With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

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Dark Night Yogi, modified 10 Years ago.

With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

Posts: 138 Join Date: 8/25/09 Recent Posts
If there are so many ways to get enlightened..
Taoist meditation
Kabbalah
Christian contemplative meditation
shamanism
The great work of western magick
and others..

Why is Buddha more popular than the people who taught the other traditions?
Is his approach superior to the others?
Did other approaches derive from Buddha's teachings?
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Bruno Loff, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

Posts: 1094 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Buddha understood exactly what suffering is, and how it is generated. His teaching can be made very minimalistic, stripping away any unnecessary concepts such as god, reincarnation, etc (although he himself believed such concepts). So he actually understood the very core of the issue, the root of suffering.
Anon Anon, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

Posts: 40 Join Date: 5/26/10 Recent Posts
From the perspective of the "modern syncretic insight tradition" (MSIT) it's quite hard to see the difference between any other traditions that have something that looks like vipassana meditation at their core. MSIT looks at them, sees the vipassana-like practice, and glosses over all the other differences as cultural or literary or mythological artifacts which are irrelevant to the core of the tradition.

Whether this is reasonable or not, I don't know, but it's easy to lose sight of the fact that many reasonable adherents of those other traditions could say that MSIT is being unfair to their tradition, or missing the point of their tradition. Even for Buddhism, MSIT ignores a lot that a traditional Buddhist could reasonably claim is central to Buddhism. For instance, MSIT understands the First Noble Truth, "Life is suffering", to mean something like "life has a lot of shitty parts", or "nothing in life can be permanently satisfying". But there is lots in the scriptures which suggest a more radical interpretation:

"Magandiya, suppose that there was a leper covered with sores and infections, devoured by worms, picking the scabs off the openings of his wounds with his nails, cauterizing his body over a pit of glowing embers. His friends, companions, & relatives would take him to a doctor. The doctor would concoct medicine for him, and thanks to the medicine he would be cured of his leprosy: well & happy, free, master of himself, going wherever he liked. Then suppose two strong men, having grabbed him with their arms, were to drag him to a pit of glowing embers. What do you think? Wouldn't he twist his body this way & that? [...] In the same way, Magandiya, sensual pleasures in the past were painful to the touch, very hot & scorching; sensual pleasures in the future will be painful to the touch, very hot & scorching; sensual pleasures at present are painful to the touch, very hot & scorching; but when beings are not free from passion for sensual pleasures — devoured by sensual craving, burning with sensual fever — their faculties are impaired, which is why, even though sensual pleasures are actually painful to the touch, they have the skewed perception of 'pleasant.'" (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.075x.than.html)

A MSIT practitioner might claim that this is cultural or literary or mythological, because none of their practice, nor the practice of any other MSIT-practitioners they know, has ever led to this belief. For the enlightened person, MSIT claims, pleasant vedana is pleasant and unpleasant vedana is unpleasant, and that's that. On the other hand, MSIT practitioners generally don't follow the full range of traditional Buddhist practices: who concerns themselves with the entire Eightfold Path as much as they concern themselves with the last two parts, mindfulness and concentration? Who does all the contemplations of death, graveyards, festering corpses, repulsiveness, and so on that are constantly recommended (even in no less a place than the Satipatthana sutta!)? Who practices renunciation to the same extent that the homeless wandering bhikkus of Buddha's time did? Perhaps a person practicing in these ways would come to some further insight about how life is suffering, and no longer crave pleasant vedana because they see that pleasantness is somehow illusory. Or maybe not. I wouldn't know.

So, to answer your question as I see it, according to MSIT there is basically no difference, because MSIT sees all traditions as containing a vipassana-like practice with all kinds of cultural and literary and mythological ornamentation. If you think "they're all the same, so I'll just pick one to practice", you're not practicing the orthodox tradition, you're practicing MSIT. Why Buddhism is most popular is that Buddhism is apparently easier to transform into MSIT since Buddhism is very clear about how to do vipassana-like practices.

If you practice the orthodox traditions, however, you'll see lots of differences between them. Perhaps they even lead to different outcomes. Perhaps people, thinking that this is true, select one over the other based on what they think the best outcome is, or based on what they think the true nature of things is.

(None of this is to say that MSIT is or isn't right to boil all traditions down to a vipassana-like practice. I'm just calling things as I see them. MSIT is fantastic, but clarity about what we're doing and what we're not doing in our practice is also extremely important.)
Ona Kiser, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

Posts: 66 Join Date: 1/18/10 Recent Posts
@Anon Anon - that answers a lot of questions I've had, too. Among the "MSIT" type teachers, books, etc. I have been wondering if they are simply not talking about how many mantras and prostrations they do so as to be more appealing to modern western students, or if that's really how they practice. Compare Tibetan Buddhism, for example, to Ingram, or the folks who teach regularly at IMS...

