Over the last weeks we saw many discussions involving what I call Pick-and-Choose-Buddhism, (or PAC to create a new acronym ). It seems that many of us have an idea of what ‘true Buddhism’ is, and following that we go and seek this very Buddhism in the EBT (further EBPT for Pali and EBCT for Chinese Texts).
We can try and read Mahayana into the texts, a secular position, a gender-friendly Buddha, a devotional, a philosophically consistent Buddhism etc. In my eyes this is an inferior reading. And in spite of the polemics against new approaches like structuralism and post-structuralism, at least they taught us to read thoroughly again.
My beef against PAC Buddhism is that it evolves around our limitations and doesn’t allow the texts to breathe. Let’s say that my Buddha must have been totally equal towards men and women, because that’s what I believe a Buddha would do. That’s a slippery slope to PAC Buddhism.
Why not first establish what the EBPT in general say? And if it turns out that only a minority of all derogatory suttas can be explained away, then I think we need to accept it instead of bending and twisting the texts to our liking. For example it opens the space to elaborate in which cultural climate the texts were conceived, under which circumstances certain texts might have been repeated and used as justifications etc.
Personally I can say that I matured with accepting the texts as they are. Seeing the heterogeneity of the texts regarding supernatural powers, philosophy, women, spiritual materialism, etc. it opened the necessity for me to take responsibility for my spiritual practice. I have to decide what teachings to follow and what kind of dhamma to hold dear.
But isn’t that the same pick-and-choose? Yes, but I don’t create the EBPT Buddha in my image. It frees me to think that certain aspects of the texts are inspiring to me, and others are plain silly.
I would be interested in how you guys personally navigate between a faithful approach, projecting onto the texts and the strive for a critical understanding…
I think it is important to not get caught into theoretical approaches of how people like their Buddhism, but actually ask people how they do it, personally. So I think this is useful thread.
So for me, I put many things in my ‘indeterminate’ box. Issues like rebirth, devas, karma etc- as I couldn’t not determine it either way. I felt it would be dogmatic for me to say they were wrong- as I had no proof …either way. It wasn’t somehow important for me to ‘prove’ these things before I started benefiting from the dhamma. Now, I know they’re not essential for me to benefit from the dhamma. So after much meditation and reading EBTs I arrived at place where I was certain about the truths contained in the dhamma. Even then, I still wasn’t certain about those aspects. Particularly as a psychiatrist I wasn’t prepared to take extra-sensory phenomena at face value. However the evidence (which will never be 100%) began to build up over the years and I reached my personal tipping point- on to believing (accepting?) that they were true. I don’t have 100% evidence- and that is not possible- even to have 100% evidence that my body exists here, so all we have is adequate amount of evidence to treat something as a reality. I had experienced enough to see (note that we actively choose not to see sometimes, as well -the vanishing gorilla video is proof) that there was enough evidence of it. This gave me a boost in my practice and more motivation to get as far as I can in the path in this life.
Each school will pick and choose only those suttas that support their views and teachings. For the beginner it will look as if they have sutta support for their respective positions and meditation practices. It’s important to choose to look at the entire range of suttas.
Sure, but there are sutras as well as suttas, and some schools don’t rely on texts much anyway. I’ve been involved in most of the Buddhist schools over the last 40 years, and the diversity is incredible.
Suttas provide a framework of teachings which serve to validate to a degree, a certain kind of practice. However the absence of sutta or sutra doesn’t invalidate practices either. A visualisation may help develop samadhi though not mentioned in the sutta - as long as eternal selves aren’t projected on to that visualisation.