"Not My Buddhism"

A few years back I read Bhikkhu Bodhi’s “In the Words Of The Buddha”. Shortly afterward, I was perusing reviews of the book on goodreads.com.

One reviewer hated it. She had been introduced to Buddhism through meditation books, I’m guessing through the IMS crowd. Kornfield, Brack, etc. Maybe Thich Nhat Hanh. She found the book dry, unrelatable to her, and “not her Buddhism”.

A few days ago on another Buddhist forum someone with a similar background used almost the exact same phrase.

I can understand where they were coming from. I was introduced to Buddhism through atheist philosophy professors and started to read the suttas in the 90s. I got a shock as well.

There seems to be a gulf with the “cool”, contemporary life relevance, low BS Buddhism people get introduced to through mediation and mindfulness books versus the very “religulous” sounding prose in the suttas.

When I have read some suttas, I was able to understand where the suttas was coming from by the benefit of meditation experiences. It just seems that those observations through meditation were verbalized in the worst possible way, the most unflattering way, the worst language.

My hope is that the gulf with other suttas is that way for similar reason, the choice of language, maybe needing a better context with which to be understood.

So, what do you think?

What do you think is responsible for the gap between meditation books and the suttas, the gap that makes people say “not my Buddhism” ?

How can Buddhist writers fill that gap, so that people who read their books will not feel like they have encountered something else when looking at the suttas for the first time?


You know, I also totally see where people are coming from with that, but for me, the suttas made buddhism for me. The genius of it all really became apparent to me in a way I had never experienced before, and I think the language is profound and often beautiful in its own way. I was introduced to Buddhism pretty much through the suttas so maybe I’m biased, but I remember one of the first ones I read spoke about the 7 factors of awakening; and I just remember experiencing directly the truth of it, how it all just made perfect sense, that this could really work. I think the reason people say “not my buddhism” is because they don’t even realize what the Buddha truly taught. For example, it’s pretty crazy how few “buddhists” know that pretty much the whole thing is disenchantment and dispassion. It reminds me of SN20.7, which I recently mentioned on another thread. It talks about people getting caught up with other embellished forms of the teachings that don’t really teach what was truly important in the mind of the Buddha.


As a Mahayana Buddhist, I generally find the Mahayana sutras more interesting to read than the Pali suttas, and I feel that they speak more to me as an individual.

I also happen to believe that the same essential concepts are taught in both the Pali and the Mahayana scriptures.

I’m not really interested in reading meditation books, but I get a great deal of enjoyment and insight from reading scriptures like the Lotus Sutra.

Can you give some examples of this? I’d like to avoid this if possible!

Well, if someone’s thinking about “my” Buddhism, then I would suggest that by definition they’re not ready for transcendent and transformational teachings. Most people approach Buddhism as they do anything else, a little balm to ease their journey through life. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Transformation is a rare and dangerous thing, and life is mostly lived in smaller gestures. You can’t force these things. But when that big existential crisis hits, and someone does start to question the very roots of their values and their life, the transformational teachings of the Buddha are ready to serve as a guide in the trackless wastes.


I have nothing against people practicing Buddhism in different ways. I only have a problem when Western converts to Buddhism, who are into Buddhism mostly for meditation alone, look down on Buddhists in Asian countries, who take part in traditional Buddhist practices like chanting and devotionalism, for being “too religious” or “folk Buddhist.”


How can one convert to Buddhism and take meditation alone? The path is eightfold! :slight_smile:

I reckon both extremes miss the point of that the Buddha recommended us to use our time with…


It feels a bit daunting to be asked recall such things from all the suttas I have read over the years. Pop quiz pressure!

I think a good way to look at overall is that many people come to Buddhism long after having gotten fed up with the religions they were raised in. When they decide to read the Theravada suttas they encounter similar sounding vocabulary.

Sure. Well, if you come across anything, let us know.

I was pretty lucky, because although being raised hardcore born-again christian, and having left the faith, totally unwilling to commit myself to anything even remotely like it, I came across AN3.65. When I read that the Buddha not only did not ask for blind devotion, or baseless faith, but rather railed against developing your mind and spirituality that way; well already I knew that this was something unlike any other “religion” I had seen before. Maybe the trick here is to know what suttas are best for first introducing someone to the Dhamma. I really can’t, in good conscience, ever suggest that there is a better way than the texts themselves, but as I said, there is certainly an order to which they are shown that might help in easing them in to the rest.


Nothing can do!

This is one of the most stable features of spiritual/religious practice; the inability of practitioners to understand and coexist with varying interpretations and practises across the same tradition or doctrine. It is because of the role “faith” plays in it, and must do. Reading a history of any religion will show it beyond doubt: aversion, deep and vibrant aversion, against other different ways.

So I don’t think the problem is in suttas or writers, there is no objective problem here that one could mend. The problem is evidently in the aversion of the reviewer of venerable Bodhi’s book. And whatever you succeed in changing externally, that aversion will last inwardly and will never fail in finding yet another object to condemn. I think it is a sure part of the deal. In just the same way faulty physical contact and making penalties can be avoided only in a hypothetical football game, but never in a real one!

The Sufis, though, have excelled in this area. One of my favorite Sufi phrases, a motto in fact, says:

"There are as many ways to truth,
As there are living beings."

The author is unknown!

I agree. Even Stephen Batchelor, who describes himself as a secular Buddhist, cautions that reducing Buddhism to meditation alone ignores the Eightfold Path, as well as failing to look at how Buddhism applies to one’s life as a whole, instead of just one aspect of it.


I suspect that virtually all Secular Buddhists are in fact secular contemplatives; modern use of the term ‘Buddhism’ is often conflated with general mindfulness/meditation practice. This is mostly due to the fact that Buddhism is the primary foundation for secular mindfulnesses (though they do investigate & practice e.g. Hindu & Xian methods as well), so another way we could clarify “Secular Buddhist” would be to say “Buddhism-inspired secular contemplative”.


