by Wayne Ren-Cheng
Venerable David Xi-Ken Astor wrote in his book, ‘Pragmatic Buddhism: Reflecting Contemporary Vitality’ that, “the Buddha’s arising occurred during a time of metaphysics, and as a result his teachings have metaphysical elements used to describe them and to realize them. Now those teachings are arising in a time of science and it is up to us to realize them through a lens of modern society, science and cultural influences in order to harness their potential of positive transformation.” This is a view that can be applied to much of what can be confusing philosophies in this ages old system of beliefs, a system of beliefs that the Buddha himself made clear must change with time, culture and context so that the intent of the dharma could be realized and valued. The Four Ennobling Truths were a reality before the Buddha awakened to them, they have been a reality ever since. Along the way, the mutability of the Dharma allowed it to effectively change dependent those cultures and times.
The Buddhist concepts samsara and nirvana are metaphysical ideals as they are difficult to prove, and can be difficult to understand and find the value of in a contemporary practice. Samsara is often experienced as the imperfect world of suffering discontent and anguish that human beings spend their existence in. Nirvana is the meta-physical place where ultimate liberation is found. What if these are not places WHERE one is, but are instead viewed as HOW one is? Can we pull away the traditional veil of metaphysics to reveal the contemporary value of these millennia old concepts that initially arose from Siddhartha’s (and his earliest disciples) Hindu beliefs?
Pragmatic Buddhism: A Common Sense Approach To The Path Of Awakening
By David Xi-Ken Astor
The overwhelming reality that I hope emerges from the study of Buddhism from a pragmatic perspective is what does our contemporary worldview require to be cultivated from what the Buddha taught over 2500 years ago. The primary result of walking the Buddhist path is toward cultivating awakening to how the Universe is and how we are in it. In the 21st century we are challenged to understand what elements of Buddhist thought is of vital importance for our attention, study, acceptance, and engagement that promotes the survival of a dharma practice that is not obscured by ancient visions of how the world looked to medieval minds. A good example of this would be the turning away from the metaphysical concepts of reincarnation, and what is the true meaning of karma that moves away from the notion of determinism producing an attitude of fatalism. Considering the modern advancements of science that inform us of how the Universe expresses itself, any conclusion of what is a truth is still at risk of being wrong. Yet, we work to improve our perspective of each situation we encounter recognizing our responsibility for the choices we make that have real consequences for ourselves and others.
Not only is this awakening a human endeavor, but a cultural one as well. This cultural transformation is reflected in acts of social justice, spiritual and religious practices, situational ethic guidelines, artistic expressions, as well as how the culture interacts with others on this very diverse planet of ours. As Buddhism has an opportunity to merge into the mainstream of a human-enriching practice both here in America and the West in general, it will assume features of our contemporary language and cultural moral and ethical norms that will vitalize specific dimensions of it’s traditional practice that will allow it to assume a perspective of legitimatization. How this will happen is yet to be seen, but the transformation has begun. The concern we must be conscious of is that it must not become a marginalized subculture at risk of losing it’s inner vitality. This is a crucial period of Buddhism’s cultural transformation in the West, in which the traditional schools of Buddhism are being uprooted from their ancient environments and directly confronting the realities of modern science, communication technology, and social unrest. It is unrealistic to assume that as Buddhism develops roots in the West, that it will remain unchanged. It is up to those in the West that study and teach the dharma to define a Western orientated path up the mountain as Buddhism struggles to find its voice in a new language. Perhaps the best way to accomplish this is to emphasize Siddhartha’s humanity.
Do Not Leave Your Baggage Unattended: The Art of Skillful Detachment
Ven. Dr. Jim Eubanks, Sensei
The following Dharma talk was given by our root teacher, Ven. Eubanks, Sensei, on February 18, 2010 in St. Louis at the CPB Meditation Center.
Acculturation and Attachment: What It Is and What It Is Not
No matter how much we seek absolute personal sovereignty (what is traditionally called “free will”), a deep and honest look at the human condition reveals that existential baggage is unavoidable because we live in a causal world. The key is to make sure that the baggage we carry is on our terms to the extent it can be, and that it contains expressions of ourselves that we can be proud of and use skillfully. No matter how long I sit in the silence of a secluded forest, the causal conditions that converge to make me the kind of human being I am, do not go away. The Zen master who develops Alzheimer’s will not enlighten himself out of his condition. I am a causally-conditioned “expression of the Universe,” and there are many causal conditions that are not up to my wants OR non-wants. No amount of philosophy cuts me off from those conditions which create me, no matter who I am or how long I’ve been sitting. Instead, it is the goal of the reflective and considerate person to understand the major sources of influence in his or her life, to “attend” to the baggage that he or she does and must carry. There is a term for this existential baggage: acculturation.
Engaged Dharma is honored to have our root teacher Dr. Jim Eubanks Sensei (Yong Xiang Shi) offer his wisdom on the meaning and practice of contemporary Buddhism. The pragmatic view and intent, and application of Buddhist practice, as taught to him by Rugen Fisher Sensei (Shen Leng Shi) and passed to Venerable David and I is at the core of what Engaged Dharma promotes through our website and teachings at the Buddha Center in the virtual world of Second Life, through one-on-one teaching via Skype, and how we approach the experiences and situations we encounter moment-to-moment.
Dr. Jim Eubanks Sensei (Yong Xiang Shi)
From the Master’s Cushion: Being Buddhist
by Dr. Jim Eubanks Sensei (Yong Xiang Shi)
When we talk about being “Buddhist” we mean two things. The first is that we are a member of a global group of people who ascribe to the elemental teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha. Teachings which, in all their myriad forms, come back to the central role of causality, change, impermanence, selflessness and resolving the issue of unsatisfactoriness.