The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Anagarika
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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, sincerely former monk John

http://trickleupeconomictheory.blogspot.com/

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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
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---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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Kim OHara
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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


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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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


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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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

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, sincerely former monk John

http://trickleupeconomictheory.blogspot.com/

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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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


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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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


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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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

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, sincerely former monk John

http://trickleupeconomictheory.blogspot.com/

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cooran
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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
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---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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lyndon taylor
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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

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, sincerely former monk John

http://trickleupeconomictheory.blogspot.com/

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lyndon taylor
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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
Last edited by lyndon taylor on Mon Jul 29, 2013 7:21 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, sincerely former monk John

http://trickleupeconomictheory.blogspot.com/

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tiltbillings
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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


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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, sincerely former monk John

http://trickleupeconomictheory.blogspot.com/

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Kim OHara
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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


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Alex123
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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

"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Anagarika
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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

Last edited by Anagarika on Sun Aug 04, 2013 5:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Alex123
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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

"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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

"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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Anagarika
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Re: The Difficult Intersection of History and Tradition

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



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