Posted: 09/02/2013 in ONE planet
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Note:- On rereading this I appear to be putting words into the mouth of Santikaro. Please note he has not read nor has he ever given any personal indication or otherwise that he supports what I say. The purpose of the blogpost – apart from my meanderings it is an attempt to draw attention to someone who can be helpful.

Santikaro is a monk based in the US who has strong links with Thailand, he was a monk learning from Ajaan Buddhadhasa at Suan Mokh. His monastery is Liberation Park, and he runs an online forum (Buddhadasa Yahoo Group) to discuss Tan Buddhadhasa’s teachings. Earlier I often looked at Tan Ajaan’s teachings, and so joined his forum. (There are unintended inaccuracies in this paragraph – please see Santikaro’s comment below).

Paraphrasing (as I’ve lost the quote) I read this on one of his postings:-

The middle way between the extremes of engagement and non-engagement, egoistic responsibility and egoistic non-responsibiltiy, is a compassionate skilful participation in daily life. No instructions here but very clear direction. I have to be concerned about my demands for engagement on the part of theoretical Buddhists, but equally I have to be sufficiently detached to make sure my engagement is compassionate and skilful. I suspect I appear too demanding but mostly I ask only for recognising what is and then looking for compassion.

In an earlier post he raised this – I believe he was translating it from something Tan Ajaan had writted:-

“Spiritually empirical science

“As we stated from the beginning, we will study Buddhism scientifically, that is, as a spiritual science.

“When we speak of spiritual science, we mean that we must study and learn through our own spiritual experience rather than from scriptures and texts. In Buddhism, we practice spiritual science by observing and investigating dukkha as it actually occurs in our hearts and minds (citta). We search out the causes and conditions of that suffering and learn how to remove them in order to be free of all suffering, misery, and distress. In this way, there is direct spiritual experience of these matters, not mere hypotheses and theories. When we approach Buddhism as spiritual science, we will not have any problems regarding the accuracy of the scriptures, worries about mistakes and inaccuracies that may have crept in over the centuries, or whatever other doubts might arise. These will not trouble us, because we will be able to verify Buddha-Dhamma for ourselves, in our inner spiritual experience.”

This is again down my street, it is not dogma but understanding. Someone surprised me when they wrote about spirituality without belief, this is similar, Thay describes Nirvana as “without concepts”. When people are critical of monks then it is worth considering that all these three were lifelong monks. Santikaro’s approach is similar to what I previously discussed as a dilemma “beyond dogma”. Funnily enough I was recently reading posts from the forum, and felt that they were doing the usual online game of sutta snap and dogmabolloxia. In truth that is totally unfair. I work hard at never discussing dogma but try to look from my experience. I denounce intellectualism ad nauseum probably to the extent of being a worn record. Yet I get into an ill-fated discussion with an academic in which he described my blog as intellectual. Once over the insult I thought we can never tell whether it is dogma from the written word. For me the 4NT has tremendous meaning but there is nothing new nor creative in any description I can give of 4NT so am I just dogmabolloxic?

When I read Santikaro’s/ Tan Ajaan’s spiritual empirical science I was reminded of HHDL (interestingly enough a similar approach to Vedanta), he describes meditation as an empirical science. Meditators mostly end up going the same way, as the title of the “surprise” blog – spirituality without belief.

Tan Ajaan/Santikaro expanded “Nor need we worry over considerations of the various environmental and cultural factors. When we take Buddhism as a spiritual science, we need not be overly interested in such matters, to the degree that they become distractions. Quite a few Westerner scholars of Buddhism focus on India, and on its history, geography, politics, philosophy, and the like. They go too far with unnecessary things like comparative psychology before they get around to actually studying Buddhism itself. Do not waste time on non-essentials. Instead, focus on direct spiritual experience. I’d like to say that even the Buddha’s life story is unnecessary. In the Buddha’s time, nobody studied the details of his life as is done nowadays.”

I suspect significant in the focus on locality and the Buddha’s life is what has become a divisive issue – “what the Buddha said”. Within Buddhism there are two main traditions – Theravada and Mahayana. I am no scholar of these issues so I have to be careful what I say. It appears that the dominant theme in deciding on which tradition is “what the Buddha said”, Theravada accepts the Tripitaka as “what the Buddha said” Mahayana accepts more. But not only does Mahayana accept more some Mahayana accepts books written by others. The Tibetan tradition has its own writers such as Tshongkapa, and Zen – Shobogenzo. But even within Theravada there has to be doubts as to “what the Buddha said” as the earliest people to write down what he said did so some 50 to years later at a council – Bhikhu Bodhi wrote a paper on the origins but I can’t find it. Theravadan Buddhists claim that the oral tradition was so strong that within 50 years the recall was verbatim, can this be true?

