32 Marks of a Great Man

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32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Apr 27, 2009 8:08 am

Greetings,

32 Marks of a Great Man
http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?tit ... _great_man

To what extent are these to be understood literally or metaphorically?

To what extent did the Mahavihara Classical Theravada tradition understand them to be literal or metaphorical?

Suttas such as the following appear to be quite literal...

MN91: Brahmayu Sutta
http://www.vipassana.info/091-brahmayu-e1.htm

... when they say things like "The Blessed One drew forth his tongue, touched the ear lobes, the nostrils and covered the complete forehead with the nose." (although Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation has the tongue covering the forehead)

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby cooran » Mon Apr 27, 2009 9:14 am

Hello Retro, all,

This small extract may help:

From notes by Maurice Walshe to his translation of the Sutta in the Digha Nikaaya (DN. 30) p. 610 - 611:
"This Sutta may seem the most uninteresting and unedifying of the entire Nikaaya. Yet, properly considered, it has its interest, first, as an example of the forms Buddhist propaganda was perhaps sometimes obliged to assume, and also from the point of view of iconography, as some of the marks came to be depicted in images of the Buddha; the great reclining Buddha-figure in Wat Pho in Bangkok is a well-known example.
RD (Rhys Davids) has a wide-ranging introduction tracing the possible origins of such marks, which clearly must have been important in the minds of influential Brahmins in the time of the Buddha (see, e.g. DN 3). However, later Brahmin tradition has preserved very little about them. Certainly, many of them seem quite arbitrary and even difficult to distinguish clearly. Nevertheless, there are more traces of their influence in later Buddhist writing (and, as observed, iconography) than RD is anxious to admit, and there are even 'eighty minor marks' mentioned in addition to the thirty-two major ones here listed.
Both lists, major and minor, are found in the Dharma-sa.mgraha (de. Kenjiu Kasawara and F. Max Muller, 1885, rep. Delhi 1981), carefully collated with the lists as they occur in the present Sutta and elsewhere.

RD remarks that 'most of the marks are so absurd, considered as marks of any human, that they are probaby mythological in origin, and three or four seem to be solar'. He adds that 'our Suttanta seems gravely ironical in the contrast it makes between the absurdity of the marks and the beauty of the ethical qualities they are supposed, in the Suttanta, to mean.' But it must be added that, however absurdly as regards the details, they are intended to show the relation between action and karmic result, and they could have been used pedagogically to inculcate this lesson. Scholars are agreed on the fairly obvious fact that this is one of the latest texts in the Nikaaya, and this is even hinted at in the commentary itself. The verses, ascribed to Aananda, show an exceptionally wide variety of metres, but all of late types. It is possible that someone tried to give this unpromising material some literary grace by dexterous versification. I considered trying to reproduce the different metrical forms in translation, but decided this was beyong my powers. Perhaps some translator will attempt this one day."

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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby Fede » Mon Apr 27, 2009 9:48 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

32 Marks of a Great Man
http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?tit ... _great_man

To what extent are these to be understood literally or metaphorically?

To what extent did the Mahavihara Classical Theravada tradition understand them to be literal or metaphorical?

Suttas such as the following appear to be quite literal...

MN91: Brahmayu Sutta
http://www.vipassana.info/091-brahmayu-e1.htm

... when they say things like "The Blessed One drew forth his tongue, touched the ear lobes, the nostrils and covered the complete forehead with the nose." (although Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation has the tongue covering the forehead)

Metta,
Retro. :)
I don't mean to be rude, but tapirs and Giraffes can do this... Do we know whether the Buddha was ever reborn as either? it might account for his gifts, just as his backpain was a kammic consequence of his having broken somebody else's back in a different life....

I hope I may be forgiven for reading such passages but then leaving them aside as fanciful eulogies, rather than any literal and graphic description of a phenomenon....
I'm not personally prepared to consider them as significant to my practice.
I guess the bottom line for me is not what a person 'looks' like, but what they offer, that counts.....

I am a simple person. To the point of idiocy, at times, i know.
But that is just me.....
:namaste:
"Samsara: The human condition's heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

Quieta movere magna merces videbatur. (Sallust, c.86-c.35 BC)
Translation: Just to stir things up seemed a good reward in itself. ;)

I am sooooo happy - How on earth could I be otherwise?! :D


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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Apr 27, 2009 11:08 am

Greetings Fede,

Fede wrote:I hope I may be forgiven for reading such passages but then leaving them aside as fanciful eulogies, rather than any literal and graphic description of a phenomenon....
I'm not personally prepared to consider them as significant to my practice.


