Why did you choose Theravada?

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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby Cafael Dust » Sun Dec 27, 2009 2:04 am

I must lack wisdom. My roots are shallow. My heart is too pale and wormy to be nourished by the sutra's fine light. My eyes are filmy with the fat of ignorance, they reflect back to me only the poverty of my nature. My capacity is hin, my qualities are inferior. I lack both metta and ability.

This must be so, because I can't see the beauty in the lotus.

So why am I smiling? Someone must know.
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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby Dan74 » Sun Dec 27, 2009 2:28 am

I have no idea Cafael, but here's Hakuin's account of his initial and subsequent experience. My approach is to have an open mind about these things.

I left home to become a Buddhist monk when I was fourteen. I became discouraged before even a year was out. My head had been shaved smooth, I wore a black robe, but I hadn't seen any sign of the Dharma's marvelous working. I happened to hear that The Lotus Sutra was the king of all the scriptures the Buddha had preached. It was supposed to contain the essential meaning of all the buddhas. I got hold of a copy and read it through. But when I finished, I closed it with a heavy sigh. "This," I told myself, "is nothing but a collection of simple tales about cause and effect. True, mention is made of there being 'only one absolute vehicle,' and of 'the changeless unconditioned tranquility of all dharmas,' but on the whole it is what Lin-chi dismissed as 'mere verbal prescriptions for relieving the world's ills.' I'm not going to find what I'm looking for here."

I was deeply disillusioned. I didn't get over it for quite some time. Meanwhile, I lived as the priest of a small temple. I reached forty, the age when one is not supposed to be bothered any longer by doubts. One night, I decided to take another look at The Lotus Sutra. I got out my only lamp, turned up the wick, and began to read it once again. I read as far as the third chapter, the one on parables. Then, just like that, all the lingering doubts and uncertainties vanished from my mind. They suddenly ceased to exist. The reason for the Lotus's reputation as the "king of sutras" was now revealed to me with blinding clarity. Teardrops began cascading down my face like two strings of beads - they came like beans pouring from a ruptured sack. A loud involuntary cry burst from the depths of my being and I began sobbing uncontrollably. And as I did, I knew without any doubt that what I had realized in all those satoris I had experienced, what I had grasped in my understanding of those koans I had passed - had all been totally mistaken. I was finally able to penetrate the source of the free, enlightened activity that permeated Shoju's daily life. I also knew beyond any doubt that the tongue in the World-honored One's mouth moved with complete and unrestricted freedom. I realized I richly deserved a good thirty hard blows of the staff, just like Lin-chi!


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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby Monkey Mind » Sun Dec 27, 2009 3:03 am

tiltbillings wrote:
Monkey Mind wrote:My university has a really good graduate studies library. If they dont't have something, they will arrange to get it on loan from even better libraries. What type of scholars? Is this a debate with historians, or archeologists, or social anthropologists? Point me in the right direction, and I will dig for journals. I can be patient, if it takes you a few days to get back to me, that's fine.
It is an historical debate, but you will a variety of different types involved. It is primarily a Buddhologist concern. Start with Richard Gombrich. He has articles in any number of journals, and what is useful, in addition to his own arguments, are the footnotes, which lead you further discussions. Heinz Bechert and Etienne Lamotte are two other names as well as Peter Harvey and Rupert Gethin. It may not be just journal but also books. If I were at home at present I could give a bit more detail.


Thanks, Tilt, but I was looking for guidance from either pink_trike or SeanPDX. I am not sure if your are speaking about the same thing as they, or if they are speaking of something different. Pink_trike, I accepted your invitation to research this myself, but I come up empty handed. SeanPDX, I have access to these mysterious scholarly journals, but I have come up empty handed. I am not being cheeky here, if there is such a scholarly debate I genuinely want to read about it. I suspect, however, that you made this stuff up to seem important.
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.

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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Dec 27, 2009 3:15 am

Monkey Mind wrote:
Thanks, Tilt, but I was looking for guidance from either pink_trike or SeanPDX.

Sorry to have intruded. The problem is that you are really not going to find in recent journals "Increasingly, scholars are unable to find any solid evidence of it...evidence that should be available if he actually lived and wasn't just a conceptual devise[sic]." You might want to go back 50 to 100 years or so. I can give some names of older scholars to research if you wish. See Ven Paññāsikhara's msg above.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby Cafael Dust » Sun Dec 27, 2009 3:17 am

Dan 74:

Yes, I read that. I don't care if Ghandi, Bob Dylan and Buddha himself read it and liked it. If they jumped off a cliff I wouldn't. Now you may think the stuff coming up is irreverent, but I find the Lotus irreverent, and to be irreverent of the irreverent of that which should be revered is reverent :tongue: .

