longjie wrote:It isn't badmouthing a school to say that I don't find their explanations fully convincing, or that the explanations seem overly simplistic.
When you said the second part, qualifying it as the overwhelming view of all secular academics, then yes, it comes off as such.
longjie wrote:I've stated several times now that I have this view because they seem to rely on selective interpretations of a small subset of Mahayana sutras. The earliest Pure Land traditions in China were not like this (for example, the Pure Land teachings at the time of Huiyuan and Tanluan).
I'm not sure what assertions you're trying to make, as Tanluan's interpretations are standard faire across almost all Pure Land schools (faith, vows, verbal recitation, 10 recitations at death, etc - I sourced these views). Regardless, additional interpretations from later schools came from personal experiences of people on their own quests, I don't accept them all completely, nor am I arguing such, but who am I to dismiss them outright?
longjie wrote:Nobody is attempting to judge modern Pure Land schools as "wrong," so I'm not sure why you would think that we are.
No offense, but this judgement is exactly the reason this thread was broken off. Some posters do feel this way.
longjie wrote:That's fine, but other people should be able to talk about interpretations of the Dharma -- what they find useful and well-founded, and what they find questionable. I'm not attempting to dismiss or accept anything -- just to talk about the Dharma and discuss some ideas and history.
This is perfectly fine as long as such opinions are qualified with explanatory statements. Frankly, there were some assertions made earlier in this thread without qualifiers that other people take objection to.
longjie wrote:Pure Land teachings developed over a process of hundreds of years, and the Pure Land traditions today definitely don't have the same interpretations as the earliest Chinese Pure Land traditions. Their interpretations are probably also different from those in 2nd century Gandhara. My view is that these older interpretations also matter -- they are also valuable and should be investigated and studied.
Again, going back to my earlier statement, I'm not 100% sure that current interpretations are so inconsistent with early Chinese interpretations. Evolution did happen, that is not in debate. But a lot of that evolution was sourced with supporting sutras that were often not even the same tradition. The 15 second elevator pitch of various modern schools doesn't really apply to in depth study of their doctrines.
As far as 2nd century Gandhara, a lot of it's speculation because what's been preserved is so spotty. I've mentioned to people that I consider later developments to be obvious evolutions of early concepts of refuge, buddhanussati, and householder practices - tailored for export to countries that had different ideals & cultural identities. I do think we can learn from what's been preserved, but reading these texts is definitely influenced by our own biases. If we read these texts with secular biases that consider the supernatural to be some later defilement of the original teachings, then we're going to come away with impressions that are perhaps different than what the original authors intended. Take for example such an integral aspect to Buddhist practice as refuge, there are countless references in the Pali canon that explain that this concept is more than just the secular idea that refuge is just some small faith that the Buddha knew what he was talking about. Obviously, the two definitions of refuge are not going to be in complete agreement. Similarly, the bias that every country outside of India or Gandhara somehow missed the point and only received a completely speculative interpretation that they held as orthodoxy, is going to paint views of those schools that developed outside of India and Gandhara that will only be reified by such a reading.
Listen, it's good to have a critical view of modern schools, not to accept their views as some divine inspiration or unquestionable orthodoxy. But to those people who've tested these teachings and found value, they're not going to be so quick to completely dismiss a teaching because someone said it was a later development. Like it or not and contrary to the secular mindset; some people find a value in faith, find it to be a form of mind training, the same is to be said for some Pure Land school's views on self-directed power, the idea that we can control everything...anything even... even our own random thoughts & motivations.
To this end, there's a particular quote from Shinran that I not only find entertaining, but a very important lesson in our own nature. There's a quote where Shinran seems to be setting up his own doctrinal position, extending from Shakyamuni, through the great masters, to his own teacher, but then he trumps the whole thing by saying that his own personal experience validates his views. Even the earlier discussion of Genshin is interesting, eventhough he was dismissed as someone who had no realizations (and gave up), he said that someone who had secured birth in the Pure Land (Ojo) was the perfect person to teach others - and he wrote the definitive guide to securing birth in the Pure Land (Ojoyoshu). Because ultimately, that's what Buddhism really is, a personal quest to wrestle with our own defilements; defilements that the Buddha described in depth and made perfectly clear. Often what is assumed from the doctrines of these schools is carte blanche excusing of these defilements, and upon deeper research, that is clearly not the case.
These doctrinal positions are not to be accepted a priori, but as guides, after we've done serious self examination. This isn't Moses coming down from the mountain with commandments that can't be questioned, or Jesus asserting things to be taken as gospel. As Shinran is paraphrased in the Tannisho, he had no idea if his beliefs & practices would lead to hell, he only knew that left up to his own devices he would end up there anyway, and so he went with what he felt worked. If that doesn't work for other people, no harm no foul, in fact it is to be expected. Again, 84,000 doors and all that, heck even opposing views on Pure Land thought that are perfectly acceptable. Taking a certain position as orthodoxy without examination is not the point of any sort of Buddhism. Trying to assert such, over a thousand years after the fact, comes off as so much folly. Everything should stand up to examination, but on a personal basis. So if certain statements don't work for you after examination, then don't feel compelled to hold to them out of some loyalty to an orthodoxy. It's all a personal research project.
What causes friction is people asserting things that dismiss completely what others have found through their own introspective observations. Hence, someone's (Indrajala's?) earlier comment that certain mindsets & practices are absolutely required in order for one to practice dharma in order to make any sort of progress. What if one is found in the group left wanting? Are they then destined to hell and shouldn't do anything about it if their capacities don't allow? Personally, I say "no". People should do what they can in the capacities they are able. If they cannot be highly realized siddhis in their current capacities, then they should follow a practice that allows them to make some small headway. This is what is meant in Myonen's realization about the teachings of Honen being like simple gruel served out to the sick, ie. that striving for perfection shouldn't only be the goal of those who can aspire to such, and that more lower capacity folks should focus on small improvements that they can realistically achieve. To take an example from Honen's time, if the 5 precepts are the gate of entry that a Buddhist must be able to abide by in order to practice, then what do you do about fishermen on a small island without farmland? Seems hardly appropriate to assert they're left to hell given the concept put forth so eloquently (paraphrasing) in your Medicine Buddha quote of bringing "benefit and happiness to all sentient beings" (I know you said this has nothing to do with "salvation" but I beg to differ).
The only constant theme I've personally noted in the 3 Pure Land sutras as they exist is the concept of "faith". Again, the sources I list earlier are clear that bhakti (ecstatic faith) of the Hindus is never used, rather Saddha/Sradha and other terms that denote more an idea of "entrustment" (ie refuge). This is why this idea is so prevalent in the schools geared to teaching those that would otherwise be left out in the cold. So I really can't see doctrines based on these ideas as such a departure from the "original".
Sorry to ramble on so long. Whether you agree with this or not, I think we've made good headway on expounding on teachings versus outright dismissal or (in my case mostly) ad hominems. To maybe play a broken record, if this stuff doesn't sound appealing, then move on and find something else that fits better. Heck, even other forms of Pure Land thought may be more amenable. Just don't expect people who find value in these ideas to suddenly take a 180 because certain artifacts say something different.