Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Oct 28, 2009 6:21 am

mikenz66 wrote:Sorry, perhaps I wasn't clear. Let me re-phrase it: . . .


Thanks for the clarification, and I agree with you.
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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby Paññāsikhara » Wed Oct 28, 2009 6:31 am

mikenz66 wrote:... Let me re-phrase it:

"It is logically possible that the Theravada Commentaries are correct, and the other sects are wrong. This is, of course, the view of the Theravada Tradition..."


Ajahn Sujuato and his ilk are using the working assumption that:

"The correct things are those which everyone agrees on".


This is a useful way to analyse the data, but does not necessarily lead to the "correct" conclusion. Obviously one could quote historical examples in science and other areas where the majority turned out to be wrong.

Mike


That is a very good point, Mike. And thanks for bringing us back to the OP.

Furthermore, Bhante Sujato lists "a number of criteria", which are worth investigating.
Let us take a poke at the first five, to begin with:

Simplicity: Shorter, more basic teachings are likely to have appeared earlier than complex, scholastic elaborations. This is one of the fundamentals of historical criticism.


Is this really "one of the fundamental of historical criticism"? Perhaps. But, as far as "textual criticism" goes, particularly biblical and classics, in addition to:

The shortest reading is, in general, the best. -- "Brevior lectio, nisi testium vetustorum et gravium auctoritate penitus destituatur, præferenda est verbosiori. Librarii enim multo proniores ad addendum fuerunt, quam ad omittendum (Griesbach)."

there is also the maxim:

The more difficult reading is also the more probable. -- "Proclivi scriptioni pr stat ardua"

Multiple Attestation: Teachings appearing more often are likely to be more authentic than those less frequent. This of course only applies to independent attestation, not mere repetition.


The last point is critical - "independent attestation, not mere repetition", because we often do not know entirely clearing the process whereby the early texts were compiled. Thus, there may be more repetition in there than originally thought.

Similarity: Teachings congruent in style, form, or content with known early teachings are more likely to be authentic than heterodox passages.


Doesn't this beg the question - ie. "... with known early teachings"? How do we know that they are early before undergoing this process?

Dissimilarity: Teachings dissimilar to other traditions, whether pre-Buddhist or later Buddhism, are unlikely to have appeared through assimilation or revision and thus are likely to be authentic. Notice that this principle does not say that teachings held in common with other traditions are inauthentic; it simply can’t tell.


But, on the other hand, due to sectarian sentiment, "dissimilar" teachings which differ from other traditions, may be given more emphasis to emphasis the unique doctrines of a given line of thought. There are examples of this in many places, for instance, the "self power" vs "other power" of Zen and Pureland. The extreme "other power" of late Japanese Pureland does not represent early Pureland in China, from which it derives. It only developed this "dissimilar" teaching in the context of other Japanese schools.

Concordance between Nikayas and Agamas: The essential congruence of the Nikayas and the Agamas is probably the most important finding of modern Buddhist studies, and should become a standard criterion in all matters concerning early Buddhism. Although the basic findings are in, there remains much work to be done in sorting out the finer details.


This is the one Mike is kind of countering, above. However, given that much of the Agamas are also Sthavira / Thera, then what we have is a lot of Sthavira / Thera material, but little from the Mahasamghikas. We can only thus confirm the similarities to the point of the break up of the various Sthavira / Thera schools, but not to the Buddha himself.

