BlackBird wrote:I'd be quite interested in knowing how Mahayana practitioners see and or explain the creation of the Sutras. What is the general out look in Mahayana circles? I imagine that critical thinking is not exclusive to Theravada.
This is my opinion - Mahayana sutras are certainly not the word of the historical Buddha, and are clearly a later invention by some very intelligent individuals. These Sutras put their credibility on the fact that the Buddha is speaking them, do they not? Now if these Sutras are not the word of the historical Buddha, what is the logical implication of that? Can a Mahayana practitioner know and accept that the Sutras are not the word of the Buddha and still practice accordingly?
Just a short and non-exhaustive response:
The whole idea of a "historical" buddha is kind of a new one, really.
The term "buddhavacana" is a technical term, which only superficially means "that spoken by the (historical) buddha".
A number of other texts in the Theravada canon are not taught by the "historical" buddha, either.
But, they conform to what the Buddha taught, and so many have been considered as "buddhavacana".
The Anguttara Nikaya (have found this before, but can't quite place it right now) has a statement:
What is spoken by the Buddha is well spoken,
What is well spoken is spoken by the Buddha.
The idea of the "historical" buddha is only the former, not the latter statement.
Similarly, an important statement from an early Mahayana sutra: The Lord said to the Venerable Subhuti, the Elder: Make it clear now,
Subhuti, to the Bodhisattvas, the great beings, starting from perfect wisdom, how
the Bodhisattvas, the great beings go forth into perfect wisdom!
Thereupon the Venerable Sariputra thought to himself:  Will that
Venerable Subhuti, the Elder, expound perfect wisdom of himself, through the
operation and force of his own power of revealing wisdom, or through the
The Venerable Subhuti, who knew, through the Buddha’s might, that the
Venerable Sariputra was in such wise discoursing in his heart, said to the
Venerable Sariputra: Whatever, Venerable Sariputra, the Lord’s Disciples teach,
all that is to be know as the Tathagata’s work. For in the dharma demonstrated by
the Tathagata they train themselves, they realise its true nature, they hold it in
mind. Thereafter nothing that they teach contradicts the true nature of dharma.
Whatever those sons of good family may expound as the nature of dharma, that
they do not bring into contradiction with the actual nature of dharma.
One who has realized what the buddha (realized one) has realized, can also teach the Dhamma.
Many have the idea that the canon was "closed" with the first council, but this is almost certainly not the case. Whole collections like much of the KN and parts of other Nikayas, are obviously a couple of centuries later. At this time, there are a number of other texts that were not accepted by the Mahaviharins, but may have been accepted by other schools. And vice versa, there are parts of the Mahaviharin canon that other schools rejected as not "buddhavacana".
There was probably quite a debate and struggle going on for definitions of this term. To just say "what was taught by the "historical" buddha" is far too simplistic, and usually ends up in fallacies like circular arguments or begging the question.
When one says that they are taught by the "buddha", as non-native speakers of Indic languages, living millenia later, we are often confused. We think, "Oh, the word "buddha" means Gautama, he is the historical buddha". But this is not really so. The word "buddha" was originally simply the word "awoken" or "realized", a regular adjective that could be applied to any spiritual figure. The Jaina was also a buddha, according to the Jains. Probably even in the Buddhist tradition itself, anybody who had bodhim buddhyate is also a buddha, ie. anyone who has awoken to awakening is also an awakened one. Similar for jina, arahant, sugata, etc.
This is even more likely that groups which formed early during the teachers teaching career would have such more generalized usage, before later groups came along and tried to limit the usage of the "buddha". These groups would also possibly not have heard the teachings on the Vinaya, because they came later too. But they would live like the teacher - and remember, it appears that the teacher's ascetic forest practice was more prevalent during the early years of his teachings - and probably have great insight too. They may have been soon led by their own teachers who may have only had minimal contact with the Teacher, maybe hearing just a few basics. They would have had to give their own explanations. But, they would have had insight.
It is only later that there was a tendency amongst some groups to only use the word "buddha" for the teacher himself. There were probably quite a few groups that continued to use the word "buddha" to describe anybody who had woken up. But other groups, those that heard a lot from the buddha during his later years, heard all his vinaya, his more systematized teachings, they would have narrowed the meaning of "buddha" to the Teacher.
(Imagine when later, younger members from this group who heard vinaya and narrow meaning of "buddha", would have encountered the Teachers earlier students, still living in the forest, and using the word "buddha" to refer to somebody else! and they don't practice Vinaya, either! Oh, horror of horrors!)
Now, this is particularly relevant when we have recently had debates about mahayana and hinayana, as these debates have often stressed that the theravada definition (unlike the so-called "hinayana" one) states that the awakening (bodhi) of an arhat is the same as that of a buddha. (Actually, most of the Mahayana agrees, but says that the difference is elsewhere, not in bodhi.) Well, then sariputta is also buddha, and so is moggallana, and ..., like that little Mahayana sutra above, so is Subhuti.
So, the words that Subhuti, who is a buddha, teaches, are also buddhavacana.
And those teachings of Subhuti in that Mahayana sutra (the portion considered by scholars to be the oldest core) is very similar to the sort of things that the Sthaviras say that Subhuti said, too.