally settled on and took as my guide turned out to be a dead man; but a very wise dead man at that. I went back to study (academically as well as practically) the words of the originator of the Dhamma and found that his instruction was the most reliable to adhere to. Perhaps once you see and understand what I am speaking about, you, too, will find solace, inspration, and wisdom in the words of Gotama.

Max:
My first post in DHO.  I'm trying to remain aware of the meditation talk/issues talk distinction and save the latter for later.  I want to make my presence known here as I develop my own "practice" and I'm open to any advice/suggestions/observations others may have to share about my case.

With the diversity of practitioners here, I'm sure you may find something with which you are able to resonate.

Max:

I'm very interested in the psycho-developmental potential of meditative practice, and I have some vague desire to dig more deeply into Buddhism.  My first attempt at meditating was at a local Zen Center two weeks ago, they told me to breath/count whatever and I kept losing focus.  The people there seemed fairly nice but I left Orthodox Christianity several years ago and I simply refuse to invest more time in seemingly meaningless chanting and repetition of phrases in languages I don't understood.  My body and soul was screaming "No!" during the ritual stuff that was going on there.  Know how far praying to Mary about my sins got me in terms of where I want to go now? Nowhere. Also too much forced overt ritualistic deference to leaders makes me stick up my inner middle finger. I'm like "OK, I get it" after a certain point.  Practice hard, theorize rigorously, and/or go home.  I'd much prefer to fail miserably at something I believe is worthwhile than dabble in BS that CAN'T go anywhere.  It's respect of one's own time and honor of one's mortality.

I am familiar with and totally agree with every thought you have expressed here.

What I would like to encourage you to do is to follow that "vague desire to dig more deeply into Buddhism." I think that once you begin to do so, you will find something of real substance (in terms of instruction and teaching that you can put your teeth into and corroborate from direct personal experience) and a path that not only makes sense, but through which you are able to see the end of the tunnel (i.e. in terms of final release and liberation). 

At the time I first took up a study of Eastern philosophy in school, there were not any good translations of the discourses of the Buddha out there. It wasn't until Wisdom Publications started publishing translations by Maurice Walshe, Bhikkhu Nanamoli (with editing by Bhikkhu Bodhi), Bhikkhu Bodhi, and Nyanaponika Thera that we began to have credible translations of these discourses which were actually useful in establishing a practice and answering questions about subtle points of practice. I have created a thread on which I make several recommendations for Essential Books From Theravadin Resources which I think you will find satisfactory for your inquiring mind.

The first book I would recommend that you read is Bodhi's The Noble Eightfold Path, Way to the End of Suffering. You can obtain his book in PDF format (by using a search engine to find one), or at the link just given, or in soft cover (if you prefer to make notes in the page margins like I do). Reading and understanding this book will help you begin to see what the path that Gotama taught is as well as provide you with several inspirational insights into the practice.

Max:

Earnest Becker's work (of which I am a big fan) already negatively biased me somewhat towards traditional ritualistic Zen Buddhism as a mind/will/personality destroyer in the wrong hands so I came in a bit wary of it.  Basically, in various monasters elders would beat students at random times and mind-fuck them until they had a breakdown and adopted the values of their masters, and then they were "enlightened."

Yes, I've experienced some quizzical moments with Zen myself. My favorite Western writer on this subject was Alan Watts, although as I became more familiar with the discourses, I began to see where his take was sometimes a bit askew. It was from having read his books, though, that I began to have an interest in being able to understand credible translations of the Pali/Sanskrit terms being used so that I could understand what was being taught from an experiencial standpoint. To be fair, though, there are some good teachers and books out there, but you have to be on your toes to recognize them. D.T. Suzuki's The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind can be a good introduction into the subtle practice of Zen, but for most people, yourself included at this point, I wouldn't recommend your looking into this book quite just yet. It will make more sense once you have been able to establish a practice and have begun to learn more about the teachings and how they are implemented.

Max:
I'm reading the book Foundation of Buddhism by Rupert Gethin.  I have an academic interest in ontology/epistemology so I'm hoping to explore Buddhist thought in those arenas as well.

Gethin's book is a very good place for you to start your education about the Dhamma that Gotama taught. His take about the practice is compatible with my own. I would also suggest looking into Richard Gombrich's work, especially his What The Buddha Thought book. There are several insights mentioned in that book about the authentic context of the teaching (at least as far as my opinion goes regarding authenticity) which, once you have more of an understanding of the teaching, should help you put the pieces of the teaching together in your mind in a way that you can see reflected as "the way things are." 

