The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

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The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby cooran » Sat Jun 07, 2014 6:52 pm

Hello all,

An interesting article:

The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddhism
http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat ... tle=103629

With metta,
Chris
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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby LXNDR » Sat Jun 07, 2014 9:02 pm

it seems with his 'merit' argument the professor goes a bit overboard

maybe it cannot be donated or transferred, because kamma is only personal, but it can manifest as rebirth and next life in more favorable conditions and those ensuring continuation of the movement towards nibbana

and is this really a Theravada point of view?

Prof. M. M. J. Marasinghe wrote:But in the new Buddhism, nibbana cannot be attained as and when one wants to attain it.


however even if he ascribes to Theravada a view it never articulated, the view itself i believe is essentially correct, for nibbana cannot be realized by a person whos mind and consciousness aren't conditioned by practice and conditioning them by wholesome habits is being performed among other things through meritorious activity on the three grounds described for example in the Punnakiriyavatthu Sutta

i don't think this view contradicts any other part of the Dhamma, if such grounds of merit as morality and mind cultivation weren't necessary for realization of nibbana, Buddha probably wouldn't have recommended them
Last edited by LXNDR on Sat Jun 07, 2014 9:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby m0rl0ck » Sat Jun 07, 2014 9:10 pm

From the article:

In spite of Buddhaghosa's insistence on the indispensability of merit, the Buddha has never referred to, either accumulation of merit or past merit as a factor for Buddhahood or the attainment of nibbana. It must be noted here that the theory of accumulation of merit and the theory that merit can be donated to other parties are both alien to the Buddha's teaching.


Its always seemed a little tragic to me that some concentrate great effort on merit making. I once actually had some one in a buddhist chat tell me that they were concentrating this lifetime on making merit so as to get a fortunate rebirth with more favorable conditions for practice.
"Even if you've read the whole Canon and can remember lots of teachings; even if you can explain them in poignant ways, with lots of people to respect you; even if you build a lot of monastery buildings, or can explain inconstancy, stress, and not-self in the most detailed fashion ... The only thing that serves your own true purpose is release from suffering.

"And you'll be able to gain release from suffering only when you know the one mind."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jun 07, 2014 9:16 pm

It's interesting in how it differs from other criticisms.

Most modern criticism of the Theravada Commentaries (translated and/or written by Buddhaghosa) that get brought up here concern tricky doctrinal points (e.g. Ven Nanananda etc) to do with the nature of reality, or other subtle issues.

This criticism places the blame of too much ritualism on those commentaries:
Thus, all aspects of the new ritual Buddhism which changed the Theravada Buddhism into a system of worship, offering and prayer, like any other theistic religion, has been very carefully planned and smuggled into practice with several bonus packages for the operators. At the base of all rituals was the donation of merit to the gods with a request for their protection. It must be noted here that the gods whose protection was prayed for were not the gods like Sakka, but South Indian gods like Vishnu, Natha, Pattini,etc. who were entrusted with these duties in addition to their home duties of serving their Hindu followers .The composition of the offering for each god was so made to make the mediator between god and man enriched with sufficient economic and other benefits which they did not enjoy under the earlier form of canonical Buddhism.


Of course, we do see criticisms of "too much ritual" brought up here, but it generally seems to be blamed on "ignorant lay people not understanding the Dhamma", whereas this criticism puts the blame elsewhere.

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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby martinfrank » Sat Jun 07, 2014 9:39 pm

An important article. Read also http://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg. ... ration.pdf about the Ven. Buddhaghosa.

Isn't "merit" the business model of the national Sanghas of South East Asia? For the householder "merit making" works: Giving increases your wealth, stealing makes you poor. Helping makes you strong, leaning on others makes you weak.

But didn't Lord Buddha teach that the monks and nuns should not do pujas, marriages and funerals?

But when somebody you love dies, aren't you thankful that monks do take care of funerals?
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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jun 07, 2014 10:18 pm

martinfrank wrote:An important article. Read also http://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg. ... ration.pdf about the Ven. Buddhaghosa.

That's also an interesting article, but I'm struggling to find the relevance to this particular issue. Perhaps I'm missing something.

Ven Analayo's article seems to make no mention of an elevation of the practice of merit, and concentrates on summarising doctrinal similarities and differences between the Visuddhimagga and the Vimuttimagga that is preserved in Chinese from another Indian school. That analysis, of course, provides an interesting insight into the development of the commentaries of various schools.

What might be more relevant would be to look at the commentaries and vinayas of some of the other schools.