Further, they do not draw near to the five kinds of unmanly men or become friends with them.


What are the five types of unmanly men that Boddhisattvas must avoid if he is to speak this sutra in future ages?

He put forth his vast and long tongue which reached upward to the Brahma worlds. From all of his hair pores, he emitted lights of limitless, countless colors, all of which pervasively illuminated the worlds of the ten directions. In the same way, all the Buddhas seated on lion thrones beneath jeweled trees also put forth their vast and long tongues and emitted limitless lights.

When Shakyamuni Buddha and the Buddhas beneath the jeweled trees had manifested their spiritual powers for a full hundred thousand years, they withdrew their tongues.


Exactly how long is a Buddha's tongue and does it get dry after a hundred thousand years?

"The World Honored One, using the power of expedient devices, has spoken of the Thus Come One�s wisdom. Having gained from the Buddha the one day�s wage of Nirvana, we took it to be a great attainment; we had no ambition to seek the Great Vehicle. Besides, the wisdom of the Thus Come One had been set forth for the sake of the Bodhisattvas, and so he held no expectations regarding it. What is the reason? The Buddha knew that our minds took delight in petty Dharmas. He used the power of expedients to teach us in the appropriate manner, and we did not know that we were truly the Buddha�s sons.


Exactly how petty is the Pali Canon? Are ten Arhats better than a boddhisattva? Can a Buddha create a weight so heavy he can't lift it? etc
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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby pink_trike » Sun Dec 27, 2009 3:40 am

Cafael Dust wrote:
He put forth his vast and long tongue which reached upward to the Brahma worlds. From all of his hair pores, he emitted lights of limitless, countless colors, all of which pervasively illuminated the worlds of the ten directions. In the same way, all the Buddhas seated on lion thrones beneath jeweled trees also put forth their vast and long tongues and emitted limitless lights.

If you read this:

Hamlet's Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge And Its Transmission Through Myth by Giorgio de Santillana (a professor of the history of science at MIT) and Hertha von Dechend (a scientist at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität) - a nonfiction work of history and comparative mythology.

...you'll likely have a bit more insight into this style of writing. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, in order to understand the literature of a different time and place we need to be able to "read" (deconstruct, in order to correctly conceptually construct) them through the eyes of the time/place they were written - cognizant of the complexities of oral composition standards and patterns, structure, allegory, cultural views, etc...ancient writing doesn't "read" like we've been trained to read in modern culture. It isn't as simple as translating x word to mean x word, not by a long shot. Quite frequently in ancient writing, words and phrases aren't even serving the purpose that we take for granted when reading - conveying ordinary meaning...many times words and phrases are included as functional elements, not for their meaning, and often a single sentence can be conveying several parallel but completely unrelated meanings. And some words, phrases, sentences, symbols can be viewed as file drawers, making reference to concepts or complex knowledge and views that were known to those that were meant to know them. A surface reading of ancient literature gives us what the common folk were intended to get. A deeper, informed reading gave more, and more complex, and often completely unrelated information to those who were trained to "read" it.

This is why there is so much tension between secular scholars and religious scholars (and religious literalists). Religious folks like their religious texts to be "surface only, thanks" and aren't happy that scholars deconstruct and reveal, or worse, discover parallels with texts from other religions or from cultures that far predate when their texts are believed to have been composed.

Another good read would be:

From Deluge to Discourse: Myth, History, and the Generation of Chinese Fiction By Deborah Lynn Porter.

...in which she deconstructs Classical Chinese historiography and lays waste to the traditional reading of a particular set of Chinese historical myths.
Last edited by pink_trike on Sun Dec 27, 2009 5:19 am, edited 10 times in total.
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Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby Cafael Dust » Sun Dec 27, 2009 3:44 am

Do you understand it and have insight into it, having read that book?
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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby pink_trike » Sun Dec 27, 2009 3:46 am

Cafael Dust wrote:Do you understand it and have insight into it, having read that book?

Who knows? I at least have a better understanding of what I don't understand about that sutra.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby BlackBird » Sun Dec 27, 2009 5:16 am

I'd be quite interested in knowing how Mahayana practitioners see and or explain the creation of the Sutras. What is the general out look in Mahayana circles? I imagine that critical thinking is not exclusive to Theravada.

