This article might be interesting and confirm the general beliefs of the members who prefer this group.
This is an excellent summary, Venerable, thank you for sharing.
One question, if you would please clear it up for me:
After this line:
“This modern form of EBT Buddhism is very popular in the Western Buddhist Circles, but it is actually fringe Buddhism when looking at the greater population of Theravāda.”
there is this note:
There might be 300,000 monks in Myanmar alone, but only maybe 150 Westerners in the world today
What does this mean? That there are maybe 150 Westerners in the world who are Theravada monks?
yes… it is referring to monastics and my estimates of MM monastics versus westerner monastics. There are other Theravada countries as well that were not mentioned.
Yes. And EBT is something that is almost exclusively a modern western interpretation. The visuddhimagga says that breathing meditation is for people of a deluded or skeptical temperament. One person explained to me that that was why breathing meditation became so popular in the west, because westerners are have such a skeptical temperament. Many of them are drawn to EBT, which literally throws out huge numbers of texts as forgeries simply for not existing in other records or even if they do, they are “fake” if they don’t line up with their preconceived notion of what Buddhism should be based on the standards of modern western culture.
Skepticism to the max.
Ah. Thanks. I didn’t realize the number was so low!
You’re certainly making sense. I think the majority of Western Buddhists were introduced to Mahayana, and believed it to be true Buddhism. Then, later, when the internet made scholalrly consensus available that Theravada is true Buddhism, they all want to be authentic, but want to keep their Mahayana beliefs. And Mahayana is just skepticism with a Buddhist facade afterall, since all their schools are fundamentally subjective idealism and/or antirealism/extreme relativism/extreme nihilism which is to say, they’re all skeptical positions in that they deny reality exists at all, claim samsara and nibbana are the same thing, and so on.
So now we have majority Western EBT people who just “find” their Mahayana beliefs in the Pali Canon and the EBTs. And now they all believe, inexplicably, that the suttas and EBTs are skeptic documents, and will even flagrantly misinterpret the suttas where the Buddha refutes skepticism, or declares knowledge of something that is incompatible with skepticism. These people then teach others, and write books ostensibly demonstrating these asinine views, so even people who seem to discover Theravada and/or EBT before Mahayana are really just being taught Mahayana disguised as authentic Buddhism, and the ball rolls on. Add to this that the Mahayanists agree with these misinterpretations of Theravada and EBT and we can see how compounded the problem is.
I had a joker recently trying to school me on MN 99, claiming that the Buddha was not affirming mind independent reality, and rejecting skepticism. He claimed the Buddha was affirming the skeptic position that nothing is independent of mind! It’s wild the self delusion people have and willful misinterpretation they do.
I’ll ask a friend from the Thai Tradition what he thinks the number is for Westerners in the Ajahn Chah and the Dhammayut. The Ajahn Chah Tradition would be the most. Even if the were 300, it is insignificant comparatively. Ajahn Brahm actually does not have many monks. His monastery holds 20 and it is often filled with incoming guests, maybe 40%. He has a couple of “branches” but they have very few monks there, if none at all. However, I have heard the sangha numbers have been stable or even grown during the Covid period.
Thank you. I’d be interested to know what they say. This is news to me. For some reason I just assumed higher numbers, but really I have no reason to believe so, it was just a feeling, and probably due to the popularity of some traditions amongst the laity.
I think they believe that since the heretical sects could “make up” stuff, then so could Theravāda.
And since they believed things that they were told were true before and then realized that it was fake when they learned more of the deeper sutras, they assumed that it was their own job to sift through the suttas.
In short, few people are enlightened. So the common reaction is … “It must be easy. They could get enlightened by hearing one line, so why cannot I?” If they hear the commentary explanation about how they made determinations to do so eons ago, they get freaked out about samsāra which they have zero or little faith in. Mahayana is all about “Buddhahood in this very life” “shortcut paths” “spirituality and sex”.
