Mahayanists and the historical record

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
SarathW
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Post by SarathW »

Hi Black Bird
For me the most important thing is what I am experience here and now not what I heard or read in a book. :)
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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mikenz66
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Post by mikenz66 »

Hi Jack,
BlackBird wrote:Mike I have faith in the Sangha too, I don't think it's fair to assume I don't.
Sorry if I assumed too much. I was working from your statements, now and previously, that you think that Ven Nanavira has it right. And many of your statements seemed to imply that you thought that the ancient practitioners, teachers, and commentators, and also much of the current Theravada Sangha had it wrong.

Let me put it in a positive way. I have faith in the Sangha in the sense that, based in my interactions with a selection of them, I think that most serious modern Theravada teachers are generally teaching in a way that leads towards liberation. [I can't speak for Mahayana teachers, though encounters with people such as Ven Huifeng, and (briefly, from a distance) Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama have left me with very positive impressions]. Certain teachers will suit certain students better, of course.

:anjali:
Mike

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BlackBird
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

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Hi Mike.

I have retracted my previous positions (of a year or two ago) where I specifically and polemically declared that Nanavira Thera was probably right, and by virtue of such, most other Theravadin teachings were probably wrong. My position now (and I do not recall stating otherwise recently) is one of a working hypothesis. I follow his teachings as a précis. I do not rule anything out, nor do I now make assumptions of other methods or teachings and I regret my previous assuredness and apologise to any whom I may have caused offence.

I do still however think feel that people (especially of the lay variety) tend to over ascribe attainments to their teachers, or to famous monks and teachers when a degree of skepticism might be healthier.

metta
Jack
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta

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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Post by DNS »

BlackBird wrote:Hi Zavk, thank you for your informative post. Incidentally perhaps, I tend to build my conception of the Buddha based on what appears in the Nikayas and I tend to treat anything written by a scholar be they Occidental or Oriental, with the same level of critical thought an analysis. You make an important point and it's worth bearing in mind :)
I agree with Jack. While I appreciate the scholarship and information by zavk, I also get my information about the life of the Buddha primarily from the Nikayas, not any scholar, Western or Eastern. In the Pali Canon there are numerous references to a man who became a Buddha, a mortal man who was born, got sick (dysentery), got old and died.

See: http://buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=163
for some Tipitaka references.

alan...
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Post by alan... »

BlackBird wrote:Let me put this another way.

If I found out tomorrow that the Buddha wasn't real. I would probably lose most faith in the teachings, and no longer consider myself a Buddhist. I would probably still practice meditation and seek some sort of gnosis, but it would shake my beliefs to the core. It all rests upon the historicity of the Buddha being the legitimate embodiment of all that he preached and my faith in this is quite strong.

When I say avoid thinking about it, to me it is a problem that cannot be put aside. That is because the factuality of the Buddha is of utmost importance, I am starting to see that that is not so for everybody.

metta
Jack

here is another way to see it: let's say you find out the man who invented the technology for the phone didn't exist and it was actually invented by another man or a group of men. would you never use a phone again???

obviously, no. because regardless of who invented them, phones work!

and buddhism works! countless people have used it with varying degrees of success from general positive psychological results, all the way up to zen masters and arahants and everything in between!

keep practicing, eventually you will have experiences that will make you have complete faith in the practices and dhamma itself that are totally independent on any belief in any specific person's historicity.

it happened to me. now even if someone proved beyond a doubt that the buddha never lived and the dhamma was created by a group of people over the course of a couple hundred years i would still practice just the same. this might make me more open to different ideas from other schools, but it would not hinder me from practicing, not even a little bit.

for now i believe he existed and the theravada dhamma is the closest we will ever get to his exact words and teachings, so i generally do not use mahayana ideas because as far as i can tell they are a development and combination of different ideas over time, whereas the theravada is the older version of all of it and is therefore the closest bet you can get to what the man actually taught. but if i saw it as just a development of techniques to free the mind with no specific founder having any authority i would just go with whichever one seemed the most reasonable and produced the best results in me and it's followers and leaders.

