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Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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6/12/15 2:36 PM
I'm curious about opinions on ol' Geoff. I like the guy, I listen to his dhamma talks frequently. If nothing else, his voice is a delight to hear, not unlike Orson Wells or Donald Sutherland. Yet, I'm a bit uncertain about his take on the path, the practice methodology, and awakening. for one thing, he focuses almost exclusively on the breath. I'm not saying it's wrong (how could I know, it's early days for me still). He also describes awakening/Buddhahood/Arahantship as something that sounds quite mundane, just exceptionally ordinary. And perhaps that is so, again, how would I know?

The idea of enlightenment has been built up for a very long time as something extraordinary, as in extra ordinary. That it frees a person from all desire, creates a state of contentment so profound that one wants for nothing, and has little or no desire for much. And supposedly allows for knowledge of past lives, as well, anchors one in the present so that one sees themselves, every action, every thought every event experienced as it happens, and from a detached point of view. That one sees themselves with equanimity and as if observing themselves from outside themselves.

This doesn't sound very ordinary or mundane. This sounds extraordinary, if not sublime and exalted.

There's been some contention and debate about his interpretations of the suttas. Particulalry his understanding of not self, and the three characteristics, which he insists (and may be right) that they are the three *perceptions*.

If he's right, then the the path, and its succesful consummation aren't the deep penetration of reality, the seeing through the illusory nature of reality and self I'd understood it to be. Than. Bhikkhu states that it isn't no self, but *not* self. Yet the little insight I've had, my actual experience appears to show that there really isn't a self here. It's nothing more than an idea, a thought, married to experience and memory. And yet I've had the experience of insight of not self, how every experience, every thing that contacts a sense door isn't happening to someone. There is just rising and passing sensation, and it can't be owned, claimed or controlled.

I'm really unsure of what to make of TB's interpretations, but I sure do like his style, and what he has to say, even if it doesn't jive with my little experience up to this point. His ideas would have one believe that the path is exceptionally simple, that the practice is utterly ordinary, and the end point is just a very simple freedom, with a self intact, but completely detached.

This isn't a bad thing, but I wonder if if this is the case.

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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6/12/15 4:00 PM as a reply to Darrell.
This doesn't sound very ordinary or mundane. This sounds extraordinary, if not sublime and exalted.

You may not like my answer, but it's both. Awakening is an amazing experience and it reveals the way things are perceived in a very deep and important way. At the same time, what it reveals is that everything we experience really is mundane. "It" (our experience) is just what it is, always and forever.

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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6/12/15 11:51 PM as a reply to Darrell.
He also describes awakening/Buddhahood/Arahantship as something that sounds quite mundane, just exceptionally ordinary.

Where does he say this?  I'm not trying to be challenging, I'm legitimately curious because I haven't found this idea in any of his writings, but it is in line with my personal experience (a subtle sense that Chris Marti was also getting at).
I'm curious about opinions on ol' Geoff.

I love Thanissaro.  One of his most important functions in my practice is to fill in some gaps about sila.  He's really good at explaining some basic concepts such as generosity and renunciation, and how these things really do have purely pragmatic functions (one creates situations which will lead to selfish desire so that one may observe the 3 C's in them).  He also has interesting writing on the culture of alms ("The Economy of Gifts").  There is a great write-up on the Brahma-Viharas (metta=friendliness, not loving-kindness).  There is also "The Wings of Awakening", which is super-epic in how it talks about how the various Buddhist-lists can be fractalized and recombined.

Long live Thanissaro!



RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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6/13/15 12:28 AM as a reply to Noah.
Noah,
I wish I could point to something specific, but I've listened to so many of his talks from his website, and on youtube, I've lost track. And it may well be the way my mind has summed so much of what I've heard him say. If I happen to recall talks where this is addressed, or even just referenced, I'll let you know.

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Answer
6/13/15 4:56 AM as a reply to Darrell.
re: Darrell (6/12/15 2:36 PM)
" I'm curious about opinions on ol' Geoff. … He … describes awakening/Buddhahood/Arahantship as something that sounds quite mundane, just exceptionally ordinary…"

" His ideas would have one believe that the path is exceptionally simple, that the practice is utterly ordinary, and the end point is just a very simple freedom, with a self intact, but completely detached."


