“Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytism

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.

Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby Coyote » Sat May 11, 2013 2:06 pm

Both "No self" and "No self in all dhammas" are saying the same thing - that there is no phenomena that is suitable to be clung to as "I am this, this is mine, this is myself".
What binocular has mentioned is the idea that "no self" is misapplied as an definitive ontological statement and instead is a practical tool to see impermanence and eliminate clinging. Please correct me if I am wrong.
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby binocular » Sat May 11, 2013 3:22 pm

Paribbajaka wrote:
binocular wrote:
binocular wrote: You're asserting that ontologically, there is no self. That is indeed the position of Classical Theravada. I am sure you are aware that there is an ongoing discussion of how accurate this is in regard to the Pali Canon, and about the problems that arise from a definitive no-self view.


This is not a unique position of "Classical Theravada". In fact, it is one of the defining features of Buddhist philosophy. Every form of Buddhism holds non-self as one of its core views. Yet you spoke as if this was not the case, as if there are people out there who believe that the Buddha did not teach a not-self doctrine (when, in fact, it's one of the "Dhamma seals", the core points of teaching that the Buddha himself said any form or mutation of his teaching would contain). I think when someone makes such a radical statement like that, they should expend a little effort and back it up.

I thought most people at this forum were up to date on the matter.

For example:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... self2.html
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... tself.html
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby Paribbajaka » Sat May 11, 2013 6:03 pm

Bhante Thanissaro wrote:In this sense, the anatta teaching is not a doctrine of no-self, but a not-self strategy for shedding suffering by letting go of its cause, leading to the highest, undying happiness. At that point, questions of self, no-self, and not-self fall aside. Once there's the experience of such total freedom, where would there be any concern about what's experiencing it, or whether or not it's a self?


So, in other words, the not-self concept is a "skillful" way to view the world in order to progress on the path. Which brings us back to the original point; the Mahayana and Theravada aren't so different in their use of skillful means :anjali:
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby Coyote » Sat May 11, 2013 6:19 pm

Paribbajaka wrote:So, in other words, the not-self concept is a "skillful" way to view the world in order to progress on the path. Which brings us back to the original point; the Mahayana and Theravada aren't so different in their use of skillful means :anjali:


All means for ending suffering taught by the Buddha are skillful. But It has a different, specific, connotation in Mahayana. That's not to say he didn't teach different people different things, or that he didn't use simile and poetry to convey his teaching.
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby mikenz66 » Sat May 11, 2013 9:12 pm

Hi Binocular,
binocular wrote:I thought most people at this forum were up to date on the matter.

For example:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... self2.html
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... tself.html

While I find Ven Thanissaro's teachings interesting and useful, I don't think that his opinion on this issue (and a number of other issues) can be considered as the consensus view of the Theravada community.

:anjali:
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby binocular » Sun May 12, 2013 6:39 am

mikenz66 wrote:While I find Ven Thanissaro's teachings interesting and useful, I don't think that his opinion on this issue (and a number of other issues) can be considered as the consensus view of the Theravada community.

Of course not.

Like I said earlier- "You're asserting that ontologically, there is no self. That is indeed the position of Classical Theravada. I am sure you are aware that there is an ongoing discussion of how accurate this is in regard to the Pali Canon, and about the problems that arise from a definitive no-self view."

That "there is an ongoing discussion" is putting it mildly. There is a full-blown controversy. People are sometimes getting verbally kicked in the head for asserting that the Buddha never said there is no ontological self. Even just failure to be impressed with the no-self doctrine makes one utterly suspect in the eyes of some self-identified Buddhists.
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby mikenz66 » Sun May 12, 2013 8:08 am

Well, obviously, I'm aware that certain people disagree with the standard Theravada position on certain issues. In a number of cases I think that they make some good points. However, the "not-self strategy" is just Ven Thanissaro's particular interpretation. Whether one perceives it as a "full blown controversy" probably depends on what circles one moves in. In particular, whether they have even heard of him or care enough about the issue to argue. I'm willing to concede that there may be mediation halls out there where people are figuratively coming to blows over the issue, but I've only ever seen people arguing over it on forums such as this one. The people I know personally don't seem to be anywhere near as argumentative as on-line forums...

