Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

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Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby clw_uk » Mon Jan 12, 2009 7:16 pm

Just wanted to get some opinions on how much if any of the pali canon can be attributed back to the buddha? Personally i believe it to be accurate in the core teachings just expanded on in form.

[EDIT: Topic edited for extra clarity on the question and to distinguish it from other topics on the Pali Canon - Retro.]
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Re: Pali Canon

Postby Cittasanto » Mon Jan 12, 2009 8:38 pm

hi clw
clw_uk wrote:Just wanted to get some opinions on how much if any of the pali canon can be attributed back to the buddha? Personally i believe it to be accurate in the core teachings just expanded on in form.

not all of it is attributed to the Buddha but it is quite hard to know for certain as far as I am aware as they weren't written down until they reached Sri Lanka (I think) and not for I think 300+ years (maybe someone will be able to give a more accurate date) but the oldest suttas are handed down second hand through Ananda and other monks, so it depends on how accurate we feel they could be, but I do think that the essence is there of what was originally spoken
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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Jan 13, 2009 12:00 am

Greetings clw_uk,

I think the following text will be of interest to you in answering your question.

A History Of Mindfulness - Bhikkhu Sujato
http://santifm1.0.googlepages.com/webmind.pdf

...especially the second half of the essay, on the General Integrated Sutta Theory (GIST).

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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby clw_uk » Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:26 am

This topic has been dead for a while but wanted to add to it


Seeing as how we were not there 2500 years ago, dont we take the authenticity of the pali canon on a lot of faith, no different from say the bible? I know there are differences such as the teachings we have now can be tested now and have results now, but there is faith that those teachings belong to the Buddhas Dhamma isnt there?



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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby Individual » Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:53 am

clw_uk wrote:Just wanted to get some opinions on how much if any of the pali canon can be attributed back to the buddha? Personally i believe it to be accurate in the core teachings just expanded on in form.

[EDIT: Topic edited for extra clarity on the question and to distinguish it from other topics on the Pali Canon - Retro.]

I believe this was discussed in the past, when people asked about the origin of Mahayana scriptures. Most of the Sutta Pitaka can be attributed to the Buddha, but also possibly some early Mahayana sutras too. The most reliable scriptures are those which are earlier, nonsectarian, and which are contained within several different collections.

The first suttas were in Pali (the Tipitaka, the Theravada Buddhist canon), the root of any East Asian translations of Theravada Buddhist scriptures. Mahayana sutras were originally in Sanskrit or some form of Prakrit, which was then translated into the Tibetan (the Kangyur, the Tibetan Buddhist canon) and Chinese. The Sanskrit sutras were fully translated and compiled, along with early Chinese sutras, in Korea, into classical Chinese, in the Tripitaka Koreana (Mahayana Buddhist canon, Tripitaka), which is the root from of any translations of Mahayana Buddhist scriptures. In addition to these three canons -- Pali, Tibetan, and Chinese, there are scattered sutras in Sanskrit, Gandhari, and probably other languages. One can find out the earliest sutras by looking for concordance between these three canons and the scattered sutras in various languages. Every tradition added its own sutras to their own collections, so if a sutra is shared by many canons, it is presumably older.
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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby cooran » Sat Mar 07, 2009 4:07 am

Hello clw_uk,

The Suttas are not 'sound bites' recorded as the Buddha spoke. They are compacted summaries of what was said, rehearsed and agreed upon by the Arahants at the Great Councils and memorised and chanted together by large groups of monks called Bhanakas (Reciters).

"Writing was unknown then, and so the Buddha’s sayings, as collected by his disciples, were committed to memory by a group of monks and were handed down to their disciples orally. There were probably two such groups, who, in order to distinguish themselves from each other, became known as Digha-Bhanakas and Majjhima-bhanakas. The other two Nikayas were later developments, their object being only to rearrange the topics dealt with in the Digha and the Majjhima".
http://www.quangduc.com/English/history ... ars07.html

The 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 ~ engraved on leaves in Sri Lanka. 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. Anything that is repeated is to be seen as something important which was highlighted by the repetition.

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 for reference.
"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).