See: Schopen: Buddha as Businessman?

Of all the iconic scenes found in the earliest Buddhist art from India, none are more striking than the sculpted representation of a title deed involving one of
Buddhism’s most venerable monasteries: The transaction, involving 10 million gold coins, clearly shows that, far from being an ascetic, other-worldly religious tradition, Buddhism was, in fact, “deeply entangled with money – and a very great deal of it at that,” according to Gregory Schopen, chair of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and an authority on ancient Indian Buddhism.
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/two-ch ... tute-85231

He's not talking about a Theravada monastery there, but one from another school. However, the implication that the schools evolved into business is related to the article that started this topic.

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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby Mkoll » Sat Jun 07, 2014 11:26 pm

martinfrank wrote:An important article. Read also http://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg. ... ration.pdf about the Ven. Buddhaghosa.

Isn't "merit" the business model of the national Sanghas of South East Asia? For the householder "merit making" works: Giving increases your wealth, stealing makes you poor. Helping makes you strong, leaning on others makes you weak.

But didn't Lord Buddha teach that the monks and nuns should not do pujas, marriages and funerals?

But when somebody you love dies, aren't you thankful that monks do take care of funerals?

Thanks, martinfrank. Ven. Analayo is stellar and I agree with his conclusion in that article.

It is connected to the OP because both are claiming that Buddhaghosa departed from the Canon's teachings and introduced his own. Prof. Marasinghe's article is more scathing than Ven. Analayo's and the focus is a little different.

Prof. M. M. J. Marasinghe wrote:Thus, the story of an epidemic is another of Buddhaghosa's fairy tales used to make new rites and rituals acceptable by giving them religious sanction.


Ven. Analayo wrote:On the highly probable supposition that Buddhaghosa knew a version of the
Path to Liberation, the above discussed instances give the impression that Buddhaghosa
at times deliberately departed from the model set by his predecessor,
even if this meant that he had to depart from the canonical sources. The two main
types of departures, discussed above, involve a conception of the nature of wholesomeness
that seems to give more importance to externals and the employment of
an incomplete scheme of purifications for describing the progress of insight.
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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby Kim OHara » Sun Jun 08, 2014 4:56 am

mikenz66 wrote:...

See: Schopen: Buddha as Businessman?

Of all the iconic scenes found in the earliest Buddhist art from India, none are more striking than the sculpted representation of a title deed involving one of
Buddhism’s most venerable monasteries: The transaction, involving 10 million gold coins, clearly shows that, far from being an ascetic, other-worldly religious tradition, Buddhism was, in fact, “deeply entangled with money – and a very great deal of it at that,” according to Gregory Schopen, chair of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and an authority on ancient Indian Buddhism.
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/two-ch ... tute-85231

He's not talking about a Theravada monastery there, but one from another school. However, the implication that the schools evolved into business is related to the article that started this topic.

:anjali:
Mike

Ever since I got interested in Buddhism I have been seeing intriguing parallels between monastic Buddhism and monastic Christianity (which I happen to know a fair bit about because of my day job) and I think we have another one here. Both religions were started by wanderers who renounced material possessions but whose followers settled down in single-sex communities living according to increasingly detailed Rules.
Christian monastic communities acquired great wealth through asserting to their lay followers than donating to the church was virtuous and would assist in ensuring a heavenly reward, and here, it seems, we have Buddhist monasteries doing much the same.
I don't know enough of the suttas to say for sure that the original article is correct in blaming Buddhaghosa for legitimating and entrenching the change but it would certainly make sense, given its timing in relation to the rise of the monasteries.

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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby Denisa » Sun Jun 08, 2014 9:53 am

I like to share an experience regarding the emphasis on merit making in popular Buddhism. When I was young my family toured in Sri Lanka for a vacation. We visited several ancient temples and in almost all places we found metal donation boxes with some Sinhalese words, not one per temple but several near bo-tree, near statues, and in shrine rooms. Tourist guide said the Sinhalese words meant "merit box". There were also counters with a monk or two behind who will speak in a loud speaker some stanza sending merits to the name of the dead relatives for big donations. We asked about the "merit boxes" and the monk replied giving money to a monk gives you lot of merits. I guess bigger the better!

