Mahayanists and the historical record

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Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby BlackBird » Sun Apr 07, 2013 8:44 am

One of the primary foundations of my faith in Theravada and Early Buddhism is the historical record, and the likelyhood that the Early teachings represent the true word of the Buddha, and that later writings were written by others who were probably not enlightened or at least of a status unknown, and thus not to be taken as Buddhavacana.

I am truly interested (without polemical or nasty intent) to understand how Mahayanists establish faith when posed with the same question of historical attribution. Is the literal word of the Buddha just not that important in Mahayana? Do they reckon that those who wrote the later sutras were enlightened as well, and so justify their attribution to being the Buddha's word as being forgivable and not a detraction from the supposed dharma within the sutra?

This is the reason I never became a Mahayanist. I think if the historical record was in doubt or at least foggy enough to warrant that the Mahayana sutras could have been the Buddha's word I probably would have become one.

metta
Jack
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby waimengwan » Sun Apr 07, 2013 9:43 am

I am a Tibetan Buddhist so this school falls under the Mahayana section.

I would use inferential logic, if the practice of Theravada just stops at becoming a Arhat, then surely there are methods to become a Bodhisattva and Samyak Sambuddha like Shakyamuni.

if there are such methods to become a bodhisattva or perfectly enlightened Buddha like Shakyamuni where are such methods if not in the Mahayana/Vajrayana? I don't know enough historical lore about the emergence Mahayana or to quote and so forth, but studying the texts like the Lamrim, the from I have observed Lamrim contains all the teachings traversing all the paths, I believe incorporates the teachings taught in the Theravada as well and Mahayana ones makes a lot of sense in the development of a mind that supports the Bodhisattva path, like supporting the development of the bodhi mind.
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby taintless » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:00 am

Ok but, assuming that you're not an Arahat, or Samyaksam Buddha, or Bodhisattva, how can you establish that these states exist?

Without a historical record, and some guarantee of: "yes these attainments are possible", what exactly leads you to believe that it is possible to attainment samyaksambodhi or bodhisattvahood without some sort of historical record.

Unless of course you're in contact with Buddhas and bodhisattvas.
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby waimengwan » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:03 am

Because Shakyamuni Buddha said so and Buddhas do not lie, plus Shakyamuni is not an Arhat right?
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby Ben » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:06 am

waimengwan wrote:Shakyamuni is not an Arhat right?


Yes he is.

Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby Dan74 » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:17 am

There was a discussion of this at Dharma Wheel some time ago

http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=41&t=309

As for me, I would happily sign my name under the following response:

As a starting point, I think historicity and the use of words like "authentic" is probably a good support in practice. But as practice progresses and experience builds, I think the important part is what works ... what you are really willing to investigate right down to the ground. Can the Dharma be limited in some way? I doubt it.

It's not a matter of better or worse, for my money ... it's what actually works, what actually takes you home, what actually instills your own peaceful life.
_/|\_
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby BlackBird » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:22 am

So so far I've read that the answers have been to solve the dilemma by avoiding thinking about it? Disregard it because it's not important whether the Buddha actually spoke it, if it works it works?

Forgive me if I am reading the wrong thing into these responses, that is not my intention.

Perhaps because I personally cannot go beyond the fact that the historical Buddha's word is the be all and end all, I am looking at this through a prism.

metta
Jack
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby Dan74 » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:29 am

BlackBird wrote:So so far I've read that the answers have been to solve the dilemma by avoiding thinking about it? Disregard it because it's not important whether the Buddha actually spoke it, if it works it works?

Forgive me if I am reading the wrong thing into these responses, that is not my intention.

metta
Jack


I don't think I've ever avoided thinking about it - it just hasn't been as important to me as it seems to be to you.

For example, some sutta passages are profound and transformative and some are... not. To an Orthodox Jew, to take just one example, every word of the Old Testament is the Revelation and every instruction, no matter how absurd, must be followed. But for those of us who do not follow Religions of the Book, who do not believe in one perfect revelation, choice and discernment are integral to religious practice. So for me, there are scriptures I return to time and time again and there are those I don't. And like the response I've quoted, the proof I find is in the pudding, not in the identity of the chef (which we can only take on faith from scant evidence).