It's perhaps of not much relevance in and of itself, but if we allow ourselves to take something that appears to be spoken literally in MN91 as being merely metaphorical, we effectively open pandora's box, and seemingly have to allow other things that are spoken literally, seemingly earnest, as potentially only being literary devices, fanciful eulogies or metaphor.

:juggling:

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby Fede » Mon Apr 27, 2009 12:51 pm

Which is where the Buddha's advice on testing everything for ourselves comes in.
I've never met a Buddhist yet who thinks or follows something simply because a sutta said so....

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher.".....


hark at me, throwing quotations at you....! :jawdrop:

The cheek of the woman.....

:ban:

:D

:namaste:
"Samsara: The human condition's heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

Quieta movere magna merces videbatur. (Sallust, c.86-c.35 BC)
Translation: Just to stir things up seemed a good reward in itself. ;)

I am sooooo happy - How on earth could I be otherwise?! :D


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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby Mexicali » Mon Apr 27, 2009 4:59 pm

At the risk of stating the obvious or the cliche;

The Pali canon wasn't written down until quite a while after the events they report, and were handed down orally until then. Anyone who has studied oral tradition, or even played a game of "telephone", knows that things can be altered here and there. I'm sure that these records are the closest thing we have to an accurate record of the Buddha; but I'd argue that we cannot say that each and every word has been faithfully transmitted.

Does this mean I think we should 'pick and choose' from the teachings? Not so much, no. But I think if any source makes an ontological claim that seems very questionable, we're justified in being very skeptical of its literal veracity. The idea of the marks, besides being very Hindu in origin, defies general reason. The realization of the true nature of reality makes your tongue huge and causes you to grow a super-foreskin? I don't see the cause and effect basis at work here, nor does it seem that even the greatest teachers of our modern age were developing gold skin and cranial gigantism.
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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby Ngawang Drolma. » Mon Apr 27, 2009 5:52 pm

If I remember right, the Buddha may have had these marks they weren't visible to most people. I don't have a sutta to back this up, it's just what I remember reading at some point.

:juggling:
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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby rowyourboat » Mon Apr 27, 2009 6:44 pm

I must say i dont know what to make of it- but this maybe a sign of subtle neurological/ genetic changes in the man. It is known that low IQ is associated with subtle neurological changes. Maybe someone who has an extremely rare genetic mutation(s)/chromosomal anomolies are likely to have off the scale IQs and able to penetrate the truth through his own efforts, hence becoming a Buddha or a world leader of universal proportions.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4314209.stm

http://www.tripdatabase.com/spider.html?itemid=482085
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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Apr 27, 2009 10:19 pm

Great thread, the obligatory 32 Marks thread . . .

At one time Wikipedia had a big section about the 32 Marks and even listed all of them, at the beginning of the article on the Buddha. To me, it may have been an honest mistake or at worst, a deliberate attempt to make Buddhism appear mythological. It is not an essential teaching in Buddhism and in my opinion should be taken metaphorically. After some convincing, Wikipedia did remove the 32 Marks to a small section and different article.

Not all suttas are to be taken literally (fortunately):

Monks, these two slander the Tathagata. Which two? He who explains a discourse whose meaning needs to be inferred as one whose meaning has already been fully drawn out. And he who explains a discourse whose meaning has already been fully drawn out as one whose meaning needs to be inferred. These are two who slander the Tathagata.”

Anguttara Nikaya 2.25
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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby pink_trike » Mon Apr 27, 2009 11:14 pm

'most of the marks are so absurd, considered as marks of any human, that they are probaby mythological in origin, and three or four seem to be [b]solar


I'd place my bet on all 32 being related to astronomy...likely solar-related, and perhaps precession-related...remembering when "time and earth washed hands in mischief".
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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby Jason » Tue Apr 28, 2009 12:24 am

Retro,

I don't know the classical position concerning the 32 marks, but I generally don't take them literally. For example, I've always found MN 140 interesting in that the wanderer Pukkusati didn't immediately recognize the Buddha when he saw him, but only realized who he was after hearing him teach a profound discourse on the four determinations and the six properties of experience. That's hard to imagine if the Buddha literally possessed all 32 marks. To me, it's obvious that these marks were metaphorical (i.e., representative of various characters and qualities), the result of psychic powers (i.e., visions that were given certain brahmins and wanderers) or clever marketing used by the Sangha to entice certain brahmins and wanderers who accepted the ancient Indian tradition regarding the "32 marks of a great man" to learn the Dhamma.

