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The myths of Mahayana

JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matterNetherlands Veteran
edited December 2021 in Buddhism Today

I came across a very interesting article in Dutch, on the origins of Mahayana and how it interacted with the original words of the Buddha. I wanted to post a link to the translated article, and a few short translated paragraphs…

https://boeddhistischdagblad-nl.translate.goog/achtergronden/175184-de-mythe-van-het-mahayana/?_x_tr_sl=auto&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=nl

And here a few short paragraphs to whet your appetite. This is about the Lotus Sutra.

[...] According to the Palicanon, the Buddha himself said that he taught everything there was to tell. So the mahāyāna has a problem if it wants to be the teaching of the buddha. They solved that in Indian style: the Bollywood method. They deify the Buddha and make him say in his new divine environment that he did not mean it that way on earth. In addition, the other Buddhists, who are satisfied with the real teaching, are denounced for their so-called lack of compassion. The bodhisattva’s stick a feather in their caps, for they have that compassion. Isn't this devout narcissism?

The Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra, the Lotus Sutra, written in the Kandahar region during the first century, makes no mistake about it. In a scenario that resembles a cross between a dance party, The Voice and Chantal's Pyjama Party, the Buddha sits in his heaven chatting with his arhats and bodhisattvas. He declares that his appearance in the world and the teachings he preached has been just a show and that he is now going to proclaim his real message. The idea is clearly borrowed from the Bhagavadgīta, but with religions you don't need copyrights.[...]

Apologies in advance to any devout mahayanists! The article has quite a strong slant towards ‘old Buddhism’, following the original words of the Buddha, and doesn’t mince its words.

Comments

  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited December 2021

    I think most Theravadins and Mahayanists that I have met (whether devout or not) would consider such a post to simply be a flame production that is more likely to result in sufferings creation than its cessation.
    Its similar to saying "Apologies in advance but why are you a Hiniyanist?".
    .

    lobsterJasonFleaMarket
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    Yes, I've come across quite a few fundamentalist Mahayana and Theravadan folk over the years.

    But equally a lot who either mix both (as I do) or show due respect to the other.

    Each to their own...probably depends on the person's own personality.

    rocala
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    @Shoshin1 said:
    When Buddhism took an interest in me, I was under the impression there was just the one Buddha and he gave discourses on the 4NTs & 8FP , however after a while I was starting to see all these different Buddhas and different approaches to the Dharma...

    In the end I just focused on the 4NTs & 8FP and listened to different Dharma teachers from different schools, traditions & sects...

    The way I see it is ...for the Buddhist practitioner, Dharma practice is Dharma practice , regardless of school tradition or sect, it's a 24/7/365 thing...and all centred around developing experiential understanding of the 4NTs & 8FP....The path may start off quite narrow but after a while it gradually expands to take in all its surroundings... so to speak..

    This is basically where I've ended up as well. The important bit is what we put into practice and how we develop our mind. Practically speaking for all but the most dedicated practitioners there isn't much difference between what a Mahayana and a Hinayana practitioner actually need to train their mind to do, ie, does the average person need to decrease their reactivity and increase their compassion or enter 4th jhana and directly perceive emptiness?
    The disagreements are largely, though not entirely, philosophical rather than practical.

    Shoshin1lobsterrocalaFleaMarket
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran
    edited December 2021

    @how said:
    I think most Theravadins and Mahayanists that I have met (whether devout or not) would consider such a post to simply be a flame production that is more likely to result in sufferings creation than its cessation.
    Its similar to saying "Apologies in advance but why are you a Hiniyanist?".
    .

    It’s more than just a flame production though. If you look at the arguments in the article and take them on its own merit, shedding the lingo so to speak, it’s a worthy debate which has a real impact on which teachings we follow.

    For me, the point of Buddhism is that it is the words of an enlightened teacher. That is its value. I don’t really hold with all the supernatural stuff, the heavens and the cosmology and things, I see that as the production of lesser minds encrusted on the parts of Buddhism which actually matter.

    The 4NT are an excellent teaching which produced a moment of enlightenment in many people and are rightly held to be among the Buddha’s most important teachings. But to boil a lifetime’s teaching down to just that and the 8FP is not right I don’t think. If you read it correctly, there are real gems to be found throughout the Buddha’s words even after 2500 years.

    Dakini
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran
    edited December 2021

    @person said:
    The important bit is what we put into practice and how we develop our mind.

    Would a Mahayanist agree? Some pure land Buddhist might say chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha is the important bit, and training the mind is irrelevant.

    That’s a very different kind of Buddhism than what the Buddha originally taught.

    Dakini
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran
    edited December 2021

    @Jeroen said:
    That’s a very different kind of Buddhism than what the Buddha originally taught.

    I've often been curious to know at what age he spoke the three Sutras that make up the Pure Land school?

    lobster
  • When Buddhism took an interest in me

    I like that way of putting it. In fact I might take it further …
    When the Buddha contacted me, I was unavailable …

    Buddha 0
    Mythic Won/1 … and still lost …

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    @Bunks said:

    @Jeroen said:
    That’s a very different kind of Buddhism than what the Buddha originally taught.

    I've often been curious to know at what age he spoke the three Sutras that make up the Pure Land school?

    Hmmmmm, maybe when he realised most of us had no hope of attaining enlightenment in this life time :)

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    @Jeroen said:

    @person said:
    The important bit is what we put into practice and how we develop our mind.

    Would a Mahayanist agree? Some pure land Buddhist might say chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha is the important bit, and training the mind is irrelevant.

