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Has Buddhism produced any Buddhas?

KeromeKerome Love, love is mysteryThe Continent Veteran
edited March 26 in Buddhism Today

I came across a quote from the fictional author Jed McKenna today, where he said that “Buddhism had produced plenty of Buddhists, but no Buddhas.” I thought it was interesting to debate, because on the one hand the sutras are full of monks becoming arhats, but on the other very few of them become full-fledged teachers in their own right.

You would almost say that in order to truly become a Buddha-like teacher, it would be necessary for a Buddhist to step outside the mantle of buddhism, otherwise you would always be needing to adhere to the teachings of the historical Buddha. As an example take Adyashanti, who was a student of Zen before he started to teach as an independent spiritual teacher, saying “the Truth I point to is not confined within any religious point of view, belief system, or doctrine, but is open to all and found within all.”

Personally, I think that any truly enlightened person is going to produce a different and unique view on the world. I am beginning to suspect that “enlightenment by recipe” leads to something much more sedate, like a Buddhist teacher steeped in learning. The best of them, like Atisha, produce a few gems which are treasured down the ages, but not a whole new movement.

Ren_in_blackAlex

Comments

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    In Theravadan Buddhism I suspect the answer would be a resounding No.

    Shakyamuni Buddha was self enlightened I.e. he wasn’t following any other teachings.

    However he did acknowledge that he had rediscovered a path that had been walked before.

    He also stated that his teachings will disappear in about 2,400 years from now.

    The next Buddha (Metteyya) will also be self enlightened and will appear in hundreds of millions of years from now.

    Ren_in_blackadamcrossleyAlexKerome
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    Yeah, it was quite interesting seeing what was written in Jed McKenna’s books about this. He is a fictional spiritual teacher, and one of the things he advises is to “always ask for your new teacher’s success rate.” Some would see it as a problem if in 2,500 years no one has managed to follow the Buddha’s path. The comments may be from a work of fiction-masquerading-as-non-fiction but it

    Perhaps you might credit Bodhidharma or Bankei with originating significant new thoughts or movements within buddhism, what the Buddha might have done if there had been such a thing as Buddhism. It’s a shame we don’t have the stories of their enlightenment, to see how these things vary.

  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran UK Veteran

    @Bunks said:
    He also stated that his teachings will disappear in about 2,400 years from now.

    The next Buddha (Metteyya) will also be self enlightened and will appear in hundreds of millions of years from now.

    Interesting. So does this mean there’ll be a lengthy dark period in which nobody practises the Buddhism?

    Alex
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran

    There are other Buddhas in Mahayana but similar to Christianity there isn't accessible proof for us.

    But like the Avatamsaka Sutra (read last 20 or so pages?) says that on the tip of a single hair there countless Buddhas surrounded by their attended Bodhisattvas. But of course a skeptic is not going to find that as proof.

    Some of the Buddhas: Guru Rinpoche (union of all Buddhas), the Five Tathagatas* (Vairocana, Amoghasidhi, Amitabha, Ratnasambhava, Akshobya), and many view certain people as maybe enlightened such as Milarepa?

    *https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Tathagatas

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    @adamcrossley said:

    @Bunks said:
    He also stated that his teachings will disappear in about 2,400 years from now.

    The next Buddha (Metteyya) will also be self enlightened and will appear in hundreds of millions of years from now.

    Interesting. So does this mean there’ll be a lengthy dark period in which nobody practises the Buddhism?

    That’s right.

    Alex
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran

    An Arhat is a grade of Buddha, so if we believe the accounts of the First Buddhist Council, Buddhism had produced at least 500 Buddhas at ~400 BC.

    ShoshinBunkslobster
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    @Vimalajāti said:
    An Arhat is a grade of Buddha, so if we believe the accounts of the First Buddhist Council, Buddhism had produced at least 500 Buddhas at ~400 BC.

    Yes! That is a good point. It's just semantics really.

    I've heard it claimed (I believe by Ajahn Martin Piyadhammo??) that the Thai Forest tradition in Thailand has produced up to 100 Arahants in the last century or so.

  • LionduckLionduck Veteran

    many many many Buddhas.

    ShoshinBunkslobster
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited March 27

    @Vimalajāti said:
    An Arhat is a grade of Buddha, so if we believe the accounts of the First Buddhist Council, Buddhism had produced at least 500 Buddhas at ~400 BC.

    The sutras also claim that. For example during the Fire Sermon “one thousand bikkhu’s were liberated from their taints” which I believe is arhatship. Nevertheless we don’t hear any of them being celebrated as Buddhas.

