Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the Mahayana sutras?

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Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the Mahayana sutras?

Postby Tex » Thu Jan 29, 2009 5:31 am

Disclaimer: I mean no disrespect to any Buddhist or non-Buddhist.

Now, what is the Theravadin consensus on the sutras and their origin? Authentic Dhamma? Apocryphal? Perhaps a bit of both, as the Dhamma spread from one land to another and encountered other existant cultural traditions?

I really haven't read many sutras and would be curious to hear other Theravadins' takes...
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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the sutras?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Jan 29, 2009 5:48 am

Sutras? Do you mean Mahayana sutras? Or do you mean the Pali suttas?
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.

dheamhan a fhios agam

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

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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the sutras?

Postby Tex » Thu Jan 29, 2009 5:53 am

Sutras.

I.e., the authenticity of the suttas is not in question among Theravadins as far as I know, but what do most make of the sutras and their origins?...
"The serene and peaceful mind is the true epitome of human achievement."-- Ajahn Chah, Living Dhamma

"To reach beyond fear and danger we must sharpen and widen our vision. We have to pierce through the deceptions that lull us into a comfortable complacency, to take a straight look down into the depths of our existence, without turning away uneasily or running after distractions." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi

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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the sutras?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Jan 29, 2009 6:35 am

They are obviously not Buddha-word in the same way the Pali suttas can claim to be. As Richard Gombrich states: "I have the greatest difficulty in accepting that the main edifice [of the Pali suttas] is not the work of one genius." The Mahayana sutras in some occasion exhibit deep insight; in other, many others, they present a marked sectarianism, and there is a very obvious position of opposition that characterize much of the Mahayana's development of its signature doctrines.

Paul Williams' BUDDHIST THOUGHT, chapter 3, give an excellent discussion of the origins of the Mahayana and its texts.

Another book of interest is Text as Father: Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature, by Alan Cole. Here is what someone (WML) who has said on e-sangha:

The author analyzes the Mahayana sutras as works of literature constructed with very purposeful polemical agendas.

The threats of hell in the sutras are a direct consequence of the fact that the religion can only lay claims to authority on the basis of its texts. In other words, since Mahayana has no historical lineage to the Buddha himself, and since the bodhisattva ideal is unverifiable in the present life, the text itself must be made into an idol--an object of blind faith and worship.

The psychological manipulations engineered within these sutras are too numerous to describe here, but the author of the book performs what seems like a pretty comprehensive analysis.

The intense Buddhist fundamentalism in these sutras ("believe this text or you'll go to hell") is so utterly contrary to the spirit of the Kalama sutta; but this makes perfect sense because any tradition lacking historical or pragmatic claims to veracity must have textual claims instead. A textual claim to truth can only be founded upon a fundamentalism of sorts.

One can observe some interesting similarities in technique between the Mahayana sutras and the Book of Mormon. (Both arose lacking claims grounded in historical reality or empirical pragmatism.) As such, both of these attempt to gain confidence from the reader through emotional manipulation. This manipulation especially operates through techniques that cause the reader to feel as though they possess a profound personal relationship or connection with the text itself (hence the book's name "Text as Father"). This sort of polemical technique is epitomized at the end of the Book of Mormon, which says (to paraphrase): "If anyone is unsure about the truth of this book, then let them pray to God and God will tell them the answer." (I have to admit this made me both laugh and cry a little bit inside when I first became aware of it...)

Really, if anyone is interested in understanding the early Mahayana tradition from a polemical and psychological point of view, "Text as Father" is strongly recommended.

The comments about the Kalama Sutta and Mormon seems to be the commentator's own, not from Cole's.
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.

dheamhan a fhios agam

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

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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the sutras?

Postby Ben » Thu Jan 29, 2009 7:19 am

Hi Tex
Further to Tilt's first comment regarding Gombrich's comment...
I recommend you read Gombrich's work: 'How Buddhism Began: the conditioned genesis of the early teachings'. Considering your question, I think you would find it quite interesting.
Kind regards

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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the Mahayana sutras?

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Jan 29, 2009 8:26 am

Greetings Tex,

I've changed the subject of your topic in the interests of clarity.

My answer is that they were required to justify the Mahayana world view.

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: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the sutras?

Postby Cittasanto » Thu Jan 29, 2009 8:32 am

I find the Sutras to be Post canon, and some of the Suttas could be called that also, but not by far as many.
some of the Sutras are useful, and others are far from useful

EDIT before final posting

just went to post and retros response came up before I could finally post it, I would agree with his also
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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the Mahayana sutras?

Postby jcsuperstar » Thu Jan 29, 2009 9:05 am

didnt i ask this already? or was that on the forum before we switched over?

i have a related question, and maybe if you think it needs to be split off you can split it.

but where do these bodhisattvas come from? the guys we know from the pali suttas are in the sutras, but all of a sudden theres these super dudes. are they in the agamas (anyone know?) and are they in hinduism?
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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the Mahayana sutras?

Postby Cittasanto » Thu Jan 29, 2009 9:13 am

jcsuperstar wrote:didnt i ask this already? or was that on the forum before we switched over?

i have a related question, and maybe if you think it needs to be split off you can split it.

but where do these bodhisattvas come from? the guys we know from the pali suttas are in the sutras, but all of a sudden theres these super dudes. are they in the agamas (anyone know?) and are they in hinduism?


Hi JC
The Bodhisattas are in Theravada and is a term used by the buddha to describe himself before enlightenment, I do suppose it is an all inclusive term engulfing all the stages of the path before Nibbana. There is a Boddhisatta Vow in Theravada also but itis to become the next Buddha not the same as the Mahayana Version.
This is from memory and I don't think it is 100% accurate, I know more about the Mahayana version
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"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."

