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Thread: Authenticity of Mahayana sutras

  1. #1
    Forums Member John Marder's Avatar
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    Authenticity of Mahayana sutras

    Hi. Are any of the Mahayana sutras the actual words of shakyamuni? If not, does that detract from their value? If not, why not?
    Sorry,three questions for the price of one.
    Kindest regards

  2. #2
    Hi John,

    This might be of interest to you, as I think its a text used by Soka Gakkai and Nirichen people. Its from the blog of Ajahn Sujato, a well known Buddhist monk and former okaabbot of a monastery in Australia.


    Is the Lotus Sutra authentic?


    One of our commenters asked about whether the Lotus Sutra was considered authentic according to the Theravadin view.

    To answer this from the traditional Theravadin point of view, all the Mahayana Sutras are inauthentic in the sense that they were not spoken by the Buddha. Historically, Theravada has tended to take a dim view of Mahayana, regarding it as a mere degeneration of the pure teachings.

    That the Lotus Sutra and other Mahayana Sutras were not spoken by the Buddha is unanimously supported by modern scholarship. I don’t know of a single academic in the last 150 years who has argued otherwise. The basic historical background is given in Wikipedia. The upshot is that the Lotus Sutra was composed over a period of time, or in a number of stages. The oldest sources probably stem from a little before the common era, and it was finalized around 200 CE. This makes it one of the earliest Mahayana Sutras (and it is even argued that the earliest form of the sutra may not have even been Mahayana).

    So there is no doubt that the Lotus Suta and other Mahayana sutras are historically late, dating from many centuries after the Buddha. When reading them as historical documents, rather than seeing them as spoken by the Buddha, we should see them as the response and articulation by Buddhists of the past to the conditions that they were in. They were addressing matters of concern for them, asking how the Dhamma is to be applied in these situations. Of course the same is true of many Theravdin texts, although in the case of the early Suttas and Vinaya there is still a core that probably stems from the Buddha himself.

    Why were the Mahayana Sutras phrased as if spoken literally by the Buddha? This is a difficult question, and there is unlikely to be one answer. Partly it was just how the literary form evolved. But I suspect, given the visionary nature of many Mahayanist texts, that they often stemmed from meditation experiences; visions of the Buddha, memories of ‘teachings’ received while in samadhi. Perhaps the authors of these texts believed that the Buddha was really present to them in some sense – and this is indeed the theme of many Mahayana sutras. Or perhaps they more humbly believed that they had gained insight into the Dhamma in some direct way.

    http://sujato.wordpress.com/2011/10/...tra-authentic/





  3. #3
    Forums Member John Marder's Avatar
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    Thank you Aloka. The lotus sutra is of particular significance for me and of course I completely accept that it is not the words of the Buddha. In some strange way the anonymity of its author/s makes it more meaningful. It's not about the person, it's about the law.
    The passage you sent from Ajahn Sujato is very interesting, particularly the bit at the end about why it seems to pretend to be the words of the Shakyamuni.
    Many thanks indeed

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    "Inauthentic"means the historical Buddha did not speak it while He was living on earth.It does not necessarily mean it is not the Truth.The Pali Canon records only what He,as a living human of flesh and blood,preached to his earthly disciples.
    He could have given Discourses in other realms of space-time,which later became the Mahayana scriptures,while still alive on earth or had passed on.Again,Theravadins reject this too.
    Not all Buddhist scholars are enlightened,by the way.
    The Buddhist scholar Hu Shi was dismissed by Nan Huaijin as someone who had little or no experiences in meditation and Samadhi when the former declared that the Surangama Sutra was a "false sutra".To Nan,Hu was just an erudite scholar who delved into mountains and mountains of written words to prove his case but who did not have any deep experiences in meditation and contemplation,let alone being enlightened.Buddhism is not just about scholarship and learning.One needs to have deep practice to actualise the Truth contained in the scriptures,especially Mahayana scriptures.
    Ajahn Sujato says Mahayana Discourses could have arisen" from meditation experiences; visions of the Buddha, memories of ‘teachings’ received while in samadhi."
    Are these experiences,visions,etc real and true,an integral part of the greater Reality?If they are,then Mahayana is not false.Meditative experiences,especially the deep ones,are highly personal and subjective.If I indeed had these experiences but you have not,who are you to say they are false,superstitious,a figment of my imagination?
    This could be one reason why Mahayana scriptures are dimissed by Theravadins.