It seems to me that when it comes to religious understanding it is not what someone says but how it is understood that matters. Basically it appears to me that the Buddhisms are divided by dogma and not by understanding, but that is true within Buddhism and between all religions – what matters is the Path (whatever word you choose) and not the written word. In the Kalama sutta the Buddha basically said don’t believe me work it out for yourself:-

“Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing, nor upon tradition, nor upon rumor, nor upon scripture, nor upon surmise, nor upon axiom, nor upon specious reasoning, nor upon bias towards a notion pondered over, nor upon another’s seeming ability, nor upon the consideration ‘The monk is our teacher.’ When you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad, blamable, censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them… When you yourselves know: ‘These things are good, blameless, praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,’ enter on and abide in them.”

– here is Bhikhu Bodhi’s take on the sutta. I believe this is what Santikaro is saying, and I presume what Tan Ajaan said. Someone told me that Tan Ajaan summarised Buddhism as “Be Good”, nothing more needs saying.


On a different forum I entered into discussion with someone concerning the sexual misconduct precept. It was basically about casual sex vs marriage. The guy was American, appearing quite US-centric to me, and was anti-marriage with all its problems. The logic is therefore casual sex doesn’t hurt. After a few email bounces his position appeared to change to that of casual sex causes less harm. I introduced the notion of the family being integral to social fabric, and whilst he agreed the US was breaking down he did not accept that the family had much/anything to do with it. I then started with the home and he replied with this:-

“We have some differences on the causes of problems, but as it seems to be
more a matter of social studies or politics than the Dhamma, and I think
we’ve both made our positions fairly clear, perhaps it’s time to let this
one go? Thank you for a good conversation,”

I could take this at face value or I could conclude that the wider implications of casual sex might be hitting home. But what I don’t accept is that this is not Buddhism. It might not be Buddhist theory and it might not be full of dogmabolloxic terms but it is about awareness. What I was seeing from this man was contemporary assumptions such as:-

Casual sex does not hurt.
The traditional home treats women as chattels – his word.

When I was young in the 70s I rejected marriage because I saw it as a consumer unit, of course the reality for the rejection was all the harm it had caused me. Being forced to stay in marriage is unacceptable, but the extended family is a structure of love, it is supportive providing strength in adversity. When communities are small and people are connected by family there is much to be seen that is positive. But when a marriage is governed by money, and a community governed by the same, there is competition – keeping up with the Jones’s; the money and status replaces love.

Thai family feels intensely oppressive to me, but it is a family-based culture. I would hate the idea of being tagged on to such a family but I feel the family is the backbone of the stability of rural Thailand – a place that I consider is pleasant – far from perfect but pleasant. I suspect the US is also a good example of this, I get the feeling that rural US is also pleasant.

But these people get educated – miseducated. The school brings people into the money economy accepting the need for wage-slavery. It is not whether there is servitude but which servitude you choose. Of course we need to work for and in our societies, but there is no choice about working in a non-dollar communtiy. Schools do not present in their curricula the advantages of farming communities, barter etc, the advantages of trade without the government currency, the 1%-currency.

I have no doubts at all that the man in this discussion has not questioned in serious depth the implications of the 1%-system, and how many assumptions he has accepted from that system. Of course it is hard to do so from within the culture. I suspect he is comparatively young and has just found Buddhism, maybe Buddhism will take him to that questioning.

Here is my paraphrase:-

The middle way between the extremes of engagement and non-engagement, egoistic responsibility and egoistic non-responsibiltiy, is a compassionate skilful participation in daily life.

There is no doubt at all that Santikaro does not want people to be weighed down by the assumptions of their culture – assumptions that in my view decrease awareness. At present I am in a phase where recognition of the impact of 1%-politics is strong – maybe too strong. Perhaps I am resenting the life of servitude I gave to teaching that had so little to do with education. I am constantly aware that there is not enough meditation in my life but in truth it is not changing. Maybe my middle way of living alone is not enough and I need monastic discipline. But the monastery would need to suit my health needs, not something the established monasteries of Thailand provide. Perhaps my lack of meditational balance makes me more critical of those who are not politically aware. Maybe questioning this guy’s middle way is really a reaction to my dissatisfaction with my middle way.

Corollary:- Today I resolved and did extra meditation – new daily routine.


Here is a talk given by Santikaro at Buddhadasa Indapanno Archives in Bangkok:-

After reading this blog I got an email from Santikaro – apologies that it is not included. he pointed out that now he is in lay life, upasaka, organising at Liberation Park.

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  2. Santikaro says:

    FYI. Santikaro was a bhikkhu for 19 years, up to 2004. He’s been living a different lifestyle and describes himself (myself) as “upasaka” when circumstances require. The term “monk” doesn’t really fit, especially as I ma married and happily so.
    Liberation Park isn’t a monastery. No monks currently living here. We call it a “Dhamma refuge” and refining how we explain what we mean by that label.

  3. zandtao says:

    Santikaro, thank you for the clarification; my apologies if the errors I made gave you any kind of “discomfort”. My intention as stated above was to present the resource – as well as discussing the issues. If there is anything you would like me to change I will of course do so.

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