what the buddha taught

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what the buddha taught

Postby kayy » Wed Feb 03, 2010 7:53 pm

Hi all

I was wondering: I have seen/heard many times that the Buddha's teachings were not written down until several hundred years after his death, and that until then, they were passed down from generation to generation of practitioners, monks etc through speech.

How, then, do we know that the suttas are really what the Buddha taught? How can we be sure to take them word-for-word, when the people who put them down on paper were most likely unenlightened beings who spoke a different language from the Buddha himself, half a century after he lived?

I don't mean this as a criticism - it's just something that's bugging me.

Any answers would be most lovely.

Best wishes

Katy
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Re: what the buddha taught

Postby seanpdx » Wed Feb 03, 2010 7:57 pm

kayy wrote:How, then, do we know that the suttas are really what the Buddha taught?


We don't. Welcome to the world of buddhist studies.
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Re: what the buddha taught

Postby kayy » Wed Feb 03, 2010 8:18 pm

Hahaha. Bum!

But most people (at least in Theravada) seem to accept that the suttas are what the Buddha taught, right?

Is there overwhelming evidence to support this? Or do people take the suttas on faith because they have tried and tested some of them, discovered that they make sense, so made the decision to adopt the rest?

What if you come across a sutta that makes no sense to you, or that you in some way disagree with? Do you reject it, on the grounds that you can't really be sure that it's what the Buddha taught, or do you accept it?

How does it work?

Best wishes

Katy
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Re: what the buddha taught

Postby seanpdx » Wed Feb 03, 2010 8:46 pm

kayy wrote:But most people (at least in Theravada) seem to accept that the suttas are what the Buddha taught, right?


Right.

Is there overwhelming evidence to support this?


No. There is, however, evidence of apparent contradiction between some suttas. There are various explanations amongst scholars to explain why this is.

Or do people take the suttas on faith because they have tried and tested some of them, discovered that they make sense, so made the decision to adopt the rest?


Amongst religious followers, this is one of the reasons. Most people can be lumped into two categories: people born into a religion, and people who convert to a religion. Those born into a religion tend to accept on faith from the beginning. Those who convert tend to see some kernel of truth and then accept the rest on faith upon conversion.

What if you come across a sutta that makes no sense to you, or that you in some way disagree with? Do you reject it, on the grounds that you can't really be sure that it's what the Buddha taught, or do you accept it?


Personally, I pursue a number of courses, all of which revolve around critically examining the text. I read other translations, read other suttas that discuss the same topic, examine the pali, read what monastics have to say about it, and read scholarly papers I can find on the topic. I then try to come to my own conclusion, and if I can't, I put it aside to revisit at another time. There are also times when I may read a sutta, agree with and/or make sense of it, and then later begin questioning what it says/means.

However, not making sense of a sutta, or not agreeing with a sutta, does not mean that the Buddha didn't teach it. Likewise, agreeing with a sutta doesn't mean that the Buddha did teach it. So there's more to it than simply agreeing with, or making sense of, a sutta.
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Re: what the buddha taught

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Feb 03, 2010 9:56 pm

Greetings Katy,

Have a read of this and let us know what you think...

What the Buddha Really Taught (The Pali Suttas and Chinese Agamas) - Bhikkhu Sujato
http://santipada.googlepages.com/whatth ... allytaught

Feel free also to peruse the...

Early Buddhism forum
viewforum.php?f=29

... which aims to explore the early textual issues.

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: what the buddha taught

Postby baratgab » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:11 pm

kayy wrote:What if you come across a sutta that makes no sense to you, or that you in some way disagree with? Do you reject it, on the grounds that you can't really be sure that it's what the Buddha taught, or do you accept it?


Living and practicing according to the dhamma is a complex process of development. ;) If one doesn't agree with a teaching now, it is often the case that agreement develops at a later time. I think it is a good practice to be cautious about judging everything from our current mind-state. My stance is to practice what I understand about the path of development, in order to develop that mind-state, and then use that more developed mind-state to do further investigation. For example, rebirth is something that is ought to be a direct experience at a certain point of development; because of this I can't see much point in debating it with intellect.