  5. #5
    Hi Not Two.

    Quote Originally Posted by Not_Two View Post
    He could have given Discourses in other realms of space-time,which later became the Mahayana scriptures,while still alive on earth or had passed on.
    So could Dr Who.... Its just speculation.

    Not all Buddhist scholars are enlightened,by the way.
    Who said that all Buddhist scholars are enlightened ?

    .Buddhism is not just about scholarship and learning.One needs to have deep practice to actualise the Truth contained in the scriptures,especially Mahayana scriptures
    I don't know of anyone who has said that Buddhism is just about scholarship and learning.

    Ajahn Sujato says Mahayana Discourses could have arisen" from meditation experiences; visions of the Buddha, memories of ‘teachings’ received while in samadhi."
    Are these experiences,visions,etc real and true,an integral part of the greater Reality?If they are,then Mahayana is not false.Meditative experiences,especially the deep ones,are highly personal and subjective.If I indeed had these experiences but you have not,who are you to say they are false,superstitious,a figment of my imagination?
    This could be one reason why Mahayana scriptures are dimissed by Theravadins
    Mahayana writings aren't necessarily dismissed by Theravadins. They just recognise that they were later works, as do historians.

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    Aloka,
    It seems that anything that does not accord with your view is speculation. It must be in historical records for it not to be speculative. Can the Pali Canon contain all meditative experiences?

    If I see brilliant white light during meditation but such things are not recorded in the Pali Canon,then it must be false, speculative to you? What if you experience something during meditation but it's not mentioned in the Pali Canon? You dismiss your own experience? Ajahn Sujato has admitted himself that Mahayana writings could have stemmed from meditation experiences. Is he being speculative too?

    The Ksitigarbha Sutra was preached by Lord Buddha to His mother in a certain heavenly realm,for your information. Maybe you have not heard of this sutra at all, that why you said I was speculating. I was not.

    Why did you just quote Ajahn Sujato? Is he enlightened? To you, he must have attained to some level of insight or even enlightenment for you to quote him, is it not? If not,why did you quote him? What about other Buddhist masters?

    There are many Buddhist monks,monastery abbots,etc who talk about the Lotus Sutra, believing that it is authentic (spoken by the historical Buddha in another space-time realm,not on earth).

    The Pali Canon,which you believe in, mentions the various "levels"of heavenly realms(www.accesstoinsight.org).Hence,the historical Buddha Lord Sakyamuni must have spoken of these realms to His disciples. Could not the Buddha have ascended to these heavens and given sermons to the heavenly beings there, since they also need the Dharma like earthly beings?

    Does this sound speculative to you? To me, it is very possible. Unless of course, you think that the Buddha, the Fully-Awakened One, did not possess such powers to travel to other realms to preach the Dharma to sentient beings other than earthly ones.

    Please stop accusing others of speculation before you do your homework.
    Last edited by Aloka; 05 Jan 14 at 12:14. Reason: to create spaces in block of text

  7. #7
    Hi Not_Two,

    My post #2 wasn't addressed to you, it was a reply to John #1 and I quoted the words of someone (Ajahn Sujato) who has studied early Buddhism in depth and taught courses on it. I didn't actually give any personal opinion - and what he said in his blog was written 3 years ago and is common knowledge in some western Buddhist circles now.
    Here's one of the books he's written called "Sects and Sectarianism (The Origins of Buddhist Schools)"

    http://www.amazon.com/Sects-Sectaria...Sujato+bhikkhu

    I spent many years of my life being involved with Mahayana/Vajrayana centres and teachers (away from the internet) before I began investigating the Theravada tradition, by the way.

    Quote Originally Posted by not_Two
    Please stop accusing others of speculation before you do your homework.
    An idea that the Buddha might have taught in other realms is pointless speculation to me personally, and is irrelevant to my own practice - but stating that fact doesn't actually mean that I'm "accusing" you or anyone else of something.

    I'm sorry but I'm really not interested in squabbling with you. This is a friendly space for people to chat, not a combat zone.

