Buddhist Eschatology

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Buddhist Eschatology

Postby Pannapetar » Fri Jul 31, 2009 6:58 am

2012 is coming closer and quite a few people are now fearing (again!) the end of the world. I guess these voices will be quiet in 2013, no matter whether the world has then disappeared or not. :tongue:

But what about Buddhism? The Pali canon apparently predicted that Buddhism would last only 500 years:

If, Ananda, women had not entered from household life into the houseless one, under the Doctrine and the Discipline announced by the Tathagata religion, Ananda, would long endure; a thousand years would the Good Doctrine abide. But since, Ananda, women have now retired from household life to the houseless one, under the Doctrine and the Discipline announced by the Tathagata, not long, Ananda, will religion endure; but fivehundred years, Ananda, will the Good Doctrine abide.

Quote from the Sutta Pitaka (no exact source), The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology By Jerry L. Walls


The shelf-life figure of 500 years has later been extended several times by various Buddhist scholars, obviously due to practical necessity, first to 1000 years, then to 2500 years and finally to the current 5000 years which was popularised by Buddhaghosa. To me, this speaks quite a strong message, namely that speculations on how long Buddhism will last are very likely a major waste of time. Since it is something that we cannot possibly verify -at least not in this lifetime- why bother at all?

What do you think?
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Jul 31, 2009 7:33 am

The 500 years were if women were allowed to becomes nuns, but with the additional rules for the nuns the strength of the dispensation was protected. At least that how it could be read. The commentarial tradition expands on this:

http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache%3Am ... l=en&gl=us

http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:FxY ... clnk&gl=us
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby Pannapetar » Sat Aug 01, 2009 8:03 am

Hello tiltbillings,

The assertions in the first document you linked above, strikes me as exactly the kind of statements one should seek to avoid after having learned of the mentioned eschatological "mishaps".

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Aug 01, 2009 1:41 pm

The 500 year quote, as far as I know and have seen, is only mentioned in one place in the Vinaya.

The 5,000 year ending of this dispensation is only in the commentaries, not in any place in the Suttas. In fact, in the Suttas, the Buddha does not give a specific time table for the ending of the Dhamma and states:

"When the letters are wrongly pronounced and there is wrong interpretation of their meaning. For when the pronunciation is wrong, the interpretation will also be wrong" (AN .I,59)

Now that we live in an information age with printed books and the internet, there is even less chance for the Dhamma to be lost anytime soon.
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby Individual » Sat Aug 01, 2009 3:20 pm

TheDhamma wrote:The 500 year quote, as far as I know and have seen, is only mentioned in one place in the Vinaya.

The 5,000 year ending of this dispensation is only in the commentaries, not in any place in the Suttas. In fact, in the Suttas, the Buddha does not give a specific time table for the ending of the Dhamma and states:

Why should this matter? What makes Vinaya less reliable than the suttas? Vinaya is just as old as or older than the suttas. I think it would be more relevant to ask if this passage is found across different versions of Vinaya, so we could speculate it might merely be an innovation at some point.

TheDhamma wrote:Now that we live in an information age with printed books and the internet, there is even less chance for the Dhamma to be lost anytime soon.

This is also the age of nuclear weapons, information warfare, military robots, energy weapons, etc..
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Aug 01, 2009 3:29 pm

Thomas William Rhys Davids in his Buddhist India (p. 188) has given a chronological table of Buddhist literature from the time of the Buddha to the time of Ashoka which is as follows:

1. The simple statements of Buddhist doctrine now found, in identical words, in paragraphs or verses recurring in all the books.
2. Episodes found, in identical words, in two or more of the existing books.
3. The Silas, the Parayana, the Octades, the Patimokkha.
4. The Digha, Majjhima, Anguttara, and Samyutta Nikayas.
5. The Sutta Nipata, the Thera and Theri Gathas, the Udanas, and the Khuddaka Patha
6. The Sutta Vibhanga, and Khandhkas.
7. The Jatakas and the Dhammapadas.
8. The Niddesa, the Itivuttakas and the Patisambbhida.
9. The Peta and Vimana-Vatthus, the Apadana, the Cariya-Pitaka, and the Buddhavamsa.
10. The Abhidhamma books; the last of which is the Katha-Vatthu, and the earliest probably the Puggala-Pannatti.

The 500 years quote I think is in the SV, #6 above and the 5,000 year quote is in the commentaries, #11 above (if there was a #11).

The higher up on the list, the older the text and probably more likely to be authentic, in my opinion. I'm not saying that #6 to 10 are not authentic, but I prefer to focus on the earliest of texts, found in the Nikayas and the Patimokkha-part of the Vinaya.
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby Pannapetar » Sun Aug 02, 2009 12:48 am

Thank you, TheDhamma, that was very interesting.