Look more deeply.

Than-Geof, as everybody, including G.Buddha, uses interpretations, sees from a perspective conditioned by individual particularity. Just as my interpretation of his teachings differ from yours.

Among native English (American)-speaking teachers, he's clearly one of the best. Not that he's "superior" or has the only real truth, but is very well-versed in the Pali Sutta-s, and in an oral tradition dhamma interpreting them – i.e. his intensive training in a single lineage (Thai Forest: Ajahn Mun -> Ajahn Lee -> Ajahn Fuang -> Ajahn Thanissaro). And he's very intelligent, well-educated and learned, particularly in cultural history.

I've read many books, articles of his; attended 4 or 5 day-long lectures; listened to recorded talks for literally hundreds of hours. (Transferred his 55 "Basics" and other talks to cassette tapes and listened to them in the car while commuting – 2 or 3 times through the complete series, over several years.)

My having trained in samatha in another tradition (Burmese PaAuk), some of his intrepretations (e.g."whole body breathing") don't work in my practical experience; and I don't need them as I have well working methods in those (relatively few) areas.* But on the whole, say 80% of what he says, proves uniquely valuable. Having listened so much to those short talks (8-12 minute monastery evening talks), I've actually memorized large parts of his points and reasoning. It's like music – the more you know, the better you can listen and / or compose orimprovise. (A point he himself makes in a couple of places.)

I would recommend reading (if you've not already):
"Into the Stream"– summary of the canonical material on sotapatti;
"The Shape of Suffering"– on the paticcasamuppada / 12 links of co-origination;
"The Paradox of Becoming"– hard to characterize, but ends with extensive material on Nibbana.
Article on "The Power of Judement" in Tricycle a couple of years ago (available on-line http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/power_of_judgment.html).

And all-day talks (at IMC, Redwood City, CA; MP3 files down-loadable from AudioDharma.org http://www.audiodharma.org/teacher/16/):
4/28/2012 – on Papanca (includes, in the QA part, what I take to be a 1st person account of sotapatti – which is not in his book (1st above));
4/26/2014 – "Romancing the Buddha"; and intro meditation & talk on 4/21/2014; cultural historical background to the nature of much Western modernist Buddhism – Than-Goef's version of explaining the "mushroom dharma culture", if you will.

My guess is that maybe that he can express things so clearly and logically, that they may seem easy – e.g. the awakening issue; but I've never gotten the impression from him that realizing the path is easy, or the result mundane. It's just he has a very clear understanding of it and expresses it well.

"… his understanding of not self, and the three characteristics, which he insists (and may be right) that they are the three *perceptions*."

That's from his mentor, Ajahn Fuang, who he quotes saying (paraphrasing) "Don't blame it (anicca, dukkha, anatta) on the world/'reality' out there; the problem is in the mind [how it relates to and construes what it experiences]". He said that understanding, seeing the tilakkhana (3 'marks') at work, as well as jhana-s, and much if not all of the other path stuff are "perceptual" attainments – changes in cognition.

That understanding is actually a rather subtle, Abhidhamma-like point. Than-Geof himself discourages students from going into abhidhamma or commentarial stuff (e.g. Visudhimagga – I once asked specifically about that). But his understanding matches a lot of that stuff. I think it's just his lineage emphasizes using only the Suttanta canon. He's not trained in those parts of the Pali Canon (though he is expert at not only the Suttanta, but also the Vinaya.)

He's not a god, not a Buddha, but we're fortunate to have him around. And his approach may well not suit everyone. His tradition is quite dissimilar from the Burmese Mahasi approach that underlies much of DhO. I, for one, don't see that as conflict; rather as two illustrious facets on a single diamond.

*In one of those short talks he tells the meditators: "If you've got good meditation going on your own [here, tonight], do it and ignore this talk."

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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6/13/15 11:22 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
If he's right, then the the path, and its succesful consummation aren't the deep penetration of reality, the seeing through the illusory nature of reality and self I'd understood it to be. Than. Bhikkhu states that it isn't no self, but *not* self. Yet the little insight I've had, my actual experience appears to show that there really isn't a self here. It's nothing more than an idea, a thought, married to experience and memory. And yet I've had the experience of insight of not self, how every experience, every thing that contacts a sense door isn't happening to someone. There is just rising and passing sensation, and it can't be owned, claimed or controlled.

