The triumph of Buddhist denialism

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

The triumph of Buddhist denialism

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Dec 08, 2013 7:11 am

Sujato's Blog:
The triumph of Buddhist denialism: Buddhism without the Buddha
http://sujato.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/ ... he-buddha/

Is interesting not so much for the actual blog, but for the discussion that follows over what exactly can be known about early Buddhism. Hard to summarise in brief, but this comment (currently the last one, but I presume that won't last) is food for thought:
LLT / Dec 6 2013 11:10 pm wrote: ... From what I have seen, though, there are two different approaches to the study. When confronted with differences between texts, secular scholars tend to point these out as differences, while scholars associated with a monastic tradition sometimes go to great lengths to assure the reader of continuity and to “smooth over” any differences. I’m all for the academic study of early Buddhism, but it should be done without bias from traditional mythologies about the matter.


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Re: The triumph of Buddhist denialism

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Dec 08, 2013 7:26 am

O, for the good old days when things were simple and straightforward with no inconvenient facts muddying the pond. Always the question: How much does one really need to know?
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 triumph of Buddhist denialism

Postby Mkoll » Sun Dec 08, 2013 7:39 am

My favorite quote from the blog post:

It’s not impossible to understand Early Buddhism; in fact, it’s not that hard. What’s impossible is understanding any later form of Buddhism while ignoring its origins.


I just started reading A.K. Warder's Indian Buddhism and I'm already impressed. Knowing the historical context of the Buddha's time is really amazing. We are extremely lucky to be living lives where we have access to critical historical analysis. Think about it: this is the first time in human history that people have the opportunity to study Buddhism from multiple perspectives. Every generation since the Buddha has had to go by what their teachers and traditions have taught without other perspectives. On the one hand this can lend itself to tremendous faith but on the other it could be faith in distorted teachings.

As rich Westerners we would be frankly pigheaded if we didn't take advantage of the scholarly work done on Buddhism and Indian history.
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Re: The triumph of Buddhist denialism

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Dec 08, 2013 7:44 am

tiltbillings wrote:O, for the good old days when things were simple and straightforward with no inconvenient facts muddying the pond. Always the question: How much does one really need to know?

Yes, that's one of the things that occurs to me too. Furthermore, from the comment I posted an excerpt from above:
It is true that the EBTs [Early Buddhist Texts] can give us a unique and important frame of reference, but I don’t think referring to texts is quite sufficient for judging meditative accomplishments. Otherwise, it is a matter of intellectualism, subject to the interpretations of scholars and academics who may have no experience in meditation. Are the principles of one tradition fundamentally different from another, or are they just different expressions of the same thing? Only someone who has first-hand experience with the matter is truly qualified to say.

However, that's heading off-topic in this Early Buddhism section. What is a more interesting question here is just how much textual analysis of parallel texts from many centuries after the Buddha can tell us definitively about what Buddhism at the time of the Buddha, and shortly after, actually was like.

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Re: The triumph of Buddhist denialism

Postby Mkoll » Sun Dec 08, 2013 8:02 am

mikenz66 wrote:However, that's heading off-topic in this Early Buddhism section. What is a more interesting question here is just how much textual analysis of parallel texts from many centuries after the Buddha can tell us definitively about what Buddhism at the time of the Buddha, and shortly after, actually was like.

By comparing later recensions, we can determine what they had in common and how their differing ideas evolved chronologically. Then we can carefully assume that the earliest of what they hold in common was as close to Early Buddhism as we're going to get. We'll never know what it actually was like, but we can get as close as possible with the means we have at our disposal.

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Re: The triumph of Buddhist denialism

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Dec 08, 2013 8:15 am

Well, of course. That's the assumption behind the comparative textual analysis effort. It does indicate that there are parallels between the various collections (though they are rather differently organised, and the settings are often different), and that the basic doctrinal statements are generally consistent (though there are some interesting difference, e.g. http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=11630). But how close to the time of the Buddha the possible common source is it a matter of speculation.

