Yeshe D. wrote:
Huseng wrote:However, both Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna alike never rejected the fundamental ideas taught by the Buddha like rebirth and karma.
There are numerous examples in the Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna literature where, by blurring of distinctions between ethical and unethical conduct, karma and its consequences for low rebirth are diluted to the point of being meaningless. For example, the Mañjuśrīparivartāparaparyāyā Saptaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra:
The texts you cited are alluding to the higher teaching of emptiness.
Those five deadly sins are dependently arisen just as enlightenment is. This is a higher teaching presumably reserved, at least originally, for a small number of individuals who already lived ethical lives and understood well the difference between conventional and ultimate truths.
In the Mahāyāna as I am sure you know there is an idea that sentient beings are of different capacities and faculties.
In this case, emptiness taught to the unprepared is like feeding milk to a snake. One will come to erroneous conclusions such as karma and its consequences for low rebirth being diluted to the point of being meaningless.
If one understands the teaching properly there is no such dilution.
I am sure you understand this position, but are just playing the devil's advocate.
Yeshe D. wrote:The Indian Nikāya schools who only accepted the Āgamas (and corresponding Nikāyas) as the Buddha word. These schools were mainstream until at least the 5th or 6th century CE.
Well that's your definition of mainstream dharma, however millions of others devout Buddhists who practise Mahāyāna would disagree.
You're merely offering the fallacy of appeal to large numbers.
There is no fallacy to begin with. The idea of "mainstream dharma" is entirely subjective. "Mainstream" by modern standards would mean that by popular majority the Mahāyāna would be most mainstream.
Quite well established research actually.
I'm well aware of present day research and its limitations. Trying to reconstruct Indian history two thousand years ago or so is not an easy task.
It is again a demonstrable fact that anything even approaching popular support for the Mahāyāna cannot be documented until 4th/5th century AD, and ... although there was -- as we know from Chinese translations -- a large and early Mahāyāna literature there was no early, organized, independent, publicly supported movement that it could have belonged to.
Do we have access to historical records for every single kingdom in the Indian subcontinent? How about accounting records?
Huseng wrote:In any case, the roots of Mahāyāna ideas are easily found in the Āgama literature. Without ever looking at a Mahāyāna text, one could see the spark of the Mahāyāna simply by asking, "How did Shakyamuni become a Buddha and how can I likewise achieve such a thing?"
The śramaṇa Gautama didn't become a buddha by practicing the above teachings from the Mahāyāna Sūtras and Tantras.
According to one opinion.
Then again we need to keep in mind the definition of "Buddha" differs from school to school. Even amongst the Śrāvaka schools there was no universal consensus on the qualities of the Buddha.
One good work which outlines this is The Concept of the Buddha
by Guang Xing.
Consider the following:
The concept of the Buddha was significantly advanced at the time of
the early Indian Buddhist schools, especially the Sarvastivada and the
Mahasanghika. The Sarvastivadins were more empirical in their approach.
They summarized and synthesized the attributes and qualities of the Buddha
as described in the early sutras before formulating, for the first time, the
two-body theory: that of the rupakAya and the dharmakAya. The rupakAya,
according to the Sarvastivadins, although impure, is endowed with the thirtytwo
major and eighty minor marks as well as a one-fathom halo. The
dharmakAya is endowed with the eighteen exclusive attributes: the ten
powers, the four kinds of intrepidity, the three foundations of mindfulness
and great compassion. None of the constituents of either the rupakAya or
the dharmakAya are innovative; rather, they consist of the qualities of the
Buddha which were already present in early Buddhism. Some of them, such
as the ten powers and the thirty-two major marks were simply taken from
the NikAyas and the Agamas with further explanations. Other qualities,
for instance the eighty minor marks and the one-fathom halo, were taken
after careful synthesis.
As well as this:
The Mahasanghikas’ religious philosophy was based more on faith than on
reason, and accepted whatever was said by the Buddha or, more precisely,
whatever was taught in the NikAyas and the Agamas. As a result, they
developed the concept of a transcendental (lokottara) Buddha based on the
superhuman qualities of the Buddha, as discussed in Chapter 1 above. Two
aspects of the Mahasanghikas’ concept of the Buddha can be identified: the
true Buddha who is omniscient and omnipotent, and the manifested forms
through which he liberates sentient beings with skilful means. Shakyamuni
was considered but one of these forms. The true Buddha supports the manifested
forms that can appear in the worlds of the ten directions. In Mahayana
Buddhism, the former aspect – the true Buddha – was developed and divided
into the concept of the dharmakAya and the concept of the sambhogakAya;
the latter aspect – the manifested forms – was developed into the concept of
nirmAnakAya. Thus, the Mahasanghikas are the originators of the idea of
the nirmAnakAya, and the manifested forms can have many embodiments.
Furthermore, they also introduced the theory of numerous Buddhas existing
in other worlds.
Even from a Śrāvaka position the Mahāsāṃghika approach is still based entirely on Āgama literature. They also did not accept Abhidharma as canonical. However, their vision and interpretation of the Buddha was quite different from that of Sthaviravāda schools.
Now in such a transcendental interpretation of the Buddha (lokottara) it follows that since the true Buddha manifests forms through which he liberates sentient beings with skilful means one could continue to be taught by the Buddha though Shakyamuni has long since passed away from the physical world.
Those seeking the same transcendence could have been taught the Mahāyāna by the Buddha in pure visions. The Mahāyāna, though not taught by Shakyamuni on Earth, was still a teaching by the Buddha nevertheless. A lot of Mahāyāna scriptures are obviously not meant to be understood as having been taught by Shakyamuni in the ordinary physical world. Basically, Shakyamuni, who was later identified as a nirāmaṇakāya, did not teach the Mahāyāna, but that's not problematic at all. The Mahāyāna was likely first taught by a manifested form in visions to those few individuals capable of grasping its import.
Even by the Mahāsāṃghika approach this is plausible. They wouldn't have accepted such visions as canonical, but those few individuals having them would presumably have taken them quite seriously and perhaps taught them to others.
Your interpretation above sounds very much like Sthaviravāda, which is fine. However, there are other Śrāvaka understandings like that of the Mahāsāṃghika who saw Buddha as representing something transcendental. Indeed, they still sought Arhatship. However, in time some would have asked if it were possible to achieve the same transcendental state that they saw as the true Buddha. They were motivated by compassion and concern for sentient beings. The true Buddha presumably could have revealed to them in visions the means and methods necessary to achieve something beyond Arhatship.
The result was the first Mahāyāna sūtras which are Saddharma and word of the Buddha.