David's Book:The progressive teachings of the Buddha

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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David's Book:The progressive teachings of the Buddha

Post by yawares » Mon Sep 17, 2012 1:06 pm

Dear Members,

:candle: The progressive teachings of the Buddha :candle:
[By Dr.David N. Snyder]

The Buddha was a social reformer and revolutionary philosophical leader. Some incorrectly
believe that the Buddha formed Buddhism out of Hinduism. The Buddha actually ―rediscovered‖
Buddhism as he said that there were many ―buddhas‖ or enlightened ones before him, before
recorded written history and that there will be many more after him. It follows that there can also
be buddhas or enlightened ones on other planets with intelligent life, making Buddhism a truly
universal religion which can exist in any country, culture, time period, or even any planet,
regardless of caste, national origin, race, ethnicity, or gender.

The Buddha completely broke away from the prevailing Hindu doctrines as he rejected animal
sacrifices, wars, violence, killing, caste system, discrimination, inequality of men and women.
Today Hindus honor the Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu, the preserver god, but they see the
most differences between their religion and the Theravada. This is because the Theravada has
maintained the original teachings of Buddha as much as possible. The Mahayana for example,
now has a plethora of gods and goddesses and a living god in the pure land, known as Amitabha
who is prayed to in the hope of getting to that heavenly realm. The Hindus of today see little
differences between Mahayana and their religion of Hinduism. Theologically the Buddha also
differed from the prevailing Hindu doctrines with his insistence on doctrines such as no-self
(instead of the permanent soul found in most religious beliefs), the concept of re-birth as opposed
to reincarnation, and his opposition to what might be called ―new age‖ practices today such as
astrology, palm reading, psychic claims, channeling, and other so-called super human feats
which people usually charge a hefty fee for. The Buddha did not deny the existence of the
possibility for some super human feats, but did not want them flaunted in exhibitions and
definitely not for income.

The Buddha was the first person in known history to condemn slavery. He also condemned the
caste system of India. The Buddha was from a high caste himself, but rejected such systems of
inequality. When the Buddha was asked who a Brahmin (highest caste) was in his religion, the
Buddha answered:
―(He/She) who hurts not any living being, whether feeble or strong, who neither kills nor causes
to kill - him I call a Brahmin.‖ (Dhammapada, chapter 26, verse 405)
This ―no killing or causing to kill‖ can be by anyone and does not require birth to a certain
family, caste, etc. The Buddha taught that everyone has the capacity for enlightenment and to
end suffering. His teachings and his order of monks and nuns was (and is) open to people from
all countries and races. During the Buddha‘s time there was a severely hunch-backed person who
had a great thirst for the Buddha‘s teachings, followed them and obtained enlightenment. Many
slaves and other out-castes from the pre-Buddhist era joined Buddha‘s order of monks and also
obtained enlightenment. Another quote from the Buddha on the caste system is:
―Birth makes no Brahmin, nor non-Brahmin, makes; it is life‘s doing that mold the Brahmin true.
Their lives mold farmers, tradesmen, merchants, and serfs. Their lives mold robbers, soldiers,
chaplains, and kings. By birth is not one an out-caste. By birth is not one a Brahmin. By deeds is
one an out-caste. By deeds is one a Brahmin.‖ (Majjhima Nikaya 98, Vasettha Sutta 57-59)
―Even though one mutters many chants, one does not become a Brahmin by birth . . . whether
khattiya, Brahmin, vessa, sudda [different types of castes], candala or scavenger, if one is
energetic and resolute, always firm in exertion, one attains the supreme purity.‖
Samyutta Nikaya 7.630-631

Although racism still exists in many countries, we know that the ideologies of this hatred make
no sense from the biological sciences and from common sense. All humans are the same and
tend to be very diverse in interests, intelligence, and skills, regardless of color or national origin.
When we have an understanding and acceptance of re-birth, we know that there may have been
countless lives where we were a white man, a black man, Asian woman, Arab man, or any of the
other innumerable possibilities. If people really understood and accepted re-birth, there would be
much greater peace in the world.

In ancient India the Vedas and other religious texts were written in Sanskrit. Sanskrit was the
language of the Brahmins, the highest caste and the language of the sadhus, the religious
contemplatives. The Buddha deliberately spoke in Pali, the language of the commoners to show
that his teachings are universal and meant for all, not just men, not just the Brahmins. The
Buddha was from the Khattiya (warrior) caste which is the second highest caste, yet he still
disregarded these social inequities and favored egalitarianism. The Buddha even made it a rule
for Buddhists to study and learn in their own languages, so it would not become an elitist

―Now at that time there were two brothers, bhikkhus, by name Yamelu and Tekula, Brahmins, by
birth, excelling in speech, excelling in pronunciation. These went up to the place where the
Blessed One was, and when they had come there, they saluted the Blessed One, and took their
seats on one side. And so sitting those Bhikkhus spoke to the Blessed One thus:
At the present time, Lord, Bhikkhus, differing in name, differing in lineage, differing in birth,
differing in family, have gone forth (from the world). These corrupt the word of the Buddhas by
(repeating it in) their own dialect. Let us, Lord, put the word of the Buddhas into (Sanskrit)
-How can you, O foolish ones, speak thus, saying, ―Let us, Lord, put the word of the Buddhas
into verse?‖ This will not conduce, O foolish ones, either to the conversion of the unconverted,
or to the increase of the converted; but rather to those who have not been converted being not
converted, and to the turning back of those who have been converted.‘

