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Thread: Myth in Buddhism

  1. #1

    Myth in Buddhism

    I wasn't sure where to post this rather long essay, so I've added it to the Early Buddhism forum.

    If you have any specific comments, please quote the section you're refering to.


    Myth in Buddhism

    Symbols and stories in our actions and the potential for good

    An essay by Piya Tan

    http://dharmafarer.org/wordpress/wp-...dhism-piya.pdf


  2. #2
    Forums Member daverupa's Avatar
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    It seems likely that Mahayana first arose primarily among those monks who were trying to get back to the meditative emphasis of earlier days, with some others staying in monasteries. This differs from the article (page 10+), which claims that the primary source was the landed monk, not the ascetic one.

    Now, it's true that the article has a bias, and that appears to affect many statements in the article, but the arguments ought to be assessed apart from this ad hominem. In this, the basic thrust of the early materials - denigration of the arahant while lauding the bodhisattva - are basically correct.

    ---

    The rest of the article is a lot of myth discussion, and I'm reminded of Joseph Campbell et al. I'm not really a fan of this heavy work; but, framing Mahayana within a larger context of myth also seems usefully applied to the century following the historical Buddha's final nibbana, with some interesting possibilities.

    Of course, it's more hypothesis than description, and a bit over-wrought, but that's not really the main objection that can be levied by followers of these later Buddhist developments, which I predict is instead that the whole project of putting Buddhist texts in this context means that e.g. it is not a 'real' set of descriptions. Describing all this as a religio-mythical setup common to humans throughout pre-history & up into today threatens the 'accuracy' of the apotheosis going on throughout this historical process in Buddhism.

    ---

    Basically, these later developments - Mahayana and Stupa worship and all the rest - are so obviously different from what the early texts describe as suitable practice that cognitive dissonance comes to be resolved in myriad human ways, it seems to me. Quite an amazing thing.
    Last edited by daverupa; 16 Apr 16 at 14:31.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by daverupa
    Basically, these later developments - Mahayana and Stupa worship and all the rest - are so obviously different from what the early texts describe as suitable practice that cognitive dissonance comes to be resolved in myriad human ways, it seems to me. Quite an amazing thing.
    I was looking at what Peter Harvey had to say in the section "The Rise of the Mahayana" in chapter 4 "Early Developments in Buddhism" of his book "An Introduction to Buddhism- Teachings History & Practices" (Second edition)

    Excerpt:


    The new Sūtras were very different in style and tone, but were defended as ‘the word of the Buddha’ through various devices.(16) First, they were seen as inspired utterances coming from the Buddha, now seen as still contactable through meditative visions and vivid dreams. Secondly, they were seen as the products of the same kind of perfect wisdom which was the basis of the Buddha’s own teaching of Dharma (Pali Dhamma) (Asta.4). Thirdly, in later Mahāyāna, they were seen as teachings hidden by the Buddha in the world of serpent-deities (nāgas), until there were humans capable of seeing the deeper implications of his message, who would recover the teachings by means of meditative powers.

    Each explanation saw the Sūtras as arising, directly or indirectly, from meditative experiences. Nevertheless, they take the form of dialogues between the ‘historical’ Buddha and his disciples and gods. The initial new Sūtras were regarded as the second ‘turning of the Dharma-wheel’ (see p. 24), a deeper level of teaching than the early Suttas, with the Buddha’s Bodhisattva disciples portrayed as wiser than his Arhat (Pali Arahat) disciples. Because of the liberating truth the Sūtras were seen to contain, there was said to be a huge amount of karmic fruitfulness in copying them out, and disseminating, reciting, expounding, understanding, practising and even ritually venerating them. Such claims suggest defensiveness on the part of a new, small movement trying to establish itself. Some of the Mahāyāna Sūtras may have been in part produced by the new breed of charismatic Dharma-preachers who championed them.

    These monks, and some laypeople, directed their preaching both within and beyond the existing Buddhist community, to win converts. This they did by extolling the virtues of perfect Buddhahood, so as to elicit a conversion experience of profound psychological effect. This was the ‘arising of the thought of awakening (bodhi-citta)’, the heartfelt aspiration to strive for full Buddhahood, by means of the Bodhisattva path.

    The new perspective on scriptural legitimacy led to the Mahāyāna having an open, ongoing ‘revelation’, which produced a huge outpouring of new Sūtras in India in the period up to around 650 ce. These were composed anonymously, often by a number of authors elaborating a basic text, to produce works frequently running to hundreds of pages in length.

    In contrast, the early Suttas are ninety-five printed pages long at most, and often only run to a page or two. In certain early Suttas such as the Mahā- samaya (D.ii.253–62), the Buddha is a glorious spiritual being surrounded by countless gods and hundreds of disciples. The Mahāyāna Sūtras developed this style. In them, the Buddha uses hyperbolic language and paradox, and makes known many heavenly Buddhas and high-level heavenly Bodhisattvas, existing in many regions of the universe. A number of these saviour beings, Buddhas and in time Bodhisattvas, became objects of devotion and prayer, and greatly added to the appeal and missionary success of the Mahāyāna.


    http://www.ahandfulofleaves.org/docu...ism_Harvey.pdf

    Interesting how people can cling to these alternative "teachings", many of which appear to be nothing more than elaborate fantasies. Perhaps its easier for we humans to retreat into a fantasy world of heavenly beings, rather than muddle along with the mundane activities of daily life.


  4. #4
    From the Peter Harvey book quote:

    These monks, and some laypeople, directed their preaching both within and beyond the existing Buddhist community, to win converts. This they did by extolling the virtues of perfect Buddhahood, so as to elicit a conversion experience of profound psychological effect.
    I think that kind of "profound" psychological effect is probably the same as when modern day people feel inspired to do intense prayer & mantra repetition to heavenly beings they believe in - and maybe its even a form of self-hypnosis which temporarily projects one into another mental state.

    I think its also likely to be similar to experiences reported by people who are totally obsessed by any religious or spiritual belief in general.

  5. #5
    Forums Member daverupa's Avatar
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    "...that is only the feeling of those who do not know and do not see, the agitation and vacillation of those who are immersed in craving."

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by daverupa View Post
    "...that is only the feeling of those who do not know and do not see, the agitation and vacillation of those who are immersed in craving."

    Source ?

  7. #7
    Forums Member daverupa's Avatar
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    DN 1; sorry about that.

  8. #8
    As this topic is about myth in Buddhism, I'm adding a short article by Bhikkhu Sujato with the title: "On the interpretation of Buddhist myth"

    https://sujato.wordpress.com/2010/03...buddhist-myth/

    and a much longer Wiki page of his about Buddhist mythology (scroll down to read it all.):

    http://wikivisually.com/wiki/User:Su...y/wiki_ph_id_0


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