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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby floating_abu » Tue Apr 28, 2009 12:33 am

Fortunately, the Eightfold Path does not require a belief in the literal 32 marks of a Great Man. The Buddha was a wise man indeed. :namaste:
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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby Individual » Tue Apr 28, 2009 5:35 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

32 Marks of a Great Man
http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?tit ... _great_man

To what extent are these to be understood literally or metaphorically?

To what extent did the Mahavihara Classical Theravada tradition understand them to be literal or metaphorical?

Suttas such as the following appear to be quite literal...

They're to be understood as metaphorical, but this right here...

MN91: Brahmayu Sutta
http://www.vipassana.info/091-brahmayu-e1.htm

... when they say things like "The Blessed One drew forth his tongue, touched the ear lobes, the nostrils and covered the complete forehead with the nose." (although Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation has the tongue covering the forehead)

Metta,
Retro. :)

...seems to be humor. I think that a considerable amount of stuff in the suttas is intended to be humorous, but that the humor was eventually lost by folks who would tend to study "religious" texts... religiously. I doubt that the Buddha really had a tongue like that, but it makes for a great story, doesn't it? Sometimes fiction and art, especially humor, is more effective at communicating a particular message than simple logic. If the 32 marks of a great man truly made one great, one should expect the Buddha to have taught how to achieve these peculiar bodily conditions. Instead, it seems plausible that it was merely a local superstition that the Buddha incorporated into his discourses.
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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby pink_trike » Tue Apr 28, 2009 5:54 am

As is being increasingly confirmed by the field of ethnoastronomy...premodern writing was rarely limited to one meaning...there was usually a simple surface layer, and a hidden layer that was only understood by those very few who were initiated into the "mysteries" - as the sciences were referred to. Numbers in premodern text nearly always encode scientific knowledge that was considered unnecessary for the common people to understand - in fact, it was believed that common people shouldn't understand the sciences. It's highly unlikely that the number 32 is an arbitrary number, especially given the number of other common encoding signifiers found in the 32 lines. The presence of such an unusual number would likely rule out any frivolous "superstition" being included...and the peculiarities found in the 32 marks are most certainly encoding tools.

An example of this encoding are the numbers found in the Old Norse Edda prose:

Five hundred doors
and forty more
So I deem stand in Valhall;
Eight hundred champions go out at each door
When they fare to fight with the Wolf."

540 x 800 = 432,000. This figure agrees with both the Hindu and Babylonian accounts concerning the length of the current age or cycle. Further, the figure 432 is basic in the calculation of all such ages. This precise accord can hardly be a coincidence; rather it confirms the Edda's identity as ancient scientific wisdom.

[It's worth noting that 432 divided by 4 = 108, a number found in nearly all advanced premodern texts, that has wide scientific relevance]

Here's an article that discusses this in more depth:

http://www.roanoke.edu/forlang/ogier/Ed ... ations.htm
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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby appicchato » Tue Apr 28, 2009 6:38 am

pink_trike wrote: 108

The number of beads on a mala too... :coffee:
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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby Ben » Tue Apr 28, 2009 7:21 am

Fede wrote:The cheek of the woman.....


Indeed!
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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby pink_trike » Tue Apr 28, 2009 7:52 am

retrofuturist wrote:
It's perhaps of not much relevance in and of itself, but if we allow ourselves to take something that appears to be spoken literally in MN91 as being merely metaphorical, we effectively open pandora's box, and seemingly have to allow other things that are spoken literally, seemingly earnest, as potentially only being literary devices, fanciful eulogies or metaphor.
)


In the 21st century, Pandora's box is wide open. The question is, as Buddhists, do we have the heart and courage to look directly at what has emerged?
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: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby Fede » Tue Apr 28, 2009 7:53 am

:oops:

Ben, I feel suitably chastised....

But in light of further comments, my theory of the Buddha's previous existence as a Giraffe or Tapir may not be as far fetched as one might think.

I'm sure I have possibly manifested attributes akin to those of a mockworthy creature.
In fact, I'm sure I still do.
I trust you are all too polite to point out the obvious..... :rolleye:

This is actually a most educating thread.
Thanks all!