Regarding the authenticity, I can't say much about the period of oral tradition, but if you are concerned about the deformation of the written texts too, it is good to know that there are comparative studies of our Pali texts and their Mahayana equivalents, the Āgamas. These traditions separated quite a long time ago, but despite of this the doctrinal core of the suttas is identical in most case. The differences are mainly found in the introductions and conclusions; e.g. in which place the event occurred, and what attainments the listeners had.

As far as I know, Bhante Sujato of Santi Forest Monastery is one monk who invests quite a lot of time and effort into this area. You can listen to his talk titled "The Hidden Structure Of The Buddhist Scriptures", which maybe highlights some points about the authenticity of the texts.
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Re: what the buddha taught

Postby Dan74 » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:21 pm

I recall Pannasikkhara (hope he weighs in) say that among other reasons the two versions of the suttas as preserved by different traditions and in existence today (The Pali Canon and the Chinese Agamas) are virtually identical with some minor differences.

Of course one question that arises is when this divergence of traditions took place and could there have been corruption of the suttas as they were spoken prior to that.

My feeling is that we have a lot of original material there and possibly some later accretions. But as others have said - try for yourself and see!

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Re: what the buddha taught

Postby BlackBird » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:32 pm

Dan74 wrote:(hope he weighs in)


Seconded.

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Re: what the buddha taught

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:40 pm

kayy wrote:But most people (at least in Theravada) seem to accept that the suttas are what the Buddha taught, right?
Scholar of early Pali Buddhism, Richard Gombrich, states: "I have the greatest difficulty in accepting that the main edifice [of the Pali Texts, the suttas] is not the work of one genius." I agree with this. This is not something that can be proved or disproved. It is one scholar’s educated impression, based upon a very critical, long term study of these texts and the historical context of the Buddha. I think it can be argued reasonably from any number of angles that the early monks did a decent job of preserving the Buddha’s teachings, which is not to say there are no historical issues to be considered in the "preservation" of the Buddha's teachings. Again, there is no definitive, final objective proof for or against these claims.

Or do people take the suttas on faith because they have tried and tested some of them, discovered that they make sense, so made the decision to adopt the rest?
Some do; some don’t. Faith and literalism are not equivalent words. Literalism does not require a very deep, mature faith grounded in insight, grounded in practice. Literalism is for those who want certainly in the face of insecurity, failing to recognize the wisdom of insecurity.

What if you come across a sutta that makes no sense to you, or that you in some way disagree with?
In the terms of what I subjectively consider the core of the Buddha’s teachings, I have not had that problem. The 32/88 marks I find a bit odd; I cannot agree with the standard Theravadin claim of “omniscience,” but to me these don’t affect the core - Four Noble Truths/paticcasamuppada - teachings. These things have historical contexts in which they can be “explained away.”

Do you reject it, on the grounds that you can't really be sure that it's what the Buddha taught, or do you accept it?
Depends upon what you are talking about, and how really sure do you need to be? Do we do the Protestant notion of the inerrancy of the scriptures, if one thing is questionable, then the whole edifice is questionable? I do not see that that is a necessary position to take, nor is it necessarily congruent with the spirit of the Buddha’s teachings. You look at the “rebirth debate” thread, which is illustrative of how different people take these things. The bottom line is, as you suggested, does the practice of the Buddha’s teachings allow you to “lighten up” a bit, suffer somewhat less, to be a bit more empathetic and compassionate?
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: what the buddha taught

Postby baratgab » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:50 pm

I have just found on Bhante Sujato's page the following Four Reliances Sutra, which is supposed to be an early text, but it is not in the Pali collection; I thought that I could share it with you, as it is highly relevant :

Four Reliances Sutra
Sanskrit text and translation of a short but important sutra, probably early, but not found in the Pali collection.

