Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

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Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby Jhana4 » Sat Apr 02, 2011 5:05 pm

I've read that the Buddha's teachings were passed down for centuries via an oral tradition before being written down on palm leaves in Sri Lanka.

Why?

Writing might not have been widespread in his time, but being a prince it would seem that he would have received the best education that could have been had. It would seem likely he would have been able to write in at least one language. Given what he wrote in such suttas as "The Drum" he would have had a desire to record things himself.

Was it that the technology of the time just made keeping a log difficult?
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby gavesako » Sat Apr 02, 2011 5:09 pm

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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sat Apr 02, 2011 5:55 pm

The oral tradition is more reliable. To learn even a single discourse by heart requires a lot more effort than just reading it. Not only that, but to commit a long discourse to memory is harder still f you cannot understand the meaning of what you're saying. Understanding the meaning gives the context, to remind you what comes next.

Written manuscripts are copied many times by scribes, and errors inevitably creep in. You will know if you have ever done any proof-reading how easy it is to overlook a glaring error.

When a class of students learn a text by heart from a teacher, they are made to recite it by heart in front of the whole class. Not only is the teacher listening, but everyone in the class is too, and they are all ready to point out the slightest slip of the tongue.
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby cooran » Sat Apr 02, 2011 8:28 pm

Hello Jhana4 all,

In the Buddha's day, writing was just for things like government and commerce. and there was widespread illiteracy. For really important things, where it was critical that no alteration occur ( as can happen so very easily, deliberately or accidentally when writing is used) - the Oral Tradition was used. The Buddha instituted in his lifetime the Chanting Together by large groups of specially designated Bhikkhus - the Bhanakas (Hearers). The Bhanakas had portions of the Teachings allocated to each group, and so there were The Digha Bhanakas, The Majjhima Bhanakas etc.

It was only hundreds of years later in Sri Lanka, in a time of famine and warfare, with many bhikkhus dying, and with Buddhism all but wiped out in India, that the MahaSangha decided the Buddhist Canon and its commentaries needed to be written down.
They were engraved on Ola Leaves. Many of us have been to Sri Lanka and have had the inestimable good fortune to have seen demonstrations of this being done at the ancient rock temple of Aluvihara Temple (where the Tipitaka was originally written down) in the Matale district 26 km from Kandy.

The Suttas are rather like the memory prompts - the dot points of the most important information to be transmitted - similar to those a public speaker carries on a little card in his hand. Anything that is repeated is to be seen as something important which was highlighted by the repetition.

As I understand it, the Pali Suttas are teaching vehicles whose meanings are densely packed layer on layer. They are not to be read as an ordinary page of print, but require 'unpacking' by someone learned in the Dhamma. This condensed form was necessary in order that the Teachings would not be lost in the years before they were finally put into writing. It allowed them to be memorised by the large groups of bhikkhus (bhanakas) assigned to each portion of the Tipitaka. They are not verbatim reports of chats and conversations. This memorisation is said to have commenced before the parinibbana of the Buddha.

"Thus you should train yourselves: 'We will listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata -- deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness -- are being recited. We will lend ear, will set our hearts on knowing them, will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.' That's how you should train yourselves." (Ari sutta).
Venerable Mahá Kassapa, the elected head of the First Council. Cúlavagga Xl,1,1 (ii,284) reiterated:
"Come, friends: let us recite the Teaching and the Discipline before what is not the Teaching shines forth and the Teaching is put aside, before what is not the Discipline shines forth and the Discipline is put aside, before those who speak what is not the Teaching become strong and those who speak what is the Teaching become weak, before those who speak what is not the Discipline become strong and those who speak what is the Discipline become weak."

with metta
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby alan » Sun Apr 03, 2011 4:37 am

I love you Chris.
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby cooran » Sun Apr 03, 2011 4:44 am

Thanks alan! Glad it was of use.

with metta
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby Jhana4 » Sat Apr 09, 2011 6:50 pm

cooran wrote:The Suttas are rather like the memory prompts - the dot points of the most important information to be transmitted - similar to those a public speaker carries on a little card in his hand. Anything that is repeated is to be seen as something important which was highlighted by the repetition.



They are not verbatim reports of chats and conversations. This memorisation is said to have commenced before the parinibbana of the Buddha.


I always hear the phrase "the Buddha's own words", do monks or academics actually come right out and say that the suttas are menomic device and what was actually said?
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby chownah » Sun Apr 10, 2011 2:17 am

Yeah, "the Buddha's own words" is not a very honest thing to say....clearly we do not have any of his words as can be easily understood in that we don't even know for sure what language he spoke in delivering the Dhamma.....clearly we do not have the Buddha's own words.......
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby alan » Sun Apr 10, 2011 2:31 am

Chowna: I can't tell if you are joking or not, because of the writing style.
J4: You can't be serious. Think about it.
Where would the pen and paper come from?
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby Jhana4 » Sun Apr 10, 2011 2:52 am

alan wrote:Chowna: I can't tell if you are joking or not, because of the writing style.
J4: You can't be serious. Think about it.
Where would the pen and paper come from?


Alan, writing did exist at that time.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby plwk » Sun Apr 10, 2011 3:08 am

Where would the pen and paper come from?

Bird feathers and leaves...
Bhikkhus, if you develop and make much this one thing,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.
What is it? It is recollecting the Enlightened One.
If this single thing is recollected and made much,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.

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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby alan » Sun Apr 10, 2011 3:18 am

Which is obviously impracticable. And they would have eroded.
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby alan » Sun Apr 10, 2011 3:22 am

Like to hear your ideas, J4. How would you have written down the teachings if you existed at that time?
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby chownah » Sun Apr 10, 2011 8:20 am

alan wrote:Chowna: I can't tell if you are joking or not, because of the writing style.
J4: You can't be serious. Think about it.
Where would the pen and paper come from?