Caution: Prepare to fall into a sectarian position, and call it "the true teaching of the historical Buddha".
Oh, haven't we heard this one before?
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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby pegembara » Wed Oct 28, 2009 6:49 am

Then we get into the old Buddhist camps of the Mahàyàna, Vajrayàna and Hãnayàna. We’re considered Hãnayàna or ‘lesser vehicle.’ So we could think that means it’s probably not as good. Mahàyàna is better, says logic. Lesser vehicle and greater vehicle. Then Vajrayàna, that’s the absolute best. You can’t get any better than Vajrayàna according to the Tibetans. That’s the highest vehicle. So then we start thinking in terms of good, better, best. But all of these are conventions. Whether we call it Mahàyàna, Hãnayàna or Vajrayàna, they’re still just conventions:they’re limited; they’re imperfect. They’re functional,to be used for mindfulness rather than as some kind of attachment or position that one takes on anything. These different terms can be very divisive. If we attach to Theravàda and start looking down on every other form of Buddhism, then we think that they’re not pure, they’re not original! They’re higher, but they’re not original. We can get arrogant because we’ve got our own way of justifying our convention. But this is all playing with words. If we look at what is going on in words, we’re just creating Mahàyàna, Hãnayàna and Vajrayàna in our minds. The refuge is in Buddha, not in these ‘yànas’. The Buddha knows that every thought is changing and not-self. So trust in that, in the simplicity of that. Because if you don’t, then it is going to arouse your old compulsive habits of thinking “I’ve got to do more, I’ve got to develop this, I’ve got to become a Bodhisattva, I’ve got to get the higher practice going,” and on and on like that.

When you’re caught in that conventional realm and that’s all you know, then you’re easily intimidated and blinded by all the dazzling positions and attitudes and ideas that people can throw at you. So this is where trusting in awareness is not a matter of having the best or feeling that maybe you should have something better than what you have. That’s a creation of your mind, isn’t it? When you establish what is adequate, it’s not based on what is the best but on what is basic for survival and good health.


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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Oct 28, 2009 7:16 am

Greetings bhante,

Thank you as usual for your insightful thoughts on these matters.

Paññāsikhara wrote:Do we then throw all that out as well? Without even looking at it?


Not at all... the type of analysis venerable Sujato focuses on has no bearing on the efficacy of these teachings. That which is useful should not be discarded regardless of its origins. I've heard some people say that the commentaries, Abhidhamma, Mahayana Sutras etc. belong on the bottom of the ocean, but I do not subscribe to that theory.

What venerable Sujato seeks to do is to help identify what the Buddha taught versus what he didn't teach, and he sees traditional Buddhist myths as getting in the way of such a pursuit... thus he wants to call them out for what they are. As we've discussed on many occasions, identifying "what the Buddha taught" is a challenging pursuit, but as Pink Trike said earlier, it is...

pink trike wrote:...certainly difficult to address at any intelligent level of discourse within what has become a closed system that has a prevailing standard of "Buddha said it, I believe it".


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: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby Paññāsikhara » Wed Oct 28, 2009 7:34 am

retrofuturist wrote:
What venerable Sujato seeks to do is to help identify what the Buddha taught versus what he didn't teach, and he sees traditional Buddhist myths as getting in the way of such a pursuit... thus he wants to call them out for what they are.



I'd like to make a qualifier here:

I've met too many Buddhist practitioners, who have such "mythic" beliefs, who, partly because of those beliefs, apply themselves very whole heartedly to their practice of the Dharma, and as a result, are endowed with love, compassion, warmth, wisdom and insight, to think that they "get in the way of such a pursuit" should not be applied as a blanket term.

If, for ourselves, they get in the way, then that is one thing, but we must acknowledge it as such. And, if we acknowledge that such an "historical" approach works for us, but then a "mythic" approach works for others, to the degree that they "work", they may just be equal. And, as many later traditions have been telling us for some time, we end up with a case of being able to classify them all (equally) as "expedient means".

Otherwise, just another case of "ekameva saccam moghamannam" - "only this is true, all else is false". We think that our personal expedient is ultimate, and that it is only the other expedients that are somehow not. This may blind us, one day, when, under differing circumstances, stagnation in practice, and so forth, the application of other methods is sometimes what we need to advance further.
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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby Ben » Wed Oct 28, 2009 7:37 am

Thank you Bhante for applying wisdom on this topic.
metta

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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Oct 28, 2009 7:52 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:I'd like to make a qualifier here:

I've met too many Buddhist practitioners, who have such "mythic" beliefs, who, partly because of those beliefs, apply themselves very whole heartedly to their practice of the Dharma, and as a result, are endowed with love, compassion, warmth, wisdom and insight, to think that they "get in the way of such a pursuit" should not be applied as a blanket term.

