Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

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Stephen18
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Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by Stephen18 »

It is said that in the time of the Buddha thousands of monks, nuns and lay followers attained the four stages of enlightenment. It is obviously not allowed for a monk or nun to declare their attainments, so we do not know the current number of enlightened Buddhists. However it seems to me that this number is far less than that in the time of the Buddha. Is that so?

Does this mean that people now are less spiritually advanced than in his time? Were more people enlightened back then simply because of the Buddha's presence?

I remember reading a sutta of a monk asking why when there were less training rules more people became enlightened, yet when more training rules were established less people attained the paths and fruits.

I've heard some people say that the Sasana is gradually declining, and that it has a lifespan of 5000 years. Is there any truth to that? Obviously the Buddhasasana is unfortunately impermanent, and once it fades there will be again a period of spiritual darkness, after which Metteyya will arise to establish it again. I've also heard that some attainments are no longer possible, such as arahantship, yet stream-entry still is. I really doubt this, since a stream-enterer is bound for arahantship.
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TheNoBSBuddhist
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Re: Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by TheNoBSBuddhist »

Answer me a question or two:

Are you near to arhantship?

Have you even experienced the Jhanas?

How is your practice?

Basically, I'm asking you:

How are all these questions actually enhancing your practice?
What purpose do they serve?

You see, you ask questions which have responses, no doubt, in reference to the suttas;

but the practicality is that you must experience these states for yourself.
it's all 'theory' otherwise, isn't it?

And no amount of question-asking and theoretical teaching is a replacement even for one minute of devoted practice.....

:namaste:
:namaste:

You will not be punished FOR your 'emotions'; you will be punished BY your 'emotions'.



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Pay attention, simplify, and (Meditation instruction in a nutshell) "Mind - the Gap."
‘Absit invidia verbo’ - may ill-will be absent from the word. And mindful of that, if I don't respond, this may be why....
dharmagoat
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Re: Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by dharmagoat »

Yes, Stephen. Please don't ask difficult questions.
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Weakfocus
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Re: Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by Weakfocus »

Stephen K wrote:However it seems to me that this number is far less than that in the time of the Buddha. Is that so?
I have the same feeling. According to suttas during Buddha's time there were gathering in which tens/hundreds of Arahants were present. Soon after Buddha's death, five hundred Arahants were present when the first council was held. :jawdrop:

Today there are very few people whose conduct would lead one to have faith they are Anagami, forget Arahant. If there are indeed hundreds of Arahants in our time, they are doing a good job of hiding themselves.
Stephen K wrote:Does this mean that people now are less spiritually advanced than in his time? Were more people enlightened back then simply because of the Buddha's presence?
I would instead say that most people whose paramitas were ripe got a human birth to coincide with Buddha's life (kamma) and made quick progress. The rest of us with weaker paramitas or a surplus of bad kamma are still finishing the job.
Stephen K wrote:I've heard some people say that the Sasana is gradually declining, and that it has a lifespan of 5000 years. Is there any truth to that?
This is common belief with many buddhist people, but only an Arahant can talk about all these things with certainity. We can only speculate and gossip.
daverupa
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Re: Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by daverupa »

The number 500, and other such numbers in ancient literature, are often stand-in phrases for "a lot", "many", and so forth. Thinking of them in terms of accurate tallies is probably off-target.

A modern example is saying "a ton" to mean a lot.

---

As for the decline of the Sasana, there are some predictions and timelines proffered throughout Buddhist history, but as far as I can tell the Buddha seems to have said that meeting in harmony, frequent meetings, and so forth would be conducive to the continuity of the Sasana.

I'm puzzled at the contrast between both A) giving predictions of destiny, and B) giving conditional relations about it, so I tend to see predictions and destinies and fates as later narrative.

The Sasana will last as long as its conditions manifest, which is not forever. But what luck! It's here now!

:reading: :meditate: :coffee: :heart:
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Mkoll
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Re: Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by Mkoll »

daverupa wrote:I'm puzzled at the contrast between both A) giving predictions of destiny, and B) giving conditional relations about it, so I tend to see predictions and destinies and fates as later narrative.

The Sasana will last as long as its conditions manifest, which is not forever. But what luck! It's here now!