One discourse passage that caught my eye after having spent seven years in a Western religious order under the guidance of a clarvoyant priest with whom I had been acquainted for nine years total, was the following from the Anguttara Nikaya in the Book of the Threes, titled "The Kalama Sutta." It especially rang true to me at the time, as I was struggling to release myself from the strangle hold of reprogramming that my religious superior had put me through. I came across the following passage in a book about Asian wisdom:

Although the Buddha went forth personally to teach his doctrine of "mindfulness" as the way to enlightenment, he never failed to stress the necessity for freedom from all sacrosanct religious authority. "Believe nothing just because you have been told it, or it is commonly believed, or because it is traditional or because you yourselves have imagined it. Do not believe what your Teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings — that doctrine believe and cling to, and take as your guide." — Nancy Ross Wilson's original translation from the book Three Ways of Asian Wisdom.

"Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These dhammas are unskillful; these dhammas are blameworthy; these dhammas are criticized by the wise; these dhammas, when adopted and carried out, lead to harm and to suffering' — then you should abandon them... When you know for yourselves that, 'These dhammas are skillful; these dhammas are blameless; these dhammas are praised by the wise; these dhammas, when adopted and carried out, lead to welfare and to happiness' — then you should enter and remain in them." — From my paraphrased version of this translation of a combination of passages.

It was shortly after having read and contemplated that passage that I left the order and struck out on my own to find an authentic teaching that would help me reach the goal of awakening that I was seeking. I was 48 when I decided to confine my search to reading and understanding the discourses of the Buddha. I have never regretted that decision.

In peace,
Ian

RE: Reaching Out
Answer
5/26/14 12:00 PM as a reply to Max.
Sup Max!

Would just like to welcome you here, is there a specific goal that you're working towards?

I think my own journey started with the same moralistic urge to grow as a person, to 'not neglect', so to speak. Moreover it started with the urge to avoid 'not reaching my full potential', at the same time I didn't want to live a life that was so static, and lazy that I might as well have been some moss growing in a deep, dark, corner of a room. I find that all these urges are useful because they motivate one (it's a sense of shame) to progress on this path.

I wish you luck in whatever you decide to do.

Regards,

James

RE: Reaching Out
Answer
5/26/14 5:09 PM as a reply to J J.
James Yen:
Sup Max!

Would just like to welcome you here, is there a specific goal that you're working towards?

James


Hi, I'd say it's too early for me to have lots of super-clearly defined goals.  I would say my "concentration skills" are fairly weak and that I have a desire to "train in wisdom" or deeper experiential familiarity with the "three characteristics," but that's as much as I can say at this point.

RE: Reaching Out
Answer
5/26/14 5:19 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Ian And,

"...after having spent seven years in a Western religious order under the guidance of a clarvoyant priest with whom I had been acquainted for nine years total, was the following from the Anguttara Nikaya in the Book of the Threes, titled "The Kalama Sutta." It especially rang true to me at the time, as I was struggling to release myself from the strangle hold of reprogramming that my religious superior had put me through. "

You clearly have a story, I'd like to hear more about your very first dabblings with Buddhist thought/practice as an example.   I want to finish MCTB, I happen to have Gethin's translation of the Pali Canon also.  I definitely plan to read/study more of that, I want to have a finger on primary source material, solid "secondary" stuff, and focused practice at all times.  Conceptual mastery/comprehension/rentention is definitely one aim, increased consciousness/transformation/insight is as well.  

I am fine with confusion/incomprehension/resistance/struggle as long as it's toward/on behalf of something worthwhile.  I pay close attention to "ah!" or "What?" reactions while I'm reading.  As those occur I'll definitely share some of them here.

You think the whole Pali Canon is valid or representative of Buddha's original teaching? Or most of it? Does it matter?  There's the whole chain of first witnesses--->repeaters and memorizers--->inscribers--->copyists before it gets to us.  

RE: Reaching Out
Answer
5/26/14 11:02 PM as a reply to Max.
Max:

You clearly have a story, I'd like to hear more about your very first dabblings with Buddhist thought/practice as an example.
 
I have posted a brief description of my experience in the contemplative monastic order in which I was a monk and priest. Though this is not what you asked about, still it may provide some insight into my thought processes.

You can go to http://thirdjewel.myfreeforum.org and log in using the following login info:

Login name: thirdwheel
Password: thirdwheel

Then go this this thread: http://thirdjewel.myfreeforum.org/about31.html to read a short introduction.

Max:

You think the whole Pali Canon is valid or representative of Buddha's original teaching? Or most of it? ... There's the whole chain of first witnesses--->repeaters and memorizers--->inscribers--->copyists before it gets to us. 

The only way to confirm that is through one's own individual discernment of the validity of what was taught. From my experience of the teachings and their actual effect at becoming a catalyst for change, there is more gold in the discourses than dross. Yes, I would say that from my experience it maintains the original teachings. Of course, there is the inevitable repetition; but that comes with the territory and is usually expected. Far too many subtle insights to list. One just has to read and contemplate the discourses and arrive at one's own conclusion based on being able to corroborate their authenticity. As for myself, I have no doubts about their authenticity.