    That’s a very different kind of Buddhism than what the Buddha originally taught.

    Yeah, I should have added "in my opinion". They could be right.

    Bunks
  • A wise old Indian once said something along the lines of ..."The proof of the Theravada. Mahayana. & Vajrayana curries are in the eating"

    Bon appétit ...Ehipassiko...

    LionduckBunks
  • My choice from the menu is the Lotus Sutra Curry.
    I find it delicious. =)

    Shoshin1BunksJeroen
  • The excerpted paragraph, and perhaps the full article for all I know, seems little more than simple intolerance of diversity, written in a study-of-Buddhism content.

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    For those who read closely, there is a serious point being made. Not everyone will — or should — care, and some people will have learnt to be sufficiently aware of what they accept as truth that it comes as unnecessary warning, but a few people will get something out of it.

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    Let me see if I can untangle it for you. For me, the spiritual impulse is bound up in the search for enlightenment in this life, and in order to find that I examine the words and deeds of the enlightened. So I consider the words and stories of the Buddha of value, but I’m interested in the original, historical Buddha.

    That means that efforts to retrofit some forms of belief such as the Buddha’s speech in heaven to the assembled arhats and bodhisattvas are not helpful — they put the words of the unenlightened in his mouth, polluting the stream of knowledge. Of course, to some extent all old writings are ‘polluted’ by translator error, wrong transcription and so on, so I always have to be discerning.

    In searching for the words and deeds of the enlightened one always has to look closely, it is no exception to see a holy man’s words getting some clever spin. Therefore among friends it can be useful to share what we have found to be beneficial, and where we have sought in vain. You see the dilemma, it is hard to do so without being somewhat critical.

    So it depends. Do you seek to learn from the enlightened, or do you just want to be a Buddhist? Are you still at the stage where everything is helpful, or do you put some things gently to one side as not being of benefit?

    BunksrocalaFleaMarket
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited December 2021

    The Lotus Sūtra, according to the text itself, comes to us from Candrasūryapradīpa Tathāgata, not Śākyamuni. Gautama Buddha merely relayed it.

    The article, I hate to say, seems to be more or less lying. The Lotus Sūtra does not locate itself in a heaven. According to the text, shortly before the Buddha's death, he relayed an ancient sermon from Candrasūryapradīpa that was so anomalous and strange, most of the samgha left in protest. His closest students, the Bodhisattvas among the Arhats, stayed and received it. Afterwards, the 500 disciples who left in protest repented and rejoined him for the Mahāparinirvāṇa, but they missed the transmission of the Lotus.

    Is it true? Only "possibly." But the narrative of that article is completely off-base, pretending that we Mahāyānikas stole a narrative device from the Bhagavadgīta that doesn't even show up in the sūtra that the writer of the article is trying and failing to analyse.

    lobster
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran
    edited December 2021

    I think it is a beautiful thing, to examine the lives of the enlightened and to seek what they sought. I believe Ramana was right when he said, “your self-realisation is the greatest gift you can give the world.” It is hard enough to reach that level of clarity without imposing on yourself additional burdens such as the bodhisattva vow, these things have to come from within I feel.

    Perhaps it is easier to stick with the words of modern teachers, who are kind enough to write their own books and appear on video, and whose words are beyond doubt their own, rather than to try and untangle the ancient wisdom of the Buddha.

    Shoshin1
  • @Jeroen said:

    Perhaps it is easier to stick with the words of modern teachers, who are kind enough to write their own books and appear on video, and whose words are beyond doubt their own, rather than to try and untangle the ancient wisdom of the Buddha.

    Words are like finger pointers and if used skilfully can open up the more susceptible mind ( mind which is ready/open to receive ) to experiential understanding...

    However, too many words just create mind junk...

    Bunks
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    @Shoshin1 said:
    However, too many words just create mind junk...

    That is certainly true. Even with a great teacher like Ajahn Chah you have to pick and choose from his words, you might read all 800 pages of The Complete Teachings and find perhaps a dozen paragraphs that mean something to you.

    So it is worthwhile to just take the pinnacles, the highest peaks of understanding. This is a difficulty I have with Buddhism, there are many teachers but few who write with great insight, although quite a few write with a good heart.

  • howhow Veteran Veteran

    How to find some balance between the body & mind when the most common form of the cognitive dissonance is our inability see how consistently we pay allegiance to one over the other?

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    @Vimalajāti said:
    But the narrative of that article is completely off-base, pretending that we Mahāyānikas stole a narrative device from the Bhagavadgīta that doesn't even show up in the sūtra that the writer of the article is trying and failing to analyse.

    I do find it interesting that Wikipedia says that in Chapter 16 of the translated Lotus Sutra it gives Vulture Peak as the Buddha’s pure land. So saying that the Lotus Sutra was transmitted there is perhaps not so far off from calling it heaven. They give a reference for the quote, to Gene Reeves’ The Lotus Sutra: A Contemporary Translation of a Buddhist Classic.

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    @how said:
    How to find some balance between the body & mind when the most common form of the cognitive dissonance is our inability see how consistently we pay allegiance to one over the other?

    Very true. Very often we are just busy following the whims of the body: morning coffee, tiredness in the afternoon, being hungry for a snack. Sleeping, eating, sex. But the mind is not much better, with its restlessness, enthusiasms, and emotions.

    Bunks
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited January 1

    @Jeroen said:

    @Vimalajāti said:
    But the narrative of that article is completely off-base, pretending that we Mahāyānikas stole a narrative device from the Bhagavadgīta that doesn't even show up in the sūtra that the writer of the article is trying and failing to analyse.

