Buddhism as a contemplative tradition (1)

Wet Paint, modified 15 Years ago at 4/7/08 9:17 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 4/7/08 9:17 AM

Buddhism as a contemplative tradition (1)

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: Abe_Dunkelheit
Forum: The Big Issues

Although I am not a Buddhist, and relatively new to meditative practice, I have absorbed more literature on meditation than all my Buddhist friends together, who seem to be more interested in questions like whether their cat is enlightened (I kid you not!). I wonder, do Buddhists not read their own literature?!

The first time I realized that Buddhism, essentially, is a contemplative tradition was when I read Alan Wallace’s Balancing the Mind (2005):

“In the Samdhirnirmocanasutra it is said that

*** ALL ***

mundane and supramundane excellences of the Mahayana and Hinayana results of quiescence (samatha) and insight (vipasyana).” (p. 106)

Yet, it came as a complete shock to me when I read Alan Wallace’s disheartening admission on p. 219:

“Since 1970, I have spent many years in Tibetan and Theravada Buddhist centers in Europe and North America. Although training in quiescence is encouraged in a minority of these centers, for the most part it receives little or no emphasis; and

*** I have yet to hear of a single Western Buddhist who as accomplished quiescence ***

as it has been presented here.”

Other quotes from p. 219:

“[T]he achievement of genuine quiescence today among Tibetan Buddhism contemplatives living in exile is not unknown, but is exceptionally rare.”

“Although I learned of hundreds of Tibetan men and women devoting their lives to full-time contemplative practice (…) those who have accomplished quiescence would seem to be very rare at best.”

“My Sri Lankan teacher, the Ven. Anandamaitreya Mahanayakathera, informed me that despite the fact that there are hundreds of Buddhist meditators in numerous hermitages throughout the country, only a small handful had achieved genuine quiescence.”
Wet Paint, modified 15 Years ago at 4/7/08 9:20 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 4/7/08 9:20 AM

RE: Buddhism as a contemplative tradition (1)

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: Abe_Dunkelheit

Further, on p. 221 Alan Wallace makes a mind-boggling statement:


*** the benefits attributed to the achievement of quiescence are modest within the overall framework of the Buddhist path to liberation and enlightenment, ***

they seem to be extraordinary from the perspective of modern psychology and natural science as a whole.”

I mean, you have to read this twice:


And these are the very words of the same very impressive Alan Wallace who is leading The Shamata Project in Santa Barbara.

Interestingly enough, In Calming the Mind (1992, 1995), a text by Gen Lamrimpa, translated by Alan Wallace, it says on p. 137:

“In the context of Sutrayana practice, the understanding arising from meditation does not occur until one has attained samatha. In terms of the Mahayana Five Paths, without shamata it is not possible to attain anything from the medium stage of the Mahayana Path of Accumulation. (…) In the context of the Hinayana Path, without shamata it is not possible to ascend to the Path of Preparation or beyond.”

And on p. 137 Gen Lamrimpa puts it diplomatically, but, of course, we can read between the lines:

“To suggest that no realization can be attained without samatha would be to disparage the realization or attainments of all those who have not attained samatha. That would be disparaging almost everyone in the world, which I would like to avoid.”


I am very happy to have found people like you guys who have an inkling and serious interest in these issues, because I was pretty much on my own in my struggle with these astounding and contradictory quotes in the books I have read.
Nathan I S, modified 15 Years ago at 4/7/08 10:34 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 4/7/08 10:34 AM

RE: Buddhism as a contemplative tradition (1)

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/26/09 Recent Posts
Well, my cats aren't enlightened, unless enlightenment entails regularly demanding canned fish entrails.

I like Alan Wallace's work with the Shamatha Project, but I think the standard he mentions (somewhere there is something about "full time" (i.e., eight hours a day) practice of concentration necessary for "samadhi") is unrealistic. And Lamrimpa's suggestion that "almost [no one] in the world" acheives shamatha is also a ridiculously high standard. There are entire schools (like Ajaan Lee's) that focus on the development of concentration as a means to insight. And there are people who practice concentration almost every day, even in the West.