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Scriptures and Sutra

LincLinc Site ownerDetroit Moderator
edited April 2005 in Faith & Religion
One thing that Christians might have trouble adjusting to when discussing Buddhism is the difference between their scriptures and Buddhist sutras (or suttas).

Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are sometimes referred to as "religions of the book". They're all monotheistic religions that basically branch from the same tree. As people of these religions have come into contact with civilizations over the years, they have elevated other religions with their own "books" and there has been a bias to classify religions of this nature as "world religions" while other religious traditions are seen as backward or tribal.

Buddhist sutras and Hindu vedas adequately counted for "books" and were therefore thought of as world religions in Western culture. There are thousands of other religions though that did not receive the same recognition though simply because they did not have a text.

I actually recall learning about an ancient Maya religion based on corn worship in elementary school - and guess what... they had a book. However, all these contemporary religions throughout the world go unrecognized. In short, there's often a misconception that to study a religious group is to study their text, and it's very much not true.

There's also a significant difference between how "religions of the book" and Buddhists treat their texts. While the former sees their scripture as having a special or divine origin, the latter sees them as the words of men (enlightened or not). The former recognizes a single, exhaustive, authoritative, and equally valid set of texts that will never be added to. The latter, in many traditions, sees a wide range of "authority" in their texts and adds to the text in many cases.

In both cases, though, texts can be seen as a "safety deposit box" of information, ideas, and cultural identity that can be passed on from one generation to the next.

Just some ideas I thought I'd throw out there in case anyone has any comment or just finds reading that interesting. I had a few minutes between finals :)


  • BrianBrian Detroit, MI Moderator
    edited December 2004
    One of the questions I get asked is "What is the Buddhist Bible"? And I could try to explain about the oral history and then the attempt at a complete canon, but most of the time I just say "there isn't one" :D

    That's a great read, Matt. Thanks!
  • edited December 2004
    Good info matt... thanks for the clarification!
  • edited December 2004
    Brian wrote:
    One of the questions I get asked is "What is the Buddhist Bible"? And I could try to explain about the oral history and then the attempt at a complete canon, but most of the time I just say "there isn't one" :D

    That's a great read, Matt. Thanks!

    What of the Pali Texts? I've been reading up about them and fielding translated snippets of them as I go along and study Buddhism at your persuasion; and I was wondering what they really represented, and if they're the closest thing to a "Bible" Buddhism has?
  • BrianBrian Detroit, MI Moderator
    edited December 2004
    Which ones? There are a lot of them.

    I guess, in a way, that's part of the problem. There are so many, that there is nothing really akin to a single bible that covers it all. The major problem is that everything was spoken, and there is no pali written text. Most texts had been written 1000 years after the time of the buddha, and they were written in a different language. Then there is the problem of Theravada vs. Mahayana ideas about the translations, etc.
  • edited December 2004
    Got it. Thanks. :)

    But if anything, I guess that reveals the flexibility of Buddhism (Not to be confused with weakness, or lack of consistency); that it has so many different facets to it, so many ways to understand and follow it, but it all relates back to those few ultimate goals and tenents. I guess that's what I really like about it; Buddhism allows me to be me.. I don't have to worry about strict principles, or violating clauses because my natural personality falls very closely to what Buddhism is. I can be a person in the modern age, yet work to better myself quietly, personally.
  • edited February 2005
    With all due respect...a LARGE portion of the Pali Canon was compiled between the 1st century BCE and 6th century BCE following the paranirvana of the Buddha....the Pali Canon was compiled into what are called Nikayas (Agamas in Sanskrit) whish are the following: Digha-Nikaya...Majjhima-nikaya...Samyutta-nikaya...Anguttara-nikaya and Khuddha-nikaya..and each of the sutras are begun with the phrase "Thus I have heard"....showing that the verse recited was passed from the Buddha to Ananda (who was the oral preserver of the ministry)and from there to others...Thank you for your kind attention
  • 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
    edited April 2005
    "Thus I have heard...." is a wonderful way to start any thread of teaching or exchange of information. It first acknowledges that there are other like-minds to yours, it acknowledges the wisdom that has gone before, and it acknowledges your own taste or recognition of this wisdom. It furthermore gives the 'listener' or 'receiver' the option of accepting or rejecting this information, and opens it to discussion, more than saying "well, it's like this....."
    Would I not be right in saying that although Buddhists may or may not agree that they have a specific Bible, would we not all agree at least that we have The Dharma....? Together with the Buddha and the Sangha, surely we have a tripple whammy rather than the single one!! :)
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