I'm not joking.....I believe that there is no evidence to indicate what language the Buddha spoke in....it has been suggested by some that he probably spoke many different languages since he was a prince from a wealthy family and it might be expected that he was educated in the manner of rich princes of the time which would mean several languages....this is what others have said....I have no direct information on this.....as far as I know Pali was not a spoken language at the time of the Buddha and that it came about as a literary language not as a spoken language....again this is just what I have read and have no direct information about it....

If this is correct then all we have are translations of the Buddha's words....and I think that few would agree that having a translation is equivalent to having the original words....but maybe some people would think so....
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby cooran » Sun Apr 10, 2011 9:34 am

Hello chownah,

Maybe worth your reading Kare's posts in this thread:

What language did the Buddha speak?
viewtopic.php?f=24&t=4630&start=0

with metta
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sun Apr 10, 2011 10:00 am

This kind of discussion is potty — it leads nowhere. Dhamma was taught for the purpose of liberation from craving. Use it for its intended purpose.

How, monks, is there clinging to a regional language and rejection of common usage?

Here, monks, in different regions, they call a "bowl" paati, patta, vittha, seraava, dhaaropa, po.na or pisiila. So whatever they call it in such and such a region, they speak accordingly, firmly adhering (to the words) and insisting, 'Only this is right; anything else is wrong.'
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby Jhana4 » Sun Apr 10, 2011 12:51 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:This kind of discussion is potty


I disagree. I think it is a legitimate questions and I am the original poster. The Buddha thought what he had to teach was important enough to give up living the rest of his life in bliss and walk across ancient on foot. That leads to the question if he thought his teachings were so important, especially given his views in the sutta with the drum analogy, why he wouldn't have made efforts to record his teachings by writing them down.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby chownah » Sun Apr 10, 2011 1:19 pm

cooran wrote:Hello chownah,

Maybe worth your reading Kare's posts in this thread:

What language did the Buddha speak?
viewtopic.php?f=24&t=4630&start=0

with metta
Chris

Cooran,
Thanks for the link....in Kare's first post he states, " the Pali texts therefore probably are as close to the Buddha's own language as we can reasonably expect to get." To me this means that he really doesn't know what language the Buddha spoke in and that Pali is the best educated guess.

Note too that Kare would like to lump Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish into one language which is probably not correct according to a Norwegian friend of mine although he does say that there are similarities....but on the other hand he also say, "He did not speak Sanskrit. At the Buddhas time different dialects were spoken in Northern India. They were probably not very different from each other, and not very different from Sanskrit." which makes me wonder if he wants to lump Swed, Norw, and Dane into one language then why doesn't he want to lump all the dialects which were "not very different from Sanskrit" into Sanskrit and just say that the Buddha spoke Sanskrit???? I don't have the answer to this but it seems that he is a bit inconsistent in his views on what constitutes different languages and it seems that part of this is to accomodate his own personal views or prejudices....but I don't really know and although my comments might seem harsh I am just being blunt as that is the way I feel I communicate best...he seems like a very well informed person concerning the languages of the Buddha's time...and...it seems like his saying, "the Pali texts therefore probably are as close to the Buddha's own language as we can reasonably expect to get." pretty much sums it up for me...best we can do is an educated guess and no one really knows what language the Buddha spoke.

Thanks again for the link,
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby nobody12345 » Sun Apr 10, 2011 1:36 pm

The core portion of his teaching is well preserved.
The core portion of his teaching is not something to be understood by reading and studying alone.
The core portion of his teaching is only activated/directly penetrated when a practicer confronts/enters the stream of Dhamma for the first time.
Dhamma is alive and well and it is very real.
At the same time, it is unfathomable and beyond the description so an investigator must confront it to be judge it truthfully.
And the good news is, even the most skeptic, even the most hardcore agnostics are able to reach this breaking point (confront the stream of Dhamma) if the one is thoroughly, brutally honest with his investigation.
Also the part of investigation is PRACTICE.
There have been people who were skeptical and didn't have any particular confidence/faith in the Awakened One but their attitude changed completely when they confronted the stream of Dhamma for the first time.
You might wonder that how come some people witness/confront/opening the eye to the Dhamma so quickly when some are practicing a couple of dozens of years or even hundreds years yet have not confronted the stream of Dhamma yet?
What was the secret?
There's no secret.
If one is thoroughly ripened (spiritual faculty wise) and truly genuine seeker, it can happen.
If you have any doubt regarding the Awakened One and his choice of communication medium for his doctrine, then investigate it.
You can trash it and bash it after you confronted Dhamma yourself that you saw it and it was a useless thing (if it turned out to be the case).
The Awakened One always welcomed the challengers and investigators.
Metta.
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Re: Why didn't the Buddha write his teachings down?

Postby Alex123 » Sun Apr 10, 2011 1:40 pm

chownah wrote:Yeah, "the Buddha's own words" is not a very honest thing to say....clearly we do not have any of his words as can be easily understood in that we don't even know for sure what language he spoke in delivering the Dhamma.....clearly we do not have the Buddha's own words.......
chownah



Right. There was no singular country called India in that time. There were many little republics, and many of them spoke different dialects. Since Buddha has travelled quite a bit, and spoke to different people, it would mean that He might have used their dialects. So it seems highly likely that He spoke in different dialects/languages.


India has like 20+ languages today. I remember reading somewhere that "every 2 villages, there is a new dialect". Since it is unlikely that all people know the language (which one?) that Buddha spoke, it is possible that He, being well educated royalty, used their dialect - or some other known dialect to both parties.
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