The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby Anagarika » Mon Jul 29, 2013 12:41 am

I am interested in opinions on the issue, as Prof. Rita Gross has presented so well over the years, on how to manage the possible conflicts between what we have understood from the earliest suttas and Vinaya as to the Buddha's actual teachings, and what teachings developed later, particularly in the Mahayana. One of the elephants in the room that I feel is that some of Mahayana is patently a fabrication, and while we are earnestly as Buddhists using our knowledge, wisdom and Right Speech, the elephant of history seems to loom large in the room. As Prof. Gross has pointed out in a number of articles (she being from the Tibetan Vajrayana lineage herself), when history collides with traditions, people get uncomfortable, even angry.

"That is to say, Buddhist understandings of cause and effect could be employed to explain that a movement such as Mahayana Buddhism developed because of social, cultural, and historical events. Most Mahayanists ignore such explanations, preferring a story whose empirical validity is highly questionable. According to legend, in the presence of the historical Buddha, Avalokiteshvara instructs Shariputra on emptiness. If the story is taken literally, Mahayana Buddhism originated during the lifetime of Shakyamuni Buddha, a claim that historians find unconvincing. Furthermore, Shariputra is a historical character, but Avalokiteshvara is not, and so they did not coexist in historical time and space, that is, in India in the fifth century B.C.E. Many students become intensely upset when the story they have usually been told about the origins of Mahayana Buddhism is critically evaluated. It is very difficult for them to understand that I am not asking them to question the validity of these stories, only their historicity." Buddhist History for Buddhist Practitioners Prof. Rita Gross, Tricycle, 2010

I have recently become interested in what a Theravada sangha in Japan has been doing...essentially bringing the teachings of the Buddhadhamma to the people of Japan, with some success. http://www.j-theravada.net/ Does it seem obnoxious, or offensive, to make efforts to correct the misunderstandings that may be present in some of the later ("Great Vehicle") traditions, or is it Right Speech to stay silent and let people practice a form of Buddhism that is valuable, sincere, but historically and textually incorrect? Should scholars and interested practitioners make some effort to bring the Pali Texts to western Mahayana? If the Dhamma is medicine for a sick society, are people being harmed by ingesting a placebo?

I truly applaud what Prof. Gross is presenting, but at the end of the day, will her words just bring anger or confusion?
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby lyndon taylor » Mon Jul 29, 2013 1:04 am

Irrespective of what actually happened any of the scriptures that were originally written in Sanskrit COULD have been written in the Buddha's lifetime, as quite likely the Buddha or at least many of those around him could have recorded them in sanskrit as Sanskrit was the principal written language of the period. At least from scholars accounts, Pali, the common language of the lower Nepali/Indian castes, had no written alphabet, and I have never heard of anyone claiming pali could have been written down using the Sanskrit alphabet. It wasn't til 4-500??? years later when Buddhism reached modern day Burma, that the pali chanted scriptures were written down by adopting the Burmese language's alphabet. So thats 400 years of only oral memorization transmission of the 77 volumes of the pali canon, hardly a good case for a 100% accurate transmission of scripture IMHO. However we know very long books like the Holy Koran have been memorized cover to cover by 10s of thousands of devout Muslims, they may be one in ten thousand, but there are people with photographic phenomenol memory, which could account for a huge amount of Dhamma being accurately transmitted orally, I'm just not willing to go with 100%, but some people of really devout faith can believe in that. Now i'm not a 100% expert on this either, so for those of you that know even more about this, please correct any mistakes I have made, thank you.

While the Buddha spoke he would only teach in the language of the common citizen, Pali, the Mahayanists believe that in his old age realizing that none of this was actually written down, decided to write or transcribe some teachings in Sanskrit, and that these Sanskrit scriptures, carefully translated into Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese langauges etc became the mahayana teachings we have today, I have also heard the mahayana traditions considered some gurus just as or almost as highly as the buddha, the living Buddhas, and that much of the mahayana scriptures come much later from these sources. How much of this is true or not, I really have no idea.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby cooran » Mon Jul 29, 2013 1:29 am

The Buddha was very aware of the preciousness of his Teachings and the need to ensure they were not altered deliberately or accidentally.
The Bhanakas ensured the Teacings were accurately passed down to our time.