Only after some years I came to know accepting money isn't allowed in Vinaya!
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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby LXNDR » Sun Jun 08, 2014 11:39 am

if we consider alms giving, there should be a good reason for lay people to engage in charity by giving alms to monks as opposed to other lay people in need

does anyone know if there's evidence in the Canon that dana to the Sangha or individual monks is more meritorious?
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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Jun 08, 2014 12:36 pm

Take a look at the suttas from Chapter V. The Way to a Fortunate Rebirth
of In the Buddha's Words: There are links to on-line suttas here if you don't have the book.
viewtopic.php?f=25&t=14640

In particular, sections 2. Merit. The Key to Good Fortune and 3. Giving, and 5(3) Insight Surpasses All
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Also take a look at Bhikkhu Bodhi's notes.

It's quite clear from the Suttas that generosity is a foundational practice on which the Path is built. That some organisations have turned it into a business is unfortunate, but it would be perverse to reject the idea of merit because of that.

Talks on Dhamma to lay people in the suttas rarely start with such things as the Noble Truths, Dependent Origination, and so on. They start with generosity and virtue:
See, for example: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
Then the Blessed One, having encompassed the awareness of the entire assembly with his awareness, asked himself, "Now who here is capable of understanding the Dhamma?" He saw Suppabuddha the leper sitting in the assembly, and on seeing him the thought occurred to him, "This person here is capable of understanding the Dhamma." So, aiming at Suppabuddha the leper, he gave a step-by-step talk, i.e., he proclaimed a talk on generosity, on virtue, on heaven; he declared the drawbacks, degradation, & corruption of sensuality, and the rewards of renunciation. Then when the Blessed One knew that Suppabuddha the leper's mind was ready, malleable, free from hindrances, elevated, & clear, he then gave the Dhamma-talk peculiar to Awakened Ones, i.e., stress, origination, cessation, & path. And just as a clean cloth, free of stains, would properly absorb a dye, in the same way, as Suppabuddha the leper was sitting in that very seat, the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye arose within him, "Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation."


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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby LXNDR » Sun Jun 08, 2014 2:09 pm

mikenz66 wrote: :anjali:
Mike


thank you
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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby Denisa » Sun Jun 08, 2014 2:28 pm

I did lot of charity, especially towards poor people even before I became a Buddhist. But it never occurred to me: "how much merit I gain from this generosity? Is it big? Whether people recognize me for my generosity? What will I get in next life?" I did them because it helps someone in need, made them happy, and I felt wholesomely happy by letting go something I possess. Only after getting touched with Buddhism I saw a greater deal of emphasis on merit making. From my understanding on kamma, every action (in this case generosity) can create a result whether you worry about merit or not. I think if one crave for merit that will not serve the purpose of generosity/letting go, it would be more like a business transaction.

LXNDR wrote:if we consider alms giving, there should be a good reason for lay people to engage in charity by giving alms to monks as opposed to other lay people in need

does anyone know if there's evidence in the Canon that dana to the Sangha or individual monks is more meritorious?


Bhikkhus, there are these five streams of merit, streams of the wholesome, nutriments of happiness—heavenly, ripening in happiness, conducive to heaven—that lead to what is wished for, desired, and agreeable, to one’s welfare and happiness. What five?

“(1) When a bhikkhu enters and dwells in a measureless concentration of mind while using a robe that one has given him, one acquires a measureless stream of merit, stream of the wholesome, a nutriment of happiness … that leads … to one’s welfare and happiness.
(2)...almsfood...(3)...dwelling...(4)...bed and chair...(5)...medicines and provisions for the sick...
///...///
When, bhikkhus, a noble disciple possesses these five streams of merit, streams of the wholesome, it is not easy to measure his merit thus: ‘Just so much is his stream of merit, stream of the wholesome, nutriment of happiness—heavenly … that leads to … one’s welfare and happiness’; rather, it is reckoned simply as an incalculable, immeasurable, great mass of merit.
///...///
AN.5.45, Puññābhisanda Sutta


“Bhikkhus, what are gifts endowed with six factors? There are three factors to the giver and three factors to the acceptor. What are the three factors of the giver? [1]Even before giving the giver has a pleasant mind, [2]while giving the mind is pleased, and [3]having given the mind is pleased. What are the three factors of the acceptor? The acceptor is [1]free of greed or entered to the Path to cast greed... [2]hatred... [3]delusion...

