[Buddha-l] Question for academic teachers of Buddhism

Curt Steinmetz curt at cola.iges.org
Thu Jun 26 09:21:05 MDT 2008

Jackhat1 at aol.com wrote:
> My experience with a local Thai temple has been very interesting. Most of  
> the ethnic monks do not meditate. Meditation retreats there are led by western  
> born monks and attended only by westerners. Some of the ethnic monks have been 
>  puzzled by  westerners' interest in studying the suttas and meditating.  
> They seem to feel our interests should be supporting the monks and going to the  
> ceremonies.

Well, certainly meditation is practiced in the Theravadin tradition. 
After all, the whole phenomenon of Vipassana/Insight Meditation in the 
west comes from westerners who have traveled to Asia and received 
meditation instruction in the Theravadin tradition. My guess would be 
that Theravadin monks who are primarily interested in meditation would 
have very little interest in living in the United States - and prefer to 
stay in Asia. Monks who come to the US from Asia are here, I would 
guess, primarily to serve the lay community - who probably provide all 
or most of their financial support. And since this is America - you get 
what you pay for.

Westerners tend to view meditation, and spirituality in general, in 
"self-help" terms - therefore meditation is thought to be something that 
everyone should do, like brushing your teeth. But in countries with well 
established ancient traditions of spiritual practice meditation, as 
understood in the west, is definitely an elite practice. Most people 
want to "get" something from spiritual practice - and in that case it is 
much better to do some devotional chanting and pin some money to the 
money tree.

The real problem, in my opinion, is not that Asian Buddhists engage in 
devotional, ritualistic practices without "doing meditation" - but 
rather that so many westerners think they can do meditation while 
neglecting devotional practice.


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