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Thread: Authenticity of Mahayana sutras

  1. #11
    Forums Member seattlegal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Not_Two View Post
    "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.
    There are Pali Suttas where devas approach Buddha and ask questions or for instruction, or where Buddha goes to teach the Brahmas the dhamma. I could dig up specific suttas if anyone is interested.

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  3. #13
    Forums Member ancientbuddhism's Avatar
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    This may be of interest to this discussion:

    Literal means and Hidden Meanings: A New Analysis of Skillful Means, by Asaf Federman

    Philosophy East & West Volume 59, Number 2 April 2009 125-141
    © 2009 by University of Hawai'i Press

    • Introduction

      Skillful means is usually used by scholars and Buddhists to denote the following simple idea: the Buddha skillfully adapted his teaching to the level of his audience.[1] This very broad and somewhat oversimplified definition tries to incorporate the whole range of Buddhist views on the subject. However, it does not help to explain why there is an extensive use of the term in central Mahāyāna sūtras while pre-Māhayāna texts are almost completely silent on this issue. I suggest that skillful means has not always been an all-Buddhist concept; rather, it was developed by Mahāyānists as a radical hermeneutic device. As such, skillful means is a provocative and sophisticated idea that served the purpose of advancing a new religious ideology in the face of an already established canonical knowledge. The Māhayāna use of the concept exhibits an awareness, not found in pre-Mahāyāna thought, of a gap between what texts literally say and their hidden meaning.

      In 1978 Michael Pye wrote that “‘skilful means’ has scarcely been attended to at all.”[2] Since then, some attention has been given to the ethical, practical, and religious implications of the concept.[3] Nevertheless, no one has ever asked why an idea that is considered to be so central to Buddhism in general did not become widely recognized before the arising of Mahāyāna. The compound skillful meansupāyakauśalya in Sanskrit or upāya kusala in Pāli – is not entirely a Mahāyāna creation; however, in Mahāyāna sūtras it has become widely used and has been charged with a special and novel meaning. The Mahāyāna interpretation adds a new and crucial layer to the pedagogical meaning of skillful means. It is aimed, eventually, at convincing those at whom it was directed that a new religious path (yāna) was greater than the old one. Critical reading of relevant portions of two early Mahāyāna sūtras – the Lotus Sūtra and the Skill in Means Sūtra – shows how the idea of skillful means is used to achieve this end: it explains how the old doctrine was at the same time not entirely true and not entirely false. This peculiar position is achieved by inventing an interpretive methodology, skillful means, that treats facts as nothing but educational literature. It allows Mahāyānists to challenge central Buddhist paradigms and offer a reorientation of the facts. The idea of skillful means allows a rejection of old literal statements about the life of the Buddha in order to charge them with new meaning. The old ideology is treated as skillful means; that is, it was offered for a specific purpose and is not completely true. On the other hand, as educational fiction, it had its good purpose.

      The idea that the doctrine is some kind of a purposeful fiction is one step further from what is sometimes understood by skillful means: the idea that the dharma is designed to serve a purpose. It is based on the explicit idea that what has been said by the Buddha had a different and concealed meaning. The Pāli canon, for example, contains no such distinction. In the Pāli canon the words and actions of the Buddha are taken literally, and are treated as if the Buddha really meant them. There is no recognition of a gap between words or actions on the one hand and their meaning on the other. There is no recognition, for example, that religious goals were put forward only for the sake of achieving different (or, worse, contradictory) goals. On the other hand, in the early Mahāyāna teaching of skillful means, a gap is recognized between what the Buddha said or did and the meaning of his actions and words. The words of the Buddha then stop being taken literally and begin to be treated as textual entities as if they had been originally put together with concealed intentions. Indeed, Mahāyānists came up with a novel and radical idea: in early Buddhist teaching the literal level was different from the intentional level.

      Why did Mahāyānists come up with such a radical idea? Primarily, I speculate, because it solved a well-known religious problem: how to suggest a significant doctrinal change without appearing completely heretical. Being part of an already more or less established tradition, “Mahāyānists” (probably not referring to themselves as such) had to consider carefully the relationship with what has already been established as the ruling paradigm. Whether this position was adopted for political reasons or because of real sentiment for the old, they could not criticize the existing body of religious facts by completely ignoring or rejecting it. The idea of skillful means is therefore an ingenious exercise in religious reformation through reinterpretation. In this sense, it is a hermeneutical device.

