Systematic Sutra Study

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Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Zhen Li » Tue Jul 30, 2013 2:19 am

All the teachings are equally important, but some contain more skillful means than others - this sometimes seems to inform approaches to reading orders which are occasionally suggested. Besides the Tientai, what (well defended) systematic reading orders for the Mahayana Sutras are out there?

This question supposes that one is interested in a rounded knowledge of Mahayana, rather than niche specialisation in one particular topic. Is it thus generally suggested to work with sutras of one particular topic at a time, e.g. Prajnaparamita Sutras?

I certainly have some opinions on this, but I am more interested in hearing yours.
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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Greg » Tue Jul 30, 2013 5:13 am

Ben Yuan wrote:All the teachings are equally important, but some contain more skillful means than others - this sometimes seems to inform approaches to reading orders which are occasionally suggested. Besides the Tientai, what (well defended) systematic reading orders for the Mahayana Sutras are out there?

This question supposes that one is interested in a rounded knowledge of Mahayana, rather than niche specialisation in one particular topic. Is it thus generally suggested to work with sutras of one particular topic at a time, e.g. Prajnaparamita Sutras?

I certainly have some opinions on this, but I am more interested in hearing yours.
:anjali:


In theory, everybody has a preferred doxographical scheme. In practice, people only read their preferred definitive sutras, if they read anything at all besides commentaries on commentaries on commentaries.
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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jul 30, 2013 6:27 am

I'm not really familiar with any prescribed reading plans, but you could follow a given doxography, like say that of Huayan's Fazang, and start from the bottom, working your way to the top.

In general I imagine people in East Asia read treatises first and got a systematic idea of the canon before reading all the key texts themselves. You can read the sūtras themselves, but without an overarching guide it can prove quite daunting. You need to look for themes, like buddha-nature or emptiness to do a cohesive and fruitful reading, I reckon.

A lot of major sūtras are associated with a specific theme and some passages. Like the burning house and chariots of the Lotus Sūtra. This is what people generally take from these texts rather than the fine details, unless you're doing exegesis.
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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Zhen Li » Tue Jul 30, 2013 7:09 am

Fazang's approach has appeal. Starting with how to think about reality from a basic level, one should probably begin with the Yogācāra themed Sūtras, which also gives one good grounding for practice, followed by Prajñāpāramitā + the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra - which helps one to ground the understanding from Prajñāpāramitā in practice also.

To unify the two previous approaches, Tathāgatagarbha Sūtras are necessary.

Then to unify one's understanding of the path as singular, the Lotus Sūtra and to give one the view of the consummate vision of all the above and the unity of all in the Buddha, the Avataṃsaka Sūtra (I have always been a bit biased in capping things off with this).

This may seem like hogwash, but I personally believe that if one really understands Dharma, any order at all is fine. It's all suffused with elements of each aspect of the Mahāyāna practice in the end, and it's only one path.

When I have some time, I would like to make a list based upon this.
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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Huifeng » Tue Jul 30, 2013 7:29 am

If you are interested in Indian Mahayana in general, or as it presently stands in modern Chinese Buddhism in particular, then I'd would very strongly recommend Ven. Yinshun's <The Way to Buddhahood>. While this is not a doxography per se, it is certainly built on one, and it is quite obvious when studying it. This text has the advantage that the author is not simply doing some picking and choosing here and there from whatever texts take his fancy. He has great depth of appreciation for the entirety of the tradition, and modern historical text-critical approach. Eg. one can also read his three key works on the development of the Early Canon, the Abhidharma (esp. Sarvastivadin), and the Mahayana sutras and early sastras. This is why I use this as my basic text for the undergrads core course at Buddhist Studies at FGU, and also recommend it to MA students who need to quickly get their Buddhist studies perspective up to speed when coming from other disciplines.

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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jul 30, 2013 9:40 am

One thing to bear in mind with Mahāyāna is that some texts are mystical and others more inclined towards discussion of metaphysics or ethics.

For instance, the Lotus Sūtra famously describes a hidden Buddha benefiting immeasurable beings, and how you can attain the ability to see the Buddha for yourself. This is quite different from, say, the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra.