What can we be certain of in the Buddha's Life?
viewtopic.php?f=19&t=12412

With metta,
Chris
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby Kim OHara » Mon Jul 29, 2013 2:17 am

lyndon taylor wrote:Irrespective of what actually happened any of the scriptures that were originally written in Sanskrit COULD have been written in the Buddha's lifetime, as quite likely ... How much of this is true or not, I really have no idea.

Hi, Lyndon,
Many of the language issues have been discussed at length in the Early Buddhism forum, http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewforum.php?f=29. I haven't go time now to track down specific threads, but :reading: and ye shall find. :smile:

:namaste:
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby Kim OHara » Mon Jul 29, 2013 2:44 am

BuddhaSoup wrote:I am interested in opinions on the issue, as Prof. Rita Gross has presented so well over the years, on how to manage the possible conflicts between what we have understood from the earliest suttas and Vinaya as to the Buddha's actual teachings, and what teachings developed later, particularly in the Mahayana. One of the elephants in the room that I feel is that some of Mahayana is patently a fabrication, and while we are earnestly as Buddhists using our knowledge, wisdom and Right Speech, the elephant of history seems to loom large in the room. As Prof. Gross has pointed out in a number of articles (she being from the Tibetan Vajrayana lineage herself), when history collides with traditions, people get uncomfortable, even angry.

"That is to say, Buddhist understandings of cause and effect could be employed to explain that a movement such as Mahayana Buddhism developed because of social, cultural, and historical events. Most Mahayanists ignore such explanations, preferring a story whose empirical validity is highly questionable. According to legend, in the presence of the historical Buddha, Avalokiteshvara instructs Shariputra on emptiness. If the story is taken literally, Mahayana Buddhism originated during the lifetime of Shakyamuni Buddha, a claim that historians find unconvincing. Furthermore, Shariputra is a historical character, but Avalokiteshvara is not, and so they did not coexist in historical time and space, that is, in India in the fifth century B.C.E. Many students become intensely upset when the story they have usually been told about the origins of Mahayana Buddhism is critically evaluated. It is very difficult for them to understand that I am not asking them to question the validity of these stories, only their historicity." Buddhist History for Buddhist Practitioners Prof. Rita Gross, Tricycle, 2010

I have recently become interested in what a Theravada sangha in Japan has been doing...essentially bringing the teachings of the Buddhadhamma to the people of Japan, with some success. http://www.j-theravada.net/ Does it seem obnoxious, or offensive, to make efforts to correct the misunderstandings that may be present in some of the later ("Great Vehicle") traditions, or is it Right Speech to stay silent and let people practice a form of Buddhism that is valuable, sincere, but historically and textually incorrect? Should scholars and interested practitioners make some effort to bring the Pali Texts to western Mahayana? If the Dhamma is medicine for a sick society, are people being harmed by ingesting a placebo?

I truly applaud what Prof. Gross is presenting, but at the end of the day, will her words just bring anger or confusion?

Hi, BuddhaSoup,
There are at least three different kinds of problems lurking behind words I have bolded in your valuable post.
One is that Westerners (and presumably nowadays westernised Asians) make a far bigger distinction between "fact" (historical and scientific) and "myth" than earlier societies, East or West, ever did. If we forget that myth is just as true as history and science, although in a different way, we mis-read many pre-scientific texts, seeing fabrication and error where we should be seeing non-literal truth.
Another is that Buddhism - of all schools - clearly has succumbed to cultural drift. I believe that all traditions have become more faith-based and less insight-based than the Buddhism of the suttas. Also, elements of other religions (Bon, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, animism) have quietly become accepted as part of Buddhism.
A third is that, once we have accepted the historical truth that some texts are later than others, we have to decide whether Buddhism is a developing knowledge domain, as per (e.g.) Medicine and History, or a Revealed Truth as per (e.g.) the Koran.