The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology By Jerry L. Walls gives details on the multiple revisions of the prediction.

Considering that Buddhism itself teaches that the future is not set in stone and that there is no way for us to verify or falsify such long-term predictions, they are of little value.

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Aug 02, 2009 9:54 pm

Hello all,
Forgive me if I'm reviving old skeletons. I promise I mean no harm and I don't mean to start a debate or argument. I just never found out the reasoning of the Buddha's proclamation that female ordination shortens the sasana. If anyone has information on this, I would appreciate it. This is just for my own piece of mind.

:anjali:
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby kc2dpt » Sun Aug 02, 2009 10:02 pm

The Buddha didn't give any reason.

He did give an analogy but the meaning of the analogy isn't obvious.
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Aug 02, 2009 10:38 pm

Dhammakid wrote:Forgive me if I'm reviving old skeletons. I promise I mean no harm and I don't mean to start a debate or argument. I just never found out the reasoning of the Buddha's proclamation that female ordination shortens the sasana. If anyone has information on this, I would appreciate it. This is just for my own piece of mind.


There are a few possibilities:

1. The Buddha never said it. (It is only mentioned once, in a later text)

2. He said it because the societal conditions of the time were highly sexist and the 8 heavy rules allowed the dispensation to last longer, instead of just 500. (Commentaries' position)

3. He said it and Buddhism did not survive more than 500 to 900 years in India after the parinibbana, because of the sexism of the time. The Buddha made rules and changed rules as the timing necessitated it.

4. The Buddha would have quickly changed the rule as societies became less sexist, but they were not at his time. At the time of the Buddha, the Hindus did not allow women to be priests, the Jains allowed women to be nuns but had no chance at liberation. In the Buddha's teachings, he was already way advanced in that hundreds, perhaps thousands of women became fully enlightened Arahants.
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby Dhammakid » Mon Aug 03, 2009 2:09 am

Peter wrote:The Buddha didn't give any reason.

He did give an analogy but the meaning of the analogy isn't obvious.


Thanks. Are you able to post the analogy?

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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Aug 03, 2009 2:36 am

Dhammakid wrote:Thanks. Are you able to post the analogy?


Hi Dhammakid,

I know you were asking Peter, but I happen to have that quote handy, so hope you don't mind if I answer:

"But, Ānanda, if women had not obtained the Going-forth from the home life into homelessness in the doctrine and discipline made known by the Tathāgata, the holy life would have lasted long, the true Dhamma would have lasted 1,000 years. But now that they have gotten to go forth... this holy life will not last long, the true Dhamma will last only 500 years. Just as a clan in which there are many women and few men is easily plundered by robbers and thieves, in the same way, in whatever doctrine and discipline women get to go forth, the holy life does not last long... Just as a man might make an embankment in advance around a great reservoir to keep the waters from overflowing, in the same way I have set forth in advance the eight rules of respect for bhikkhunīs that they are not to transgress as long as they live." — Cullavagga X.1

Note that the analogy seems to suggest that there may have been concern over the safety of the bhikkhunis and in fact many bhikkhunis were attacked in the early days.
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby Dhammakid » Mon Aug 03, 2009 2:39 am

TheDhamma wrote:2. He said it because the societal conditions of the time were highly sexist and the 8 heavy rules allowed the dispensation to last longer, instead of just 500. (Commentaries' position)


What are the 8 heavy rules?

TD wrote:3. He said it and Buddhism did not survive more than 500 to 900 years in India after the parinibbana, because of the sexism of the time. The Buddha made rules and changed rules as the timing necessitated it.


Are you saying the pure Dhamma actually didn't survive in India as a matter of the fulfilled prophecy?

TD wrote:4. The Buddha would have quickly changed the rule as societies became less sexist, but they were not at his time. At the time of the Buddha, the Hindus did not allow women to be priests, the Jains allowed women to be nuns but had no chance at liberation. In the Buddha's teachings, he was already way advanced in that hundreds, perhaps thousands of women became fully enlightened Arahants.


This is what I had been thinking about, and why I am so confused.

Sorry, my brain isn't processing well today.

Thanks.

:anjali:
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby kc2dpt » Mon Aug 03, 2009 2:41 am

It's on A2I somewhere. I don't remember where.
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Aug 03, 2009 2:46 am

Dhammakid wrote:What are the 8 heavy rules?


See this article I wrote explaining the 8 heavy rules and the problems with them:
http://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=8_Garudhammas

Dhammakid wrote:Are you saying the pure Dhamma actually didn't survive in India as a matter of the fulfilled prophecy?


