Memorization and the Oral Tradition

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Pascal2
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Memorization and the Oral Tradition

Post by Pascal2 »

Split from this topic: viewtopic.php?f=13&t=28550

I hope I will not ruffle any feathers here, but let' s not forget that the Buddha allegedly died hundreds of years before his teachings were put into written documents so he is not, strictly speaking, an historical figure as history properly called as such starts with the existence of written records
Putting our own opinions before facts is the root of all fanaticism?
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SDC
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Re: How did historical Buddha looked like?

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Pascal2 wrote: Tue Apr 21, 2020 3:17 pm I hope I will not ruffle any feathers here, but let' s not forget that the Buddha allegedly died hundreds of years before his teachings were put into written documents so he is not, strictly speaking, an historical figure as history properly called as such starts with the existence of written records
That shouldn't ruffle feathers. The teaching is there to be verified through the effort of discernment, not intellect. The scholar cannot prove the Dhamma, no more than they can prove the Buddha existed.
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Re: How did historical Buddha looked like?

Post by Ceisiwr »

Pascal2 wrote: Tue Apr 21, 2020 3:17 pm I hope I will not ruffle any feathers here, but let' s not forget that the Buddha allegedly died hundreds of years before his teachings were put into written documents so he is not, strictly speaking, an historical figure as history properly called as such starts with the existence of written records
And written records can refer to people who lived prior. Socrates for example.
"Analysis and synthesis are praised by the wise,
liberation in the Sāsana comes from analysis and synthesis;
the purpose of the method of analysis and synthesis is the ultimate"


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Re: How did historical Buddha looked like?

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Ceisiwr wrote: Tue Apr 21, 2020 4:27 pm And written records can refer to people who lived prior. Socrates for example.
If I am not mistaken, all Socrates dialogues were short in form and written down by Plato who was one of his disciples
Not so in the case of the Buddha.
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Re: How did historical Buddha looked like?

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SDC wrote: Tue Apr 21, 2020 4:04 pm
Pascal2 wrote: Tue Apr 21, 2020 3:17 pm I hope I will not ruffle any feathers here, but let' s not forget that the Buddha allegedly died hundreds of years before his teachings were put into written documents so he is not, strictly speaking, an historical figure as history properly called as such starts with the existence of written records
That shouldn't ruffle feathers. The teaching is there to be verified through the effort of discernment, not intellect. The scholar cannot prove the Dhamma, no more than they can prove the Buddha existed.
I welcome your position.
I partially agree with it even if I can say that it may not be possible to verify the teachings we can still try to falsify them as much as we can
As we do with scientific theories
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Re: How did historical Buddha looked like?

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Pascal2 wrote: Wed Apr 22, 2020 11:47 am
SDC wrote: Tue Apr 21, 2020 4:04 pm
Pascal2 wrote: Tue Apr 21, 2020 3:17 pm I hope I will not ruffle any feathers here, but let' s not forget that the Buddha allegedly died hundreds of years before his teachings were put into written documents so he is not, strictly speaking, an historical figure as history properly called as such starts with the existence of written records
That shouldn't ruffle feathers. The teaching is there to be verified through the effort of discernment, not intellect. The scholar cannot prove the Dhamma, no more than they can prove the Buddha existed.
I welcome your position.
I partially agree with it even if I can say that it may not be possible to verify the teachings we can still try to falsify them as much as we can
As we do with scientific theories
Exactly. What you find remaining when you see through what is wrong, is what is not wrong. That is why the Buddha acknowledges doubt, but also acknowledged faith.
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Re: How did historical Buddha looked like?

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Pascal2 wrote: Wed Apr 22, 2020 11:44 am
Ceisiwr wrote: Tue Apr 21, 2020 4:27 pm And written records can refer to people who lived prior. Socrates for example.
If I am not mistaken, all Socrates dialogues were short in form and written down by Plato who was one of his disciples
Not so in the case of the Buddha.
The only record of Socrates is in Plato’s writings, which could be highly embellished, and Xenophon. Socrates wrote nothing himself. The point being that written records can record historical persons who lived prior and wrote nothing themselves.
"Analysis and synthesis are praised by the wise,
liberation in the Sāsana comes from analysis and synthesis;
the purpose of the method of analysis and synthesis is the ultimate"


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Re: How did historical Buddha looked like?