“catvāri pratiśaraṇāni| tadyathā-arthapratiśaraṇatā na vyañjanapratiśaraṇatā| jñānapratiśaraṇatā na vijñānapratiśaraṇatā| nītārthapratiśaraṇatā na neyārthapratiśaraṇatā| dharmapratiśaraṇatā na pudgalapratiśaraṇatā ceti||”

“Four reliances: that is, reliance on the Dhamma not (merely) reliance on the person; reliance on the meaning not (merely) reliance on the phrasing; reliance on the suttas whose meaning is already drawn out not (merely) reliance on those suttas whose meaning is to be drawn out (interpreted); reliance on extraordinary-knowledge* not (merely) reliance on (intellectual) discrimination.”

http://santifm1.0.googlepages.com/fourreliancessutra
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Re: what the buddha taught

Postby kayy » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:53 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
kayy wrote:But most people (at least in Theravada) seem to accept that the suttas are what the Buddha taught, right?
Scholar of early Pali Buddhism, Richard Gombrich, states: "I have the greatest difficulty in accepting that the main edifice [of the Pali Texts, the suttas] is not the work of one genius." I agree with this. This is not something that can be proved or disproved. It is one scholar’s educated impression, based upon a very critical, long term study of these texts and the historical context of the Buddha. I think it can be argued reasonably from any number of angles that the early monks did a decent job of preserving the Buddha’s teachings, which is not to say there are no historical issues to be considered in the "preservation" of the Buddha's teachings. Again, there is no definitive, final objective proof for or against these claims.

Or do people take the suttas on faith because they have tried and tested some of them, discovered that they make sense, so made the decision to adopt the rest?
Some do; some don’t. Faith and literalism are not equivalent words. Literalism does not require a very deep, mature faith grounded in insight, grounded in practice. Literalism is for those who want certainly in the face of insecurity, failing to recognize the wisdom of insecurity.

What if you come across a sutta that makes no sense to you, or that you in some way disagree with?
In the terms of what I subjectively consider the core of the Buddha’s teachings, I have not had that problem. The 32/88 marks I find a bit odd; I cannot agree with the standard Theravadin claim of “omniscience,” but to me these don’t affect the core - Four Noble Truths/paticcasamuppada - teachings. These things have historical contexts in which they can be “explained away.”

Do you reject it, on the grounds that you can't really be sure that it's what the Buddha taught, or do you accept it?
Depends upon what you are talking about, and how really sure do you need to be? Do we do the Protestant notion of the inerrancy of the scriptures, if one thing is questionable, then the whole edifice is questionable? I do not see that that is a necessary position to take, nor is it necessarily congruent with the spirit of the Buddha’s teachings. You look at the “rebirth debate” thread, which is illustrative of how different people take these things. The bottom line is, as you suggested, does the practice of the Buddha’s teachings allow you to “lighten up” a bit, suffer somewhat less, to be a bit more empathetic and compassionate?



Hi,

So far, meditation practice has helped me a lot, both in terms of lightening up and relaxing a bit, and seeing my mind a little bit more clearly.

However, many of the things I read by Buddhists have led me to some fairly dark mental suffering over the past few months. I have questioned the point of my life, I have become obsessed with death and become depressed and withdrawn when I contemplate on it for too long.

The main thing, though, is that I often tell myself that my attachments to my parents, friends, hobbies, desire for a job that gives me enough money to pay my rent, playing music, singing, learning languages... in short, all the things that keep me from falling into the black hole of depression, are nothing but attachments that ought to be renounced. In thinking like this, I became very depressed, to the point of suicidal depression for a short time, and extremely withdrawn from life.

Before I became interested in Buddhism I was lighter at heart and could laugh at most things, including life.


I have since let go of this "obsession" with Buddhist teachings of renunciation, have re-taken up seeing my friends, looking for a job, learning languages, singing and watching films, and I am slowly recovering from my depression. I am still very susceptible to falling back into it, though, so I try to be careful with what and how much I read. I don't want to feed my suffering.

sorry, I know this is completely off topic. But as you say, it is the bottom line, and for me personally, I don't yet know how compatible I am with buddhism. It's not been a happy relationship so far.

Best wishes.

Katy
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Re: what the buddha taught

Postby kayy » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:57 pm

Maybe some people would tell me that by returning to my worldly attachments, I was just running away from my suffering, trying to find solace in impermanent things.

This is true.

But when you suffer from depression, and when you are suicidally depressed, it is simply not a viable option to delve into it. It is too dangerous: what lies further into depression but psychosis and possible suicide?