My feeling is that we in the modern world (in the West or in Asia) are, between us, shaping our own Buddhism from the traditions which have come down to us. I don't think we can avoid doing so. Fwiw, the Christians are having to do the same thing :tongue: and for the same reasons. "Genesis" was literal truth to mainstream Christians 200 years ago; it's now myth to nearly all of them.

:namaste:
Kim
[edit: formatting was messy :embarassed: ]
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby lyndon taylor » Mon Jul 29, 2013 4:51 am

Kim OHara wrote:
lyndon taylor wrote:Irrespective of what actually happened any of the scriptures that were originally written in Sanskrit COULD have been written in the Buddha's lifetime, as quite likely ... How much of this is true or not, I really have no idea.

Hi, Lyndon,
Many of the language issues have been discussed at length in the Early Buddhism forum, http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewforum.php?f=29. I haven't go time now to track down specific threads, but :reading: and ye shall find. :smile:

:namaste:
Kim


Thank you kim, I was just trying, since I have studied in both Therevada, and Mahayana or vajarana Tibetan traditions, to point out there seem to be inbuilt prejudices, one school about the other, from both sides, North and South, for instance therevada say the mahayana scriptures were not written down till after the pali scriptures, Mahayana claim they were written down in the Buddhas lifetime, who knows which view is correct, its hard to gather scientific data from 400BC, my point simply being because some scriptures were recorded in sanskrit, it COULD have happened some 400 years before Pali spoken language first aquired an alphabet, because sanskrit but not pali was a written language with an alphabet in the Buddha's lifetime.

The recently discovered oldest Buddhist scriptures in existence around 100AD??????, which are not recorded in pali or sanskrit but rather an afghan???? language, have I believe recognized scriptures from both the Therevada canon, and the mahayana scriptures, and no, they are not word for word the same scripture as we have today, neither the mahayana ones or the Thervada ones, but they are close enough to be recognized as versions of scripture we still have preserved.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Jul 29, 2013 5:07 am

lyndon taylor wrote:. . . .
Some comments I saved from the still very dead E-Sangha:

Loppon Namdrol:

    Likewise, while the Mahayana sutras were inspired by the blessings of the Buddha, I don't believe he actually taught a single one of them. Nevertheless, I think the teachings in them are profound and stand on their own. I apply the same standard to gter mas. Some are more profound than others. That has to do with the realization of the gter ton, and very little to do with their imputed source of authorship.



    "So for example, it is spiritually meaningful that the PP sutras are set on Vulture's Peak-- but it sure is not a historical reality. Even though Shakyamuni Buddha certainly never actually taught Mahayana, nevertheless, Mahayana stands on its own and is valid as a spiritual path and practice because the folks that wrote the Mahayana sutras down were realized persons. The source of these teachings are all realized beings-- their assumed historical settings are merely skillful means to instill faith in the teachings in those person's who need to crutch of historical literalism."

    In general, if a sutra is crucial to one's own schools exegesis, but is of questionable provenance, it cannot be used in a general discussion to bolster one's own school's position since the text upon which one is basing one's position is not accepted as a valid text by all parties.


Namdrol, Malcolm Smith, is a recognized teacher and translator within the tradition in which he studied and practiced. The above comments are quite reasonable.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Jul 29, 2013 5:15 am

lyndon taylor wrote:because sanskrit but not pali was a written language with an alphabet in the Buddha's lifetime.
Classical Sanskrit was not the original language of the Mahayana texts, and it post dates the Buddha. The Mahayana texts were likely written in a prakrit then "back-translated into a version of Sanskrit sometime later. There are number of solid scholarly reasons to place the Mahayana sutras, even at their earliest, later than the Nikaya/Agama texts.
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.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby lyndon taylor » Mon Jul 29, 2013 6:21 am

tiltbillings wrote:
lyndon taylor wrote:because sanskrit but not pali was a written language with an alphabet in the Buddha's lifetime.
Classical Sanskrit was not the original language of the Mahayana texts, and it post dates the Buddha. The Mahayana texts were likely written in a prakrit then "back-translated into a version of Sanskrit sometime later. There are number of solid scholarly reasons to place the Mahayana sutras, even at their earliest, later than the Nikaya/Agama texts.