Right.

And this, I think, is your key question. My experience is that everything is illusory given that everything is mediated by mind, created from sensory data by mind, interpreted by mind. So the self is just one more "thing" that is like all those other things. Therefore the insight that there is no separately existing, permanent self is only part of the picture and Than. Bhikkhu is right to state it that way. If the whole of experience is illusory in the way I've described then everything, just as it is, is both "real" and "not real" in that we still experience all objects both as objects and as illusory. Through the awakening process we can realize that the amazing and the mindane are the same thing. Also as Than. Bhikkhu states.




RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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6/13/15 3:02 PM as a reply to CJMacie.
Thank you Chris Macie. I *will* continue to look more deeply, and have been. There's something about Thanissaro that I REALLY like and respect. And I am beginning to see that he is very subtle. He doesn't just spell it all out and hand it to you on a plate the way typical western Buddhist teacher tends to do. I have been putting many of his talks on CD and listening to them in the car as I run errands, etc. I burn talks from countless other teachers, and almost invariably, toss them in the recycle bin. I waste a lot of CDs. Thanissaro is one of three exceptions to that

Than-Geof, as everybody, including G.Buddha, uses interpretations, sees from a perspective conditioned by individual particularity. Just as my interpretation of his teachings differ from yours.

That seems to raise the concern that we need to make sure we're interpreting what we hear and read correctly, otherwise we're at risk of traveling down the wrong and/or dead path. It would be helpful to have a qualified teacher, but after extensive searching, I have to find one in the greater Atlanta area.

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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6/13/15 2:57 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti, I wasn't aware of it when I wrote, but I think you're right, that was the heart of my question. Something else I didn't realize at the time I wrote the OP were the assumptions I bring to this. I have long assumed that awakening was a state of fully seeing through reality, literally, past physical form down to the energetic substrate that underlies all things, and possibly beyond that to a voidness. This is ultimately a result of an experience I had when I was sixteen, that showed me this very thing. So my assumption has been of awakening something a kin to the scene near the end of "The Matrix" where Neo sees ultimate reality, and is able to perceive the code that the virtual world arises from. I've seen reality as a virtual world for decades. And consequently, I've thought awakening to be a seeing through this false world all the way to a nothing that is *no thing*.


So the self is just one more "thing" that is like all those other things
This idea is one that most everyone seems to agree upon. I've heard it expressed from Shaila Cathrine and Culadasa as well. The self we believe ourselves to be is just an object of mind. My question for you is, if you don't mind, what did you do do reach the goal of the path? Did you take time the way it has long been decribed, or did you find it be a quicker path the way pragmatic dharma appears to describe?



RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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6/13/15 4:36 PM as a reply to Darrell.
 My question for you is, if you don't mind, what did you do do reach the goal of the path?

You can read all about what I did here:

http://awakenetwork.org/magazine/page/2

That is the online journal I kept for most of the process. It was Kenneth Folk who talked me into posting my progress as I went along. There are seven installments that I cleaned up and posted as articles on Awakenetwork.org.

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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6/13/15 4:58 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
So my assumption has been of awakening something a kin to the scene near the end of "The Matrix" where Neo sees ultimate reality, and is able to perceive the code that the virtual world arises from. I've seen reality as a virtual world for decades. And consequently, I've thought awakening to be a seeing through this false world all the way to a nothing that is *no thing*.

This is quite accurate but only metaphorically. You/me/we will always be human beings so we will always see the world with human senses. It won't look, sound, or feel different. What changes is our relationship to our experience of the world and our assumptions about how those experiences are constructed. What struck me immediately upon awakening was the juxtaposition of the old assumptions and my new perceptions. It was the same place, yet at the same time very, very different. I had expected something akin to what you describe - a Matrix like ability to see a different reality. What I actually got was unexpected but wonderful beyond imagination.

