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What do we take from the "Buddha's" dharma?

VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
edited September 8 in Faith & Religion

I would like to open this post with a quote from the Gnostic exegete Ptolemy:

The entire Law contained in the Pentateuch of Moses was not ordained by one legislator - I mean, not by God alone, some commandments are Moses', and some were given by other men. The words of the Savior teach us this triple division. The first part must be attributed to God alone, and his legislation; the second to Moses - not in the sense that God legislates through him, but in the sense that Moses gave some legislation under the influence of his own ideas; and the third to the elders of the people, who seem to have ordained some commandments of their own at the beginning. You will now learn how the truth of this theory is proved by the words of the Savior.

In some discussion with those who dispute with the Savior about divorce, which was permitted in the Law, he said Because of your hard-heartedness Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife; from the beginning it was not so; for God made this marriage, and what the Lord joined together, man must not seperate. [Matt 19:8] In this way he shows there is a Law of God, which prohibits the divorce of a wife from a husband, and another law, that of Moses, which permits the breaking of this yoke because of hard-heartedness. In fact, Moses lays down legislation contrary to that of God; for joining is contrary to not joining.

But if we examine the intention of Moses in giving this legislation, it will be seen that he did not give it arbitrarily or of his own accord, but by the necessity because of the weakness of those for whom the legislation was given. Since they were unable to keep the intention of God, according to which it was not lawful for them to reject their wives, with whom some of them disliked to live, and therefore were in the danger of turning to greater injustice and thence to destruction, Moses wanted to remove the cause of dislike, which was placing them in jeopardy of destruction. Therefore because of the critical circumstances, choosing a lesser evil in place of a greater, he ordained, on his own accord, a second law, that of divorce, so that if they could not observe the first, they might keep this and not turn to unjust and evil actions, through which complete destruction would be the result for them. This was his intention when he gave legislation contrary to that of God. Therefore it is indisputeable that here the law of Moses is different from the Law of God, even if we have demonstrated the fact from only one example.

The Savior also makes plain the fact that there are some traditions of the elders interwoven in the Law. For God, he says, said, Honour your father and your mother, that it may be well with you, But you, he says addressing the elders, have declared as a gift to God, that by which you have nullified the Law of God through the tradition of your elders. Isaiah also proclaimed this, saying, This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, teaching precepts which are the commandments of men. [Matt 15:4-9].

Therefore it is obvious that the whole Law is divided into three parts; we find in it the legislation of Moses, of the elders, and of God himself. This division of the entire Law, as made by us, has brought to light what is true in it.

(Ptolemy, Letter to Flora, ~100 A.D.)

I would suggest there is a similar threefold division of truth in Buddhavacana: that given by truth, that given by the 500 arhantaḥ (the saints), and that given by the myriad sthāvirāḥ (the elders of the community throughout the ages).

Buddhism is a human institution IMO. The fact that it has human vices, discriminations, hatreds, aversions, to me illustrates this. It was made mostly by people, in my view, not by any one particular person.

My own opinion is that people largely created "the Buddha" from the shared memory of a great spiritual teacher none of them personally remembered. I don't believe the story of the 500 arhantaḥ who solidified the canon. The precise number 500 strikes me as a sacred but unhistorical numerology.

Hence why so many details of the Buddha’s life are stock episodes. Much like the miracles of Jesus which draws on the cultural milieu of general Near Eastern miracle workers. I think they remember many of the teachings of the Buddha accurately. But I don’t think they remember the Buddha himself accurately. And I think many things were hopelessly garbled.

This was how Buddhism became so worldly, in my view, as to be obsessed with genitals, gender, physical beauty, and dwarfism. Because people are obsessed with those things, not the Buddha.

I do not believe the Buddha established those rules in the dhammavinaya that discriminate upon people of the world on such arbitrary criteria as whether or not they have in-tact genitals, for instance. Why? Because they are bizarre and arbitrary and reflect more the worldly concerns of an institution trying to seem “proper” to a worldly society than the unworldly concerns of a unworldly master teaching an unworldly path. A master for whom, if seeming “proper” by society’s worldly standards were important, would have never left his riches, his wife, who would have continued to have more children and perhaps entered into politics as a king, had he cared more for worldly reputation.