      1 – See, e.g., Williams 1989, p. 143; Pye 2003, p. 1; and Gombrich 1996, p. 17.
      2 – The quote is from Pye 1978, p. 2.
      3 – Schroeder 2002, Schroeder 2004, and Hick 2004.

  4. #14
    Forums Member ancientbuddhism's Avatar
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    Also see:

    Text as Father: Paternal Seductions in Early Mahāyāna Buddhist Literature – by Alan Cole

    • Introduction

      In the curious space of arguments before the arguments, let me introduce this book by acknowledging that some readers might at first find it strange: What could “text as father” mean, and what do fathers have to do with Buddhism in the first place? The suitability of this topic will become clearer in the course of these chapters, but let me promise here at the outset that sifting through early Mahāyāna Buddhist sūtras leaves little doubt about how important textually produced paternal figures were for organizing authority and legitimacy, in at least a portion of these texts.

      What is crucial in organizing my reading is that I take these Mahāyāna sūtras to be knowingly fabricated by wily authors intent on creating images of authority that come to fruition in the reading experience. That is, I do not read the voices of authority—the Buddha’s and others’—that fill out these texts as reflections of prior oral articulations or similarly innocent statements about truth and reality. Instead, I see them as carefully wrought literary constructions that assume their specific forms precisely because they were designed to inhabit and function in the literary space where one encounters them. Hence the title Text as Father was chosen to represent the dialectic in which texts created and presented images of “truth-fathers” who, among other things, speak to the legitimacy of the textual medium that contains them and, within this circle of self-conformation, draw the reader into complex realignments with the Buddhist tradition and prior representation of truth and authority.

      To explore the form and content of these textual truth-fathers, and the narratives that support them, I have selected four interesting and diverse Mahāyāna texts: the Lotus Sūtra, the Diamond Sūtra, the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra, and the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa (a work that isn’t technically a sūtra but nonetheless comes to refer to itself that way by its final chapters).

      In close readings of each of these texts, I show how their narratives first gather up authority, legitimacy, and sanctity, as they would have been previously constituted in the Buddhist tradition and then relocate those items within their own textual perimeters. Hence, in all four texts, the narrative offers a new figure of the Buddha who, once established in the flow of the narrative, explains to the reader that the sum of tradition is exclusively available in the reading experience and in the sheer physical presence of the book.

      In a brilliant maneuver that fully exploits the physicality of textuality, the narratives pretend to represent the living and supposedly oral aspect of the Buddha, while that “orality” explains that the sheer physicality of the text—on palm leaves, presumably—represents the presence of the Buddha. Thus, by creating plots that delicately balance the Buddha’s presence on either side of the textualized form of the narrative—in its genesis and in its reception—these sūtras were designed to serve as the singular vehicle for Buddhist authenticity, promising to actualize truth and legitimacy for any reader, in any time or place. ...

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    As to paternal figures, this has also occurred in Tibetan thangkas/iconography. In Ellora and Ajanta, that early coexistent Hindu/Buddhist/Jain community in Western India, the early depictions of the Buddhas were always flanked by Vajrapani and Padmapani, with also some additions of Kubir and Ganesh. The deities of these three traditions were very co-mingled in 400-800 CE during the huge building process of the area. As Buddhism entered Tibet approx. 800, we see in the thangkas that Vajrapani and Padmapani were replaced by monks in attendance of the Buddha. A clear change in representation.

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    Forums Member Abhaya's Avatar
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    While I do not believe the Mahayana sutras are literally the words of the historical Buddha, I do accept their "authenticity" insofar as many (though not all) of their teachings are of immense value.

    If a teaching is useful can be personally verified, it does not matter who spoke it. If a teaching is not useful and cannot be personally verified, setting it aside is often the proper course of action, even if that teaching happens to be from the historical Buddha.

    Ultimately, it does not matter who taught it, but that it rings true for us. To be attached to the teacher is a form of clinging to identity-view (sakkāya diṭṭhi), even if that identity (that of the teacher) lies outside of oneself.

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    Forums Member Zenwanderer's Avatar
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    Gassho

    Quote Originally Posted by benthejack View Post
    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).

    That appears to be based on a misunderstanding of what is meant by "illusion" in the dharma ... it is a western expression of the idea, which differs from that of the dharma.