Personally I find both approaches ("religious" vs "secular") appealing for different reasons. So I remain uncommitted. emoticon
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Dark Night Yogi, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

Posts: 138 Join Date: 8/25/09 Recent Posts
What exactly is meant by MSIT? I cannot find MSIT on google...

Thanks a bunch
Anon Anon, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

Posts: 40 Join Date: 5/26/10 Recent Posts
Dark Night Yogi:
What exactly is meant by MSIT? I cannot find MSIT on google...


Can't find it because I made up the term. emoticon It means exactly what it stands for, Modern Syncretic Insight Tradition. Daniel Ingram, Kenneth Folk, Open Enlightenment, Baptist's Head, all that...
Anon Anon, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

Posts: 40 Join Date: 5/26/10 Recent Posts
Ona Kiser:
@Anon Anon - that answers a lot of questions I've had, too. Among the "MSIT" type teachers, books, etc. I have been wondering if they are simply not talking about how many mantras and prostrations they do so as to be more appealing to modern western students, or if that's really how they practice. Compare Tibetan Buddhism, for example, to Ingram, or the folks who teach regularly at IMS...

Personally I find both approaches ("religious" vs "secular") appealing for different reasons. So I remain uncommitted. emoticon


The thing that's weird is, the whole difference isn't always "secular" vs. "religious". Definitely that seems like the major dimension of divergence between Ingram and Tibetan Buddhism, for instance...but then, if you look at something like traditional Buddhism (I mean just the suttas from the Pali Canon, none of the Theravada commentary or later cultural context or etc), it has the same kind of nonreligious, hardcore, no-rituals, no-frills, practice-till-your-head-explodes-and-you-reach-enlightenment kind of approach that Daniel Ingram promotes. It's just that the training one is advised to practice is a lot more than just mindfulness and concentration. It's a "lifestyle" training---complete renunciation, complete detatchment from all worldly enjoyment, constantly viewing the body as "a boil, a cancer, an arrow...", all that stuff that MSIT finds unimportant. The practice really is fundamentally and radically different, and the difference isn't about religious vs. secular trappings.

I'm not an expert on other traditions, but I have no doubt that one would find similar differences between MSIT and the others. Kabbalah for someone practicing the lifestyle of orthodox Judaism is fundamentally and radically different than Kabbalah practiced according to MSIT. The practice of the contemplative lifestyle for a Christian is fundamentally different than contemplative prayer practiced according to MSIT. Not because they have extra ritual stuff for you to do, but because the practice in these cases is an entire immersive lifestyle. And so on.

I find MSIT compelling, and I haven't formed a final opinion on traditional Buddhism, so I practice MSIT. emoticon
Ona Kiser, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

Posts: 66 Join Date: 1/18/10 Recent Posts
I see what you're saying Anon. It (MSIT) does seem to work, which is interesting.

Back to Dark Night's point, I wonder to what extent Buddhism's popularity or widespread use in the west has mostly to do with the fates of history and culture - who traveled where, which empires expanded here and there, who got persecuted and who didn't etc.

I think sometimes, for example, it is a fairly amazing twist of history that Tibetan Buddhism is as widespread in the US as it is, and part of that is because (I think) of the Chinese invasion, which led to a huge exodus of monks and brought a lot of sympathetic attention and the Dalai Lama has become an internationally renowned figure. There are several large monasteries within an hour of my house, and dozens of smaller centers and groups, for example. More than there are Zen centers, for example. If that twist of history had not happened, I'm sure there would be people going to Tibet to study Buddhism, but I suspect the numbers would be much smaller.
Anon Anon, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

Posts: 40 Join Date: 5/26/10 Recent Posts
Ona Kiser:

Back to Dark Night's point, I wonder to what extent Buddhism's popularity or widespread use in the west has mostly to do with the fates of history and culture - who traveled where, which empires expanded here and there, who got persecuted and who didn't etc.

I think sometimes, for example, it is a fairly amazing twist of history that Tibetan Buddhism is as widespread in the US as it is, and part of that is because (I think) of the Chinese invasion, which led to a huge exodus of monks and brought a lot of sympathetic attention and the Dalai Lama has become an internationally renowned figure. There are several large monasteries within an hour of my house, and dozens of smaller centers and groups, for example. More than there are Zen centers, for example. If that twist of history had not happened, I'm sure there would be people going to Tibet to study Buddhism, but I suspect the numbers would be much smaller.


There are probably a lot of factors, and I bet you're right, a lot of them just seem to be historical coincidences.