    I do find it interesting that Wikipedia says that in Chapter 16 of the translated Lotus Sutra it gives Vulture Peak as the Buddha’s pure land. So saying that the Lotus Sutra was transmitted there is perhaps not so far off from calling it heaven. They give a reference for the quote, to Gene Reeves’ The Lotus Sutra: A Contemporary Translation of a Buddhist Classic.

    I think, IMO, that that analysis is missing a key element of why Śākyumuni calls the Vulture Peak "his pure land." Also, Reeves interprets "this land" to mean the Vulture Peak in particular. The Tendai tradition of exegesis identifies "this land" as this very world in which we live and breathe. This land, full of sorrow, when viewed with the Buddha's vision, is transformed into a heavenly paradise, is transformed into Parinirvāṇa. The point of Ch 16 is to establish that, in truth, there is "one world" as much as there are many, and that the "one world" in which we live is the same world as the Pure Land of the Buddha.

    In short, I don't think that this is the same as the analogy that the author of the article gave. More similar would be "Vairocana Speaks of the Bodhisattva Mind-Ground," but this sūtra is given by Vairocana, not Śākyamuni. Nonetheless, its opening...

    Śākyamuni Buddha dwelt within the fourth dhyāna in the heavenly mansion of Maheśvara Devarāja in the company of the limitless host of Mahābrahmā Devarājas of the heavens and with an incredibly multitudinous host of bodhisattvas. Coming out of deep dhyāna, the Lord spoke of the Sermon of the Lotus Vault, he spoke the Sermon of the Womb of the World-Systems. He spoke of the sermon which Vairocana Buddha spoke, which is the Sermon of the Dharma Gate of the Mind-Ground. Then from Śākyamuni Buddha's body radiated a luminous prajñā which brightened, in the minds of the assembly, the celestial palaces of the heavens and then on high, ascending to the Lotus Vault, to the Womb of the World-Systems, where they witnessed Vairocana Buddha enthroned with one million lotus blossoms in a bright and brilliant constellation around him.

    ...is far more like what the author of the article describes than anything from the Lotus sūtra.

    Jason
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    So, @Vimalajāti, how do you relate personally to the words of all these heavenly personages and Buddha’s? Do you still have the feeling you are listening to a human teacher, someone who was a man like you and who you might follow?

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited January 2

    Well, I don't think that the Buddha was "a man," nor "a human teacher." In truth, he didn't even have so much as a physical body at all. He manifested an appearance. So, to me, the dichotomy between a "heavenly personage" and "someone who was a man like me and who I might follow" is quite different. (We also likely have very different ideas as to what "heavenly" means, which is quite alright.)

    We are humans today. We might not be tomorrow. Humanity, to me, is not a prerequisite for being a teacher of humans who will only be humans for so long. He is the teacher of gods and men, but is neither a god nor a man.

    Bunks
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran
    edited January 2

    I don’t know, it somehow seems rude to disagree with you. Personally, I suspect that thinking about that for which there is no evidence has little benefit, and so I limit my view to my personal experience or that for which there is strong scientific evidence. Which means that I also relegate substantial portions of Buddhist lore to the realm of fiction 🤪 But it is totally fine that we have quite different views on how the the world operates, variety is the spice of life.

    It’s the legacy of the Aristotelian world view which permeates the Western European mind, you see. There is still much growing to do. As long as one holds to the primacy of personal experience and stays flexible and willing to update one’s view on reality according to what one finds, there is hope.

    BunksVimalajāti
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited January 2

    I wouldn't say it's rude to disagree with me. The stance that the Buddha did not truly have a physical body as Siddhārtha Gautama and instead was a conjured appearance for the benefit of sentient beings is particularly eccentric. I can see it from more than one perspective. But it is because of what a Tathāgata is that he is so. It's also not what's in the Lotus Sūtra particularly, but you asked me about my own views, which are more influenced by the Flower Garland and the Prajñāpāramitā than the Lotus.

    It's perhaps a bit rude for the author of the OP paper to accuse Mahāyānikas of "spiritual narcissism" based on a false claim about the Lotus Sūtra...
    O.o
    ...but he isn't present.

    BunksDavid
  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran
    edited January 4

    @Jeroen said:
    I came across a very interesting article in Dutch, on the origins of Mahayana and how it interacted with the original words of the Buddha. I wanted to post a link to the translated article, and a few short translated paragraphs…

    https://boeddhistischdagblad-nl.translate.goog/achtergronden/175184-de-mythe-van-het-mahayana/?_x_tr_sl=auto&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=nl

    And here a few short paragraphs to whet your appetite. This is about the Lotus Sutra.

    [...] According to the Palicanon, the Buddha himself said that he taught everything there was to tell. So the mahāyāna has a problem if it wants to be the teaching of the buddha. They solved that in Indian style: the Bollywood method. They deify the Buddha and make him say in his new divine environment that he did not mean it that way on earth. In addition, the other Buddhists, who are satisfied with the real teaching, are denounced for their so-called lack of compassion. The bodhisattva’s stick a feather in their caps, for they have that compassion. Isn't this devout narcissism?

    The Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra, the Lotus Sutra, written in the Kandahar region during the first century, makes no mistake about it. In a scenario that resembles a cross between a dance party, The Voice and Chantal's Pyjama Party, the Buddha sits in his heaven chatting with his arhats and bodhisattvas. He declares that his appearance in the world and the teachings he preached has been just a show and that he is now going to proclaim his real message. The idea is clearly borrowed from the Bhagavadgīta, but with religions you don't need copyrights.[...]