There are all sorts of bizarre justifications given in Buddhist literature for bans on the ordination, teaching, and sometimes even association, with what we now call sex and gender minorities. In Venerable Buddhaghoṣa's Visuddhimagga, for instance, is said that the homosexuals lust is too disordered the (s)he cannot calm their mind, that the gender-changer is too ambiguous and prone to changeability to sustain samādhi. Venerable Vasubandhu has only similar statements on the matter.

Furthermore, Ven Buddhaghosa’s point on the hindrance of the changeability of the gender-changer is anticipated in the post-canonical Milindapañha and Nāgasenabhikṣusūtra. Are these Buddhavacana? They are very early literatures.

I think, if Buddha is the perfect human being who stays in the world to teach his dharma, we have to measure him largely by our own standards and definitions of what that perfection is. For some people, unfortunately, it seems they believe a perfect human being would believe absurd lies about sex and gender minorities. We ourselves, speaking of human beings in general, are flawed, thats why we create flawed religions and flawed gods and oftentimes that is why we create an idealized Buddha who is in some way flawed invariably on account of our own flaws.

My search for perfection lead me to Mahāyāna Buddhism (which for the record is just as problematic and worldly as any other kind of Buddhism), and I am sure that many people would identify that as a flaw of mine that led me to create a flawed personal Buddha in the mind as to be persuaded by Vaipulya Buddhadharma.

We all just have to try to do our best and have a minimum standard of upholding other people’s dignity in society while we do so.

What do we take from the Buddhas' dharma? What do we reject? Your thoughts, if it please you.

JeffreyKeromeadamcrossley

Comments

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the void Veteran
    edited September 8

    In general I take the Buddha's psychological and phenomenological teachings on the sources of suffering and their solutions. I really only reject those teachings that can be empirically disproven, such as Mount Meru. Those views you pointed to that are discriminatory around gender and sexuality also seem to be readily empirical questions that should be easily disproven. There's a story during the Buddha's time of monk so stupid he couldn't memorize one line of prayer to effectively practice. The Buddha was still able to guide him to becoming an Arhat. It seems to me, as unlikely as it is, that even if the above claims were somehow true there is no justification for discrimination and rejection of those classes of people from the world of Buddhism.

    I'd also add a third basket of unknowables, such as rebirth, karma, etc. as things to neither fully accept nor reject. We can use those to practice our "don't know mind".

    federicaadamcrossley
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I think it’s a very worthwhile question. Some of the buddha’s teachings as given in the scriptures are just very unlikely, and others may be culturally necessitated. I tend to stick by western science as the authority on the physical world, and I feel a Buddha would not discriminate on the basis of gender or physical perfection.

    Further I am guided by the Kalama sutta and the buddha’s words when he says “you should test my teachings as a goldsmith tests gold at the market, by cutting, burning and rubbing”. Anything that is not testable is suspect. Any requests for sraddha should be taken with a measure of salt.

    This was true when the buddha’s teachings were new, and it is doubly true now that the dhamma is 2500 years old and has accumulated the sayings of many lesser teachers into its body of learning. I think it is very hard to see were the buddha’s teachings end and those of others begin.

    Even core teachings such as karma and rebirth (untestable!) could be cultural devices, even though they occur in many places in the Pali Cannon and other scriptures.

    In the end I am reminded of a saying of Osho’s about Buddhism, that one should “learn from the Buddha, but not become a Buddhist, because one should never try to be a copy of anyone”. In the end it is about what teaches you, what helps you on your path. You’re a unique human being, and you have to rely on your personal feeling of growth, unfolding, wisdom.

    adamcrossleyperson
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran

    What do we take from the Buddhas' dharma? What do we reject? Your thoughts, if it please you.

    Before that can be answered, one first has to determine what is the Buddha's dharma? And what is not?