One other factor may be a little more crass, but true nonetheless. The teachers in different traditions---monks generally, rinpoches / sayadaws / whatever specifically---are not just the ambassadors of their tradition, but the salesmen too. The example they set and the way they behave can go pretty far in making an impression on people with respect to what the tradition is like and whether it's worth following. Tibetan monks seem to be down to earth, sensible, and fun. Some of the more famous Tibetans even more so. Theravadins have more of a reputation for...not being that way. Zen's a mixed bag, apparently there have been some Zen masters who have been very charismatic, but then (as you note) there wasn't ever a huge exodus of Japanese across the world, so most people haven't seen them. (In the United States, I have the impression that the ones who came over stayed on the west coast.)
Ona Kiser, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

Posts: 66 Join Date: 1/18/10 Recent Posts
And then there was the big flow of westerners to India and other parts of Asia in the 60s and 70s, where some number of them became Hindus or Buddhists, then came back to the US and brought with them an interest in elements of the culture, a comfort with elements of the culture, some even brought back teachings or funded their teachers coming over to teach in the US... another quirk of history.

I agree that many of the Tibetan teachers I've come across seem quite light-hearted and approachable. Hm.
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Dark Night Yogi, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

Posts: 138 Join Date: 8/25/09 Recent Posts
on MSIT: Ohh ic. Hmm maybe Shinzen Young also makes it on the list?

I agree with all the Tibetans.. when i first got into buddhism, it was Dalai Lama's book i bought. I remember signing up in E-sangha and sratching my head forever on which tradition to choose from. But after tibetan, my guess is Zen is the 2nd most popular, and theravada is the Loser in popularity. I think even Goenka is more popular than theravada.
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Kaitlin Blue, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

Posts: 3 Join Date: 2/8/10 Recent Posts
Why is theravada so unpopular in the states? I would think the high investigation associated with it would be more popular in that society.
Victor Cova, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

Posts: 9 Join Date: 7/12/10 Recent Posts
I was actually looking at that earlier today for a bit, so here come different remarks from what I've gathered:
- There's no pure, atemporal tradition. The buddhism we get now is the result of a few thousand years of interpreting, practicing and reworking what some people said some guy had told them about how to end suffering. In those thousand years, any sort of context has changed, local traditions, including forms of shamanism and christianity (esp since the 19th century) have influenced it. Even the "let's strip it down to the core, to the basics, and take all the fluff away" is historically situated: what we/Ingram tend to consider fluff, like devotional practice, wearing funny costumes or not having sex have been central for many many other buddhists in the past, still is for some, and may still be in the future.
-To be more precise, hinduism taoism and buddhism have had a big impact on European cultures since at least the 16th century with the Chinese Rites scandal in which Jesuit missionaries were condemned for trying to liken Taoist rituals with Christianity. Another big step is the second half of the 19th century, when important philosophers in Europe and the US like Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and some Transcendentalists start reading buddhist texts. At the same time, the Theosophic society develops very rapidly from Russia through Europe to India etc and starts creating a protestant syncretic version of buddhism, with all the ritual and shamanic stuff stripped away; this is the version that appealed to the likes of Crowley and much of the New Age. The Theosophic Society is not only responsible for bringing the stuff to our shores, but also for re-vitalizing it over there, esp in Sri Lanka and India, and they created Krishnamurti.During WW2, the nazis send a tutor for the Dalai Lama, thinking he's the leader of an Aryan race, to make him understand he has to export his stuff and to help him understand what makes our bits of the world tick ( as seen in 7 years in Tibet...)
- Book sthat seem interesting on these topics: One is Himalayan Dialogue, by Stan Royal mumford, on the relationship and mutual influences between Tibetan Buddhism and Nepalese Shamanism, another is Dreams of Power by Bishop on the Western fantasies of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. and the most comprehensive seems to be The Making of Buddhist Modernism by McMahan (available on gigapedia)
-Zizek rants a lot about buddhism and how it fits perfectly with the capitalist hegemony, though he rarely develops it. I remember that he has something argumentative as to why this is so in the Introduction to For They Know Not What They Do. You may want to have a look at that for a more incisive understanding of why we all seem to think buddhism is the shit, though I can't vouch for it as this is a guy who publishes about 4 books every year and with the uneven quality that you may imagine this implies.

Anyways, my oblique answer to your question is: maybe you shouldn't look for a transcendental why but at the historical constellation that has brought us to this point.

Good night, and good luck,

Victor
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Dhatu D Dhamma, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: With all the diff. insight traditions, what sets Buddha apart?

Posts: 5 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
what sets Buddha apart is insight into the three characteristics, namely, impermanence, unsatisfactoriness & not-self

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