What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

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What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 07, 2010 12:41 pm

For personal interest I'm reading up on buddhavacana or "the word of the Buddha" and looking at the ancient sources including Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu.

I've come across the following articles in English which are available for free download as .pdf files. I hope others might make use of them as well.

If anyone would like to discuss any of the points raised in the articles, that would be interesting too. :smile:


On the "Lost" (*Antarhita) Sutras in the Vyakhyayukti : In Relation to the Proof of the Authenticity of the Mahayana Teachings
http://ci.nii.ac.jp/lognavi?name=nels&l ... 0008288023



Dharmanairatmya in the Vyakhyayukti
http://ci.nii.ac.jp/lognavi?name=nels&l ... 0002988888




How to Interpret and Preach the Buddha's Teaching : The Discussion in Chapter 5 of the Vyakhyayukti
http://ci.nii.ac.jp/lognavi?name=nels&l ... 0008970056




It never ceases to amaze me that whenever I need something for my dharma practise, usually in the form of books or a teaching, it just "appears". :sage: These articles go into just the information I was pondering over painfully lately.
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Re: What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

Postby Huifeng » Wed Apr 07, 2010 2:05 pm

Reading Vasubandhu on this seems like asking the question far too late in the game. This is already after the various issues have been debated for a long time. To then retroactively transpose this upon the Mahayana is, in my opinion, anachronistic. It amounts to apologetics half the time. To understand how the Mahayana would have first understood it themselves, we would need to look at the situation before the Mahayana, rather than centuries after it had appeared.
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Re: What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Apr 07, 2010 3:48 pm

Huifeng wrote:Reading Vasubandhu on this seems like asking the question far too late in the game. This is already after the various issues have been debated for a long time. To then retroactively transpose this upon the Mahayana is, in my opinion, anachronistic. It amounts to apologetics half the time. To understand how the Mahayana would have first understood it themselves, we would need to look at the situation before the Mahayana, rather than centuries after it had appeared.


Although a very germane point, Venerable, I'm looking at this more from a personal religious point of view rather than a scholarly point of view, though your point is still perfectly valid and should be considered. Again, I'm looking to vanquish any doubts in my mind about the validity of the Mahayana scriptures, so whether it be Vasubandhu, proto-Mahayana or a modern author, it doesn't really matter.

Where would be a good place to start?

What comes to my mind is the fact that in various old sutra, both in the Nikayas and the Agammas, there are disciples who speak on behalf of the Buddha. Furthermore, there are references and direct quotes of the former Buddha Kasyapa, which while not being Shakyamuni's own words, nevertheless are considered canonical and reflective of the Tathagata's teaching.
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Re: What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Apr 08, 2010 1:49 am

Greetings Huseng,

Huseng wrote:I'm looking to vanquish any doubts in my mind about the validity of the Mahayana scriptures, so whether it be Vasubandhu, proto-Mahayana or a modern author, it doesn't really matter.

Where would be a good place to start?


Perhaps look at what you mean by valid.

What makes something valid?... Who spoke something, its fit for purpose, its truthfulness, its usefulness? etc.

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Re: What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 08, 2010 3:35 am

Huseng wrote:
Huifeng wrote:Reading Vasubandhu on this seems like asking the question far too late in the game. This is already after the various issues have been debated for a long time. To then retroactively transpose this upon the Mahayana is, in my opinion, anachronistic. It amounts to apologetics half the time. To understand how the Mahayana would have first understood it themselves, we would need to look at the situation before the Mahayana, rather than centuries after it had appeared.


Although a very germane point, Venerable, I'm looking at this more from a personal religious point of view rather than a scholarly point of view, though your point is still perfectly valid and should be considered. Again, I'm looking to vanquish any doubts in my mind about the validity of the Mahayana scriptures, so whether it be Vasubandhu, proto-Mahayana or a modern author, it doesn't really matter.

Where would be a good place to start?

What comes to my mind is the fact that in various old sutra, both in the Nikayas and the Agammas, there are disciples who speak on behalf of the Buddha. Furthermore, there are references and direct quotes of the former Buddha Kasyapa, which while not being Shakyamuni's own words, nevertheless are considered canonical and reflective of the Tathagata's teaching.


Okay, so what then is the criteria for something to be put under the title "words of the buddha"? You don't need to wait until Vasubandhu comes along, or even Nagarjuna, to answer that question. And the answer can be held right on up to the present.
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Re: What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Apr 08, 2010 2:09 pm

Huifeng wrote:
Huseng wrote:
Huifeng wrote:Reading Vasubandhu on this seems like asking the question far too late in the game. This is already after the various issues have been debated for a long time. To then retroactively transpose this upon the Mahayana is, in my opinion, anachronistic. It amounts to apologetics half the time. To understand how the Mahayana would have first understood it themselves, we would need to look at the situation before the Mahayana, rather than centuries after it had appeared.