    Apologies in advance to any devout mahayanists! The article has quite a strong slant towards ‘old Buddhism’, following the original words of the Buddha, and doesn’t mince its words.

    The author appears to be writing from a place of egoic pain and starts off with an assumption as well as a dubious claim. That assumption being that Mahayana teachings are not from the Buddha and the claim is that Buddha said he taught all there is to teach.

    Also they seem to enjoy belittling that which they have decided not to understand so I hope they don't hold a high position of any sangha.

    The Simsapa Sutta (Handful of Leaves) is in the Pali Canon:

    Lord, the Blessed One is holding only a few leaves: those up in the trees are far more numerous."

    "In the same way, monks, there are many more things that I have found out, but not revealed to you.[2] What I have revealed to you is only a little. And why, monks, have I not revealed it?

    "Because, monks, it is not related to the goal, it is not fundamental to the holy life, does not conduce to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, tranquillity, higher knowledge, enlightenment or Nibbaana. That is why I have not revealed it. And what, monks, have I revealed?"

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.031.than.html

    Therevada and Mahayana can actually compliment each other and work quite well together when viewed in certain lights.

    Thich Nhat Nanh, for example, often blends a sutra and a sutta together to make a discourse.

    It could help to remember that Buddha taught for like 50 years to many different types of people. Style will change and a good teacher will start where we are.

    lobsterShoshin1
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    @David, what do you then make of the statements dating the Lotus Sutra to the first century, long after the Buddha’s death? I agree the article as a whole is more a polemic than a scholarly piece, but it helps to examine the merits of the case.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited January 7

    @David said:
    Thich Nhat Nanh, for example, often blends a sutra and a sutta together to make a discourse.

    He also throws in a lot of Jesus, and some Buddhists don't like that either. lol

    That said, I 100% agree that, "Therevada and Mahayana can actually compliment each other and work quite well together when viewed in certain lights."

    I think those with "little dust in their eyes" can see where/when/how while everyone else gets stuck grasping to "the world's designations" and missing the moon for the finger.

    Bunks
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    @Vimalajāti said:

    @Jeroen said:

    @Vimalajāti said:
    But the narrative of that article is completely off-base, pretending that we Mahāyānikas stole a narrative device from the Bhagavadgīta that doesn't even show up in the sūtra that the writer of the article is trying and failing to analyse.

    I do find it interesting that Wikipedia says that in Chapter 16 of the translated Lotus Sutra it gives Vulture Peak as the Buddha’s pure land. So saying that the Lotus Sutra was transmitted there is perhaps not so far off from calling it heaven. They give a reference for the quote, to Gene Reeves’ The Lotus Sutra: A Contemporary Translation of a Buddhist Classic.

    I think, IMO, that that analysis is missing a key element of why Śākyumuni calls the Vulture Peak "his pure land." Also, Reeves interprets "this land" to mean the Vulture Peak in particular. The Tendai tradition of exegesis identifies "this land" as this very world in which we live and breathe. This land, full of sorrow, when viewed with the Buddha's vision, is transformed into a heavenly paradise, is transformed into Parinirvāṇa. The point of Ch 16 is to establish that, in truth, there is "one world" as much as there are many, and that the "one world" in which we live is the same world as the Pure Land of the Buddha.

    In short, I don't think that this is the same as the analogy that the author of the article gave. More similar would be "Vairocana Speaks of the Bodhisattva Mind-Ground," but this sūtra is given by Vairocana, not Śākyamuni. Nonetheless, its opening...

    Śākyamuni Buddha dwelt within the fourth dhyāna in the heavenly mansion of Maheśvara Devarāja in the company of the limitless host of Mahābrahmā Devarājas of the heavens and with an incredibly multitudinous host of bodhisattvas. Coming out of deep dhyāna, the Lord spoke of the Sermon of the Lotus Vault, he spoke the Sermon of the Womb of the World-Systems. He spoke of the sermon which Vairocana Buddha spoke, which is the Sermon of the Dharma Gate of the Mind-Ground. Then from Śākyamuni Buddha's body radiated a luminous prajñā which brightened, in the minds of the assembly, the celestial palaces of the heavens and then on high, ascending to the Lotus Vault, to the Womb of the World-Systems, where they witnessed Vairocana Buddha enthroned with one million lotus blossoms in a bright and brilliant constellation around him.

    ...is far more like what the author of the article describes than anything from the Lotus sūtra.

    FYI, this is much the way I interpret the use of the term "kindom of heaven" in the gospels.

  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran
    edited January 5

    @Jeroen said:
    @David, what do you then make of the statements dating the Lotus Sutra to the first century, long after the Buddha’s death?

    All the Suttas and Sutras were written after Buddhas time.

    I agree the article as a whole is more a polemic than a scholarly piece, but it helps to examine the merits of the case.

    What case is that? From what I can tell, the author failed to make a case. The false claim that Buddha said he taught all there is to teach is enough to sink whatever point they were trying to make.

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited January 5

    @David said:
    All the Suttas and Sutras were written after Buddhas time.

    I agree with this. The sūtras/suttas are sectarian redactions compiled by schismed groups who were not in the practice of reciting the Dharma together when the compilation happened. This is why all the different redactions of the sūtras/suttas contradict each other in different ways. One point, however, if you'll forgive me one. @David, the claim that he taught all there was to teach is based on this line:

    But what, Ānanda, does the Community of monks expect of me? The Teaching has been taught by me, Ānanda, without having made a distinction between esoteric and exoteric, for the Realised One there is nothing, Ānanda, of a closed teacher’s fist in regard to the Teaching.