:reading: :meditate: :coffee: :heart:
I agree. :goodpost:

~~~

I bet this guy attained something at or before his death!

Image
The mummified body of Buddhist monk Phra Khru Samathakittikhun (or Loung Por Daeng) remains on display in Thailand in Wat Kunaram on Koh Samui island per his request, some thirty years after his death. He hoped his body, still in the meditation position he died in, would inspire future generations to follow Buddhist teachings and be saved from suffering.

He made this request two months before he died, announcing to his students that he felt his death was imminent. He spent his last seven days without food or water, and spoke to no one, focusing solely on his meditation.

When his eyes dried up and fell back into his head, his fellow monks gave him a nice pair of Ray-Bans to cover the ghastly, gaping sockets.

-source
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
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TheNoBSBuddhist
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Re: Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by TheNoBSBuddhist »

dharmagoat wrote:Yes, Stephen. Please don't ask difficult questions.
No, not 'difficult'....

as I said, the theoretical answers are relatively easy to find and expound.

Conducive to good practice....?

Stephen asks many questions, but I am curious to know whether they are that....

If that's ok with you... ;)

:namaste:
:namaste:

You will not be punished FOR your 'emotions'; you will be punished BY your 'emotions'.



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Pay attention, simplify, and (Meditation instruction in a nutshell) "Mind - the Gap."
‘Absit invidia verbo’ - may ill-will be absent from the word. And mindful of that, if I don't respond, this may be why....
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Re: Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by dharmagoat »

TheNoBSBuddhist wrote:If that's ok with you...
Of course. :redherring:
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aletheia
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Re: Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by aletheia »

Thanks for posting this, Stephen. I was thinking recently of posting the same question, since I have been reading Skilton's A Concise History of Buddhism, in which he states that according to Theravada doctrine, it is no longer possible for anyone to attain arahantship. Unfortunately, he doesn't give any references for this claim. Does anyone know what he might be referencing? Is it something in the canon, the commentaries, or a later, more modern source? Is this actually a "consensus view" among Theravadins or is there dissent on this issue?

To be clear, I don't think this is mere idle theorizing by any stretch of the imagination. If, as the Buddha claims again and again in throughout the Pali canon, the purpose of following the path is to attain arahantship, which is itself the only way to break free from the cycle of suffering, then the doctrine that nobody can achieve arahantship would seem to undermine the whole reason for learning and practicing the Dhamma. So there is something rather important at stake in this question.
Metta,

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Re: Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by Kusala »

Stephen K wrote:It is said that in the time of the Buddha thousands of monks, nuns and lay followers attained the four stages of enlightenment. It is obviously not allowed for a monk or nun to declare their attainments, so we do not know the current number of enlightened Buddhists. However it seems to me that this number is far less than that in the time of the Buddha. Is that so?

Does this mean that people now are less spiritually advanced than in his time? Were more people enlightened back then simply because of the Buddha's presence?

I remember reading a sutta of a monk asking why when there were less training rules more people became enlightened, yet when more training rules were established less people attained the paths and fruits.

I've heard some people say that the Sasana is gradually declining, and that it has a lifespan of 5000 years. Is there any truth to that? Obviously the Buddhasasana is unfortunately impermanent, and once it fades there will be again a period of spiritual darkness, after which Metteyya will arise to establish it again. I've also heard that some attainments are no longer possible, such as arahantship, yet stream-entry still is. I really doubt this, since a stream-enterer is bound for arahantship.


Unfortunately, yes...

"... in the course of the future there will be monks who won't listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata - deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness - are being recited. They won't lend ear, won't set their hearts on knowing them, won't regard these teachings as worth grasping or mastering. But they will listen when discourses that are literary works - the works of poets, elegant in sound, elegant in rhetoric, the work of outsiders, words of disciples - are recited. They will lend ear and set their hearts on knowing them. They will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering."

"In this way the disappearance of the discourses that are words of the Tathagata - deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness - will come about. "


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
"He, the Blessed One, is indeed the Noble Lord, the Perfectly Enlightened One;
He is impeccable in conduct and understanding, the Serene One, the Knower of the Worlds;
