Mahayanists and the historical record

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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Apr 08, 2013 4:41 pm

zavk wrote:To pretend that one's engagement with the Dhamma can be 'untainted' by such broader cultural, social, political and intellectual forces is totally disingenuous and totally anachronistic.


Of course everyone's engagement is through their cultural lens and filter, but just as scholars attempt to be objective as possible, I think practitioners can also attempt to be as objective as possible. There are numerous translations of the Tipitaka and just as we do peer review and look at case replications in academia, we can do the same with translations. We can look at varying translations and look for the most objective and analyze where there might be some differences and then and make some conclusions.

Yes, we all ask for sources, usually from the Tipitaka. I think I might be missing your point here, sorry, but what else do we have to go on for a source? The Tipitaka is the primary source of teachings in Theravada Buddhism.

My apologies if I am missing or misinterpreting your points in your post.
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby BlackBird » Mon Apr 08, 2013 11:23 pm

Is there a 'for dummies' version of your post Zavk. I'm not sure I got the point unfortunately, most probably a fault of my own.

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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: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby ancientbuddhism » Mon Apr 08, 2013 11:29 pm

The following thread may be of interest to this discussion:

“Skillful Means” and the rhetoric of Mahāyāna proselytism
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

A Handful of Leaves
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby ancientbuddhism » Tue Apr 09, 2013 7:10 pm

Also relevant:

Inspired Speech in Early Mahāyāna Buddhism, by Graeme MacQueen
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

A Handful of Leaves
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby Nyana » Tue Apr 09, 2013 10:55 pm

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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby zavk » Wed Apr 10, 2013 3:45 am

Thanks for sharing these resources. These scholars, as far as I'm aware, are practitioners of various Mahayana lineages. Perhaps because of their 'in-betweenness' - i.e. neither fully within sacred or scholarly, Buddhist or academic, East or West - they have had to be critically reflexive of their commitments and professions of faith, interrogating both received Mahayana understandings and Theravadin ones, so as to become more mindful of the ideological imperatives and possible power effects of their own discourses.

This one should be of more immediate relevance:

'Roads Taken and Not Taken in the Study of Theravada Buddhism', Charles Hallisey.
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby zavk » Wed Apr 10, 2013 3:47 am

In response to David (and BlackBird's and everyone else)...

First of all, let me clarify that I am not questioning or challenging your commitment to and faith in the Nikayas per se, nor am I implying that you ought not profess it, as you are doing.

David N. Snyder wrote:Of course everyone's engagement is through their cultural lens and filter, but just as scholars attempt to be objective as possible, I think practitioners can also attempt to be as objective as possible. There are numerous translations of the Tipitaka and just as we do peer review and look at case replications in academia, we can do the same with translations. We can look at varying translations and look for the most objective and analyze where there might be some differences and then and make some conclusions.


Yes... the point I wanted to make is that professional scholars or not, we are in fact engaging in the same activity. We all know fully well how we can give ourselves an air of legitimacy if we present our views in a scholarly manner, quoting, referencing, etc - and in fact, how often have we dismissed the views of others if they fail to meet such norms? It is a game that we knowingly play. In which case, a distinction between those who are scholars and those who are practitioners becomes blurred. More precisely, it becomes problematic to use that distinction to claim that because one is a 'practitioner' who focuses on the Buddhist Canon as the main point of reference, one is therefore 'practicing' and not just 'mere studying'. This is a claim that I have observed from time to time, though it may be articulated in an implicit manner.

And yes, as far as we can tell, the Nikayas represent the earliest teachings of the Buddhadhamma that can be dated. There is nothing wrong with pledging commitment to this body of Buddhist knowledge. However, as all the links above point out, there are many conditionings influencing how a particular corpus is regarded as 'authentic' and 'authoritative'. And these conditionings are by no means 'just so' or self-evident:

- What are the factors influencing the selection and translation of teachings? We may be carefully studying translations, or analysing the texts carefully. But in order for us to even be able to perform this, a network of conditions must be in place.