EDIT NOTE:

On the subject of this Pandora's Box... where did I read that Hope (left behind and trapped in the box) was not a positive sign, but rather a negative one, and that Hope, whilst appearing to be a positive attribute, actually raises far too many desires, only to see them dashed and destroyed....? Hope was, after all, in the Box, denoted as containing "All the Evil of Mankind".....
I wish I could find the post.
It made sense......
"Samsara: The human condition's heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

Quieta movere magna merces videbatur. (Sallust, c.86-c.35 BC)
Translation: Just to stir things up seemed a good reward in itself. ;)

I am sooooo happy - How on earth could I be otherwise?! :D


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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby Dhammanando » Sat May 02, 2009 2:36 pm

retrofuturist wrote:To what extent are these to be understood literally or metaphorically?

To what extent did the Mahavihara Classical Theravada tradition understand them to be literal or metaphorical?


The Lakkhana Sutta, the locus classicus for this doctrine, describes each of the marks as being the outcome of a particular kind of wholesome conduct or quality of character developed by the Bodhisatta in former lives. The commentary to the sutta takes all of this quite literally.

It's noteworthy, however, that the commentator shows rather little interest in the marks themselves. The emphasis is chiefly upon the kusala kammas that generate them. A detailed exposition of these makes up about four fifths of the commentary. The remaining fifth is mainly about how the ripening of these kusala kammas aids the the Sammasambuddha as a teacher (or the Universal Monarch as a ruler). As for the marks themselves, most of these get no more than a laconic gloss of two or three words.

My impression is that most modern Theravada groups that take the classical Theravada pov seriously pay little attention to the thirty-two marks doctrine. An interesting exception is the UK-based Samatha Trust. The Trust's founder, Lance Cousins, is a big fan of the Digha Nikaya, including those Digha suttas that Buddhist modernists usually turn their noses up at: the Mahasamaya, Atanatiya, Lakkhana, Ambattha etc. and so much use is made of these in the Trust's exposition of the Dhamma.

As Robert Bluck describes:

    The figure of the Buddha

    Perhaps more than other traditions, the narrative element of Samatha Trust practice focuses almost exclusively on the historical Buddha. Even in a beginners meditation group, which has little emphasis on Buddhist narrative, the life story of the Buddha will be briefly described, perhaps in the middle of the course. Advanced groups will give considerable emphasis to the person of the Buddha, with stories from the Pali texts being used to illustrate the teachings. Interviewees confirmed that most long-term members would get to know the Buddha’s life story well, and that this was the most important narrative (Stanier, 2003; Voiels, 2003). While such information would initially come from talks at group meetings, committed members will also read the texts for themselves, drawing on suttas and commentaries for stories about the Buddha which ‘help to inform attitudes and practice’ (Harvey, 2003).

    One example of how such narratives are used is the The Suttanta on the Marks, where a translation from the Digha Nikaya is presented as an opportunity to reflect on the Buddha’s qualities as ‘an important part of Buddhist meditative practice’, and one which can guard against ‘dogmatism or rigid views’ (McNab et al., 1996: 5). Similarly, in Thirty-Two Marks (1995: v), readers are invited to use the ‘thirty-two marks of a Great Man’ to observe and investigate the characteristics of their own body and mind. In a story told as if for a child, a sleepy prince leaves home on a spiritual quest for wakefulness and is gently introduced to teachings on morality, meditation and wisdom. The thirty-two marks are then linked more directly to this threefold path, to the four jhanas and finally to the Eightfold Path. Each of the Buddha’s marks is seen imaginatively as relating to spiritual progress, from the ‘well-planted feet’ which resemble ‘the first steps one takes towards the Dhamma’ to the ‘turban crown’ which symbolizes ‘insight into the real nature of things: anicca, dukkha, anatta’ (Thirty-Two Marks, 1995: 106–7).

    (Robert Bluck, British Buddhism: teachings, practice and development, p. 57)

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Re: 32 Marks of a Great Man

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat May 02, 2009 3:07 pm

Robert Bluck writes (above):

"Each of the Buddha’s marks is seen imaginatively as relating to spiritual progress, from the ‘well-planted feet’ which resemble ‘the first steps one takes towards the Dhamma’ to the ‘turban crown’ which symbolizes ‘insight into the real nature of things: anicca, dukkha, anatta’ (Thirty-Two Marks, 1995: 106–7)."

The use of 'imaginatively' and 'symbolizes' seems to imply a metaphorical, symbolic account of the 32 marks.
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