    (Mahāparinibbānasutta translated by Ven Ānandajoti)

    It means that, by the time of the mahāparinibbāna, he had already shared all of his knowledge with the saṃgha. Why are you saying that it is a false claim to claim that the Buddha taught the entire Dharma to his disciples?

    In a northerly parallel to the Siṁsapasutta, the Buddha holds up three siṁsapa leaves. He asks Venerable Ānanda which collection has more leaves, the collection atop the trees or the collection in his hand. Ven Ānanda replies that there are more leaves atop the trees. The Buddha says:

    “Ānanda, I have understood an extremely large number of dharmas, as many as there are leaves in this Śiṃśapā grove, but I have not taught them to you. They are not profitable for you; they do not cause you to be weary [with saṃsāra] or free from desire.”

    The Madhyamaka Saint Bhāvaviveka clarifies in commentary:

    The Mahāyāna is the Buddha’s teaching, because it was collected by the original compilers, such as Samantabhadra, Mañjuśrī, Guhyakādhipati, and Maitreya. Śrāvakas did not compile our root collection, because the teachings of the Mahāyāna were beyond them.

    In short, the Buddha did not teach the Mahāyāna to the Śrāvakas, just as he did not teach anātman to the wanderer Vatsagotra (which you can read about in the Ānandasutta that is found at SN 44.10 in the Pāli Canon). In it, Vatsagotra inquires whether there is a self or if there is no self. The Buddha does not respond. Afterwards, Venerable Ānanda asks why on earth the Buddha didn't explain to Vatsagotra that there is no self. The Buddha reveals that he had knowledge of Vatsagotra's mind, and knew that answering in the affirmative or negative would only cause Vatsagotra to increase in confusion and wrong view. So he withheld the teaching from him. He did not withhold the teaching from Ven Ānanda.

    Just as he withheld the Dharma from Vatsagotra, he withheld the Mahāyāna from the Śrāvakasaṃgha. Why? The Mahāyāna is not profitable for the Śrāvaka. It does not cause the Śrāvaka to be weary with saṃsāra and liberated from greed. The Buddha gave three leaves, the threefold training, to the Śrāvakas. The Mahāyānikas have the 84,000 samādhis of the canopy -- the perfections of root, trunk, and branch. These are not useful to the Śrāvaka and are not conducive to his path.

    Venerable Bhāvaviveka lists four sources for the redactions of the Mahāyāna sūtras. There are also sūtras given by other figures, but these four have a particular prestige. Depending on the source, you will see Samantabhadra replaced with Āryāvalokiteśvara and Guhyakādhipati replaced with Vajrapāṇi. Traditional teaching states that these figures, with the exception of Maitreya, are ancient Buddhas pre-dating Śākyamuni.

    I am personally quite open to these being post-Gautama figures with extraordinary hagiographies, and don't see this as conflicting with the narrative that these are distant foreign Buddhas from other world-systems. Why is this? Śākyamuni appears as a man, but he is not a man. He appears as a living being, but he is not a living being. All the Buddhas are likewise and pre-date their manifestations. Even in Theravāda, the Buddha had a heavenly teaching and an earthly teaching. He taught an assembly of gods (including his deceased mother reborn) in the heavens. Every now and then, one would descend to visit him. We can take these stories as true or false, but if we think they are false, it begs the question: what was actually going on? What are these lights that descend and illuminate an area with their brilliance? Other than blatant lies, the only explanation is going to involve extraterrestrials. If one believes that there are blatant lies mixed in with the Dharma, why study the Dharma at all? It is foundationally compromised if that is true.

    @Jason said:
    FYI, this is much the way I interpret the use of the term "kindom of heaven" in the gospels.

    Are you talking about the "one world" discourse in the Tendai reading of the Lotus Sutra, or are you comparing the image of Vairocana enthroned to the "kingdom of heaven?" I suspect its the former rather than the latter, but would have to be sure before I respond.

    Bunks
  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran
    edited January 5

    @Vimalajāti said:
    Why are you saying that it is a false claim to claim that the Buddha taught the entire Dharma to his disciples?

    I provided the Simsapa Sutta for reference above. The reference you provided seems to fall too short of claiming he taught all there is to teach for me personally. You yourself went on to show how he only taught a fraction of what he knew and why.

    It also seems like you would put down the Theravada in the same way some put down the Mahayana by positing the Mahayana was too hard for them to grasp.

    People learn in different ways and so Buddha taught according to who was there and what they needed.

    These displays of sectarian pride are like calls to nationalism. It is ok to disagree or to take different meanings from the dharma and blowing out someone elses candle will not make ours brighter.

    In the end, actions speak louder than words.

    The Kesamutti Sutta:
    So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness" — then you should enter & remain in them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.
    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.065.than.html

    (Bolding mine)

    I am personally quite open to these being post-Gautama figures with extraordinary hagiographies, and don't see this as conflicting with the narrative that these are distant foreign Buddhas from other world-systems.

    Indeed, as am I. However, I imagine they are expounding on the dharma rather than reimagining it. Nagarjuna and the Middle Way comes to mind. However, we also have to take into consideration that more likely than not, theae teachings will not only be flavoured towards those in attendance but also by the understanding of the one compiling it

    howVimalajātiBunks
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited January 5

    I wouldn't say that I put down Theravāda. It's rather impressive to do with three metaphorical leaves what the Bodhisattva does with a whole metaphorical canopy. Mind you, they aren't doing the exact same thing. The point of the quotation from the Mahāparinibbānasutta however is that the Buddha actually did teach all he knew to his students. The point of the parable of the śiṃśapā leaves is that he didn't teach only one person everything.

