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Mahayana Sutras... quick question

BonsaiDougBonsaiDoug Simply, on the path. Veteran
While I follow the Theravada tradition, I do love reading all Suttas/Sutras (currently reading a very good book: "The Heart Sutra Explained; Indian and Tibetan Commentaries" by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.).

From what I've read, the Mahayana Sutras appeared some 300-400 years after the death of The Buddha. Can someone point me in the direction of where I can read how these Sutras have been associated with The Buddha? I realize this is where some controversy exists, but I'm really just interested in reading how the Mahayana Sutras are connected with The Buddha himself. How they connect back to The Buddha, much the way the Pali Canon has been connected to him.

TIA

Comments

  • Just to put this into perspective Bonsai Doug, the Pali Canon was complied almost 600 years after the death of the Buddha.
    None of its content was written down before that.
    The earliest date for the Heart Sutra is around 600 CE. But it had earlier 'drafts'..so which teachings can be traced directly back to the Buddha is not a simple matter.
    riverflow
  • The mahayana sutras has dubious origins.
    According to the mahayana sutras, after Buddha's death,
    Buddha reappeared as a naga/dragon and taught
    the mahayana sutras.
  • Oh pleeease.
    I know very few educated Mahayana practitioners who would take that literally.
    Its symbolic. If you want to know what the symbolism pertains to its all out there.
  • That the Lotus Sutra and other Mahayana Sutras were not spoken by the Buddha is unanimously supported by modern scholarship. I don’t know of a single academic in the last 150 years who has argued otherwise. The basic historical background is given in Wikipedia. The upshot is that the Lotus Sutra was composed over a period of time, or in a number of stages. The oldest sources probably stem from a little before the common era, and it was finalized around 200 CE. This makes it one of the earliest Mahayana Sutras (and it is even argued that the earliest form of the sutra may not have even been Mahayana).
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    edited September 2013
    Scholars are only now getting serious about delving into the historocity of the sutras and the actual early history of Buddhism, and how this is different from the legends and claims. The latest I remember reading is that what is now called Mahayana was one of several recognized practices that existed side by side in the early temples, and only later on became a distinctive school that found itself at odds with Theravadan practicioners. There is no evidence that any of the sutras, including the Pali Canon, contain the actual words of Buddha. What are we supposed to find, recordings?

    There were several gatherings of monks over the centuries to decide what sutras were accurate but given the isolation of the various temples and lack of central authority, those tended to be self-serving gatherings of monks who only invited people who agreed with them.

    So it's the usual happy mess we find whenever we look at actual history before it's cleaned up by later pundits.
    Citta
  • Several scholars who specialize in the field of early Buddhism have said that much of the contents of the Pali Canon (and its main teachings) can be attributed to Gautama Buddha. Richard Gombrich says that the main preachings of the Buddha (as in the Vinaya and Sutta Pitaka) are coherent and cogent, and must be the work of a single genius: the Buddha himself, not a committee of followers after his death.[19][20] Peter Harvey also affirms the authenticity of "much" of the Pali Canon.[21] A.K. Warder has stated that there is no evidence to suggest that the shared teaching of the early schools was formulated by anyone else than the Buddha and his immediate followers.[22] J.W. de Jong has said it would be "hypocritical" to assert that we can say nothing about the teachings of earliest Buddhism, arguing that "the basic ideas of Buddhism found in the canonical writings could very well have been proclaimed by him [the Buddha], transmitted and developed by his disciples and, finally, codified in fixed formulas."[23] A. Wynne has said that the Pali Canon includes texts which go back to the very beginning of Buddhism, which perhaps include the substance of the Buddha’s teaching, and in some cases, maybe even his words.[
    cvalueCraig86
  • And I could list a similar number of scholars who would dismiss that view @hermitwin.
    There is a substantial body of opinion that attributes much of the content of the Suttas to Buddhaghosa and his commitee.

