zan wrote:I have used this amazing, wonderful tome as a guide and reference for the last fifteen years. In doing so I have probably read about twenty five percent of it, as I reference the same sections over and over.
I have never read it cover to cover though and I would like to do so. However, I read some criticisms of it that make me wary. I want to get a deeper and more complete understanding of the Theravada commentary tradition, but these criticisms imply - hopefully incorrectly - that I would end up learning Mahayana Buddhism instead but cleverly disguised as the Theravada commentary tradition. I have always assumed that this was incorrect and have continued to use the invaluable advice and instructions found within. The sections that I am familiar with have no Mahayana undertones at all and can easily be traced in the suttas. But now that I want to do a cover to cover reading I wanted to get advice from the intelligent individuals on this fine forum.
I do not want to end up with a flawed understanding of the commentary tradition due to blending with Mahayana ideas.
If this is not true, could someone explain why? I would love it if someone could debunk this idea. It seems a little unbelievable that the Mahavira elders would somehow not notice someone adding Mahayana ideas to their carefully preserved tradition. If it was a ten volume fifteen thousand page work, then I could see the elders being overwhelmed enough to miss these things, but The Visuddhimagga is not such a large work that it would prevent it being read carefully by a large cross-section of people who could easily spot such unwanted blending.
If it is true, what would be the best way to learn the commentary tradition pre Mahayana blending?
I have not heard the specific claim that the Visuddhimagga, commentaries, et al., contain "Maháyána" infiltration before, but it sounds like something that a very poorly informed sutta-alone ideologue would claim.
A bit of context on that label I just (mis)used: modern Theraváda is the product of a sort of "back to basics/back to the suttas" movement in various Theraváda societies, the most recent of these, I think, being the Thai anti-tantra reforms of King Rama IV. That is not to say that the Páli scriptures and teachings were unknown or unpracticed before these reforms (such has never been the case internationally) but rather, one of the modern results of this "back to Páli" movement is that suttas are now available for widespread lay study for thhe first time.
New tendencies have formed (almost always for the better IMO) in how Theraváda practitioners approach and interact with Buddhist scriptures. At its most authentic and purest, the sutta-movement, sometimes called Suttanta, it simply a directed focus on the teachings preserved in the suttas that may or may not be exclusively focused on said literature. Nothing more, nothing less. There is nothing wrong with considering Buddhavacana that is older to be more authoritative than materials that entered into writing later.
Every movement, however, has its extremists and fundamentalists. I suspect the claim that the Visuddhimagga is "Maháyána" originates in one of these fundamentalist circles and is an attempt to discredit by means of association.
There could be an argument, valid IMO, that practitioners of Theraváda should approach the Visuddhimagga with caution, based on the fact that some sections of it are based on the much earlier text called the Vimuttimagga. The Vimuttimagga was produced at the Abhayagirivihāra, a very historically important monastery in Sri Lanka were both Páli and
Sanskrit Maháyána literatures were disseminated. Because they taught Maháyána alongside Theraváda, some prominent monks at the Mahávihára considered the Abhayagirivihāra to be heretical, or at least to have certain tendencies that allowed for heretical practices and views to proliferate to various extents.
However just because the Vimuttimagga was produced at Abhayagirivihāra, does not mean it is a Maháyána text. Both Pali and Sanskrit manuscripts were proliferated there, and the Vimuttimagga does not quote Maháyána scriptures.
Furthermore, the later Visuddhimagga is a Mahávihára text, making it even less likely to contain Maháyána teachings.
I hope that offers some context. I apologize for my inconsistent diacritics, my phone can only do acute accents (á) but my autocorrect sometimes changes them to macrons (ā) and sometimes doesn't.