    All this is IMO. Anyone can disagree.

    BunksDavid
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran
    edited January 5

    @Vimalajāti said:
    If one believes that there are blatant lies mixed in with the Dharma, why study the Dharma at all? It is foundationally compromised if that is true.

    I believe there are pearls of wisdom to be found in the Dharma, regardless of how much some parts of the sutras may be compromised. I prefer to base my thinking on personal experience and science, but sometimes one finds something like mindfulness or the truths of dhukkha which is incontrovertibly true and has the potential to revolutionise one’s mind.

    That means one can’t just accept any sutra at face value; it needs to be scrutinised, tested, considered, as the Buddha himself recommended. Similarly, I don’t feel one can just accept Buddhism as a whole, or guidance by teachers who do not scrutinise the truth of the sutras they teach.

    I’ll never be as knowledgeable a student of the Dharma as you are, @Vimalajāti i don’t think I have the memory for it. Instead I pick the low-hanging and most high-value fruit from a number of teachers and traditions, some Buddhist, some not, in order to inform me as I walk my own path towards enlightenment.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    @Vimalajāti said:
    If one believes that there are blatant lies mixed in with the Dharma, why study the Dharma at all? It is foundationally compromised if that is true.

    The compromise I tend to make is distinguishing external claims vs internal claims.

    Initially I was pretty open to many of the supernatural claims in the teachings. What led me to become skeptical by default was coming into contact with the descriptions of the hell realm locations. Specific distances below ground are given in measurement terms of a yojana, which is between 8 and 9 miles (13-14 km) which put many levels of hell all the way through the earth and out into space on the other side.

    But I still found so many of the psycho-spiritual teachings so profound and helpful that I couldn't discount everything because some stuff seemed patently false.

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited January 5

    I suppose I should clarify what I meant by "blatant lies." "Blatant lies" are not the same as mistaken ideas. They are untruths told instead of truth when truth could have been told instead.

    So let's say Ven Ānanda was present at such-and-such date and witnessed a teaching of the Buddha, but then he made up contents of the speech and pretended that some sort of miracle occurred and maybe it rained light from the heavens or something. If it didn't happen, that would be a "blatant lie" by my reckoning. For instance, if the Śrāvakasaṃgha themselves did not believe that the Buddha spoke to the devas, then they would not have redacted the Śrāvaka canon in the ways that it currently is.

    The same is with the "realms of rebirth," as @person notes. All six realms of rebirth are "locations," as if on a map, traditionally-speaking. Some gods are born, for instance, atop Sumeru, where Indra's celestial palaces lies. The heavens are above us. The hells are below us. Earth isn't a sphere. It reflects how the ancient peoples thought about the world. If it didn't, they would be lies. So given that they aren't lies, instead it becomes a matter of details about them being mistaken. For instance, the detail of earth being flat is quite mistaken. It isn't a lie, however. The early Iron Age cosmos of the early Buddhists is reasonable in many ways, even when also mistaken and wrong in many ways.

    At least that's how I see it.

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    @person said:
    What led me to become skeptical by default…

    I think skepticism by default is a very healthy stance to take in todays media landscape.

    But I still found so many of the psycho-spiritual teachings so profound and helpful that I couldn't discount everything because some stuff seemed patently false.

    Exactly. There are important teachings remaining in the Dharma, even when a lot of it is very suspect.

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    @Jeroen said:

    @Vimalajāti said:
    If one believes that there are blatant lies mixed in with the Dharma, why study the Dharma at all? It is foundationally compromised if that is true.

    I believe there are pearls of wisdom to be found in the Dharma, regardless of how much some parts of the sutras may be compromised. I prefer to base my thinking on personal experience and science, but sometimes one finds something like mindfulness or the truths of dhukkha which is incontrovertibly true and has the potential to revolutionise one’s mind.

    That means one can’t just accept any sutra at face value; it needs to be scrutinised, tested, considered, as the Buddha himself recommended. Similarly, I don’t feel one can just accept Buddhism as a whole, or guidance by teachers who do not scrutinise the truth of the sutras they teach.

    I’ll never be as knowledgeable a student of the Dharma as you are, @Vimalajāti i don’t think I have the memory for it. Instead I pick the low-hanging and most high-value fruit from a number of teachers and traditions, some Buddhist, some not, in order to inform me as I walk my own path towards enlightenment.

    How does science explain the utter rapture of realising Emptiness?

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    @Vimalajāti said:
    I suppose I should clarify what I meant by "blatant lies." "Blatant lies" are not the same as mistaken ideas. They are untruths told instead of truth when truth could have been told instead.

    So let's say Ven Ānanda was present at such-and-such date and witnessed a teaching of the Buddha, but then he made up contents of the speech and pretended that some sort of miracle occurred and maybe it rained light from the heavens or something. If it didn't happen, that would be a "blatant lie" by my reckoning. For instance, if the Śrāvakasaṃgha themselves did not believe that the Buddha spoke to the devas, then they would not have redacted the Śrāvaka canon in the ways that it currently is.