If, for ourselves, they get in the way, then that is one thing, but we must acknowledge it as such. And, if we acknowledge that such an "historical" approach works for us, but then a "mythic" approach works for others, to the degree that they "work", they may just be equal. And, as many later traditions have been telling us for some time, we end up with a case of being able to classify them all (equally) as "expedient means".

Otherwise, just another case of "ekameva saccam moghamannam" - "only this is true, all else is false". We think that our personal expedient is ultimate, and that it is only the other expedients that are somehow not. This may blind us, one day, when, under differing circumstances, stagnation in practice, and so forth, the application of other methods is sometimes what we need to advance further.

Thank you for this.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby Jechbi » Wed Oct 28, 2009 7:54 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:Otherwise, just another case of "ekameva saccam moghamannam" - "only this is true, all else is false". We think that our personal expedient is ultimate, and that it is only the other expedients that are somehow not. This may blind us, one day, when, under differing circumstances, stagnation in practice, and so forth, the application of other methods is sometimes what we need to advance further.

This rings true, since all of us change, and we can't predict the circumstances we might face, or what new perspective that might bring. Likewise, we can't really dismiss all our past "incorrect" approaches as inexpedient, since they may have contributed to our arrival at our current approach, which we probably regard as expedient.

How far beyond the boundaries of what we now, in this moment, personally perceive as "Buddhadhamma" are we willing to extend this acknowledgement of expediency? If at all? For example, can expediency be found in approaches that might appear to us (at this particular moment in our development) not to be Buddhadhamma at all?
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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby Paññāsikhara » Wed Oct 28, 2009 8:12 am

Jechbi wrote:
How far beyond the boundaries of what we now, in this moment, personally perceive as "Buddhadhamma" are we willing to extend this acknowledgement of expediency? If at all? For example, can expediency be found in approaches that might appear to us (at this particular moment in our development) not to be Buddhadhamma at all?


What does "Buddhadhamma" mean?

Ah, there's the rub!

The "historical approach" seems to consider that it is "teachings spoken by Gautama the Buddha".
Yet, actually, his own disciples often had other definitions. Isn't that curious?

Even the Anguttara Nikaya states to the effect of:

"What is spoken by the Buddha, is well spoken,
What is well spoken, that is spoken by the Buddha."

To me, some revisionists miss the latter in favor of the former.
The latter meaning - whatever is "well spoken" (~~ leads to kusala) is "buddha-vac".
Even if some deranged psychopathic lunatic states - "Be good to your mother", that too is "buddha-vac".
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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby nowheat » Wed Oct 28, 2009 8:33 am

PeterB wrote:I think to some extent the apparent split between myth and history is not altogether relevant when talking about a spritual tradition. Something can be true without being historical, just as something can be historical but not directly shed light on what is true. Poetry is true, but does not correspond with scientific fact necessarily. A poetic description of a sunset is no less true than an analysis of the refraction of light through water droplets and atmospheric particles..
My own questioning of the Mahayana is not due to its relability as history or myth. Its to do with whether its myths tell the same story as does the Theravada.
My faith in the Theravada stems from it's narrative about what it is to be a human being whose existence is coloured by Dukkha, and its narrative of the way to be free of Dukkha by clear and practical means.
Some of the commentaries are poetic, some of them are analogous to science. Some are both. Instead of junking the commentaries I think which should learn to read them aright.


If I understand correctly that your point here is that what matters is the truth (the dhamma), and not so much the method used to describe it, I'd agree with that in essence. Certainly since there are a wide variety of ways people learn, having multiple methods of helping people to see the truth is skillful. This, and that the Buddha used multiple approaches in his teachings makes the arguments in this thread about whether we have to use the whole of the canon to gather the truth moot; any given individual will use whatever parts of the canon are necessary for them to gain access to the insights but how much of it they need will vary.