SarathW
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Post by SarathW »

Do you know that the world oldest surviving printed book is Diamond Sutra (Mahayana Sutra).
I have read the translation of this book many times with tears in my eyes (Sorry folks, sometimes I am very emotional) :)


http://www.diamond-sutra.com/diamond_su ... ation.html
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Nyorai
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Post by Nyorai »

Basically, all theravada and Mahayana scripture were recorded by Ananda acknowledged by at least 500 Arahat then from the first sentence "Thus I Have Heard". If without record of scripture for people of the modern world, no one would enlighten unless extremely good karmic of the past lives such as Zen Patriarch Hui Neng :sage:
ImageTo become vegetarian is to step into the stream which leads to nirvana.
If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path. He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self.Image

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mikenz66
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Post by mikenz66 »

Hi Jack,
BlackBird wrote: I have retracted my previous positions (of a year or two ago) where I specifically and polemically declared that Nanavira Thera was probably right, and by virtue of such, most other Theravadin teachings were probably wrong. My position now (and I do not recall stating otherwise recently) is one of a working hypothesis. I follow his teachings as a précis. I do not rule anything out, nor do I now make assumptions of other methods or teachings and I regret my previous assuredness and apologise to any whom I may have caused offence.
That's good to know. So you think he's simply the most helpful voice for you at this point?
BlackBird wrote: I do still however think feel that people (especially of the lay variety) tend to over ascribe attainments to their teachers, or to famous monks and teachers when a degree of skepticism might be healthier.
Perhaps (but isn't attainments why you read Ven Nanaviria in the first place?). Personally, I don't spend time worrying about attainments of either my teachers or of famous monks. I've little interest in seeking out "the perfect teacher". For me, I think that the main obstacles come from within myself, not from a lack of good information/teaching. All I really care about is having a supportive community and access to competent teachers who measure up to suttas such as the Canki Sutta: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

:anjali:
Mike

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BlackBird
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Post by BlackBird »

Hi Alan,

Be careful not to condescend to determine that you know my practice and what I have (or in your opinion have not) accomplished. You claim to have achieved a lot in your meditation and that is commendable, but you mistake my critical thought with doubt about the veracity of the Dhamma, and that is quite unwarrented by what I have said. I too have had experiences that have inspired great saddha in the Dhamma.

Your example of the cellphone is quite in line with my mode of thought, for as I previously stated (perhaps even in the post you quoted) in the hypothetical situation that I found out the Buddha was not real, I would continue meditation and sila. The difference is that I would not apply myself with the label of Buddhist (which I do at present tenuously at best) and I would have to re examine many of my conclusions about the path and the Dhamma.

I do not personally believe that meditative achievements in the realms of jhana and such like should be a basis for not continually critically examining ones views and thought processes, for until we reach stream entry, we are all still possessed of mistaken views. But I do not presume to know how far your achievements extend, so please take the above in full knowledge that I am setting up something of a straw man, an assumption of sorts.

I am as time abides, more open to teachings of the Mahayana, although it can only extend so far, for as I have discussed at length, my saddha in so far as the possibility of nibbana, is in large part attributed to the Buddha's historical thusness.

Hope you are well
metta
Jack
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta

Path Press - Ñāṇavīra Thera Dhamma Page - Ajahn Nyanamoli's Dhamma talks

alan...
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Post by alan... »

BlackBird wrote:Hi Alan,

Be careful not to condescend to determine that you know my practice and what I have (or in your opinion have not) accomplished. You claim to have achieved a lot in your meditation and that is commendable, but you mistake my critical thought with doubt about the veracity of the Dhamma, and that is quite unwarrented by what I have said. I too have had experiences that have inspired great saddha in the Dhamma.

Your example of the cellphone is quite in line with my mode of thought, for as I previously stated (perhaps even in the post you quoted) in the hypothetical situation that I found out the Buddha was not real, I would continue meditation and sila. The difference is that I would not apply myself with the label of Buddhist (which I do at present tenuously at best) and I would have to re examine many of my conclusions about the path and the Dhamma.