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Re: The triumph of Buddhist denialism

Postby ancientbuddhism » Sun Dec 08, 2013 10:30 pm

Richard Salomon discusses how inscriptional sources are vital to identifying and dating cultural periods and early texts.

From Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Other Indo-Aryan Languages, by Richard Salomon

(underlined emphasis mine)

    It has been authoritatively estimated that something like 80 percent of our knowledge of the history of India before about A.D. 1000 is derived from inscriptional sources. Without inscriptions, for example, we would have only the vaguest notion of the history of the Gupta dynasty, the greatest northern Indian empire of the classical period. But the importance of epigraphy goes beyond historical studies in the narrower sense of the term, that is, political history. The modern study of most aspects of the cultural history of traditional India, such as the arts, literature, religion, and language, are also heavily indebted to inscriptions for their basic chronological and geographical framework. Again reflecting the non-historical orientation of traditional Indian culture as a whole, traditional literary and cultural relics typically seem to exist in a chronological vacuum; for example, the date of original composition of literary texts, especially in the earlier centuries, is rarely recorded in the works themselves (although later manuscript copies are often dated). Thus the dates and even the relative chronologies of major cultural developments are often uncertain or totally unknown. But here again inscriptional material, with its vast volume and diversity of contents, frequently comes to the rescue. In the history of literature, for example, inscriptional allusions to and imitations of great classical poets, as well as original compositions preserved in epigraphic form, provide a bedrock of evidence for the chronological development of Sanskrit poetic literature. The same holds true, to a greater or lesser extent, for nearly all branches of Indology; in the words of D. C. Sircar, “there is no aspect of the life, culture and activities of the Indians that is not reflected in inscriptions.” Thus epigraphic materials, directly or indirectly, provide almost the only solid chronological foundation for modern historically oriented studies. This is true primarily because inscriptions, unlike literary sources, which almost always come to us only after being copied and recopied through the centuries, are inherently datable, either by an explicit date or by paleographic estimate. A reference to a particular legal principle, religious sect, philosopher, poet, and so on, in an inscription thus gives at least an approximate terminus ante quern for a person or event whose date might otherwise (i.e., from literary sources alone) be impossible to determine even in the broadest estimate.

    It is mainly for these reasons that epigraphy is a primary rather than a secondary subfield within Indology. Whereas in classical studies or Sinology, for example, epigraphy serves mainly as a corroborative and supplementary source to historical studies based mainly on textual sources, in India the situation is precisely the opposite. There, history is built upon a skeleton reconstructed principally from inscriptions, while literary and other sources usually serve only to add some scraps of flesh here and there to the bare bones. There are, of course, some exceptions to the rule, most notably in Kashmir, where unlike nearly everywhere else in India a sophisticated tradition of historical writing flourished, best exemplified by Kalhana’s Rajatarahgim. Nonetheless, the general pattern remains essentially valid for political, and to a lesser extent for cultural, history.

    (pp. 3 – 4)

With reference to early Buddhist canonical texts:

    7.3.2.2 Formation of the canon

    Inscriptions also shed some light on the complex problems of the formation and history of the various Buddhist canons. An important early instance is Aśoka’s Bairāṭ (Bhābhṛā) rock edict (cf. 4.3.1.1.2), in which the emperor recommends seven specific texts for the special study and attention of Buddhist monks and lay followers. Although there are serious problems in identifying these texts with those in the extant canon (HBI 256-9; bibliography, 258 n. 74) and in evaluating their significance in connection with the establishment of a fixed canon, the Bairāṭ inscription nonetheless provides an important clue for the canonical formulations of the early Buddhist church.

    Among later Buddhist inscriptions we find occasional quotations from canonical works, such as the citation of the pratītya-samutpāda in the Kurram casket inscription (CII 2.1, 152-5) and other records (see 4.1.7), which provide clues as to the prevalent authoritative texts and their language. For example, a passage in the Indravarman Casket inscription appears to be a quotation or adaptation from the Ekottarāgama, implying that this collection was extant in some form in northwestern India in the early first century A.o.42 Also, Sanskrit versions of well-known verses from the Dhammapada and other texts prevalent in the early A.D. period are attested by three inscriptions from Swat (EI 4,133-5), and a Pāli terra-cotta inscription from Hmawza provides the earliest evidence of the Pāli canon in Burma (JA, ser. 11, vol. 2, 193-5).