Thats really just an opinion, which came first the chicken or the egg, the earliest texts of SOME Mahayana scriptures MIGHT have been written down in the Buddha's lifetime, either written in sanskrit or translated from pali to sanskrit very early. The texts you speak of are the earliest EXISTING texts, not the earliest texts, I assume, unless you are saying Sanskrit didn't exist in 450BC I'm not absolutely certain about that, I'm just going off memory of reading about early scriptures from Tibetan sources, Therevada sources tend to downplay any authenticness or ancient nature to anything Mahayana, In the same negative way Mahayana condecendingly call Therevada, The lesser vehicle. I'm pretty much A therevada now, that's why I'm here, but that doesn't mean I'm going to get involved in Mahayana bashing, anymore than I would get involved in therevada bashing when I was tibetan Buddhist.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby cooran » Mon Jul 29, 2013 6:24 am

Hello all,

This may add a little.

What language did the Buddha speak
viewtopic.php?f=24&t=4630

With metta,
Chris
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---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby lyndon taylor » Mon Jul 29, 2013 7:02 am

cooran wrote:Hello all,

This may add a little.

What language did the Buddha speak
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=4630

With metta,
Chris


The most quoted experts in that thread seem to offer tenous at best arguements(like talking about taking written texts to Sri Lanka before written texts existed), there were at least two languages the Buddha had to know, the dialect we think of as Pali today, which was not written, no alphabet, and the elitist only upper upper class brahman which is at least related and has the alphabet of what we know as sanskrit, I remember talking to someone that told me sanskrit was a written not spoken language, but lets just call that a rumour.

I think if we are going to start posting links, how about doing some google searchs and posting links to authoratative scholarly works on the subject, not links to Forum threads populated by armchair philosophers(like myself) who may be right, but even more likely may be completely wrong, again how are we supposed to know????
Last edited by lyndon taylor on Mon Jul 29, 2013 7:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby lyndon taylor » Mon Jul 29, 2013 7:14 am

Here's a much more scholarly sounding discussion on the languages of the Buddha, partly from the Pali text society, with, at the bottom, brief mention that Pali or magadhi did not have an alphabet, and in being written down for the first time some 400 years afer the buddha, had to rely on using the alphabet of other alphabetic languages, (like those of Burma or Sri Lanka, my comment) It calls Sanskrit a spoken and written langauge; hope this is a bit more helpful;

http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/pali ... nguage.htm

I've been googling i had at least one thing ass backwards, sanskrit is no longer a spoken lanuage, not sanskrit was not a spoken language
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18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Jul 29, 2013 7:15 am

lyndon taylor wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
lyndon taylor wrote:because sanskrit but not pali was a written language with an alphabet in the Buddha's lifetime.
Classical Sanskrit was not the original language of the Mahayana texts, and it post dates the Buddha. The Mahayana texts were likely written in a prakrit then "back-translated into a version of Sanskrit sometime later. There are number of solid scholarly reasons to place the Mahayana sutras, even at their earliest, later than the Nikaya/Agama texts.


Thats really just an opinion, which came first the chicken or the egg, the earliest texts of SOME Mahayana scriptures MIGHT have been written down in the Buddha's lifetime, either written in sanskrit or translated from pali to sanskrit very early. The texts you speak of are the earliest EXISTING texts, not the earliest texts, I assume, unless you are saying Sanskrit didn't exist in 450BC I'm not absolutely certain about that, I'm just going off memory of reading about early scriptures from Tibetan sources, Therevada sources tend to downplay any authenticness or ancient nature to anything Mahayana, In the same negative way Mahayana condecendingly call Therevada, The lesser vehicle. I'm pretty much A therevada now, that's why I'm here, but that doesn't mean I'm going to get involved in Mahayana bashing, anymore than I would get involved in therevada bashing when I was tibetan Buddhist.
It would really help if you spent some time leaning some actual history of Buddhism. I can suggest a couple of decent books.
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.

