Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 6 Jun 12 09:28
The WELL has several members who are actively involved in Buddhist practice, and some of those have formed a kind of online sangha in our Buddhist forum, where there are active ongoing discussions about individual practice, schools and movements within Buddhism, Buddhist resources, etc. Our thought was to share some of the knowledge and insight about Buddhism from within that forum by inviting its members to join us at Inkwell.vue for the next couple of weeks. We also expect to hear from WELL Buddhists who may not be active in the forum, but have a Buddhist practice, or at least an interest.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 6 Jun 12 09:40
We can start the conversation by introducing ourselves. I'm Jon Lebkowsky, a longtime denizen of the WELL and cohost of Inkwell.vue, the forum where this conversation's taking place. (In the terminology of the WELL, for those who aren't members, this conversation is a topic, and Inkwell.vue is a conference within which that topic's been started). I've been interested in Buddhism for about 50 years, since I first read about it (Alan Watts and D.T. Suzuki) when I was about twelve. I've never formally engaged with a sangha or studied with a Buddhist teacher, but I've had an off and on practice for several decades and have done much exploring. I can't really say why I haven't made a more formal commitment. I've had friends in zen and Tibetan traditions, and I'm most drawn to the Soto zen teachings of Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi and his many students. After 50 years, I'm just starting to get a sense what Buddhism is about.
Patrick Madden (padlemad) Thu 7 Jun 12 08:31
It was Alan Watts for me, too. "The Way of Zen" was my intro to Buddhism, about 7 years ago, swiftly supplemented by mindfulness meditation. That became a daily thing and it's really been a life-saver. Or perhaps a quality-of-life-saver would be a more accurate description. I'm extremely grateful for it. Now a part of my work is mindfulness training in organisations, something I love doing. It also challenges me to convey mindfulness accessibly, ideally retaining some profundity, in a secular, often commercial context. Looking forward to this discussion!
Pseud Impaired (mitsu) Thu 7 Jun 12 12:42
My first introduction to Buddhism was some 30 years ago, via the famous book by Shunryu Suzuki, _Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind_, which outlines an approach to Zen and practice which I still find very relevant to my practice today. I also practiced a Japanese martial art, Shintaido, at the time, and I found Zen principles were related in large degree to my martial arts practice. About 20 years ago I started to practice Buddhism more formally under the instruction of my current teacher, Steven Tainer, who studied under Tarthang Tulku who at one point appointed him his Dharma heir. Steven teaches from primarily a Buddhist perspective, including not only the Nyingma/Dzogchen teachings of his Tibetan teachers, but also quite a bit from Chan and Zen Buddhism in China and Japan, as well as teachings from Taoist masters he has also studied with. I go on retreat two or three times a year. I tend to take a relatively pragmatic view of Buddhism -- my training is in science and I don't think it's necessary to think in dogmatic terms about religion or spirituality; one reason I was an am attracted to Buddhism is precisely because it is rather compatible with modern views. There is mythology associated with historical Buddhism but it is neither necessary nor particularly important to "believe" in such things --- in Zen and Dzogchen the key is insight and practice, not "belief". So, that's the general perspective I start from in this conversation.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 7 Jun 12 14:44
One thing we hoped to discuss as part of this conversation is whether Buddhism is actually a religion. I've never thought of it that way, rather seeing it as a practice that is neither theistic nor faith-based.
(fom) Thu 7 Jun 12 15:12
I think I first encountered Buddhism via Paul Reps's "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones" in 1969. Then I read a little D. T. Suzuki and some Shunryu Suzuki ("Zen Mind"). Various other miscellaneous reading over the years, then in the 80s I studied zen with Ekai Korematsu in Berkeley and at the Soko-ji temple in SF, and in the 90s studied Tibetan Buddhism -- a couple of traditions -- with teachers including Tharchin Rinpoche and the controversial Ngakpa Chogyam Rinpoche and some Kagyu lamas. Oops I forgot Trungpa, whom I saw speak in 1978; didn't study with him but read some of his books. You can hardly talk about Buddhism in America and not mention Trungpa! (I'm not exactly interested in trying to define "whether Buddhism is actually a religion" because that gets circular very fast; but I am curious about what to say to friends who just assume that Buddhism is a religion because it has priests, incense, bells, temples, robes, rituals, statues, devotional practices, prayers, gods, and so forth. Maybe it's a nontheistic religion? Dunno. I never know what to say. I don't discuss Buddhism with non-Buddhist friends, basically, and they're not interested anyway, so it's not a big issue. But it's an interesting one to me.) (And why aren't they interested? Because they think it's a religion!) On a whole other subject, just to be clear, I do not call myself a Buddhist. Or even a buddhist. Even so, I am a cohost of the Buddhism conference. Go figure.