    I love Buddhism as a movement, I think it is a force for good in the world, but it does all make me wonder what special qualities these arhats may have had if they had not been following the Buddha, if their minds had not been shaped by the Buddhist path.

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited March 27

    I have actually thought of this as a rationale for why I would consider writings, dharma talks, pointing instructions produced by later beings than Shakyamuni Buddha to be worthy of consideration. And the rationale is that if Shakyamuni's teachings do not produce (any degree of) enlightenment then why are they exclusively valuable granted they are not producing any degree of enlightened being? But if they do produce (any degree of) enlightened being then why can't those beings produce their own writings and dharma talks etc.

    Keromelobster
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @Jeffrey said:
    But if they do produce (any degree of) enlightened being then why can't those beings produce their own writings and dharma talks etc.

    I think one of the things that happens is during the time that they are becoming enlightened their minds are stuffed so full of Buddhist scriptures that original thought becomes channelled by those ideas... it determines their vocabulary and ideology. But it depends on what you think an enlightened mind is like, some would say even an enlightened mind which is free depends on that which it has come into contact with.

    Jeffreylobster
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Well said @Jeffrey <3

    Even in ignorance, the Sangha is channeling or grooving to the right beat ...
    Even before the oral tradition became Dharma, the unspoken was sayeth and is Sutra Lore
    Even before The Hoods of Buddha became reps, the Eternally Enlightened shine about their path

    o:) B) <3

    FosdickJeffrey
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    Having thought about it a little more, there is a real question in my mind why advanced Buddhist monks don’t talk about their enlightenment experiences? In a way what convinced people of the Buddha’s enlightenment was his life’s story, why do we not hear from enlightened monks what their lives were like?

    Bunks
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    Having thought about it a little more, there is a real question in my mind why advanced Buddhist monks don’t talk about their enlightenment experiences? In a way what convinced people of the Buddha’s enlightenment was his life’s story, why do we not hear from enlightened monks what their lives were like?

    It's a question I've pondered too.....

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    why do we not hear from enlightened monks what their lives were like?

    Partly cultural humility, partly because it may be counterproductive. However some do.

    Here are some other misconceptions:
    https://tricycle.org/magazine/10-misconceptions-about-buddhism/

    ... and now back to The Buddhas ...

    Bunks
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited March 31

    I remember reading that there was some sort of rule against it, come to think of it. But I do find it curious that a so-called enlightened monk wouldn’t leave to follow his own direction or leave some trace of his enlightenment.

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    Yes, it is against the Vinaya rules for a monk to share any of their spiritual achievements with lay people.

    adamcrossleyVimalajāti
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    Have thrown the question out on Dhamma Wheel so we'll see what the people on there have to say.

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited March 31

    @Bunks said:
    Yes, it is against the Vinaya rules for a monk to share any of their spiritual achievements with lay people.

    For good reason IMO. Also displays of psychic power and similar miracles are forbidden in front of the laity.

    We can imagine why. A monk who can display miracles, whether authentic or via illicit stage-magic-like trickery, is going to get inordinate attention and dāna regardless of whether or not he shows any grasp of the Dharma and a capacity to teach. The path turns into a video-game-like proposal, where one "levels up" and gains new spells to cast, perhaps neglecting authentic cultivation. The saṁgha becomes a show-off ground, a performance stage to gain material support, rather than a collective of renunciants.

    personJeffreyBunkslobster
  • johnathanjohnathan ICBI Canada Veteran

    I would think too that dishonest people could study the enlightenment stories of others and create their own convincing lies to claim their own yet unachieved enlightenment.

    Jeffrey
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @johnathan said:
    I would think too that dishonest people could study the enlightenment stories of others and create their own convincing lies to claim their own yet unachieved enlightenment.

    A point I was considering as well. But at the same time you deny the monks a real chance to air to the public what their lives have been like from their own, internal point of view. And you deny the public a chance to judge whether the chase after enlightenment actually works to bring people to that experience.

    Even so, I suspect a truly enlightened Buddha who arose in the body of a monk would have no choice but to leave Buddhism. There would be a clash between the feeling of freedom of a Buddha and the authority structure of a monastic order.

    Bunks
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited March 31

    I've an apocryphal story to share that I once read on another Buddhism forum some years ago about the dangers of magical displays and operations from figures of religious authority. I cannot remember where I originally read this. I believe it was on DhammaWheel some many years ago when I still posted there, so readers will have to take this as unsourced secondhand information. I also can't remember the username of who shared this story.