    In any case it makes absolutely no difference to me.
    A body of experiential means has grown up in both the Theravada and the Mahayana..whether or not these means can be traced back to Gautama Siddhartha is entirely irrelevant to my practice.
    If it could be proved that Gautama never existed it would not alter what I do on the meditation cushion in the slightest.
    Cinorjerzenffriverflow
  • While I follow the Theravada tradition, I do love reading all Suttas/Sutras (currently reading a very good book: "The Heart Sutra Explained; Indian and Tibetan Commentaries" by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.).

    From what I've read, the Mahayana Sutras appeared some 300-400 years after the death of The Buddha. Can someone point me in the direction of where I can read how these Sutras have been associated with The Buddha? I realize this is where some controversy exists, but I'm really just interested in reading how the Mahayana Sutras are connected with The Buddha himself. How they connect back to The Buddha, much the way the Pali Canon has been connected to him.

    TIA

    There is also the whole question of the Trikaya. Mahayana Sutras are often associated with the Dharmakaya body of the Buddha. The Pali Suttas are largely associated with The Nirmankaya form.
  • ChazChaz The Remarkable Chaz Anywhere, Everywhere & Nowhere Veteran
    edited September 2013
    Citta said:

    Oh pleeease.
    I know very few educated Mahayana practitioners who would take that literally.
    Its symbolic. If you want to know what the symbolism pertains to its all out there.

    yep. there are also stories of how the Buddha gave Mahayana teachings to the Nagas, who preserved them for centuries before transmitting them to humans.

    If there are those who seek historical fact in that and other stories, fine, but I'd suggest they are wasting their time.

    The proof is,as they say, in the pudding. The question to be answered is, do the Mahayana teaching lead to enlightenment? I don't think there can beuch argument there.
    riverflowJeffrey
  • I don't mind if Mahayana is not 100% pure like Theravada. One must be a little bit flexible and must be able to adapt a little bit to new life. When Buddhism was imported from India to China, there was a culture shock. Buddhism was never accepted in China in its purely Indian form which part of it was inherited from Hindu. So Buddhism was assimilated into Chinese civilization.
  • I dont think the idea that that the Theravada is 100% is a sustainable view. Neither is it particularly meaningful. There are existing Buddhist schools that are probably older than the Theravada.
    Chaz
  • @hermitwin That's impressive. Yes, there are scholars who make their case for historical accuracy. I didn't mean to imply that all scholars dismiss the sutras entirely. Even the most conservative scholar would have to admit not every word supposed to be uttered by Buddha is a true record, though. As #Citta says, other scholars raise doubts and we both know unless someone invents a time machine, it will remain a matter of one expert against another as people get yet another paper published. Fascinating, isn't it?
    cvalue
  • oceancaldera207oceancaldera207 Veteran
    edited September 2013
    when I looked into this, and I couldnt find any concrete reason why scholars say that the Mahayana texts are not the words of the sakyamuni Buddha....but they have reason for saying it.
    Basically, they just find it doubtful that the teachings would be secretly passed down and hidden, and finally written down so long after the pali
    canon was recorded... And this is actually not unreasonable suspicion, especially considering the vastness and complexity of Mahayana sutras.
    I don't think theres any way to say that at least parts of the Mahayana sutras aren't directly passed down from the source; its not unreasonable to me that select discourses might have been given and (verbally) recorded along another line, (remember that the pali was verbally transmitted for centuries also)
    After much deliberation on the matter, I have come to the conclusion that I
    would accept the Mahayana sutras no matter the source. There was an exchange where someone asked sakyamuni how will we know which sutras are yours and authentic, he said something to the effect of 'analyze them for yourself and see if they were in line with the dharma. '

    @bonsaidoug, this is a sensitive issue, there probably will be blood here. I'd highly recommend a book called ' 2500 years of Buddhism, by bapat. The book is past copyright and is free to download now. I put a link for it in the sutra resource and glossary sticky thread.
  • Oh! Forgot to say why I recommend the book, basically it goes into detail about the process of preserving the knowledge from the beginning. It's an infinitely interesting historical account, perhaps a little dry. But I've come to the conclusion that it is a miracle that any sutras, pali or otherwise even survived and exist now at all! It is truly humbling to realize the sheer effort and patience that went in to transmitting this knowledge.
    Jeffrey
  • Agree with @Cinorjer. What @hermitwin said is impressive!
  • After much deliberation on the matter, I have come to the conclusion that I would accept the Mahayana sutras no matter the source. There was an exchange where someone asked sakyamuni how will we know which sutras are yours and authentic, he said something to the effect of 'analyze them for yourself and see if they were in line with the dharma. '

    There is the Gotami Sutta which basically indicates that the teachings must be judged by the results that come when you put them into practice.