  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran
    edited September 9

    For me, faith is part of my adherence to Buddhism. But as Thich Nhat Hanh says, "our faith is concrete, not blind, not a leap. It is formed by our own insight and experience." Inherent in this experiential faith, I think, is faith in the Buddha as teacher. I take issue with Osho's line, @Kerome, about not becoming a Buddhist. Peter Harvey, a Theravada scholar, says:

    The English term 'Buddhism' correctly indicates that the religion is characterized by a devotion to 'the Buddha', 'Buddhas' or 'buddha-hood'. 'Buddha' is not a proper name, but a descriptive title meaning 'Awakened One' or 'Enlightened One'.

    'Buddhism' then literally means the way of awakening. A Buddhist doesn't want to become Siddhartha Gautama; they want to become awakened. There's nothing imitative about that.

    In this sense, any teaching which bears the Three Dharma Seals — impermanence, nonself, and nirvana (dukkha in the Southern Transmission) — can be said to be a teaching of the Buddha, or of Buddhism. I think this is also true of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. Since the time of the first Mahayana sutras, this view has allowed texts from a variety of different historical sources to be attributed, in the ultimate dimension, to the Buddha.

    However, the term 'Buddhism' is also used to describe the human institution of people, literature, and customs that have coalesced around the Buddha's initial teachings. The institution is definitely fallible and more than capable of falsifying those teachings. Unquestioningly accepting Buddhism in that sense, is probably not sensible. Texts which are prejudiced against women or minorities, for example, do not contain the wisdom of nonself. The Lotus Sutra, on the other hand, maintains that anyone at all is capable of achieving Enlightenment. This is truly a Buddhist teaching, true Dharma.

    So yes, we do have to do some cherry picking. We have to measure up the various discourses against the gold standard of the core teachings. Thich Nhat Hanh says:

    It is like stringing precious jewels together to make a necklace. If we see each sutra in light of the overall body of teachings, we will not be attached to any one teaching.

    Having said all that, I'm not a Pali or Sanskrit scholar, so I usually let a teacher guide me towards the discourses which truly express the Dharma. And mostly, they do a good job.

    person
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited September 9

    @adamcrossley said:
    'Buddhism' then literally means the way of awakening. A Buddhist doesn't want to become Siddhartha Gautama; they want to become awakened. There's nothing imitative about that.

    In that sense, Osho himself was also a Buddhist. It’s all about the understanding you apply to quotes like that, not everybody will resonate with them. But it’s not necessary to do so. I think that for some people Buddhism with its strong ethics and path to becoming will make a lot of sense. For other people other teachers and traditions will be more appropriate.

    But in the end you need to learn to feel yourself what resonates with you, it’s the essential art of listening to the inner you. And perhaps one day you’ll discover that you’ve gathered enough wisdom, and that all you need to do is retreat to some mountainside to let your mind settle.

    “Do you have the patience to let your mud settle, and wait for the water to become clear?”
    — Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

    adamcrossleyperson
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    It matters not a jot what we take from the Buddha's Dhamma.
    What matters most is how we implement it.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @federica said:
    It matters not a jot what we take from the Buddha's Dhamma.
    What matters most is how we implement it.

    But what if you take a teaching and implement it, and it turns out to not take you further on the path to enlightenment? I’ve come across some practices in Tibetan Buddhism which I have some pretty severe doubts about, like Chöd for example.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    If you agree with it, live by it.
    If you don't agree with it, don't live by it.

    You'll always find someone to argue with you, but if you can with all logic, reason and knowledge, justify and clarify, to the other's satisfaction, then carry on.
    If you are unable to be persuasive and still find objection, ponder.

    Other than that, stick to basics, and do, don't say.

    Kundo
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    But what it comes down to is that we don’t have a guide about what part of the buddha’s words it is suitable to base one’s life on. I suppose we are waiting for people like Edward Conze to make anthologies of the right materials cast in the right language.

    Sort of a lam-rim for the modern Buddhist.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    If you don't trust your own evaluation to consider what is skilful or otherwise, then you have a problem.

    The 4, the 8 and the 5 can be summed up in one word: Simplify.

    Shed the dross, abandon the trivial, stay present, and DO what is Right.

