I write the following at the risk of inflaming the Theravadins here. It is not my intention, this is the best place to discuss the Pali material. For some, that means contradicting Theravada. I apologize ahead of schedule.
As modern people who may not have a familial tradition of Buddhism, we are pulled in two directions. On the one hand, we don't want to seem like marauders of an ancient tradition that has preserved something precious for thousands of years. On the other hand, because we have no cultural attache, we are haunted by verses in texts like the Sutta Nipata that warn us not to "grasp like a monkey on a branch," one branch then another. There is a cognitive dissonance that takes place, at least I feel that way. I feel like the Buddha was saying something entirely different than the traditions made it seem, and I have trouble keeping a straight face when some teachers speak. The religious fervor and doctrinal system that arose, stayed put and got even stronger in Buddhism seems to have been somewhat in error. We sometimes, perhaps because we are projecting, but perhaps because we are seeing clearly, see a Buddha who was 2500 years ahead of his time, almost a man of today's way of thinking, a skeptic, a realist, a pragmatist and an egalitarian social reformist. My attitude is strongly reinforced by teachers like Bhante Punnaji, who, even if he is wrong about his claims that he is presenting a more accurate portrait of what the Buddha really taught, has created better flow charts, to put it bluntly, a better system that helps us be better Buddhists today based on today's world view. This is the foundation of a great reformation of what will become a modern Buddhism, one that has scientific validity and global utility. Honestly, there is an overwhelming force of modernization happening in Buddhism.
One of my Tibetan teachers asked me the other day over pizza, "don't get mad at me, but I have to ask you, is tradition maybe a little wrong?" I have been pondering how to answer this question for weeks. It seems to me that what really happened was that the traditions that arose in the name of the Buddha actually broke the tradition the Buddha was trying to create and we modern newcomers to Buddhism are trying to figure out what tradition that might have been. In a sense, the modern Buddhist is trying to get at the more ancient and more traditional buddhism, and what we are finding is a Buddha who looks a lot more like a modern scientist.
To be fair, it also seems almost as if the Buddha created two buddhisms. Mr. Peacock mentioned the Rhinoceros Horn and the thing about monks should wander alone, and the Buddha changing his mind, i.e., making a vinaya and sangha who live together. It almost seems as if he initially wanted monks not to organize. I imagine the Buddha picturing a world where he emptied the villages of inhabitants and turned mankind into a peaceful solitary forest dwelling species, but then later had to relent to organization from the sheer force of the numbers of followers. What this shows is that he miscalculated. Which is normal for a problem solver: what seems like will work based on a small number does not translate when the orders of magnitude scale up. Any internet entrepreneur has to confront this and there is a science of business planning that has grown up around this phenomenon. Also in the vinaya it's obvious the Buddha was making rules on an ad hoc basis, which is why he allowed the sangha to change rules. Another buddhism would be the one where there's no formal sangha and you can be a "monk" just by wandering alone, letting go and taking nothing up.
At times he contradicts himself; there is the passage about the monk who attained Arahatship while slitting his own throat, and then he makes a vinaya rule about not throwing yourself off a cliff. There are other passages where the twelve links are describes in various ways. All of this makes it clear we were not dealing with an omniscient god-man, but a human problem solver, otherwise, he could have said, "Monks these are going to be the rules that will work for all time, these and no others." So if we are going to be "buddhas" we need to emulate the behavior that stays true to tradition and be problem solvers. At this time, as much as we owe a debt to the various buddhist traditions, they are all entrenched deeply in the same problem the Buddha was confronted with, how to make the teachings work in society. If anything is sacred in buddhism it's the problem of suffering and how to solve it. Aside from that, everything else is subject to change without further notice (I'm simplifying, but I hope you get my point). Thanks for taking time to see this.
Last edited by suttametta
on Sat Jun 02, 2012 8:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.