It is not easy to account for the merits of a gift endowed with these six factors as, it is a yield of merit, a yield of good, a bringer of pleasantness and heavenly bliss that is conducive to agreeability and pleasantness of such a measure.”
AN.6.37, Dana Sutta


The DN.5, Kutadanta Sutta also a great but long Sutta which points out which merit is higher. Please note that there is a long introduction in the given link.
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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby LXNDR » Sun Jun 08, 2014 4:24 pm

Denisa wrote:I did lot of charity, especially towards poor people even before I became a Buddhist. But it never occurred to me: "how much merit I gain from this generosity? Is it big? Whether people recognize me for my generosity? What will I get in next life?" I did them because it helps someone in need, made them happy, and I felt wholesomely happy by letting go something I possess. Only after getting touched with Buddhism I saw a greater deal of emphasis on merit making. From my understanding on kamma, every action (in this case generosity) can create a result whether you worry about merit or not. I think if one crave for merit that will not serve the purpose of generosity/letting go, it would be more like a business transaction.


i agree and think that from the practice standpoint to be beneficial for the giver the giving must be devoid of egotistic motives

the theory of recipients of different degrees of worth, giving to whom endows with different amount of merit, is counterproductive in this respect, because it can corrupt minds of potential givers and help to enroot their conceit rather than uproot it, make them think of their own good while deciding to give rather than of the recipient's, make their decision selfish
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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Jun 08, 2014 7:36 pm

Clearly, if one turns giving into a business transaction, that's not cultivating the right intention to have positive effects on the mind. However, the suttas do seem to be saying that supporting the continuation of the Sangha has a stronger kammic effect than other types of giving. One could take a cynical view of that, or consider what the implications are.

Here are some threads that contain helpful comments from Ven Dhammanando, who used to be a moderator here:
viewtopic.php?f=24&t=1346#p18278
viewtopic.php?f=24&t=1068#p13347

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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby Mkoll » Sun Jun 08, 2014 9:19 pm

Denisa wrote:I did lot of charity, especially towards poor people even before I became a Buddhist. But it never occurred to me: "how much merit I gain from this generosity? Is it big? Whether people recognize me for my generosity? What will I get in next life?" I did them because it helps someone in need, made them happy, and I felt wholesomely happy by letting go something I possess. Only after getting touched with Buddhism I saw a greater deal of emphasis on merit making. From my understanding on kamma, every action (in this case generosity) can create a result whether you worry about merit or not. I think if one crave for merit that will not serve the purpose of generosity/letting go, it would be more like a business transaction.

There is a sutta where the Buddha lays out the various kinds of mental states and views that one may have when giving. I seem to remember that the best mental state was the view that (rough quote): "this giving is for the purification of mind". Lower in the order was the "business transaction" view, but it is still productive of merit.

Sorry I don't have the reference.
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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby culaavuso » Sun Jun 08, 2014 9:50 pm

Mkoll wrote:There is a sutta where the Buddha lays out the various kinds of mental states and views that one may have when giving. I seem to remember that the best mental state was the view that (rough quote): "this giving is for the purification of mind". Lower in the order was the "business transaction" view, but it is still productive of merit.


AN 7.49: Dana Sutta wrote:Having given this gift seeking his own profit — with a mind attached [to the reward], seeking to store up for himself, [with the thought], 'I'll enjoy this after death' — on the break-up of the body, after death, he reappears in the company of the Four Great Kings. Then, having exhausted that action, that power, that status, that sovereignty, he is a returner, coming back to this world.
...
but with the thought, 'This is an ornament for the mind, a support for the mind' — on the break-up of the body, after death, he reappears in the company of Brahma's Retinue. Then, having exhausted that action, that power, that status, that sovereignty, he is a non-returner. He does not come back to this world.
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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby Mkoll » Sun Jun 08, 2014 9:55 pm

Yes, that's the one, "a support for the mind". Thanks again, culaavuso.
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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby Kasina » Mon Jun 09, 2014 1:39 am

For anyone looking for more in-depth criticism of Buddhaghosa/Commentarial views, I might recommend the writings of Ven's Nanananda and Nanavira.

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Re: The Great Betrayal of Theravada Buddism

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Jun 09, 2014 3:12 am

Sure, there are some interesting ideas in their work. But I'm not aware of them addressing the subject of this thread. Which is why I said.
mikenz66 wrote:It's interesting in how it differs from other criticisms.
Most modern criticism of the Theravada Commentaries (translated and/or written by Buddhaghosa) that get brought up here concern tricky doctrinal points (e.g. Ven Nanananda etc) to do with the nature of reality, or other subtle issues.

I may be wrong, since I have not read everything that they have written...

Personally I find the idea of some "Great Betrayal" overly hyperbolic. As far as my experience goes, there's some helpful stuff in the ancient commentaries. And there's some helpful stuff in the writings of Ven Nanananda and other modern interpreters. It's useful that we have these various analyses to draw out the possible ways of interpreting and applying the Dhamma.

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