Although a very germane point, Venerable, I'm looking at this more from a personal religious point of view rather than a scholarly point of view, though your point is still perfectly valid and should be considered. Again, I'm looking to vanquish any doubts in my mind about the validity of the Mahayana scriptures, so whether it be Vasubandhu, proto-Mahayana or a modern author, it doesn't really matter.

Where would be a good place to start?

What comes to my mind is the fact that in various old sutra, both in the Nikayas and the Agammas, there are disciples who speak on behalf of the Buddha. Furthermore, there are references and direct quotes of the former Buddha Kasyapa, which while not being Shakyamuni's own words, nevertheless are considered canonical and reflective of the Tathagata's teaching.


Okay, so what then is the criteria for something to be put under the title "words of the buddha"? You don't need to wait until Vasubandhu comes along, or even Nagarjuna, to answer that question. And the answer can be held right on up to the present.


I think "words of the Buddha" is subject to change depending on who you speak to.

I don't think Theravadans think of Vimilakirti as either Buddha or representing the words of the Buddha.

But here is the dictionary definition:

(H3) buddha--vacana [p= 733,3] [L=145622] n. " Buddha's word " , the Buddhist sūtras ib.
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Re: What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

Postby meindzai » Thu Apr 08, 2010 3:59 pm

Huseng,

I appreciate your dillema from what you're calling a personal religious point of view. There's a good possibility that I'm going to be doing some Zen training next month and I'm probably going to be doing a lot of arguing with Zen teachers about this stuff. Thankfully they tend to be very patient. :)

It would appear that people approach in a myriad of ways. Some might find themselves having to re-define "Buddha," outside of the historical person. Some, I think, accept on faith that it *was* the same historical person (despite the scholarly view to the contrary). Others take the Mahayana Sutras as being written by other people, though extremely wise and perhaps awakened either fully or to some high degree. Or there may be some combination of the above or perhaps it just doesn't "bother" some people like it does us.

Can we look at the message and not the messenger? Since I have a very high degree of respect for the historical Buddha and the clarity of his teachings as found in the Pali Canon I find it a bit of a struggle to establish the same faith in Mahayana Sutras. But if I was going to commit to that kind of practice I suppose I'd just have to put that doubt aside and press forward.

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Re: What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Apr 08, 2010 5:08 pm

meindzai wrote:Huseng,

I appreciate your dillema from what you're calling a personal religious point of view. There's a good possibility that I'm going to be doing some Zen training next month and I'm probably going to be doing a lot of arguing with Zen teachers about this stuff. Thankfully they tend to be very patient. :)

It would appear that people approach in a myriad of ways. Some might find themselves having to re-define "Buddha," outside of the historical person. Some, I think, accept on faith that it *was* the same historical person (despite the scholarly view to the contrary). Others take the Mahayana Sutras as being written by other people, though extremely wise and perhaps awakened either fully or to some high degree. Or there may be some combination of the above or perhaps it just doesn't "bother" some people like it does us.

Can we look at the message and not the messenger? Since I have a very high degree of respect for the historical Buddha and the clarity of his teachings as found in the Pali Canon I find it a bit of a struggle to establish the same faith in Mahayana Sutras. But if I was going to commit to that kind of practice I suppose I'd just have to put that doubt aside and press forward.

-M


meindzai :smile:

My issue lately has been that as I listen to and look into Theravada, both because I respect it as a legitimate tradition and as an inspiring scholar I'm obliged to know about all forms of Buddhism, I sometimes encounter very critical remarks from respected senior Bhikku about the validity of the Mahayana and its scriptures.

Because I respect and take refuge in the sangha and bhiksuni/bhiksu, I tend to lend my ear to whatever is said by them, in particular senior members with many years of experience. So, when I hear critical and disparaging remarks about the Mahayana it rattles me a bit. Some who profess no ill will about other traditions still make sarcastic remarks unfortunately.

I tend to judge the value of a scripture on its content. The whole Buddhist project is directed to the goal of the cessation of suffering. If the proposed methods like prescribed medications are effective then whether or not Shakyamuni or not physically gave such teachings becomes unimportant, no? I mean even in our earliest canons we find scriptures where the teachings are given not by Shakyamuni, but by disciples or in some cases there are quotations from past Buddhas.

One thing Master Sheng Yen pointed out in a commentary was that in this one particular scripture the Buddha was not actually Shakyamuni on planet earth, but the Sambhogakaya in Tusita Heaven.

This is a quite pertinent point: why do the Buddha's sermons have to be limited to India in the kama-loka? Can teachings not be given in the rupa-loka? As Master Sheng Yen pointed out in this case the sermon was given by Shakyamuni's Sambhogakaya.