So, the readings for such subjects will be somewhat exclusive in a sense. The epistemology of Yogācāra isn't really pertinent to the mysticism that devotional practices entail.
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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Zhen Li » Tue Jul 30, 2013 10:28 am

For instance, the Lotus Sūtra famously describes a hidden Buddha benefiting immeasurable beings, and how you can attain the ability to see the Buddha for yourself. This is quite different from, say, the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra.

Perhaps on the surface, but in essence I would disagree.
If you are interested in Indian Mahayana in general, or as it presently stands in modern Chinese Buddhism in particular, then I'd would very strongly recommend Ven. Yinshun's <The Way to Buddhahood>. While this is not a doxography per se, it is certainly built on one, and it is quite obvious when studying it. This text has the advantage that the author is not simply doing some picking and choosing here and there from whatever texts take his fancy. He has great depth of appreciation for the entirety of the tradition, and modern historical text-critical approach. Eg. one can also read his three key works on the development of the Early Canon, the Abhidharma (esp. Sarvastivadin), and the Mahayana sutras and early sastras. This is why I use this as my basic text for the undergrads core course at Buddhist Studies at FGU, and also recommend it to MA students who need to quickly get their Buddhist studies perspective up to speed when coming from other disciplines.

I look forward to studying it with the aid of your translation Venerable. :anjali:
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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Huifeng » Tue Jul 30, 2013 11:18 am

Hi Zhen Li,

(Changed to your Dharma name, no?)

It's already translated, quite some time ago. Jacob (remember him?) is doing some study of it over the summer, as a general overview. I did my own translation version of the verses, though, for consistency and to remove a couple of mistakes in the English.

Otherwise, while our records of the Tiantai doxography are very good, it didn't start from Master Zhiyi. Numerous other general groups and trends were already in progress at that time. But it was Tiantai that probably did the best job at the time, and then the Huayan and other groups had to play a bit of catch up.

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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Zhen Li » Tue Jul 30, 2013 11:37 am

Huifeng wrote:Hi Zhen Li,

(Changed to your Dharma name, no?)

Yes, in case anyone was wondering. This is my new Dharma name which I am using for my username: 珍歷 Zhen Li. If anyone runs across posts referring to a "Ben" (Ben Yuan) of some sort, that's my old username which is based on a name I got at a retreat some time back. Sorry if this causes any confusion.
Otherwise, while our records of the Tiantai doxography are very good, it didn't start from Master Zhiyi. Numerous other general groups and trends were already in progress at that time. But it was Tiantai that probably did the best job at the time, and then the Huayan and other groups had to play a bit of catch up.

In terms of the practitioner's perspective, aside from Ven. Yinshun, do you have any personal suggestions/preferences regarding "systematic sutra study?"
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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Indrajala » Wed Jul 31, 2013 5:32 am

You could also do a chronological reading, which is a bit more secular in perspective, but maybe useful. Start with the Nikayas, then classical Mahāyāna and finally fully tantric literature.

Even if you just want to keep it within the East Asian scope, a lot of the primary esoteric scriptures are available in English or annotated versions in other languages like Mandarin and Japanese.
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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Huifeng » Wed Jul 31, 2013 7:32 am

Zhen Li wrote:
Huifeng wrote:Hi Zhen Li,

(Changed to your Dharma name, no?)

Yes, in case anyone was wondering. This is my new Dharma name which I am using for my username: 珍歷 Zhen Li. If anyone runs across posts referring to a "Ben" (Ben Yuan) of some sort, that's my old username which is based on a name I got at a retreat some time back. Sorry if this causes any confusion.
Otherwise, while our records of the Tiantai doxography are very good, it didn't start from Master Zhiyi. Numerous other general groups and trends were already in progress at that time. But it was Tiantai that probably did the best job at the time, and then the Huayan and other groups had to play a bit of catch up.

In terms of the practitioner's perspective, aside from Ven. Yinshun, do you have any personal suggestions/preferences regarding "systematic sutra study?"


Discussion continued in office that night... and lunch the next day. :tongue:

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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby lobster » Wed Jul 31, 2013 2:56 pm

I would tend towards Huifengs approach. In other words a study by a Buddhist scholar, that gave a grounding in useful and comprehensive diversity.

