Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tipitaka thoughts...

As I set out to design a course in Eastern philosophy for my college, I sought the council of a friend who has considerable experience teaching and traveling to meet scholars in the Buddhist world. Initially I thought we'd discuss the meta categories like Hinduism, Confucian thought, Buddhism and Taoism. However, our discussion quickly focused on the various merits of Theravada and Mahayana teachings. His position was that anything outside of the tipitaka was mere window dressing to the core texts. I disagree and believe the mahayana suttras have many insights worth exploring.

What does one teach to students who are encountering Buddhism for the first time? Certainly the Theravada teachings will form the root introduction to the four noble truths, but aside from the Dhammapada, what else should one teach to beginners? In my experience, texts by Mahayana teachers have been more accessible so I considered focusing on these. After our exchange, I am interested to hear what others believe about core texts one should present if there are only 3-4 weeks to cover Buddhism?

Your ideas are welcomed.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wise insights on the 8 worldly dharmas

Reading about the eight worldly dharmas again. After 6 months of sustained meditation on ending detachment, arrogance, anger, desire, greed and pride, I think Pema Chondron (When Things Fall Apart) provides a wise insight: any time you have a bad experience your mind is focused on loss, blame, pain or disgrace. Whatever is happening, happens through the lens of our mind. Thus, good experiences come from the other side of the dyad: gain, pleasure, praise and fame. Each experience, both good and bad, are products of our mind dialog combination with the causes and conditions playing out around us.

When Westerners hear this, we think the entire philosophy is an exercise in rationalist solipsism. However, Vicotr Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, comes to the same conclusion: we may not have a choice of historical circumstances, but we can choose how we behave in response. Thus, it might be beneficial to map emotional reactions in terms of the dharma dyads (pleasure-pain, loss-gain, praise-blame, fame-disgrace).

The process of mapping our reactions using the dyads provides a means for looking at our responses in a not-judging manner.  For example, our reaction to losing a job might be composed of the following:

  1. pain: for the loss of something good,
  2. loss: of income and status,
  3. blame: directed at others and/or self, and 
  4. disgrace for the inability to retain employment.
Using the dyads as a map to understanding suffering allows us to see these as predictable reactions rooted in:

  • attachment (to the job, money, career, stuff, house, food, etc.),
  • desire to avoid negative change and maintain material well-being, and
  • ignorance regarding the impermanence of all things, including those that sustain our well-being. 
The benefit of understanding our emotional reaction as a normal, healthy response to loss can help us avoid depression by suggesting areas for growth and self-examination.  Given the example above it is possible to analyze the following with regards to our happiness and well-being:
  1. attachments: the amount of money, status and stuff necessary for continued well-being; examining our needs, wants, desires and investments in work can also lead to fruitful new paths that produce new opportunities

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Thinking about the eight worldly dharmas & bodichitta

Loss & Gain

Pleasure & Pain

Praise & Blame

Fame & Disgrace

These are often referred to as the "worldly concerns." I have been wondering (for over 15 years) if it is truly possible to disassociate oneself from the above without disengaging from the world entirely? Can one live in a modern society and not get caught up in the eight worldly dharmas?

When I see a selfless, kind person I know it is possible.