If indeed a teaching is given in a higher realm, then the vivid descriptions we find in Mahayana sutras become more plausible, no?

In any case, the value is on the message and content rather than the presentation.

I've personally found great value in Mahayana sutra and later sastra. Even Mahayana scriptures most likely composed in China I've found great value and inspiration in. I contemplate the teaching, consider it, put it into practise and there is a positive effect.
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Re: What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

Postby Astus » Thu Apr 08, 2010 7:25 pm

Defining what the Buddha's speech is needs a definition of "buddha" and "speech".

Historical: This is the view that there was a buddha very long time ago in Northern India and gave teachings on the way to attain nirvana. It supposes that with archaeological and philological methods it is possible to unearth the Original, the Real.

Religious: This is the view where a buddha is not merely a flesh and blood human but a spiritual entity beyond constraints of physicality. It supposes that with a purified consciousness it is/was (Mahayana/Theravada) possible to see and here such a being.

Transcendental: This is the view where a buddha is the very nature of reality, enlightenment itself. It supposes that actually there is no buddha to meet for it is our true nature.

Indeed, this is simply the teaching of the trikaya. Thus shravakas see the first, (novice) bodhisattvas the first two, and buddhas (and mahasattvas) all three. I think that it doesn't take much effort to see how these there are interdependent and interpenetrating each other. There is no need to doubt either scientific research or traditional teaching. Just remember how in the Avatamsaka Sutra the Buddha was present in infinite universes without moving from his bodhimanda.

To answer the question in an essence-function format: all appearances are the "speech", the nature of such phenomena is the "buddha".
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Re: What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

Postby some1 » Fri Apr 09, 2010 5:19 am

Huseng wrote:This is a quite pertinent point: why do the Buddha's sermons have to be limited to India in the kama-loka? Can teachings not be given in the rupa-loka? As Master Sheng Yen pointed out in this case the sermon was given by Shakyamuni's Sambhogakaya.

If indeed a teaching is given in a higher realm, then the vivid descriptions we find in Mahayana sutras become more plausible, no?

In any case, the value is on the message and content rather than the presentation.

I've personally found great value in Mahayana sutra and later sastra. Even Mahayana scriptures most likely composed in China I've found great value and inspiration in. I contemplate the teaching, consider it, put it into practise and there is a positive effect.

:thumbsup:

Here are some related writtings by Master YinShun (in Chinese) : 以佛法研究佛法:大乘是佛說論 and華雨香雲
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Re: What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

Postby White Lotus » Fri Apr 09, 2010 6:56 pm

:namaste: this isnt really saying anything other than the obvious...
the word of the Buddha is mysterious. hard to pin down. you must loosen your mind in order to appreciate it. look at counter logic, apparent contradiction and sometimes deeply appreciate what appears to be absurd in order to see it.

the obvious statement would be "he who says the buddha has a teaching, slanders the buddha" (Vajracheddica) . but its not as simple as emptiness on its own.

best wishes, White Lotus. x

word = buddha = you.
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Re: What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

Postby Lazy_eye » Sun Apr 11, 2010 7:37 pm

Huseng wrote:My issue lately has been that as I listen to and look into Theravada, both because I respect it as a legitimate tradition and as an inspiring scholar I'm obliged to know about all forms of Buddhism, I sometimes encounter very critical remarks from respected senior Bhikku about the validity of the Mahayana and its scriptures.

Because I respect and take refuge in the sangha and bhiksuni/bhiksu, I tend to lend my ear to whatever is said by them, in particular senior members with many years of experience. So, when I hear critical and disparaging remarks about the Mahayana it rattles me a bit. Some who profess no ill will about other traditions still make sarcastic remarks unfortunately.



Yes, some of our Theravada brethren are quite militant about their rejection of anything Mahayana. There's a bhikkhu, for instance, who has a whole section on his website devoted to slamming the "bogus sutras" (and you know what those are). He has a lot of good things to say from the standpoint of his tradition so I just sort of roll with it despite the instinctual reaction of annoyance.

Although I don't agree with his assessment, I can see that it's somehow inevitable and perhaps even necessary. All traditions define themselves within certain parameters, which means they reject and exclude things which lie outside those parameters. So if we decide to engage a particular tradition, we have to acknowledge (at least while we're having the dialogue) the rules of the game.

If we're going to talk Theravada, then that means the Pali Canon is the true dhamma spoken by the historical Buddha, and Mahayana is at best an extrapolation (to say nothing of Tantra!). If we're going to engage the Mahayana, then we'll start hearing about how selfish and narrow-minded it is to be Hinayana.

