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Exposing the Conflict Over Jhana Within the Theravadan Orthodoxy

Correspondence with Bhikkhu Sujato Wed, 27 Jul 2005

Date: Wed, 27 Jul 2005 23:21:10 +1200

   From: Bill Gray <nirodhasati@yahoo.com.au>

Subject: Correspondence with Bhikkhu Sujato...

Hi all,

I just had a brief email dialogue with Bhikkhu Sujato, the author of "A Swift Pair of Messengers" and "A History of Mindfulness", and I thought it would be valuable if I shared it with you all.

My comments and questions are in bold and his responses to them are italicized. The sequence of the dialogue has been edited, slightly, for clarities sake.

Happiness and ease to you all,

Nirodha (Bill Gray)

*I have just come across a PDF of your booklet "A History of Mindfulness" **and was wondering if it is available in hard copy.

*/Not yet: the layout is being done, and i hope it will be published by the Corporate Body of the Buddha in Taiwan for free distribution before the end of the year. Keep an eye on www.santiforestmonastery.com, or send us an email to join our mailing list, which will among other things alert you for publishing info.

/* I am affiliated with a group of practitioners that is very serious about bringing Samatha-Satipatthana style meditation back into the forefront of Buddhist practice, where we feel it rightfully belongs. As a byproduct of our efforts, we do get attacked and demonized by the Vipassana tradition and their adherents. Your book would be most useful to us as a reference when we are forced to engage in debates.

*/It is sad, and not a little weird, how attachment to meditation techniques generates such anger. I try to approach the matter through remaining cool and relying on the facts, without buying into personal stuff. There is a strong vipassana bent in Sydney where i live; in fact Mahasi and Goenka dominate the whole scene. But i manage to maintain friendly personal relations with these teachers. As you say, being a monk makes it easier, although i can think of plenty of monks who have also been embroiled in controversy. It is important to positively encourage good relations and mutual help in other areas, even if we disagree about meditation.


*/*Yes, I find it quite strange, and sometimes a bit disheartening also, when some react so viscously about something that is supposed to bring us joy, peace and understanding.

I'm not trying to disparage them, but, from my experience, it's seems that the Vipassana crowd tends to be the most aggressive, and quite hardened, with their assertations and objections. Most Samatha-Satipatthana practitioners I have encountered can't be bothered with debates unless they feel they have no choice.

This seeming difference in the psychology of the two groups has, on more than one occasion, caused me to wonder if there is a problem with how the Vipassana methods are being taught. I think the answer would be, yes, and the source would be, lack of stabilizing tranquility and Jhana. Anyway, I don't want to get into an extended discussion about Samatha Jhana vs Vipassana Jhana, so I'll drop it. *


I agree, and this was the main motivation behind my first book, A Swift Pair of Messengers. In Western terms, vipassana develops IQ [Intelligence Quota] but not EQ [Emotional Quota], and this causes dislocation and imbalance in the community. I think historically this was a result of an attempt to rationalize meditation in the wake of the colonial challenge. In other words, the vipassanavada is a modern western-influenced idea, not an authentic tradition at all.


*Granted, some of us have conducted extensive research in the area I am discussing, but, since most of us are laypeople many do not take us seriously regardless of how experienced we are. Even though I am well aware that concepts like 'authority' and 'title' are empty, it would be good to have a well researched reference from an ordained person such as yourself.*

/Yes, it seems especially cutting for the orthodoxies when one of their own inner circle challenges their beliefs. I have been vilified for various of my heterodox beliefs. But you have to stay honest! Keep persevering, and don't despair! In my opinion, the whole vipassanavada thing is a big 20th Century furphy: it could only arise in a context where the suttas were subordinated to the commentaries, and with increasing awareness of the suttas it will soon enough disappear. People will look back at this odd episode and shake their heads in wonder at how the supposed most orthodox of orthodoxies managed to convince the world that the Buddha taught a sevenfold path.

/*[furphy (aussie slang) n.(pl.furphies) 1 a false report or rumour. 2 an absurd story]*/

/*I was wondering if you'd mind if I shared your response to my first email  with the others I am associated with? I feel it would be encouraging, and supportive, for us long timers and rather eye opening for the newcomers whom have never seen a monastic challenge orthodox views.

*/No problems.

in Dhamma,

Bhante sujato /

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