what is "esoteric buddhism"?

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what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby vinasp » Thu Aug 20, 2009 11:47 pm

Hi everyone,
What is "esoteric buddhism"? I believe the word esoteric is latin and means something like private in contrast to public.
So a buddhist teaching which was given only to selected individuals and never in public would be an esoteric teaching ?
Is this correct ? Are there other ways in which a teaching can be considered to be esoteric ? Are all buddhist teachings esoteric ?
Regards, Vincent.
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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Aug 21, 2009 12:00 am

Greetings Vinasp,

In Theravada Buddhism, no teachings are esoteric

From DN16... http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .vaji.html

"What more does the community of bhikkhus expect from me, Ananda? I have set forth the Dhamma without making any distinction of esoteric and exoteric doctrine; there is nothing, Ananda, with regard to the teachings that the Tathagata holds to the last with the closed fist of a teacher who keeps some things back."

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: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby Dan74 » Fri Aug 21, 2009 12:07 am

I guess this term best applied to Tibetan Buddhism and Vajrayana in general, where there are certain practices that are meant to be given by the master with specific instructions. They are believed to be potentially very harmful if not carried out properly and are therefore kept secret.

In some other schools there are esoteric elements but they are found at a later stage in the path.

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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby Macavity » Fri Aug 21, 2009 12:42 am

vinasp wrote:Hi everyone,
What is "esoteric buddhism"?


Although the name is mostly used to refer to Tantric Buddhism, it's also to be met with in early Theosophical writings, where it served as an alternative name for Theosophy. When used in this context what is referred to has very little at all to do with Buddhism.
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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby vinasp » Fri Aug 21, 2009 12:44 am

Hi retrofuturist,
Thanks for your reply. I actually started this thread in order to reveal ( in due course ) that Theravada teachings are in fact an esoteric system. Not of course in the simple sense of my first example but in a more subtle sense. If this claim should turn out to be true we could differ on whether "esoteric" is the correct term to use. That is why I was asking for other examples of such systems. Do you think that because the teachings have the "Bhuddha" denying that his teachings are esoteric this provides a definate and final answer to the question ? Would not every esoteric system deny that it was one ? Is everything the Buddha says true ?
We are in a minefield here and I am treading very carefully , kind regards , Vincent.
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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby dustyzafu » Fri Aug 21, 2009 1:10 am

vinasp wrote:Do you think that because the teachings have the "Bhuddha" denying that his teachings are esoteric this provides a definate and final answer to the question ?

I apologize for interjecting.

The Theravada as it exists today contains no esoteric teachings from the Buddha, whether or not he taught any, and that alone should probably suffice. We have what we believe is a complete path and therefore do not need to consider the possibility that we're missing esoteric Theravadin (or other) teachings. The Dhamma delivers one to liberation and in a relatively short amount of time; any secret teachings are, at best, unnecessary elaboration.

Would not every esoteric system deny that it was one ?

In fact, there are a number of esoteric Buddhist schools which publicize that fact even to newcomers; without denigrating the intentions of those who flout the rules of secrecy, I can say it's a major selling point. After all, every Buddhist with access to the internet can quickly become familiar with the ideas of self-visualization as a deity, hear talks on dzogchen, read tantras, etc., but we're continually warned that it's necessary to seek out a guru to practice these properly.

Is everything the Buddha says true?

If not, I find no reason to suspect his esoteric teachings will be of any more use to us than his lies about them.
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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby Macavity » Fri Aug 21, 2009 2:05 am

vinasp wrote:Do you think that because the teachings have the "Bhuddha" denying that his teachings are esoteric this provides a definate and final answer to the question ?


Yes.

Would not every esoteric system deny that it was one ?


No, they usually brag about it so that the credulous will be tempted to buy their wares.

Is everything the Buddha says true ?


Theravadin Buddhists certainly trust that this is so.

    "Abandoning false speech, the ascetic Gotama dwells refraining from false speech, a truth-speaker, one to be relied on, trustworthy, dependable, not a deceiver of the world."
    _ Brahmajala Sutta

    "Kassapa, there is a path, there is a course of training, whereby one who has followed it will know and see for himself: "The ascetic Gotama speaks at the right time, speaks what is true, speaks to the point, speaks of the Dhamma, and speaks of Vinaya."
    Mahasihanada Sutta, DN. 8

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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby Ben » Fri Aug 21, 2009 2:26 am

vinasp wrote:Is everything the Buddha says true ?

That is indeed a very interesting question for someone who maybe new to, or unfamiliar with, the Theravada.

vinasp wrote:We are in a minefield here and I am treading very carefully , kind regards , Vincent.