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Ceisiwr wrote: Wed Apr 22, 2020 1:30 pm The only record of Socrates is in Plato’s writings, which could be highly embellished, and Xenophon. Socrates wrote nothing himself. The point being that written records can record historical persons who lived prior and wrote nothing themselves.
As I said, there is a stark difference between records of discourses that were taken during a person lifetime by someone who knew intimately that person and records of discourses taken centuries after a person life time by someone who heard the same discourse from some one else who heard them from someone else who heard them from someone else who heard them from someone else.
Without even taking into consideration the volume of the material
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Re: How did historical Buddha looked like?

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Pascal2 wrote: Wed Apr 22, 2020 1:44 pm
Ceisiwr wrote: Wed Apr 22, 2020 1:30 pm The only record of Socrates is in Plato’s writings, which could be highly embellished, and Xenophon. Socrates wrote nothing himself. The point being that written records can record historical persons who lived prior and wrote nothing themselves.
As I said, there is a stark difference between records of discourses that were taken during a person lifetime by someone who knew intimately that person and records of discourses taken centuries after a person life time by someone who heard the same discourse from some one else who heard them from someone else who heard them from someone else who heard them from someone else.
Without even taking into consideration the volume of the material
Sure. Other factors need to be looked at, like if there is an institution and a robust oral tradition transmitting information or not.
"Analysis and synthesis are praised by the wise,
liberation in the Sāsana comes from analysis and synthesis;
the purpose of the method of analysis and synthesis is the ultimate"


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Re: How did historical Buddha looked like?

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Ceisiwr wrote: Wed Apr 22, 2020 2:06 pm
Sure. Other factors need to be looked at, like if there is an institution and a robust oral tradition transmitting information or not.
I wonder if any human and/or group of people can remember even one volume of the suttas after having heard it once.
Let alone being able to pass it for several generations.

You can try that. Just read one volume of the suttas one time and then try to memorize it, along with any of your friends
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Re: How did historical Buddha looked like?

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beanyan wrote: Tue Apr 21, 2020 9:40 pm Does anyone know what the official name of Buddha's acorn hat is? What is the name of that syle of hat?
It was a fashionable Gandhāran hairdo among the nobility circa ~0-100AD.
If you see a river, pray that beings gain entrance into the stream and into the ocean of wisdom. If you see a reservoir, pray that beings swiftly taste the one taste of the Dharma. If you see a pond, pray that beings become great in locution and skillful in preaching. If you see a well, pray that beings draw deep from the well of reason to disclose all dharmas. If you see a spring, pray that beings have inexhaustible roots of virtue. If you see a bridge, pray that beings carry all across to safety, as via a bridge. If you see a waterfall, pray that all beings cleanse the stains of delusion.
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Re: How did historical Buddha looked like?

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Pascal2 wrote: Wed Apr 22, 2020 2:55 pm
Ceisiwr wrote: Wed Apr 22, 2020 2:06 pm
Sure. Other factors need to be looked at, like if there is an institution and a robust oral tradition transmitting information or not.
I wonder if any human and/or group of people can remember even one volume of the suttas after having heard it once.
Let alone being able to pass it for several generations.

You can try that. Just read one volume of the suttas one time and then try to memorize it, along with any of your friends
There is precedent:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mingun_Sayadaw

“ In 1985, the Guinness Book of Records recorded the sayadaw as a record holder in the Human memory category. The exact entry was Human memory: Bhandanta Vicitsara (sic) recited 16,000 pages of Buddhist canonical text in Rangoon, Burma in May 1954. Rare instances of eidetic memory -- the ability to project and hence "visually" recall material-- are known to science.[1]”

I believe each sangha had special monks dedicated to doing nothing but learning the suttas etc. What’s interesting is the overlap between the Pali suttas and the suttas from others early schools way back when, such as saravastivada.