I do not personally believe that meditative achievements in the realms of jhana and such like should be a basis for not continually critically examining ones views and thought processes, for until we reach stream entry, we are all still possessed of mistaken views. But I do not presume to know how far your achievements extend, so please take the above in full knowledge that I am setting up something of a straw man, an assumption of sorts.

I am as time abides, more open to teachings of the Mahayana, although it can only extend so far, for as I have discussed at length, my saddha in so far as the possibility of nibbana, is in large part attributed to the Buddha's historical thusness.

Hope you are well
metta
Jack
oh hey man i'm sorry! not my intention to condescend. :embarassed:

my thinking was that you were saying that non historicity of the buddha would be the end of your practice and so i was trying to give you another way to see it to ensure that you wouldn't give up if something like this happened in some way or another. but after reading your reply, clearly this was not necessary. although the post i quoted certainly did seem like that's what you were saying in pretty black and white terms, it's always best not to assume like i did!

i've achieved nothing special. just gotten past the point where i have any lasting or seriously derailing doubts about the practice.
Last edited by alan... on Mon Apr 08, 2013 2:53 am, edited 7 times in total.

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BlackBird
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

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mikenz66 wrote:Hi Jack,
BlackBird wrote: I have retracted my previous positions (of a year or two ago) where I specifically and polemically declared that Nanavira Thera was probably right, and by virtue of such, most other Theravadin teachings were probably wrong. My position now (and I do not recall stating otherwise recently) is one of a working hypothesis. I follow his teachings as a précis. I do not rule anything out, nor do I now make assumptions of other methods or teachings and I regret my previous assuredness and apologise to any whom I may have caused offence.
That's good to know. So you think he's simply the most helpful voice for you at this point?
Yeah, more or less. I owe it to myself to see this particular sub-path out to it's furthest extent. Then I will know for myself whether it's true.
mikenz66 wrote:
BlackBird wrote: I do still however think feel that people (especially of the lay variety) tend to over ascribe attainments to their teachers, or to famous monks and teachers when a degree of skepticism might be healthier.
Perhaps (but isn't attainments why you read Ven Nanaviria in the first place?). Personally, I don't spend time worrying about attainments of either my teachers or of famous monks.
You make a good point. The difference is, I would never have ascribed anything to Ven. Nyanavira if I had not read his own statement (to his preceptor). Those of whom I am critical, in comparison tend to ascribe ariyan status to their teacher or a famous monk simply on the basis that they really want that teacher to be that way, they see what they want to see. I have a statement with which to work with, they have faith and assumption.

Maybe Nanavira Thera was over estimating himself for all I know, but my working hypothesis is that he was a sotapanna, and hence his teachings are worth attempting to understand. His method allows me to see the suttas through a prism that gives them a flavour that I find altogether quite agreeable, one of an existential crisis.

So I'll see how it goes. My mindfulness practice is based on my readings of Mahasi method, and my metta is right out of the Visuddhimagga, my anapana is likewise. My iconoclastic fervour has all but disappeared in recent times and I seek to be inclusive, wherever possible. A big part of that was a recent insight through my metta practice where I have literally come to see all beings are brothers and sisters of myself. No matter what we disagree on, we're all still in this together, and that is a bond that unites us, even if we do not realise it at times.

In essence, I have retreated to a point of view more in line with Canki Sutta you posted, specifically:
"If a person likes something... holds an unbroken tradition... has something reasoned through analogy... has something he agrees to, having pondered views, his statement, 'This is what I agree to, having pondered views,' safeguards the truth. But he doesn't yet come to the definite conclusion that 'Only this is true; anything else is worthless.' To this extent, Bharadvaja, there is the safeguarding of the truth. To this extent one safeguards the truth. I describe this as the safeguarding of the truth. But it is not yet an awakening to the truth.
I wish to safeguard the truth, but I cannot make the claim that 'only this is true, anything else is worthless' for I have not awakened to the truth.
mikenz66 wrote: For me, I think that the main obstacles come from within myself, not from a lack of good information/teaching. All I really care about is having a supportive community and access to competent teachers who measure up to suttas such as the Canki Sutta: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