This is my opinion - Mahayana sutras are certainly not the word of the historical Buddha, and are clearly a later invention by some very intelligent individuals. These Sutras put their credibility on the fact that the Buddha is speaking them, do they not? Now if these Sutras are not the word of the historical Buddha, what is the logical implication of that? Can a Mahayana practitioner know and accept that the Sutras are not the word of the Buddha and still practice accordingly?

metta
Jack
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'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby pink_trike » Sun Dec 27, 2009 5:55 am

BlackBird wrote:I'd be quite interested in knowing how Mahayana practitioners see and or explain the creation of the Sutras. What is the general out look in Mahayana circles? I imagine that critical thinking is not exclusive to Theravada.

This is my opinion - Mahayana sutras are certainly not the word of the historical Buddha, and are clearly a later invention by some very intelligent individuals. These Sutras put their credibility on the fact that the Buddha is speaking them, do they not? Now if these Sutras are not the word of the historical Buddha, what is the logical implication of that? Can a Mahayana practitioner know and accept that the Sutras are not the word of the Buddha and still practice accordingly?

metta
Jack

Hi Jack,

In my opinion/experience, most Mahayana practitioners, like most Theravada practitioners, don't think or ask about the how/who/when of the sutras/suttas of their own tradition. The whole point of religious institution and religiosity is that the teachings should be accepted at face value on faith which is how most approach them.

There are those who practice in the Mahayana tradition that understand that the sutras employ the mythic as a conceptual devise, and let the mythic structure do what its intended to do. Its a classic shamanistic technique found in most ancient processes that deal with the refinement of perception - Theravada also, though not as overtly as in Mahayana. Who spoke/wrote them and when falls to the background and the mythic structure/experiential process moves to the foreground - this happens fairly easily because of the nature of the teacher/student relationship.

Its not so very different in Theravada - its a fact that we can't know for sure how much of the suttas can be attributed to an original Buddha - a consistent oral/written structure tells us nothing about the origin of any particular content found in any particular sutta. Computer analysis of ancient oral compositions have shown that the metering found throughout a composition, right down to the number of breathes and rising/falling inflections per line and stanza are commonly and precisely related to wide cultural/regional and period of time standards. That a body of oral composition/writing has the same precise metering and "voice" doesn't mean that one person spoke them...it only means that there was a complex science of oral composition applied and then retained in written format, as was common in oral tradition cultures. It is just as likely as not that the Theravada suttas provenance is as unknown as the the Mahayana sutras.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Dec 27, 2009 6:02 am

pink_trike wrote:It is just as likely as not that the Theravada suttas provenance is as unknown as the the Mahayana sutras.
The more recent scholarship cannot say with 100% certainty that the Pali suttas in all cases are reflective of the Buddha's teachings, but it does push things much closer to the Buddha than previously thought.

Mahayana sutras are literary compositions ranging from a little over 100 BCE to 1000 + CE.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby BlackBird » Sun Dec 27, 2009 6:09 am

pink_trike wrote:In my opinion/experience, most Mahayana practitioners, like most Theravada practitioners, don't think or ask about the how/who/when of the sutras/suttas of their own tradition. The whole point of religious institution and religiosity is that the teachings should be accepted at face value on faith which is how most approach them.


Thank you Jeff, good post. Although I don't know if I agree that:
The whole point of religious institution...

I mean isn't the point of the Theravadin institution to preserve the Buddha-sasana and to create environments that allow others to aspire and attain to the path and fruits of the holy life?

Perhaps we have different understandings of the term 'religious institution'

metta
Jack
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby pink_trike » Sun Dec 27, 2009 6:12 am

BlackBird wrote:

I mean isn't the point of the Theravadin institution to preserve the Buddha-sasana and to create environments that allow others to aspire and attain to the path and fruits of the holy life?

Ideally.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Dec 27, 2009 6:24 am

BlackBird wrote:I'd be quite interested in knowing how Mahayana practitioners see and or explain the creation of the Sutras. What is the general out look in Mahayana circles? I imagine that critical thinking is not exclusive to Theravada.

