Thursday, May 1, 2014

"What the Buddha Never Taught" (book)

Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven, Wisdom Quarterly; Tim Ward;
Golden Buddha in characteristic Thai or Siamese style (Anekoho/
20th Anniversary Edition (
To understand what the Buddha taught in theory, it is good to discuss practices he did did not teach. What did he teach?

So let's have a behind the scenes look at life in a Thai forest monastery. Tim Ward wrote a classic and humorous "behind-the-robes" account of his journey to Northeast Thailand to live in a Buddhist forest monastery for Westerners as a temporary monastic.
"There is still a place in the jungles of Thailand, where you can leave it all behind..."

This book became a classic and a bestseller in the 1990s. It is funny and clear, a true-life “behind the robes” account of life inside one of the strictest jungle monasteries in Southeast Asia. 

In Wat Pah Nanachat, the monastics keep the 227 rules laid down by the Buddha, including refraining from all killing. But how does a foreign novice cope with a cobra in the outhouse or the temptation of a Mars Bar in his alms bowl? Find out in this newly reincarnated 20th anniversary edition, with a new introduction by the author Tim Ward and a new foreword by Wade Davis.
The Buddha reclining into final nirvana (kwanyinbuddha/

Episode 49: author Tim Ward
Podcast Ward, author of What The Buddha Never Taught, talks about his experiences as a Theravadan monk (novice) in Thailand. 

This podcast has featured two former Western monastics who have written books about their experiences -- original "Buddhist Atheist" Stephen Batchelor and Stephen Schettini. Today a third guest exposes an underlying thread in their experiences -- a personal resonance with the particular form of practice was lacking. That's not to say that it's not there for many, if not most, Westerners who take robes (ordain temporarily or permanently).

But the reasons why some have left the alms bowl behind seem very similar if not identical. Many of the recent discussions on the Facebook Fan Page for "The Secular Buddhist" have centered on this topic: What's right for one individual, culturally, may not be right for another. And that's okay, of course. Secular Buddhism is about creating an opportunity for spiritual practice, self-cultivation (meditation), and fostering communities of support for those more comfortable with a secular (non-religious) worldview. Many of us are less comfortable with the trappings of organized religion and supernatural explanations. We find more resonance with practicing in our own, non-traditional way.

And as Buddhism expands in the West, it is inevitable that it find its own forms, which reflect the culture it finds itself in. Some of us deal quite well with faith approaches to meditative practice, while others take a more skeptical view. But a PRACTICE of reducing suffering, of self and others, remains. We share this vision, and however we get there, however winding the path, the core practice of that path is the same. LISTEN TO THE EPISODE

Why would anyone become a hermit?
Publisher's Weekly (review edited by Wisdom Quarterly)
Ward's funny title is based on famed book
According to Ward's delightful account of his stay in a Thai Buddhist monastery, there are many things that the Buddha never taught [but they are practiced anyway].
One is the extreme rigor of the Pah Nanachat monastery, involving rising at 3:00 am for [paritta] chanting, walking on gravel roads in bare feet, and eating only one big meal a day.
  • The same thing is every day practiced in California near San Diego at Metta Forest Monastery. It is a branch of the same strict revivalist Dhammayut school Ajahn Thanissaro (Geoffrey DeGraff) was relegated to after being expelled from Thailand -- for almost becoming an abbot there, an act that would have given functional Thai land ownership to a foreigner (farang), which the Thai Sangha and government were not willing to tolerate -- when his Thai teacher passed away.
Ward concludes that the final lesson is about the redemptive power of laughter.

A Canadian journalist, he traveled around Asia for six years, eventually winding up at Wat Pah Nanachat, which was built to spread Theravada Buddhism to farangs ("foreigners," non-Thais). 
Among the motley crew the author finds at the jungle monastery are an ex-gospel singer from England, a former accountant from China, and a former real estate millionaire from Chicago, USA.

The head monk is an Australian who used to play jazz guitar in his last life. The book is Ward's affectionate, and often very funny, account of his sojourn in this place of meditation and renunciation.

The volume could have been improved by some sharp editing, but its little redundancies and repetitions help capture the often monotonous life of the monk.

Encouraging journeys of self-discovery
Tracy Sherlock (Vancouver Sun)
Siddhartha's search for life's meaning
"If you're looking for the meaning of life, you'll benefit from seeking it out yourself," says author Tim Ward, who spent time in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand in the 1980s.
"I think it's really valuable for everybody, preferably in their 20s, to really come up against the question, 'Where does meaning reside?'"

"I think that there is an answer," Ward continues, "and that is that part of what it is to be human is to generate meaning." 
Ward wrote about his experiences in What the Buddha Never Taught, which has been released in a special 20th anniversary edition with a foreword by Canadian anthropologist and author Wade Davis. 

Young I left the household to wander
"One of the things I look at with regret in our current society is that so many of those meanings are given to kids, they sort of just jump onto meanings without having to feel what meaninglessness is like," Ward said.
"They want a career where they will make a lot of money, so they can live in a nice house and drive a big car because that's what successful people do. That makes me cry and tear out what last bit of hair I've got. Where's your struggle to find the meaning that's in your bones?"

"If anything, that's my hope for this book on its 20th anniversary that it will encourage younger readers to do that fighting for the meaning in their life, and not accept the values that are given to them." More

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