    The same is with the "realms of rebirth," as @person notes. All six realms of rebirth are "locations," as if on a map, traditionally-speaking. Some gods are born, for instance, atop Sumeru, where Indra's celestial palaces lies. The heavens are above us. The hells are below us. Earth isn't a sphere. It reflects how the ancient peoples thought about the world. If it didn't, they would be lies. So given that they aren't lies, instead it becomes a matter of details about them being mistaken. For instance, the detail of earth being flat is quite mistaken. It isn't a lie, however. The early Iron Age cosmos of the early Buddhists is reasonable in many ways, even when also mistaken and wrong in many ways.

    At least that's how I see it.

    That's a good further distinction, something to take into account. Maybe my skeptical awakening, for lack of a better word, went further than justified. Even so, the place I'm at now says that a blatant lie didn't need to come from Ananda. It could have been a flourish added by someone later, perhaps with the well intentioned notion to bolster people's faith or bring others into the beneficial practices, rather than anything sinister. We've seen plenty of that among other traditions.

    At any rate, with the information landscape the way it is at the moment, with all the spin and out right lies, I've adopted a much more skeptical attitude towards information. I make a sort of pragmatic bet, there are way more conspiracy theories than actual conspiracies and most supernatural or miraculous claims turn out to be false upon close investigation, so even if I miss out on some true things odds are I'll also be believing in less false things.

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited January 6

    @person said:
    That's a good further distinction, something to take into account. Maybe my skeptical awakening, for lack of a better word, went further than justified.

    Well, there are some things in Buddhist literature that do seem pretty demonstrably wrong.

    The Buddha spoke to Ānanda, saying: "Generally speaking, for the world to quake, there are eight reasons. Which eight? This ground floats atop the water. The water stands in the wind. The wind stands in the ākāśa. When a great wind amidst the ākāśa disturbs the water, a flood follows. The flood disturbs the entire earth and it shakes. This is is the first cause (for the earth to quake)."

    (Dīrghāgama Sūtra No. 2 T1.15c28 Parinirvāṇasūtra)

    When we inherit this Iron-Age version of a Bronze-Age axial cosmology supposedly from the mouth of the Buddha, namely that the earth floats on the water, that the water stands in the air, and that the air is suspended in the ākāśa; some take this to be a modern scientific cosmology, not an Iron-Age traditional cosmology.

    People who do so, for instance in my experience, tend to take "floats on water" as "the hard earth floats on the liquid earth (lava)." They tend to take "the water stands in the airs" as "the globe is surrounded by an atmosphere." Lastly, "suspended in the ākāśa" is taken to mean that "the atmosphere is surrounded by the near-vacuum of space." They want the Buddha to be "right," but also right in a very specific way. Now, perhaps the Buddha never gave this explanation of how earthquakes happen. Maybe it was a general belief from the time of the Buddha or after that got incorporated into medieval Buddhism.

    One of the theses attributed to Venerable Mahādeva was that the Arhats could be wrongly informed by persons and could hold incorrect stances concerning the world. This was a huge controversy in Buddhist history, according to some sectarian accounts. It calls into question the range of knowledge of the Buddhas and Arhats. Do the awakened upon awakening suddenly have psychic gnosis of the material makeup of the cosmos? Are they functionally omniscient with regards to whatever they wish to understand? These were and still are big disputed points in Buddhism. There are Buddhisms were the Buddha was omniscient with regards to all things. There are Buddhisms were the Buddha has knowledge limited to the four noble truths and any additional miscellaneous acquired worldly knowledge. The theses of Ven Mahādeva, remembered as a villain who split the saṃgha in Buddhist history, are radical because they suggest that this wrong belief of the world:

    The Buddha spoke to Ānanda, saying: "Generally speaking, for the world to quake, there are eight reasons. Which eight? This ground floats atop the water. The water stands in the wind. The wind stands in the ākāśa. When a great wind amidst the ākāśa disturbs the water, a flood follows. The flood disturbs the entire earth and it shakes. This is is the first cause (for the earth to quake)."

    (Dīrghāgama Sūtra No. 2 T1.15c28 Parinirvāṇasūtra)

    ...can still be held by an Arhat. They can still confirm it as the Buddha's teaching. This is unless we commit to the notion of a great dark age in Buddhism where there were no Arhats, ending in a Buddhist renaissance upon contact with Western knowledge. That is obviously a problematic narrative for many reasons. We are left with the uneasy fact that the Arhats, the āryas, and the monks of the past who transmitted these materials believed them to be true and likely considered them reasonable. This flies in the face of what we consider to be "wisdom" and "the wise" today. We don't think that the wise agree that the earth floats on the water. At the time that these texts come to us from, that was reasonable and likely widely believed. That's how, IMO, such miscellany could be incorporated into the buddhavacana. They thought it was true and that it was completely reasonable that the Buddha would have said it.

    Turning to the Pupphasutta from the Saṃyuttanikāya, we see a curious statement:

    “Mendicants, I don’t argue with the world; it’s the world that argues with me. When your speech is in line with the teaching you don’t argue with anyone in the world. What the astute agree on as not existing, I too say does not exist. What the astute agree on as existing, I too say exists. [...]"

    (Pupphasutta SN 22.94 Ven Sujāto translation)

    It's a difficult passage. When he says, "What the pandits agree on as existing, I too say exists," and the reverse, I take this to mean that he does not dispute with reasonable and well-established cosmological truths held by his congregations. If they say it's turtles all the way down, it's turtles all the way down, figuratively speaking. Why? Cosmology is irrelevant to salvation. That's my take on the matter. The Arhats and the transmitters of Buddhism throughout the ages, indeed even modern Buddhists today, can be utterly wrong about the material makeup of the cosmos and Buddhism in truth is largely unaffected by this.

