Dear Friends, may the causes and conditioning and all emotional defilements be removed along with your suffering. I am a Newbie-at least in this incarnation. I am confused about the choices of necessity for having a particular school or tradition of Buddhism. I realize that all these roads must lead to Buddha, and that to become too attached to a tradition is antithetical to Buddhist principles. Yet all of Buddhism seems organized in this way. Could you share your wisdom regarding this quandary. Thanks and NAMASTE
Never fear, many of us feel the same way. For myself, i don’t really identify with any tradition. What matters for me is the Dhamma, and I try to live in accordance with that. I find many things in the traditions that support this, and other things that don’t; that’s okay, none of us are perfect! So if you find that a tradition or an aspect of a tradition is supporting you to find peace and wisdom, great, if not, leave it aside.
But I think it is important that we avoid over-identifying with any tradition. If we believe that any one tradition is the true and best heir to the Dhamma, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. It’s just not that simple.
Thank you for the clarification which is similar to my thinking. In fact aren’t organizations of any kind, civic or religious, empty of inherent existence? Therefore isn’t any passionate support or defense of a particular group or tradition rendered impermanent or dependent arising phenomenon?
You don’t really need to follow any particular tradition. Pick and choose whatever helps you in your path. One thing that is important though is to define what are you looking for? What is the goal of your search?
Personally I don’t take any traditions or authorities as something I have to follow. I’ve come a long road to get here - and I’ve learnt much along the way. I was raised Catholic. And I really treated it seriously. I actually did read (at the time parts of) the Bible - and I noticed, that (at least Polish) Church is teaching something quite different. That was the beginning of the path for me, later I was into Yoga of Swami Sivananda for some time. Then I’ve found Ajahn Brahm and got into Buddhism. All of this gives some different perspective on life. Most importantly, I wouldn’t be here if I settled firmly on one tradition.
Rosie, my two baht would be to look into the Thai Forest Tradition Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis. As has been rightly pointed out, every tradition or approach has its issues, but I do feel that by investigating a tradition that has a reputation for adherence to Vinaya ( the rules of ‘discipline’ or behavior for monks and nuns) along with a general tradition of teaching meditation and study from the core of the Buddha’s actual teachings, you will be at a good and safe start. I came to this tradition through a typical western circuitous route, with some missteps along the way, but feel that the start of the journey with a grounded, traditional approach can be a good way to go for a new practitioner. If you wish to, say, expand outward into other traditions, you will at least have a solid grounding in the Buddha’s Dhamma and Vinaya tradition. Ajahn Brahm’s web and youtube presence is a good exemplar of this approach, and his BSWA been a leader in making Buddhism open and welcoming for every practitioner from every aspect of life. I facilitate a meditation group, and have found that many members that are new to Buddhism really take to Ajahn Brahm’s approach and then use that foundation to explore outward from there. My two baht.
Well, yes, but here we are on this beautiful earth, trying to live our lives, and everything is inherently empty. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t live and love and laugh, it just means you have some perspective on these things.
Traditions are okay; it’s just a way of talking about how groups of people have practiced in the past, and how that affects their present. But within any tradition, there’s always rebels and heretics, and they’re the interesting ones! There’s no need to reject the notion of tradition, nor to buy into everything the traditions are selling. It’s just people. So let the traditions be stale and funny and weird and inspiring just like people.
Succinct and educational. Thank you
I really love this response, and will definitely investigate the Thai Forest Tradition because I love and live in a forest, and because I visited Thailland in the year 2001 and fell in love with the Thai people. Thanks
Thank you. Pardon my ignorance but it sounds like you investigated Hinduism? Or am I mistaken? And how was your experience of Yoga…something I have been practicing for decades. My practice was guided by Mr. Iyengar. Ever heard of him?
I wouldn’t call that Hinduism. Coming from monotheistic background I wasn’t really into switching one god for many. I was mainly interested in (non ritualistic) practice. Hatha Yoga is one thing - and Mr. Iyengar is probably the biggest authority in that - I still practice, and in my opinion it’s very good for your healh.
Apart from that I was interested in meditation - that was my first exposure to meditation, through Yoga. There were some techniques of concentrating on an imaginary flame - basically similar to breath meditation, just a different object.
What Sivananda was teaching - or at least what I read at that time - was a 8-step yoga practice, quite similar to the 8-fold path in Buddhism. If I remember correctly, Bhate @sujato said somewhere, that its probably derived from the Buddhist eightfold path.
In the end I preferred Buddhist approach to meditation - seemed more rational and better explained.
Thank you for your generous response. I am so happy to have found someone else who is familiar with the infamous Mr. Iyengar. I got a very brief course from a man named Michael Geison during my time in north Florida. He was quite an adept, but dwelling deeply in ignorance his heart was obscured. I continue to value his teaching.