Very specialised, in depth study I have always found requires an investment of time that is best left to those with the inclination and vocation. If that is your way, then good luck to you :smile:

These days most of my library is gone and the Internet is sufficient. :twothumbsup:
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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Will » Wed Jul 31, 2013 4:59 pm

I also admire Yin Shun's The Way to Buddhahood and have the book. But I sure would like a searchable pdf of the entire book. The verses are online, but have not found a pdf of the book. Does anyone know where such a pdf might be?
One should refrain from biased judgments and doubting in fathoming the Buddha and the Dharma of the Buddhas. Even though a dharma may be extremely difficult to believe, one should nonetheless maintain faith in it. Nagarjuna
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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Huifeng » Thu Aug 01, 2013 2:07 am

Will wrote:I also admire Yin Shun's The Way to Buddhahood and have the book. But I sure would like a searchable pdf of the entire book. The verses are online, but have not found a pdf of the book. Does anyone know where such a pdf might be?


Hi Will,

There are some PDF files of the verses only around. :smile:

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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Will » Thu Aug 01, 2013 2:23 am

Huifeng wrote:
Will wrote:I also admire Yin Shun's The Way to Buddhahood and have the book. But I sure would like a searchable pdf of the entire book. The verses are online, but have not found a pdf of the book. Does anyone know where such a pdf might be?


Hi Will,

There are some PDF files of the verses only around. :smile:

~~ Huifeng


Yes Venerable, I have a pdf of the verses. It is the full book I am on the lookout for.
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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Huifeng » Fri Aug 02, 2013 1:33 am

Hi,

Okay, will keep eyes open.

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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Qianxi » Wed Nov 20, 2013 7:08 pm

On the subject of systematic sutra study and Yinshun, here's a three year reading plan (in Chinese) apparently designed by Yinshun for his Fu Yan Buddhist Institute in Taiwan. Looks pretty intensive! http://tripitaka.cbeta.org/FUYAN_Cannon_reading_list

Interesting that in the first year it starts with the Mahīśāsaka Vinaya (for ordained monks who have presumably already studied the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya for their ordination) or other guides to good conduct (for laymen), then goes on to the Samyukta Agama before moving on to Mahayana sutras (and a whole lot more).
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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby dude » Wed Nov 20, 2013 8:24 pm

Zhen Li wrote:
For instance, the Lotus Sūtra famously describes a hidden Buddha benefiting immeasurable beings, and how you can attain the ability to see the Buddha for yourself. This is quite different from, say, the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra.

Perhaps on the surface, but in essence I would disagree.
If you are interested in Indian Mahayana in general, or as it presently stands in modern Chinese Buddhism in particular, then I'd would very strongly recommend Ven. Yinshun's <The Way to Buddhahood>. While this is not a doxography per se, it is certainly built on one, and it is quite obvious when studying it. This text has the advantage that the author is not simply doing some picking and choosing here and there from whatever texts take his fancy. He has great depth of appreciation for the entirety of the tradition, and modern historical text-critical approach. Eg. one can also read his three key works on the development of the Early Canon, the Abhidharma (esp. Sarvastivadin), and the Mahayana sutras and early sastras. This is why I use this as my basic text for the undergrads core course at Buddhist Studies at FGU, and also recommend it to MA students who need to quickly get their Buddhist studies perspective up to speed when coming from other disciplines.

I look forward to studying it with the aid of your translation Venerable. :anjali:


What exactly do you disagree on?
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Re: Systematic Sutra Study

Postby Zhen Li » Wed Dec 04, 2013 4:12 pm

dude wrote:
Zhen Li wrote:
For instance, the Lotus Sūtra famously describes a hidden Buddha benefiting immeasurable beings, and how you can attain the ability to see the Buddha for yourself. This is quite different from, say, the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra.

Perhaps on the surface, but in essence I would disagree.

What exactly do you disagree on?

Each approach can contain within its purview the other. Mysticism, for example, is notoriously all pervasive when adopted, and everything can be seen through its lens, but so are the highly comprehensive philosophical systems.
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