Please do tread very carefully Vincent. While I am happy for you to explore the question regarding the truthfullness of the Buddha, be careful not to denigrate the triple gem. The values underpinning Dhamma Wheel of friendliness and mutual respect, also extends to the respect we show the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.
Kind regards

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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby Dan74 » Fri Aug 21, 2009 3:03 am

While the question of "truthfulness" of the Buddha is completely beyond our reach (since we can never check it), the question of the authenticity of the Suttas is another matter, and scholars have been exploring it for quite a while.

Which suttas are the "original" suttas? Which versions are "correct"? What did the Buddha actually say? Practitioners don't often directly address these questions perhaps because they are not equipped as scholars and perhaps because they prefer to trust the Tipitaka as authentic and believe that their practice is on a firm footing.

But this is off-topic and the Original Poster is after something else, though I am not quite sure what...

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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby Jechbi » Fri Aug 21, 2009 3:12 am

Dan74 wrote:While the question of "truthfulness" of the Buddha is completely beyond our reach (since we can never check it) ...

why not?
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby Dan74 » Fri Aug 21, 2009 3:21 am

Jechbi wrote:
Dan74 wrote:While the question of "truthfulness" of the Buddha is completely beyond our reach (since we can never check it) ...

why not?


People claim there are certain problems with the construction of time machines. That stuff about logical paradoxes, entropy, speed of light etc

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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby Jechbi » Fri Aug 21, 2009 3:30 am

Dan74 wrote:People claim there are certain problems with the construction of time machines. That stuff about logical paradoxes, entropy, speed of light etc

What does that have to do with anything? And why would that mean that we can't test the veracity of the Buddha's teachings for ourselves, as you seem to have stated?
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby Dan74 » Fri Aug 21, 2009 3:41 am

Jechbi wrote:
Dan74 wrote:People claim there are certain problems with the construction of time machines. That stuff about logical paradoxes, entropy, speed of light etc

What does that have to do with anything? And why would that mean that we can't test the veracity of the Buddha's teachings for ourselves, as you seem to have stated?


Well you've asked how come we can't check whether the Buddha told the truth and I said that's basically because we don't know what he told.

And as for Buddhist teachings of the Theravada school, you can certainly test them for yourself through practice and I hope everyone here is doing just that!

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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby vinasp » Fri Aug 21, 2009 4:20 am

Hi dustyzafu,
Please do not apologise for joining in the debate you are most welcome. You make a number of good points , which I hope I can respond to in due course. But first I have to admit that I made a mistake , I think you were the first to point it out.
I should not have said : "Would not every esoteric system deny that it was one ?" That "every" must have slipped in by mistake.
What I should have said is : Might not some esoteric systems deny that they are such ?

Thanks also to everyone else who has replied , all excellent posts. Kind regards , Vincent.
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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby Dan74 » Fri Aug 21, 2009 5:10 am

Jechbi wrote:
Dan74 wrote:People claim there are certain problems with the construction of time machines. That stuff about logical paradoxes, entropy, speed of light etc

What does that have to do with anything? And why would that mean that we can't test the veracity of the Buddha's teachings for ourselves, as you seem to have stated?


I guess I should've given the background to what I had written. partly it was in response to the OP's question whether the Buddha always spoke the truth, and partly it was as a result of me finally reading a scholarly work after a decade of Buddhist texts.

Things can look quite different outside the tradition to how they look from inside...

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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Aug 21, 2009 5:28 am

Macavity wrote:
Is everything the Buddha says true ?


Theravadin Buddhists certainly trust that this is so.


Which raises an interesting question, then must we, as Theravadins, take everything attributed to the Buddha as being literally true? 80,000 year life spans? The Aggañña Sutta?
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby appicchato » Fri Aug 21, 2009 5:54 am

tiltbillings wrote:...then must we...?


We don't need to 'must' do anything...except die...
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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby Jechbi » Fri Aug 21, 2009 6:05 am

appicchato wrote:We don't need to 'must' do anything...except die...

:clap:
Best post of the thread. Thank you, Bhante.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Aug 21, 2009 6:18 am

Greetings,

appicchato wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:...then must we...?


We don't need to 'must' do anything...except die...


Even then... what about attaining the deathless?!

:buddha1:

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: what is "esoteric buddhism"?

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Aug 21, 2009 6:26 am

appicchato wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:...then must we...?


We don't need to 'must' do anything...except die...


Not planning on doing that anytime soon, but you never know. You might get lucky.

I am curious about others' thought on that. There certainly, on the gray forum, have been Theravadins who militantly have insisted that these things are literally true and must be understood that way. It raises questions if we say: everything the Buddha says true.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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