. (wickett) Thu 7 Jun 12 15:19
Looking forward to this discussion!
Patrick Madden (padlemad) Thu 7 Jun 12 15:21
A very complex question, I think. What makes a religion a religion? Is it practice, beliefs, ethics, a pedagogy of spiritual realisation? Answering it about so-called Buddhism is also complicated by the heterogeneity of Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism is godless, Tibetan Buddhism has deities (though not a prime mover) and a panoply of magical beings, while Pure Land Buddhism is not quite theistic but has faith as a very important element. Someone -- it could have been Keiji Nishitani -- regarded the defining feature of religion as that which speaks to the deepest longings of the human heart. I like that.
Miguel Marcos (miguel) Thu 7 Jun 12 16:11
I'm looking forward to hearing from everyone on this, too. I'm at or near the bottom of the proverbial totem pole regarding Buddhism and practice. It's been an on-again, off-again thing with me in the latter part of my 51 conventional human years on this planet. Nevertheless, throughout well over a decade on The Well, I've always followed the topic. Sometimes for guidance, sometimes for help, sometimes just to keep a hold on a thread of some sort. On the main issue in this conversation, I just feel, as a Catholic-raised individual, Buddhism is a philosophy. A philosophy that can be converted into a religion but, for me, it remains a philosophy, a source of wisdom and guidance for living day to day. Just keep in mind: This is the viewpoint from the bottom of the totem pole!
Chris Marti (cmarti) Thu 7 Jun 12 16:12
My name is Chris Marti and I practice meditation in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism, specifically vipassana meditation. I've been doing this practice for about 15 years. I am also a part of a movement among some meditation practitioners that is called "pragmatic dharma," pragmatic because it values the process, methods and "technology" of meditation practice over the parts of Buddhism that might appear to most people to be part of a religion. I don't usually discuss Buddhism or meditation with friends who are not meditation practitioners, although over the years more and more of the people I'm close to are meditators. Like seeks like, I suppose. When folks ask me about meditation I don't discus it as a Buddhist thing but as a process, a way to investigate the nature of being human and the mind. I, too, am attracted to Buddhism because of its generally non-dogmatic leanings and because it has helped me to gain a deeper understanding of what I am.
Joe Flower (bbear) Thu 7 Jun 12 21:03
I like that: "pragmatic dharma." Makes sense. That picks out what appeals to me about Buddhism. It is absolutely reality-based. At least my take on it is. I agree about the "is it a religion" question. Fruitless and circular: Define "religion," and you have your answer. But it is a problem, not for us, but for our dealings with other people, who make huge assumptions about what Buddhism is. I saw a survey some time back by some reputable group (might have been Pew) on attitudes. It basically asked Americans about what group they hated the most. #1 was no surprise: Muslims. But #2 was Buddhists.