Over the time I’m afraid that I developed a very skeptical position on accessing Buddhism. I don’t like it either but it gets triggered every time someone appears at our meditation group and says “I would like to concentrate better at work, and I heard that meditation helps”.

Early Buddhism almost comes from a different planet to me, 1000s of kilometers and 2500 years away. For me a lot of careful work is necessary to get a right understanding of the texts. So my expectation is that people don’t develop a fascination with the texts but rather they’d use the texts to kindle an existent fascination - they project. Be it a ‘concentration tool’, or ‘the way to world peace’ or ‘universal energies’ etc.

I’m just glad that amazing people like some of you guys are out there who are optimistic that also a casual reader can meaningfully approach the texts. Anumodana!


people make their own choices. writers can’t please everybody. i don’t see a gap or problem.

I’m just reading my first Kornfield book. It’s driving me a bit nuts seeing how he quotes the Buddha. He seems take a quote and translate it to fit a western psychological perspective, removing anything too ‘Buddhist’. He will then just attribute the quote ‘Buddha’. To me it gives the impression there is no difference between the western psych paradigm and the Dhamma. Ajahn Sona just did a good series on YouTube on this BTW.

He also seems to mix the idea of Buddha nature, being a Buddha, seeing the Buddha in everything through his writing. Which is not apparent in the Pali canon. This could easily lead to ‘not my buddhism’.

Incidentally I came to the Dhamma by finding a podcast from Gil Fronsdal, one of Kornfield’s IMC contemporaries. He spoke a lot on sīla, if I remember correctly. I don’t recall huge discrepancies between his talks, which led me to monastic talks, which then led me to suttas… which then led me to this streamline hairdo! Because this was my pathway to the Dhamma I actually felt more comfortable talking refuge in the Dhamma and the Sangha than the Buddha. It wasn’t until I got into the suttas and discovered the ‘realness’ of the Buddha that I felt I was a real Buddhist. Yet I know people who have been Buddhist all their live, some even in robes, who have not read a sutta other than to chant the Pali.


That has always been my problem with Kornfield. That and he mixes things from different traditions. I wouldn’t mind if he just stated what he was doing. There is always room for something new and better. I just never liked thinking I was getting Buddhism when I was really getting Jack Kornfield’s philosophy of life.

I recently saw a series of 10 -15min talks on Youtube from Ajaan Sona. Is that what you are referring to? I thought they were okay but a talk he gave on the methods in MN 20 turned me off. I don’t care much for that sutta to begin with as some of the methods seem to be about suppression and repression which I don’t believe in. On top of that Ajaan Sona seemed to be sneering on top of that. He made a comment along the line of “people seem to think Buddhism is all about acceptance and examination” with an implied message of " too bad, buckle up buttercup", like a person who has had a hard time ressenting other people having a hard time, but getting help where they did not. I don’t know if that makes sense or sounds completely nutty or not :).

Incidentally I came to the Dhamma by finding a podcast from Gil Fronsdal, one of Kornfield’s IMC contemporaries.

I’ve noticed that Gil Fronsdal is an academic and I’ve been planning on checking his work out to get an expert opinion on Buddhism, but without the bias that a monastic might have. Would I be correct in assuming from what you wrote that he writes stuff that would not contribute to “Not My Buddhsimitis” ?

For me this sutta (MN20) had the opposite effect, it convinced me that ‘suppression and repression’ (of evil unwholesome mental states) was part of the path and that accepting everything mindfully is not, even though it is often mentionned in buddhist circles.


I have suffered much through my life because I have avoided experiencing my emotions and thoughts and became afraid of them. I associate the villifying or devaluing of some internal experiences with the Abrahamic religions I left behind in disdain. I will respectfully say “No thank you” and leave that aspect of Buddhism to you. My hope is that the full meaning of MN 20 has been lost in translation or that is some other way it will turn out not to mean what it appears to mean.

Out of the 5 methods to calm distracting thoughts in MN 20, only the 5th one is the “supression/repression” nature that you have an aversion to. And it’s listed 5th because it’s the last resort. If one has the impulse to murder a living being for example, it would be best to follow the 5th method, if the first 4 don’t work.

The 3rd one, forgetting the thought that is bothering you, we should keep in mind the 5 methods here are training the meditator to get into 1st jhana, second jhana. The first two methods, and the 4th, are more suitable for investigating the nature of negative emotions and transcending them by understanding them for application in daily life.


https://youtu.be/du3TDSCCgjw This is the video I was talking about from Aj. Sona.

I don’t know about Gil Fronsdal these days. I haven’t listened to or read him in about 5yrs. But I believe he was less inclined to mix teachings and spoke in a More EBT context. Though his Zen training is in there too.


Be careful, this sounds like 'not my Buddhism to me :stuck_out_tongue:

As for MN20 the method here is systematic. I’ll use sadness as an example

  1. you notice an unwholesome emotion ie sadness, and you bring up compassion (wholesome) for yourself - knocking a peg out simile.

  2. If that doesn’t work (mostly it does)… reflect that this sadness is making me miserable, I should really not make myself miserable, I have a choice. I will discard this unpleasant feeling- dead dog simile

  3. If that doesn’t work then actively not thinking about the thing that makes you sad will bring you peace, allow you to calm down and then when you’re calm you can see the situation with a clear mind. - man looking away simile

  4. Of that doesn’t work… simplify your thoughts and actions gradually and mindfully. Why is my mind racing? Maybe it can intentionally slow it down while staying with this sadness. Taking the simile of walking fast, walking slow, standing, siting literally also works too.

  5. Crush mind with mind.