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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby binocular » Sun May 12, 2013 10:37 am

mikenz66 wrote:Well, obviously, I'm aware that certain people disagree with the standard Theravada position on certain issues. In a number of cases I think that they make some good points. However, the "not-self strategy" is just Ven Thanissaro's particular interpretation. Whether one perceives it as a "full blown controversy" probably depends on what circles one moves in. In particular, whether they have even heard of him or care enough about the issue to argue.

I guess it depends on how much stock one puts into seeing Buddhism as a religion - in the sense of there being one doctrine, unifying various schools which are different only superficially, this doctrine being the same for everyone everywhere at all times, regardless of their circumstances or spiritual attainment.


I'm willing to concede that there may be mediation halls out there where people are figuratively coming to blows over the issue, but I've only ever seen people arguing over it on forums such as this one. The people I know personally don't seem to be anywhere near as argumentative as on-line forums...

In person, it's a tad more difficult to pursue a line of argument. The written form can significantly help one's memory.
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby Paribbajaka » Mon May 13, 2013 12:53 pm

binocular wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:Well, obviously, I'm aware that certain people disagree with the standard Theravada position on certain issues. In a number of cases I think that they make some good points. However, the "not-self strategy" is just Ven Thanissaro's particular interpretation. Whether one perceives it as a "full blown controversy" probably depends on what circles one moves in. In particular, whether they have even heard of him or care enough about the issue to argue.

I guess it depends on how much stock one puts into seeing Buddhism as a religion - in the sense of there being one doctrine, unifying various schools which are different only superficially, this doctrine being the same for everyone everywhere at all times, regardless of their circumstances or spiritual attainment.


I'm willing to concede that there may be mediation halls out there where people are figuratively coming to blows over the issue, but I've only ever seen people arguing over it on forums such as this one. The people I know personally don't seem to be anywhere near as argumentative as on-line forums...

In person, it's a tad more difficult to pursue a line of argument. The written form can significantly help one's memory.


Actually, I think it's more of a case that people in temples and meditation centers are more likely to get on with it, practice, be kind to each other, and not get involved in arguing over semantics.
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby binocular » Mon May 13, 2013 6:51 pm

Paribbajaka wrote:Actually, I think it's more of a case that people in temples and meditation centers are more likely to get on with it, practice, be kind to each other, and not get involved in arguing over semantics.

The no-self vs. not-self issue is a lot more than just an "argument over semantics."
I guess one either sees that, or one doesn't.
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby Paribbajaka » Mon May 13, 2013 8:07 pm

I guess I don't :anjali:
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby kirk5a » Mon May 13, 2013 8:58 pm

mikenz66 wrote:While I find Ven Thanissaro's teachings interesting and useful, I don't think that his opinion on this issue (and a number of other issues) can be considered as the consensus view of the Theravada community.

Where do we find the consensus view of the Theravada community?
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby binocular » Tue May 14, 2013 4:28 am

kirk5a wrote:Where do we find the consensus view of the Theravada community?

Apparently, by whomever happens to have the guts to declare it.
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby ancientbuddhism » Sat Jun 29, 2013 5:08 pm

Authority and Morality in the Mahāyāna, by Donald S. Lopez Jr. (Numen; Vol. 42 1995)

    Summary

    The Mahāyāna sūtras, acknowledged by scholars to have been composed centuries after the death of the Buddha, almost invariably begin with the stock phrase, “thus did I hear” thereby maintaining the conceit of orality. The paper explores the role of this orality as it figures in the strategies of authority for the Mahāyāna sūtras in Indian Buddhism. The paper considers at some length recent scholarship (notably that of Richard Gombrich) on the question of when Buddhist texts were first written down, in light of the widely read but highly problematic theories of orality put forth by Walter Ong and Jack Goody. The paper next compares the positions on speech (and by extension, orality) in the Mīmāṃsaka view of the Vedas and in the Buddhist view of the world of the Buddha. Although Buddhist scholastics devoted a great deal of energy to attacking the Mīmāṃsaka position of eternal nature of the Vedas as sound and although scholars have tended to regard the Hindu and Buddhist positions as antithetical, there are significant unacknowledged affinities between the Mīmāṃsaka and Buddist positions which help explain why the Mahāyāna sūtras begin, “thus did I hear.” The paper concludes with a discussion of the possible significance of writing in the rise of the diverse association of cults of the book which we have come to call the Mahāyāna.
Anuvicca papañca nāmarūpaṃ
ajjhattaṃ bahiddhā ca rogamūlaṃ,
sabbarogamūlabandhanā pamutto
anuvidito tādi pavuccate tathattā
.

