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I’ve been reading Buddhist Scriptures by Edward Conze, and I thought I would just talk a little about it. It’s a big contrast with Stephen Batchelor, hence the name of this thread, to put the two side by side.
First of all Buddhist Scriptures is very much a straightforward anthology of a number of translated Buddhist scriptures, and unlike Stephen Batchelor makes very little comment about them. It is a ‘warts and all’ translation, including talk of the Buddha’s past lives, things like invisible deva’s and gods mourning at his passing to Nirvana, and things like Indra’s thunderbolts and the skies burning at portentous events. It’s very dramatic, and if you read it as a drama, a kind of play, then you can see how it’s inspiring.
But to actually believe in it literally requires you to believe in a very different world view... it means you have to accept as true Indra and Brahma, the realms of the gods, the possibility of an inauspicious rebirth for informing a layperson of a fellow monk’s grave offence if you are a monk, and so on. I would wonder how someone of the modern times would cope, given that world view.
I do find it interesting to read these ancient tales though, they are very colourful.
I also came across this quote in the translators notes...
Finally, the fundamental division of the community into lay-men and monks, according to their respective attainments and tasks, can be clarified from the 'Questions of King Milinda'. From the second of these extracts it becomes clear that faith and devotion, in addition to morality, are the layman's special province. Generally speaking, the monks alone can hope to advance from morality to higher things, first to meditation, and then to wisdom.
Something to chew on for us modern practitioners.