- What research paradigms were employed in the process by which Buddhism is today recognised as 'Buddhism'? And this question cuts across various fields of knowledge, not just philology. The understandings of history, philosophy, archaeology, religion studies, anthropology, literary studies, etc. While all these fields of knowledge are not directly involved in the translation of Dhamma texts per se, they provide the FRAMEWORK OF INTELLIGIBILITY through which we make sense of the Nikayas or the Mahayana corpus or whatever. And these fields of understanding are all grappling with their own set of problems: questions about historiography and how we perceive the history of others; the limits of reason and metaphysical traps of language; ways of dating artefacts; whether 'religion' is an adequate term for describing non-Euro, non-Christocentric traditions or if doing so reflects Westerncentric conceits and colonial bad habits; whether one ought to make assessments about another culture vis-a-vis one's own culture as an 'insider' or 'outsider'; whether one mode of interpreting text can be universalised for all kinds of texts, regardless of cultural or historical contexts, etc, etc...

Regardless of whether we chose to engage with them or not, the kinds of understandings generated by these fields of knowledge reverberate across the cultural sphere to frame and influence the way we relate to the Dhamma. So when one says that one's preferred approach to the Dhamma is more factual or direct or transparent than another, a whole host of shifting conditionings are already at play. To ignore these conditions when asserting one's preferred interpretation is in effect to elevate one's reading to a transcendental position - and yet, this has been done to decry the transcendentalizing habits of others!

To be clear, this is not to say that one cannot choose to regard one's preferred approach as more 'factual' or 'direct' or 'transparent', if this is indeed how one's faith is informed and inspired. No one should be denied their profession of faith, whether it be a faith that is inspired by the metaphorical or actual. The question is more precisely how does one go about evaluating the relative merits and flaws of one approach with another: do we do so in a way that is mindful of our MUTUAL CONDITIONALITY or not?

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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Apr 10, 2013 5:41 am

Hi zavk,

Thanks for the explanation.

For me and this is my opinion, the Pali Canon represents one of the oldest, if not the oldest written teachings of Buddhism, especially for the Theravada and from all likelihood was written around 100 BCE to about 1 BCE at the latest. And it has been put to the test and works.

I agree the cultural factor is important, but that there have been enough translations over the centuries from scholars and translators from around the globe across several continents and cultures that the translations do not differ to any significant degree, except for just a few suttas or teachings. The works of later scholars, commentators and Dhamma teachers probably have the cultural influence to a much higher degree than that of the Pali Canon; again in my opinion. This is why I and several other Theravada Buddhists probably choose the Suttanta approach, while not completely rejecting later teachings either and of course respecting others' understanding and take on the Dhamma / Dharma too.
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby Nyana » Wed Apr 10, 2013 5:52 am

zavk wrote:Thanks for sharing these resources. These scholars, as far as I'm aware, are practitioners of various Mahayana lineages. Perhaps because of their 'in-betweenness' - i.e. neither fully within sacred or scholarly, Buddhist or academic, East or West - they have had to be critically reflexive of their commitments and professions of faith, interrogating both received Mahayana understandings and Theravadin ones, so as to become more mindful of the ideological imperatives and possible power effects of their own discourses.

Historically, there have been numerous times and places where these questions have arisen. Each Buddhist author and group was situated in, and influenced by the various conditions of their time and place, just as we are. And investigating how they related to questions of authenticity, authority, and "the Word of the Buddha" adds to and informs contemporary dialogue -- even as we acknowledge that we are embedded in our own unique social and cultural situation, just as the Indian Mahāyāna apologists were embedded in their own unique social, cultural, and historical situations.

There have also been papers published that attempt to address assumptions about these issues pertaining to the Theravāda and other Śrāvaka traditions. For example:

How Theravāda is Theravāda? Exploring Buddhist Identities edited by Peter Skilling, Jason A. Carbine, Claudio Cicuzza, and Santi Pakdeekham.

On the Very Idea of the Pali Canon by Steven Collins.

Scriptural Authenticity and the Śrāvaka Schools: An Essay towards an Indian Perspective by Peter Skilling.

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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby zavk » Wed Apr 10, 2013 6:25 am

Thanks heaps Ñāṇa! (Sorry i forget your actual that you sometimes sign off).

I'm really curious about the recent publication How Theravada is Theravada? But what is really helpful is to have some of these articles in electronic format! I dunno why I never thought of looking up scribd... hmmmm.....