“Having known the naming of objects,
With its proliferation, its root in illness – within and without;
One is released from bondage to the root of all illness.
And thus is called the Knowing One – the Such.

– Sn. 3.6 (Sabhiyasuttaṃ)

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby tharpa » Sat Jul 13, 2013 1:31 am

Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu. :bow: It pleases me very much to see the original post stated so clearly. Usually Theravadins are so polite that they don't dare say something like this.

Then in the comments, we get back to the usual mish-mash that we know and tolerate so well. :)

I would go further and say that I believe that one of the primary motives for composition of the Mahayana Sutras was that the authors saw Old School monks getting all the goodies, (the requisities, good food, adulation, honor, etc), and that the authors wanted that but did not want to pay the price, i.e. following the Vinaya. The Heart Sutra, in particular, can be seen as a point-by-point refutation of the Buddha's primary teachings. Once there was a Sutra that contradicted the Buddha's teachings, the inconvenience of reason, common sense and logic in the student's minds had been eliminated, and the teachers could then teach anything they wanted and call it Buddhism, all with the ultimate goal of obtaining requisites without paying the price of sila.
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Jul 13, 2013 2:26 am

tharpa wrote:The Heart Sutra, in particular, can be seen as a point-by-point refutation of the Buddha's primary teachings.
No, it is not. The Heart Sutra is a restatement of the Buddha's teachings in terms of emptiness.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby Dan74 » Sat Jul 13, 2013 4:51 am

tharpa wrote:Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu. :bow: It pleases me very much to see the original post stated so clearly. Usually Theravadins are so polite that they don't dare say something like this.

Then in the comments, we get back to the usual mish-mash that we know and tolerate so well. :)

I would go further and say that I believe that one of the primary motives for composition of the Mahayana Sutras was that the authors saw Old School monks getting all the goodies, (the requisities, good food, adulation, honor, etc), and that the authors wanted that but did not want to pay the price, i.e. following the Vinaya. The Heart Sutra, in particular, can be seen as a point-by-point refutation of the Buddha's primary teachings. Once there was a Sutra that contradicted the Buddha's teachings, the inconvenience of reason, common sense and logic in the student's minds had been eliminated, and the teachers could then teach anything they wanted and call it Buddhism, all with the ultimate goal of obtaining requisites without paying the price of sila.


Tharpa, what you believe seems to go completely against the evidence. For instance Paul Williams, Emeritus Professor of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy at the University of Bristol, in his Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, argues that it was the desire to be true to the Buddha's teachings and strive hard for enlightenment that aid the origins of what was to become Mahayana. In fact, there are many records of early Mahayana masters going into seclusion, practicing very hard, perhaps even going to extremes, rather than "seeking the goodies" or "being lax with Vinaya".
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby Raksha » Sat Jul 13, 2013 9:46 am

Water in a red glass, water in a blue glass...for my part I cannot separate out Theravada from Mahayana, they appear indistinguishable. The only time that I think of them separately is when I am speaking with those who make an issue of perceived differences.
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby tharpa » Sat Jul 13, 2013 5:29 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
tharpa wrote:The Heart Sutra, in particular, can be seen as a point-by-point refutation of the Buddha's primary teachings.
No, it is not. The Heart Sutra is a restatement of the Buddha's teachings in terms of emptiness.


Dear Tilt,

Does your response even grammatically match my statement? Can an answer that contains the sentence, "No, it is not" ever be an intelligent response to a statement with the core phrase, "can be seen"?
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Re: “Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytis

Postby tharpa » Sat Jul 13, 2013 5:39 pm

Raksha wrote:Water in a red glass, water in a blue glass...for my part I cannot separate out Theravada from Mahayana, they appear indistinguishable. The only time that I think of them separately is when I am speaking with those who make an issue of perceived differences.
:anjali:


No doubt. The only way one could ever correctly perceive the differences would be to read a Nikaya, then to compare it to the Mahayana Sutras. The Mahayana Sutras have not yet been translated in their entirety into English (I can explain why I think this is so), but one could approximate by reading 100 randomly-selected Mahayana Sutras. Without performing this exercise or something very close, one can have an opinion on the subject, but it is not an informed opinion. It would be like someone saying that they cannot distinguish Mount Everest from Mount Analogue. Such a person would deserve credit that they correctly phrased it that they cannot distinguish the difference, rather than saying that noone can distinguish the difference.
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