    Kundo
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited September 10

    Mostly what I take from the Buddha's teachings are: the introspective mindfulness and focus on the importance of our actions, their effects, and the intentions underlying them; the ethical framework of the precepts and their principle of harmlessness; the four noble truths; the eightfold path; the observations re: the inconstancy of conditioned phenomena; and the teachings on the process of conditionality (this/this causality, dependent co-arising, etc.). These lay most of the foundations for the practice and insights that follow, which include the letting go of what isn't me or mine. The four brahmaviharas are pretty useful, too.

    federicaadamcrossleyKeromelobster
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    What do we take from the Buddhas' dharma? What do we reject? Your thoughts, if it please you.

    In a nutshell

    Life experiences....

    AKA Anicca...

    ....even when AKA Dukkha ...

    ...so get over it/yourselfAKA Anatta...

    Well something like that... ;) :)

    I guess I am learning not to take my life too seriously, which give me more time for/to help others and this so it would seem comes from practising the Buddha Dharma.... :)

    Kerome
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited September 11

    Very much so @shoshin

    It all depends on how seriously you take the contents of your mind... Perhaps all the knowledge, all our tendencies to absorb, the restlessness to acquire more thoughts, are all just mud and what feeds the mud.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I came across this essay on Access to Insight and thought it was interesting. Basically Thanissaro Bhikku who wrote it, talks a little about the scholarly approach to verifying the historical truthfulness of the sutta’s, and then goes into using the sutta’s to examine how to test the sutta’s. He starts with the Kalama Sutta, and then says that only at the point of stream-entry is all doubt regarding the dhamma taken away.

    One can certainly take that path, chasing stream-entry in order to have all doubt removed. And one could use these principles to try and create a purified dhamma, a dhamma which is a teaching for the modern Buddhist without a lot of the unlikely superstitions. There are some attempts already in that direction, such as https://puredhamma.net/ ... although you would have to see where you draw the line and what you consider appropriate.

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/authenticity.html

  • Again? Oh Dharma! =)

  • What do we take from the Buddhas' dharma? What do we reject?

    Nothing.

    In other words. No taking, no rejecting.

    It is all potential dharma/learning. No need to reject as learning is acceptable ...

    Shoshinadamcrossley
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited September 14

    @lobster said:
    It is all potential dharma/learning. No need to reject as learning is acceptable ...

    Then what you end up doing is taking on your own recognisance the accepting/rejecting ... there are many things in the sutra’s which jar with modern knowledge, we know that the world is a sphere and there is no central mountain, while the sutra’s talk of Mount Meru at the centre of a circle.

    It’s a pickle... it would be nice to just learn, but it’s necessary to be skeptical.

  • It’s a pickle... it would be nice to just learn, but it’s necessary to be skeptical.

    I luvs pickle :3

    Being overly skeptical can be a rejecting or a manifest wisdom (That is the continuum)
    Accepting or finding acceptable our preferences and personal inclinations is not sufficiently independent.

    'Nothing' is an ideal state of 'formless thinking', a bit like 'I am not what I think' - this is the true meaning of 'being homeless'. It is of course prone to dangers, being very similar to undisciplined/crazy mind soup thinking ...

    “Having no destination,
    I am never lost.”

    ― Ikkyu
    https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/150277.Ikkyu

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @lobster said:
    Being overly skeptical can be a rejecting or a manifest wisdom (That is the continuum)
    Accepting or finding acceptable our preferences and personal inclinations is not sufficiently independent.

    Being extremely skeptical results in neti, neti, or not this, nor this. It is a valid path. While the devotee is happier in a state of eti, eti, and this, and that. But these are extremes, and most valid in trances.

    For normal thinking, I reckon the Kalama Sutta is a very appropriate guide.

    'Nothing' is an ideal state of 'formless thinking', a bit like 'I am not what I think' - this is the true meaning of 'being homeless'. It is of course prone to dangers, being very similar to undisciplined/crazy mind soup thinking ...

    Sometimes @lobster, I wonder about you... but then I think, lobsters have a brain of very limited size and considering this you do very well. I’d stay away from soup thinking though B)

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