This is my opinion - Mahayana sutras are certainly not the word of the historical Buddha, and are clearly a later invention by some very intelligent individuals. These Sutras put their credibility on the fact that the Buddha is speaking them, do they not? Now if these Sutras are not the word of the historical Buddha, what is the logical implication of that? Can a Mahayana practitioner know and accept that the Sutras are not the word of the Buddha and still practice accordingly?

metta
Jack


Just a short and non-exhaustive response:
The whole idea of a "historical" buddha is kind of a new one, really.
The term "buddhavacana" is a technical term, which only superficially means "that spoken by the (historical) buddha".
A number of other texts in the Theravada canon are not taught by the "historical" buddha, either.
But, they conform to what the Buddha taught, and so many have been considered as "buddhavacana".

The Anguttara Nikaya (have found this before, but can't quite place it right now) has a statement:
What is spoken by the Buddha is well spoken,
What is well spoken is spoken by the Buddha.

The idea of the "historical" buddha is only the former, not the latter statement.

Similarly, an important statement from an early Mahayana sutra:

The Lord said to the Venerable Subhuti, the Elder: Make it clear now,
Subhuti, to the Bodhisattvas, the great beings, starting from perfect wisdom, how
the Bodhisattvas, the great beings go forth into perfect wisdom!
Thereupon the Venerable Sariputra thought to himself: [4] Will that
Venerable Subhuti, the Elder, expound perfect wisdom of himself, through the
operation and force of his own power of revealing wisdom, or through the
Buddha’s might?
The Venerable Subhuti, who knew, through the Buddha’s might, that the
Venerable Sariputra was in such wise discoursing in his heart, said to the
Venerable Sariputra: Whatever, Venerable Sariputra, the Lord’s Disciples teach,
all that is to be know as the Tathagata’s work. For in the dharma demonstrated by
the Tathagata they train themselves, they realise its true nature, they hold it in
mind. Thereafter nothing that they teach contradicts the true nature of dharma.
Whatever those sons of good family may expound as the nature of dharma, that
they do not bring into contradiction with the actual nature of dharma.


One who has realized what the buddha (realized one) has realized, can also teach the Dhamma.

Many have the idea that the canon was "closed" with the first council, but this is almost certainly not the case. Whole collections like much of the KN and parts of other Nikayas, are obviously a couple of centuries later. At this time, there are a number of other texts that were not accepted by the Mahaviharins, but may have been accepted by other schools. And vice versa, there are parts of the Mahaviharin canon that other schools rejected as not "buddhavacana".

There was probably quite a debate and struggle going on for definitions of this term. To just say "what was taught by the "historical" buddha" is far too simplistic, and usually ends up in fallacies like circular arguments or begging the question.

When one says that they are taught by the "buddha", as non-native speakers of Indic languages, living millenia later, we are often confused. We think, "Oh, the word "buddha" means Gautama, he is the historical buddha". But this is not really so. The word "buddha" was originally simply the word "awoken" or "realized", a regular adjective that could be applied to any spiritual figure. The Jaina was also a buddha, according to the Jains. Probably even in the Buddhist tradition itself, anybody who had bodhim buddhyate is also a buddha, ie. anyone who has awoken to awakening is also an awakened one. Similar for jina, arahant, sugata, etc.

This is even more likely that groups which formed early during the teachers teaching career would have such more generalized usage, before later groups came along and tried to limit the usage of the "buddha". These groups would also possibly not have heard the teachings on the Vinaya, because they came later too. But they would live like the teacher - and remember, it appears that the teacher's ascetic forest practice was more prevalent during the early years of his teachings - and probably have great insight too. They may have been soon led by their own teachers who may have only had minimal contact with the Teacher, maybe hearing just a few basics. They would have had to give their own explanations. But, they would have had insight.

It is only later that there was a tendency amongst some groups to only use the word "buddha" for the teacher himself. There were probably quite a few groups that continued to use the word "buddha" to describe anybody who had woken up. But other groups, those that heard a lot from the buddha during his later years, heard all his vinaya, his more systematized teachings, they would have narrowed the meaning of "buddha" to the Teacher.

(Imagine when later, younger members from this group who heard vinaya and narrow meaning of "buddha", would have encountered the Teachers earlier students, still living in the forest, and using the word "buddha" to refer to somebody else! and they don't practice Vinaya, either! Oh, horror of horrors!)

Now, this is particularly relevant when we have recently had debates about mahayana and hinayana, as these debates have often stressed that the theravada definition (unlike the so-called "hinayana" one) states that the awakening (bodhi) of an arhat is the same as that of a buddha. (Actually, most of the Mahayana agrees, but says that the difference is elsewhere, not in bodhi.) Well, then sariputta is also buddha, and so is moggallana, and ..., like that little Mahayana sutra above, so is Subhuti.