Metta

:)
"Analysis and synthesis are praised by the wise,
liberation in the Sāsana comes from analysis and synthesis;
the purpose of the method of analysis and synthesis is the ultimate"


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Re: How did historical Buddha looked like?

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Ceisiwr wrote: Wed Apr 22, 2020 3:16 pm
Pascal2 wrote: Wed Apr 22, 2020 2:55 pm
Ceisiwr wrote: Wed Apr 22, 2020 2:06 pm
Sure. Other factors need to be looked at, like if there is an institution and a robust oral tradition transmitting information or not.
I wonder if any human and/or group of people can remember even one volume of the suttas after having heard it once.
Let alone being able to pass it for several generations.

You can try that. Just read one volume of the suttas one time and then try to memorize it, along with any of your friends
There is precedent:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mingun_Sayadaw

“ In 1985, the Guinness Book of Records recorded the sayadaw as a record holder in the Human memory category. The exact entry was Human memory: Bhandanta Vicitsara (sic) recited 16,000 pages of Buddhist canonical text in Rangoon, Burma in May 1954. Rare instances of eidetic memory -- the ability to project and hence "visually" recall material-- are known to science.[1]”

I believe each sangha had special monks dedicated to doing nothing but learning the suttas etc. What’s interesting is the overlap between the Pali suttas and the suttas from others early schools way back when, such as saravastivada.

Metta

:)
Let alone that I did not find any evidence of this Bhandanta Vicitsara in the site of Guinness of World Records
(https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/se ... l=_Results&)
1) he did not read it just once, but several times I guess
2) savants like him are very rare
3) he did not recite it to another savant, apparently, so his recitation would have gone lost, apparently
4) population of India in 2500 years ago was much lower than today, hence savants much more rare

Pascal
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Re: How did historical Buddha looked like?

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Pascal2
Let alone that I did not find any evidence of this Bhandanta Vicitsara in the site of Guinness of World Records
(https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/se ... l=_Results&)
1) he did not read it just once, but several times I guess
2) savants like him are very rare
3) he did not recite it to another savant, apparently, so his recitation would have gone lost, apparently
4) population of India in 2500 years ago was much lower than today, hence savants much more rare

Pascal
Ha, you are right. I even created an account and couldn’t come up with anything either, although their search function isn’t great. Interestingly this did come up:

“Lu Chao of China, who, in 2005, recited 67,890 digits of Pi”

Which is pretty impressive. I know in Burma there is the Tipitakadhara, which is a sort of exam where the monk has to recite all of the suttas in order to pass. Nothing documented for the world records though so I guess we have to rely on Myanmar sources only.

But, back to the discussion the sangha way back when would have had specialised monks who were dedicated to nothing but learning the pali canon. The suttas themselves are full of devices to aid memory and recitation, such as repetitions and lists etc. If I remember correctly the suttas were also communally recited.

As I say, what’s more interesting is the vast overlap between the Pali suttas and the suttas from other early schools. One would expect greater divergence if they hadn’t come from a single source, and their alignment shows some robustness to the oral tradition seeing as how these schools were separated by geography. In short, if the suttas didn’t come from a single source and if the oral tradition isn’t robust at transmitting information then we should see greater divergence between these texts than what we do see.

Most of the teachings are actually stripped down and bare bones, to help aid with transmission.

Metta

:)
"Analysis and synthesis are praised by the wise,
liberation in the Sāsana comes from analysis and synthesis;
the purpose of the method of analysis and synthesis is the ultimate"


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Re: How did historical Buddha looked like?

Post by Sam Vara »

Ceisiwr wrote: Wed Apr 22, 2020 3:59 pm If I remember correctly the suttas were also communally recited.
Yes, that seems to be a very important aspect. It's hard for mistakes to creep in during communal recitations, because the new guy who makes a mistake is drowned out and corrected by the others who know it perfectly. He learns from many who get it right. In a written tradition, it only needs one scribe to get something wrong and all future readers and copiers of his work make the same mistake thereafter. Collective oral transmission means that variations don't enter the tradition's DNA so easily.
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