Anyway, yes, what Steven Collins says in his essays sums up the thrust of what I've been trying to put across:

I want to suggest that the role of the Canonical texts in Theravāda tradition has been misunderstood, and that the usual scholarly focus on the early period of Theravāda is misplaced. We must, I will suggest, reject the equation ‘the Pall Canon = Early Buddhism’, and move away from an outmoded and quixotic concern with origins to what I would see as a properly focussed and realistic historical perspective. (see link to scribd)


I would add that to seek recourse from the authority of text, the Word, Logos, in order to settle the question or 'quixotic concern with origins', masks and feeds a very subtle craving for metaphysical comfort or presence - btw, this is a habit that everyone is equally susceptible to, a habit confronting philosophers, scientists, theists, etc. It is perhaps not irrelevant to consider this, given our commitment to anatta and paticcasamuppada.
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby BlackBird » Wed Apr 10, 2013 7:32 am

Ah, I think I see what you're saying Zavk and yeah, I guess you're right. My response would be - What's the extent of influence that these things have over the way we frame our understanding of the Nikayas.

Certainly the way I read the suttas (given my existential Nyanavarian mode bias) is at times quite different to the way a traditionalist would read them, especially when it comes to subjects such as paticcasamupada (PSP), where as a working hypothesis I do not follow the 3 life interpretation but one which suggests that X is the determinant of Y, plug in dukkha and tanha and you have the 2 & 3rd noble truth - The four noble truths end up being the primary example of PSP - this gives PSP a primacy above all doctrinal topics and reflected in the Buddhas own words that one who sees PSP sees the Dhamma and one who sees the Dhamma sees PSP, a primacy that is not as far as I understand, seen in the traditional mode. Other translations that lead to differing readings include nama rupa, which I see as name and form, which leads to a divergent understanding of the term compared with those who translate it as mentality-materiality. Sangkhara is another, which I see as determinations, or determinants, instead of the popular notion of 'mental formations'. This is all completely at odds with the commentaries and abhidhamma, which are both rejected by Nyanavira Thera.

I say all this to give a case example of what I think you're driving at. (Not to debate anyone haha)

I read the same suttas as a person with a traditional POV does, with the same words on the page, but my differing translation of key words leads to a divergent conceptual understanding of these suttas. I can't say that the stuff I've written above is necessarily the right translation, or the correct approach. What is to say that there wasn't in the past other interpretations too that could have been equally valid from my stand point as a worldling. But more importantly, are these differences so divergent that we have a fundamentally different vision of the triple gem? Do we have a different vision of the goal, or just how to get there?

As you say, we all like to see our preferred framework as the one that is more true, more factual, closer to the Buddha's teachings. But it might be healthy to recall from time to time that until we know, we simply don't know for sure. Instead of being torn apart by our differences, it might be more in line with the Buddha's teachings to consider what unites us - That we all seek the same thing - Nibbana, for starters.

metta
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"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: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby zavk » Wed Apr 10, 2013 8:13 am

BlackBird wrote:My response would be - What's the extent of influence that these things have over the way we frame our understanding of the Nikayas.


This, I'd say, is a VERY important and invaluable question - regardless of whether we favour the Nikayas, the Mahayana corpus, or whatever. Invaluable to the extent that it remains open, to the extent that it is allowed to be a question, to the extent that we look to it as an open horizon for the possibility of ONGOING discovery. Otherwise, where would the impetus to explore, to inquire, to investigate, to find out, come from? A related question is: are we willing to explore, inquire, investigate, find out?

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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby Dan74 » Wed Apr 10, 2013 9:20 am

zavk wrote:A related question is: are we willing to explore, inquire, investigate, find out?

Best wishes
Ed

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Well, what is Dhamma practice about if not exploring, inquiring, investigating and finding out? How else is delusion relinquished if we don't find out what it is first?
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Re: Mahayanists and the historical record

Postby BlackBird » Wed Apr 10, 2013 9:29 am

zavk wrote:
BlackBird wrote:My response would be - What's the extent of influence that these things have over the way we frame our understanding of the Nikayas.


This, I'd say, is a VERY important and invaluable question - regardless of whether we favour the Nikayas, the Mahayana corpus, or whatever. Invaluable to the extent that it remains open, to the extent that it is allowed to be a question, to the extent that we look to it as an open horizon for the possibility of ONGOING discovery. Otherwise, where would the impetus to explore, to inquire, to investigate, to find out, come from? A related question is: are we willing to explore, inquire, investigate, find out?

Best wishes
Ed

:anjali:


Very well put Ed

zavk wrote:are we willing to explore, inquire, investigate, find out?


If a man is honest and serious in his pursuit of truth - That it is not a part time hobby but a full time commitment, in such a case is it not his duty, his responsibility?

metta
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"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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