The process of canonization

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.
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The process of canonization

Post by retrofuturist » Wed Jan 06, 2010 10:35 pm


I was wondering if any one had read...

The Sacred Writings Of Buddhism by Ulrich Pagel
as published in Peter Harvey's "Buddhism" ... el&f=false" onclick=";return false;

In particular the section on "the process of canonization".

(please excuse the use of Sanskrit terms/names of the Pali, as used by the author)
Tradition has it that immediately after the demise of the founder, steps were taken to safeguard the accurate preservation of the Buddha's teachings. For this purpose, Mahakasyapa, a prominent disciple of the Buddha, reportedly convened a council in Rajagrha, the capital of Magadha. He appointed 500 arahats (accomplished monks free of all attachment) to decide on the authenticity of the teachings that were submitted to the council. For the doctrine he called on Ananda, the Buddha's personal attendant known to have heard most sermons, to recite all the discourses (sutta) he remembered. For the monastic code of Vinaya, Mahakasyapa summoned Upali, a great expert on this, and asked him to relate all monastic rules that he heard from the Buddha's lips. Before a discourse or precepts was formally authenticated, it was subjected to careful scrutiny and required unanimous approval by all 500 arahats. Whenever in doubt, the assembly refused admission out of fear that they might unwittingly alter the Buddha's teaching.

Assessment of the scripture's authenticity followed a set of guidelines drawn up by the Buddha himself. Recognizing the threat false claims of authenticity could pose to his teaching, he advised his disciples to confirm in every case that a newly introduced text stemmed either directly from his own lips or from that of elders (theras) of a formally constituted sangha and that it conformed to the spirit of both the Dhamma and Vinaya. Any text that did not match these four principal 'authorities' was to be rejected as bogus.

Several sources included also the recitation of the Abhidhamma Pitaka in their accounts of this council - some attributing it to Ananda, other to Mahakasyapa himself. The scholastic nature of the Abhidhamma Pitaka cast doubt on this claim, although we know that the systemization of sutta material began already very early.

Recent modern scholarship has introduced serious reservations about the claims found in the accounts of this council. It is highly questionable whether the monks who were present at the council had access to all the sermons of the Buddha. The texts themselves speak of disciples who refused to endorse the sermons as recalled by Ananda, preferring instead to adhere to the form in which they had memorized them. There must have been many monks in India who, although remembering genuine discourses, either failed to gain admission to the council, or did not reach it in time to have them considered. Furthermore, the earliest version of the account conspicuously lacks a description of the canon whose authenticity it proposes to establish. What is more, the various schools do not agree on the contents of the canon, showing differences in the distribution of the texts and the presence of an Abhidhamma Pitaka. Had there been an early codification, it would undoubtedly have been adopted as a common basis by all sects. The claim of codification is further dented by the late composition of some of the Abhidhamma works and the enduring controversy surrounding the composition of the Khuddaka Nikaya. In view of these objections, one cannot help by conclude that the traditional account of the Rajagrha council lacks historical foundation. One suspects that while a gathering of scriptures probably took place soon after the demise of the Buddha - for a collection like the Buddhist canon does not come about by chance - the information we are given on this event perhaps reflects how the council was perceived by the order in later times.

The circumstances in which the 'true' gathering of teachings took place are not known. It is widely believed that the collecting of texts was begun already during the lifetime of the Buddha. Progress of the compilation is implicitly documented in the account of a second Buddhist council that was help about 70 years after the Buddha's death at Vaisali. At that council, a group of monks was rebuked for practices deviating from the monastic code. Their conduct was condemned on the basis that it contravened what was then regarded as canonical tradition. For this condemnation to be convincing, the majority of the order had to have a very clear idea of what constituted inviolable scripture, at least as regards the monastic code. Wishing to authenticate their version of the canon and to give the community a body of sciptures that would hold authority in future dissidence, the Rajagrha account might have been inspired by the proceedings at Vaisali.
Any thoughts?

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Re: The process of canonization

Post by suanck » Thu Jan 07, 2010 3:53 am

B.C. Law, in the article "Chronology of the Pali Canon", suggested the development of the Pali Tipitaka in stages as following:

(1) The simple statements of Buddhist doctrines now found, in identical words, in paragraphs or verses recurring in all the books.

(2) Episodes found, in identical works, in two or more of the existing books.

(3) The Silas, the Parayana group of sixteen poems without the prologue, the atthaka group of four or sixteen poems, the sikkhapadas.

(4) The Digha, Vol. l, the Majjhima, the Samyutta, the Anguttara, and earlier Patimokkha code of 152 rules.

(5) The Digha, Vols. II & III, the Thera-Theri-Gatha, the collection of 500 Jatakas, the Suttavibhanga, the Partisambhidamagga, the Puggala-pannatti and the Vibhanga.

(6) The Mahavagga and the Cullavagga, the Patimokkha code completing 227 rules, the Vimanavatthu and Petavatthu, the Dhammapada and the Kathavatthu.

(7) The Cullaniddesa, the Mahaniddesa, the Udana, the Itivuttaka, the Suttanipata, the Dhatukatha, the Yamaka and the Patthana.

(8) The Buddhavamsa, the Cariyapitaka and the Apadana.

(9) The Parivarapatha.

(10) The Khuddakapatha.



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Re: The process of canonization

Post by Chula » Tue Feb 09, 2010 1:58 am

retrofuturist wrote:The texts themselves speak of disciples who refused to endorse the sermons as recalled by Ananda, preferring instead to adhere to the form in which they had memorized them.
This is actually a misrepresentation. This is from the Cūḷavagga of the Vinayapiṭaka and it only states that a monk shows up late to the council and hears that the 500 Arahants had decided on the suttas. He accepts those suttas as the word of the Buddha, but says he prefers to focus on what the Buddha taught him personally, and then amicably leaves. It doesn't support the claim that he "refused to endorse the sermons" at all.

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Re: The process of canonization

Post by Paññāsikhara » Tue Feb 09, 2010 2:23 am

Notice that Pagel conveniently goes from the Pali canon, to the Mahayana canon, to Tantra. Hasn't he skipped out a huge amount of other early Buddhist material in the process?
Notice also that Law only uses Pali sources. Doesn't he also commit the same error?

Chula's comments above are correct. Sources only indicate Purna.
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Re: The process of canonization

Post by seanpdx » Tue Feb 09, 2010 5:05 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

I was wondering if any one had read...

The Sacred Writings Of Buddhism by Ulrich Pagel
as published in Peter Harvey's "Buddhism" ... el&f=false" onclick=";return false;

In particular the section on "the process of canonization".
Well... now I have. =)
Any thoughts?
Not really. Nothing too controversial in there. The misrepresentation has already been noted, and is something for which I wish people would give citations. I don't believe Pagel is the only person to make that claim, though. As far as the specific section on canonisation, Pagel doesn't "skip" anything at all. There is nothing to skip, because he's discussing pre-sectarian canonisation; and does, in fact, point to different (non-Pali) sects as evidence for doubting the commonly held council story.

If you're interested in such things, other reading material you may find interesting:
"How old is the Suttapiṭaka? The relative value of textual and epigraphical sources for the study of early Indian Buddhism.", Alexander Wynne
"Inducing a Chronology of the Pali Canon", Paul Kingsbury
"The Oral Transmission of the Early Buddhist Literature", Alexander Wynne

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