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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby lyndon taylor » Mon Jul 29, 2013 7:31 am

Here's a brief, not really biased overview of the origin of mahayana scriptures from www.dharmanet.org

Mahayana sutras began to be compiled from the first century BCE. They form the basis of the various Mahayana schools, and survive predominantly in primary translations in Chinese and Tibetan of original texts in Sanskrit. From the Chinese and Tibetan texts, secondary translations were also made into Mongolian, Korean, Japanese and Sogdian.

Unlike the Pali Canon, there is no definitive Mahayana canon as such. Nevertheless the major printed or manuscript collections, published through the ages and preserved in Chinese and Tibetan, each contain parallel translations of the majority of known Mahayana sutra. The Chinese also wrote several indigenous sutras and included them into their Mahayana canon.

Mahayana Buddhists believe that the Mahayana sutras, with the possible exception of those with an explicitly Chinese provenance, are an authentic account of teachings given during the Buddha's lifetime. However, Theravada Buddhists believe them to be later inventions of monks striving to change the original teachings of Buddha, and consider the Mahayana sutras apocryphal.

While scholars agree that the Mahayana scriptures were composed from the first century CE onwards, with some of them having their roots in other scriptures, composed in the first century BCE, some Mahayana Buddhists believe that the Mahayana sutras were written down at the time of the Buddha and stored secretly for 500 years, uncovered when people were ready for these "higher teachings."
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby Kim OHara » Mon Jul 29, 2013 11:03 am

lyndon taylor wrote:Here's a brief, not really biased overview of the origin of mahayana scriptures from http://www.dharmanet.org

Mahayana sutras began to be compiled from the first century BCE...

Yep ... that's pretty much the starting point for the thread. :smile:
BuddhaSoup's question, to oversimplify it, is whether those of us who know this history should try to tell those who don't know it that a lot of what they believe is not historically correct.

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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby Alex123 » Sun Aug 04, 2013 5:08 pm

BuddhaSoup wrote:I am interested in opinions on the issue, as Prof. Rita Gross has presented so well over the years, on how to manage the possible conflicts between what we have understood from the earliest suttas and Vinaya as to the Buddha's actual teachings, and what teachings developed later, particularly in the Mahayana. ...As Prof. Gross has pointed out in a number of articles (she being from the Tibetan Vajrayana lineage herself), when history collides with traditions, people get uncomfortable, even angry.


And similar could be stated about Theravada.

How can we be certain that a flesh-and-blood person called Buddha Gotama even existed? Even if we find fossil remains of him, then:
How do we know that he was fully Awakened?
How can we be sure that he didn't used skillful means?
How can we be certain the from 1st Council on, for centuries his doctrine was passed on without omissions, additions or errors?
Where is the evidence that verbal teaching was (without omissions or additions) written down centuries later?
How can we be sure that centuries of copying of these books was without omissions, additions, or other errors?

This is why I believe that practice and practical results is the key.
I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care."
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby Anagarika » Sun Aug 04, 2013 5:29 pm

Alex, we can't be sure to 99.99 percent accuracy, but we can be as sure as these scholars seem to be:

"Several scholars who specialize in the field of early Buddhism have said that much of the contents of the Pali Canon (and its main teachings) can be attributed to Gautama Buddha. Richard Gombrich says that the main preachings of the Buddha (as in the Vinaya and Sutta Pitaka) are coherent and cogent, and must be the work of a single genius: the Buddha himself, not a committee of followers after his death.[19][20] Peter Harvey also affirms the authenticity of "much" of the Pali Canon.[21] A.K. Warder has stated that there is no evidence to suggest that the shared teaching of the early schools was formulated by anyone else than the Buddha and his immediate followers.[22] J.W. de Jong has said it would be "hypocritical" to assert that we can say nothing about the teachings of earliest Buddhism, arguing that "the basic ideas of Buddhism found in the canonical writings could very well have been proclaimed by him [the Buddha], transmitted and developed by his disciples and, finally, codified in fixed formulas."[23]"

Gombrich has written that based on his lifetime of scholarship, it has to be more true than not that the Dhamma was taught by Gautama. There seems to be sufficient evidence to support these strong scholars and historians in these opinions.