Distraction is really the only option (in the immediate term anyway). After... then you can deal with the underlying problems. But depressives need external support, distractions, family, friends, exercise, etc.
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Re: what the buddha taught

Postby seanpdx » Wed Feb 03, 2010 11:00 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
kayy wrote:But most people (at least in Theravada) seem to accept that the suttas are what the Buddha taught, right?
Scholar of early Pali Buddhism, Richard Gombrich, states: "I have the greatest difficulty in accepting that the main edifice [of the Pali Texts, the suttas] is not the work of one genius." I agree with this. This is not something that can be proved or disproved. It is one scholar’s educated impression, based upon a very critical, long term study of these texts and the historical context of the Buddha. I think it can be argued reasonably from any number of angles that the early monks did a decent job of preserving the Buddha’s teachings, which is not to say there are no historical issues to be considered in the "preservation" of the Buddha's teachings. Again, there is no definitive, final objective proof for or against these claims.


And while tilt happily cites one particular scholar who does, in fact, accept the bulk of the canon as being authentic, he does a disservice in not citing contrary opinions from other scholars.

Katy: Rarely will people give you more than one side. Find as many sides as possible.
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Re: what the buddha taught

Postby Ben » Wed Feb 03, 2010 11:18 pm

seanpdx wrote:And while tilt happily cites one particular scholar who does, in fact, accept the bulk of the canon as being authentic, he does a disservice in not citing contrary opinions from other scholars.


That's a cheap shot. If you want an alternative point of view Sean, I suggest you pull your finger out and back up your argument with citations yourself. Its not anyone else's responsibility except yours.

Gombrich is very highly regarded and considered by many as an authority.

Richard Francis Gombrich (born 17 July 1937) is a British Indologist and scholar of Sanskrit, Pāli, and Buddhist Studies. He acted as the Boden Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford from 1976 to 2004. He is currently Founder-President of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. He is a past President of the Pali Text Society (1994-2002) and General Editor Emeritus of the Clay Sanskrit Library.
-- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Gombrich
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Re: what the buddha taught

Postby Guy » Wed Feb 03, 2010 11:21 pm

Hi Katy,

It's important to have some happiness in our life and the goal of the Buddha's Teaching is nothing short of Ultimate Happiness! Even before we reach full enlightenment there are many benefits to practice. For example:

Dana (generosity) is a great way to generate happiness. When we give to others we also chip away at some selfish tendencies which we may have, the more selfish we are the more miserable and lonely we tend to become. When we are kind to others, especially those who need it, we feel like our life has real meaning. This is one kind of happiness that the Buddha taught.

Sila (moral restraint) is another very valuable source of happiness. Do you know the five precepts? Do you keep them? When you really put forth effort to practice moral restraint, even when it is difficult to do so, you will benefit in so many ways. One way you benefit is the fact that you when you come to meditate you can recollect the purity of your conduct and can be free from remorse due to the fact that you have not intentionally harmed yourself or others. Another benefit to morality is that other people learn that you are a dependable person and they will be more inclined to trust you.

Samadhi (meditation) brings much peace, joy, bliss and real happiness. It also brings with it insight into the nature of existence which helps us to not get so upset when things go "bad" and not to get too excited when things are "good" for us. In other words, it makes us a more calm and ready for the curve balls life throws our way sometimes.

Also I would recommend practicing some form of Metta (loving kindness) meditation technique since this has helped me a lot, especially when I am feeling a bit emotionally flat.

One last thing, when you look back and ask yourself if you are making spiritual progress or not and you use your levels of peace and happiness as a measure - make sure that you are not looking at it from a day to day or even week to week basis. You need to look at the long term since we have many ups and downs in our life especially in the short term. Generally speaking I am convinced that anyone who gives this Path their best effort will have a lot of happiness in the long term.

With Metta,

Guy
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Re: what the buddha taught

Postby meindzai » Wed Feb 03, 2010 11:22 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
kayy wrote:But most people (at least in Theravada) seem to accept that the suttas are what the Buddha taught, right?
Scholar of early Pali Buddhism, Richard Gombrich, states: "I have the greatest difficulty in accepting that the main edifice [of the Pali Texts, the suttas] is not the work of one genius." I agree with this.