If we go the Zen route, we'll find that what we're seeking can't be found in the sutras. Ah, but then I've heard certain Vajrajana practitioners dismiss Zen as mere "heat on the path". If we listen to Pure Landers, we'll learn that in this dharma-ending age no one is getting enlightened any more via the other methods. If we step foot in a Sokka Gakkai center, we'll be told that everyone else is an "archaic Buddhist". If we hang out with Western Zennists of the revisionist persuasion, we'll hear a lot about "cultural trappings" and "superstitions". If we hang out with traditionalists, we'll hear about Buddhism Lite and pop dharma. I know I'm giving the cartoon version here, but you see what I mean? Every community defines itself by what it is not.

What to do? One answer I guess is to decide which tradition/community/discourse one is going to follow and accept its rules provisionally -- the way one accept's doctor's instructions, contraindications, etc. If the Theravada "therapy" seems to be working, then go with it and follow the directions. Possible downside: it may involve putting on blinders. Another approach, maybe we could call it the "critical thinking" approach, would be to question the whole inclusion/exclusion/definition process. Possible downside: we end up not becoming deeply committed to any method and thus we don't get results.

I've personally found great value in Mahayana sutra and later sastra. Even Mahayana scriptures most likely composed in China I've found great value and inspiration in. I contemplate the teaching, consider it, put it into practise and there is a positive effect.


It's easy to lose track (when bogged down in these debates) of why one was drawn to certain teachings in the first place. If one has an affinity for a tradition, then so be it! Personality and psychology may be a factor -- people of a certain disposition may be more likely to find Theravada a good match; others are attracted to Mahayana for the very same reasons that are a source of irritation to Theravadins. And then of course there are mongrel types who feel affinities with multiple traditions.

LE
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Re: What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 12, 2010 6:39 am

Lazy_eye wrote:
Yes, some of our Theravada brethren are quite militant about their rejection of anything Mahayana. There's a bhikkhu, for instance, who has a whole section on his website devoted to slamming the "bogus sutras" (and you know what those are). He has a lot of good things to say from the standpoint of his tradition so I just sort of roll with it despite the instinctual reaction of annoyance.



Lazy_eye :smile:

It is unfortunate that such sentiment exists. Isn't ill-will a hindrance to entering the jhanas?

I find reading a lot of the early Mahayana literature and the debates in the sastra where the Mahayana proponents defend their scriptures and so on provide methods of dealing with criticism that can still be utilized today. A lot of the charges laid against the Mahayana in the early centuries is still being issued today from some circles.


If we're going to talk Theravada, then that means the Pali Canon is the true dhamma spoken by the historical Buddha, and Mahayana is at best an extrapolation (to say nothing of Tantra!). If we're going to engage the Mahayana, then we'll start hearing about how selfish and narrow-minded it is to be Hinayana.


Not every Mahayana proponent labels the sravaka-yana as essential selfish and undesirable. For a number of centuries in India a lot of sanghas had both Arhats and Bodhisattvas living together peacefully. I've recently read the whole of Faxian's travel journal to India and Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka incidentally had a larger Mahayana sangha than "Hinayana"), and he frequently mentions visiting temples where both vehicles were practised.

In the early Mahayana(s) at least, the bodhisattva-yana was reserved for a few good men as Jan Nattier calls it while the sravaka-yana was still held as admirable, noble and worthy of pursuit.


It's easy to lose track (when bogged down in these debates) of why one was drawn to certain teachings in the first place. If one has an affinity for a tradition, then so be it! Personality and psychology may be a factor -- people of a certain disposition may be more likely to find Theravada a good match; others are attracted to Mahayana for the very same reasons that are a source of irritation to Theravadins. And then of course there are mongrel types who feel affinities with multiple traditions.


I was once told by a Tibetan nun that I should commit to a single tradition.

I suppose I can see the wisdom in it -- particularly for Vajrayana, but then in my exoteric Mahayana I often recite the vow, "I swear to study all the immeasurable Dharma methods."

I'm one of those mongrel types I think. Maybe in multiple past lives I studied under multiple traditions with multiple affinities being developed, I wonder? :smile:
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Re: What constitutes the word of the Buddha?

Postby White Lotus » Mon Apr 12, 2010 12:56 pm

:namaste: i think there must be great benefit in studying the various traditions. each one has something valuable to say. rather than being exclusivist, why not open your arms to variety and difference. to clam up and say, my way is the only way is a form of religious facism, though the person who adheres to this approach may be a wonderful and beatiful person, it may limit his or her horizons.

Blue Cliff Record - Case 95. Chokeis Three Poisons.
Hofuku said: "What are the words of the Tathagata?"
Chokei said: "How can a deaf man hear?"
Hofuku said: "Now I know that your language belongs to the second level."
Chokei said: "What are the words of the Tahagata?"
Hofuku said: "Have some tea."


to see anyone as deaf (ignorant) shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the dharma, likewise, to speak of ignorance of any kind is outside the dharma. but thats ok.

best wishes, White Lotus. x
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