Starting Zen & Theravada

Posted: 02/08/2016 by zandtao in Zen

As mentioned in the last blog I have just moved house and am ready for the next blogging phase, and that is trying to relate what I know as Buddhism with Zen – specifically Shobogenzo, the basis of Soto Zen. My efforts at Shobogenzo leave me feeling his Buddhism as unrecognisable yet every so often Brad throws in the 5 khandas or some other Theravada staple. To get at Shobogenzo I am going to read Brad’s “Don’t be a jerk”.

I am in total agreement with Brad’s approach, let’s use everyday speak to discuss, let’s relate to the everyday world and daily life. For me Theravada is like theory. Typically Thai people diligently pop off to the temple on Uposatha days. Equally diligently the monk delivers an appropriate theoretical (Therevada) sermon, and the people go home satiated. But no change has occurred, and one cause of that lack of change is that the sermon was couched in language that is not everyday, did not relate to the daily experience of the attending Thai people. A bigger cause is of course that these same Thai people, however devoted they are, do not meditate; thus they are unlikely to have a mind ready for change.

Everyday speak requires a right view, the first of the 8-Fold Path. What is Right View? One answer, typical of Theravada, might well be Buddhism with meditation – within its context a sound answer. But this does not bring with it a requirement of social understanding and practise, in fact for many Buddhism is detached from a socio-political view – to such an extent that there are people who have established Engaged Buddhism requiring of Buddhism that it attempts to effect change. My observation of these Engaged Buddhists is that they are leftward leaning.

It is however the detached Buddhism that I want to begin by examining. This approach allows all people of all political views to be accepted as Buddhists. Does this approach have right view? In Thailand the rich contribute much to the temples, and this of course is welcomed by the Buddhist hierarchy, but is that money tainted by ill deeds? All religions have this problem because they are forced out of politics by their own hierarchy or by laws on charity (charitable money not being allowed to be given to political organisations). This approach supports the status quo, and that status quo includes war and poverty.

It is necessary to move beyond the status quo, accepting the status quo is not a moral option. This is right view. But then we have a difficulty with right view, what is the right view of society whereby a Buddhist might attempt to effect change. I would suggest there are two caring views that might well be considered acceptable views.

The first view I will call the Guardian view. This view is leftward leaning but does not require a major change in outlook. We live in a trading society in which a few extreme individuals are exploiting others and if we continue to promote good works society can change for the better. This view looks at our neo-liberal system with its Veiled electoral democracy, and works within that system.

The second view I will call the Occupy view. Occupy has a radical agenda that requires the system to be fixed. There is a major change in outlook needed, basically seeing society controlled by the 1% and finding non-violent ways of wrestling control away from the 1%. It is the 1% influence which prevents society from developing in a more humane way – preventing society from changing for the better. The 1% promote the neo-liberal system of Veiled democracy whereas Occupy demanded a proper democratic system – not an electoral obfuscation – where policies are genuinely accountable to the people. Occupy seeks system change.

Both these views see that the problem lies with individuals who are exploiting, and one could argue that the differences between the Guardian view and the Occupy view are minimal. I would contend that this is not the case, and the keyword is influence. It is this pervasive influence of the 1% which affects everyday actions that is not recognised by the Guardian view. That view feels that change can occur by good works whereas the Occupy view would say that the power of the influence is stronger than the good works of so many.

I am tempted to call the Occupy view the Right View but it is divisive to do so. Buddhism does not seek division, it seeks deep consideration and analysis. I would suggest such analysis would include a careful understanding of the differences between the Guardian view and the Occupy view whilst recognising that the current approach of accepting the status quo is not moral – the current approach is effectively supporting the war and poverty that exists in the status quo.

Firstly Brad does not accept the status quo – the detachment that promotes theory (typically Theravada), however I would contend that Brad leans towards the Guardian view. In the introduction to “Don’t be a jerk”, Brad discussed science. In this he had a pop at those who dismissed science because science offers us so many benefits. Everyday science however is particularly susceptible to 1% influence. Science cannot proceed without research funding, and this funding is only given where profits can be seen – at the moment primarily technological research. Contrast this with the independent research carried out by Seralini into GMO products. This research can be individually assessed here , but here is sound research independently funded that counters the GM products of Monsanto. It was originally published in established scientific journals but because of its conclusions was withdrawn under the influence of Monsanto. For me science does not move forward based on insight, scientific creativity, and Nature’s search for knowledge but it moves forward based on 1% influence using funding as a means of control. To see what is happening in science it is necessary to take a detached dialectical review of Guardian and Occupy forces in play. The individuals that suppressed the Seralini study used a system that enhances their influence.

Whenever I read Brad this issue of Right View comes up. Unashamedly I see the Occupy view as more the right view whereas I feel Brad is much more Guardian. First and foremost Brad makes Buddhism real – everyday. However in his social analysis Brad leans to the safer Guardian view, and far too often I find it necessary to put the Occupy view to what he says. Buddhadasa says Buddhism is about the removal of the 5 khandas from I and mine. This is timeless, but our view of society cannot be so absolute. Applying sila to the socio-political arena and coming up with a right view is difficult and must be attempted and taught, but it is fraught with difficulty for monks vis-à-vis the Theravada monk I knew who in attempting to be everyday ended up supporting Tony Blair. At the time I thought it was wrong of him to be involved with politics because monks (certainly Theravada) live in cloisters. Now I feel he was right to try to be everyday but his analysis and view fell a long way short. By being everyday he was breaking the mould of Theravada monks, and this is to be lauded – I have changed on this. When it comes to the right view of society monks need to seek advice, cloisters are not a good place to judge society from.

Books:- Treatise, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education.

Blogs:- Ginsukapaapdee, Matriellez.

  1. […] The way that is written implies an over-reaction to minor differences (taken as on my part). In this blog I suggested that I would be too definitive if I demanded the Occupy view. But the failure to […]

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