Seminar: Buddhism and The West

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Seminar: Buddhism and The West, hosted by Richard Pope

This week, we'll continue a critical discussion of meditation: what it is, what it does, and how we're to best understand it.

To problematize the issue, I offer the following questions:

1) How can a technique, namely, meditation, which developed and thrived in religious contexts for millennia, be adapted to our modern scientific environment? Should it?
2) How is meditation different than prayer? Might we expect that prayer provides similar benefits to meditation?
3) Is meditation a lifelong pursuit, or should its practice be limited? For instance, in order to develop a perspective or an insight (such as the realization of no self)?
4) Can we explain the benefits and experiences associated with meditation in concrete language? If not, why not?

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With our reading, I 'd like folks to develop or strengthen a sense of Buddhist meditation's soteriological purpose.

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PRIMARY READINGS: read one or more of the following suttas.

The Noble Search, MN 26
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.026.than.html

The Shorter Discourse on Emptiness, MN 121
https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/MN/MN121.html

The Greater discourse on Emptiness, MN 122
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.122.than.html

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SECONDARY READINGS: not necessary to the discussion, but good scholarship on these issues and related.

The Origins of Buddhist Meditation, by Alexander Wynne, chapters 3 - 4, pg 24 - 63.
http://www.ahandfulofleaves.org/documents/The%20Origin%20of%20Buddhist%20Meditation_Alexande%20Wynne.pdf

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Group Description:
What is Buddhist truth? How is Buddhism evolving as it takes root and grows in the United States and the west?

These are the two fundamental questions that this group seeks to answer. We’ll approach these questions from the perspective that there is something both timeless and transcendent about the truth Buddhism describes, but also that the practice and expression of Buddhism is both time-bound and culturally-dependent. Participants are encouraged to form their own answers to the above questions, which for the purpose of our discussion will be perpetually regarded as “open.”

The global moment is unique for Buddhism, which “encounters itself anew” as its major branches converge after 100s or even 1,000s of years of separation, while simultaneously being powerfully influenced by: western ideologies such as romanticism, nihilism, and postmodernism; scientific-materialism and its offshoots such as quantum physics and the brain sciences; popular culture and world-cultures; consumerism and spiritual-consumerism; and countless other forces both overt and subtle, which we shall spend no small amount of time attempting to elucidate during our discussions.

Our method is to meet each week to discuss a text. We’ll split our efforts between reading (1) primary texts from the three major Buddhist lineages (Theravada, Zen, and Tibetan Buddhism); (2) primary texts of western philosophers who’ve been influenced by Buddhism or who have ideas compatible with Buddhist philosophy; (3) secondary texts of recent scholarship that offer insights relevant to our endeavor; and (4) tertiary texts of a wide variety of related and not-so-related topics as the group sees fit and which align with our trajectory, wherever it may ultimately take us.

Readings will likely be between 20-50 pages per week, depending on the difficulty of the text and its “discussion potential.”

Upcoming readings / topics:
- Possibly "Meditation, Buddhism, and Science," edited/selected by David McMahan and Erik Braun
- A review of scientific studies and literature regarding the supposed cognitive and neurological benefits of meditation
- Buddhist Romanticism, Thanissaro Bhikkhu