So, the words that Subhuti, who is a buddha, teaches, are also buddhavacana.
And those teachings of Subhuti in that Mahayana sutra (the portion considered by scholars to be the oldest core) is very similar to the sort of things that the Sthaviras say that Subhuti said, too.

:popcorn:
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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Dec 27, 2009 6:40 am

Oh, I think that the AN quote above may be AN 4:164: "Evamevaṃ kho, devānaminda, yaṃ kiñci subhāsitaṃ sabbaṃ taṃ tassa bhagavato vacanaṃ arahato sammāsambuddhassa." "So it is, O King of the Gods!, whatever is well spoken, all that is is the speech of the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Fully Awakened One." (translation my own)
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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Dec 27, 2009 6:51 am

From the defunct Grey Forum:

Loppon Namdrol's comments for consideration:

Likewise, while the Mahayana sutras were inspired by the blessings of the Buddha, I don't believe he actually taught a single one of them. Nevertheless, I think the teachings in them are profound and stand on their own. I apply the same standard to gter mas. Some are more profound than others. That has to do with the realization of the gter ton, and very little to do with their imputed source of authorship.

http://www.lioncity.net/buddhism/index. ... t&p=677197


"So for example, it is spiritually meaningful that the PP sutras are set on Vulture's Peak-- but it sure is not a historical reality. Even though Shakyamuni Buddha certainly never actually taught Mahayana, nevertheless, Mahayana stands on its own and is valid as a spiritual path and practice because the folks that wrote the Mahayana sutras down were realized persons. The source of these teachings are all realized beings-- their assumed historical settings are merely skillful means to instill faith in the teachings in those person's who need to crutch of historical literalism."

http://www.lioncity.net/buddhism/index. ... t&p=683801

In general, if a sutra is crucial to one's own schools exegesis, but is of questionable provenance, it cannot be used in a general discussion to bolster one's own school's position since the text upon which one is basing one's position is not accepted as a valid text by all parties.

http://www.lioncity.net/buddhism/index. ... t&p=878591
Certainly not all Mahayanists view things this way. For some the sutras are starkly the literal truth. While Mainstream Schools in India were likely to dismiss the Mahayana suitras as being made up, it is really in the modern times with Western converts do we get the hairier discussion of the nature of the Mahayana texts, often being informed (albeit unconsciously) by the Protestant concerns of literally truthness of a text. (We can see this play out among Theravadins as well.)
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby BlackBird » Sun Dec 27, 2009 8:31 am

Hi Bhante, just to clear up a quick possible misconception. If I made the inference that the Pali Canon is clear cut Buddhavacana, then that was not the intention. I quite agree that there are parts of KN that are later compositions. Even in the first four Nikayas there is the odd sutta of questionable authenticity, Maurice Walsh points out at least 1 in his translation of the Digha Nikaya (which I don't currently have on hand)

Tilt, thank you for that post - Interesting stuff.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Dec 27, 2009 9:22 am

BlackBird wrote:Hi Bhante, just to clear up a quick possible misconception. If I made the inference that the Pali Canon is clear cut Buddhavacana, then that was not the intention. I quite agree that there are parts of KN that are later compositions. Even in the first four Nikayas there is the odd sutta of questionable authenticity, Maurice Walsh points out at least 1 in his translation of the Digha Nikaya (which I don't currently have on hand)

Tilt, thank you for that post - Interesting stuff.


Okay. I think that that makes my point - you take the "historical buddha" as your definition for buddhavacana. That's a modern criteria.
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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Dec 27, 2009 9:29 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:
Okay. I think that that makes my point - you take the "historical buddha" as your definition for buddhavacana. That's a modern criteria.

Which seems to be part of what Buddhism, in general, is going to have to contend with as it comes West.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Why did you choose Theravada?

Postby BlackBird » Sun Dec 27, 2009 9:40 am

I feel like I am missing something here :shrug:
So the importance of whether the Buddha (or his Canonical disciples) actually spoke X discourse isn't important to people?

I don't mean to say the Suttas or Sutras that are ascribed to the Buddha, but we're not actually spoken by him don't have value, or can't serve as profound teachings capable of leading to insight. Nor do I think we should fuss excessively over what parts of the Tipitaka were actually spoken by the Buddha... If it the shoe fits, cool. I don't think we could ever come to a definite conclusions on that one. My concern I guess has been with the... I dunno actually.

I don't know what to think really...
Will sleep on it.

metta
Jack
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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