Apparently I was a little confused about the origins of yogic tradition:
“There is a broad variety of Yoga schools, practices, and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Among the most well-known types of yoga are Hatha yoga and Rāja yoga. One of the six major orthodox schools of Hinduism is also called Yoga, which has its own epistemology and metaphysics, and is closely related to Hindu Samkhya philosophy.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga
I have practicing for around 25 years but broke my leg in late July. Now I am easing back in to my asanas. Thank you so much for your answer. Namaste
One of the things to remember about spiritual practices in India—and probably elsewhere, I guess—is that the practices were shared widely among different traditions. In many cases the practices themselves were only adopted by the traditions as we know them much later.
While the origins of yoga in the sense of physical exercise are lost, we can say with some confidence that meditation emerged among the Indian spiritual community some time before the Buddha. It probably originated among the local śramaṇa traditions, which themselves probably hark back ultimately to shamanic roots (although the words are not related!)
Such practices were adopted by certain esoteric movements among the Brahmins, perhaps a couple of centuries before the Buddha (and possibly prompted at least in part by the loss of soma as a psychotropic drug for the rituals.) By the time of the Buddha, contemplative practices that we would recognize as meditation were fairly common, but by no means universal, among contemporary spiritual groups, although the philosophies of the different groups obviously guided the manner of the meditation.
So rather than thinking of meditation as somehow belonging to the different traditions, it’s better to think of it as a part of the spiritual culture that was drawn on and adapted by the various traditions. No doubt a similar process happened with physical yoga.
A better understanding of this process is, I think, important today, not least because in recent years yoga has become politicized; on the one hand, certain fundamentalists among the Christians claim it’s a paganist heresy, while fundamentalist Hindus say it’s cultural appropriation. But the practice doesn’t belong to “Hinduism”, any more than meditation does.
So, I did the usual and ran to Wikipedia to look up the history of soma.
How was soma lost to the Brahmins? There are various theories as to what plant compound soma was, and I’m curious as to how it was no longer available. Once no longer available, did practitioners/ritualists then need to cultivate (bhavana) altered (jhanic) states as part of their rituals? Interesting stuff.
So, it’s the bit about drugs that caught your eye, is it? Far be it from me to judge!
The whole thing is unclear, but what we do know is that there are many laments to the death or loss of Soma found in the Vedic literature. In my article on mythology I argued that the death of God is the prime mythic theme, and this is one instance of it.
Generally speaking, part of this theme revolves around the distancing from direct spiritual experience, as the wild nature-religions, with their blood sacrifices and orgiastic visions, are gradually tamed and civilized; God is imprisoned in Churches, and his fierce will is subject to the learned opinions of the theologians.
It is thought that the soma, whatever it referred to, was a psychotropic substance that the Aryans had access to in the homeland (= ambrosia in Europe), which was no longer found in India.
But the physical availability is just one part of it; at the same time, as the spiritual movement evolved there were two quite contradictory forces: towards domesticity, doctrine, consistency, an imposition of orthodoxy in pursuit of social dominance; and a need to evolve the incoherent visions of the drug/rituals towards something deeper. The first of these forces led to the caste system and the Brahmanic orthodoxy who the Buddha butts heads with throughout the suttas. The second led to the Upanishads and the spirit of questing we also see in the Suttas, where Brahmins from Brahmayu to the students of the Parayanavagga seek out the Buddha’s advice.
But I do think we are safe to say that in ancient India, as in modern western culture, the emergence of meditation was influenced by drug culture. The transformation of drugs opens up the possibility of altered states of consciousness, and teaches us just how deeply our experience of reality is constructed by our assumptions. At the same time, since the experience is ultimately chaotic, it quickly reaches it limits. Assuming you don’t kill too many brain cells, it’s natural to see whether there’s a safer and more powerful way of transcending the limits of consciousness.
This is a fascinating topic, in the sense of what you compellingly described, Bhante, about the evolution of spiritual practices from ecstatic altered states, into caste structures and the control mechanisms of a God based church system. Thanks for responding on this…it really helps create further context for the Buddha’s perspectives and teachings.
Well, I was never a touring musician, but…
That attempt at humor, of course, just earned me an eon in a hell realm. I’m packing the Coppertone now. I hope all understand there’s no one I respect more than Bhikkhu @sujato… my Irish got the best of me…
Don’t worry, if you do end up in hell, there’ll be plenty of great musos there.
I was planning to hang out with my lawyer colleagues, although there may be no room left in the inn.
Laywers? Boring. Come hang out with us bhikkhuni supporters, I have it on good authority we’ll be there.