In any case. I try to give a proper record in my article. While I do admit I am part of the fringe Buddhism from the Western perspective, I have the support of the majority of the actual existing Asian saṅgha. I don’t feel as alone, plus I rarely go to the West and stay at orthodox monasteries. However, I just recently unsubbed from a group that was called dhammavinaya only to find that it was an ebt group. This is the part that is tiring. They use and “own” pāḷi names, but it just a cloaked for EBT.
On the bright side, Google likes the AM website and sends 3000 organic clicks per month. People are getting some exposure to the proper classical dhamma. Classical Theravada website has grown as well, far beyond our expectations. We have still yet to be live for one year but approaching the one
year anniversary soon.
I’ve dealt with this and even more insane, where they even ostensibly accept the commentaries/abhidhamma/orthodox texts, but claim even these support their Mahayana positions! It is really something.
Here’s an example:
i’m doing it, reading some abhidhamma and find so much already about the being, that it doesn’t die, cease to exist when life ends.
abhidhamma by Narada Thera p305 wrote:
By death is meant the extinction of psychic
life (jãvitindriya), heat (usma = tejodhàtu), and consciousness
(vi¤¤àõa) of one individual in a particular existence.
Death is not the complete annihilation of a being.
So he’s claiming the commentary tradition, and the very orthodox Narada Thera supports eternalist soul theories! The definition of egregious.
Edit again, same thread, different user, claiming even the Milinda Panha doesn’t disagree with soul theories and some kind of consciousness outside the aggregates lol! It’s confirmation bias and misinterpretations to a bizarre degree.
I am not sure dhamma is quite right to be said as ‘a thing’. but let’s put that aside for now -
So Milinda would understand that that there is not a thing who knows. Is that equal to there is not a thing without form that knows?
It is also understandable to say there is no being from body to body. Is that possible a non-being (sankhara) vanishing, a similar sankhara arising again. what would happen if this sankhara is a particular sankhara which clings to a body.
Do we call consciousness a thing with form, or without form? Same question to feelings and nama &n sankhara.
how to qualify them as a thing, a thing with form, a thing without form?
let’s say we don’t qualify feeling/vinnana/mental sankhara as a thing - then what is the significant of first statement.
we say them as a thing - then none of the khandas knows. beg the question, what is there knowing them?
The only left answer is ‘the-knowing knows.’ then is the-knowing a thing or a thing without form? if the-knowing is neither, it is then of its own category. Then why do we exclude it from every investigation?
Yes, being someone who was exposed to Asian Theravada Buddhism first i actually found it quite surprising that western Buddhists seem to place so much emphasis on the nihilism. Its not something you find that much in Theravada Buddhism. Thats a good point tho, since westerners were exposed to Mahayana first thru the 60s hippie movement and they have the concept of all things are empty in mahayana, that could have been how it became such a huge deal. Never thought of it that way but certainly seems possible thats how it happened.
Yup. I recently read Dharma Bums. Great book, but prime example of how misled people were by these teachings during the Buddhism boom in the 60’s. The author is narrating his actual life, and makes a lot of horrible decisions because he thinks all is mind.
Yes i mean. I do agree with EBT to an extent in that i dont think the records are completely flawless. Even looking at other early schools of Buddhism they have different texts and many of them even record the same things but with differences in account. But simply throwing out the majority of texts is just skepticism to an extreme.
I also think overconfidence in the west also probably plays a factor. So many people ive met in the western circles are just all about enlightenment in this life (but are almost never actually monks, and often dont even do the basic duty of laymen to go to monasteries and support the Sangha). Whereas in Asia its seen as being a much more realistically long process, like a jug that fills drop by drop (particularly for lay followers). Ive even encountered westerners who think merit/luck has nothing to do with being wealthy and that if they were ever “born poor” they can just work hard and become rich. As if all the poor villagers in Africa and starving kids born in North Korea are all poor simply because they were lazy in this life or something.
Instead of overconfidence, maybe it’s “arrogance”.
I think a lot of the detest for the commentaries comes with the “inconvenience” of proper vinaya where the loopholes and interpretations are “closed out”.
I know one 150-rule-suttanta monk who eats after Solar Noon. When I asked him about it, he said that as long as he starts eating before Solar Noon, that it is okay.