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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6/13/15 10:56 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
You can read all about what I did here:

http://awakenetwork.org/magazine/page/2

Chris, thank you for linking this, I didn't know about it.  Very relevant, helpful material.

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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6/14/15 7:46 PM as a reply to Darrell.
re: Darrell (6/13/15 3:02 PM as a reply to Chris J Macie.)
"… He [Than-Geof] doesn't just spell it all out and hand it to you on a plate the way typical western Buddhist teacher tends to do…."
That's apparently from of his lineage. He points out that the Thai 'Forest' monks (at least the branch he trained in) teach and value figuring things out for oneself. (A recorded talk of his named "Warrior Knowledge"– as distinct from "scribe knowledge" -- goes in to this.) And he emphasizes that this was an important part of the Buddha's teaching strategy – not to spell-out the all the details of exactly how to practice, but to give his students "heuristics", criteria by which to judge for themselves whether what they're doing is on the path or not; one could say using wisdom rather than just rote learning.

For instance, Than-Geof cites the Buddha's teaching to his son, Rahula, about watching what you do before you do it (your intention), while you do it, and the results afterwards in terms of whether it actually reduces dukkha or not, and then carefully learning from mistakes and correcting what you do next time. That talk I mentioned – "The Power of Judgment" -- deals with this.

There's apparently a sort of overall stylistic difference between the Thai Forest traditions, e.g. that inherited by Than-Geof, and the Burmese traditions, e.g. the Mahasi school, which more heavily influences MCTB and a lot on DhO. The Thai monks, historically, turned away from the political scene (i.e. both the cultural influcence of Western colonialism and aspects of Buddhism as a state-religion), going off into the forests on their own to resurrect a more original sense of the Buddha's teachings. Burmese Buddhism, on the other hand, is a more strongly organized and regulated sort of official state-religion; notables like Sayadaws Mahasi and Pandita built their careers by (in addition to trainingand practice) passing thorugh a system of training and state-run exminations, becoming, in effect, something like state-recognized 'officials', at least as I understand it. The style of strict discipline reflected in the schools such as Mahasi and Pa Auk reflect this. As Than-Geof points out, the Thai Forest monks are more like do-it-yourself loners.

Another aspect of this difference is the strong emphasis on Abhidhamma in Burma (Myanmar). I asked Ven. U. Jagara once about how to under take further study ofAbhidhamma. He replied, I think half-seriously, you have to go to Burma. "Sayadaw" means, among other things, mastery (20+years study and practice) of Abhidhamma and commentarial (Visudhimagga) traditions. Jagara said that, for example, school children in Burma are routinely taught to memorize, can recite, certain parts, lists from Abhidhamma tradition. On the other hand, Than-Geof, I think reflecting his Thai teachers, does not recommend Abhidhamma or Visudhimagga study. He says just study the Suttanta (sutta-s).

I, for one, find both traditions have much to offer – one doesn't have to strictly "choose sides"(unless, perhaps, one goes to Thailand or Burma for concentrated study with teachers there), but one can learn from both. Than-Geof's "figure it out for yourself" approach is useful (and one could say a traditionally "American" sort of approach); and the Burmese (Abdhidhamma) systematization and categorization method can provide a complementary supportive perspective. It also depends on one's own inclination and skills at using one or the other methodological style.

"It would be helpful to have a qualified teacher, but after extensive searching, I have to find one in the greater Atlanta area."

Than-Geof's "Power-of-Judgment" talk also focuses on how both a student and his/her teacher should continuously monitor (judge), by the results, whether the workingr elationship is productive or not. He cites Buddha's list of qualities to look for in a teacher.

P.S. re the 'no-' / 'not-self' issue, one of Than-Geof's day-longs at IMC (May 2, 2009 -- that I attended and is recorded at AudioDharma.org) was on just that topic.

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Answer
6/14/15 10:59 PM as a reply to CJMacie.
Funny coincidence. I was just listening to that "Power Of Judgement" talk on my drive home tonight. The sequence about the Buddha's talk with Rahula, about intention really struck me.

It's fortunate that we have the internet and other resources that are available today. I will likely never be able to afford to go to IMC and similar places. And to put everything aside and go to Thailand, Burma and the like, those days are behind me. I could have done those things when I was a kid. But now, with a wife of 20+ years, and a young child, that's out of the question. Not without causing harm, at least. And at worst, damaging relationships.