    In that Sutta, the Buddha laid down eight principles to test the validity of any teaching:
    Gotami, the qualities of which you may know, "These qualities lead:

    [1] to passion, not to dispassion;
    [2] to being fettered, not to being unfettered;
    [3] to accumulating, not to shedding;
    [4] to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty;
    [5] to discontent, not to contentment;
    [6] to entanglement, not to seclusion;
    [7] to laziness, not to aroused persistence;
    [8] to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome":

    You may categorically hold, "This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher's instruction."

    As for the qualities of which you may know, "These qualities lead:

    [1] to dispassion, not to passion;
    [2] to being unfettered, not to being fettered;
    [3] to shedding, not to accumulating;
    [4] to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement;
    [5] to contentment, not to discontent;
    [6] to seclusion, not to entanglement;
    [7] to aroused persistence, not to laziness;
    [8] to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome":

    You may categorically hold, "This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher's instruction."
    oceancaldera207Citta
  • Thanks much.
  • Basically @bonsaidoug the legend has it that the Mahayana sutras were passed along and hidden for a few hundred years after the tripitaka was recorded, on the instruction
    of the Buddha. It is said that these special teachings were to be released at a later time when they would be better accepted... Most scholars think that the likelyhood of this is small, but no one really knows. It is also a point of contention, because I think some feel that the whole idea of the origin of the Mahayana texts somehow belittles the three baskets.. and some Mahayana practitioners condescend Theravada, so it has become a hot topic.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited September 2013
    The first sermon is also preserved in the Pali Canon. This is when he talked to the aesthetic yogis (Ananda was not there) who were angry at him for leaving. Ananda wasn't one of those who were there. Unless one of the yogis recorded it on his/her i-Phone I don't know why it would be recorded. I've transcribed maybe 20 dharma talks and believe me I would not be able to transmit to anyone else in whole.
  • BonsaiDougBonsaiDoug Simply, on the path. Veteran
    Sorry all if I opened that proverbial can-of-worms.

    Basically @bonsaidoug the legend has it that the Mahayana sutras were passed along and hidden for a few hundred years after the tripitaka was recorded, on the instruction
    of the Buddha. It is said that these special teachings were to be released at a later time when they would be better accepted. [...]

    @oceancaldera207 - I guess this is what I'm searching for; just something more "doctrinal" rather than "legend." But judging by all the above comments, I'm guessing by this point in time, "legend" is all there is.

    Thanx all!
  • ChazChaz The Remarkable Chaz Anywhere, Everywhere & Nowhere Veteran


    @oceancaldera207 - I guess this is what I'm searching for; just something more "doctrinal" rather than "legend." But judging by all the above comments, I'm guessing by this point in time, "legend" is all there is.

    All we really have is "legend". Even the Pali canon was orally transmitted, teacher to student for centuries before it was written down. The chances of what was written down being the exact words of the Buddha are very slim indeed.

    I don't doubt that the Buddha gave the original teaching and that the sutras contain the gist of what he taught, but I can't agree that, considering the historical situation in the Sangha, that the cannon contains anything in the way of historically accurate content.

    But then 100% accuracy isn't the purpose. Enlightenment is.
    riverflowCinorjer
  • oceancaldera207oceancaldera207 Veteran
    edited September 2013
    Well bonsai, check out this book, especially the part about the four buddhist councils. Its not going to answer your questions but it'll give you an idea of what and how much we know about the time period.,

    archive.org/details/2500.Years.of.Buddhism.by.Prof.P.Y.Bapat.1956
  • Of course there are apparent contradictions in the Mahayana corpus. Its a huge block of material far larger than The Pali Canon across several cultures and a score of languages.
    It delevoped over time..thousands of years, and is still developing. Its a living thing. Not a fossil set in dogma. The Mahayana has to be approached with a spirit of openness and exploration..not in a spirit of rigidity harking back to a bygone age of the world.
    riverflowJeffrey
  • BonsaiDougBonsaiDoug Simply, on the path. Veteran
    Cinorjer said:

    Here's another point that must be made: the Sutras are much more than a list of things the Buddha said and did. For the Mahayana in particular, the definition of a Sutra was never supposed to be "Buddha actually said that" but instead should be "Is this the Dharma?" The Sutras are the accumulated writings of Buddhists attempting to explain and illustrate and teach the Dharma, written by many monks over many centuries. [...]

    This has always been the assumption with which I've read the Sutras.
    Cinorjer said:

    Buddhists are nothing special. Buddhism now, that's something else.

    Probably something most of us can agree upon.
    Cinorjer
  • karmablueskarmablues Veteran
    edited September 2013
    hermitwin said:

    The mahayana sutras has dubious origins.
    According to the mahayana sutras, after Buddha's death,
    Buddha reappeared as a naga/dragon and taught
    the mahayana sutras.

    The Abhidhamma Pitaka, one of the three pitakas of the Pali Canon, also has an extraordinary origin. According to the Pali commentaries, the Buddha expounded the Abhidhamma not in the human world to his human disciples, but to the assembly of devas who had assembled from the ten thousand world-systems in the Tavatimsa heaven. The Buddha's mother who had been reborn as a deva in the Tusita heaven descended to Tavatimsa to listen to this teaching.

    However, each day, to sustain his body, the Buddha would descend to the human world to go on alms-round. The Buddha created an exact magical figure of himself to continue teaching in heaven in his absence because in order to give a complete picture of the Abhidhamma it has to be expounded from beginning to the end to the same audience in a single session. This required three months of non-stop continuous preaching by the Buddha and his magical copy.
    Jeffrey
  • ChazChaz The Remarkable Chaz Anywhere, Everywhere & Nowhere Veteran
    And people dis Mahayana for being out there?

    hermitwin said:

    The mahayana sutras has dubious origins.
    According to the mahayana sutras, after Buddha's death,
    Buddha reappeared as a naga/dragon and taught
    the mahayana sutras.

    The Abhidhamma Pitaka, one of the three pitakas of the Pali Canon, also has an extraordinary origin. According to the Pali commentaries, the Buddha expounded the Abhidhamma not in the human world to his human disciples, but to the assembly of devas who had assembled from the ten thousand world-systems in the Tavatimsa heaven. The Buddha's mother who had been reborn as a deva in the Tusita heaven descended to Tavatimsa to listen to this teaching.

    However, each day, to sustain his body, the Buddha would descend to the human world to go on alms-round. The Buddha created an exact magical figure of himself to continue teaching in heaven in his absence because in order to give a complete picture of the Abhidhamma it has to be expounded from beginning to the end to the same audience in a single session. This required three months of non-stop continuous preaching by the Buddha and his magical copy.
  • ChazChaz The Remarkable Chaz Anywhere, Everywhere & Nowhere Veteran
    So, it would follow that if the Buddha could teach the Abidharma to Devas - I think he'd have to be Samboghakaya to do this - to say that he taught certain Mahayana teachings to Nagas, who would then preserve those teachings and transmit them to humans some time later, isn't much of a reach. I'd also offer that if one accepts the Abidharma, it's pretty much encumbent to accept the Prajnaparamita sutras as well as the Mahayana teachings preseved by the Nagas, not to mention the Maitreya teachings as passed to Asanga.

    Otherwise I have to agree with Cinorjer's assertion regarding the validation of personal practice by invalidating others' (very well put BTW).
    caz
  • BonsaiDougBonsaiDoug Simply, on the path. Veteran
    Chaz said:

    […] Otherwise I have to agree with Cinorjer's assertion regarding the validation of personal practice by invalidating others' (very well put BTW).

    I wonder... Is this a trap we fall into when we simply choose one path over another because one speaks to us and others do not? Are we, even subconsciously, validating our path by invalidating others?
  • Chaz said:

    […] Otherwise I have to agree with Cinorjer's assertion regarding the validation of personal practice by invalidating others' (very well put BTW).