    As a final note, look at how "the world/the cosmos" is mutilated in the Buddha's sūtras:

    "And what is the origination of the world? Dependent on the eye & forms there arises eye-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. This is the origination of the world."

    [...]

    "And what is the ending of the world? Dependent on the eye & forms there arises eye-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. Now, from the remainderless cessation & fading away of that very craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering. This is the ending of the world."

    (Lokasutta SN 12.44 Ven Ṭhānissaro translation)

    Rather than the land congealing upon the surface of the primordial water, like we find in many Buddhist and non-Buddhist sources, it is the dependent origination of the sentient beings that constitutes "the origination of the world" here. It matters not if it's made of rocks, cheese, or turtles, and it matters not if it has four continents and a Sumeru atop it or not. Its origination is with the eye and form, etc. Its cessation is with their cessation.

    Because I believe in some of the theses ascribed to the dubious patriarch Mahādeva, who likely never existed as the person we know him as today, I think that an Arhat, or even a low class of Buddha well-along the bodhisattvayāna, could possibly hold several materially wrong conceptions concerning the material makeup of the world. It is not relevant to their attainment so long as it is not outrightly outrageous and impossible. Buddhists don't believe that the world is a giant animal, for instance, like many from the earliest ages of Buddhism did. As long as it was something "reasonable" that "the pandits/astute" of the time would have believed, the Gautama Buddha wouldn't bother to dismiss it. He's other things to talk about. Perhaps he'll even use the cosmology to make a Dharma-point, if it is so conducive.

    The Buddha, very radically, could have himself been wrong about the material makeup of the cosmos. Alternatively, he could "not dispute with the pandits ("the astute" in the above translation)" and affirm their cosmos.

    In my opinion, rather than necessarily believing in the axial cosmos, he used it for the benefit of his teaching. IMO, the passage about earthquakes is an example of what used to be translated as "expedient means." I translate it as "appropriate methodologies" after the Chinese wording.

    IMO, the point of the passage is that physical earthquakes happen for reasons unrelated to the awakening of the sages as well. Given how important earthquakes are as a literary device in Buddhist literature, it seems reasonable that people would have believed all sorts of mystical things about them in Gautama Buddha's time. The passage is simply stating that there are purely natural causes for earthquakes as well, and it doesn't describe the modern model of how earthquakes happen. Indeed, the exegesis shows no evidence of a knowledge of plate tectonics at all, and it doesn't need to IMO. The passage clearly shows that people of the Buddha's time knew that "floods" (i.e. tsunamis) could accompany earthquakes as well, but did not understand how the waves pass through the water and become elevated at the shore.

    Random ramblings about ancient cosmologies in the Buddhadharma. Rambling is concluded.

    The gist of it is that we can be perfectly skeptical of the literal details of Buddhist cosmology, etc., but that we should also have a knowledge that this cosmology was likely what the sages of the past who transmitted us our Buddhism believed. It was also likely what the redactors of the Buddhist canon when it was first textualized believed. Furthermore, it is likely what was believed when Buddhism was an entirely oral teaching transmitted by the Saṃgha. The alternative is that there is a liar (more likely a group of liars) along the transmission lines. Certainly, if we are very skeptical of the buddhavacana, "lies" did creep into it. If we believe that the Buddha is wise beyond his time, he couldn't have said the above quote about earthquakes. This level of skepticism, IMO, is problematic when approaching this ancient religion. Likely they did believe these absurd things, and it wasn't a hinderance to them. Why? IMO because they weren't "absurd" at the time at all. Are they absurd to believe today? Well, we didn't see Sumeru during the moon mission. Maybe it was faked though!

    (That last part was a joke.)

    person
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    @Bunks said:
    How does science explain the utter rapture of realising Emptiness?

    I don’t know, I’m not a neuroscientist. Any statements I would make on this would be born out of a belief in scientific principle, which is often a good guide but can be misunderstood.

    It’s good to know the limits of science — it is a fine tool, but it’s only one lens through which to see the world. An artist would be helped more by an associative way of viewing the world than a scientific one, for example.

    But I think one shouldn’t press too hard for evidence in the realm of personal experience, there is a delicate balance in learning from one’s own experiences and being sceptical and saying for hard proof one needs to adhere to a standard of evidence such as repeatability of an experience.

    Bunks
  • howhow Veteran Veteran

    @Bunks...on
    How does science explain the utter rapture of realizing Emptiness?

    If science is a systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject, one example of it could be
    the 4NT and the 8FP.

    It is a description of suffering's existence, its causes and the means of addressing those causes, where the utter rapture of realizing Emptiness is just one of the experiential consequences of sufferings absence.

    BunkslobsterDavid
  • DakiniDakini Veteran

    OP, I don't know that I'm ready to throw out all of Mahayana. I think certain "schools" have strayed from the Buddha's teachings and show influence from other spiritual traditions (Hinduism, Taoism/Shinto), but what's interesting when one examines the Ghandari texts is, that one discovers that the seeds of some Mahayana principles were already circulating early on, at the same time as what was then called "Hinayana" teachings were being recorded. The two branches of the tree grew up together.

    That said, I've learned on this forum, that it's very valuable to study the sutras, and especially the earlier ones. What I've learned from the discussions here on various sutras has deepened my understanding of Buddhism invaluably. I tend to agree with you on most points.

    BunksJeroenJeffrey
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    I think I understand that @dakini, of course it depends what you feel is right for you and what brings you further on the path. And I think you’re right to say, study the earlier material, the closer we get to the Buddha’s teaching, the more traces of him we find.

    Bunks
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