    Quote Originally Posted by Abhaya View Post
    If a teaching is useful can be personally verified, it does not matter who spoke it. If a teaching is not useful and cannot be personally verified, setting it aside is often the proper course of action, even if that teaching happens to be from the historical Buddha.

    Ultimately, it does not matter who taught it, but that it rings true for us. To be attached to the teacher is a form of clinging to identity-view (sakkāya diṭṭhi), even if that identity (that of the teacher) lies outside of oneself.
    Yes.

  8. #18
    Forums Member Neyya's Avatar
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    There are good things in all of the Sutras. Who ever wrote them had good intentions and the what was put in them can be very profound. Meaning this- they are good words to live by or help you a long in life.
    The human condition has been around since day one. And if any Sage or scribe or whomever had the ability to write these things then great. 200 CE. its 2014 and I cant even come close to thinking what those people wrote way back then.

    1. Good advise is good advise.
    2. I am glad someone did it.
    3. 200 CE was a long time ago yet it was considered "late" in the overall scheme of things.
    4. what does all this mean-whatever you want it to mean.

  9. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Abhaya View Post
    While I do not believe the Mahayana sutras are literally the words of the historical Buddha, I do accept their "authenticity" insofar as many (though not all) of their teachings are of immense value.

    If a teaching is useful can be personally verified, it does not matter who spoke it. If a teaching is not useful and cannot be personally verified, setting it aside is often the proper course of action, even if that teaching happens to be from the historical Buddha.

    Ultimately, it does not matter who taught it, but that it rings true for us. To be attached to the teacher is a form of clinging to identity-view (sakkāya diṭṭhi), even if that identity (that of the teacher) lies outside of oneself.
    The teachings are of immense value, but monks and scribes in the Buddhist lineage have perverted the message of Shakyamuni Buddha, creating a lot of suffering.

    I believe scholars now think that Buddha originally did have female monks in his Sangha, and that Ananda was a monk, when in the Pali canon Shakyamuni Buddha is persuaded by Ananda to allow Bhikkunis against his own beliefs, and gives a damning prediction about the Dharma only lasting 500 years with women being involved. Ananda is then described to have died with many regrets as the Buddha's administrator, not as a monk.

    The chapter in the Lotus Sutra in which a girl has to transform into a man in order to become a Buddha has been used to oppress women in many places.

    Thich Nhat Hanh puts it best in my opinion- he describes the historical Buddha and his teachings as a damaged statue that has been discovered- it is our job to look at the evidence to reconstruct the teachings from such widely diverse and contradictory existing sutras.

  10. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by venusion
    I believe scholars now think that Buddha originally did have female monks in his Sangha, and that Ananda was a monk, when in the Pali canon Shakyamuni Buddha is persuaded by Ananda to allow Bhikkunis against his own beliefs, and gives a damning prediction about the Dharma only lasting 500 years with women being involved. Ananda is then described to have died with many regrets as the Buddha's administrator, not as a monk.
    Any links to some textual evidence, please ?

    There's some information about Ananda and the Buddha's first nuns in a section about him here. It also mentions that Ananda was the second leading elder monk of the sangha when he died.:

    Ananda became the second leading elder, the second most venerated holy one, who was designated to look after the Order. After he had already been a monk for over forty years, he survived the Buddha another forty. And after having been the personal attendant of the Buddha for twenty-five years, he became the foremost of the holy ones for a similar length of time. At the time of the second council (another assembly of arahants), one hundred years after the final Nibbana of the Buddha, a personal disciple of Ananda was still alive. He was a very old monk by name of Sabbakami, who — it was said — had been in the Order for one hundred and twenty years .

    When Ananda reached one hundred and twenty years, he felt that his death was near. He went from Rajagaha on a journey to Vesali, just as his master had done. When the king of Magadha and the princes of Vesali heard that Ananda would soon die, they hurried to him from both directions to bid him farewell. In order to do justice to both sides, Ananda chose a way to die in keeping with his gentle nature: he raised himself into the air through his supernormal powers and let his body be consumed by the fire element. The relics were divided and stupas erected.

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/a...html#section-5
    Quote Originally Posted by venusian
    The chapter in the Lotus Sutra in which a girl has to transform into a man in order to become a Buddha has been used to oppress women in many places.
    A Link to the specific part of the Lotus Sutra text would be appreciated.


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