He also sleeps in households with women present. He pointed out to me that the rule itself without explanations is just the referring to sleeping in the same room.
Then there is “offering food” where one is offering 4-6 tables all at the same time.
All that said, he shaves his eyebrows which is written nowhere.
These are the only things I was able to notice, but I’m sure there are many more.
When you reject the commentaries you have the freedom of less rules, and enlightenment can be redefined as well.
And that’s how Buddha’s teachings disappear…
I am now trying not to care too much about other people’s opinions. Just focus what I think is beneficial for our spiritual progress that’s good enough enough for me.
Those EBTs or new age Buddhists… I don’t really care their opinions. Life is too short and I want to spend it wisely.
However, both sides… believe the other is the cause for the decline of Buddhism. They have the same emotions and feel they are correct too.
I dont think any particular “side” is single-handedly causing the decline of Buddhism. Its people who dont follow the spirit of it and practice with diligence. That includes new agers, secular Buddhists and for profit meditation studios who water down and redefine things to fit their preconcieved view of the world and inflate thier own egos about how brilliant/intelligent they are that they discovered the “true” secular meaning of the Dhamma and sometimes to even use it to line their own pockets as is quite common here in the States with the mindfulness industry.
But this also includes textualist Buddhists who attach themselves to every word of the text and do things like vilify monks for not following the vinaya and 227 precepts to the tee when they themselves are merely laypeople with 5 precepts. I also consider things like not letting monks wear more than 3 robes regardless of climate in order to be vinaya conformant to be a bit inflexible and would only harm Buddhism’s ability to spread.
The decline of Buddhism is due to the defilements of the people practicing it. The greed of for-profit meditation studios, the ignorance/ego of new agers who redefine what enlightenment is. The ego of people who attach themselves to the texts and spend all day speculating about which texts are right or wrong and whats the proper way to intepret it and how to convince others your right rather than just practicing it.
Buddhism can prosper if all sides just focused on the practice and let the true Dhamma emerge that way. But even thats hard in todays world where you have these various groups preaching their Buddhism as “true”, this forces the other sides to come up with intellectual defenses of thier own side, basically leading to this intellectual arms race and waste of resources on bickering. I have no issues with new agers or EBTers who just take the texts they want/believe in and practice accordingly for thier own benefit. Meditation is a great and fruitful thing on its own even when separated from its roots. Its when all thier time and energy is spent trying to claim thier views are “right” is where its problematic. I also dont have issues with and even admire classical theravadists who want to practice under strict vinaya conformance and restrict themselves only to warmer climates with just 3 robes. Trying to force everyone else to do it, especially when many are earnest Buddhists just making good faith adaptations to circumstances that didnt exist in the Buddha’s time. Not so much.
This is also why i think Pan-Buddhist places are not particularly conducive as it promotes this arms race mindset. We need more single minded places like this that allows for a more productive learning environment without the risk of being attacked for your views. The key is to find a middle way between the cesspool of bickering found on pan-buddhist sites and the bubble mindset we’ve seen develop in politics with the rise of social media.
Very wise decision.
"Monks, do not wage wordy warfare, saying: ‘You don’t understand this Dhamma and discipline, I understand this Dhamma and discipline’; ‘How could you understand it? You have fallen into wrong practices: I have the right practice’; ‘You have said afterwards what you should have said first, and you have said first what you should have said afterwards’; ‘What I say is consistent, what you say isn’t’; ‘What you have thought out for so long is entirely reversed’; ‘Your statement is refuted’; ‘You are talking rubbish!’; ‘You are in the wrong’; ‘Get out of that if you can!’
“Why should you not do this? Such talk, monks, is not related to the goal, it is not fundamental to the holy life, does not conduce to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, tranquillity, higher knowledge, enlightenment or to Nibbana. When you have discussions, monks, you should discuss Suffering, the Arising of Suffering, its Cessation, and the Path that leads to its Cessation. Why is that? Because such talk is related to the goal… it conduces to disenchantment… to Nibbana. This is the task you must accomplish.”
— SN 56.9