While the myths may describe an underlying truth in a way that gets through to some, those who gain the truth from myths are those who are clear on the myths being metaphor. To a far larger degree the myths confuse and distract newcomers from actually seeing the truth. I would argue that seen from the larger perspective, the myths are damaging to the majority of people's ability to get to the point where they understand what is being taught. The vast majority.

What I see is that the Buddha's teaching is a simple, elegant, concise whole; that it all fits together quite neatly without any need for a leap of faith anywhere. Every bit of it can be directly seen in one's own experience without having to bend or stretch a single explanation. But finding it, buried under all the conflicting layers of myths and beliefs, is far more difficult than it should be.

I applaud those who will apply a scholarly approach from within Buddhism itself to get at the historical accuracy of what the Buddha taught. One cannot simply try to guess at what was meant because even if one reached the truth that way, it will not help all the other Buddhists out there see the underlying truth – they will cling as dearly as we humans do to any cherished belief and never let go – unless those who argue for the simpler dhamma can back up their points with solid evidence from the canon.

I want to be clear that I am not saying that the Buddha's talks as he presented them in his time were “simple” – he was clearly a master rhetorician and used complex metaphors to get his point across to a wide variety of people coming from extremely different cultures within his society, so his talks are subtle and blunt by turns, as needed. Nor am I saying that it's simple to explain the dhamma to anyone who hasn't already seen it: it goes against human instinct to look at the world this way, it's not “natural” to us so it can be difficult to see and accept; but once you have seen it, it is obvious and (for example) the view of us as having “constructed” selves is supported by modern science; nothing revealed by seeing the dhamma is contradicted by science.

The underlying truth itself is simple and extremely consistent, and doesn't “belong” to anyone. Methods of teaching and beliefs about them “belong” to certain schools. That there is no “who” to be found – that is, that we humans are constructed – is not relevant to ownership; Schools and Traditions are constructed too; ownership is a constructed concept also, but they are useful concepts; it is skillful for us to take responsibility for our actions, and taking ownership of the way we present ideas is part of that skill set.

Personally, I find it heart-breaking – because it means so many people continue to suffer rather than being able to obtain “Right View” and so they lose the opportunity to live their lives in clarity – it's heart-breaking that the beauty of the Buddha's teaching has been lost, that the simplicity of the truth has gotten so hard to reach because of all the distortions; a bitter irony that it's clinging to views that is the root cause of the loss.

If the dhamma does not belong to anyone, why should it matter “What the Buddha *actually* taught”? It matters because (1) what he taught had perfect internal consistency (2) adding outside ideas to his teachings distorts them in a way that undoes the internal consistency (3) gaining an understanding of the original teachings gets one to insight faster than trying to reach understanding through the distorted view.

[NOTE: This post actually addresses the comments of a variety of posters in this thread; it's not all directed towards PeterB's comments, above.]
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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby PeterB » Wed Oct 28, 2009 8:41 am

Clearly the Dhamma does not belong to anyone. Its custodian however is the Sangha. We were given three jewels to go to for Refuge.
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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby nowheat » Wed Oct 28, 2009 9:43 am

PeterB wrote:Clearly the Dhamma does not belong to anyone. Its custodian however is the Sangha. We were given three jewels to go to for Refuge.

Absolutely. Very well and concisely stated, Peter. :namaste:
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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Oct 28, 2009 11:43 am

Hello:

Perhaps one reason we get hung up on the issue of "myths" in Buddhism is that most of us are coming from a cultural context in which said myths don't enjoy common currency. Therefore they seem strange. But if you look at, for example, Christian myths, it turns out that most Westerners -- even secular ones -- don't have any problem integrating them into discourse. The garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, the Christian notion of hell, etc...these are deeply familiar to us.