.... with regard to the accuracy of oral traditions ... Anthropologists agree that oral teachings are generally more accurate and less prone to "improving" than are written teachings

The Pali Suttas are summaries of what the Buddha meant to be passed on - and great care was taken, while he was alive and afterwards, to memorise them in a form that could not be distorted, and by a method that did not allow of deliberate alterations to meaning and content. The recitations were going on for the forty five years of the Buddha's teaching life. The repetitions in the suttas are pointer to the most important parts.

Venerable Mahá Kassapa, the 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."

So the system was in place before the Buddha passed away. The Pali suttas are extremely condensed summaries of the Buddha's teachings, packed with meaning, which need to be unpacked by those learned in the Dhamma. They were preserved in that form to aid memorising and chanting by the large groups of Bhikkhus called Bhanakas (Reciters) i.e. Majjhima-bhanakas, Digha-bhanakas etc. Each group was allocated a small portion of the Tipitaka to keep pristine and pass on. This began even while the Buddha was alive.

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 Teachings 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.

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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby Individual » Sat Mar 07, 2009 4:16 am

Chris wrote:The Suttas are not 'sound bites' recorded as the Buddha spoke. They are compacted summaries of what was said, rehearsed and agreed upon by the Arahants at the Great Councils and memorised and chanted together by large groups of monks called Bhanakas (Reciters).

Some of it is. There are certain cases where a certain utterance by the Buddha was likely his exact words.

Take, for instance, the last words of the Buddha of the Mahaparinibbana sutta. The Dhammapada is also a compilation of utterances by the Buddha.
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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby gavesako » Sat Mar 07, 2009 7:47 am

See: How old is the Suttapitaka? The relative value of textual and epigraphical sources for the study of .. by Alexander Wynne, St John's College, Oxford University, 2003.

http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebsut055.htm
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Ancient Buddhist Texts - Translations and history of Pali texts
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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby PeterB » Sat Mar 07, 2009 10:20 am

I think we need to see this in the context of a culture which placed great emphasis on recall and the spoken tradition. Our culture for hundreds of years has favoured the written record in both hard copy and more recently in its cyber form. Just as peole thought it extraordinary in the Middle Ages that a few scholars could read " in their heads " without even moving their lips, just so we would find it extraordinary to visit a culture where the faculty of recall is highly developed. When we consider a culture with a strong emphasis on memory and recall and then add in to the equation monks who had been trained in one pointedness of mind it becomes much less extraordinary that the words of the Buddha should have been accurately recorded and passed on from generation to generation. There is every reason to think that process happened . and that the Pali Canon indeed reflects very accurately what the Buddha really taught. Of course modern translations from the Pali when loaded with eurocentric bias are a sometimes a different story..
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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby clw_uk » Sat Mar 07, 2009 1:02 pm

Chris



Venerable Mahá Kassapa, the 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."

So the system was in place before the Buddha passed away.



There is however no evidence of a first council and most scholars conclude that there wasnt one, at least not on the scale in the pali canon (its not unlikely that a few of his disciples would have met up after the parinirvana)



From historical evidence point of view there is nothing to confirm that the pali canon comes from the buddha directly so doesnt it then require faith? How is this different from say a christian faith in the bible?




Thank you Bhante for that link but sadly it doesnt work :(




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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby green » Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:17 pm

If the Pali canon does not come from the Buddha -- it sure comes from a genius -- and that genius can only be the Supreme Buddha.

It is perfect in it's understanding of the mind and perfect in it's reasoning and execution.

The Pali Canon seems as if it has no certain order to an undeveloped mind--and many have said it seems too hard to understand, so they read books by other Buddhists getting full of wrong views...

I agree with Bhikku Bodhi, the teachings are like a puzzle of the 4 Noble Truths , they start coming together (aggregates) as you practice the dhamma in accordance with the dhamma.

You will know that you are NOT practicing correctly if your understanding is decreasing, if the pieces of the puzzle don't fall together.

So it is not on blind faith that I believe the Tipitika to be authentic teachings. There others who have noticed the same thing.
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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby PeterB » Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:31 pm

Well said Green, That of course IS the ultimate criterion. The fact that if one puts the practices outlined to the test they work, they do just what it says on the tin. We can spend a whole lifetime trying to convince ourselves of "authenticity ". In fact a relatively short period of actual practice can show conclusively that someone knew what they were talking about and could be trusted. The difference between the western concept of faith and the Buddhist concept of Sraddha, is that the former will always remain a matter of faith, at least in this lifetime. The latter however carries within it its own proof when practised.

edited for typo.
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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby Individual » Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:48 pm

clw_uk wrote:From historical evidence point of view there is nothing to confirm that the pali canon comes from the buddha directly so doesnt it then require faith? How is this different from say a christian faith in the bible?