He trains perfectly those who wish to be trained; he is Teacher of gods and men; he is Awake and Holy. "

--------------------------------------------
"The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One,
Apparent here and now, timeless, encouraging investigation,
Leading to liberation, to be experienced individually by the wise. "
daverupa
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Re: Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by daverupa »

Causes and conditions of decline are not at all the same as predictions of decline within precise timeframes, so I don't think there is support from the Nikayas, yet.
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by culaavuso »

aletheia wrote:If, as the Buddha claims again and again in throughout the Pali canon, the purpose of following the path is to attain arahantship, which is itself the only way to break free from the cycle of suffering, then the doctrine that nobody can achieve arahantship would seem to undermine the whole reason for learning and practicing the Dhamma.
The suttas seem to suggest that the Dhamma does not disappear all at once, but fades as attention is given to false teachings. Even when the true Dhamma is gone, it is timeless and can be rediscovered by Paccekabuddhas and Sammasambuddhas. Meeting with the teachings is a precious circumstance that would be unwise to neglect.
SN 16.13: Saddhammapatirupaka Sutta wrote: That's the way it is, Kassapa. When beings are degenerating and the true Dhamma is disappearing, there are more training rules and yet fewer monks established in final gnosis. There is no disappearance of the true Dhamma as long as a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has not arisen in the world, but there is the disappearance of the true Dhamma when a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has arisen in the world. Just as there is no disappearance of gold as long as a counterfeit of gold has not arisen in the world, but there is the disappearance of gold when a counterfeit of gold has arisen in the world, in the same way there is no disappearance of the true Dhamma as long as a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has not arisen in the world, but there is the disappearance of the true Dhamma when a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has arisen in the world.[1]

It's not the earth property that makes the true Dhamma disappear. It's not the water property... the fire property... the wind property that makes the true Dhamma disappear. It's worthless people who arise right here [within the Sangha] who make the true Dhamma disappear. The true Dhamma doesn't disappear the way a boat sinks all at once.

Notes
1.
Gold, of course, does not go out of existence simply because there is counterfeit gold. What happens is that it goes out of use: People find that counterfeit gold is easier to use. An added implication of this statement may be that as long as there is only genuine gold, people will not doubt its authenticity. When there is both genuine and counterfeit gold, doubts will arise as to what is genuine — all gold becomes doubtful — and people will end up using whichever is easier or more to their liking.
SN 20.7: Ani Sutta wrote: Monks, there once was a time when the Dasarahas had a large drum called 'Summoner.' Whenever Summoner was split, the Dasarahas inserted another peg in it, until the time came when Summoner's original wooden body had disappeared and only a conglomeration of pegs remained. [1]

In the same way, in the course of the future there will be monks who won't listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — are being recited. They won't lend ear, won't set their hearts on knowing them, won't regard these teachings as worth grasping or mastering. But they will listen when discourses that are literary works — the works of poets, elegant in sound, elegant in rhetoric, the work of outsiders, words of disciples — are recited. They will lend ear and set their hearts on knowing them. They will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.

Note
1.
The Commentary notes that the drum originally could be heard for twelve leagues, but in its final condition couldn't be heard even from behind a curtain.
SN 55.40: Nandiya Sutta wrote: The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One, to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves.
SN 12.65: Nagara Sutta wrote: In the same way I saw an ancient path, an ancient road, traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones of former times. And what is that ancient path, that ancient road, traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones of former times? Just this noble eightfold path
SN 56.48: Chiggala Sutta wrote: It's likewise a sheer coincidence that one obtains the human state. It's likewise a sheer coincidence that a Tathagata, worthy & rightly self-awakened, arises in the world. It's likewise a sheer coincidence that a doctrine & discipline expounded by a Tathagata appears in the world. Now, this human state has been obtained. A Tathagata, worthy & rightly self-awakened, has arisen in the world. A doctrine & discipline expounded by a Tathagata appears in the world.

Therefore your duty is the contemplation, 'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress.' Your duty is the contemplation, 'This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.'
