The complexity of Buddhist sectarianism oversimplified?

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Individual
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The complexity of Buddhist sectarianism oversimplified?

Postby Individual » Wed Jul 22, 2009 9:16 pm

Just a thought I had recently: People often seem to have one strict view about sects in early Buddhism, that either the Theravadins were the earliest and the Mahayanas were all corrupt, or the standard Mahayana mythology -- that Hinayana was the preliminary teaching and the higher Mahayana teachings were divinely revealed later.

These views seem to simplify Buddhist history as an interaction between the two sects of Theravada and Mahayana, but it seems likely to me to have been more complicated than that. The past importance (that is, the relevance or coherence to early Buddhism) of views held by now dead sects cannot be underestimated. Some sects now dead may have actually held views closer to early Buddhism than any living Buddhist sect today. Conversely, all living Buddhist sects today may hold views not held by early Buddhists. It seems at least historically significant that Pudgalavada (the idea of personhood, with personhood being notself) was a mainstream view at one point, while today, all Buddhist schools are "impersonalist" and reject that view. What I mean is, that's a very big change to happen -- it's impossible to suggest that Theravada is early Buddhism unchanged.

Also, the various splits may have happened for various reasons. Mahayana, for instance, may have had more than one origin -- perhaps some early Mahayanists were in fact forest monks (i.e. jhana monks), one theory of their origin, not necessarily being known as Mahayana at that time and possibly composed of various "schools" (among the early 18) and Theravadins or whatever they may have been called at that time, or whatever number, name, or sectarian division they might have been, may have been composed of scholastic monks. It seems reasonable to me that the context in which the dhamma was practiced -- the division between monks focusing on memorizing, maintaining, and teaching scripture vs. monks focusing on solitary meditation could lead to a division and social bigotry, by which you have one side of over-analytic dogmatists, while on the other side, you have blathering pseudo-nihilistic poets (see the list of the ten defilements of insight in the Theravadin commentaries and the 10 bhumis of Mahayana for examples of both).

And then, later, Nagarjuna, a scholastic comes along, and yet while he's said to have "founded" Mahayana, his most famous work, Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, is analytical in nature and uses the Nikayas as source material (possibly everything he legitimately wrote is like this?), which is more similar to the Theravadin commentators than later Mahayana Buddhists who would write elaborate mythologies clearly diverging from early Buddhism. And then, later, or perhaps around this same time, there may have been the rise of the Mahayana practices associated with lay Buddhism -- the corruption -- the bodhisattva and buddha worship, mantras, astrology, the various superstitions... and all of this reached its peak when Tantra was introduced to Buddhism...

Now, this is all mere speculation. Somebody very knowledgeable of history here could maybe rip apart the above speculation. But the point I'm making is that it may have been much more complicated than we think -- accepting either the view that Theravada is early Buddhism in its pure form and Mahayana is simply corruption, or accepting the Mahayana mythology about the three turns of the dharma wheel. It is possible for competing theories about early Buddhism to both be wrong, because an alternative explanation or possible integration of both theories is not accounted for.
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Re: The complexity of Buddhist sectarianism oversimplified?

Postby clw_uk » Wed Jul 22, 2009 9:28 pm

For me i dont see Theravada as having all of the original/early teachings

However i want to get as close as i can to the earliest teachings and since Theravada and the Pali canon is the oldest i follow that


Mahayana is a complicated issue, no real set explanation on how it came to be from what i have read. I did read however that it seems to have been an attempt to go back to the forest instead of the towns (although later this changed)


The sect you mentioned are interesting, i wonder though did they become so popular because it was the original word or because beings will latch onto any kind of self?



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Re: The complexity of Buddhist sectarianism oversimplified?

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Jul 22, 2009 10:12 pm

Individual wrote:These views seem to simplify Buddhist history as an interaction between the two sects of Theravada and Mahayana, but it seems likely to me to have been more complicated than that.


Of course it much more complicated than the simplistic outline given above.

The past importance (that is, the relevance or coherence to early Buddhism) of views held by now dead sects cannot be underestimated. Some sects now dead may have actually held views closer to early Buddhism than any living Buddhist sect today.


To determine that depends upon what literature is available to us.