In Christianity, there are certain philosophical beliefs having no direct ties to particular actions or practices (trinitarianism, millenialism, transubstantiation, are all examples). In as much as the practices of Christianity, justified by whatever reasoning, reflect the Noble Eightfold Path, in that regard the faith is the same. In as much as the teachings of Christianity represent speculative nonsense outside of the Eightfold Path, they are different because saddha is confidence to practice teachings that work, not blind acceptance of contentious propositions.
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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby gavesako » Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:55 pm

Once again: a good article about the Pali Canon and how it came to be preserved & written down as an authentic message of the Buddha:

How old is the Suttapiṭaka? The relative value of textual and epigraphical sources for the study of early Indian Buddhism - Alexander Wynne, St John’s College, 2003.

http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/ebsut056.htm
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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby clw_uk » Sat Mar 07, 2009 5:30 pm

Thank you all, and thank you green that was a very good answer :thumbsup:



Bhante the link works now thank you




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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby Jechbi » Sat Mar 07, 2009 5:59 pm

green wrote:You will know that you are NOT practicing correctly if your understanding is decreasing, if the pieces of the puzzle don't fall together.

Conversely, you will know that you are practicing correctly if you see the depth and scope of your misunderstanding more clearly, and if the puzzle pieces themselves fall apart into smaller pieces.
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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby Jechbi » Sun Mar 08, 2009 1:48 am

Individual wrote:... saddha is confidence to practice teachings that work, not blind acceptance of contentious propositions.
Individual, I wanted to let you know that I found this concise statement very helpful and clarifying. :anjali:
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But never soddens what is open;
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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby DarkDream » Sun Mar 08, 2009 10:46 pm

I think there have been great answers to this question. Based on my reading of the Pali Canon there is no doubt in my mind that it was composed over a period of time and that different parts of it belong more or less composed in earlier or later periods. One book that attempts to do a stratification of the Pali Canon is Pande's Studies in the Origins of Buddhism.

In the Canon itself, as Gombrich points out in his book, "How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings" there appears to be different voices in the texts that record different debates going on after the death of the Buddha.

Personally, I believe the core teachings were somewhat faithfully perserved (Four Noble Truths, dependent coorigination, three characteristics of existence and so on). However, there is a lot of stuff which snuck in based on marketing initiatives, creating the Buddha into a super man and the scholastic urge for coherence and ontology which I believe led to the developments in karma, rebirth and cosmology that developed threads in Buddhism which catered to blind devotionalism, superstition and blind faith.

Due to all my points and others have made, it is essentially important to read the suttas with a critical eye. I believe we should not accept everything read in the sutta's as the direct word of the Buddha that passed unchanged 2,500 years ago. We must remember it is a human created document that has been passed down for thousands of years. As such, it behooves us to apply our intelligence and common sense to what is said and try to understand the social and intellectual context in which a particular teaching is given.

I believe with a respective but critical capacity to reflect on what is presented we can make informed judgements on the respective merits of particular suttas or passages.

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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby clw_uk » Sun Mar 08, 2009 10:54 pm

DarkDream

I agree with your point that we cant read the Suttas as the definite words of the Buddha himself but the core teachings were preserved



believe we should not accept everything read in the sutta's as the direct word of the Buddha that passed unchanged 2,500 years ago.


It was written down 400 years after Lord Buddhas death (give or take). Therefore it can be confidently said that it changed little if at all after that point and I believe that there is some evidence to suggest that the bulk of the Majjhima, Samyutta and Anguttara Suttas were in realitively the same form as we have them now as early as 250(ish) years after the Buddhas death




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Re: Pali Canon - can it be attributed back to the Buddha?

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Mar 08, 2009 11:09 pm

clw_uk wrote:It was written down 400 years after Lord Buddhas death (give or take). Therefore it can be confidently said that it changed little if at all after that point and I believe that there is some evidence to suggest that the bulk of the Majjhima, Samyutta and Anguttara Suttas were in realitively the same form as we have them now as early as 250(ish) years after the Buddhas death


Why do you privilege writing over a carefully structure process of memorization?
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