    I wonder... Is this a trap we fall into when we simply choose one path over another because one speaks to us and others do not? Are we, even subconsciously, validating our path by invalidating others?
    There is of course always the alternative. To affirm our path and respect the path of others.
    karmabluesVastmind
  • karmablueskarmablues Veteran
    edited September 2013
    Citta said:

    There is of course always the alternative. To affirm our path and respect the path of others.

    Well said.

    Perhaps this a good opportunity to share the images that I have attached below which shows Ajahn Succitto and Ajahn Vimalo unveiling the statue of Prajna Paramita in the Dhamma Hall at Chithurst Buddhist Monastery, a forest monastery in the lineage of Ajahn Chah in the UK. The statue was sculpted by Ajahn Vimalo himself at the request of Ajahn Sumedho.

    The image of Prajna Paramita originates in the group of Mahayana sutras called ‘Prajna Paramita’ which includes such well-known discourses as The Heart Sutra and The Diamond Sutra.

    Upon installing the statute of Prajna, Ajahn Succitto, the abbot of the monastery, explained:
    With the Theravada image of the Buddha being that which our chanting centres around, we felt the most suitable place for a Mahayana image would be as a complement, rather than adjunct, to that. So the Hall was designed to have Prajna and the Buddha facing each other. With the Buddha in the samadhi position and the Prajna presenting the wisdom mudra; with the ‘male’ form being soft and relaxed, and the ‘female’ one being sharp and alert, in my mind they present two of the key facets of Dhamma which have to fit together in the experience of each practitioner.

    Having the two images as both central but at opposite ends of the Hall also reminds us that an all-round and embracing vision is essential. Now Prajna, Wisdom, is at the entry to the Hall, as an initial reminder that all form is dependently arisen and has no intrinsic self-existence – thus form is ‘empty.’ She is also the image that a visitor will last see as they leave the Hall. Entering the Hall, one comes to a place where stillness and inner-dwelling is the norm, but on leaving one is reminded to be alert, and to not get deluded by the manifestations of the world. All form is caught in opinions, in male and female, mine and yours, old and new, and so on. And the conflict of the world is based on supporting one aspect against the other. For me the message of Prajna is that through careful discernment, ‘emptiness’ can also embrace and value each form that arises. Then, in its own time and place, each apparent thing can be part of a whole that is never seen but sensed in the peace of Dhamma-fruition.
    imageimage
    SabreJeffreycvalue
  • SabreSabre Veteran
    edited September 2013
    Sutras are just texts. They only have value if put into practice. And to me it only becomes important to know which suttas are 'authentic' when they would have a different influence on our practice that we doubt to be useful. For me the Heart Sutra practice wise (and philosophically as well) fits in with the Pali suttas, so it is not really important to me to know if it is really spoken by the Buddha or not.

    And it's not like Theravadins are only using reliable texts. The Pali canon also has apparent alterations and later influences in it that many Theravadins take on as truth and word of the Buddha because it is written there - that I think is the wrong way to go about it.
  • The sutras are bodhicitta that someone thought was so important that they froze it in writing.
  • ChazChaz The Remarkable Chaz Anywhere, Everywhere & Nowhere Veteran

    Chaz said:

    […] Otherwise I have to agree with Cinorjer's assertion regarding the validation of personal practice by invalidating others' (very well put BTW).

    I wonder... Is this a trap we fall into when we simply choose one path over another because one speaks to us and others do not? Are we, even subconsciously, validating our path by invalidating others?
    No we aren't. There isn't one path, no matter what we think. The Buddha is said to have taught 88,000 different teachings for the benefit of beings accoring to the karma and capacity. Every one is valid. Following one does not invalidate the rest.
    Citta
  • Quite so.
    The observable fact is we can have ( and should have ) great respect for all paths they lead to positive places..we can though only practice one..
    The evidence for that is the sheer papanca and confusion than clings to those who try to practice more than one path like ' the faint aroma of performing seals' .To quote Lorenz Hart.
    They know more and more about less and less.
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