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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the Mahayana sutras?

Postby jcsuperstar » Thu Jan 29, 2009 9:16 am

i wasnt asking about the idea of the bodhisatta or bodhisatva, but about the bodhisattvas in the sutras those specific guys manjushri, avolektishvara, etc
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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the Mahayana sutras?

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Jan 29, 2009 9:18 am

Greetings JC,

I think that's closely related enough to the topic to stay in this thread.

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


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)

Element

Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the sutras?

Postby Element » Thu Jan 29, 2009 10:05 am

tiltbillings wrote:The Mahayana sutras in some occasion exhibit deep insight...

:reading:

Element

Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the sutras?

Postby Element » Thu Jan 29, 2009 10:10 am

I think to understand the origin of something we can look at the result. The origin will be in the result.

For example, dukkha. It is obvious the origin is ignorance given dukkha is undesirable yet it occurs. People clearly can only hurt and harm themselves from ignorance. One could not hurt and harm themselves from an origin of wisdom because not one being truely seeks to hurt & harm themselves. Even a sucidial person is seeking to escape their pain. If they could end their pain using another method, they would not try suicide.

Similary, the result of Mahayana Buddhism was a slave culture in Tibet, where human beings were supressed, enslaved and controlled by monastic masters in collusion with the ruling elite using a collection of non-Buddhist beliefs, superstitions & rituals.

Therefore, when we examine the end, we will find the origin. When we examine the result, we will find the intention.

With metta

Element

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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the Mahayana sutras?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Jan 29, 2009 10:43 am

Similary, the result of Mahayana Buddhism was a slave culture in Tibet, where human beings were supressed, enslaved and controlled by monastic masters in collusion with the ruling elite using a collection of non-Buddhist beliefs, superstitions & rituals.


Chinese Communists would like to say this sort of thing, but I suspect it is not quite stark as that. But is it any more fair to blame Theravada Buddhism for the ugly and large sex trade and the ongoing illegal child sex slavery in Thailand? And let us not forget that Thailand had been a slave culture in to at least the 19th century.

Therefore, when we examine the end, we will find the origin. When we examine the result, we will find the intention.


So, following your "logic," the intention of the Mahayana was slavery.
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.

dheamhan a fhios agam

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

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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the Mahayana sutras?

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Jan 29, 2009 10:48 am

Greetings Element,

That's a pretty stupid comment. What about the Burmese junta? What do they do to those who follow the Theravadin path.

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


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)

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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the sutras?

Postby Dhammanando » Thu Jan 29, 2009 10:50 am

Hi Element,

Element wrote:I think to understand the origin of something we can look at the result. The origin will be in the result.


In the pre-modern age slaves were employed in the larger monasteries of every Theravada country too. That being so, an argument like yours would rather tend to recoil upon him who advances it.

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Dhammanando Bhikkhu
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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the sutras?

Postby Heavenstorm » Thu Jan 29, 2009 11:13 am

Element wrote:Similary, the result of Mahayana Buddhism was a slave culture in Tibet, where human beings were supressed, enslaved and controlled by monastic masters in collusion with the ruling elite using a collection of non-Buddhist beliefs, superstitions & rituals.


Calling your fellow Buddhists "slave traders" are pretty uncalled for. Its shocking that you read the suttas but yet ignored the basic disciplines of right speech. :shock:

May I know why are you so up against Abhidharma and Mahayana? I see neither one of them deserve the negative attitude you display towards them.

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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the sutras?

Postby Rui Sousa » Thu Jan 29, 2009 1:03 pm

Element wrote:Similary, the result of Mahayana Buddhism was a slave culture in Tibet, where human beings were supressed, enslaved and controlled by monastic masters in collusion with the ruling elite using a collection of non-Buddhist beliefs, superstitions & rituals.


Can you present a source for that information? You present about 5 different assumptions on that phrase, I would like to take a look at your sources to see what conclusions I can reach.

Thank you.
With Metta

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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the Mahayana sutras?

Postby Cittasanto » Thu Jan 29, 2009 4:15 pm

jcsuperstar wrote:i wasnt asking about the idea of the bodhisatta or bodhisatva, but about the bodhisattvas in the sutras those specific guys manjushri, avolektishvara, etc


Sorry misunderstood what you were asking
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."

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Re: Theravadins' thoughts on the origin of the Mahayana sutras?

Postby Dharmajim » Thu Jan 29, 2009 6:34 pm

Good Friends:

The subject of non-Nikaya/Agama Discourses is very complex. First, I think it is a mistake to view them as a unified corpus. It seems that they were written over a long period of time, among various groups, with divergent purposes. Some of them, such as the Diamond Sutra, appear to be very old. Others appear to have been written many centuries after the Buddha's passing.

In other words, I think it is a mistake to use a broad brush in describing them.

My sense of these texts is that they resemble, in many ways, texts on Jesus that continue to appear down to the present time. I don't mean historical works, but works that claim to present the teachings of Jesus, that the author has somehow accessed them and is now presenting "new" teachings. These kinds of works appear every few years; there is really quite a large body of such works.

I think that explains why, historically, Theravada simply hasn't had much to say about non-Nikaya Discourses. Just as dedicated Christian scholars do not spend a lot of time on the above mentioned kinds of works, so also I think that the Nikaya and Agama based traditions just didn't think that they deserved a lot of focus, commentary, and time. That's why one finds so little direct comment on them.

My two cents,

Dharmajim


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