And when the Blessed One had rebuked those Bhikkhus, and had delivered a religious discourse,
he addressed the Bhikkhus, and said:
-You are not, O Bhikkhus, to put the word of the Buddhas into (Sanskrit) verse. Whosoever
does so, shall be guilty of an offense. I allow you, O Bhikkhus, to learn the word of the
Buddhas each in his own dialect.(Cullavaga, Vinaya

The Buddha was also the first person in known history to set up a monastic order for women. At
first the Buddha was somewhat reluctant to allow an order of nuns, but this is because of the
highly sexist society of ancient India. Still in this twenty-first century that we live in, women do
not have full equal rights with men in most countries and do not even make as much salary as
men for the same type of work. The Buddha lived in a much more sexist society than we live in.
The Buddha did agree to create an order of nuns and stated that they are no different than men in
capacity for enlightenment. At first there were more rules for nuns than the rules for monks, but
they primarily dealt with the protection of the nuns. For example, a nun was raped when walking
through a forest by herself. The Buddha followed this incident with a rule that no nun could walk
through the forest by herself.
Many women joined the order of nuns, including a former prostitute named Ambapali. Many of
these nuns, including Ambapali attained enlightenment. (Narada, 1992) The first Buddhist nun,
Maha Pajapati Gotami, also became enlightened, after ordaining.

In some Asian countries there is a cultural custom to state that only men can become
enlightened. A woman‘s only hope was to practice the five precepts and hope to be re-born as a
man. This is not the Buddha‘s teachings, but a later sexist custom added to justify continued
patriarchal, male dominated rule.

In modern, developed countries Dhamma teachers are much more likely to be lay people. They
have careers and families and usually teach without any charges. Like the monks and nuns, they
generously offer Dhamma instruction with a genuine concern for helping others. The vipassana
tradition is based on this appropriate notion of offering the teachings with no charge. These lay
teachers are just as likely to be women as they are men and they share full equal rights within the
Buddhist community. In spite of the added rules on the nuns during the time of the Buddha, the
establishment of an order for women was highly revolutionary, taking place over five hundred
years before the birth of Christ.

Another revolutionary aspect to the Buddha‘s religion (philosophy or way of life, whichever you
prefer) is the fact that large parts of the Buddhist scriptures were written by women. The
Buddhist scriptures‘ version of the ―Psalms‖ was almost entirely composed by Buddhist nuns. It
includes several books and several hundred pages, nearly all written by women. (Davids,
Norman, Pali Text Society) The Itivuttaka is an excellent book in the Khuddaka Nikaya and was
compiled by a servant woman named Khujjuttara. These facts are revolutionary and unparalleled
in human history. No other major religion before or after the Buddha‘s time included scriptures
which were written by women.

The fundamentalist response and views toward women and progressive ideas
In spite of the Buddha‘s many progressive teachings as shown above, there are a minority of
monks and lay people in Theravada and other Buddhist schools who have taken a few verses
literally in order to attempt to make the Buddha‘s teachings sexist and discriminatory. If they are
successful it will produce a terrible effect to Buddhism and the Buddha‘s teachings, leading to its
downfall. In this age we live in to take a progressive teaching and make it into a discriminatory
one with sexism by treating women as if they were inferior will discourage and prevent so many
people from entering the Buddha‘s wonderful path. This information is provided to support all
intelligent and progressive people that although the fundamentalists‘ voice may be loud, they are
not speaking from the Buddha‘s teachings and are speaking only from ignorance.
The fundamentalist Buddhists contend that the Buddha reluctantly granted permission for
women to enter the Order of monastics and become nuns. They also point to a verse which the
Buddha says that his religion will last only 5000 years because he allowed women to become
monastics. There are also additional rules for nuns, including 8 heavy rules which clearly appear
to place the nuns lower than the male monastics, including rules that a women ordained for 100
years is still lower in rank to a monk ordained one day and another rule that nuns cannot teach or
ordain monks.

The bhikkhuni line thrived for centuries and was highlighted by Sanghamitta, the daughter of
King Ashoka, who went to Sri Lanka to establish the line there and brought with her a sapling of
the original Bodhi tree where Buddha got enlightenment. Over years of warfare, many thousands
of Buddhist monks and nuns were killed. The bhikkhu (monk) line managed to survive the
centuries of warfare, but the bhikkhuni line died out and there were no more Theravada nuns in
existence. Women who want to ordain in Theravada must receive the double ordination
ceremony from a qualified monk and nun who must be present. Since there were no more nuns,
no women could get full ordination and could only be satisfied with a lesser 8 precept
arrangement (wearing white instead of yellow or saffron) while the men still had full rights to
ordain in either 8 precept or the full 10 precept / 227 precept saffron robed full ordination. On an
account of this minor ―technicality fundamentalist Theravadins and other Buddhists have held
that women cannot receive full ordination anymore and those who do so are ―invalid

**********to be continued************
yawares :anjali:

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