It is certainly a possibility. Buddhism did not survive in India and even to this day, there is still a lot of sexism there.
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby kc2dpt » Mon Aug 03, 2009 2:51 am

Found it.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... .ch23.html

"Just as a clan in which there are many women and few men is easily plundered by robbers and thieves, in the same way, in whatever doctrine and discipline women get to go forth, the holy life does not last long... Just as a man might make an embankment in advance around a great reservoir to keep the waters from overflowing, in the same way I have set forth in advance the eight rules of respect for bhikkhunīs that they are not to transgress as long as they live." — Cv.X.1
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby Pannapetar » Mon Aug 03, 2009 3:55 am

TheDhamma wrote:He said it and Buddhism did not survive more than 500 to 900 years in India after the parinibbana, because of the sexism of the time. The Buddha made rules and changed rules as the timing necessitated it.


Even this prediction would be wrong, because we can put a fairly accurate timestamp on the vanishing of Buddhism from India during the Muslim conquest. So we are talking about at least 1500 years.

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby Dhammakid » Mon Aug 03, 2009 4:11 am

TD,
Thanks very much for your explanations and the article you wrote. It really clears up a lot of things for me.

Peter,
Yes, you are right about the analogies. They don't really make the reasoning clear. It's not something I will latch onto, however. It doesn't seem this idea is particularly important for practice anyway.

:anjali: to you both.
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby Sylvester » Mon Aug 03, 2009 6:13 am

An anachronism from the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, DN 16 -

"42. "There was a time, Ananda, when I dwelt at Uruvela, on the bank of the Nerañjara River, at the foot of the goatherds' banyan-tree, soon after my supreme Enlightenment. And Mara, the Evil One, approached me, saying: 'Now, O Lord, let the Blessed One come to his final passing away! Let the Happy One utterly pass away! The time has come for the Parinibbana of the Lord.'

43. "Then, Ananda, I answered Mara, the Evil One, saying: 'I shall not come to my final passing away, Evil One, until my bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, laymen and laywomen, have come to be true disciples — wise, well disciplined, apt and learned, preservers of the Dhamma, living according to the Dhamma, abiding by appropriate conduct and, having learned the Master's word, are able to expound it, preach it, proclaim it, establish it, reveal it, explain it in detail, and make it clear; until, when adverse opinions arise, they shall be able to refute them thoroughly and well, and to preach this convincing and liberating Dhamma.

44. "'I shall not come to my final passing away, Evil One, until this holy life taught by me has become successful, prosperous, far-renowned, popular, and widespread, until it is well proclaimed among gods and men.'

45. "And again today, Ananda, at the Capala shrine, Mara, the Evil One, approached me, saying: 'Now, O Lord, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, laymen and laywomen, have come to be true disciples of the Blessed One — wise, well disciplined, apt and learned, preservers of the Dhamma, living according to the Dhamma, abiding in the appropriate conduct, and having learned the Master's word, are able to expound it, preach it, proclaim it, establish it, reveal it, explain it in detail, and make it clear; and when adverse opinions arise, they are now able to refute them thoroughly and well, and to preach this convincing and liberating Dhamma
."

- http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .vaji.html

The 1st part highlighted, if tied to the chronology in the Vinaya Mahavagga, First Khandakha, would have taken place sometime during the 2nd week after the Buddha's enlightenment. A bit difficult to see why the Buddha did not plan for the bhikkhuni order (if the "prophecy" were authentic) when this sutta indicates that the establishment of the 4-fold parissa was in the Buddha's mind very early in his career.
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Re: Buddhist Eschatology

Postby rowyourboat » Mon Aug 03, 2009 9:47 am

From what I have heard- they didn't use time spans like we do now- ie- a 1000 years simply meant a long time and 500 means half of that.

I wondered about the timing of the original request for womens ordination- was it around the time of the Buddhas first visit to his home town? If it happened during the early days of the dispensation, it might have been too much of death blow if it was allowed early on, considering the societal view at the time, and how dependant the monks were on general society. However after the sangha grew stronger such blows could be withstood.

We must also consider that there maybe something about the 'female' psyche in a religious setting (not being sexist or steareotyping but generally we must accept that some characterstics are more prevalent in the female mind- helpful and unhelpful in the journey towards nibbana, and similarly in men), that we dont know about, that the buddha did know. Or maybe it was to do with the interaction between monks and nuns and the hindrances that throws up. Maybe he knew of previous religious traditions which were wiped out in this manner. Maybe if this started out as a women's movement there would be similar problems admitting me into ordination. Many maybes..

Looking at the extra 8 vinaya rules IMO these were designed to ofset the balance of power - perhaps to maintain society's perceptions- at the same time allowing women to ordain and practice- certainly they were no hindrance to the practice of attaining nibbana. This may have been the best way forward.
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