Awesome - that's exactly how I feel. Given the size and scope of the Pali canon it is remarkably consistent and clear. The nikayas alone just about fill an entire bookshelf. If it isn't the work of a singular genius it is then the work of multiple geniuses working in such a display of harmony as has never been witnessed in any other body of work. If it's the case that it's more than one person then I'm fine with compositing that group into a being I call "The Buddha" just the same.

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Re: what the buddha taught

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Feb 03, 2010 11:24 pm

Greetings meindzai,

Not being a scholar, but having read the MN, SN & DN cover-to-cover, and having read bits and pieces of AN & KN along the way, I'm inclined to agree with you.

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 the buddha taught

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Feb 03, 2010 11:27 pm

seanpdx wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
kayy wrote:But most people (at least in Theravada) seem to accept that the suttas are what the Buddha taught, right?
Scholar of early Pali Buddhism, Richard Gombrich, states: "I have the greatest difficulty in accepting that the main edifice [of the Pali Texts, the suttas] is not the work of one genius." I agree with this. This is not something that can be proved or disproved. It is one scholar’s educated impression, based upon a very critical, long term study of these texts and the historical context of the Buddha. I think it can be argued reasonably from any number of angles that the early monks did a decent job of preserving the Buddha’s teachings, which is not to say there are no historical issues to be considered in the "preservation" of the Buddha's teachings. Again, there is no definitive, final objective proof for or against these claims.


And while tilt happily cites one particular scholar who does, in fact, accept the bulk of the canon as being authentic, he does a disservice in not citing contrary opinions from other scholars.
Disservice? Only in your opinion, which to misses the fact that what I was expressing is my opinion, which is nicely voiced by Gombrich.

Katy: Rarely will people give you more than one side. Find as many sides as possible.
I seemed to have acknowledged in my posting that there is more than one side, and in a different context, I would have no problem with quoting others who see things differently. But this pointy little bit of yours raises the question does one eally need to become a Buddhologist to practice the Dhamma? How much is really necessary for us to know in term of scholary study of the history of Buddhism in order to practice the Dhamma, which seems to be an implied the PO's question?
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 the buddha taught

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Feb 03, 2010 11:42 pm

Katy,

In reading through your response to me and your “depression” msg, I think I see what you are struggling with. One teacher that I had would say: Keep it light and easy. Do not get so grim about it. Part of the problem is that you are looking at texts that are directed at monastics, and the Buddha can be quite uncompromising in his exhortation to the monks and nuns. It is context and to whom these texts are addressed that is actually quite important to consider. You are not a monastic, so do not have take that level of practice as a model for your practice. There is no need for it.

I would strongly suggest backing off more than a bit from the stuff that is depressing you, that you find difficult. Just give yourself some space. There is really nice book out there by Jack Kornfield called A PATH WITH HEART. He is a very, very experienced teacher. This book, which is the result of his years of teaching, is well worth spending with. It will help you get some balance dealing with these issues. I would strongly recommend it.

tilt
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 the buddha taught

Postby seanpdx » Wed Feb 03, 2010 11:45 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
seanpdx wrote:And while tilt happily cites one particular scholar who does, in fact, accept the bulk of the canon as being authentic, he does a disservice in not citing contrary opinions from other scholars.
Disservice? Only in your opinion, which to misses the fact that what I was expressing is my opinion, which is nicely voiced by Gombrich.


In terms of objectivity, it's a disservice.

Katy: Rarely will people give you more than one side. Find as many sides as possible.
I seemed to have acknowledged in my posting that there is more than one side, and in a different context, I would have no problem with quoting others who see things differently. But this pointy little bit of yours raises the question does rone eally need to become a Buddhologist to practice the Dhamma? How much is really necessary for us to know in term of scholary study of the history of Buddhism in order to practice the Dhamma, which seems to be an implied the PO's question?


To practice? No, and not much, respectively. But I read the OP from an epistemological perspective, not merely the perspective of someone who wishes to practice. On the other hand... the case can be made that if one doesn't really know what the Buddha taught, then one doesn't really know whether one is practicing the Buddha's dhamma.
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