I believe the point, or the elephant, is the idea that the same strong scholarship is certain to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that (most, all) the Mahayana sutras are not Buddha vacana; not the product of the oral recording by his disciples of what Gautama taught. Their authorship has been determined and dated. So, I feel you comparison, while appropriate, does not account for the elephant in the room. We can't be certain that all of the Pali Canon is vacana ( we know the Abhidhamma is a later work), but we can be as certain as Gombrich and these other scholars are, and that for me is good enough...until better evidence is brought forth, if any exists.

This is why I believe that practice and practical results is the key.


Alex, listening to Ven. Thanissaro recently, he made the point that a proper understanding of the Buddha's actual words and teachings is so important. The example he gave is meditation, or more closely, jhana, as the Buddha defined jhana. If we practice and seek practical results from a flawed strategy, or travel a road using an erroneous map, we can find ourselves in trouble. For me, understanding these early core teachings are such a big part of practice. I don't begrudge anyone using, for example, Dogen's teachings on zazen, but I feel it's important that there be an understanding that Buddha didn't teach zazen, and didn't frame meditation the same way that later Japanese teachers did. Traveling the path using Dogen's map will likely take one to useful and interesting places, but the traveler might not get to the important destination the Buddha intended for his disciples.
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby Alex123 » Sun Aug 04, 2013 5:42 pm

Hello BuddhaSoup,

That evidence is literary. It is not hard physical evidence. Buddha left no voice or video recording. He wrote no books. We cannot be certain "what he said" vs "what we have now".

Why couldn't a committee of well meaning bhikkhus compose a coherent doctrine? They did after all meet and composed the suttas into memorable structure during first council. So it is not like the Buddha told them what to recite word by word.

There was a case when some person didn't want to recite them, and preferred to remember what he has heard instead...

Some scholars see the Pali Canon as expanding and changing from an unknown nucleus.[27] Arguments given for an agnostic attitude include that the evidence for the Buddha's teachings dates from (long) after his death.
Some scholars of later Indian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism say that little or nothing goes back to the Buddha. Ronald Davidson has little confidence that much, if any, of surviving Buddhist scripture is actually the word of the historical Buddha.[28] Geoffrey Samuel says the Pali Canon largely derives from the work of Buddhaghosa and his colleagues in the 5th century AD.[29] Gregory Schopen argues[30] that it is not until the 5th to 6th centuries CE that we can know anything definite about the contents of the Canon. This position was criticized by A. Wynne.[31]
I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care."
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby rohana » Sun Aug 04, 2013 5:57 pm

This post on Venerable Sujato's blog might be relevant: Is the Lotus Sutra authentic?

From the comments section:
    Essentially, scholars subject a text to whatever tests they can and compile the results. Texts are looked at in terms of such criteria as:

    -Language (Sanskrit is later than Pali)
    -Philosophical evolution (texts often argue with other ideas, showing that the ideas that they are arguing against must already exist)
    -Textual evolution (there are frequently more than one version of a text, and comparing different versions tells us something of how the text formed and grew)
    -Geography (what places are mentioned in the texts – this can be correlated against archeology and history)
    -State of technology (particularly the widespread adoption of writing, which numerous indications suggest was a little before the start of the Common Era – Mahayana sutras constantly mention writing, Pali suttas don’t)
    -Cultural development
    -Parallel movements in other religions and philosophies
    -Intertextual references (quotations from other sources – the Prajnaparamita Sutra, for example, quotes from the Satipatthana Sutta)
    -Literary styles

    And so on. Any one of these indications is, of course, uncertain. But when a whole range of indications points in the same direction, and there are no indications pointing in another direction, we can be secure in our conclusions. The general scenario of the dating of the Mahayana texts was established over a century ago, and since then, all our discoveries in terms of new texts, archeology, and so on, have tended to confirm this picture.