Conversely, all living Buddhist sects today may hold views not held by early Buddhists.


It does not take much to see that. If we take the suttas as normative of one level of “early Buddhism,” it is not difficult to see that that is the case.

It seems at least historically significant that Pudgalavada (the idea of personhood, with personhood being notself) was a mainstream view at one point,


One needs to distinguish, however, between the ordination lineages and the doctrinal lineages. When this distinction is made, that is not at all clear. Also, most of what is known about the so-called Pudgalavada is known via their opponent apologetic/polemical literature. There is very little of their actual literature extant, and it does present a view that is a bit different from the polemical presentation of it by its opponents.

What I mean is, that's a very big change to happen -- it's impossible to suggest that Theravada is early Buddhism unchanged.


Of course.

Mahayana, for instance, may have had more than one origin -- perhaps some early Mahayanists were in fact forest monks


“The Mahayana” was not in its origins, as it is not now, a singular movement.

one theory of their origin, not necessarily being known as Mahayana at that time and possibly composed of various "schools" (among the early 18) and Theravadins or whatever they may have been called at that time, or whatever number, name, or sectarian division they might have been, may have been composed of scholastic monks. It seems reasonable to me that the context in which the dhamma was practiced -- the division between monks focusing on memorizing, maintaining, and teaching scripture vs. monks focusing on solitary meditation could lead to a division and social bigotry, by which you have one side of over-analytic dogmatists, while on the other side, you have blathering pseudo-nihilistic poets (see the list of the ten defilements of insight in the Theravadin commentaries and the 10 bhumis of Mahayana for examples of both).


The problem with this that the Mahayanists, as is evidence even by their earliest writings, were as equally versed in the texts, including the Abhidharma stuff and commentaries. The bhumis and the 10 defilements both represent rather late stuff.

Actually, there is no point in commenting on following paragraphs other than to ask where are getting this stuff? There are very good histories out there you might care to study.
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Individual
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Re: The complexity of Buddhist sectarianism oversimplified?

Postby Individual » Wed Jul 22, 2009 10:28 pm

clw_uk wrote:However i want to get as close as i can to the earliest teachings and since Theravada and the Pali canon is the oldest i follow that

No, the Nikayas of the Pali canon (which are the Agamas of the Mahayana canon) and some Mahayana sutras are the earliest.

clw_uk wrote:Mahayana is a complicated issue, no real set explanation on how it came to be from what i have read. I did read however that it seems to have been an attempt to go back to the forest instead of the towns (although later this changed)

But then what about the Rhinoceros Sutra -- a very early Buddhist text which advocates the solitary ascetic lifestyle? I thought that this was an ideal of Theravadins, like the Thai Forest tradition, and only Zen Buddhists and some Tibetans hold this same view?

tiltbillings wrote:Actually, there is no point in commenting on following paragraphs other than to ask where are getting this stuff? There are very good histories out there you might care to study.

Various things I've read and conversations I've had over the years. I don't remember or verify sources when I hear things, so I collect information like this but it isn't necessarily accurate. Thanks for the rest of your comments btw, Tiltbillings. They were interesting.
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clw_uk
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Re: The complexity of Buddhist sectarianism oversimplified?

Postby clw_uk » Thu Jul 23, 2009 9:20 am

Craig - However i want to get as close as i can to the earliest teachings and since Theravada and the Pali canon is the oldest i follow that

Indiv. No, the Nikayas of the Pali canon (which are the Agamas of the Mahayana canon) and some Mahayana sutras are the earliest.


Sorry i meant the nikayas, i know the rest isnt always early material. My bad


clw_uk wrote:
Mahayana is a complicated issue, no real set explanation on how it came to be from what i have read. I did read however that it seems to have been an attempt to go back to the forest instead of the towns (although later this changed)

Indiv. But then what about the Rhinoceros Sutra -- a very early Buddhist text which advocates the solitary ascetic lifestyle? I thought that this was an ideal of Theravadins, like the Thai Forest tradition, and only Zen Buddhists and some Tibetans hold this same view?


Well as i said this later changed and it become the monastic lay centred tradition. As for Theravada i think ideal of going back to the forest is a fairly modern concept
“The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised." Verses on the Faith Mind, Sengcan


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