Is it not like this for you?
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby Ben » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:37 am

Hi Jack,

I am not sure whether you are familiar with the works of Richard Gombrich and Venerable Analayo. Both scholars are exponents of textual analysis, comparing the Pali Canon against the Agamas to derive rich insights. I recommend them. My impression, however incomplete, is that both the Theravada and Mahayana arose at around the same time and that there was some fluidity between schools.
Hopefully others with more knowledge on the history of the origins of the Mahayana and Theravada can contribute.
kind regards,

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby BlackBird » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:41 am

For me I am quite a skeptic Dan, so in order for me to believe something, it has to be factual, and The Buddha being a real being who was really enlightened is the key to the lock for me so to speak - The whole premise for me rests on the idea that he was there, enlightened, and thus was the proof for my pudding. But thanks for your clarification I am starting to understand your perspective now :)

Ben: I've read a few of Gombrich's books. I think the Buddha's teachings of the Sutta pitaka are more or less the original teachings and the Agamas more or less correspond and are probably of much the same fundamental teaching. Perhaps the Mahavihara abhidhamma came about around the same time as the Mahayana, but I equate Theravada as being a general school of Early Buddhism, not strictly just the mahavihara and thus in my eyes to say Theravada and Mahayana came at the same time is a bit uh, not my cup of tea? haha if I am to be blunt, I don't agree with that. I say that without any ill will or annoyance :)

metta
Jack
Last edited by BlackBird on Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby taintless » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:46 am

I'm not avoiding thinking about anything.

For me, when I read the suttas I understand the depth of the Buddha's insight, I understand how these words could have been spoken by a single genius, couple this with the fact that most people believe that the Pali Canon was indeed spoken by the historical Buddha and that's enough for me. My faith is sealed.

It is, however, an issue for me when I don't see the same genius in other works of Buddhist writing.

Edit:

Although to actually address your point: yes I was not solving your dilemma by asking more questions. Moreover I was merely poking at what I considered speculative thinking in the first reply to this post.

But let me ask you, why do you ask this question? Is it for the sake of discussion? For curiosity of others' opinion?

What motivates you?
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby BlackBird » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:48 am

Let me put this another way.

If I found out tomorrow that the Buddha wasn't real. I would probably lose most faith in the teachings, and no longer consider myself a Buddhist. I would probably still practice meditation and seek some sort of gnosis, but it would shake my beliefs to the core. It all rests upon the historicity of the Buddha being the legitimate embodiment of all that he preached and my faith in this is quite strong.

When I say avoid thinking about it, to me it is a problem that cannot be put aside. That is because the factuality of the Buddha is of utmost importance, I am starting to see that that is not so for everybody.

metta
Jack
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby Dan74 » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:50 am

BlackBird wrote:For me I am quite a skeptic Dan, so in order for me to believe something, it has to be factual, and The Buddha being a real being who was really enlightened is the key to the lock for me so to speak - The whole premise for me rests on the idea that he was there, enlightened, and thus was the proof for my pudding. But thanks for your clarification I am starting to understand your perspective now :)


metta
Jack


Great!

I guess to push the pudding metaphor, once we taste the fruits of practice, the identity of the chef drops in relevance.

Is every sutta as recorded in Sutta Pitaka a faithful representation of the Buddha's teachings? Are we sure that the Mahayana Sutras don't have the historical Buddha as their source? Did Buddhavacana stop with the Shakyamuni's parinibbana? Were there enlightened teachers after the Buddha who "built on his work" or adapted it to different cultures and environments?

All these questions spawn thousands of pages of scholarly works and forum controversies but pondering them is of very little use if liberation from delusion is your goal, IMO.
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby taintless » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:52 am

Ok, well said.