:anjali:
Mike
You know, that's admirable Mike, Sadhu.

metta
Jack
Last edited by BlackBird on Mon Apr 08, 2013 3:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta

Path Press - Ñāṇavīra Thera Dhamma Page - Ajahn Nyanamoli's Dhamma talks

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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

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BlackBird wrote:Is the literal word of the Buddha just not that important in Mahayana?
What appears as "word of the Buddha" or not arises depending on belief, i.e. consciousness affirming itself. In that there is no difference between Mahayana conditioned consciousness and Theravada conditioned consciousness. :sage:

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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Post by zavk »

David N. Snyder wrote:
BlackBird wrote:Hi Zavk, thank you for your informative post. Incidentally perhaps, I tend to build my conception of the Buddha based on what appears in the Nikayas and I tend to treat anything written by a scholar be they Occidental or Oriental, with the same level of critical thought an analysis. You make an important point and it's worth bearing in mind :)
I agree with Jack. While I appreciate the scholarship and information by zavk, I also get my information about the life of the Buddha primarily from the Nikayas, not any scholar, Western or Eastern. In the Pali Canon there are numerous references to a man who became a Buddha, a mortal man who was born, got sick (dysentery), got old and died.

See: http://buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=163
for some Tipitaka references.
I don't want to derail this thread. But I wish to a quick point as it pertains to the general practice of engaging in Dhamma discussion online and offline.

The distinction made here between non-Buddhist scholarship and Buddhist knowledge is an entirely false one. As if knowledge about the Pali language, as if the criteria for translation and transplantation, as if the general sense of historicity of where the human estate and the different cultures of the world are today and how we have come to be so - as if all these are not part of a broader network of understanding and habits (including academic knowledge production) within which the Dhamma circulates; as if these can be cleanly separated from how we engage with the Dhamma, regardless of whether one favours the Nikayas or Mahayana corpus.

To pretend that one's engagement with the Dhamma can be 'untainted' by such broader cultural, social, political and intellectual forces is totally disingenuous and totally anachronistic. Imagine a turtle meeting a fish in the ocean, and because the turtle has been on land, it claims, 'Oh, I really only rely on the sun and air. The water and salt has no influence on me, I do not pay them attention.' What if the reason they appear to be of no influence is precisely because one does not pay attention?

This is of course merely an analogy and would not fit the present circumstances perfectly. Nevertheless, the main point is:

The distinction between 'mere scholarship' and 'proper Dhamma knowledge' is always and already false to begin with. Such a distinction would allow one to raise the charge of 'mere study' or 'over-intellectualisation' at others, especially when confronted with ideas that do not immediately conform with one's own opinions. But this not only turns a blind eye to how academic scholars could be committed Buddhist practitioners (and of course they are those who are, if one cares to pay attention), it also perpetuates an unhelpful, discriminatory and hypocritical attitude, a way of disguising in sheepskin what one is in fact performing, even as one claims otherwise.

If we simply takes a casual look around at what is taking place here on DW: how often to we find participants quoting passages, demanding that others back up their views by citing sources, checking and referring to those sources, evaluating them against one another for accuracy or inconsistency? Are these activities structurally different to the activities performed by professional scholars? Are the ideas articulated not inter-involved on some level or another? Who here hasn't engaged in these activities? Let's not pretend otherwise and accuse others, even if implicitly, of engaging in practices that are supposedly of less relevance.

Please excuse my rant, moderators. It does not relate to the thread directly, but I believe the issue pertains to how we engage Dhamma discussion in general, including the question of how we ought to evaluate the historicity of the Dhamma. But if you think this is inappropriate, then please exercise your responsibility as a moderator.
With metta,
zavk

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Ben
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Post by Ben »

Thank you, Ed!
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
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but great rivers flow silently.
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Post by tiltbillings »

Ben wrote:Thank you, Ed!
Agreed. As always, insightful and sharply to the point.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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