    What has changed is the evaluation of the Pali texts: once thought to be a reliable record of the earliest Buddhist canon, they are now recognized as being just one among many recensions of early material, all of which have undergone an extensive process of editing and organizing.

And about the material in the Pāli Suttas:
    Is there much in the suttas that is verified? Well, let’s restrict ourselves to material rather than spiritual matters, as these are more easily tested. The crucial question, it seems to me, is: of those things that can be verified, how much has been verified? And the answer is, so far as I can see, pretty much everything. Rajagaha really is where it says it is, and it is surrounded by hills were sages go. Pataliputta really is a fortified city on the Ganges. Savatthi really was a major city. Vesali really was a republic on the north shore of the Ganges. And so on. I am not aware of a single archaeological or geographical detail in the early scriptures that has actually been proven incorrect (leaving aside, of course the legendary tales of Uttarakuru and the like).

    Similarly with the state of culture in the time of the Buddha. The depictions of the Brahmans, the Jains, and the rest are of course colored by odium theologicum and mistakes and misrepresentations do occur; but on the whole, and in many details, they do depict these religions accurately. The Brahmans really do rely on Vedic rituals, and the Jains really do practice self-mortification. Similarly, the state of technology, political realities, climate, food, and so on seem to be pretty much accurate when placed in the wider context of Indian history. Even a minor detail like the manjitthika (‘red rot’) mentioned in one passage as a disease afflicting sugar cane has in fact been confirmed as a common sugar cane disease in the area.

    You claim that ‘none’ of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta can be verified. I’m afraid I have to disagree. The sutta starts with a political situation, the aggression of Magadha against Vesali, and history does suggest that this was accurate. The Buddha is shown to walk on a detailed journey: many of the stops on the way can be identified, and there are where the text says they are. And indeed, the scale of the journey is such that a fit 80 year old could achieve it. (BTW, congratulations to Fauja Singh!) The Buddha’s tomb is indeed in Kusinara. The Vajjis, Mallas, and so on were in fact peoples in the area. The Buddha’s relics, as confirmed by the Ashokan edicts, were distributed.

    What more can we reasonably ask for? No-one had a CCTV camera or a recorder to verify all the conversations and teachings that took place. I can’t look up the records of a hotel to confirm whether “Mr. Buddha” checked in for the night. We can’t look up the health records to confirm the nature of the Buddha’s illness. It’s decidedly unscientific to make unrealistic demands, and then dismiss the material because it doesn’t meet them.

    This is why I am resistant to an excessive skepticism, which it seems to me to be merely a reaction against excessive credulity. Actually the Pali canon is full of historical detail; of those things that we can verify, most has been verified; and most of what remains unverified is simply because we don’t have any evidence one way or the other.

With regard to the OP, I'd say, yes, bringing people into contact with the Dhamma is obviously good, but it should be done in a manner that is respectful to the existing traditions, without being obnoxious and simply make the Theravāda tradition available to anyone interested, without proselytizing. We can point out that there are many points of agreement with other schools, and respectfully disagree where we have to.
"Delighting in existence, O monks, are gods and men; they are attached to existence, they revel in existence. When the Dhamma for the cessation of existence is being preached to them, their minds do not leap towards it, do not get pleased with it, do not get settled in it, do not find confidence in it. That is how, monks, some lag behind."
- It. p 43
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Postby Anagarika » Sun Aug 04, 2013 7:34 pm

With regard to the OP, I'd say, yes, bringing people into contact with the Dhamma is obviously good, but it should be done in a manner that is respectful to the existing traditions, without being obnoxious and simply make the Theravāda tradition available to anyone interested, without proselytizing. We can point out that there are many points of agreement with other schools, and respectfully disagree where we have to.


:anjali: Sadhu!
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