    Be well and happy,

    Kind regards,

    Aloka

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    From a mahayana perspective Buddha wasn't/isnt his fleshy body. Thus the word of Buddha doesn't necessarily have to come from his mouth. Although I do believe a lot of the mahayana sutras were spoken by Buddha but were subsequently lost to human audiences (Nagarjuna was said to have got sutras from the nagas, who maintained the mahayana lineage when it was lost to humans) whether you believe this or not is up to you (and is a product of your personal karma and disposition)

    All sutras, whether mahayana or sutras from the Pali cannon are given as personal advice to be contemplated deeply and ultimately put into practice to attain a deep experience of inner peace.
    Many Theravadin Buddhists don't accept mahayana sutras, just as non-buddhists dismiss the Pali cannon. However Theravadin Buddhists definitely reap the benefits of their practice of contemplation and meditation on the four noble truths, and their practice of the three higher trainings etc.. Likewise mahayana Buddhists definitely reap the benefits of contemplating and meditating on universal Compassion, Bodhichitta, and the profound view of emptiness. If you don't have faith in and practise the Pali cannon you'll never know it's benefits, likewise if you don't have faith in and practise the mahayana sutras you'll never know their benefits and great good qualities.

    In the end If a teaching means a lot to you and it gives you the means to practice virtuous paths and abandon non virtue, Buddha would deeply rejoice whether he spoke it himself or not. (indeed one might even say that something with those qualities can only arise through Buddha's inspiration)

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by benthejack
    I do believe a lot of the mahayana sutras were spoken by Buddha but were subsequently lost to human audiences (Nagarjuna was said to have got sutras from the nagas, who maintained the mahayana lineage when it was lost to humans) whether you believe this or not is up to you (and is a product of your personal karma and disposition)
    My opinion is that stories about serpent Nagas hiding teachings in a secret kingdom is a fantasy/fairytale created to give authenticity to later texts.


    Quote Originally Posted by benthejack
    However Theravadin Buddhists definitely reap the benefits of their practice of contemplation and meditation on the four noble truths, and their practice of the three higher trainings etc.. Likewise mahayana Buddhists definitely reap the benefits of contemplating and meditating on universal Compassion, Bodhichitta, and the profound view of emptiness.
    Do you think that Theravadin's don't know anything about the practice of compassion or about emptiness ?

    I suggest you investigate the Thai Theravada Forest tradition lineage of Ajahn Chah.

    By the way, which branch of Mahayana/Vajrayana do you practice with yourself, btj ?


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    Quote Originally Posted by Aloka View Post
    My opinion is that stories about serpent Nagas hiding teachings in a secret kingdom is a fantasy/fairytale created to give authenticity to later texts.
    I respect that, at least you don't just believe it because somebody told you it's true.
    My reason for believing it is that If everything is like an illusion, like a dream, and not existing from its own side then anything is possible (including stories of snake people).

    Anyway you could well be right, probably are even! but for my practice it is beneficial to have faith in the story whether it is true from its own side or not (and according to the mahayana nothing is inherently true anyway... )
    And since I have the good fortune (hah or misfortune depending on your view) to be able to have faith in such seemingly outrageous things I choose to exercise that ability.

    And so that leaves me deeply happy that you care enough about dharma to think it through and not take teachings at face value, and content that my practice of faith and meditation can only have positive karmic results being motivated by a good intention.



    I dont know how to multi quote so I'll just reply to your other question. no, I don't think that thravadin Buddhists know nothing about Compassion and emptiness, I used to practice at a thravadin temple and most of my [all be it limited] study was of the Pali cannon (this was before getting into TB, in response to your last question) however the practices and mediations of compassion and emptiness according to the mahayana tradition are given different emphasis and thus have different results, a different flavor one might say.

    I know you said you used to practice mahayana/vajrayana and your knowledge of scriptures is definitely much stronger than mine (and yes I would love some references on compassion and emptiness if you care to give them! ) so you probably know more about this than I do.

    I was merely giving OP an alternative answer based on my beliefs and practice.


    Edit: re reading your post I noticed your comment re Thai Forrest tradition. the temple I practised in was an ajahn chah Thai forest tradition temple. (bodhinyanarama, Wellington new Zealand)
    Last edited by benthejack; 21 Feb 14 at 09:15.

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