    (pp.241 – 242)

With reference to early Buddhist doctrinal developments e.g. sectarian and the rise of Mahāyāna (underlined emphasis mine):

    7.3.2.3 Doctrinal developments and cultic practices

    Inscriptional evidence can provide a balance to the literary/canonical accounts of doctrinal developments within Buddhism, and not infrequently presents a picture which casts doubt on prevailing views derived from the latter sources. The development of the Mahāyāna as an independent sect, for example, appears on the basis of epigraphic sources to have been considerably later than received opinion would have it. Conversely, concepts such as the transfer of merit which are traditionally associated with the Mahayana are found to be prevalent in pre-Mahāyāna or “Hīnayana” inscriptions. The resolution of such apparent conflicts of evidence is no simple matter, but there can be no question that in Buddhological studies as a whole the testimony of the inscriptions has not generally been given the weight it merits, and that the entire field of the history of Buddhism, which has traditionally been dominated by a strongly text-oriented approach, must be reexamined in its light. The studies of E. Lamotte and more recently of G. Schopen have opened the door to this more pragmatic approach, but much more remains to be done; in the words of the latter scholar, “This perfunctory preference for formal literary sources—which is quite common in historical works on Indian Buddhism—can only result in ‘histories of Buddhism’ which have little relationship to what practicing Buddhists actually did.” In the field of popular practice, too, the inscriptions yield a wealth of information which may be absent or disguised in the more commonly consulted canonical texts. Our knowledge and understanding of the beliefs and practices of the relic cult, for example, have recently been vastly enhanced by the discovery of new inscriptions and the reanalysis of older ones bearing on this important aspect of popular Buddhism.
    (pp. 242 – 243)
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

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Re: The triumph of Buddhist denialism

Postby Mkoll » Sun Dec 08, 2013 11:23 pm

Thanks for that, ancientbuddhism.

Do you or does anyone else know of any other books, internet sources, or other sources of information about epigraphy as related to ancient India and specifically Buddhism?

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Re: The triumph of Buddhist denialism

Postby daverupa » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:30 am

Mkoll wrote:Do you or does anyone else know of any other books, internet sources, or other sources of information about epigraphy as related to ancient India and specifically Buddhism?


Bones, Stones, and Buddhist Monks: Collected Papers on the Archaeology, Epigraphy, and Texts of Monastic Buddhism in India

Buddhist Monks and Business Matters: Still More Papers on Monastic Buddhism in India

Figments and Fragments of Mahayana Buddhism in India: More Collected Papers

is a good series.

Always the question: How much does one really need to know?


Enough to deflate sacred cows, I think. Having bulwarks against having to take cultural habit as Dhamma orthopraxy is always a boon when the Dhamma comes of age amongst different peoples, going forward, so it helps to see how earlier peoples have dealt with their own issues, and to remember that one's own approach is just as mediated, if not moreso.

The other side of that, however, is knowing that it's far from "anything goes" when it comes to determining what the historical Buddha is likely to have actually said; conclusions can, in fact, be drawn, and this can have unfortunate consequences for e.g. New Age syncretism & pals.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: The triumph of Buddhist denialism

Postby pulga » Mon Dec 09, 2013 1:10 am

Mkoll wrote:Do you or does anyone else know of any other books, internet sources, or other sources of information about epigraphy as related to ancient India and specifically Buddhism?


I'm not much into this sort of thing, but here's a link that might be worthwhile.

http://elibrary.ibc.ac.th/files/private ... ddhism.pdf
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Re: The triumph of Buddhist denialism

Postby Mkoll » Mon Dec 09, 2013 2:38 am

Thanks for the links!

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