Your issue here is that your faith in the Buddha's teachings, stems from their historical facticity, and not their validity.

In other words, if someone said to you: go here, make merit, do good, be virtuous and enjoy the fruits thereof. But you found out that the person was not "real".

Then you would not follow his advice, but say someone said: go here, make demerit, do evil, be immoral and suffer the consequences. And you found out this person was real.

Then you would follow his advice?

Which is wiser, to follow some teaching based on the idea that it is beneficial, or to follow some teaching based on the idea that it was historically "true".
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby BlackBird » Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:57 am

taintless wrote:Ok, well said.

Your issue here is that your faith in the Buddha's teachings, stems from their historical facticity, and not their validity.

In other words, if someone said to you: go here, make merit, do good, be virtuous and enjoy the fruits thereof. But you found out that the person was not "real".

Then you would not follow his advice, but say someone said: go here, make demerit, do evil, be immoral and suffer the consequences. And you found out this person was real.

Then you would follow his advice?

Which is wiser, to follow some teaching based on the idea that it is beneficial, or to follow some teaching based on the idea that it was historically "true".


No, you mistake me, it is a combination of the his historicity and the fact that his teachings have shown themselves to be applicable to my personal subjective situation - That of my existence, it's superfluousness and the dukkha of it all, among other factors that lead me to follow his teachings.

Your example is fallacious because it assumes that a person being real is the only factor involved in my decision making process. That couldn't be further from the truth.

As I said, I am a skeptic and the Buddha's historicity is the key to the lock, it is the factual basis that backs up the claim. If the Buddha were to lay forth the teaching but say: I have not realized this which I teach, then it would be the same problem as if he did not exists.

His existence is of critical importance because it is PROOF that his teachings culminate in what they say they do. In your example, I would not follow the advice of either, since neither in your example give any proof of what they say. I follow the Buddha in this example because he declares that he has known and seen the result of kamma with his own eye, he has seen beings arise according to their kamma.
Last edited by BlackBird on Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby taintless » Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:00 am

But their historical validity does not prove that what he says is true.

It merely proves that he said it. His "historical existence" does nothing to justify what he said.

How then do you plan to prove that his teachings culminate in what he said they did?

;-)

Edit: fixed some spelling mistakes.
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby Rasko » Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:01 am

-
Last edited by Rasko on Sun Apr 07, 2013 1:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby waimengwan » Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:02 am

@Ben so
Arhat = Bodhisattva = Samyak Sambuddha - so why three terms to represent Samyak Sambuddha ?

And a Bodhisattva practices then acheives Arhathood and Nibbana?
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby BlackBird » Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:02 am

taintless wrote:But their historical validity do not prove that he says is true.

It merely proves that he said it. His "historical existence" does nothing to justify what he said.

How then do you plan to prove that his teachings culminate in what he said they did?

;-)


By taking his teachings as a hypothesis and testing them out. If he was not around to make the claim that he knew and saw what he knew and saw then there would be no point in testing out the hypothesis as there would be no case study as evidence that this enlightenment is possible. Simple logic isn't it?
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:12 am

Hi Jack,
BlackBird wrote:If I found out tomorrow that the Buddha wasn't real. I would probably lose most faith in the teachings, and no longer consider myself a Buddhist.

It's interesting how different people have such different approaches to the Dhamma. Personally, I don't think it would make much difference to me if the Buddha was decisively proven to have not existed. My faith came though interaction with the Sangha, not through some historical idea, or through any kind of study of the different options. I just turned up at a Wat and kept coming back because I liked it... I didn't have a clear idea of the difference between Theravada and Mahayana until I'd apparently been Theravada for about a year...

Clearly historicity is very important to you, and to some others here, so that's something we have to respect.

However, to me it's fascinating, and at the same time baffling, when I see people put so much emphasis on historical accuracy. To me the historical stuff is interesting in helping me understand context, but for me the idea that this is liberating Dhamma, embodied by the Sangha who have preserved and explained it for 2500 years, is the compelling thing.

:anjali:
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