The same holds true, to an extent, of pagan Greek mythology. I could have a conversation tomorrow and say something about Mt. Olympus or Apollo pursuing Daphne, and no one would think this crazy. Pretentious, maybe, but not crazy. :tongue:

But if someone starts talking about beings born spontaneously from lotus flowers...well, that's a different matter. It's not simply that myth per se is problematic; myth becomes problematic when it is someone else's myth and we are having trouble integrating it in within our own frame of references. When that happens, we sense a barrier and anxiety arises.
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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby Jechbi » Wed Oct 28, 2009 4:06 pm

Thank you, Bhante, for these thoughts.
Paññāsikhara wrote:Even the Anguttara Nikaya states to the effect of:

"What is spoken by the Buddha, is well spoken,
What is well spoken, that is spoken by the Buddha."

I found this similar passage in the Uttaravipattisutta, describing what Ven. Uttara told Sakka. It's not the same:
Ven. Uttara wrote:King of gods, close to a village or hamlet there is a huge mass of grains collected and the public carry it away. They carry it away in pingoes, baskets, on the hip, and in their hands. If someone approaches them and asks - From where do you take this grain? Explaining it in what manner would the public explain it correctly? Venerable sir, answering it correctly, they would say from that mass of grains we carry it away.

In the same manner king of gods, whatever good words spoken, are those of The Blessed One worthy and rightfully enlightened. We and others follow it up and say it appropriately.
Can you help me track down the passage you were referring to?

Paññāsikhara wrote:To me, some revisionists miss the latter in favor of the former.
The latter meaning - whatever is "well spoken" (~~ leads to kusala) is "buddha-vac".
Even if some deranged psychopathic lunatic states - "Be good to your mother", that too is "buddha-vac".

This is a very important point, Bhante, and I'm glad you brought it up. From time to time, people come here from different traditions or backgrounds and say things that to me seem perfectly reasonable from their own perspective. And I'll see a nugget of wisdom buried in there. Like this statement:
christopher::: wrote:First off, i am in agreement with Chicka-Dee that what really matters is the change within ourselves, learning to trust or actualize our Buddha potential, walking the path Buddha taught. In other words, that we take the instructions the Buddha gave (or for nonBuddhists, the instructions of the wisest teachers they have come across) and actually come to live by those instructions. In other words, practice trumps views, dharma practice (aka, how we think and live and behave) is most essential and views are important mostly in how they assist us in that way.
... which is from this thread.

But those types of statements tend to provoke a very harsh backlash from some who apparently feel they are defending what they perceive as the truly true "Buddhadhamma." I'm glad that you have arrived here, Bhante, to help set an example of respectful conversation even in the face of differing views.

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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby pink_trike » Wed Oct 28, 2009 6:54 pm

"A call to arms..."

I keep thinking that's a very interesting title coming from a Buddhist.
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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Oct 28, 2009 7:01 pm

pink_trike wrote:"A call to arms..."

I keep thinking that's a very interesting title coming from a Buddhist.

Onward Buddhist soldiers, marching as to war....
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.

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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby PeterB » Wed Oct 28, 2009 7:16 pm

well it does go on to make clear that the "arms" are reason... :smile:
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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Oct 28, 2009 7:51 pm

PeterB wrote:well it does go on to make clear that the "arms" are reason... :smile:

How disappointing. I was so hoping for swords and other pointy things to smite the non-believers into mindful submission.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby PeterB » Wed Oct 28, 2009 8:11 pm

As long as its "mindful".....
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Re: Call to arms for reasoned & critical perspective on Buddhism

Postby Individual » Wed Oct 28, 2009 10:46 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Ajahn Sujuato and his ilk are using the working assumption that:
"The correct things are those which everyone agrees on".

This is a useful way to analyse the data, but does not necessarily lead to the "correct" conclusion. Obviously one could quote historical examples in science and other areas where the majority turned out to be wrong.

Mike

His "ilk"?

Also, if it does not necessarily lead to the correct conclusion, why call it a "useful" way to analyze the data?

PeterB wrote:well it does go on to make clear that the "arms" are reason... :smile:

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