Gary Gach (ggg) Thu 7 Jun 12 21:12
_/|_ palms joined My name is Gary Gach. I came to the Way of the Buddha relatively young -- thanks to a vision when I was 8 -- which was then clarified for me, three years later, in ... The Way of Zen. Being Jewish, had the same vision occurred today, there'd be more of a commonplace language within Judaism within which to speak of it, but since there wasn't, I've resonated the Dharma, ever since, as my path. I host two mindfulness practice groups in San Francisco, in the tradition of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh. This weekend, I've some prior commitments, so I'll be coming in to the conversation after that, 'tho I'll add a post, or riposte, before then, about religion. I'm very grateful to Jon for convening this Vue. Though it's ostensibly an Inkless.Vue, in full disclosure, I must admit I was once a guest of Inkwell.Vue, for a book about Buddhism I'd written an experience of clarification and grounding, as well as a few drops of unmitigated amazement and joy. _/|_ palms joined
Gary Gach (ggg) Thu 7 Jun 12 21:28
<slippage> I didn't know that survey, Joe, and would be curious to hear if you ever find a source. Anyways, the survey that nails an essential fact was the relatively recent poll by Wuthnow & Cadge. Rather than ask, "Are you Buddhist?" -- they'd asked instead if the respondent had ever heard or read teachings of the Buddha which they took to heart as a lasting influence in their life. One in eight, said yes. The religion question does tend to be a question asked for the sake of those who presumably identify as nonBuddhist. (You know the difference between Buddhists, and nonBuddhists? NonBuddhists think there's a difference.) ¿ Labels are for cans, not people ? I tend to answer much as has been voiced, above. Two years ago, I tried parsing the possibilities -- religion, psychology, science, educational system, etc -- in print, to see what I think : http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Buddhism-a-Religion? It might still bring a smile today. Of course, this is from a Western perspective; in the East, the majority of Buddhism is a monastic tradition. But here I tend to locate the practice within the great, open secret of the past 15-20 years: namely, the emergence of an unnamed "contemplative practice movement," of those who've lifted spirituality up from out of the pews and into daily life. That said, I recall being in a panel with a wonderful Australian monk, Bhante Tejadhammo, who, when asked if Buddhism is a religion, replied, "by all means, yes!" He said it certainly fulfills the basic requisites for a religion in terms of providing spiritual fulfillment, meaningfulness, orientation in relation to one's self and to other human beings and to the cosmos.
Joe Flower (bbear) Thu 7 Jun 12 22:55
Apparently the survey that had Buddhists as the second-most hated religious group in America was cited in American Grace by David Campbell and Bowling Alone author Robert D. Putnam.
Renshin Bunce (renshin-b) Thu 7 Jun 12 23:06
I'm ordained as a Zen priest. I work as a hospice chaplain. I lived at Tassajara, San Francisco Zen Center's monastery, for three years, and at Zen Center's city temple for four more years. I kept an online journal (a blog from the times before there were blogs) in the Life conference while I was in residence at Zen Center. I've been on the Well for 18 years and feel a great deal of gratitude for the connections I've found here. I'm surprised to read that people "hate" Buddhism. In my work, my meetings with patients are all non-denominational. I don't teach Buddhism, or even meditation, to my patients. When I do tell people that I'm a Buddhist they generally react favorably, but this is Northern California. One thing that continues to amaze me is the level of ignorance about Buddhism, even among my fellow chaplains who are seminary-trained. People who understand that there are many flavors of Christians seem to think that all streams of Buddhism are exactly the same. And the one question I hear the most is whether I eat meat. The line I use to explain Buddhism when people ask is to quote the Dalai Lama who said (on a bumper sticker I saw long ago) "My religion is kindness." These days, I don't like to write about my practice much. I head a sitting group in San Carlos, and increasingly think all there really is to do is sit. When I was living at Tassajara, I asked the head of practice there, Are all these activities -- the rituals, the robes, the classes -- really just designed to keep us interested so we'll keep coming back for more zazen? He looked at me for a minute, then smiled and said Yes.
Patrick Madden (padlemad) Fri 8 Jun 12 02:14
No-one understands us! > absolutely reality-based Inasmuch as there's a base there... yeah.
Chris Marti (cmarti) Fri 8 Jun 12 05:02
Lately, wherever I go, I run into meditators and Buddhists. I don't know why this is happening so much recently, but it is. Maybe I'm just more attuned to them these days, maybe there are indeed more of them. But I have yet to run into anyone who "hates" Buddhism. I'm curious about how others deal with their meditation practice as it relates to loved ones, co-workers and friends. Do you make it known and discuss it openly? Do you hide it until someone presses you on it? Obviously, you can't effectively hide a meditation practice from your spouse or children, but.... I find people tend to be genuinely interested. You?