AN 6.20: Maranassati Sutta wrote: Just as when a person whose turban or head was on fire would put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, undivided mindfulness, & alertness to put out the fire on his turban or head, in the same way the monk should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, undivided mindfulness, & alertness for the abandoning of those very same evil, unskillful qualities.
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Re: Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by santa100 »

Stephen K wrote:It is said that in the time of the Buddha thousands of monks, nuns and lay followers attained the four stages of enlightenment. It is obviously not allowed for a monk or nun to declare their attainments, so we do not know the current number of enlightened Buddhists. However it seems to me that this number is far less than that in the time of the Buddha. Is that so?
Since we don't have the wisdom eye, there's no way to know the exact enlightenment statistics between the Buddha time and our time. Anyway, if it's true that the Buddhasasana is really in decline, then all the more reason to hurry up and practice more diligently for it'd only get worse and the chance of hearing and practicing the Dhamma wouldve continued to diminish in subsequent life times..
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Jason
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Re: Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by Jason »

Personally, I don't put too much stock in the whole 'we're living in a degenerate age' thing. One reason is that much of what forms the textual basis for this idea is of a fairly late date and/or commentarial literature. The Anagatavamsa, for example, is a relatively late text and isn't canonical. The Gandhavamsa ascribes authorship to the elder Kassapa, the author of the Mohavicchedani (12th -13th century CE). And the 500 year prophecy, which deals with both the brute survival of the teaching and the survival of the teaching unadulterated with 'synthetic Dhamma' (saddhamma-patirupa), isn't only somewhat controversial and considered by many to be a later addition these days, but also held by many who do accept it as being conditional (i.e., subject to change). Many hold, for example, that the acceptance of the additional rules on the part of the bhikkhunis and the subsequent council after the Buddha's death altered this, acting as conditions for the teachings' survival far into the future.

Whatever the case, one of the things I like about the Thai Forest Tradition, besides their focus on practicing, is their belief that awakening is still a possibility and open to all. There was a time not that long ago in Theravada when it was generally believed that it's no longer possible to become an arahant — that we're living in a 'degenerate age' full of false teachings and ineffectual practitioners — therefore monks usually spent most of their time studying the texts in order to preserve what's left of the 'true Dhamma' and try to become at least stream-enterers by intellectually understanding concepts such as not-self. Both monastics and non-monastics alike thought it was better to study the texts and to make merit than to practice meditation, hoping to eventually be reborn in a better time and place where the Dhamma and the ability to attain awakening will be restored by the next Buddha, Mettaya (hence the popularity of the Anagatavamsa). But thanks to monks like Ajahn Sao and Ajahn Mun in Thailand, as well as other contemporaries like Mingun Jetavana Sayadaw in Burma, who decided to start putting the Buddha's teachings on meditation back into practice and strive for liberation, that's changed.

Certainly things aren't perfect, and there are many challenges facing sincere practitioners; but far from being in a 'degenerate age' here in the West, I think things are actually looking up. I attended the ordination of Tan Sudhiro's at Abhayagiri last year, for example, and the ceremony seemed especially auspicious as it had a full quorum of ten monks — double the number of monks needed to perform it outside of the Ganges valley (ten vs. five) — illustrating the growing strength of Buddhism in the West. On top of that, monks are going on tudong (we actually managed to time our trip down to Abhayagiri so that we could meet up with and offer a meal to the two tudong monks walking from Abhayagiri to the Pacific Hermitage in White Salmon, WA), and new and dedicated lay-groups and monasteries are popping up everywhere. In addition, we have access to a vast storehouse of teachings, from ancient Pali and Sanskrit texts to those of many skilled teachers, helping point the way forward.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Mkoll
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Re: Is the Buddhasasana really in decline?

Post by Mkoll »

aletheia wrote:To be clear, I don't think this is mere idle theorizing by any stretch of the imagination. If, as the Buddha claims again and again in throughout the Pali canon, the purpose of following the path is to attain arahantship, which is itself the only way to break free from the cycle of suffering, then the doctrine that nobody can achieve arahantship would seem to undermine the whole reason for learning and practicing the Dhamma. So there is something rather important at stake in this question.
Eh. There's doomsayers in every religion and in secular society as well. Sometimes their prophecies have evidence backing them up (e.g. methane time bomb) and sometimes they don't. I'd say that post-canonical doctrine falls into the latter category and can therefore be set aside.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
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