    It went that while this certain poster was volunteering at a school in a rural village in either Thailand or Burma, there was a young girl enrolled who was having an extraordinary difficulty learning to read. Her parents, worried, took her to a local monk/wizard to have her birth charts read. From these charts, the monk would be able to ascertain the girl's previous life and the karma she was working through in this life from that life.

    The monk found that in her previous life she had been a cruel and tyrannical queen who burned books. Because of this, the young girl would always have a difficult time reading. Discouraged, the young girl gave up learning to read.

    Puts those prohibitions on wrong livelihood in the Net of Brahmā in perspective, IMO.

    Bunks
  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran UK Veteran

    @Vimalajāti, that’s a telling story. My gut feeling is that if the monk/wizard had had even a reasonable grasp of the Dharma, he would not have let her be discouraged from reading.

    @Kerome, this is an interesting point:

    Even so, I suspect a truly enlightened Buddha who arose in the body of a monk would have no choice but to leave Buddhism. There would be a clash between the feeling of freedom of a Buddha and the authority structure of a monastic order.

    It’s kind of the logical inverse of your original question: Would the Buddha be a Buddhist? I can’t help but feel they would practise Buddhism—i.e. breath and metta meditation, following the precepts, giving talks—but would they put up with the restrictions of monastic life? Maybe they wouldn’t seem like restrictions to a Buddha, I don’t know.

    Kerome
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @adamcrossley said:
    Would the Buddha be a Buddhist?

    A very good question. It certainly strikes me that Gautama was unhappy with the meditation teachers he found, and went off to make his own way. It’s also interesting that you don’t often hear of cases where a spiritual teacher converts to Buddhism, and cases where a teacher emerges from Buddhism and distances him- or herself are also rare in my admittedly limited experience.

  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran UK Veteran
    edited March 31

    Well there are examples, your Hein Thijssen for one. Didn’t you say he converted to Buddhism after serving as a Catholic priest? And I think there are cases of Buddhist teachers distancing themselves from institutional Buddhism in order to teach mindfulness and meditation. Jack Kornfield and Andy Puddicombe (Headspace) both disrobed and now teach a great deal in the secular sphere. Stephen Batchelor seems to have completely left religious Buddhism behind.

    I’ve always sought out the life stories of great teachers—I often find them more interesting than their actual teachings. And they’re definitely out there, but mostly they’ve been written by other people.

    BunkslobsterKerome
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran
    edited March 31

    @adamcrossley said:
    @Vimalajāti, that’s a telling story. My gut feeling is that if the monk/wizard had had even a reasonable grasp of the Dharma, he would not have let her be discouraged from reading.

    @Kerome, this is an interesting point:

    Even so, I suspect a truly enlightened Buddha who arose in the body of a monk would have no choice but to leave Buddhism. There would be a clash between the feeling of freedom of a Buddha and the authority structure of a monastic order.

    It’s kind of the logical inverse of your original question: Would the Buddha be a Buddhist? I can’t help but feel they would practise Buddhism—i.e. breath and metta meditation, following the precepts, giving talks—but would they put up with the restrictions of monastic life? Maybe they wouldn’t seem like restrictions to a Buddha, I don’t know.

    It could be argued that these "restrictions" give one the opportunity to develop and express the teachings of a Buddha. It was a Buddha who created them.

    It could also be argued that it's more likely lay followers would come and listen to the teachings of a Buddha if he were the abbot of an established monastery as opposed to a lone wanderer.

    In the monasteries familiar to me, a Bhikkhu / Bhikkhuni must stay under the guidance of their teacher for five years. After that they are free to go wherever they please.

    adamcrossley
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @adamcrossley said:
    Well there are examples, your Hein Thijssen for one. Didn’t you say he converted to Buddhism after serving as a Catholic priest? And I think there are cases of Buddhist teachers distancing themselves from institutional Buddhism in order to teach mindfulness and meditation. Jack Kornfield and Andy Puddicombe (Headspace) both disrobed and now teach a great deal in the secular sphere. Stephen Batchelor seems to have completely left religious Buddhism behind.

    I’ve always sought out the life stories of great teachers—I often find them more interesting than their actual teachings. And they’re definitely out there, but mostly they’ve been written by other people.

    Good point, there are a few. And I agree with you, the stories of great teachers are inspiring, as long as they don’t turn into media personalities. Hein Thijssen didn’t convert to Buddhism though, he merely studied it intensely for a number of years. More on which later.

    adamcrossley
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