Eric Rawlins (woodman) Fri 8 Jun 12 07:02
I agree that the label discussion is pointless. A comparative religion prof of mine once said that, in the West, if you tell someone you're of a religion they're not familiar with, they will ask, "What do you believe?" In the East, they're more likely to ask, "What do you do?" For my money, the second question is the more interesting, since Christianity provides endless examples of the fact that what you believe has little to do with how you behave.
Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Fri 8 Jun 12 07:44
I think <woodman> is right. It is very difficult to find the edges of any religion that shares a porous border with tribal customs and social norms. Judaism, for example, is so intertwined with custom that it's impossible to sort out where one begins and the other ends. Does God really have a problem with Jews eating pork, or was that a social convention that was woven into the religion? And so on. I do think Buddhism is a religion, but there are strong elements of philosophy too, and I would never want to argue the case that it's definitively religious. Here's a more specific question: what does surviving the death process look like in Buddhism? (Great conversation so far!)
Scott Underwood (esau) Fri 8 Jun 12 08:16
Sorry to skip Adam's question, but I'll mention the attitude of my former wife, who was raised Catholic (as I was) and found her way back to other forms of Christianity after we'd been married for many years. Her religion was a comfort to her, and conversations we had about non-Christian religions never seem to get through -- her response was, essentially, "God said it, I believe it, that's final." Buddhism was lumped in with other non-Jesus traditions as variously misguided or evil, despite my explanations that it was fundamentally different, that there was no God involved, and that in fact she could continue her Christian practices and beliefs. Even the idea that prayer and meditation had many parallels was rejected. Which is to say, a great many people are never going to *hear* the differences well enough to understand them, and fundamentalists will reject explanations outright as a sort of trick to steer believers off the true path.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Fri 8 Jun 12 08:23
Sticky question. And I don't think you'll find an answer that suits all Buddhists. There looks to me to be a continuum of takes with one end being a belief in reincarnation and the other end thinking it's a meaningless question, and that it's more useful to concern one's self with the quality of now. I agree with Eric that what one does is more telling than what one believes. Or what one says one believes.
Renshin Bunce (renshin-b) Fri 8 Jun 12 08:34
As a chaplain, I'm sometimes asked what happens to us when we die. My usual answer is that I don't know because I haven't died yet.
Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Fri 8 Jun 12 08:45
Thanks. I think it's a more direct way of understanding what Buddhism is. Christianity, by contrast, has a very simple and straightforward answer about how to survive the death process. That's not philosophy, it's religion.
Paul Belserene (paulbel) Fri 8 Jun 12 08:46
I first encountered Buddhism when I attended the Black Crown ceremony led by the 16th Karmapa in 1974. As a former Catholic the horns and rituals seemed very familiar and "religious". I'm now a student in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition and I'm authorized to teach in what is called the Way of Shambhala. Having practiced and studied for a little while now I'd say that the key think to discuss is not the world "religion", but the word "theism." Whatever buddhism is, it isn't theistic, and what that means is that it doesn't call on any outside agent. You've already got all you need. And there isn't any part of you that has to be removed or repressed to attain salvation. As Chogyam Trungpa said, we are basically good. We may be dirty, and we may need to take a shower to clean off what's accumulated. But under that dirt is basic goodness.
Paul Belserene (paulbel) Fri 8 Jun 12 08:53
some slips. I'm not a scholar, but I think that the notion of "reincarnation" is somewhat simplified in popular discourse. And I'm pretty sure the buddha avoided answering questions about what happens when you die. The notion of rebirth is somewhat different, as it has more to do with being "born again" right now, than with a self passing from one body to another. That self is problematic in buddhism, of course, because it doesn't exist in the first place. What would pass from body to body then? It's our primordial nature, which we share with all other living creatures.
Joe Flower (bbear) Fri 8 Jun 12 08:55
Reincarnation was not something the Buddha came up with. It was something that was assumed by most people in the culture of the time. To the extent that he talked about it all, it was to say that we don't know what happens, and then to give his particular twist to a popular notion.
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