I'm sure you understood what I wrote, in spite of the typo. I've done quite a bit of looking for a teacher here in and around Atlanta. I haven't found any teachers that seem like the real deal. There is the Tibetan Buddhist organization associated with Emory University, but they want fairly large chunks of money for what they offer, and I've never been keen on Tibetan Buddhism.

Anyhow, if I understood Than Geoff correctly, what he outlines in the "Power Of Judgement" that with the means for sensitivity and discernment he describes, we can correctly lead ourselves on the path, without the aid of a teacher. It's not my preference, but it appears to be the only choice. And we can all name at least one person who succesfully led themselves down the path to a succesful culmination.

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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6/15/15 1:13 AM as a reply to Noah.
Where does he say this?  I'm not trying to be challenging, I'm legitimately curious because I haven't found this idea in any of his writings, but it is in line with my personal experience (a subtle sense that Chris Marti was also getting at).

Sotapanna is fish sauce. -Ajahn Chah


I'm curious about opinions on ol' Geoff.

Overall awesome guy! Extremely intelligent, especially in dealing with people..
Probably the healthiest (mentally) person I've ever met.
I mistakingly thought he was going to be kind of uptight and dry, but I got hit with a reality check when I went down there..
He's just really committed and takes his responsibilities very seriously... He really helped me out with restraining my speech and seeing how much energy I needlessly invest into conversations. I even asked him if I could stay there to ordain under him, but he said that there was already too many people on the waiting list.. I asked why and he said it was because the growth of the monastery needs to be regulated so that it stays an exceptional place for practice. He was kind enough to suggest a couple other teachers to me, and surprisingly one of them was a Maha Nikaya monk.

Plus Metta has guacamole as part of the meal every day, and he likes peanut butter sandwiches
There is a great write-up on the Brahma-Viharas (metta=friendliness, not loving-kindness). +1

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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6/15/15 9:11 AM as a reply to Darrell.
re: Darrell (6/14/15 10:59 PM as a reply to Chris J Macie.)
"… if I understood Than Geoff correctly, what he outlines in the "Power Of Judgement" that with the means for sensitivity and discernment he describes, we can correctly lead ourselves on the path, without the aid of a teacher…."
Precisely. Ultimate one's only refuge is the dhamma, one's only refuge is oneself (paraphrasing some sutta where these two aspects are considered identical).

But, as you note, we've got today unprecendented access the live/oral teaching aspect – from youtube videos and audios. Some videos of TG (my abbreviated form of 'Than-Geof') are there. There was a series (an "online retreat") at the Tricycle website.

AND you can call him on the phone and talk to him. The number, hours are listed on the Metta Monastery website. When he's not travelling, he sits there an hour or so nightly answering the phone. All those freely offered books, articles, audios, constantly travelling and teaching, and at the phone – he makes a pretty good example of renunciation and dedication.

And there are other experienced (in a range of areas) teachers who use on-line facilities (but few of them 'freely given'). Some possibly useful depending on one's inclinations. Hunting out and deciding could be tricky, but then again, that stuff TG offers on judging a teacher can be put into practice – checking it out to see for yourself if it works.

RE: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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6/15/15 11:50 PM as a reply to CJMacie.
AND you can call him on the phone and talk to him. The number, hours are listed on the Metta Monastery website. When he's not travelling, he sits there an hour or so nightly answering the phone. All those freely offered books, articles, audios, constantly travelling and teaching, and at the phone – he makes a pretty good example of renunciation and dedication

Whoa. That's truly heavy. I have a few questions that really need an answer. I'm going to think well on this, and may well decide to call him. But I want to think well about it first, and make sure I'm not wasting his time.

I have to admit that I really feel that giving freely of what one has spiritually is a strong indicator of their level of attainment, and depth of their sincerity. I've encountered over the years individuals with a range of gifts, and all of them give freely. It seems to be the true spiritual currency. I appreciate your suggestion. To be able to speak to someone, even if via Skype, etc, is the next best thing if I can't meet with them personally. I'm going to begin researching in that area. Thanks for the help.